Monday, December 6, 2010
Fish, which is a staple in our family meals, is not exactly a favorite. But there was one night when I gorged bangus as if it was the first time I tasted fish. I filled my plate with bits of fish, too many that I ended up overstuffing myself, which was why shortly after dinner, I found myself throwing up in the bathroom. My aching belly began to deflate as I expelled the gross liquid. Tears welled up in my eyes as a matter of course, but not out of a harrowing pain that unleashed itself. But although the feeling was nothing close to heaven, there was a sense of relief.
I wish my brain could function the same. That it would react fast. That when I fill it with as much intellectual food as I could, it would naturally open the pathway and release a brain product that is shaped in a particular form but not as gross as my vomit. That my purpose for gorging, which is to inspire myself to write, would see the end of it. Most times, however, I feel an invisible barrier within my literary throat, immobilizing the inspiration, impeding the creation of a product, leaving me only as bloated and as pained as I couldn’t have hoped to imagine. It is gluttony at best.
I call myself a writer. I like the sound of the word, the way it forms an association with me, however self-righteous I might sound. Writer, after all, is a title reserved for the intellectuals, the academic elites, and the bold souls. I know I am not any of those, but I keep my label. I am a writer. The fact that I write for a living makes me one. However, there is a big trapeze of uncertainty that is shrouding me. I call myself a writer, but the atoms of my brain along with the pulsing veins all throughout my body challenge me every night and day, asking if I am truly what I call myself to be. Pretense that’s what I do, they say. Pretending to be someone I am not. Just because I like the sound of it and how it creates an association with me.
Pretense. I’ve known pretense since I was a kid. When I had time alone, playing roles was how I busied myself. I imagined being a pilgrim when I walked home from school, a teacher writing on an invisible blackboard, and a señorita wearing jewelry-shaped rubber bands. In one of my role-playing afternoons, I took the role of an erudite, wearing a disfigured pair of eyeglasses I salvaged from a forgotten box lying around the house. I imagined being interviewed on TV and answering tons of questions one breath at a time. The words coming from my mouth were not exactly words, but a compounding of sounds that was close to the birds’ chirping. I could have uttered real words, but thinking of real words and actually delivering them could take time, defeating my purpose of appearing as a quick-witted erudite. Every now and then, I would push the glasses up my nose, oblivious to the sound I was making, oblivious to the things my decision of not uttering real words represented.
I didn’t know of it then, of course. Only now, when my means of living is largely centered on the words that I use and the way I use them, that I can realize my difficulty of liberally pouring out every bit of thought and emotion I am capable of having. But I wouldn’t actually fully realize this had I not observed how this difficulty is gripping my brain and stunting my growth as a writer. You see, a writer is not a writer without a compelling message. You can write about anything to your heart’s content, but that doesn’t automatically make you a writer. A writer is a reflection of life itself, mirroring a culture, a lifestyle, a belief, a philosophy, and everything else life represents. He bravely brandishes a pen and allows himself to be consumed by the powerful force silently living within him, abandoning himself in the process and fighting every urge to slip back to the world where pretenses are better appreciated. He gives life to a self that has been consistently shadowed by all of life’s seemingly greater concerns, even if these concerns are in truth mundane. A writer is not his usual self. It is his honest, bravest, and sincerest version, one who is not a bit concerned about the thrashing critiques but is convincingly devoted to communicating what needs to be communicated. It is what he ought to be in the real world. For him to be exactly that, a secure and sound connection to his thoughts and emotions is invariably necessary. And this somewhat disqualifies me.
On the few occasions that I write for personal pleasure, which requires me to extricate and word all known and unknown thoughts and emotions, I, more often than not, find an amateurish tone in my compositions. Maybe because I am not used to having this close connection to myself, being exposed to my barest and rawest version. The honesty laced in every word almost always ignites a sense of awkwardness. But I’d like to think it’s more because I am never good at it in the first place. So my usual resolve is to halt all attempts to write. In other words, to not write until I find a compelling reason to write, which by the way rarely happens.
