Just before 2015 wakes up…

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It’s been hours and I still haven’t the foggiest on what to write. Go figure — the first day of 2015 and already I have Writer’s Block.

I was supposed to write about mountain-climbing, but that got stalled and it didn’t seem appropriate for the New Year. Everyone’s writing about the “Year That Was”, even my favorite humor columnist did so. But as I mentioned in my recent post, “the year that was” is “a year I’d rather forget”.

So, after burning a hole through my monitor from prolonged staring, it was obvious that inspiration wouldn’t come pouring out of my fingertips anytime soon. I decided to go out for a walk.

This was after midnight. The firecrackers have long been spent, the people are sleeping off their food coma, or have passed out in a drunken stupor (good luck nursing a hang-over tomorrow, with the racket from left-over firecrackers). The city itself was slumbering, wrapped in a thin blanket of smoke.

Outside our apartment building, a group of friends have set up by the gate and were having a grand time, breaking the silence of the night with their boisterous conversation. The street was void of any living soul, save mine and a passing cat. I laughed when I remembered what my sister said earlier, about cats secretly lighting fireworks to scare dogs. The cat didn’t even bother avoiding me; it was in a hurry to get somewhere. It’s then that I wondered if animals also celebrated the New Year, holding feasts of their own with their families (Ithe sulfur must be affecting my brain at that point)

The nearby 7-11 was still open so I went in and bought a cold can of Nescafe Latte. It was heartbreaking to see a lone woman by the cashier, someone who’s forced to work on New Year’s Eve. I paid for my drink, flashed her an apologetic smile, and hurried out so she could close shop. Thankfully, a male employee entered as I left. That’s one less lonely soul tonight.

This was near Buendia, a traffic-ridden street any other day of the week,  Around this time, skaters would claim the sidewalk as their own, doing tricks perilously as buses zoomed past them (they’re always one Ollie away from a Final Destination-esque death) But on New Year’s eve, they were nowhere in sight. Buendia was deathly still — a perfect setting to pause for a bit, finish my drink by the neon sign of a gas station, and contemplate on the passing year.

I guess 2014 wasn’t all bad. Among the highlights:

  • Started a new job at a corporation, where the most fulfilling aspect is learning new corporate terms and using them in everyday conversation with friends, all snooty-like (“About our reunion, we should first cascade that plan to all parties concerned. For the meantime, I’m going to put a placeholder on the venue, so we could align our calendars at the soonest”) You can bet that my friends hated me after;
  • Regularly contributed stories to a sports magazine, where the editor even lauded my write-up. And it only took me 2 months after the deadline to pass the article. #progress;
  • Took up mountaineering as a hobby. Although “took up” might be the wrong word. You “take up” painting, knitting, or competitive beer pong, things that are less strenuous. A more apt wording: “decided to be a masochist and punish oneself by climbing a piece of rock for no discernible reason. Then repeating this several times”;
  • Went on my first Simbang Gabi. Or Christmas Novena, as it is known in other countries. I haven’t been to mass in a while (the last one was five years ago), so I didn’t know most of the lyrics to the hymns. These were actual lyrics with substance and meaning, which can’t be said about most of our pop-songs today (looking at you, Anaconda);
  • Got out of a toxic relationship. Self-explanatory.

I went back to the apartment upon finishing my drink, confident that I now have a topic for my blog. Inside, my father was snoring softly on the living room couch, while classical music played in the background. My sister and mother were in the other rooms, fast asleep. The only other sound was the gently clacking of keys as I started typing this entry.

Occasionally, I would glace around the room, breathing in the tranquility of the night. I smiled upon seeing my my dad’s tablet, which was playing a visualizer app to the sound of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. This was a 58-year-old man — an intimidating lawyer by day — and yet he still needed a lullaby to help him fall asleep.

And damned if it wasn’t the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.

I guess this is what happiness looks like at 4:00 in the morning. To be the only one awake while your loved ones slumber peacefully next to you. A rare kind of bliss that comes with age.

