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The perks of not being a writer

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I actually thought there was something to be enjoyed in putting my craft on hold. I turned 33 and I slowly, almost deliberately, let go of all my writing projects until not a single one was left and I could no longer, with confidence, call myself a writer. I focused on my day job, which entails managing a steady stream of content development projects, none of them of the soul-filling creative sort. Suddenly, it was almost two years later, and, now pushing 35, I recently wondered: Will I really let this be the time I left writing?

I imagined myself to be 85 years old, telling my grandchildren about my youth. “What did you do for fun?” they would ask. I would dig up old notebooks, old newspaper clippings, and, after waiting for them to finish giggling at the sight of such primitiveness, I would tell them that I used to be a writer. “Why did you stop?” they would ask. It was my answer that served as a wake-up call: “To pay bills. To pay my mortgage. To make a living.”

When I was 17 years old, I became a freshman all over again at the University of the Philippines. I had transferred from another university to follow my heart and study creative writing. Back then, most people were convinced there was no money to be had in writing. But I refused to be cowed. “I want to make a life, not a living,” I said to them firmly, but silently, in my heart, where I was certain I would never be as good at anything else. How did I forget?

But more importantly, how did I remember?

Several weeks ago, I picked up a book I had had on my bookshelf for years: It was somebody else’s old, scribbled-on copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I had set it aside for later after seeing it was published by MTV. This time around, I decided to give it a try. Several pages later, I had tears welling in my eyes, threatening to turn into an ugly cry.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower was published in 1999, at the end of the decade that had been my playground. It is young adult fiction, and, as such, gracefully captures the teenage pain and confusion of the 1990s. The novel written as a series of letters to someone that is never named by a boy who calls himself Charlie. Charlie is about to start high school and he is terrified. Later, Charlie discovers he can write and decides to be a writer.

My only regret is that I hadn’t read it when it first came out; I would have probably related to it more. Still, it brought me back to the 1990s, when I considered myself a wallflower, when I had just discovered other wallflower friends, and when we all realized we were beautiful to each other. Also: When I was an insecure, terrified college freshman studying to be a writer.

Last weekend, I watched the film adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was written and directed by Stephen Chbosky too. I was waiting for some kind of Reality Bites or Singles effect to wash over me, but it didn’t come. I enjoyed the film, but even with its amazing soundtrack and casting, it couldn’t bring the 1990s back. Still, it brought me back to the beginning of my story, when, as a teenager, I braved my fears and chose to be a writer. I guess that is what good stories do—be it in book form or movie—they bring you back to your own story and make you think of how you want it to end.

Funny how when you are young, you know what you want, but as you gain more in years and experience, you second-guess it. But this, now, is when I stop second-guessing and start making a life and making a living. When I’m 85 and telling my grandchildren about my youth, I will tell them only one story: That I followed my heart and it led them to me.

For a writer not to be a writer, there is one perk to be had: Not chasing deadlines. But what of that? Stories don’t end with deadlines; they end when they reach you, dear reader, and become part of your story as well. Indulge me now and let me just say that I am happy to be writing for you again.

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