People say that to be a better writer, all you need to do is write. And this requires you to wear your writer hat wherever you are. Up in the mountains, down under the sea, on the ground, and in your sleep. The problem with me is that I always look at my writer hat and then at others’ and wonder why mine is not as good as theirs. When I find the courage to fit my hat around my head, fulfilling what I think are my duties to myself, I’d notice that my hat is lackluster, mediocre, and small, so I’d wear it off again, hoping in vain it would transform into the hat that I truly want. But always I am reminded that transformation is not going to happen if I have it futilely lying around. In fact, it will grow less appealing than before I wore it off. The work of nature, that is. But what will I do with insecurity that is looming into something bigger than my hat?
Though I wish I weren't, I am insecure as a writer. I try to banish all reasons to be insecure, but it has a way of coming back to me, poisoning my blood as fast as the gushing, torrent waterfalls. It creeps, silently, into my being and holds a firm footing that can’t be extinguished by a mere pep talk. A fellow writer, to whom I bravely confided and who was the only person to know of my insecurities, said I was the only insecure writer she knew. She said it in a way that would have you thinking, as if asking, “What is there to be insecure of?”
There are many things actually. I’ve read many good writers during my search for inspirations and sessions of self-studying literature, and I can’t even describe how envious I am of them. If there is only one word I am left with to describe their approach on choosing words, the manner they string every word together to form a sentence, and the way they construct the sentences to communicate a thought, I would gladly use the word brilliant. And so whenever I write, passages of their materials voyage in my mind, prompting me to try to write the way they do and fit myself into their molds. But doing so frustrates me because always I find myself so small for the molds shaped after them. Heaven knows how hard I pray to be like these writers and how hard I work and study to at least be worthy of doing the very same thing that defines them.
I am aware that I am nowhere near the literary gods of the past and the present both in the local and international scenes. And this is partly why I keep questioning the validity of my claim of being a writer. The other part is because I am always plagued by numerous doubts about my writer self. I have had rejections looking me in the eye, experienced times when writing opportunities passed me by, and been thrown in situations where I couldn’t help but compare myself with other writers.
Yet, I am positive that all this would soon end. And how and when to end this hugely depend on me. Maybe it will end when I fully acknowledge that I am unique as a writer in the same way I am unique as a person. And perhaps I don’t even have to fit myself into someone else’s mold, because I am capable of creating my own. I know that when that time comes, I can finally write without fear of self-exposition and without defecting the thoughts even before I put them into paper. The insecurity that so disables me will be shaped into something that can be of use to sharpen my skills. And I can freely write forgetting everything but my love for writing and my hope that it will love me back as much. Being a writer, among other things, is how I want to be defined, and writing is the one thing I am not willing to give up. I will cease dancing, I will cease singing, I will cease walking, but I can never bring myself to the death of my writing. But in case my writer self dies, whether self-induced or out of happenstance, I pray that the God Almighty will breathe life on it again, giving me sharper senses so that I can write about the things I used to pass up and a bigger heart so that I can learn to love my writer self more. I think I deserve a second chance.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
To describe the joy when it was found
The Shepherd left the ninety-nine
To go after the sheep, the wayward one
It was circling around the open field
Confused and dazed by its enormity
But with the sheep’s name on His lips
The Shepherd sprinted toward the sheep
With total abandon, it perched on His shoulders
And gladly they went home together
The Shepherd is as good as He claims to be
Clearing the way, He goes before the sheep
And if it cannot find the will to cross
With His voice and hands, He ushers it along
His pasture is bountiful, His water is clear
No more hunger, no more thirst, the sheep is free
With the rest of His flock, in His pen, it is safe
Protected from the enemy who couldn’t traipse
It bounces with joy, it the sheep
As the Shepherd looks on, His gaze is wrapped with peace
Many times, though, the sheep loses His track
Decidedly it wants to prove its might
But every time it never fails to prove, too
Its might alone could not put the sheep through
Alone in the field again, the sheep goes scared
Thunders begin to growl and down comes the raging rain
It finds shelter under a tree and then in a cave
But its coat drips wet all the same
In agony, the sheep longs for the pen again
Where warmth from the good Shepherd flows to no end
With a drop amount of strength remaining
The sheep decides to come back to Him
But even before it lifts a foot
There the Shepherd comes into full view
He carries the sheep and nestles it in His arms
As it finds rest that evaded the night
The Shepherd says He was waiting for the sheep
But He knew the sheep needed a lifting
So He left and said, “I will bring it home again”
“No matter how many times away it sends itself.”
