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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Just write Part 2.

It took a lot of courage to begin writing because to write is to reveal. When you live in a critical environment, it is hard to write authentically. Even to begin writing is an act of bravery. But on the other hand, writing is liberation if you have a gift for it. Like singers who sing, or composers who make music, or artists who paint, the use of the talent is part of being happy.

I was very lucky in third grade to have a kind and loving teacher named Miss Jeanine Scherer. We went to school at a Department of Defense school, Wurtsmith Elementary on Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga, Philippines.  In that third grade classroom, she set up a reading nook and let us check out books. She also read to us and encouraged creative work. We read Highlights magazine and she asked us all to write poems. She praised my poem and said she would send it in to Highlights.

You can imagine the thrill of that moment. It was as if the skies opened and angels descended singing. I began to write seriously, secretly then. Because she acknowledged me, I felt I had permission. Wonder of wonders, I had a knack for it.

Writing and reading went hand in hand. The writing part of school was always easy. I found that I could stretch a sentence about something I knew nothing about into a viable essay question. Literature was like breathing.

I wrote and thought, and wondered what to write and filled reams of papers and notebooks full of scribbling. Through the adventures and tragedies of young adulthood I wrote letters, and journals and short stories.

Always, there was a moment of fear and doubt before jumping in. In my head I would turn and hush the chorus of harpies telling me that I had nothing of interest to say. Then I found another part of the secret. If it was interesting to me, that was all that mattered.

There have been real life harpies who have tried to put me down for going after my goals and dreams. I know now to ignore them, because conformity is a kind of prison.

And part of writing for me, is taking that surging glorious feeling and shaping it into something. When I am engaged in it, time stands still.

My parents encouraged me. Daddy told me that I reminded him of James Norman Hall who wrote, “My Island Home.” Mama is one of my biggest fans. My husband is my  most supportive reader. My writing is part of what he loves about me.

Writing is a kind of breathing for me. So write away, and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you aren’t good enough, or that what you are writing isn’t worth it. Listen to everyone’s stories, but pay close attention to the myths and majestic history and themes that surround your personal existence.

You know how people will sometimes say, “I couldn’t believe it, it was like something from a book.” Guess what? We are all in a book. Only a few people will be brave enough to express themselves and tap that vein of gold. Be one of them. And when you write something, let me know. I’d love to read it.

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Just write

Let’s use memory to create something entirely new.

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Clara and Mark stood in front of a big window looking down at the New York cityscape. It was the end of the work day. The sky was gray – it was raining lightly. The lights from the traffic and the shops and offices gleamed on the pavement.

Clara was thoughtful, and seemed sad. They had just finished a project and usually they would go out for celebratory drinks with the team, and she usually was bright and talkative. Mark tried to coax her out of the mood.

“Tell me about the sunset, ” Mark said.

“You mean this? It’s rainy so the sky  just gradually got dimmer.”

“No, tell me, about a sunset where you grew up ” he said.

Clara  squinted as if trying to focus .

“In Baguio, the fog would come in and the sun would set behind Mount Santo Tomas. Sometimes the fog would come in and the clouds turned pink, then lavender, and orange. The sunlight would burst through and turn the pine forest green-gold. The sky would be bright blue, then it would turn all the colors and the air would seem tinged with gold and rose.It was such an enchanted hour.” Her voice trailed off.

“Was it warm?” he said.

She started again. “It might be chilly and the scent of  pine hearth fires would waft on the breeze.”

“It sounds beautiful,” he said.

“It would be impossibly beautiful,” she said with sudden vehemence.  “And it would go like that, day after day. One day following the next and it seemed so ordinary, after a while.”

“Then you moved here, ” he said softly.

Clear tears filled her brown eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “I thought New York would be the thing I was looking for. And sometimes, walking down Fifth Avenue, there’s a moment when the sun gilds the rooftops and it sends me back. I didn’t know how beautiful it was when I lived there.”

“I never knew,”said Mark.

“You never know until you leave. It’s one of those strange things.” she countered. “When I was  eight, I went up to Baguio to visit my grandparents. My grandmother was sick and we had gone to the cathedral for the evening mass. My sweater was thin. I remember the cold air, standing on the steps of the old house next to my grandfather. There was a fire and around it the Igorots danced to gongs. Arms outstretched, their feet keeping time with the gong. Their bodies lit by fire, a dark delicious sky and the scent of pine. ”

——

This is why we write. To take pieces of what we have experienced, and use them to remember, to create, to leave our mark.

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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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