Sunday Lifestyle

Sitting in the room with you

LOVE LUCY - The Philippine Star

I write many things in my mind, in the course of one day — when I am enjoying my pretty cup of tea or coffee, while I am swimming laps (my self-imposed penance for the sin of too much rice or cake), when I have little conversations with my five-year-old nephew Valiant who is Superman one day, and Mr. Bean the next. I have all these little stories I want to put on paper, while I am stuck in horrendous traffic and am too tired to even complain about it, when I see pretty flowers and kind faces, when I talk to my strong and very funny mother over lunch or dinner.

When those moments come by, I do this happy little dance inside of me — “There! That will be what I will write about for next Sunday’s column.  Done!” But then I finish my tea, get out of traffic, make a phone call, talk to many other people, go into a meeting here and there, those stories get muddled, lost in the day. By the time I want to remember them (but can’t), I begin to wonder why they have to happen when I am pen-less, and why I never get around to typing some of them into my phone in the first place, in the hope that should I even remember to search for those broken sentences, it will trigger something that will afford me the chance to pick up where I left off. 

On the flip side, there are those days, too, when I stare at my computer screen, or the blank pages of a notebook, a deadline looming before me, and I end up writing… nothing. I have thought, far too many times, that maybe — just maybe — reality is the bane of inspiration. Why must inspiration come at a time when I am unable to act on it? Or should I just discipline myself to do as Daddy always does — he who deals with everything from reminders to self to chores the exact same way — write it down immediately, whether on tissue paper (I have done this in an airport once), a scrap of paper, or a Post-it?

Then again, perhaps there is no great science to inspiration and how it comes (or goes), except for the fact maybe that it seems predisposed to rest easy upon the shoulders when the mind is free, unencumbered by having to think of only one or two things. I find that like a little girl at play, inspiration happens when there is just an open field upon which she can run this way or that. At some point she will stop to pick a blade of grass, inhale the smell of rain, wonder at the gentle life of a makahiya flower, and before long she will have thoughts to share, questions to ask, stories to tell. That is how the best things happen: when there is fluidity, mindfulness, appreciation. Where there is all that, there, too, is memory.

I think of that as I remember one particularly blue day some weeks back, when I was feeling a bit too sad and I tried to relax my mind by watching a food channel on cable. Ana Olson was cooking, and she was wrapping something in some leaf (like the second way Peking duck is served in Chinese restaurants). I am not very fond of that. But I do remember Manang Kessin, the first cook I ever met, she who prepared all of Daddy’s meals even when he was still a bachelor. Manang Kessin made really good stuffed shrimp — ground shrimp that she would wrap carefully in a pouch made of the lining of a pig’s stomach. She would save an entire shrimp with the tail still on to put at one end of each fat roll and the whole thing would be fried to a golden brown and eaten dipped in some sweet and sour sauce.

I figured then I would probably end up writing about Manang Kessin that day but, somehow, I lost the thread in my mind. That was about three weeks back; what was it that I wanted to share with you about her and her stuffed shrimps? I cannot remember. The days that followed were too busy. 

But I do know this. Two Sundays of being away from this space has made it quite clear to me that, as always, when I do come back, I want it to be as though I am sitting in the room with you, just talking to a friend. That said, I so wish I were one of those who could write every day. Conrad de Quiros, wonderful writer that he is, told me to do that, once upon a time. I had just asked him why and how he writes so beautifully, with such soul, and he said it helps to discipline oneself to write daily.

Joann Maglipon, flawless writer that she is, says reading helps. Especially after a hiatus from writing. The more you read, the better you write. It is true. So true.  Especially when I have been away from writing for a stretch of time, it is painful to get back to it. I feel rusty, my work reads rusty. Barbara Gonzalez, and her delightful way of storytelling (her column in the Philippine STAR is the first I check out when I wake up Saturday morning!) has her morning pages: sheets of paper that she writes on daily, the same way one would in a diary, no editing of self or one’s thoughts; just uninterrupted words on paper. I have promised myself to do just that one day, every day, for at least a month. For a start.  Hopefully, it can be longer. Heaven knows I have that on my wish list.  And then there is Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s way with words. I read her book The Last Full Moon all of four, maybe five times, from cover to cover. It is beautiful. It is a treasure. The words leap from the pages, the stories are so honest and so real.

Of late, I have been lightly reviewing pieces I wrote from eight to 10 years ago, and as recently as a few months back. Always I find something I could have written better. And I scold myself because I know my work could have been nicer. With a critical eye, it is easy for me now to know that something was rushed, or maybe motivated more than anything by a deadline that needed to be met. But then again, that is the reality. It is never perfect. It can always be better still. I do not know how it is for others who write, whether in the pages of a personal diary, on a blog, for a book. I have been writing pretty regularly for around 15 years now and week after week what I will write about is a surprise even to me. Simply put, the topic is always a moving target. So I just babble on and on, unifying into some semblance of structure or theme the many noises in my head, organizing them into sentences that turn into stories, until I see a predominant thread. Then I cut and paste here and there, or before that when it was still all pen and paper, I dart arrows on the sides of paragraphs, numbering and moving them up or down as I please.

I am not brave enough to say I am a writer, in the truest sense of the word. At best, I have just shared many little stories with all of you.  Arguably, writing for me is just, like I said earlier, sitting in a room with you, sharing a story. About a sandwich I made, a love story I know, the chicken that was once upon a time my sister’s pet. Anything. As long as it is attached to some emotion. The voice changes as life changes. So does the thought process, the topics you choose to take on, what compels you to share something through words. There will be bouts of over-analysis — maybe the topic is not good enough, not relevant, too mundane.  Whatever. But there is beautiful freedom in listening to the gut. Because if I stay true to what I feel, if I stop editing myself before I even start something, if I just show up deadline after deadline, chances are, the story will write itself. That is the best reward. 

No, there is no great science to it. Because writing really is just telling a story. Always, the details matter, the sharing must be from the heart, a memory can be powerful as it is beautiful, and how the words are put together is just as important as what you say. And all that said, may I always remember that this space I am blessed to have in this paper, is the room where I sit with you. It is a journey, and as with most journeys it is supposed to be fun, and enriching in that intangible way that is precious.  There are days when I wonder if any of it matters, really — me writing something Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. But then I answer my own question, and I find a measure of peace in that if any of what I write about speaks to just one person out there, then perhaps it has been all worth it.

See you next Sunday!












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