Jade Mark Capiñanes is one of the funniest and most entertaining Filipino writers on Facebook right now. Whether he’s writing about modern romance—or the lack of it in his life—or taking down trolls, this young English teacher from Davao is always engaging, always smart, and never loses his sense of humor. He’s written a few satire pieces for us here at ANCX, shared a “sapioxesual love story,” thoughtful advice, even a very moving ode to reading which we recommend for everyone to, well, read.
The exciting news is that there’s more Jade to read starting this week. He is launching his book “How to Grieve,” from the independent publishing house Everything’s Fine, at the Manila International Book Fair. It’s his second collection of fiction, and it’s about, in his words, “emotions we repress or fail to articulate—basically things you don’t talk about at parties but cry about after.”
We shot Jade some questions recently with the aim of getting to know the mind behind those often-shared Facebook musings. He also shares with us an exclusive, surprisingly affecting, wonderfully insightful excerpt from “How to Grieve.”
ANCX: Hi Jade, the basics first: where do you teach, what do you teach, how old are you, where did you go to college, and what did you take up?
Jade Mark Capiñanes (JMC): Hello! I teach media and writing subjects to senior high school students at a private school in Davao City. I can’t believe I’m turning 28 soon—not that young anymore, and definitely too old for Leonardo DiCaprio. I earned my English degree from Mindanao State University in General Santos City, whose most notable alum, according to Wikipedia, is Melai Cantiveros. She also majored in English. Make of that what you will.
ANCX: Did you always want to be a writer? Or, did you always know you had it in you to become a writer?
JMC: Not really. Although I was a campus journalist back in high school, I seriously considered writing (and reading) only when I was in my third year in accountancy. I was bored. I’d generally lost interest in the accounting and business courses I was taking. I even flunked a major subject. And instead of poring over accounting books, I remember reading and rereading my roommate’s battered copy of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and group/spam texting my classmates my pathetic imitations of Gibran’s poetry. That was the reason why I shifted to the English program, where I was finally able to study literature and appreciate reading and writing more deeply, and where I realized that my poems sucked. Looking back, I think it’s one of the very few right decisions I’ve made as an adult.
ANCX: Did you grow up in a household that encouraged reading and writing?
JMC: As far as I can remember, the only book we had at home when I was growing up was the Bible. I also grew up in an informal settlement in Davao, so I don’t think I would’ve found a reading corner there even if I’d tried. That might sound condescending, but I said that with the full understanding that back then we were all just busy trying to survive.
That’s why I’ve always considered myself extremely lucky to have discovered books and to have been saved by them. And this is also the reason why I always remind my students that having access to books is a privilege and that they shouldn’t take it for granted. Life happens outside books, but books offer us a glimpse of the many possible ways we can live. When life gets hard—and most of the time it does—books make us hold on to living.
ANCX: Name three of your favorite Filipino writers, why you like them, and what is the work from each that you like the best.
JMC: Lourd de Veyra, Jessica Zafra, and the late Luis Joaquin Katigbak. Discovering de Veyra’s “This Is a Crazy Planets” and Zafra’s “Twisted” essays in college, when I was just starting to write, was a totally liberating experience for me. I was like, “So you could actually write like this?”
Aside from their wit and seemingly effortless ability to write engagingly about literally anything, what I really liked about their essays was that feeling, when you read them, of hearing them, as if they were just in front of you, conversing with you over beer. That taught me the indispensable role your authorial voice plays in your writing.
Similarly, Katigbak’s writing voice—or at least the voice of his narrators—is something I always go back to. It’s amazing how Katigbak’s narrative voice sounds as if on the verge of cracking, but it is that exact same voice that holds up his wistful, fragile stories. I consider his short story collection “Dear Distance” as simply one of the best short story collections ever.
ANCX: Who would you consider to be the writer most influential in your work?
JMC: This is a tough question because I see my own work as the summation of all I’ve got from reading my favorite writers’ works. They’ve all been equally influential in that sense. I think the best way to answer this is to limit it to a specific aspect of my work. The varied styles of the stories in my short story collection “How to Grieve,” for example, owe a lot to the following writers: Luis Katigbak for reasons I already mentioned earlier, Raymond Carver for his restraint, Etgar Keret for his surreal humor, Richard Brautigan for his quirkiness, Donald Barthelme for his formal experimentations, Maggie Nelson for her melding of the lyrical with the critical, and Haruki Murakami for his being Haruki Murakami.
ANCX: Now that you’ve mentioned it, tell us about your first book. Is it as funny as your Facebook followers might imagine it to be?
