*Larita Kutsarita - n. see THE AUTHOR
*Spoonfuls - n. articles/dispatches/scribbles by Larita Kutsarita
(Background photo by Aiess Alonso)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Romanticizing Lising

Analysis of the Personal Narrative, "A Portrait of Lucila":

“I don’t want to recall.” These were the exact words that my Grandmother, Lucila “Lising” Carrillo Sinson, 76 going on 77, had replied upon being asked about her family’s experiences during the 1941-1944 Japanese Occupation. “It was the worst tragedy that we were ever subjected to.” At first, I thought it would be hard to make her tell her story, and I thought that going home to Bicol, particularly in Sorsogon City—where my maternal family resides—was not worth all the effort. Eventually, she warmed up to me and remembered that I was, after all, her granddaughter, and not a mere snooping student who wanted a monologue for her Chamber Theatre class.

Before January ended, I travelled back to my hometown and spent the rest of the weekend tracing my roots. I figured that making my own personal narrative had to be a lot easier, but the thought of writing Lola Lising’s biography appealed more to me. Mama was hesitant about sending me home as the bus fares would have to cause a serious glitch on my weekly allowance. The idea seemed impractical and unrealistic even to myself, and I did think that it was just one of those sporadic enthusiasms that I get every now and then, and which vanish at the surfacing of newer, fresher, more exciting ideas. But one certain portrait of Lola Lising has always roused in me a sort of curiosity that I could not kill. This is a framed photo of her as a young woman (refer to next blog for image) silently resting on the dresser beside her antique sewing machine. Having spent most of my childhood years in Lola’s ancestral home, I do not remember any instance in which they moved that portrait anywhere apart from its present location on the dresser. It’s always been there, maybe even before I was born. And yet, despite its worn-out, aged appearance, it has always been an enigma in that old, wooden house. Reflecting on it made me wonder why, in my 19 years on earth, I have never asked Lola the story behind that picture of a young girl, standing proudly, her legs crossed rather mechanically, her lips forming a wide, happy grin that perhaps only flamboyant youth could flash. And true enough, I’d never seen that grin decorating my Lola’s face at all. She smiles and laughs, but nowhere had I seen that girl in her somehow.

Lola Lising has a serious pastime: mahjong. Every after lunch during the seven days of the week, Monday to Sunday straight, at the local mahjongan—this is her daily routine. My aunts shared with me that the reason behind Lola’s “compulsive gambling” (a term that she never quite liked or admitted) is that during World War II, when she and her parents were busy running away from the Japs, her Father, Commander Aquilino Carrillo, had no one to play cards with. This left Lola, then not older than ten, to be his constant “co-gambler.” One would get the impression that this is one of those old familial myths but Lola herself confirmed this fact quite merrily, and one which I did not feel necessary to include in the performed text. This omission is hugely because I wanted to shed more light on the positive side of her life as well as the pains that surrounded her during and after the war, and not her personal flaws which have yet to manifest themselves as she’s grown older. Considering that I am to play the role of the young girl in the old portrait, I believe that her struggles as an older adult are not that relevant anymore, although there are some hints of these struggles at the end of the text, some details that I dropped for important reasons which I shall disclose later in this paper. Overall, I guess my favorite part of the entire project which I have taken to a personal and historical level is the deep connection that I have rediscovered with my past and that of the people who are basically the reason I am even breathing as I write.

I would like to focus first on the technical side of the performance. I plan to use several scanned copies of photos from the past, the availability of which I owe greatly to Lola who has graciously provided me with historical memorabilia that spanned through decades in the family. The use of other audiovisual elements, I believe, is to be crucial in a historical narrative, especially if the era being depicted is significantly distinct. The early 50s, during the Liberation Period, for instance—the times in which the monologue supposedly takes place—is a dramatic moment in Filipinos’ lives. This was the rehabilitation, the ascent from the ashes, the wake of the Japanese. Apparently, our culture was also going through a sort of metamorphosis as we were once again indebted to the United States after their leadership during the war (although they were the reason we ever got into war in the first place), which means that the American ways were embedded in our own ways once more. The music was going through a transition from the ballads and blues to rock n’ roll, the sarswela and vaudeville were fast becoming extinct to make way for the silver screen, and many other changes. I want to establish the 50s mood in that one scene where I’ll be playing The Beatles’ Baby, It’s You—definitely a classic—as well as a string of photos which I have made into short film sequences for that added “nostalgic” effect. Other than that, adjustments in language must also be made because people back then probably didn’t talk like people these days. To make the 50s jargon and manners of speech sound even more convincing, I took inspiration from Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind as well as a personal narrative/novel whose setting and plot centered on the Japanese occupation (Hernandez). Of course, to be certain that my history is accurate, apart from Lola’s personal account of her times, I also consulted other easy sources of historical information on the net (Philippines Travel Guide.com and Mitchel). As a personal narrative juxtaposed against a historical event, it is only crucial that I recheck the facts and details that I was able to gather and come up with a credible text as historical as it is also largely personal.

