Yesterday I sat in front of my computer for a long time, doing nothing. I was supposed to be writing to meet a couple of deadlines but I couldn’t. I just stared at the monitor and the empty space seemed to mock me further. Finally giving up, I turned the computer off and decided to read until I feel the urge to get back to work again. This diversion usually worked but yesterday I couldn’t even focus on the words of the book. The letters seemed to swim before my eyes–paragraphs, sentences, and words break apart on the page, stirred by an unseen hand.
Lying in bed, I tried to sleep. I wanted to wake up early so I can make up for the time I lost. But sleep eluded me. I dimmed the lights, lit a stick of incense, and enclosed myself in a pallet of pillows. This technique has never failed me but yesterday was a day for firsts, apparently. I ushered the new day looking at the wall clock on the wall opposite my bed.
November 30 is not just the death anniversary of my father. It’s also the time when I was forced to leave the house for the first time in 2 months to do the morbid task of picking out a coffin for him and make arrangements with the funeral service provider. During the wake, I was forced to be present and had no choice but to face the flow of friends and relatives who inquired/ marveled/ speculated on my state. I felt like a tree struggling to remain standing in front of a deluge.
My father’s death, in effect, ended my hiding from the world. It forced me to look at myself even if I loathed what I saw. The forced gaze hurt me but on hindsight, I needed that push. Even in death, my father still tried to help me even without my knowledge and permission. It just makes me miss him more now. But my grief is not just about losing him. His death marked the start of my long and hard journey to… to what? Recovery? Probably. Or whatever condition I had been in before yesterday. I think I’m also grieving for the monkey that used to be on my back. Sometimes I want to turn over the wheel to the first creature who will take it. Sometimes.
But who am I kidding, really?
I’m fine. Generally. But sometimes, I still get the blues.
But I’ll be fine again. You’ll see.
*I wrote this essay 3 years ago and submitted it for the big anniversary celebration of the Dumaguete Writers’ Workshop. It was ultimately rejected by the editors so I’m sharing it here.
If my life is turned into a line graph, one would notice that there are a few points in the line that disturbed the line in one way or another—bent it towards another direction, perhaps—divided it into two or more little lines before coalescing once again; but the line, no matter how skewed, even frayed, always goes forward. If one looks closely at these ‘points of disturbance’, there would be one that represents my participation in the 35th Dumaguete National Writer’s Workshop. I imagine it to be one big red dot, pulsing with passion and desire.
In May 1996 I was a 22-year-old registered nurse who was silently resisting taking the path that lay before someone like me: find work in a clinic or a hospital for experience, take the CGFNS exams then work abroad, preferably in America. Two years before I took a position at an NGO working on HIV/AIDS prevention, which my parents approved with reservation. At 22 I have come to terms with, and have accepted, my sexuality; I was in the midst of ‘coming out’ to friends when I went to Dumaguete.
More importantly, at 22 I was also reacquainting myself with the craft of writing. In spite of being an award-winning student journalist in elementary and high school, my writing came to almost a halt in college. I was happy to write the required works in 5 semesters of English but beyond that, I didn’t write. I rediscovered writing a few months after graduating, while I was reviewing for the Nursing Board Exams. In 1995 I got accepted at the UP National Writer’s Workshop. It was my first time to be in the company of aspiring and established writers, talking about nothing but writing, art, and the art of writing. I was giddy. I learned a lot from this workshop but socially I struggled because I felt like a clueless outsider. Most of the participants knew each other prior to attending the workshop while those coming from certain schools were sort of clannish when it came to new company.
When I first saw the announcement for the 1996 Dumaguete workshop, I felt afraid. In Baguio I heard about the triumvirate of workshops aspiring writers usually go through: Baguio, Dumaguete and Iligan. My new friend from the Baguio workshop said that the Dumaguete workshop is where the real writers are picked out from the aspiring ones. He had told me the story of one participant who supposedly threw all his manuscripts overboard as he traveled back to Manila because he was told in the workshop to stick to his day-job. But I was also excited at the prospect of spending 3 weeks on a place I haven’t seen. In the end, I guess I wasn’t that afraid. I submitted my poems and stories and I got accepted.