Monday, April 5, 2010
He fills my barn with blessings. I have his favor.
His promises are beyond my dreams.
His plans have already been laid out before me.
So as if on automatic pilot, my heart beats for him.
But what if there are no more blessings in sight?
I’m afraid of how my heart will respond.
Will I still stick to Him?
Will I still live for Him?
Will I still be in gratitude?
Can I say praises?
How faithful are those who, even in the midst of barrenness and drought,
choose to believe the beauty, mercy, and generosity of God.
Why do I love God?
Is it because I am poor and He is rich?
Is it because He owns the heavens and the earth and all the riches therein?
Is it because I am eternally in need and only He could fulfill?
To reduce God to a bellboy is the most troubling of my fears.
I don’t want a selfish kind of love.
I desire not to center my affections on all the advantages.
I want to love God for who He is, with or without all the heavenly benefits.
Not that He is unable to bless me.
He, in fact is, willing to.
To know what’s in it for me is the natural manifestation of my human tendencies,
but I say enough of me.
It’s about to time to grow in faith and focus on what He voluntarily did for me at the Cross many thousands of years ago.
Which, in every essence, is good enough reason to love Him.
That’s what He deserves.
Monday, March 1, 2010
(Note: This also appears in the new online literary journal, The New Dentists.)
A school program required my mother, an assistant principal in a private college in Manila, to bring a baby picture of herself. She didn’t spend much time deciding which to bring; she only has one. It is studio-shot and kept at the back page of her wedding album, occupying the whole space with an 8x10” size. I don’t say it is in black and white, which is the usual description I use for vintage photographs. It is more of gray and brown, the photo color palette of the ‘60s, which radiates with more poignancy than nostalgia. I have seen it several times as a kid and a few times as an adult, and I can’t remember if I ever questioned why she only has one baby picture and none with her parents.
I know the story of my mother. From the time I was learning to write ABC up to the time I am writing for a living, I have always picked from here and there various tidbits of my mother’s history. Mama is an only child, and the people I call aunt and uncles are in fact her half-siblings. I don’t know how I came to know this or who told me this fragment of truth about the family. This, after all, is not the kind of thing that is easily explained to kids and so is usually left unsaid for the younger family members to discover in the course of time. My family is different, and I grew up taking this story as part of the normalcy of life. As if it happened in every family.
In my thought, I tried a few times alienating my mother from her half-siblings. See her as a different individual from them, some stranger, some outsider. I failed, I have to say, because in the same thought, every reason said my mother was inseparable from them. Although she didn’t share with them the same father, she shared with them the same mother, the same childhood, the same house, and the same domestic turmoil. In the same thought, my mother was tied to them, who was pulled back as fast as she was pulled away.
To some degree, my mother is generous sharing with me and my sister her story. So most of what I know came from her own mouth, and the rest I observed from her relationship with her mother and siblings. There was one thing, however, that she didn’t bluntly tell us, but which I knew of instinctively: She didn’t meet her father. Although my mother knew his name and some familial details, the entirety of his person was unknown to her. I knew of this because I didn’t have a grandfather, which meant I had no old man to call Lolo, a bespectacled, gray-haired, pampering grandfather who, to this day, I wish having. To my mother, this meant a part of her was lost.
Mama’s parents had a short-lived romance. While I wish I knew how exactly it ended, my mother sure had wished it didn’t end. Her father left even before she was born, at a time when she was insulated and oblivious to the rest of the world, and so when my mother said she looked like her father, I didn’t know where she got the idea. The fact that she shared many semblances with my grandmother didn’t support her theory. Maybe she was trying to build linkages to her father, to find him in her, and to personify his existence in her own. And perhaps, she justified parts of her being as something she inherited from her father when she couldn’t find explanations elsewhere.
What does it mean growing without a father? I should know, having to spend most of my childhood years with my father working abroad. But in many ways, I couldn’t and would probably never understand the void in Mama’s heart because she and I were in different boats. I knew my father was somewhere and was coming back; Mama knew her father was somewhere but was not ever coming back. I had glimpses of my father; Mama had none. I knew what a father’s love meant; Mama did not. I was secure; she was not. This made a huge difference. But I never was completely aware of this until recently, when Mama met her aunt, one of the few living siblings of her father and her only link to him.
