Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing


Having read innumerable writing rules, I first thought the article is just another one about writing. However, I found one truth that I never realized, until now:

“Deep down, we all want to be poets.”

In the literati ladder, the poet occupies one of the highest rungs with his enigmatic way of making music with the pen as her instrument. Thus, which lover of words would not love a poet? Which aspiring penman would not look up to a poet and aspire to be one himself?

But alas! Not all of us can be poets. We can all write but not all of us can make verses sing because that is a gift poets are born with. Because poets are born, not made like the rest of us.

Still, we keep writing verses, hoping that with each poem we take one step up that ladder. A long way to go, yes, but still a little bit closer to that coveted spot because no matter what they say and what we know, deep down, we all want to be poets.

Sometimes, not even genetic endowment can restrain the desires of the heart.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

shawna kenneyBy Shawna Kenney

First thought, best thought; revise, revise, revise. Write first thing in the morning when the mind is alert; write at night and never while sober. Do it alone, in an office with the door closed, surrounded by books; write in coffee shops, surrounded by stimulating characters and conversation. Use traditional quotation marks and capitalization Unless You Are a ‘Genius.’ Journal in longhand; always type fast. Sentences longer than three or four lines are unacceptable and tedious, unless you are William Faulkner, William Beckett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, David Foster Wallace or one of those other people who can get away with it. Short is good.

Write with an ideal reader in mind; fuck the audience. Never show anyone an early draft; find a workshop for feedback. Write to please everyone; quit workshop and hire an editor. Take classes…

View original post 426 more words

It’s Just A Name


Note: All right, I know this is not microfiction. But let’s face it, this is probably the last short story I will ever write. This was a requirement for a literature class I took during my senior year in college. I know I have never been comfortable with writing fiction but I thought it would be great to share this and finally face rejection bravely (for I shy away from longer pieces of fiction because I am afraid of criticism).

It was an uneventful Friday night and all three of us were cooped in the house, eating a dinner of tuna spaghetti. Bored, we spent the evening just like any family (minus Mother) on quiet Friday nights— in front of the T.V.

We were watching the probably most controversial teleserye of the moment. Commercials promised that the night’s episode was a must-watch so since we had nothing to do, we decided to watch it and see what was hooking everybody. But before Angel Locsin could slap Maja Salvador, my brother grabbed the remote then the screen went dead.

“We’ve had enough of that. Thank you very much,” my sister said.

“Can’t believe how people eat up this stuff,” my brother said.

As I turned the T.V. on again to find a better show I replied, “People always love the unusual.”

My brother shrugged and went back to the kitchen to get more pasta. My sister had finished hers and has found a magazine to read. Neither of us said anything but surely we were all thinking of the same thing.

The dark weather in the house dragged me out and I found myself in my favorite cafe. It is an unpopular one (that’s why I like it) but with the hell weeks looming in, the shop is unusually full of students in loud group study sessions. At this moment, I love the noise. It drowns unwanted thoughts.

I pulled out a book and tried to read to brighten mood. But I was not even halfway through the first chapter when a tall, older-looking man came and asked if I were alone. I nodded. I did not trust him but I did not feel like lying. It can be tiresome.

“Can we share the table? All are taken.”

I looked around. Indeed, no table is unoccupied. But he can go find a seat in a different shop, right?

Probably seeing my hesitation, he added, “Please? I really like this place.”

Well, I do, too. “All right.”

As soon as he sat down, he made a polite attempt to talk. He said he is an English teacher. With that said, the awkward chitchat turned to an actual conversation about literature and, eventually, words. I could not remember how we got to that part but he asked me this: “What’s your least favorite word?”

I was stunned. I know my favorite word but I am unsure of my hatest word. It changes, depending on my mood. Right now, with the bitter aftertaste of the dinner at home that I escaped from, one word is burning my tongue. But I cannot see why I have to tell this to this stranger. One has to guard her filthiest secrets with her life. But then, I probably wouldn’t see this guy again, anyway.

“Illegitimate,” I said. Trying to look disinterested, I pretended to be too absorbed with studying and started highlighting random passages in my book.

