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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

entry arrow11:22 PM | Beautiful Words for a Birthday

It's endlessly fascinating when the audience/demographic you're specifically writing for in a story you've written actually gets to read your story -- and sends you feedback about it. But a friend of mine from college, Tintin, asked me a few months ago if I had any YA story she could share to her high school class, and I said I did. It's titled "Unsent Letters," and it's a story I finished in commission for Cyan Abad-Jugo's YA anthology, Friends Zone, forthcoming from Ateneo de Manila University Press.

"But it has a lesbian subject matter," I told my friend.

["Unsent Letters" is the story of a high school girl named Kia who has a crush on another girl named Roz. They are assigned to do a project together for English class, and Kia suggests they do something about words and their meanings, especially foreign words -- see illustration above -- that have no direct translation in English. Through this project, Kia nurtures an understanding for why she can't truly express her love for her beautiful classmate. There's something about Facebook in the story as well -- but I don't want to give away everything away before the anthology gets published.]

"Please me read it!" Tintin told me, excitedly.

I did send the story to her -- and then promptly forgot about it.

Apparently, she has really been teaching the story to her high school class, and today she sent me an email telling me everyone had enjoyed the story, which made my heart stout and humbled. (Actually kids reading my YA story!) Tintin wrote: "[I'm sending you] my class' notes on the story. They were so nervous about sharing their thoughts when I told them that I'd be sharing their ideas with you, the author! Big deal for them. Needless to say, they loved the story, save for one eleventh grade boy who thought it was 'too sentimental' for him. [Hahaha, I love this boy. And yes, it is meant to be sentimental. - Ian] Here, I hope you wouldn't find them rambling. Not lit crit, of course, just initial thoughts that nonetheless express how much the story resonated [with] them... They didn't want to stop discussing it! Thank you for sharing it with us! We'll wait for the anthology..."

This is what they wrote:

I liked the story. On the surface it was fun, light, and relatable, although when examined closely it had more layers and was actually something to think about.

I also really liked the treatment of LGBT. It wasn’t an issue/problem for the characters. I felt that the whole point of the story wasn’t even someone’s sexuality. It was treated just like it should be -- equal to the way boy-girl couples are treated. Without fuss. And that was something different.

The theme of language, of words -- beautifully executed. Loved the incorporation of untranslatable words into the story. They helped illustrate Kia’s character, and at the same time gave the story more depth.

The story explored how words are unique to the culture and identity of every region/place, and that these words, though sometimes untranslatable, can still be beautiful in the way they just exist for themselves. As Kia says, “We’re trying to say it doesn’t matter whether these words ... cannot find their exact translation in English. That’s their value.”

Looking at this broad concept on a smaller scale, it led me to think that who we are -- our emotions, our passions, our truest selves -- is in itself a language. And yes, that language may be untranslatable. We can’t always put that into English. Maybe, maybe we ourselves are made up of unsent letters, of all our unexpressed feelings, of all the things we don’t know how to put into words. Because the human being is complex, and to accurately express every part of who we are is close to impossible.

Now there is beauty in just letting that “language” of who we are exist in itself. To just feel. To just be our truest selves.

But but but just as people of different countries attempt to communicate, translate, and get past language barriers, there are also times when we want to reach out to others and translate our innermost sentiments in the best way we know. It is still necessary to be connected. That connection can even mean the world for some of us as it did for Kia to let Roz know how she feels. And so we talk, we tell stories, we have words, we have literature, we have art.

There's more, and I love the part where they ask very philosophical questions raised by the story -- but I can't include that here because they dealt invariably with spoilers. But the questions were smart and surprising.

Thank you, Tin! This is a birthday gift that means so much more than a thousand birthday cakes. Please tell your class my heart overflows with gratitude.

Art by Cyan Abad-Jugo, who did this right after finishing her edit on the story.

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