Shorts

Keeping to short forms these days. Flash fiction, poetry, something in between.

I got busy during the summer moving to another apartment. This was followed by a two-week stay in New York City where I had planned to luxuriate in daily writing sessions. Writing I did, but it wasn’t as productive as planned. Something about tight spaces, places to be explored, heat and humidity. Could have rallied the necessary discipline to power through and produce a first draft by the end of 2018. No dice.

I’m not a trained poet, but here I am trying.  Lessons might be in order, but I don’t feel like it. Not at the moment, anyway. Work is hectic so I want writing to be more about play and exploration for now. See where untried genres can bring me, what it can tease out of my brain.

Here’s to hoping the holidays can bring about a creative renaissance, even of a modest scale.

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New and Old

New: Novel-in-progress. I smile as I write this because there isn’t a word of it written down. It’s all in the head at the moment. I’m taking a breezier approach with this one, not planning the chapters in advance, letting characters take shape and decide the course of things. I know their faces, their jobs. I feel their emptiness, know how to break their hearts. Someday I’ll give them life in pages.

Old: Short story about a boy with a questionable gift. A beast, this one. It’s a story I truly want to tell, but why, oh why, is it so hard to polish? Must be the element in it that is so familiar to me but very strange to most.

New: Adventures, not the globetrotting sort. Beloved sister due to give birth late fall– I’m an eager Auntie. My sweetheart embarking on the biggest move of his career. Possible change of address this summer. Life will be so much different by the end of the year.

Old: Resurrected the habit of journaling. Not the dear-diary-detailing-my-day kind, more like a way to untangle thoughts. Centre myself. My memory is too good, my imagination too wild at times. Pen and notebook force me to focus, puzzle out a deep question. Or write a grocery list. Sometimes that’s all it takes to calm me down.

Lightness of a Beginning

What a year! Finished the novel–took me five years. It’s out there, looking for a home away from its fussy creator. Whether it gets published or not, it’s finished and I’m happy with what I accomplished. Writing it has definitely taught me a lot.

Ideas for the next novel swim in my head. It’s just a matter of spotting the one that moves slower than the rest, the one fat with questions and worthy to be dissected for the next couple of years or so.

Writing life aside, older sister got married last month. We were so busy with the wedding preparations, the anticipation lodged in the back of our heads for most of the year, that when we woke up the day after we were surprised that Christmas was just around the corner.

To say that the year flew by would be an understatement. I’m savoring the last few hours of 2017. The present is truly precious.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Completion

 

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Hand-sewn dining chair slipcovers—two sets of four pieces. Beef borsch (traditional recipe). Cleaned the gunk off the window ridges. Banana-chocolate chip bread, cottage cheese cake, and other baked experiments. Framed V’s oil painting and found a place for it alongside other photos and wall decorations. These are things I finished in the course of finishing a novel. They distract but they don’t derail. If anything, they are necessary (imagine looking past your laptop and noticing mud lacing your windowpanes). They are chores and passing whims; I am not built for devoting life to domestic perfection. Believe me when I say I’m not the crafty type; even I laugh at the results sometimes. When V suggested getting a sewing machine (during slipcover phase—it must have looked painful to him), I said no to the waste of money and space. (I also thought afterwards that I find sewing by hand meditative, not sure if a sewing machine has the same effect.) When you spend hours and hours inside your head you seek distraction by working with your hands. Want to fall in love with exercise? Try writing a novel.

Then I get tired of the dirt, the dishes, the less-than-desirable outcomes. Or I just get tired. The manuscript always beckons. It’s becoming truer, deeper each time. It trusts me that I won’t quit as much as I trust it to constantly challenge and surprise me.

I have an idea for a watercolour wall art and I want to learn how to make bread from scratch.

