Crawling out of the slump

The lockdown seems to have dug me a creative ditch, and I’ve been slumped there ever since. I realize that the last thing I blogged about here was something I wrote pre-quarantine, but it’s not like I’ve not written anything else since mid-March—I even contributed one article to an online lifestyle magazine. Still, I feel like this is the driest of the dry spells I’ve ever had. I tried picking up novels to read for inspiration, but even that I didn’t have the energy to do.

One night when I was having trouble sleeping, I randomly revisited a playlist of music I used to obsess over back in college. I couldn’t remember which Arctic Monkeys track came up, but hearing it made me want to…create something. It’s not even the lyrics that pushed me, though I was a huge fan of Alex Turner’s (and Miles Kane’s!) writing back in the day. It’s the feelings that the track dredged up. They weren’t very pleasant emotions, but they were fuel nonetheless. So lying on my bed with nothing but phone in hand and Turner’s vocals flooding my ears, I opened my Notes app and began translating those emotions into actual words. It’s the first poem I wrote in a long time, and it’s about grief.

Perhaps I’ll be able to post the whole thing here soon, when I’ve chiseled enough personal rawness off the edges for it to be understood by other people. But writing it was cathartic. It made me want not only to write more, it also urged me to return to my other creative pursuits, like drawing. Since I couldn’t publish the poem here yet, I posted here a quick sketch that complements it: kintsugi.

Here’s to hoping I get to produce more soon! Art, whether writing or drawing or painting, can really be therapeutic, especially this time.


No need for Mr. Darcy

(as published on The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Young Blood column today, 8 March 2020)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a girl who grew up surrounded by stories of dashing knights in shining armor or brooding Mr. Darcys would have unrealistic standards in love.

A tad unfair to real boys who can’t hold a candle to dreamboats that pop out of the page, you might say, but there’s no bit of jest in this. My 13-year-old self once swore she wouldn’t settle for anyone who wouldn’t love her the same way Mr. Rochester loved Jane Eyre. These teen years, really, they’re an era of folly, of giggles at the smoldering heroes of Austen and the Brontë sisters. More than Disney and its sanitized happy-ever-afters, these authors have ruined real guys for me.

Continue reading “No need for Mr. Darcy”

Phantoms in Mama’s Lungs

(as published on The Manila Times’ Sunday Times Magazine (Literary Life) on 26 January 2020)

Whenever I am away and a sharp longing
for Mother stabs at me, I will buy a stick
of cigarette, light it in the dark, and watch the embers
chew it up. Pa used to sigh her name, “Anita, hay Anita,”

and crack in loving jest that her mouth’s a tunnel
for steam locomotives, to which she would laugh
a response in hot clouds, in the ghosts of stillborn
thoughts she incinerated in her lungs.

Sometimes I wish she would tell me what
they whisper to her, instead of engraving them
as unreadable creases in the corners of her eyes.
Sometimes, the smell would jostle me between

wakefulness and sleep, her stun-gun chuckle
rumbling in my head. My senses clung onto her
and I hear scrawls of chalk against wall planks
for her abakada graffiti branded in my

five-year-old’s head (or were those forks on plates
when we only have shadows to eat?); I re-feel
the friction of linoleum on my skin as I grunt, crawling
out of a forced afternoon siesta (or were those creeping

days of numbness that I mistake for catnaps?); I relive teary
tug-of-wars at school gates, where I refuse to let go
of your long, leathery fingers. All that and a handful more—
my adult mind a child again, roiling in Past Tense

until, after I burn, in her nicotine hold, I will be home.


Note: I never thought this would ever see print. I remember keying these words onto my phone’s Notepad app late last year. I was away from home for some event I can no longer recall, caught a waft of a lit Philip Morris, and remembered Ma. It was my way of wrestling homesickness then, musings that I think would be best kept in my journal. The Sunday Times magazine Literary Editor Alvin I. Dacanay has my utter gratitude for believing that this is worthy to be shown to the world. I know you won’t be reading this, but thank you so much, Sir.

