Regrets of A Savage Writer


This post is a response to The Daily Post’s Shoulda Woulda Coulda.

I should have said this.
I should have said this.

When rereading my journal entries, I often find myself cringing. My recent entries are, ironically, screaming mediocre when compared to the ones I wrote as a young teenager.

The passages are too clipped and are, therefore, boring. The handwriting looks like it was for a rough first draft. Instead of saying you’re, I wrote your. There are a couple of spelling mistakes. The placements of some punctuation marks are dubious and some even exist when there should be none. Those eyesore run-on sentences that I used to despise are all over the pages. And worst of all, I failed on the subject-verb agreement of several sentences. The writing is in a very sorry state, obviously a product of cluttered thinking and distracted writing. Obviously an indicator that I have become a savage writer. My Grammar Nazi, sixteen-year-old self would have disowned me had she known. Yikes!

At times, when trying to climb out the deep and dark pit called writer’s block, I ask myself, Whatever happened to you? I used to be that girl who could instantly produce a written output on command and could pump out more than a hundred words a day. Now, a great day means having somehow squeezed at least thirty words. It seems that my brain has totally rewired — I can deliberately blurt out plants’ scientific names (something I never thought I would ever do — I thought it was too nerdy) but I can no longer give a name to what I am feeling, much less describe it.

So what happened? Oh, I think I know. It is partly because of one stupid decision I made as a fifteen-year-old — my biggest regret in life.

My biggest regret in life, contrary to what my mother believes, is not Pisay. Pisay is actually one of the best things that ever happened to me. Rather, my biggest regret is choosing not to sign up for journalism class in my third year in high school.

It was the first day of classes and it was a particularly exciting day for us juniors for we were finally allowed to choose an elective class. We could sign up for whatever elective we wanted to take. We were free.

If I remember correctly, there were five electives available for juniors at that time— Electronics (I’m not sure about this for we just used to call it “Electro”), Robotics, Microbiology, Popular Law, and Journalism. Electro and Robo were out of question. Physics and computer programming both require dexterity with numbers which I, a notorious clinging-by-the-fingernails type of math student, obviously lack. Pop Law, I was told, would require a lot of memorizing. Hell, no.

So that left me with Micro and Journ (pronounced as “jern”). It was a no-brainer for me then. The final answer was Journ. It is not that Micro does not seem interesting. It is just that by that time, I had already apprehended that I had plenty of time for it in college while Journ was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I made up my mind to take up Journalism as an elective subject. Until…

Until I caught a glimpse of who my classmates would be. Most of them were already writing for the student paper. All of them known to be good writers. In their presence I was stripped of the air of confidence I wore. Compared to them I felt like a nobody, a mere wannabe. So like a scared kitty surrounded by humans, I scampered off and immediately signed up for Micro.

Micro did not disappoint. I actually learned a lot. But just as I expected, everything was tackled again in college. In short, I wasted an opportunity to learn something new. I wasted an opportunity to be formally trained in writing. I wasted the opportunity to be tamed. And this realization is the reason why now, five years later, I am still mentally screaming at my younger self: Why did you chicken out?

Indeed, why?

Because I was afraid to be humiliated in front of all those kids who certainly knew better than I did. Because I did not want them to see right through me — a copycat who merely rewrites in much too pompous ways the things that were already written by published authors. Because I did not want to admit that I was far from flawless and badly needed help. Because I did not want to face the truth that I was not the only one who could do it. All reasons reflecting my younger self’s hamartia: arrogance.

Just because I had been getting compliments, I decided I was invincible. I thought I could do everything on my own. I was like Arachne who thought she could do without the help of the very being who gave her the gift of skill. Look at what this arrogance has brought me into. It eventually killed my art and left me swimming in what-ifs (I am quite surprised I have not turned into a spider — yet).

There is nothing more torturous than thinking about these what-ifs. The what-ifs are a result of the could-haves and are often satisfied by the acknowledgment of the would-haves. But if the would-haves fail and the what-ifs continue to haunt the person, then the could-haves are actually should-haves. Like they are now. Lately I have been repeatedly asking myself these same questions.

What if I chose to fight my fear of humiliation and signed up for Journ? Maybe I would not have been suffering from mediocrity now.