Coming to Dumaguete, I was no longer just the ‘nurse who wrote’; I was a workshop ‘veteran’ and a published writer. Two poems I wrote about the Baguio workshop came out in Philippine Free Press while another got published in the Sunday Inquirer Magazine. But the workshop still blew me away. Memories of the 3 weeks I spent in Dumaguete will always be cherished, stored deep in my heart. Not all memories are pleasant; I shed a few tears when some of my works received scathing feedback. What the workshop instilled upon me was the love of the word, which emanated from Mom Edith and Dad Ed and the panelists. The love for continuous learning was something that I gladly shared with my co-fellows, some of whom remain my friends to this day. Who would’ve expected socially-awkward me to make life-long friends in 3 weeks?
Once, after discussions on one of my poems wrapped up, Mom Edith asked me about a detail that seemed to baffle the readers. I was worried because it was a metaphor that masked a subtle gay reference but I explained it to her. She just nodded her head sagely and smiled and when I was done she said, “I thought so. Then there is no need to alter your poem.” Days later she would sign her book of poems with this dedication:
Keep the pen going, but always in the right direction, okay?
The Dumaguete workshop influenced my writing from then onwards. I haven’t stopped from writing, to be frank. No matter how many ‘points of disturbances’ I encountered, writing has become the constant thing in my life. That is why that big red dot in my lifeline keeps on throbbing with desire, with passion for the written word. Had I seen Mom Edith after the 1996 workshop, I’d have told her that I have kept the pen going but, whether it was in the right direction or not, who is to say? I write from my heart–flawed as it is.
Last year I submitted an entry to the PBBY Salanga Prize, an annual competition for stories for children. I joined this contest for the first time back in 2003 and my entry “Dalawa ang Daddy ni Billy” was awarded Honorable Mention. Yes, as the title suggests, it’s the story of a boy being raised by a gay couple, who realizes that not all families have two fathers.
I also entered it in that year’s Palanca Awards but with that PBBY win, I had to withdraw it from competition, lest I violate the rules of the contest. I have wondered of its chances of winning in the Palanca. If it won, it would have been the first gay-themed story for children, 3 years ahead of the lesbian-themed winning story “Ang Ikaklit sa Aming Hardin”.
A well-placed source told me that my story came in very close second, that the only thing that prevented it from claiming grand prize was my entry’s theme. Of course, I have no way of verifying this but that time I wasn’t surprised. In fact, my story has been rejected or totally snubbed by many publishing houses here, except for one, which I will not name in this post. This particular publishing house at least read my story, gave useful feedback, suggested revisions, and asked me to submit the revised version. I have and I’m just awaiting their response.
Early this year I learned that my entry “Reyna Elena” has been awarded Honorable Mention in this year’s contest. I was really hoping for a Grand Prize but I was happy. But when I learned that the judges did not award a Grand Prize, I didn’t know what to feel. Words evade me till now. But I will gladly receive this award on July 15.
In the lead-up to the awarding ceremony, which will coincide with the celebration of National Children’s Book Day, I was interviewed by a fellow writer and blogger. Said interview can be found HERE, the official publication of UMPIL (Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas). If you read it, you might find me uncommonly articulate. This is because the interviewer just emailed me his questionnaire, which I answered like an exam. If it were an actual face-to-face interview, I’m sure I’d blabber and meander, resulting in a barely incoherent story. 🙂
As of today, ALL THIS WANTING, the second volume of new adult short stories has become available at BUQO. Featuring 6 new adult short stories by yours truly, Ines Bautista Yao, Lois Ramos, Alyssa Marie R. Urbano, Katrina Ramos Atienza, and Chinggay Labrador, this e-book anthology sells for the very affordable price of PhP45.00 or USD1.00. Buqo android users can pay using Smart Pre-paid Load or charge to Post-paid. You can get it HERE. More retailers will be announced soon!
Thanks for supporting indie writers!
Verses Typhoon Yolanda: A storm of Filipino poets is finally out.
This anthology, which I am part of, was edited by Eileen Tabios–a US-based Filipino writer. All profits from the book will be donated to relief organizations working with Yolanda survivors in the Philippines.
From the book’s blurb:
This is a book about a destructive typhoon named Yolanda, or Haiyan, which caused massive damage to the Philippines in November, 2013. This is a sprawling book of poems in English, Filipino, Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Bisaya. This is a book by poets who teach, poets who study, a poet who drives a tricycle for a living, poets who work for NGOs, poets who are school children. This is a book by 133 Filipino poets who live in the Philippines, the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, South Africa, elsewhere. What is diaspora but the aftermath of storm?
If you like reading poetry and help others at the same time, this book might just be for you. You can find it HERE.