Review: The Silence of the Girls

Revisionist fiction or retellings still fill bookshelves to the brim these days—old fables pop up with shocking twists, we see fairytales shed their Disney-fied formula to give newer nods to their darker roots, and we even come to know stories of antiquity thrown in with “cyber” sensibilities. With the unremitting creativity of writers today, the possibilities are endless. Readers may clamor for something “original”, of course, but I find that there is charm in revisiting familiar narratives refashioned for the modern eyes.

Personally, I enjoy reading reimaginings of classic myths. I was rapt, for instance, while leafing through the story of the tragic Greek hero Achilles and his bosom companion Patroclus in Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I devoured Circe, a feminist take on a classic character from Homer’s The Odyssey by the same author, with equal fascination. There is also Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, spun from the decades-long wait of Penelope for her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War. None of these felt old to me. In fact, they gave substantial and refreshing heft to the original materials. Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for modern narrations of old legends.

That’s why when I heard about Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls—events of The Iliad, but told from the perspective of a significant female character—I just know I have to grab a copy.

Continue reading “Review: The Silence of the Girls”

Here’s to the new decade!

The decade that was has flitted like a tempest that left a riot of both blessings and losses in its wake. Time and again I was reminded of our reality: it’s a world where it’s sometimes necessary for personal goals to be pushed in the back burner, a world where we must learn to earn our own peace as it constantly dances to the dissonance of broken dreams, deadlines, and traffic jams. It’s become common for our daily fuel to consist of extra-strong caffeine, silent prayers, and the relentless determination to put food on the table.

Admittedly, there are some days when it would feel as if it’s a sin to even think about our personal dreams from a long, long time ago. See, in kindergarten, they asked us what we want to be when we grow up, and the eager answers would range from teachers to astronauts, from scientists to Presidents. Today, these kids? We often quip that we could’ve just said we want to be happy.

It’s not that we’ve thrown away our ambitions as we age—it’s our habit to tell ourselves we’ve just taken a temporary rain check, but we’re not entirely sure when to go back. It’s not even that we’re not happy to sacrifice what we want for the sake of our loved ones—in fact, nothing can curl our lips into the most genuine of smiles than the thought of being able to provide for our families. But the world has grown harsher over the years, and it simply tells us that, “There aren’t no easy happy-ever-afters here, Working Class kid. This is what you prioritize.”

And in all those years, this I retorted: challenge accepted. I’m not backing down. I’m going to strive, and I’m going to survive. There are days when I lost sight of my purpose, sure; there are days when my knees buckled under the weight of all the lives I thought I’d be living by now. There are moments made of tears and held-in screams and gloom that held me captive in solitude, and I learned to accept that this is okay (even healthy). I promised to bounce back, and I did. I believe there will be times teeming with hope and light, and I will move forward again to work the long, hard slogs.

In a quiet corner of my head, I acknowledged, too, that there are days when I will not have to ignore the knock of the young dreamer in my heart.

I’ve always told myself that thriving in adulthood would entail keeping my inner child alive, and this remains to be true. To fellow dreamers: listen to the whispers of that kid. Do what the hummingbird beats in your chest tell you—write that poem, sing that song, sway into those dance steps. Know that aspirations don’t always festoon the skies like stars, that sometimes they are embedded deep beneath layers upon layers of our obligations to the world. Know, too, that visions of both loft and depth require a steadfast soul and a patient heart.

Responsibilities would always ride roughshod over our dreams, but this doesn’t mean our ears should always fall deaf on our heart’s desires. Bring them to life bit by hard-won bit, in the margins of what we do for others. Do this for ourselves.

For we may not live fairytale-fodder lives even if we pursue this, but we can always go out there—complete with an armor and weapon of faith—and slay our self-made dragons whatever form they may come today.

Here’s to the new decade!