Mama always wanted to meet her father, but she had long ago given up finding him. The last time she attempted was in the ‘70s, when she stayed with another aunt, hoping that she could lead Mama to her father. She never did, which was logical because Mama’s father already had another family. Mama soon left, but failed to banish the deep-seated longing that hounded her every time she witnessed father-and-daughter reunions. She wanted to have a reunion of her own so much so that after knowing a friend has recently found her absentee father, Mama immediately looked up in the yellow pages and, with boldness natural to her, tried to contact the first person with her father’s surname.
What she found was her father’s cousin, who in turn led Mama to his sister, a woman in her 70s who had memory difficulties and enjoyed talking about the recent past but not the distant past that could probably include Mama’s father. She just told Mama, flatly, that her brother died many years ago. Mama’s half-sister, the youngest of her late father’s three children and whom she phoned by her aunt’s suggestion, said it was in fact in 2003. Depression, her sister said. He died of depression two years after her mother’s demise.
The irony was that in 2003, Mama had lingering thoughts about her father and had strong desires to look for him, but she postponed every plan for fear of being the proverbial illegitimate child destroying a family’s peaceful existence. Mama has always been like that. Self-sacrificial. She’d rather suffer than see people special to her hurting. And, even without personally knowing him, these included her father.
I suppose I expected to see Mama cry when she told us of her father’s death. Or at least close to crying. Mama, after all, easily gets very emotional. This time, however, she never did. She was strong as ever. And after, I think, three nights of talking about it, it never formed part of any of our family’s discussions again. It slipped away. Like a sickeningly poor-plotted movie.
Mama has probably gotten over it quicker than I expected. Had she perhaps foreseen that this was how it would end? That when she was dialing to contact relatives of her father, she had actually felt he was long dead? That after all those years, she had in fact grown hopeless? I don’t know. I could never bring myself to ask her, thinking it was beside the point. But I never could actually believe that she has forgotten him entirely. Because although she is trying to make things appear easy, it could be that Mama still silently longs to see her father, who, she was later told by her mother, looked for her when she was about nine, but knows that it is now entirely impossible, because real-life stories’ endings are always unalterable.
Monday, January 25, 2010
I can’t understand this kind of love, for I am not deserving of it. Why does He take pleasure in loving a mess like me? What is so special about me that He doesn’t want to let me go? I sinned; He forgave. I turned my back on Him; He took my hand again. I went away; He ran towards me to welcome me home. I rebelled; He accepted me still. I had no idea of heaven; He said He wanted me to be there to spend eternity with Him.
God, His persistence, His faithfulness, and the nature of His love are all beyond my understanding. And He will always astound me, for I am not capable of that great love and will never be able to equal it. His is wider than the heavens, deeper than the seas, bigger than me, and enough reason to die for me.
As it seems, my comprehension has human limitations to grasp this kind of love, but I am forever grateful and will respond to it in the way that is pleasing to Him.
Psalm 103: 8-15
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Having an expansive knowledge of the language, in and of itself, cannot define a good writer. Messages should be sent across. Not cheap messages, but messages that rouse, influence, and move people to transformations in thoughts, actions, and perspectives. If a writer is able to penetrate his reader’s mind and challenge the plateauness of a thinking, he goes beyond the threshold of talent. And for him to do that, he has to exhaust his whole being, squeeze out fragments of intellect, risk his vulnerability, and expose his humanity.
Monday, January 4, 2010
Just as the chorale begun the hymn, the church’s wooden doors propped open, revealing the silhouette of the bride. Her whole frame, covered with white cloth, radiated with the afternoon sunshine. She was as beautiful as any bride could be. And her dopey eyes glowed as if to say she was happy. Getting her cue from the hymn, she started to walk down the aisle, getting past the misty-eyed spectators, going to the direction of her blubbering but equally happy groom. She was finally getting married.
She was my cousin. My second-degree cousin, actually. Being one of the older kids in my generation, she was used to being called ate (big sister). The only irony is that she was an only child. But being so seemed to make her attracted to the idea of siblings and turn her into a generous and affable big sister to her cousins. It’s maybe because she was loved immensely and had so much love to give.