What if I managed to put on a brave face and actually tried out for the school paper? Maybe I would not have been so bitter now.

What if I faced the fact that I needed help? Maybe I would not have been the wild writer that I have become.

Now I know. I should have just signed up.

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Tarantism


“Dance like nobody’s watching.”

While walking along Maria Orosa Steet one quiet Friday night, I saw two teeners dancing to disco music — literally dancing in the moonlight.

It was a long weekend and the otherwise busy street was practically deserted. The stores were already closed except for one eatery from which the blasting music was coming from. There were few diners, all of them distracted by the girls who seemed oblivious to the fact that all of us, diners and passers-by, were staring at them.

Honestly, I think they knew. They just did not care. They shimmied, waved their arms, and tossed their heads as I looked on, feeling a mixture of amusement and envy. How I wish I could do just that — dance like no one is watching.

I love to dance, even back when I did not realize that I do.

My mother always gleefully recalls how, at age one, I would be made to stand on a table while Macarena is playing in the radio. Much to their delight, I would willingly wiggle my fat body in odd ways that made all of them laugh. Then, she would often jump to when I was four, when I was made to represent my nursery class in a kiddie pageant. I was painfully shy and I just would not participate as enthusiastically as the other girls did. But when the talent portion came, she would proudly recount, I suddenly shined.  I was dancing as if I forgot about the audience.

In high school, I somehow managed to tame my stage fright and joined the dance troupe. I was not one of the best nor was I one of the popular dancers but I loved being there. The group gave me an outlet to express myself when the spoken word just would not suffice. I found a way to make people see me. I found a way to say, Here I am.

But in junior year I was made to realize that my grades are dropping consistently so I decided, out of desperation, to lighten my extracurricular activities and focus on my school work. Dance troupe was the first to go. Since then, the only connections I have with dancing are waiting for the next Step Up installment and watching old episodes of Dancing with the Stars (but to be honest, sometimes I am just ogling Derek Hough).

Quitting was not a big deal for me then. I thought it was just a hobby. Until I started getting strange cases of tarantism. For example, there was that one time in the supermarket. I was then choosing what brand of shampoo to buy when Thinking Out Loud started playing in the speakers. I swear I wanted to just drop my shopping basket and dance, right then and there. But of course I did not. That would have been disruptive!

Ed-Sheeran---Thinking-Out-Loud-video

This used to happen only rarely but lately, I noticed that I have been being bitten by the dancing bug quite frequently. It happens when I am strolling in the mall. It happens when I am supposed to be studying in the library. It happens when I am in the shower. It happens when I am counting sheep in bed. It happens anytime, anywhere. Every time, I hear a voice that urges me.

Do it. I know you want to do it.

But I tell her, No, what would people say?

That is the problem. It is no longer about quitting so I could focus on studies. I am now quitting because I am afraid of what other people might think. I am afraid that they might not like me dancing. I am afraid that I am not good enough.

But the voice is persistent.

You’re not dancing for them. You’re dancing for yourself.

And I realize that she is right.

I dance not for show. I dance not for pleasing others. Rather, I dance because there is too much music inside of me that somehow has to break free. I dance for myself.

So the next time the dancing bug bits me again, I will drop whatever I am doing and dance. I will just pretend you are not watching.

1347718706533024142dancing_girl_silhouette-md

Champorado From Rainy Days Past


I love the rainy season.

My legs do not sweat in jeans, my face does not break out, the streets are not dusty. And best of all, the heavy downpour drowns the city’s noises that I have learned to get used to but never liked.

On Monday morning earlier this week, the unmistakable sound of a rainstorm woke me up thirty minutes earlier than my set alarm. As soon as I opened my reluctant eyes, I noticed how the rain had muted the whirring electric fans, the singing voices from the shower, and the occasional vehicles avoiding rush hour traffic. I found it ironic that the splashing raindrops could actually produce such silence. It felt peaceful and so unlike the city. It almost felt like home.

Peace amidst the rainstorm.
Peace amidst the rainstorm.

If it were not for my grumbling stomach, I would have stayed in bed, curled up for another hour or so. Grudgingly, I sat up and reached for the food basket which I keep conveniently under the bed. As I nibbled on my last piece of wheat bread, I was hit by the nostalgia of rainy days past.