It may not be much to some, especially to those who claimed they had a spectacular year (just go to FB and you’ll see a lot of these). But, this is how I choose to remember 2014. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

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Writing amid static

http://eppsnet.com/

This is your brain without WordPress

Ever since I joined the “corporate arena” (an annoying term I got from an officemate), I haven’t been able to write things that aren’t, er… corporate-y.

It’s not for lack of trying. Every lunchbreak, I would go to a nearby fountain — orange journal tucked under my sweaty pits — and sit quietly for half an hour, trying to write. I’d like to think I do this solely to please my Muse and act like a writer dedicated to his craft. But mostly, it’s because the food around BGC is hella expensive and I’m a cheapskate

I’d try and make an essay, a poem, even a song lyric — anything to get that pen moving across the page. Sometimes, I would be successful in roping a few words, making a coherent paragraph that captures my thoughts. Other times, I would go back to the office, frustrated and hungry, the scent of failure mixing with a tinge of sweat and B.O.

Stephen King once said that waiting for inspiration to strike is for amateurs, and that real writers just power through and write. And though I agree with that sentiment (who am I to disagree with the King of Horror? I wouldn’t want him to sic his creations on me), it’s hard to power through when all you hear is “static”.

That’s how it feels lately, whenever I try to write for pleasure. The voice in my head  — the good one, not the one who tells me streaking in public is a great idea — is trapped behind a wall of static, unable to narrate anything. It’s like watching telenovela with bad reception, trying to piece a story together using fuzzy images, incomprehensible noise, and the passionate squawking of characters. Utter chaos.

I may be suffering from the writer’s equivalent of erectile dysfunction. Even the fountain seemed to agree during one of my lunch sessions: from a strong water cannon, it turned into a tiny sprout — a fitting metaphor for the lack of passion in my writing.

I need to try the two sure-fire methods of getting your mojo back: reading more and writing more. The last time I picked up a book (In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez), I found the whole thing tiring. I couldn’t even finish 20 pages in a week. I’ve also been neglecting my blog updates, since I’m transitioning at my new work.

I’ll update more often from now on, til I reach the point where static becomes clear and the voice is audible. Because to “power through” means to continue producing work until you become an unstoppable force, that not even something as concrete as Writer’s Block can stop you (think Juggernaut meets Mark Twain).

"Tis thee Juggernaut, bitch!"

“Tis thee Juggernaut, bitch!”

How to cope (in 500 words or less)

How do you deal with the sudden news that someone you know died?

A friend. A relative. An acquaintance who, despite the brief moment you were in each other’s life, still left a mark?

The default reaction is denial of a deliberate kind. This is eventually replaced by acceptance, followed by a fervid desire to remember everything about the person. It’s a coping mechanism of sorts; our mind’s way of making sure the person isn’t completely erased from existence.

We grab at strings in the dark, each one a cherished moment shared with the deceased. Some of the strings turn to air, slipping through one’s fingers, rising and spreading out towards the sky. You start to forget, start to lose the little details which used to mean a lot. You become angry for not having more.

Because in the end, that’s what it all boils down to: we just want more. More time with the person. More memories to hold on to. More of everything, before it’s too late.

This is how I choose to process death, in a way I can best express myself. Blogging is just another way of coping, after all. With this entry, I can make one final memory, one sturdy string tied down with words.

Recently I attended the wake of Lee, a friend from college. Lee was already an outgoing Varsitarian staffer by the time I joined the publication. Hands down, he was the warmest, friendliest person there, helping us newbies learn the ropes of being a student-writer. 

We shared similar interests: Pokemon, anime and other geeky things generally frowned upon by others as being too “childish”. Maybe that’s why we became fast friends.  

Last Monday, Lee succumbed to tuberculosis, at the young age of 27. He will be missed.