Writing Weary…Again

Still revising the same story I mentioned last March. A piece drafted two years ago. Short stories are sly and merciless like that, quick to consume but take forever to create. Come on, tell me something new, I beg the lines as I do yet another reread. Our relationship is akin to that of a frustrated mother and her difficult child (I guess the adjectives could be flipped). I believe so much in this story, it’s something that is meant to be told; I won’t let it languish in the drawer of aborted drafts. There was a time when I felt it was ready and I sent it to battle, green and ill-equipped (what incompetent commander I make sometimes.)

All the ingredients are in the pot, but I can’t capture the desired flavour. I’ll stop before my metaphors get any worse.

I’ll work with it for a few more days and send it out to the world to judge.

Writer / Wanderer

Last fall, I was able to compose an entire short story in my head!

It happened by accident. As with any story, it began with an idea. An idea I couldn’t fully attend to because I was revising an older piece. My commute to work takes an hour-and-a-half, one way. Feeling too drowsy to read a book (but not drowsy enough to actually fall asleep), I closed my eyes and  rested my head against the bus window. The idea bounced around my head, giddy and promising, maybe because it did not have the pressure of a deadline. It was not a draft on paper, so there was no need to fuss over grammar and word choice. It was just a floating potential, turning fleshy day by day.

But during my designated “writing time”, I chiselled away at my older and more crystallized story. Sometimes, I would note down names and keywords related to the new idea but not much more. I have a rule against working two pieces at once. I didn’t want to immerse myself into a fresher (more inviting) project, without seeing the older one through.

By the time I finished with the revision, the idea in my head had grown, not just the bare bones of a story arc or the heartbeat of a theme, but a head to toe first draft. Complete with an opening paragraph and a compelling last line, with exposition and dialogues in between. Blanks waiting for the names I have written in my notebook. When I sat down to write it was as if the story was drafting itself!

In a post early this year, I  said that writing block is stage fright on paper. Not sure if this is true for other writers, but to me, a written piece is already “performing” once I’ve put it on paper. It’s already working for an audience (reader), even if it’s safely tucked away in my notebook (or saved in a drive). Drafts on paper make me pay more attention to the technical aspects of a written piece. Grammar, punctuation, and paragraph breaks are all vital, things that have more  to do with the story’s soulcharacters and setting, tone and theme, conflicts and resolutionsare more easily resolved when I’m not yet burdened by a hard copy.

So I no longer feel guilty when a writing afternoon was spent looking out at the window and jotting down vague bits. The blank page no longer fills me with dread because I understand that I no longer have to answer to it, at least not right away. I sip my tea and let my thoughts wander. Trusting something useful will surface.

Summer of Gratitude

The past few months reminded me of the many things I’m thankful for. Family and friends who are supportive of my goals. Writing, after all, can make one feel isolated, too much into one’s head. When I get asked how my writing’s going, or when I talk to fellow writers about the rewards and challenges of the craft, I actually feel my soul digest a filling ball of nourishment.  Then there is employment. The threat of unemployment beckoned late spring, dangled on my head half the summer, during which I was busy finishing AMfC.  Only God knows how V tolerated my moods. Managed to snag another part-time job before the end date of my previous job. And finished AMfC…for now. Thank you!

I’m happy to have the mental and physical faculties needed to pursue survival and fulfilment. Glad to have the remainder of the summer without the aforementioned stresses. Now I’m rediscovering the challenges of short fiction and experiencing growing pains in the new job. But I’m not the kind to complain.

Musings on Reading and Mortality

A few months after my father passed away, I told my boyfriend, V, “You know what makes me sad sometimes? It’s the thought that someday, I will die. And there will be so many beautiful books and stories out there that I haven’t read.”

There are a few titles in my bookshelf that I haven’t opened. I refuse to make a reading list, knowing that doing so will bring more dread than excitement. I’m fortunate to have the experience of immigrating to another country—Canadian literature is a lovely, lovely trove! From time to time, I’d flip through an anthology to read a Filipino short story or make a mental note to read a certain Filipino author (I guess there is a list, after all). Great books are churned out year after year in the US, but hey, how about writers outside North America? I go to readings, listen to fascinating works by emerging and established writers and make a note (another note!) to look up their work. A friend recommends a novel. I go to the library and see the featured titles. And there are those books I want to reread. Why die?