“Oh.” He motioned for the waiter and seemed to have no intention of leaving. It bums me more because I really wanted him to go away. I hated the sound of that Oh.

After ordering, he turned back to me and said, “Me, too.”

“Oh…” Now he has my attention. No more elaboration is needed for me to get what he meant.

“Copycat,” he replied with a smirk.

Goodness, I hate this guy. How does he expect me to reply to his revelation? I feel you, dude?

“So what’s your story?” he asked.

“I’m sorry?”

“Tolstoy said — wait, do you know him? The Russian guy who —“

“I know Leo Tolstoy,” I sharply answered.

“Right. Well, he said: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is —‘”

“‘… unhappy in its own way.'”

“Exactly,” he said. “So what’s your unhappy family story?”

At first, I found it ridiculous. This random guy just barged into my me time and now he’s asking me to tell him my family’s story? Who is he anyway? But then, maybe it’s about time.

There are five of us — my brother and sister and our other brother and sister. My brother, my sister, and I belong to Mommy. The other two belong to the other mother. But to Daddy, there is always five of us.

When I was little, I was entirely unaware of my family’s real status. In my earliest memories, we were just like any normal family — a mom, a dad, and their kids living under one roof. We ate dinner together on weekdays and go out on weekends. Mommy and Daddy would put us to bed with bedtime stories. Birthdays are all about cakes, candles, and lots of gifts. We spent every holiday together. It was a rather happy childhood. But I started asking questions when I was around ten years old.

When I turned ten, it was then decided that I was old enough to attend sleepovers and overnight pajama parties so I spent a lot of Friday nights in my friends’ houses along with other girls. I get asked a lot but when it was my turn to throw a pajama party, only two girls showed up in our house. Back then, I could not see why.

When I was in my friends’ houses, I noticed how their houses are almost the same as mine — there is a Sto. Nino altar, a T.V. set in the sala, a framed picture of the The Last Supper in the Kitchen beside or in between a large pair of wooden spoon and fork, and lots of framed pictures on the wall. There is only one thing that is strikingly absent in our house: a wedding picture of Mommy and Daddy.

One Saturday morning, upon arriving home, I decided to ask my mom why their wedding picture is not up on the wall or displayed by the coffee table. I remember how scared I was when I saw the face of my naturally confident mother turn white. I knew immediately something was wrong.

“The picture is not that important, dear. I could not remember where I had put it.”

She was lying, I know. If pictures are not important to her, then why is it that our photo albums were the first thing she grabbed when there was a fire across the street? But she woud not tell me so I went on to find the picture myself.

In the attic, I found a shoe box containing old photos, mostly of my mother when she was little. I was thrilled with what I found (though it was not what I was looking for) so I brought down the shoe box to my sister’s room, as quietly as I could so Mommy would not notice.

We were having a great time looking at the old pictures when, surprisingly, we found a quite recent photo of a teenage boy and girl that we could not recognize. Just as my sister put it back on the box, I noticed there was something written at the back.

To Papa, We miss you so much. Love, Kate and Kiko.

“Who is Papa?” my sister asked.

I turned to her nervously. “Daddy?”

“That’s impossible, Ate,” my sister said confidently. “He’s Daddy, not Papa.”

My sister went back to the old photos but I stared at this picture. For some reason, Kate and Kiko suddenly looked familiar.

Seven years later, we met Kate and Kiko in person on Daddy’s funeral. They were already in their late twenties and were already professionals while I, Mommy’s eldest, was only seventeen and barely in college. I was right the entire time — Daddy was indeed Papa.

When I first saw their picture, I had suspected we were of the same blood but deep inside I was not entirely convinced that they actually existed. Seeing them in flesh during our father’s funeral was like waking up from a beautiful dream only to find nightmare in reality. And that nightmare is the horror of realizing that the life we had been living was not what it was. For seventeen years, I lived a lie. It was unfair. My siblings and I did not ask to be born to this kind of situation.

On that day, I could not cry. I was angry at everyone — at my parents for keeping their secret, at Kate, Kiko, and their pretty mother for showing up and pushing our family to the corner, at my friends who would not treat me the same way again.