Seinfeld’s guide to keeping your resolution

If there is anything that Seinfeld taught me (aside from the simple humor derived from entering a room in a Kramer-esque fashion), it’s this: “Don’t break the chain.”

Hard to believe that the secret to success may lie in those four words.  Whenever a person wants to improve his lot in life, he either chooses to continue on his current path and wait for his luck to turn around, or he “makes” his own luck by adopting a set of benevolent and beneficial habits.  For example, a person afraid of being diagnosed with diabetes may cut back on her soda consumption. Likewise, someone who wants to improve their craft might make a resolution to dedicate an hour of the day practicing it.

We are habit-forming creatures (or at least we try hard to be). We know that adopting these good habits will bring us long-term success. The problem is, it’s hard to muster the resolve to see things through up to the very end.

It’s easy to promise to quit smoking, or lower our food consumption, or blog more at the start of the year. But as the months go by, it gets harder and harder to keep this habit. Shit gets in the way and we regress, missing one or two blog update, smoking a stick, or pigging out at a buffet.

“It’s just this once,” we tell ourselves to justify regressing. But most often, “just once” is enough to break a habit and revert to our former selves. To put it into more poetic terms: “It’s easy to change, it’s hard not to change back.”

When asked about his success in stand-up comedy, Jerry Seinfeld answered that all throughout his life, he tried “not to break the chain”.

The comedian explained that come January every year, he would mount a huge calendar on his wall. For each day he would write a new material, he would mark it with a huge red “X”. According to him, there was an “exquisite pleasure” that can be derived from seeing a series of X’s perfectly lined-up and without a gap in between.

C-c-combo breaker!

C-c-combo breaker!

It’s so simple, and so difficult, too: “If you don’t do what you promised to do for the day, you don’t get to put an X”. No excuses. No “ifs” or ‘buts” — just absolute compliance. It’s the best example of “putting your money where your mouth is.” It also perfectly encapsulates the thought that if one is brazen enough to make a resolution or a sweeping gesture at the start of the year, then that same person must treat every day like a battle to keep from caving in to temptation and reverting to one’s former self.

So mark your calendar with little X’s everyday you manage to keep your resolution — be it to exercise for 15 minutes, or have an entry in your 365-day blog, or even refusing to drink Coke. It’s a small victory, but why shouldn’t that be cause for celebration? Keep it up and pretty soon,  that resolution might develop into a natural habit (according to psychologist and book author Malcolm Gladwell, it takes a month of repeatedly doing something for it to become a habit). And if it doesn’t, well, at least you still have a set of pretty red Xs to look at.

Someone once said that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link”.In this case, just make sure that link isn’t you.

Day 9: Make Good Art

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Why is it that we write our best whenever we are at our lowest? It’s like depression unclogs the mind and lets us write fluidly — the writer’s equivalent of an Avatar state. The words come easily, creativity flows through our hands and into the keyboard, and we become engrossed in the story that we type on the screen…

I’ve looked at my past entries (both here and in LJ and even in our magazines), and it seemed like depression or sadness was the key to tapping my creative pool. I don’t know if this is the same with others (though I think the same applies to many), but all the times I wrote in an okay mood, the end-product seemed to lack something. It didn’t seem to have any depth or soul, like I was merely writing for the sake of getting something out.

Maybe it’s because when you are depressed, you are at your most vulnerable. The walls you put up to show a happy front — the barriers you build to safeguard your heart — crack and crumble completely in times of extreme duress. And in that moment of invulnerability, when darkness surrounds your very essence, you become your truest. All the anger, rage, despair and hatred you’ve bottled up; all the sadness, insecurities, and longing you were too afraid to show others — all these reflect in the words you put forth.

Art – writing, drawing, painting, et al. – needs a certain sacrifice. It needs us to be honest with ourselves, which may seem like an easy thing to do but is actually not. Think about it: how often can we say we were really honest? In a day, how often do we say what we really felt, did what we wanted to do, bitchslapped all the people we wanted to bitchslap? Certainly, if we did all those, if we took out our brain filters and did things as we please, there will be consequences to our actions, consequences we may not be ready to face. Most of the time, we only do a half-measure when it comes to expressing ourselves, and this greatly limits our work.

