Forever Drafts


I write and write and write,
endlessly through the night.
For with the words I bleed,
my heart I freed.

Papers stained with tears I shed,
papers hidden underneath the bed.

I write and write and write —
endlessly through the night —
stillborn verses and paragraphs,
remaining forever drafts.

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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…

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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.

It’s December the 1st!


It’s December the 1st and I can’t believe how time can fly so fast! It seems like it was just yesterday that I was just moping, trying to figure out how I was going to graduate on time and now, I am doing the very thing that I had only wished for in the past. Still, there are quite a lot of 2016 goals that I failed to achieve (I really suck at New Year’s resolutions). For example:

  1. Avoid processed foods and soda. (But McDo float…)
  2. Read 50 books. (Current count is 39. There is no way I can finish 11 books in a month.)
  3. Blog at least once a week. (Got to explain this in a separate blog post.)

Recently, I have read several articles about bullet journals and I am thinking of jumping on the bandwagon. Do you think it might work? Your suggestions are very much welcome. 🙂

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Strictly Mine?


Last month, I started a six-part series telling the story of my uneventful college life and how I managed to survive it. I intended to end the series on my graduation day. Now, it has been more than a month since I posted the third part and the fourth is still a shabby first draft.

I can give a handful excuses as to why I could not write it:

  1. reading
  2. getting as much shut-eye as I could to make up for the sleepless nights
  3. watching T.V. because I have not in months
  4. job applications
  5. some more reading

But to be honest, there is just one reason why I cannot proceed to writing it:

Some stories are painful to tell because they are built by memories that we would rather forget.

My junior year in college was the toughest year of my school life that I used to worry so much for my mental health. I got past through it, alive and whole, but thinking about it now opens up a hodgepodge of distasteful emotions that I fought so hard to keep bottled deeply inside all these years. They are just too intimate that I could just not find the right equations to show you how I came to here. It feels like I should not be sharing it because it is strictly mine. But still, a part of me wants to tell it — to unleash the monster that I managed to tame. A part of me wants to say that it is possible to fix your own brokenness, to make yourself whole again — not necessarily the same but whole and new.

Right now, apart from typing this rambling post, I am trying to write it for the nth time — not exactly writing sentences but rather gathering the courage to share a story that I believe is strictly mine. Wish me luck.

He used to write to her


He used to send her love notes every day — letters and poems, long and short.

Not once did she reply. Religiously still, he wrote of her chocolate eyes, her rosebud lips, her angel’s hair. He wrote of love.

He could have written more but the ink has run dry.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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  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);

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  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);

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  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.

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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.

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Wish me luck!

 

Missing the Moon


It was only after reading Fr. Jerry Orbos’ Sunday column that I finally realized why there were countless posts about blue moon yesterday —- there was a blue moon last Friday and I did not see it! It was a little heartbreaking that I did not. As a little girl, I have read about the rare phenomenon and ever since, I have been fascinated by it. Someday, I told myself, I am going to see the blue moon for real. I missed my chance last Friday.

Coincidentally, that same night when the moon made its royal appearance, I sat on my bed thinking, When was the last time I saw the moon? Probably December, when I was home for Christmas. I turned to the window above my bed and looked out but I saw nothing of the night sky. The view was blocked by the condominium beside my dorm. Before going to bed that night I wrote in my notebook, I miss the moon!

I never gave the moon much thought as a kid, except the idea of it magically turning from boring off-white to majestic blue. Then, when I learned in Earth Science class that it has no light of its own (it merely reflects the sun’s light), it dulled even more in my sight. But the moon gained my admiration shortly before I left high school when, in English class, we were made to interpret a poem that likened the moon to a beautiful woman (or was it just me who interpreted it that way?). Suddenly, the moon, for me, became the ultimate symbol of perfection and womanly elegance that does not seek adulation. Since then, on nights when I could not get myself to sleep, I would stare at the moon, often trying to capture its enthralling loveliness. But I never did. Somehow, all the verses that I could muster in its honor could never match up to the real thing.

What secrets are you hiding, dear Moon?
What secrets are you hiding, dear Moon?

Lately, I have not seen much of the moon, except maybe in pictures. I am too busy with exams and papers that I forgot the nightly ritual I used to have. My obsession with catching up with school work has kept me from seeing an old, dear friend. But tonight I have nothing to do. I’ll see you later, dear Moon. 🙂

Celebrating in Bed


This post is in response to the The Daily Prompt’s Celebrate Good Times.

(Click to see source)
(Click to see source)

When I was twelve, my mother asked my sister and me how we would like to celebrate our eighteenth birthdays. My sister asked for a party. I asked for an entire day in bed without anyone telling me to get my lazy ass off it. My mother laughed. She did not think I was serious.