My brother and sister were both silent. They could not believe it. This is the stuff that only happens in movies. It does not happen in real life. Or, if it does, it happens to other people, not to my perfect, happy family. It could not be. There must be some mistake.

But soon, just weeks after we buried my father in the ground, there were talks of us, three children, taking up Mommy’s name instead. It was the legally right thing to do, they decided.

I went livid. They have no right to strip me and my siblings of our name. We lived that name and brought honor to it, too. What right have they to say we do not deserve it just as the other two do? Are we not our father’s children, too? But my aunts and uncles shook their heads and said I have to listen to them for it was the rightful to thing to do. My mother said nothing.

So here we are, both fatherless and nameless.

“So that’s the story of how, in his death, my father took my name with him to the grave,” I ended the story. There is more to it but I have said too much for this stranger.

“What’s in a name? ‘That which we call a rose —“

“‘… by any other name would smell as sweet.'” I took a sip of my coffee. It has grown cold. “Why do you like quoting classics?”

“Because it makes girls swoon and they don’t even notice it wasn’t exactly original.”

I grunted. “Weh? I don’t believe you. All girls know Romeo and Juliet.”

“No. Trust me, most don’t. They only know ‘O Romeo, Romeo!’ and that they both died in the end. You’re one of the smarter few.”

My cheeks burned. Heavens, swallow me now, please.

He noticed and smiled. “Seriously though, there is absolutely no reason for you to worry about your name. It’s just your name. It’s not you. You did not name yourself — your parents did that for you— but you chose to be the wonderful person that you are and that’s what’s important.”

I could not help but smile. I’m starting to like this guy.

“I told you mine. Now, tell me yours.”

And he did. But I am not telling you his story for that is his to tell. What I can tell you is that his is an unhappy story entirely different from mine. But he has found a way to liberate himself from the question of his true identity for, as he had said, one does not name himself. He said I can, too. I could only smile and say, “I hope so.”

“You will,” he said. “Remember, it is you who determines the kind of person that you will be. Bad circumstances are mere inconveniences. They don’t define you unless you let them to.”

The cafe is turning quieter as the college kids start leaving.

“I think I should be leaving. My sister must be waiting for me at home,” I said.

“I’ll walk you out.”

Before I turned to leave, I thanked him. I honestly had a good time talking with him. He thanked me, too, then we said goodbye.

“I’m sorry but I didn’t catch your name?” I turned and called back.

He waved his hand in dismissal. “It doesn’t matter. It’s just a name.”

“Oh. ‘K, bye!” Then he was back inside the cafe.

Walking back to the house, I realized he’s right — it’s just a name.

Things I Like (in haikus)


Usually, I decide not to participate in Discover challenges because:

  1. I don’t think I am good enough to come up with a piece worthy of reading;
  2. I don’t have the luxury of time;
  3. and blogger’s block.

But this recent challenge, One, Two, Three!, mentioned one of the blogs that I absolutely love: Things We Like. In fact, I have my own list of things I like that was published more than a year ago. So in honor of this, I decided to make a series of haikus inspired by the entries in my list (which, by the way, still holds true even after more than a year has passed).

       1. The smell of rain

What is this strange scent,

Rain mingling with foliage?

Smells and feels like home.

2. Slow dances

We could have been more.

Your melody, I have loved

But you just don’t dance.

3. Having my hair combed

I nap as I feel

Mother’s fingers through my hair.

Life’s warm and lovely.

4. Handwritten letters and notes

Then, we wrote daily.

Now, we text and chat instead.

Really miss your script.

5. Books that keep me up all night

One last page became

One last chapter until it’s…

Oh, I’ve finished it.

6. Shopping in malls when it’s just a few hours from closing time

Go ahead and stand

On escalator’s left side.

No one’s seeing you.

7. Eating with bare hands

Rice is always best

With fish and Bicol express.

Now licking fingers.

8. Peanut butter cups and cupcakes

Bored but saved by some

Peanut butter fairy cakes.

Hello, calories!

9. Dresses with poofy skirts

It has been long since

I’ve been pretty and silly,

Twirling in a skirt.