Great art requires great sacrifice, if you truly want your craft to stand out. And there is no greater sacrifice than breaking down the layers you’ve worked so hard to build, exposing yourself to the judging eyes of the public, and standing naked for everyone to see. Becoming completely honest for once. Only then can you make something truly beautiful, because you owe yourself that much.


The Case of the Inverted Pyramid: My first teaching gig

Last month, I was able to do something I’ve always dreamed of: To hold a writing class.

The opportunity came when a former colleague of mine, Levine, invited me to talk about Feature Writing in front of public school students. At first, I was hesitant of my ability –and authority– to instruct these kids. After all, I haven’t won a Palanca, written a short story,or appeared in an instructional Youtube video. I do write a lot of Feature articles for work, but mostly those are fluff pieces with titles like “10 Tips to Eliminate that Mommy-Tummy”, or “5 Ways that Celery can Kill YOU!”. Instructional for some, soul-sucking stuff for writers.

No effin clue what i’m doing. None at all

But my friend was persistent. And he was a Philosophy major. (Never get into an argument with a Philo major; he’ll quote latin to back up his claim. The first time my friend did this, I thought he was enumerating names of Harry Potter spells). Apart from that, he sounded like he was in a bind; the type of problem you get when your initial lecturer backs down at the last minute and you have less than a week to find a replacement.

So I agreed. And I was glad I did. Very few get the opportunity to impart knowledge to others. No matter how small your knowledge

may be, it is still worth knowing. Even though I did not have the credentials compared to other big shots in the industry, I still felt privileged to share what I knew about writing to these kids.

***

For most teachers,  just reaching one kid in a room is enough satisfaction to feel like you’ve done a good job. Fortunately, I did not have to try that hard to achieve this, as there were only three girls who attended my lecture. Most of the other students opted to sit-in for the News Writing or Opinion Writing lectures. Nonetheless, it was a good number; anything more than a dozen would probably have me staring at the blackboard, unable to function properly due to fear. I’ve always hated speaking in front of a crowd, I hated hearing how stupid my points sound, or how my voice sounds like cockroaches having an orgy in your ear. No guesses as to why I chose writing as a medium instead.

Not even a tumbleweed.

I started out by introducing what Feature Writing was, and how to go about writing it (they haven’t written anything of the sort, so the concept was new to them). At first, it was like wading through water and feeling the bottom for depth. Then slowly, after seeing them smile and nod understandingly, I became more at ease with the topic.

It surprised me how easily I can talk about Feature Writing, as if I was simply retelling a funny story. All those years of writing nonsensical (read: stupid, angst-ridden) essays, reading Feature pieces, and sitting through my mother’s lecture (she teaches Feature Writing for catholic universities occasionally) has made me very familiar with the subject matter.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that from the minute I learned how to dot my “i”s and cross my “t”s, my mother has hammered my brain with every fact and technique I needed to know about Feature writing. In fact, I have been around that damned thing for so long that I now see it as a real person — an annoyingly, hyper friend that always comes over and likes to describe things in a colorful, dramatic manner. The kind of friend that tends to get on your nerves, but is good company nonetheless.

It’s only now that I realized what I was doing in front of that classroom, on that hot Thursday afternoon. I wasn’t just lecturing about a worn-out topic — I was describing my “friend” and telling the class details of his life.  I told them about what makes him tick, what his weaknesses and strengths are, even the quirky manner in which he starts off his stories. Corny as it may be, it was the best way I knew how to introduce my three students to the world of Feature Writing (and at least it was better than leading with worn-out advice like the Inverted Pyramid technique. I never learned what this meant, too much Illuminati symbolism for me)

I’m glad I took my friend’s offer, as teaching turned out to be one of the most fulfilling experience I’ve had. Moral of the story: Never turn down an opportunity to share your knowledge on something you’re passionate about –be it dancing, drawing, languages, or such. You never know who you’ll reach.

