Sunday, May 03, 2009
By Rica Bolipata Santos
Because there are days when I understand Jude Law’s nanny. After all, there he was, in all his yumminess. And there she was, in all her…nanny-ness…in what real world would make him notice her? Perhaps it was that moment when his son asked for a glass of juice and right as she closed the refrigerator door, there he was about to tack a reminder that she was in charge of picking up the kids that afternoon. Her hand on the door, his hand on the door, and Boom! life alters.
Perhaps life had disappointed her; had made her think there was more than the daily drudgery of breath to breath. How many children can one love? Maybe in this disappointment, and Jude offered his hand, she thought to herself, prayed to a being, “at least, let me have this.” I am convinced she was thinking only of herself in this moment. I am convinced, as we grow older, that we hunger for life-altering moments more and more. At least, that’s the way I would write it in a story.
And there are days when I understand Sylvia Plath more than I can understand myself. I know that moment in the day when life is so completely overwhelming that the only other option left is annihilation. Love for children is complete for Sylvia as it is for me, thus the decision to erase oneself instead of another. And there are days when I say this out loud and people get upset and I write this information down in my diary as a tally sheet and wonder about the numbers on the page.
And I wonder about Pluto and how he really feels to have been believed to be a planet and then to be demoted to something else. I think of all the tests I took in Science 5 and how I had to memorize all the planets and their features and wonder what to do with all this outdated information, and while we’re at it, with any information. If things are true, until proven otherwise, and since many things can be proven otherwise, eventually, well why even teach children that some things are constant? Do we not set them up for disappointment? In my writerly mind, the title of this story will be Pluto’s Child and I will name this child Daisy and she will rediscover Pluto.
And there are moments when I travel and I realize that I use the word beautiful incessantly. People from another country to me always belong in some kind of painting and I can spend many minutes trying to unravel my thinking. Are these foreigners truly beautiful or it is merely my need to romanticize and idealize all things? But truly, why does light look so different in other lands? What about being in another place makes one aware of the curve of light? And what color is this light? Oh the winding routes my mind can take exploring this issue!
I wonder why we are kinder to strangers than we are to the people we hold most dear. Why am I more generous with others than with my own self? Why do things really happen in threes? When I conjure stories in my head, my characters inevitably go through three things: do I reinforce this pattern in the world through the word?
And there is the wealth of snapshots running in my head, oftentimes looking random but I know by now that my memory keeps them for material. Like sitting by the stairs waiting for tears to come when our dog died when I was 12. It is not the memory of the dog I retain, it is that feeling of wanting to be consumed by grief and feeling strange that all I could feel was relief. That moment when I was 16 and I heard our neighbor screaming at her child, thinking to myself I will never scream at my child. I wonder at the irony of that now after having screamed so much at my children since then. Or that moment of revelation when my brother drew my assignment for me when I was around 5 and I was touched by his talent (at 5!). Or how weird it was that at least 2 teachers asked me to ask my brother to have something drawn for their visual aids. What word would describe that first moment when a child knows the grown-up is doing something wrong?
My days are consumed by the one need to name moment to moment – enfleshing the world into words so that they may be turned in my hand, in my palm, and what it is that sits in my heart, can sit in my hand instead, and be thrown away into the sea; or kept in my pocket as keepsake. I walk the seashore of life and decide which rocks to keep, which to discard, which to put away so that I may mix and match at some later date; call upon a memory to authenticate a point; call upon a look I hit upon to explain character motivation; always, always keeping score.
Moment to moment I think to myself, there must be a word for this obliterating kind of joy. There must be a word for this travesty, or this tragedy, or this grief. What is the word at the center of my grief? This word is both identification and spell. If I can say the word, and only say the word, I shall be healed.
People wonder what it is a writer does and it is difficult to explain as it is a job that requires treading the line between real and imagined. Another writer-friend when newly-married complained once that everyone in the house she lived in with her husband would constantly ask her to do errands after all, “she wasn’t doing anything.” People want us to produce pages to prove that we have written. In writing, production and product are severely different things. I am asked often, ‘where you able to write?” And in my head I think, well…I was able to think, which is the lifeblood of all writing.
So, to many most of the time we really look like we’re doing nothing because part of writing is the hocus pocus part. For me, that requires hours of staring and sitting. It is ephemeral, the work of catching and matching words with experience. I need to keep still to do this. And sometimes, the opposite is true: I need to keep moving for the experience to catch me this time. There are those sought for moments when it just magically happens, when crystallization occurs. But when one writes long enough, one knows that the Muse also paces her gifts so that cannot always be relied upon.
I know the signs when I know I have hit upon something. There comes an incessant need to nest, i.e., to decorate, beautify or simply move furniture. I get weepy and for some strange reason, a British accent takes over and I mull over words and my tongue lolls around them like candy. I drive around Manila uttering sentences I’ve written, pondering on cadence and rhythm, the musician in me descending. My husband says I have this faraway look and cannot be reached. And eventually that voice comes to me and propels me to write. It commands me to document.
As I write this, a man with three sons sits across from me. We have gone beyond looking at each other as a man or a woman. Instantly, my mind records. We pass a look to each other, finding ourselves complicit in the rearing of children, in the difficulty of it, in the constant guessing that we do when we raise sons to become men and raise girls to become women, knowing ultimately that it is ourselves that we raise. It is a look that is both sad and triumphant. I file it away, knowing I will need that look in some later page.
Labels: essay, philippine literature, writers, writing
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