Sunday, August 01, 2010
It’s August. It’s the beginning of another season for writers and writerly fests. And a few days from now, parcels—traditionally via LBC—from a certain office in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City will make their way to certain households in the country, and make their recipients, especially the first-timers, glow with unalloyed joy. Their joy will culminate in a certain ceremony on September 1 in the ballroom of a posh Makati hotel. It will be a grand night for many of them.
I envy those people that first brush with that kind of news they will be receiving.
But first, I must admit that this essay was occasioned by a simple question asked of me in Formspring, a social networking site where people who “follow” you get to ask you questions ranging from the silly to the profound to the thought-provoking. What was your favorite birthday gift ever?
a friend wanted to know. It made me think, but oh so briefly.
Because my response was immediate, which was both surprising and unsurprising—the former for the solid conviction I unknowingly had of the matter, and the latter for the context from which that conviction came from. And yet, that “birthday gift” came to me not even as a direct consequence of natal day traditions. And it came from no one in particular.
It was my first Palanca. The “gift” was the notification of my win from the Foundation. And the year was 2002.
I was depressed in 2002, in a cycle that would become familiar, given the temperament that I have, usually arising from some deep dance with artistic impulses. I had graduated from college in 1999, and I was stuck in some shitty job and was now making a transition from the world of journalism to that Graduate School and part-time teaching. I was doing something I honestly told friends I would never, ever do. In 2002, I found myself living again with my mother in our old house because I couldn’t even afford my own rent. I had no love life to speak of, and I didn’t really know what to do with the “writer” thing. It all seemed hopeless.
And to top it all off, somebody gave me the gossipy goods that a bunch of literary “friends” in campus were laughing behind my back because they never thought much of me as a writer. “Ian, a writer?” one of them was reported to have pondered the question. And that he answered his own musings by laughing so hard. That hurt, but I made that slur my impetus to write a story titled “Old Movies.” I wanted to try to submit it to the Palancas, just to see if my “friends” were indeed right. If I don’t win
, I told myself, I’d stop writing for real
I was lying in bed that whole morning one day in August—that season for writing awards. I didn’t want to get up. I thought I was the biggest loser in the world. I was turning 27 in a few days, and I felt old.
Then my mother came into my old bedroom. “You have something from LBC,” she said.Who would send me a package?
I thought as she handed the sealed envelope to me. It looked official. Then I saw the words “Carlos Palanca Foundation.” My hands began trembling. I quickly opened the envelope, and took out the letter.
I gave the loudest whoop ever in my entire life.
I still remember that overwhelming feeling of joy washing over me. It was the sweetest feeling in the world. It still remains one of the deepest, most satisfactory thing in my life.
This is why I don’t think highly of people (especially those who have never won the Palanca) who say with such conceited sincerity that it is all a lottery, a game of chance, a matter of knowing who the judges are.
to the 27-year-old guy who was depressed and was down on his luck, and who was despairing if anything would ever become of his writing. It meant something. It meant I could continue
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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