(Note: This is also published in the online journal Philippine Literary Folio.)
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.