As for the three who sat down in my class? I sincerely thank them for listening, and I really appreciate how they at least hid their cellphones while they texted midway through my boring lecture (standing in the front as the lecturer, it’s pretty obvious to figure out what they were doing. No one suddenly looks down at their crotch and smiles). Fingers crossed, we hope to see their write-ups someday, both me and my annoying friend.

Mommy, where do unused email addresses go to die?

Very common are posts that start off with the words “It’s been AGES since I last updated this blog,” and then proceed to recap the reader of everything that has happened in the past few weeks, as if you have just tuned in to a new episode of Game of Thrones and the narrator has to refresh your memory first before proceeding with the story.

Let me tell you outright, this is not going to be one of those posts. The type of post where the author promises how he or she will update the blog frequently from now on, but then fails to do so after some time. Of course, I’ll still waste 15 minutes or so of your time talking about the exact thing, except I refuse to resort to that cliché that most bloggers fall into.

Instead, let me start my rant by asking a question:

How long is too long?

(Naks, nakiliti naman ang utak ng mga green-minded)

How long is too long, when it comes to not updating your blog? To answer that, try opening your old account (livejournal, blogspot, etc) for the first time in months. If you already feel the frustration creep up on you from trying multiple username-password combinations, then it’s been too long. If you have entered so many passwords – altering the number at the end, adding an underscore or so – and still can’t access your account, then it’s been too long.

Okay, so the username-password does not match. No problem. I’ll just click the “forget password” option and reset it. Sure enough, the site prompts me that a new password has been sent to my mail. However, fans of literary foreboding will know that as soon as you do this, another problem presents itself: “What e-mail did I use to create this account again?”

No, it’s not the pa-cool one you used back in high-school, back when you were still discovering who you were, and figured that the best way to show the world your identity is thru a tacky e-mail address. Thus, we have monstrosities like “asteeg_na_malufet@yahoo.com”, or “vaingloriousbastard@gmail.com”. In an odd way, our e-mail addresses are a somewhat accurate portrayal of how we felt inside, of how we wanted to be seen by others. Mine was emilandthefireflies@yahoo.com, and up to now, I don’t know what that was about. I blame peer pressure.

So if it’s not the embarrassing e-mail you don’t dare put in your resume, maybe it’s that more corporate one you made for job-hunting purposes; the one that was a mix of wanting to look professional, but still retaining your “individuality”. “Mikeatwork@gmail”, or “Sarah_draws@yahoo.com” are examples of these. Kumbaga sa damit, ito yung “smart casual”.

To your horror, you find out that your e-mail has been deactivated from disuse. After all, it has been ages since you last opened that one, now that you have a new business e-mail issued by the company you currently work in. Part of their “corporate branding” scheme to show that you are part of the team.

In short, that’s three e-mail addresses I tried, none of which can help me re-access my livejournal account. It has been far too long since I last blogged, and maybe this is what I get for neglecting to write in it.

I guess it’s for the best. It’s not good to rest on your laurels, and I have to admit that having about a hundred entries at http://crazy-octopus.livejournal.com gave me the false sense of comfort that I did not need to blog that often anymore. But writing is something you have to continuously work on, to keep from getting dull. It is a burning passion that constantly needs to be stoked, lest it fully goes out and you are left with only the smoke of a once-roaring flame.

It’s time to re-spark my blogging once again. I won’t make any promises that I can’t keep, like ensuring that the updates will be frequent. With a day job, it’s hard to muster the energy (or angst) required to write at the end of the day. But I will try my hardest, for the sake of improving my craft and hoping that someone out there enjoys what I’m writing. Hopefully they can look past the crude jokes and poor attempts at pop culture references.

All I’ll promise this time is to write my password down on a piece of paper.