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My father passed away at 56. This might sound weird, but one of the things I processed, aside from scenes remembered and possibilities lost, was the sadness at the likelihood of me outreading him. I didn’t realize until then that I wanted things to work out in such a way that he would always have read more than I have.

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Then there was my grandmother. She died at 94, leaving behind old books, a scribbled book-length autobiography, old newspaper clippings, love letters and poems to my grandfather, and a lot of other writings.

 I always tell V that I look forward to being old, to being a grandmother. To no longer have to work and leave the house. “I’ll spend the whole day cooking and reading,” I told him.

To which he would reply. “But your body will be weak and  hurt all over.”

My grandmother remembered reading Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and imagining the Swiss Alps from her hometown in Santa Cruz, Ilocos.  “I have read all those books, but I have completely forgotten the stories,” she once told me, laughing. I couldn’t recall when this was exactly, but she must have been in her late eighties. I suppose that is the downside to living long. Appreciation  suffers because the body and the mind age.

Then while reading her copy of Wuthering Heights, I came across passages she had underlined: I cannot read without my life! I cannot live without my soul! My grandmother was a widow for more than 30 years and I could only imagine the depth of heartache those lines evoked in her.

This teaches me that reading is something to be enjoyed at the moment, not something to rush through like a to-do list or a buffet in an all-you-can-eat restaurant (this is the metaphor that most resonates with me, sorry!)

We all thank God for my grandmother’s long life. We thank her for the love, the sacrifices that she made, and her accomplishments that make us proud. I wouldn’t know how many stories she enjoyed, how many titles she finished. But I know as a granddaughter that the life she led will always be something to live (and read) up to.

Scribbles in Spirals

A search for new story ideas led me to the box of diaries I wrote back in high school. I had taken a peek at these notebooks from time to time but had never actually read them. Boyfriend was away for a couple of weeks so I ended up poring over three or four notebooks during my free evenings.

I can’t remember having read anything before that made me cringe at every page. Mostly at the subjects I gave enough importance that I wrote about them in detail: people I barely knew, petty gossips and silly school incidents. But this was after all a conversation with my younger self–no, wait–an experience of listening to my younger self speak. (I did find myself asking “what the hell were you thinking” more than a few times). With this perspective I learned to forgive my naive denial of unpleasant things brewing around me, while at times be astounded by the frankness of my thoughts and wicked opinions I formed of some people around me.

Accuracy is a double-edged sword; it helps me remember things vividly but has also left me with pages and pages of evidence that I was once silly and weird, not in a bad-ass, quirky way that I would happily own.

(I have always felt guilty whenever I read things about famous people that were supposedly taken from their diaries. Didn’t they keep these things private for a reason?)

But there are gems. Drawings. Items. Pages devoted to quotes. Remembrances of friendships that have lasted to this day and unhindered imaginings of my future self. I once dreamt of becoming a fashion designer (now I happily indulge in dress-like-a-grandma days). I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with friends in their homes (which I much preferred than having them over at our place, which rarely happened). Also remembered my love of scary rides at amusement parks (I’m not sure I’m as brave these days.)

I have always thought it ironic that I stopped journalling when I started attending journalism school. I blamed the combination of crazy Manila commute and heavier school work. I had bigger worries and heavier experiences to write about. Greater triumphs too. I switched to day planners. The truth is I’m not unhappy that I stopped. I learned from reading my diaries that I was writing mainly to endure what life was throwing at me back then, not so much to hang on to memories that I might want to recall in the future. I am now of the opinion that whatever’s worth remembering firmly stays in the head, like it or not. After all, nine notebooks of my writing from ages twelve to seventeen should yield enough story ideas for a lifetime.