10. Studying in the library when very few people are around

Empty library,

Says my short attention span,

Is heaven on earth.

Waiting For the Deadline


Did you see my thinking cap? It must be lying here somewhere. I have been looking for it for weeks now but it seems like it is eluding me.

Last Tuesday morning, I made a list of all the things I expected to accomplish during the long APEC Summit Holiday. Now three days have passed and the list remains the same — no entry is yet crossed.

best-fiction-writing-to-do-funny-ecard-noz

Instead, here are the things I did for the past three days:

  1. watched Romeo and Juliet three times (once each day, starting Tuesday);

Romeo_and_Juliet_2013_film

  1. recited Juliet’s monologue in the famous balcony scene again and again in the shower (because I can’t sing);

tumblr_mtnltljbwh1qccbedo6_2501

  1. started reading Anna Karenina (I need to read the book before I watch the film adaptation);

1521

  1. memorized Pablo Neruda’s The Queen (how I wish I were that queen!);

1e32d7d49b74d96237a57d9488c32f38

  1. played with my hair by putting it up in foam rollers as I watched Britney Spears’ music videos (and I remembered how I fell in love with dancing because of her);

rs_500x284-131202140136-rs_500x284-130905114118-tumblr_lv7dd0hk591r1aox2o1_500

  1. tried to replicate Britney’s parts in Me Against the Music while in the shower (even the speaking voice gets tired and yes, I take looooong showers);

rs_500x266-130905114117-tumblr_lioky7mjdt1qcxnhlo1_500

  1. and currently, writing this rambling post.

And you know what’s horrible about all this? It is the fact that I feel not even an ounce of guilt for my indolence. It seems that I truly believe that my excuses are valid reasons.

Not in the mood, not in the right condition, not the right weather, not the right pen, and the list goes on. Mere excuses, all lies.

It is not that I am not trying. On Thursday morning I actually managed to get out of bed at 3 A.M. to start studying for two upcoming exams. But after the ceremonial cup of coffee, I found myself scribbling about random things that seem to pop out of my head endlessly and the next thing I know, it was lunch time.

2fb5a3b196fa10ceb074f1d4a57ba21f

I know what is wrong — I am not interested in what is in my to-do list. That is why I always find a way to evade it. Maybe if my to-do list includes more of literature and history instead of studying hefty science books, I would have been halfway through it now. Or I maybe even finished by now. Nature versus nurture must really be the recurring theme of my dear life.

Hoping that Saturday morning will see more light as Monday approaches. As always, my thinking cap magically appears when the deadline looms. Deadlines are my lifeline.

50a10889c96209bfba972eedc0aa638f

Wish me luck!

 

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.

What Is A Poet?


A poet is a dancer―
The paper is his stage.
Wrapping his fingers around his pen,
He performs a passionate tango,
A seductive rhumba,
A playful boogie,
And a long, long waltz
With life.

A poet is musician―
The pen is his instrument.
Every word is a note,
Every verse is a song.
His poems are his voice
That can break the glass windows
Of every prison
Where music can’t be heard,
To coax all the menacled
To sing along with him.

A poet is an artist―
The paper is his canvas.
With nature as palette,
And emotion his brush,
He garbs beauty with colors garish and harsh
But cloaks the grotesque in richer hues
To paint a picture of a world
That all has dwelt
But never felt.

A poet is a student―
The paper is his notebook.
Life gives the lecture,
And he has to listen,
Note,
Recite,
Participate.
But sometimes he slacks
And fails
But he learns
And becomes the teacher in turn.

A poet is a scientist―
Words are his specimens.
He dissects them to pieces
To see,
Then unveil
The magic of their secret microworlds,
Then try to arrange the broken pieces
To make something new,
To make life bearable.

A poet is a child―
Words are his toys.
He plays and wonders
Then asks
Who?
What?
Where?
When?
Why?
How?
Then go back to his toys
That are never the same
As every answer
Prompts new questions.

A poet is every man―
Poems are his life.
Poems tell his story
That could be yours
Or mine
For every poet
Can be you
Or me.