The first person point-of-view also proves to be more powerful in order to make distinct a voice recounting the pivotal moments in her life which were caused by or part of all the events that occurred in World War II. Of course, that unique voice belongs to Lola whose passive-aggressive ladylike character is a bit alien to me, but whose passions—which were clearly manifested even in our interview—are very characteristic of the women in my Mother’s family. These passions might have been repressed by a somewhat patriarchal society—and I wouldn’t say “at that time” because it is still very much an issue even to this day, perhaps on a different level, but timely just the same—that still frowned on women’s donning pants which was probably only considered to be a bad fashion fad. Seen in this light, not only does A Portrait recount historical events or the “loves and losses of Lising.” Moreover, it gives us a preview of gender communications during those days. Imagine not even having to “pass by any of your suitors’ houses” when they’re just practically your suitors, or having to be married without your full consent (“…the latter would not be my boyfriend in the first place but some war veteran whom I married only because he asked for my parents’ hand, and not mine.”). This play between powers—those of man and woman—is especially true in my Mother’s family, in which a woman either has a soldier for a brother or a father, or is actually married to one. My youngest Aunt was in the Navy and also met her husband there, despite having a Registered Nurse license. One Aunt is wife to an Army personnel, and Lola’s father, brothers, and husband (already deceased) were all soldiers. And with these women having a reputation for being outspoken and assertive (some family friends call them Amazonas), I can only imagine what it’s like to assert their own persons to the men in their lives, those who are evidently “macho,” a characteristic that one could easily relate to the kind of training that they had to endure. After all, these men in uniform are trained to, technically, “be armed and kill” for the civilians’ protection, of course. Although Lola’s girlish character somehow fails to deliver this certain assertiveness that our women should be famous for, this trait gradually grows in her as she deals with more struggles in her adult life but is only hinted at by the “foreboding” on her marriage in the last part of the text.

Which brings me to the anachronism of the text—well, sort of. With regard to the main character/narrator, I could not seem to hear her tell her story in only a single or two tenses. The reason I also included the future through that little “prophesying” towards the end is for me to also present the possibilities that she faces. I do not intend to only portray the 22-year old girl that my Lola was. Because I want to “romanticize” her but never in an inaccurate way, of course, I also capitalized on her other real-life joys, and pains, and realizations later on. This makes the text become not just an ordinary personal narrative, but a sort of “stream of consciousness” as well, in which the narrator goes through an epiphany and even prophesies about her future. Looking at it in this certain angle then betrays the concept of the voice of the young woman in the photo of 1953, which then makes the narrator’s voice not so much as that of the 23-year old girl as it is that of the girl in my dear Lola Lising. In fact, this “prophecy” was only a recent addition to the text outlined beforehand. I felt that it was necessary to somehow give the audience a little window through which they could have a peek at Lising’s later life. Perhaps this might have also had a huge effect on the length of the narrative. My first reading rehearsal lasted for about twenty minutes, and I am not exactly sure just how long we are allowed to perform. And I do not intend to shorten the piece in any way. It is a sprawling monologue and biography in one, and I believe that cutting it won’t do it any justice.

A Portrait of Lucila is my tribute to the Grandmother with whom my friendship has recently strengthened, thanks to her willingness to let her guard down. She might have been hesitant at first. Before I knew it, though, the interview would end after one night and one morning. When I asked her just how much of our talk I am allowed to divulge, she casually responded, “Oh, go ahead. Say everything. It’s the truth,” before rambling about her first kiss and being a virgin until she got married. At that moment, I was definitely sure that I was talking to that girl in the portrait—the air, the sparkle, the grin, they were all there on my Lola’s face and in the animated gestures with which she told her story. And the portrait ceased to be a mystery. Oh, and that Sunday, she didn’t play mahjong.

Hernandez, Juan B. Not the Sword: A True Story of the Courageous People of the
Philippines During the Japanse Occupation in World War II (First
edition). New York 17, N. Y. Greenwich Publishers: 1959
Philippines Travel Guide.com. “Japanese Occupation of the Philippines.” Philippine Travel
Guide.com. Online. Available URL: http://www.philippines-travel
Mitchel, V. “World War II and Japanese Occupation 1941 – 1945.” ualberta.ca. Online.

Available URL: http://www.ualberta.ca/~vmitchel/fw6.html.

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