Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why I Write What I Write

I wrote my last story in 2003; which earned me a slot in the Iligan national writers’ workshop, usually held in summer in the city of Iligan, where I spent about a week with the most amazing mix of young poets and fiction writers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao; and some unforgettable awestruck moments before the great names in Philippine Literature, who sat as our panel of critics.
Until then, I realized that no matter how often and how many people abused the term, not everyone can actually be called writers in the real sense of the word until you go through a “rite of passage,” that is called the “writers’ workshop,” and come up with something that you can call your body of works afterwards dealing with serious stuffs.
Yes, serious stuffs.
The workshop, in itself, was an experience. Just think how it is to sit in wait for judgment as critics (most of them belonging to the Philippine literary canon) scrutinized what you’ve written to its tiniest bit of detail.
First, you get the feeling that you are lucky enough to get admitted inside that chosen circle, just for having written something good enough to be chosen over the rest of the manuscripts that did not make it to that workshop.
But just as you thought you’ve got the taste of heaven, you finally found yourself in a series of sessions where each manuscript gets scrutinized for every detail, motive, innuendos, nuance, by all critics and fellows present. Our usual preoccupation, every break of the session and in the evening before we sleep, was to go over the roster of stories and poems to be read next, trying to figure out the author’s name behind the pen name, and trying to guess more as you read the story.  The author’s identity used to be withheld until after the manuscript was read in the session and everyone has given her comments. His identity revealed, the author can finally say something in return; but usually, it didn’t really sound good to defend ones work against criticisms, so, we deemed it best to keep mum and think about everything in silence.
Every moment of the workshop actually felt like a stretch of the Green Mile, every one of us heading towards the guillotine, a terrible execution chamber from which there was no escape.  “But even if they kill every bit of my soul, they could never get to that part of myself where the poems come from,” I remember what a young poet named Duke Bagaulaya said during our darkest hour in another writers’ workshop, the UP national writers’ workshop in Davao; and that was how each of us found the real meaning of what it was to be a “writing fellow.” I remember the elevator ride with the beloved fellow alien named Ava Vivian Gonzales, when our manuscripts were about to be read; the last ones to be scrutinized towards the end of the workshop. Ava and I and the third fellow Janis had taken to calling ourselves “aliens” at this time after our realization that we have been perennial outcasts in the world and its celebrity culture whose shallowness we abhor. We realized we could no longer belong anywhere except to ourselves.
Contemplating our impending doom, I told Ava, I felt like I was about to deliver a baby for the second time, and knowing the impending pain, I wanted to escape from my own body and run. But Ava had put up a good fight during the scrutiny. I remembered her calling the critics an offensive name I can’t recall.
Afterwards, I felt an urgent need to tear the whole manuscript to pieces, except that it was already accepted by a literary editor of a national magazine for publication, which made me feel even worse.
Since then, I thought I haven’t written anything.
But that’s not true! I’ve written many things since then. News stories, long features, a chapter of a book, journals, blogs, diaries, instruction manuals, foreword and afterword, an introduction of a book, a preface of a book that came out last year, introduction of another book I edited, a preface, love letters to my mother, accusatory letters to God, emails, etc.,

But they did not count because they were not the kind of things I wanted to write about. But what are the things that I want to write about? I don’t know.  I must have forgotten.

How I Fared in that American University

[This is an excerpt from a Journal.  I really did not think of posting this here until this time when sisters are bullying me to give up journalism, where I'm earning a pittance, to spend the rest of my life at the farm.]

Sometime in 2010, as soon as I got the Latin diploma for Magistratum Artium (MA) mailed to me from ADMU, signifying my successful completion of the MA in Journalism fellowship programme at the Asian Center for Journalism (ACFJ) at ADMU, it was not my Ateneo grades that that got me very excited upon opening my transcript but something else.
I already knew how I fared in the journalism class, so, it was not the reason why I gasped, half-anxious, half-intoxicated, as I opened the transcript. 
It was my excitement over the fact that I’d finally be seeing the part of the transcript I hadn’t seen before: the part which showed my performance in the MA in English major in Creative Writing programme I took at Silliman U several years earlier.  
I never had the chance to come up with the Fiction Collection demanded by my thesis; and so, I have left that part of my transcript half-finished; and yet, I was wondering how I was faring among the subjects I had loved so much that I crammed myself to the brim with long readings during my brief stay at Silliman U: Literary Criticism and Creative Writing, Contemporary Novel, Asian Feminist Writings, etc. 
Touting itself as an American university that pioneered the longest running creative writing tradition in the country, Silliman U kept a grading system that is quite different from other universities I’ve gone to.  Instead of the usual 1.0, they kept the highest grade at 4.0, which is an equivalent to an A+. This must be why, getting a 3.5 from the American professor Dr. Law once flustered me, because in the previous universities I attended, 3.0 already carried with it the stigma of failure. And yet, looking closer at SU’s unique grading system, I checked and realized that a 3.5 actually meant an A-, which was not so bad after all. I was in the lowest point of my life at Silliman U that I decided to get back through my grades.
So, that day I received my ADMU transcript, I went over my records for Contemporary Novel, Literary Criticisms, Contemporary Drama, and my heart leaped with delight. The lowest grade I got from the university, which I always look up to as the only university that really introduced me to Art and Letters, was an A-, and in some other really difficult subjects, I even managed to post an A+; not really that it mattered so much in life, but I remember standing side by side with journalists, who thought there was only one way to write a story, I can’t help recalling how, in one of those creative writing classes, we were allowed to write about one subject, and each of us came up with totally different stories. Remembering how I straddled the totally alien world of journalism and the world of writers, poets and artists, I realized it was not so bad at all; not really half so bad after all.

