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Posts Tagged ‘Perdido Eden’

The Process

juanlunaThis time, I am learning from my children, those veteran writers and tellers of tales. This time, I am setting aside my diminished ardor for fiction, and embracing the impossible. So how does it start? I don’t know! I’m just in this for the first time since 1976 when two of my stories were published in a ladies magazine in Manila. Oh, there was a Jo March rush of happiness to find a letter and a check in the mailbox. Oh, it was heady business while someone called me and asked to interview me with the other young writers. Then it all receded because life got more interesting than fiction.

Then, the bug hit again in New York when I was married to a banker and I lived in a building guarded by gargoyles. I lobbied to buy a typewriter, and just last week found the receipt. A king’s fortune in 1980 – $188.34. Then life sped up, and all of life was consumed with the chase for the banker to get the into a certain MBA program. I am not from a family of corporate types, but being my optimistic self, I threw all my energy into this quest. At that time, it seemed that the world was devoid of poets and teachers and it seemed everyone I knew was getting a masters degree in business.  I suppose it was in July that that wait-list turned into an admission and off we went to Philadelphia.

Then, the typewriter gathered dust as those years churned by, filled with more drama and survival than anything. In 1984 I found myself looking over maple trees in Cambridge Massachusetts. My recent traumatic sorrow as a widow had receded and was replaced with an entirely new life. I was happy again.  I watched the trees turn gold and orange. I watched the winter come and go. I went to classes at Harvard Extension.

I became a mother.

Then, when my child had cheeks the color of ripening mangoes, I sat at the keyboard of our Macintosh with 128K and typed out a story based on a story I heard on a trip to Batac, Ilocos Norte. We (the UP Concert Chorus) were invited to sing at the birthday of Pres. Marcos’ sister. It was a long trip, the kind of trip where you bond with your seatmate. I listened to a story about Marinduque, my grandmother’s island. I had never met anyone else from her island, and this friend told me a tale that would haunt me for years. This story garnered praise in my creative writing class.

Then I turned away from it yet again. That was in 1985. Now it is 2009.

So where did the juice go? To raising children, to telling them stories, to cooking, to home schooling, to selling on eBay, to publishing books, to publishing a little magazine, to blogging, to listening, to reading. To telling more stories. To realizing that some of my stories were so terrifying that they were filed in “I cannot tell the children these”. To living. All this takes up time.

Then, just a week ago, the kids said, “Hey Mama, you should do NaNoWriMo!” One of the brilliant girls said, “This will be my fifth book.”.

You must know, dear blog readers, that I live in a home full of mystery. The child who was most open about her creative process is the oldest, who has now moved to Brooklyn. Movies and songs were her medium, so they were always in sight and in the airwaves. The next one is a poet, and his poetry leaks out. The next two are writers, and the younger one is an artist. Her drawing leaks out and we see it. We do not see the writing. We hear about it from the younger two.

During November, we can hear, late into the night, the recap of the day’s writing and adventure. But to tell a grownup will kill the flame.

So, in my fifty-second year, I stood with my hands on my waist. “Hmmmm,” I said.

“Come on, Mama, you’ll love it. You get to make everything up!”, said my older child.

“You can write about the people who were bad to you too,” said the younger one with a sly smile.

When I started my journalism classes, I was under the impression that reporters simply bled news stories from their veins. Not so. Structure is the architecture, details and facts fill it in.

I had no idea where to start. “Start where you have a ‘what if'” said my younger novelist, “See who comes forward.”

Setting: Paris, 1895. Who will emerge from this beckoning? Two Filipinos, distant cousins Aurora and Javier are from the province of Pampanga. Javier is in Paris to work as an apprentice to a renowned Filipino artist. Portrait painting is a lucrative pursuit in the Philippines, and Javier is gifted. Charles, a New Englander and amateur artist met Javier at an art exhibition. Javier invited him to sit in on the portrait session.

I waited for the next thing to happen.

The first one to step out from the shadows is Aurora, who steps out with her beaded slippers, arranging her panuelo, the stiff face-framing scarf,  and touching her tortoise shell comb which struggles to contain her abundant tresses.  Her mestiza complexion is rosy and her eyes are large and brown and rimmed with thick lashes. Her lips are shaped like a cupid’s bow and she seems utterly unaware of her beauty. She arranges the tamburin, the gold reliquary necklace, around her neck.

Then in steps Charles, six feet of unkempt haberdashery and a bored demeanor. He has brown curly hair and blue eyes and has a habit of squinting across the room as though he needs glasses. There is a knock on the door and in comes Javier, slender, of medium height, and dark. His thick hair stands up, the pomade makes it gleam but cannot control it.  He moves quickly like a dancer, and speaks to  his paint brushes, calling them by name, and keeping up a banter in Spanish and Tagalog with Aurora that made her stifle her laughter. She is  suddenly aware of Charles’ presence. Aurora arranges herself on an arm chair and looks annoyed. One eyebrow goes up.

Wait a minute! Aurora can’t be alone! She is, after all, seventeen, so her lumbering aunt waddles in and settles into chair with a sigh, and unpacks her crochet hook, thread, rosary, biscuits and spectacles. Tita Pilar has just arrived from her pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and is very happy to be in this large, airy quiet room with her handiwork and biscuits. Tita Pilar tells Aurora in Spanish to sit up straight and not to look at the Americano, because he looks impertinent. Javier stifles a laugh and Aurora rolls her eyes. Charles smiles too, because he studied Romance Languages and understands and writes fluently in Spanish. Charles cannot speak it though, because he can’t stand the necessary humiliation of sounding silly with his New England pronunciation.

“Shall we begin?” said Javier.

“How long will this take?” said Aurora, who was already annoyed  at sitting still.

“Where did you learn to speak English?” said Charles suddenly awake, disconcerted that Aurora spoke in English with impatience.

“At home, of course, and you?” said Aurora, turning slightly and lifting her chin.

“It is our secret language, “said Javier, “our fathers had us tutored when we were small. Now, we can converse and Tita Pilar won’t understand”.

See? All that came out of the fog, dear blog readers.

So, dear blog reader, follow me through this process. My current task is to find out exactly how Javier and Aurora got from the Philippines to Paris. I know how Charles got there.

Meanwhile, my hometown of Baguio is hit by disaster, landslides and flooding and endless rain. Outside, small pumpkins sit on the porch balcony. Upstairs, the youngest sits wrapped in blankets, the latest to fall to this annoying virus. The tall boy sits at his desk working on his mathematics. Bud is at his client, the dog is asleep on the sofa, the cats are all asleep in the kitchen.

I am enthralled by the process, it seems a bit like being a medium. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

*picture: “Tampuhan” by Juan Luna, 1895.

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