Though both her parents were working abroad, her paternal grandparents, with whom she stayed for many years, treated her like she was their own. So growing parentless never became a major issue or a gripping force for rebellion. She was well taken care of, after all, and had fast become the apple of the eye. She went to good schools, was dressed impeccably better than the rest of us, was provided with a wealth of privileges usually not available to ordinary kids, and had the early manifestations of elegance. She was pampered but not spoiled. She was the envy of little girls.
Every time her grandmother brought her to our house, I was glad in the way one would feel when meeting a real-life princess. We were relatively not pauper, but I felt small whenever she was around. She didn’t belong to our world, and neither did we to hers. But while there seemed to be an unseen abyss that separated us, she didn’t in any way illuminate our differences. She would play with us like any child would and talk to us in a calculated, refined manner. Without her realizing it, I was drawn to her by the reality of her existence and she became a paragon of childhood sophistication.
I have no clear recollection of the many afternoons my sister, my other cousin, and I spent with her. But there was one afternoon that stood out from my memory. It was when she, while gently twiddling my hair, commented I looked like the famous local actress of the 80’s. That was one of the few times I felt grandiosely beautiful as a kid. Even if it came from a child, a cousin who had an inclination to biased judgment, I believed it with no reservation. To a kid who was not so used to hearing comments as good as that from outsiders, it was worth much more than bags of candies, dolls, and colored pens. It was more than an innocent comment, for it laid the early foundations of my self-confidence. To this day, even if we’ve both aged and I can’t trace exactly where our similarities begin, I still believe I look like the actress. Not because I’ve grown to like the idea I am beautiful, but because my cousin said so.
When we transferred home, the occasional visits went down to zero. Her grandmother would still phone my mother, but news about my cousin was a rarity. There never was big news about her, in the first place. She lived in silence, in privacy. When we were kids, I remember she would talk only when necessary. Growing up as a teen, she, I believe, permanently tucked into her being a certain sense of aloofness I’d observed from her.
I also grew up to be a silent, private person. I never thought that news about me or us reached her, either. Steadily, we lost our connection. We were slipping away from both our worlds.
The possibility of us meeting again was only during special occasions, which amazingly had a way to patch severed paths together. When we met again, however, we were in our late teens and were soaked in self-consciousness, a strong enough force to stop us from going beyond the cordial hi’s and hello’s. Our eyes would meet and immediately look away as if something invisible in the other direction was more important than reuniting with a cousin. The awkwardness of the act was too much to launch another attempt to establish interest. And even though she was in the same room, her absence was more pronounced.
It is so amusing how time and distance could progressively turn people who got along very well as kids into total strangers as adults. I instinctively took it as a fact, an irrevocable error of past times. When you were kids, you would share even the tiniest bit of dreams, resolved that when it’s time for those dreams to take place, you would still be sticking together like nothing happened in between the years. In between the years, however, things happen not in the way you have foreseen, creating gaps, wide enough to keep you apart. And when one of the dreams finally comes, you are merely a shadow of the past. You are no longer there to share the happiness.
I didn’t know if getting married was part of my cousin’s dreams any more than I knew of her wanting me to be part of her wedding. And so when my mother broke the news I would be in the bridal entourage, I doubted. I asked my mother to repeat the news. I had just come from bed, so I was making sure I was hearing things right. “Who is getting married again?” She did mention the name, and as if to remind me of her existence, she added “Your cousin.”
If it’s another cousin with whom I practically grew up, I wouldn’t have been as surprised. But it was the cousin I lost a chance to intimately know who wanted me to take part in one of the most important events of her life. There had been a huge wall of unfamiliarity between us, and at this point, I was thinking whether it really existed or was only part of my imagination. Regardless, my cousin was choosing to be oblivious to it and seemed to remind me of the good old days, if only for a moment.
There were a few times I would like to think what we would have been had we had the chance to grow up more closely. Maybe we would tell each other stories, we would share secrets, we would be enjoying late-night talks, and we would be like sisters. And I could probably explain better why, for the first time since I attended a wedding, I shed tears when I saw her march toward her groom. Without feeling embarrassed, perhaps I could tell her it’s because I missed her.