Some shocking things I encounter

The past few days, I’m holed inside my room transcribing interviews for the story of a life of a man. I’m holed in, too, for a purely online class on How To Write Fiction with the University of Iowa, which gave me pure delight at some time, and pain and torture the next. But now,  realizing what I’ve done, I’m asking myself, why-oh-why didn’t I remember getting Prateesh, and even Sheilfa, to sign into this as well when I signed in a hurry one deadline day the previous months? We could have been into this together! And they would hate me when things get rough and love me when they find such brilliant and inspiring writers such as what I felt when I heard the Russian writer Alan Cherchesov say in the introductory lecture, “to learn how to write, you have to learn how to not write, how to keep silence, to think and to observe.” I’m sure they would have plenty to say about the whole thing that’s why I miss them so much.
Yet, I also think I was a little crazy for signing into this thing when I have rarely been online the past months, when I was always running after some elusive news stories every day, the kind of stories which increase my skin rashes and irritate my nose, causing sudden bouts of sneezing when I interview my sources, embarrassing me and alarming Pamela, who immediately taught me how to irrigate my nose the other day, using Indian technology with some improvisation she learned on the web! 
I never knew she’s a magician, this Pam Chua, and it’s beautiful when you get a taste of such magic at the most difficult time of your life, when I’m always shuttling back and forth to Bansalan and here, keeping an eye of my old folks, unobtrusively because they do not want to be kept an eye on, “like hapless children,” father says, so, I keep going back and forth, keeping an eye on them without making them feel I’m keeping an eye on them; but as a result I’m quite shocked and horrified of the things that I discover there.  
What shocked and horrified me most are my sisters, who think the old folks will live forever and so, they trust them to strangers, instead of informing me so that I can properly take action for their safety.  It really horrifies me that the helper’s judgment is better than those of my sisters, what a shame, when my sisters, were supposed to be, “educated,” Titing didn’t even go to college, but she knows how to deal with the world, she has wide-open eyes, not blinded with delusion or wealth, she has both feet planted firmly on the ground, and not on the steering wheel of a car.  But looking back, I realized, it must have largely been the sisters' mis-education, the kind of education that is prevailing in the country before and now, who can blame them? I was quite unlike them. I was the odd one out in the family. Owing to my extreme unhappiness, I left home at 17, to study in the University of Life.  I disappeared and learned many things in a life of simplicity and struggle. They stuck to their boring lives and now, they social climb. Their kind of friends are not really my kind of  friends, and now they end up totally trusting and naive, and this really is quite a shocking thing to me.
When I see the mess at home, I get the feeling that we’re back to the Stone Ages, or was it the Stone Ages, before such thing as political organization was invented? Was it the reason that our people were easily conquered, subjugated, because we are so disorganized, and we let emotions rule over our mind? They’re so irrational and you can’t even talk sense with them!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


Last night, I listened to the sound of the gecko. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me. You don’t have any idea how much each stop or pause of the gecko can affect me. I feel some tightening in my stomach as I lay still thinking of you. I came here by way of Kialeg, where I heard about a new bike trail being carved in one of the mountain barangays in time for the approaching local festival. I learned about the B’laan community in a village called Tagaytay. On my way home, he stopped by the roadside, fiddled with his phone and gave me your number. I couldn’t resist taking it. The number would bring me a step closer to you, a proximity that is fret with risks or dangers, depending how I would use it. I noticed the way he slumped his shoulders. I kept thinking of what I should (or should not) do with your number. With each sound of the gecko, I keep thinking of you. He loves me, he loves me not. He loves me. He loves me not. I lie still in utter darkness until I drifted off to sleep.