Ironically, on the actual day I turned eighteen, I pulled an all-nighter in preparation for an upcoming exam in Organic Chemistry which I eventually failed dramatically (but that is another story). So much for a celebration. But on the other hand, I would have neither opted for a “real” celebration. I am in love with our culture but I am not quite a fan of the Filipino way of celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings, baptisms, and the like.

A Filipino celebration is never complete without handaan (feast), inuman (drinking), and the much-loved videoke. It sounds fun and some people actually love organizing such events. But the introvert that I am is definitely not enticed.

First of all, throwing a party is a laborious task. The host or hostess has to prepare for it days or even weeks before. He or she has to wake up early on the actual date in order to make sure that the house is spotlessly clean and to prepare the food that everyone will feast on later. During the party he or she has to go back and forth the sala and the kitchen to make sure that all the guests are comfortable and that there is enough food for everyone. Then, after everyone has said goodbye, he or she is in charge of the mess that is left, including drunken guests who are no longer capable of going home safely by themselves. Going all through these hassles looks stressful and being stressed does not appear celebratory for me.

Secondly, I shun drinking to get drunk. Just recalling past Christmas celebrations with the family makes me shudder. There was always chaos in the house after my uncles had too much beer. They would quarrel among themselves, bringing back their past resentments with one another (sometimes with tears galore), and then they would turn to their wives who would loudly chide them as if they were children. The morning after is not much better with hangover making them irritable. Grouchy uncles on Christmas morning is a clear indication that spirits destroy the Christmas spirit. Again, does not appear celebratory.

Lastly, the singing. By nature, Filipinos are music lovers. That is why almost everyone, even those who cannot carry a tune (like me), loves to sing. Celebrations are always an opportunity to sing before an audience and are, thus, always welcome. But let’s face it: some singing are more of a noise than music. The “singers” might say, walang basagan ng trip, and they may get away with it but in the end, it is the host or the hostess who has to face the trouble next morning when neighbors who were not pleased would definitely complain. Now, there is no fun in that.

I have never been amused by large and noisy parties and on my birthdays, I always prefer the small family feast we have always had. But if I were to be asked, my idea of a perfect celebration is in bed, especially now that I am far from my loved ones who I always share my special days with.

This may sound crazy but you see, my bed is my comfort place. I can do almost everything in it. I study, read, write, think, and dream in it. So where else should I spend my special day if not in my favorite place?

Maybe spending the entire day in bed is not realistic for one has to work or go to school (pre-teen me did not realize that). But it would have been nice to wake up to everyone singing Happy Birthday while I blow out the candles on a birthday cake. Then later in the evening I would throw a pajama party for all my friends. We would gorge ourselves with pizza, French fries, and cakes while we watch cheesy rom-com movies and, of course, the national sleepover and break-up movie, One More Chance. This is how sixteen-year-old me pictured my twentieth birthday celebration. The actual day was a far cry from this silly fantasy.

On my twentieth birthday, I was awakened not by singing but by the alarm that was set to two hours earlier than my usual waking time. It was just like a regular day and I went through my daily routine as if it was not a red-letter day in my calendar. I took a quick bath, put on whatever shirt and shorts are on top of the pile of clothes in my closet, grab a McCafe and hash brown, then drag my feet to school. On that particular day, we had an exam and an oral report so I was almost sleepless the night before. So when the day was over, I rushed back to my dorm room, put on bed clothes, then slept. Birthday cake in bed? I had it in my dreams. Haha.

As a new grown-up, I no longer see birthdays as the special days that I was used to in childhood. Nowadays, I only have personal celebrations. I celebrate every tiny accomplishment I make — submitting a paper on time, surviving a hell week, passing an exam I was sure I would fail. And I always celebrate each accomplishment in the same place — in bed. Sometimes, I prop myself up with pillows while I catch up with my reading. Sometimes, I lie on my belly while I write on my journal. But usually, I catch some extra hours of shuteye. That would make a perfect sem-ender, if you ask me.

Some people, especially the party-hungry ones, might say my way of celebating is boring. But between getting drunk in a college party and sleeping in, I would definitely choose the solace my bed can offer. Waking up feeling refreshed and energized for another exam or semester is much better than waking up with a hangover, right? Ah, the pleasures of celebrating in bed!

Paper


It lay in front of me—
White and spotless
Like a baby’s blanket.

There it lay still—
Empty and waiting
To be filled with my love.

But I know of no love,
Only sorrow and regret,
And only these I can give.

So now it lay in front of me
Black and blue all over
Like a battered body.

Still it lay in front of me
Brimming with tears
Yet still offering its other side—

White and spotless.
Empty and waiting.