A friend once told me just because someone’s story engages me does not mean I have to exploit it for gains. As a writer, I see almost everything as a potential subject. My abandoned drafts in this blog alone span 1) attempts at the socio-political–how Christmas 2013 was supposed to arrive four months ahead, but un-Christmas things rapid-fired at us at -ber months’ start: from the Zamboanga heist to Yolanda–
Perhaps, in their history of merrymaking and celebrating Christmas, Filipinos are only beginning to learn what the season truly means.
2) practices in referencing pop culture–at which I really, really suck–
‘No rush’ is what Twenty-Six said. This is the first time future visited me, something pre-time travelling Henry deTamble would understand. ‘Walk on– or in your case, brisk-walk on?’ with a lopsided grin ‘workout, do what you want. Everything’s gonna be fine.’
3) and flashbacks with boys’ names and the memories they summon when I call them at night:
The curious thing is time; so is the mind.
Because once upon a time we sat across each other on a swing– the ugly orange-brown-black of rust chipping away at the powder-blue paint on some places– I feigning fear while you alternated from rocking to abruptly halting the poor thing– producing that kind of impact that comes from pedaling a bicycle hard one moment and hitting the brakes the next. Your name was _____, and it was ’97.
So here’s how it works: I pick a current event, a character from a film I really like, a song lyric, details of a failed first date, things I miss about a person or place, or or or. When I have my subject, I feel the boldness of a mouse near cheese. I dive into writing the piece head-on, only to find traps or get chased back into my hole by a devilish Persian cat. I don’t know about the mouse, but I abandon all desire for the cheese. Maybe someday, I say.
The next day I will find another potential subject while passing by Buendia on a cab, smokers huddling, two security guards checking car rears with inspection mirrors, the bomb-sniffing dog guy chatting with the two, pedestrians crossing, scattering poems walking as e.e. cummings noted. Do they love their wives? Are they excited to go home to their waiting wives? I want to write a story about the blonde girl crossing, too. She is me, holding a secondhand book I bought with three friends at RCBC. There’s the cheese again, but the boldness will be gone: so someday.
It is within this frame of mind that I remember my friend’s words. I am a writer. If a scientist gets curious about the dust on his tabletop and begins studying it, what’s the fuss if I start wondering about what stories go on amidst Buendia’s smoke and mirrors? What stories go on beyond these?
But then, I could be making the biggest mistake of my life. In chasing any subject, I would lack the discriminate taste that writers should possess. I would have a lot of words but no message. That would be a disservice to the words I once professed my love to. But what if I’d glean a good message from another person’s story? Would that be a sign to take pursuit? Even if I would gain no applause, a good story would really bring me back to my game, the boldness of the mouse near cheese. That would be an incredible, satisfying feeling.
I get to the end of this post and have figured nothing out yet. But there is one thing from the sea of abandoned subjects that I can summon. These are words from Nick Joaquin, the great Filipino writer, as interpreted by Mashable’s Bianca Consunji:
Then one morning, I went down to read the papers and turned to the entertainment pages, where I was besieged with a battalion of badly written show-biz articles. I read about Kris Aquino’s latest beau, the contents of some starlet’s closet, and Sharon Cuneta’s weight-gain update.
How supremely baduy, I thought with a smirk. I wondered why anyone would want to read (or write for) the entertainment section when everything in it was always so tacky.
Then there he was again, Nick Joaquin on my brain, admonishing writers to respect their subjects. A young poet, he said, was scandalized because he once wrote about Nora Aunor, therefore making him a bakya writer? “But that article lives as one of the best essays on Miss Aunor because she was not bakya to me and I did not go bakya on her,” he said.
“Every report,” he went on, “must be done as if you were reporting on the parting of the Red Sea, or the Battle of Pinaglabanan, or the splitting of the atom.”
…In his long and varied career, Nick Joaquin managed to reconcile the rivalry between literature and journalism by performing admirably in both fields, giving each side a chance to look up and respect the other. He merged the principles of journalism and creative writing in a sentence: “Good reportage is telling it as it is but at the same time telling it new, telling it surprising, telling it significant.”
Treat your subject with respect. That’s good advice right there, can go hand-in-hand with my friend’s admonition, too. Surprisingly, I also have an experimental piece of advice to give myself: GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD. Go get your stories out there.
Run for the cheese.