Back home, rainy mornings are always champorado days. We, kids, would sleep in while a pot of champorado is being cooked in the kitchen. We would then be coaxed out of bed by the smell of tuyo or dried fish (the word literally means “dry”) frying in the pan. We would march to the kitchen table, clad in Mommy’s old camisa de chinos (which my sister nicknamed “farmer’s clothes”) and brightly-colored knee-high socks (which we were not allowed to wear in school). Every now and then we would ask, “Is it done?” as we munched on tuyo.

Some city people do not like tuyo, particularly its fishy smell (But what do they expect? It is a fish!), but it is almost a staple in our diet and we especially love it paired with our champorado. Believe me when I say, champorado plus tuyo is a match made in storm heaven. Yum!

A match made in storm heaven.
A match made in storm heaven.

Maybe the best way to describe champorado is to call it “chocolate rice porridge.” Like lugaw or rice porridge, it is made of kaning malagkit (literally, “sticky rice”) but unlike lugaw, it is cooked, not in mere water with ginger, but in thick, chocolate syrup from tsokolate. Our tsokolate is a little different from the tablea of Batangas though both are used for making hot chocolate. Ours look like small chocolate orbs and they can be eaten like candies. But like the hot chocolate from tablea, our tsokolate produces a viscous liquid so our champorado is not soupy but syrupy.

But the texture is not the best feature of my Lola’s champorado. There is the magic ingredient — gata or coconut milk (expect Bicolanos to add gata to every dish imaginable). So there is no need to add evaporated milk to Lola’s champorado. My sister insists on still adding evap on hers, though. She just could not eat champorado without drawing white hearts on it.

Now, champorado days are mere stories from my childhood. I realized that this morning, as I sat on my bed, wrapped in my thin blanket while sipping bland, runny coffee.

Champorado and tuyo are now replaced by cup noodles and coffee. Rainy days are no longer about playing all day long and finding treasures in Mommy’s old books. It is now about suspended classes.

It is not that rainy days are no longer great, now that I am past my teenage years. At least, with the class suspension, I can catch up on some much-needed sleep and have extra time to study for the next exam. Grown-up rainy days are welcome but it is just that I could really do with some champorado and tuyo today.

I miss home, the place of rainy days past.

Pisay’s Pabaon


May nalaman akong chismis,” a classmate announced as soon as I plopped my bag on an empty chair.

Ano?” I asked as I searched for my notebook in the black hole that is my bag.

“Pisay ka pala.

Uh-huh.”

Mahirap ba talaga do’n?”

Preoccupied with reading my notes I unwittingly answered, “It was actually more work than college.”

So there, I finally admitted it — that I actually had more difficulty in high school. Before, I did not dare say it even when it is true because I did not want to offend people. I was afraid of being called arrogant.

Even before releasing us into the real world, our high school teachers kept reminding us that Pisay graduates are often labelled “arrogant” by their colleagues in college. Back then I was still that girl who loved attention and cared about popularity so when I finally entered the university I made sure to blend in with the others — I did not want Pisay attached to my name. Whenever somebody asks where I am from, I always gave vague answers such as “Bicol” or “somewhere near Isarog.”

In a way, I have succeeded. My classmates do not treat me any differently even now that they know where I specifically am from (maybe it’s because of the bad and not-so-good grades I get). However, there are times when I still feel the pressure of people’s expectations and judgment. There was that time when a classmate inconsiderately asked why I was not good in chemistry when I am from Pisay. There was that time a professor gave me the look when I was wearing my Little Miss Pisay shirt (I swear all my school clothes were in the laundry and that was my last resort).

Having been educated in the special science curriculum in high school, people often expect me to excel in the sciences. Sadly, I am a disappointment in that. I only manage to pass, sometimes only barely. Often, I wonder why. Lately, I realized that it is because the best lessons I got from Pisay were not the ones that I learned in the classroom or the lab. Pisay’s pabaon to us, its graduates, is not really the vantage in academics but the life lessons that we painstakingly acquired.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. Pressure makes diamonds.

We were giddy eleven-, twelve-, thirteen-year-olds then. Most of us were achievers in grade school so we thought we could easily conquer high school, too. But from the first day we were already forewarned: Pisay life is going to be difficult. Pressure will come from every source imaginable. Thankfully, our campus director welcomed us by saying that without pressure, pure carbon will never become a diamond.

