Everybody else fumbles and fails and scrabbles around in various degrees of desperation, wondering if they ever will get there - and if what they are struggling toward is what they're truly meant to do.
For the longest time in my life, writing was to me as architecture was to Howard Roark - there were no questions, only an inner sense of rightness, like the click of two perfectly-fitting pieces of a puzzle. I learned to read before I learned how to walk; my mother says that she began teaching me to read as a manner of passing the time and ended up taking it seriously because I was. Writing has always seemed like a natural offshoot of reading; the more you read, the more you have to think about, and the spillover of ideas has to come out somehow. I don't know when exactly I began writing, but it was early; one of my father's prized possessions is a short song I wrote for him when I was four - he keeps the original handwritten piece in a glass frame by his bed.
That changed, during the latter part of 2003 - my life took a sudden detour, of the drastic kind. One of the more interesting instincts we have is that in times of crisis, our minds automatically prioritize certain aspects of our lives in order of their importance to survival, and other, less essential things are ruthlessly shoved aside. One of the things that got tossed on the wayside was my writing. There were nights when I would sit up, staring at an empty monitor and crying because for the first time in my life, there was nothing in my head and - if possible - even less in my heart. There were no words.
The best thing about downtimes, though, is that most times you get help in the most unexpected and unusual ways - even though you don't always recognize it at the time. Help, for me, came in the shape of the most unusual muse in the world - a friend of mine named Luis. We were classmates for one year of high school, before I transferred to another school. We knew each other by name and reputation only, despite the fact that our class was so small that there were only thirty students in the sophomore and junior years, combined. In the entire year we knew each other, I doubt we spoke more than ten words to each other directly; it was not that we hated each other, it was more that our worlds were so different that there was nothing to talk about.
It was not until seven years later that we began corresponding and found out that we had things in common - specifically, we both wrote. We would send each other samples of our writing - short stories and poetry from Luis, vignettes and the occasional attempt at poetry from me - and comments on each other's writing. During my downtime, Luis wrote me constantly, asking - demanding, actually, that I write again. I don't feel like it, I would say, and he would ignore that as if I had never written it down.
At one point he sent a copy of a screenplay he was working on to a group of friends, myself included, and asked for critiques and feedback. I had never actually critiqued anything before, but gave it a shot, and to my surprise and delight I enjoyed it. Luis has a writing style that is vivid and rich, coupled with an imagination that delights in the unusual and completely unexpected - and his characters are consistent and true and interesting. We corresponded on that screenplay for about a month, and by the end of the month I was back to my old self, and writing delighted me again.
I've always wanted to tell him thank you, because I suspect I have never told him just how valuable his help was, during that time. Luis - I know that a lot of times I flake out on you and can't show up when we're supposed to meet up, and I really truly do want to meet you and get introduced to Leah soon - but for the meantime, while I am bound by my various commitments: thanks, dude. You have no idea.
For the general amusement of everybody, here's a sample of something I sent Luis back then. Luis, remember the comic that this was supposed to be for?
30 May 2002
The scent of peaches is high, fresh and sweet, even in the rotting heat of June. The sidewalks are melting, the tar sticking to the bottom of her shoes as she marches down the street, cursing and sweating. She doesn't bother to reach a hand up to her face to check her black mascara; she knows it's melted and is probably streaming down somewhere around her cheekbones.
It doesn't pay to be goth in the Philippines.
On the other hand, it does tend to scare away potential wolf-whistlers, which is a plus. One loser, dressed in a sando that saw better days as a rag on the wearer's employer's marble floor, dares to make a brief, low-voiced comment, and she glares at him, baring her teeth. He gives one weak, defiant grin - di ako natatakot sa babae* - before subtly fleeing.
She scowls; that shouldn't have happened at all. It must be the peach scent, she thinks, rubbing irritatedly at her wrists as she continues to stalk home. Only gay people and virgins should wear peach. And you haven't been either in a long time, have you, pepper marie?
Which is, technically, why she is in this predicament. After a long hard night grinding your body and overimbibing in some godforsaken nightclub, the last thing you want to do is walk home in the heat of the day, wearing the stink and erosion of the night before. Sid had sprayed her liberally with his mother's peach-scented cologne - she didn't even know the bastard had a mother - and sent her home with his sister. Safe enough, she'd thought, but then nothing was safe with Sid. Halfway through the air-conditioned ride home, Terry had propositioned her.
In retrospect, she mused, it might have been a bad idea to punch Terry in the eye, especially since she'd been driving at the time. On the other hand, it had been hard to think rationally with Terry's fingers - long and arachnid - trailing up her bare thigh, coming dangerously close to the apex. Terry had subsequently stopped the car, thrown her out, and driven off in a fine huff - and now Pepper was stuck walking home. She would have taken a cab, she thinks morosely, if she had had money in her pockets. But no, all her cash is gone - slipped down the greedy maw of expensive alcohol, sky-high club cover charges, and weed.
She raises her head to glare upwards at an insultingly bright sky, thinking that blue should never be that hot. "I need to get a new job," she mumbles, aiming her complaints at the clouds. "Either that, or I need to ditch a couple of vices."
* Di ako natatakot sa babae - I'm not afraid of women. Usually said with a sneer ... while fleeing.
Despite everything, though, I value that period of uncertainty. There are some things you have to learn the hard way, and one of them is that the things you value most are the things you lose and then find again, after a long hard search.
Maybe that's why I get along so well with my exes.