Pasting a tiny letter from the said date, to remind myself how far I’ve gone as of this date and how much more I have to do. 🙂
I come from a place where my mind was everywhere and not quite there at the same time. If I’m sitting down to interview someone, I’m also noting which lines to quote in the piece, figuring out how to expand a question, and maintaining a cheerful and semi-charming experience to hold the person’s interest. When I’m eating, I have to note how it tastes, which ingredients stand out, and if what’s promised works. Then I’ll get a message reminding of other tasks and responsibilities involved in my job.
It’s tiring. But my mind and body got used to being all over the place when I began working for media. Like Phil Kaye says in his poem, Repetition:
“My mother taught me this trick.
If you repeat something over and over again it loses its meaning.
For example: Homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework, homework.
Our existence, she said, is the same way.
You watch the sun set too often, it just becomes 6 PM.
You make the same mistake over and over; you’ll stop calling it a mistake.
If you just wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up
One day you’ll forget why.”
Once upon a morning, amid my own repetitions, a friend messaged me about a workshop. He reminded me to apply, having mentioned it a week or so ago. I resisted: “But I don’t have X, one of the list of things to submit with the manuscript. I’m not sure about the paper I’m thinking about either, I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be and if it’s a good fit. Can you read it?”
“X is optional. And sure, I’ll read it.” He replied.
As usual, I was making excuses. I needed someone’s encouragement to remind me only I was stopping myself.
I had a list of repetitions again in my head that day: chapters to edit, the usual tasks—writing and editing to live. I am a writer in that sense; a writer that holds off being a writer writer.
Fast forward to a day or so later, and I get a word document with my friend’s comments. I am first forced to edit the paper, but eventually I fall into a focus: I am writing, revising, editing. I am looking at new angles I didn’t see when I was finishing the first draft. I am there, not here, not elsewhere. I am writing writing.
You see in the Philippines, a Words Anonymous organizer explained to Phil Kaye, we repeat words here to make it sound cute. I think we also repeat them to better understand and remind us of their meaning.
Three weeks later, the edits become a part of my routine. On some days, I look forward to going back to the draft. On others, it feels like another task I want over and done with. But I am moving towards making that deadline; a deadline I chose to mark on my calendar.
A few days ago, I submitted the manuscript. I sold myself the best way I could to the workshop in a cover letter. I don’t think my chances are high, but it was more than enough to be brought back to that focus only writing can offer.
A day after submitting the manuscript, I am lining up in Ateneo with my good friend J. We are about to see Phil Kaye and Sarah Kay perform spoken word poetry. It was surreal—the tickets were a stroke of luck, but we were there, catching up, laughing, and talking art to kill the long wait. In an hour or so, I was about to see two people I’d watch on YouTube LIVE.
I met J in our fiction class. Grad school is funny; I entered it to improve my nonfiction and ended up making friends with a whole bunch of poets. A few of them never became my classmates—a beautiful improbability. I have these wonderful writers to thanks for introducing me to poetry. My sister used to write poetry, but I never gravitated to writing it. I preferred reading it and letting the words embrace my soul or pull out my heart. Poetry also taught me things prose couldn’t: revealing what you feel without giving it all away; the strength of the metaphor; the specificity of images; the beauty and power of just one word. Poetry also showed how important deciding words could be. There was also the matter of form: words are just words; it’s how they come together, how they sound when read out loud that give them life.
J and I ended up talking about art today. The form was compelling, like an attractive or good looking boy on campus. But like the stereotypical college crush, you didn’t really stay once he started talking. There wasn’t enough depth, no issues being addressed “Where is the discourse?” our professors would ask. And eventually we found ourselves asking that question about our own work.
The problem with learning “how to art” is it can hold you back. Once you know the rules and the standards that make a GREAT (note, not good) work, what you do is never enough. So we feel discouraged and unsure; is this writing thing still worth pursuing?
An hour and a half later, we were finally in the theater. Sarah performed all my favorites. I “spoke” along to Love Letter; I cried to Ghost Ship, thinking of my sister and my dogs; I wanted to do a paper on Teeth. I was laughing and crying then laughing and crying—one of the best mood switches a woman can experience, says Amy Poehler.
I couldn’t stop smiling after the event. We all ended up in Shakey’s and talked about poetry again. J and I ended up with M and D, two other poets I met outside of school (aka in the school of life). We geeked out about writing and gushed at the craft of the Kay/es.
I was reminded, once again, how much power a work can have. I don’t write for the fame or the money or the prestige. I write to see what the words can become.
That’s the irony of writing (writing): repeat it enough and you’ll eventually find that meaning you’ve been looking for.
So thank you, Universe, for sending out so many reminders about those little things only writing writing can give.