I know many will react negatively to this but I have learned in high school that pressure is necessary. Yes, sometimes it can be overwhelming for young teenagers for it exposes their weaknesses and makes them vulnerable. But without pressure, people tend to be lax. Thus, they waste the opportunity to maximize their potentials. Carbon remains carbon.

Pisay has helped us learn to respond to pressure effectively and made us see that we can be diamonds. We were taught to acknowledge our weaknesses and overcome them. We were taught to recognize our strengths and use them to our advantage. We were taught to be tough in order to withstand pressure. Pressure from Pisay education has made us strong.

2. Do not expect others to adjust for you.

I was pampered as a kid so I used to be self-centered. I made myself the standard and I did not hesitate to show my disapproval to anyone who chose to deviate from the standard I had set. In grade school, people tolerated that selfish behavior of mine so in high school, I initially found it hard to adapt. I expected people to adjust for me so unsurprisingly, the other kids eventually learned to dislike me. It took a year before I realized what was wrong but when I did, I became more sensitive to other people’s feelings. I learned to compromise and respected each one’s individuality.

Now, even when the university houses an even more diverse community, I am no longer shocked. High school has prepared me to be open-minded. I am not yet entirely unbiased (is that possible?) but I always remind myself to be careful to avoid offending others’ religious beliefs or gender preferences (I fail sometimes, though).

And when, on the other hand, I believe I am judged unfairly (e.g.”She’s from Pisay so she’s arrogant”), I always remember not to react violently. High school has taught me that being too defensive only breeds enmity and will never make the person change his or her mind. Instead of striving to prove them wrong, I have learned to consider if there might be truth in what others say about me and I try to change myself for the better.

3. Respect and trust your elders.

As teenagers, my friends and I used to make fun of our teachers’ mannerisms. Behind their backs, one of us will impersonate them and we used to have a good laugh about that. We would also disregard their advices and proceeded to doing what we want.

I regret doing so. I wish I had listened.

Teachers have been through high school before so they know what they are talking about. They know better than us. And best of all, teachers treat their students like their own children. That’s why we should trust them. Everything that they made us do, no matter how difficult it was, was for our own good. They only wanted us to succeed.

4. There is no shortcut to learning.

High school was not about the final output but we were made to take tests, do lab work, and make projects because we learn in the process. Thus, taking shortcuts defeats the purpose of being in school.

In my freshman year in Pisay, I had difficulty understanding Drafting and I struggled to finish my plates. Once I had been tempted to ask my mom to do the plates for me. It could have been a sure 1.0 for Mommy used to be an engineering major. But I decided against it and did my job. Sure enough, I got depressing marks on my first plates. But I managed to learn from my mistakes and eventually, my scores improved. Since then, I resolved to do things the long way even when there is an easy way out. I may have low grades in my transcript but the important thing is, I worked hard for those grades and I have learned in the process.

5. Life is not always fair.

These were the exact parting words that our campus director gave us, the graduating class of 2012, on our last Recognition Day in the school. It was just the perfect way to initiate us into the world of adults.

As young people, we tend to be idealistic and we want the world to instantly conform to what we think is rightful. But in Pisay we were told again and again that we cannot always get what we want and we have to learn to accept that. Whatever happens, life goes on.

It may be unfair that a certain person always gets higher marks even when he or she does not give as much effort as you did but there is no point in sulking. Some people are just naturally smart and we could not change that. I have learned that if I, too, wanted high grades, then I need to exert extra effort in order to compensate for my lack of intelligence.

It may be unfair that some girls unreasonably hate you and talk behind your back but you cannot force them to believe you when you defend yourself. People believe what they want to believe. I have learned that I cannot change people’s opinions about me but I should not let them change my opinions about myself.

It may be unfair that the boy I liked instead liked another girl who did not like him back but you cannot force another to love you and choose you instead. Everyone has the right to choose who to love. I have learned to be patient and wait for who is for me.

 

Right now, I am still a construction-in-progress and I am not yet the diamond that Pisay has intended me to be. But Pisay has done a lot to build the person I am today and I will be forever grateful. 🙂