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!





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.


Kid Scribbling

1910182_15506259867_4177_nRecently completed the first draft of a short story set in Manila, told from the point of view of a nine-year-old girl. On the side, I’m revising a not-so-new story about a seventeen-year-old boy who has just moved to Canada. Only just noticed that my current projects all deal with younger characters. Maybe it has something to do with me turning 31 (it has a definitive adult sound to itthink of a car, starter home, a baby, none of which I have though I’m aware some folks would consider it a tender age.) I’m not the type to miss childhood. I like being an adult. Making decisions. Being in love. Deciding how time and money, though always running short, are spent. And making money.

Working on these pieces has made me realize that even a seemingly benign, uneventful childhood can be a rich minefield for story ideas. I was probably in my late teens when I first started writing fiction with a view to publication. Back then I was having trouble coming up with ideas. More than a decade later, I flip through pages of my ugly diary scribbles, attempting to recall how my younger self looked at the world. Age and maturity lift a curtain, revealing intentions and pretensions, the wider world beyond the homes we were raised in. But innocence lends a stark, unadulterated (un-adult, ha!) view of things. Right now, the challenge is to capture that perspective that is raw and honest, yet circumscribed by inexperience. Harder than I thought.



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.


Reading at the Magazine Room Launch

Been invited to read at the Room Magazine’s Fall Launch: this Friday. I’m a nervous wreck during readings, but I definitely look forward to a beautiful evening of stories and verses. Hope to see you there.


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?


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.


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 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 in 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.


Cherishing the Process


Found these much-needed passages from Nancy Slonim Aronie’s Writing from the Heart, which has been sitting unread  on my book shelf for far too long. I say much-needed because I’ve been feeling less enthusiastic about writing lately ( yes, it does happen!) I just finished the second draft of AMfC, which I could only be thrilled about until I’m reminded of the endless hours of revision ahead of me.

For the past year, I’ve been writing four to five days a week, two to four hours per day.  Typically, I sit down not really feeling up to the task–I ease into the actual writing by alternating between windows: one that has the draft on, the one with Facebook on (portal to other distracting stuff on the web) and a real window that seduces with the beautiful day out (even rain can seem inviting sometimes). Caffeinated and sugary inducements are employed, but I have become less dependent on those (sticking to my resolutions). I have developed a certain level of discipline.

But the pleasure is waning. I feel my shoulders tighten, my right arm turning into a rigid sleeve as I jot down pages. An urgency gripping the body when I couldn’t grasp at a word or a plot direction. A seed of dread at the realisation that a character or a scene is inconsistent, and God knows how many hard-earned sentences I will have to slash to restore the order. It has even come to a point where I actually look forward to working out (not a bad thing, I guess.)

But I need the enjoyment back. The pleasure of opening to possibilities and trying out different words, seeing how they shift the tone of the sentence or the flavour of the thought. The wording of an imagery, the re-imagining of people and scenes. I hope to rediscover the fun, see the process as a journey rather than a race. I wouldn’t want to fall out of love with what I’m doing.


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.

Basket of Journals

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 was a double-edged sword; it helped me remember things so vividly and 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 were 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.)

Fashion Stalk Ticket

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.