JMC: The stories in “How to Grieve” are quite different from the stuff I usually post on my Facebook wall. Yes, you may come across some humorous lines here and there, and you may even look at the overall conceit—a series of how-to articles that don’t actually instruct you to do or achieve the things you’re expecting them to, which sometimes can get overly specific—as a running joke, but the stories are not exactly funny as memes can be. I’d like to think that they’re more about what’s beneath the apparent comedic quality of the stories. Things like unprocessed grief, emotions we repress or fail to articulate—basically things you don’t talk about at parties but cry about after. I guess the relatively recent term sadposting quite captures the vibe of my stories.
ANCX: Tell us about the process of putting the book together.
JMC: I wrote most of the stories in the collection four or five years ago, before, during, and after a breakup. Are they autobiographical then? Somehow, because sometimes fiction is just nonfiction we’re afraid to admit is true. I compiled them in 2020, made an e-book, then released it for free. And that’s how my publisher, Everything’s Fine, an indie press based in Manila, stumbled upon it. When they told me they wanted to publish it in paperback, I immediately said yes. We reworked the layout, designed a new cover, and added a few stories. As one may discern from the stories in the book, concrete, everyday things can be emotionally charged, and so I’m just glad to see my book in physical form.
ANCX: You often post about love and relationships or the lack of it in your life. Are you a real romantic or just trying to be amusing? How do you define love?
JMC: Am I a romantic or just trying to be amusing? Maybe both, I guess. Or maybe me trying to be amusing is just me trying to deflect criticisms thrown at me for being hopelessly, helplessly romantic. Something like that. Having said that, I want to define love in two ways. The romantic side of me wants to echo WandaVision’s iconic line “What is grief if not love persevering?”: love perseveres despite grief. But the other side of me, the part that’s always trying to be amusing, wants to say this: love is just grief delayed. Those are the two ways I look at love, and I don’t think they’re total opposites.
ANCX: What is it like being a writer from where you are? Do you imagine it to be much more difficult or easier than being a writer in Manila? Does it matter to you?
JMC: As someone who began (and still continue) writing online, I’ve honestly never seen this as an issue. When you write online (or anywhere for that matter), your geographical location doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of your writing. I get, though, that a more nuanced answer to that question may involve a discussion on how literary establishments, usually located in Manila, tend to amass writing opportunities, but I’ve personally witnessed how in recent years literary production in the country has dispersed or veered away from the capital, and most importantly bloomed elsewhere, which is a good thing. Any decent Filipino writer or reader these days can see that Philippine literature is happening all over the country.
ANCX: Are you going to require your students to read your book?
JMC: I made the mistake of having my students read my own work in my first year of teaching creative writing, and I’m not going to make the same mistake again. That mistake made me realize that there are other (and more effective) ways of proving to your students that you know what you’re talking about in class, all of which don’t involve needlessly reminding them that you’re an actual writer. I’ve discovered that it’s better to teach writing as if you and your students were discovering it together for the first time. Besides, writing and teaching are two different things. My goal is to be good at both.
ANCX: Tell us about the story you’re sharing with us.
JMC: I’ll make it short since it’s a very short story. As the title suggests, it’s about how to eat spaghetti. But not quite.
How to Eat Spaghetti
1. Buy Jolly Spaghetti and bring it home.
2. Believe that Jolly Spaghetti, no matter how normie, is the best spaghetti ever.
3. Decide to eat nothing but that Jolly Spaghetti for dinner.
4. Recall a conversation about spaghetti you once had with your ex, back in 2017. “Jolly Spaghetti,” she said, “always contains five slices of hotdog.”
5. Count the hotdog slices in your Jolly Spaghetti. You find only two.
6. Imagine yourself falling into a black hole. Astrophysicists believe that if you fall into one, you will be stretched into a very long piece of matter, like a spaghetti string. Astrophysicists call the phenomenon spaghettification. Wonder how long you will be. Wonder if spaghettification hurts.
7. Google the etymology of spaghetti: it comes from the Italian word spago, which means “string.” Some scientists believe that everything is made up of very tiny strings. Remind yourself: “All I am is an assemblage of very tiny strings.”
8. Read Haruki Murakami’s short story “The Year of Spaghetti.” Let the ending linger: “Can you imagine how astonished the Italians would be if they knew that what they were exporting in 1971 was really loneliness?”
9. Now eat your Jolly Spaghetti, finally, all alone.
10. Save the two slices of hotdog for last. Hold on to those slices. Hold on to them.