The Quiet World

a collection of memory tapes

The dream made flesh

15625150_1821493918095663_5230548654971944960_nEver since I learned how to, I haven’t stopped writing. It’s pretty much the only way I know how to express myself and my thoughts and all the strange mostly useless things that my brain comes up with. But I never really considered myself a “writer”. Not that I don’t want to be one—believe me, I do. I want to be a writer in the same way that I wanted to be the first person to reach Pluto when I was 9, or in the same way now that I want to get 12 master’s degrees and 5 PhDs. In a nutshell: impossible and far-fetched.

If you know me well enough and you think about it, this doesn’t make sense. I wrote news reports for six years, I was a literature major in college, I teach creative writing now, I’m starting grad school soon, and in the near future my goal is to return to a life in the academe, so why in the world wouldn’t I consider myself a writer?

For a few reasons, each of which demands a confession out of me, and I am always fearful of spilling parts of myself in public spaces, and there’s nothing more public and permanent as the internet. But it’s the end of a godawful year, so I guess what the heck.

First, I’m superstitious; I don’t want to jinx it. Maybe if I don’t declare it out loud, Satan or whoever won’t hear me and therefore can’t possibly sabotage my plans.

Second, I just haven’t written enough — not anything good anyway. How can one call herself a writer if she doesn’t have anything to show for it?

Third, to seriously consider a career in writing and to choose that option is a privilege i couldn’t afford. Right after finishing school, the goal was to get a job that pays for the bills and helps the family. Made a lot of mistakes along the way following this line of thinking, but I can’t entirely regret it, either.

Last, more than anything else, I think of myself as a reader first. Not a writer or an academic or a teacher—though being a reader led me to all of these. I love books. I love reading. I want to read books for as long as I can, and if my eyes fail then I will Milton it and listen. Because I haven’t loved anything in my life in the same way, and for the longest time I thought that this was enough.

And then I read Neil Garcia’s MYTHS AND METAPHORS, and that changed. Well, I read it at a point in my life when everything was changing, so an epiphany seemed inevitable. It’s a collection of his critical essays on his own work, and papers he gave during conferences and lectures. What was most striking about it for me is how he found a way to bridge the literary and the personal. Reading his essays you would be surprised to realize the seamless movement between criticism and confession. First he’s talking about his poem’s imagery and next thing you know he’s holding hands with a poet he met in London. He writes about his own work and in so doing has to write about himself as well, and he makes it work.

This felt like a revelation to me. It’s possible to make a living out of your own life and experiences? Do something you love and make it work? Of course, even beforehand, I knew this to be true, but I didn’t know that it could be true for me, specifically. And oftentimes it takes an external force to realize that one is not immune from the universal truths that one believes in. And it’s what reading Neil Garcia’s essays presented me with, though I doubt that’s one of his goals in compiling the contents of this book. As a proponent of queer theory in the Philippines, he made me realize, too, that queer women needs—deserves—better visibility in our literature.

I include this excerpt from “The dream made flesh”, Neil Garcia’s eulogy for Francisco Arcellana, and one of the many anecdotes in the book that I love. Arcellana—the same guy a beloved room in the now burnt down Faculty Center was named after—says, “Turn your back on the void!” words to take to heart, and onwards to 2017 for me.

So, to end this lengthy post, in fear of sounding excessively maudlin (if not already), here’s one last confession: the dream is alive, and more possible now than ever.

31 December 2016


Responsible memory-keeping*


I am halfway through my 39th book for this year. The book: Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, a gem I found in a Booksale somewhere. Worth: 75php and priceless. I am a changed person, I think, and that is all I’m saying about it (for now).

One of the essays included in this collection is called “On Keeping a Notebook”, where Didion declares (for herself, at least) that we write to keep a record of who we were: how it felt to me, remembering how it was to be me.

Sounds rather ominous, doesn’t it? To rely on written accounts of ourselves by ourselves to recall who we were and what we’re like. But – as a matter of fact – a good and valid point, and ominous only if you don’t trust yourself (which, in a way, as proven by this, I guess I don’t–perhaps?): how else do we remember, knowing the kind of mindless flimsy creatures of earth that we are?

And she has a point, of course she has. A gentle reminder that this is the woman who wrote the novel which eventually inspired a sad boy from Ohio to write music, later on becoming the lead and lyricist of the band that is also the love of my life. But I digress. In her essay, Didion highlights the importance of being in ‘nodding terms’ with past versions of ourselves – by keeping track of each of them – so that they wouldn’t come up unannounced and surprise us to death or fill us with frustration or self-loathing (whichever comes first).

I am rather bad at keeping notebooks. Among my friends (I don’t have many), I know of at least one who religiously keep a journal: every year of her life, a notebook, recording not so much of what she did but what she was like, what she thought about, conversations she had, what she liked and disliked, passages from books she read, who she was at the time. She made me read one of hers once, the journal filled with now-bitter memories of times and places and people once cherished, and I knew even without her telling me that I am reading her journal not because of the trust and friendship we’ve forged between us but because it was too painful, possibly too heavy, to keep it all to herself.

And I appreciate it, truly. But I do not have the discipline that she has – let alone the energy – to keep a journal and write on it too. I did try keeping a journal once, and obviously you wouldn’t know how long it took so you would just have to take my word for it but the time between the writing of this sentence and the one before it was spent browsing through my old (and only) actual journal – a black (of course) venzi unruled book I got from the local bookstore and which I managed to keep updated for six months–and that’s as far as I can go. The very last entry is actually dated March 16, 2015, but I stopped writing around July the year prior. The March entry is the draft of an (obviously, hopefully) unsent letter to the girl who dumped me, circa Christmas 2014. (I know: savage.)

(About this letter: I do not remember writing it, ever, but I do remember feeling some of the things I put in there. Just one of the many evidences to support Didion’s claims: how it felt to me, remembering how it was to be me — numb and defeated and carelessly wishing for death.)

I confess that I do better with the keyboard than I ever am with pen and paper. If you know where to look (and how), I am almost certain you will find the many blogs (some secret, most not) that I have scattered all across the vastness of the internet (not on purpose; I am as much a nomad in blogging as I am in friendship). In these obscure spaces dwell the people I used to be, and because they are written somewhere I can easily access — yes, admittedly, we – my old selves and I – are in nodding terms with each other, but only because we know each other and our mothers taught us how to be polite. Nonetheless, I know them, and if I see them somewhere I would recognize them, and that’s as good as any way to keep the evils at bay.

Though not all evils. And somewhere along the way I stopped doing this, writing, either in an unknown corner of the web or a cheap notebook in real life. I got busy. I finished school, I started working, I moved in to my own place, I met the love of my life and didn’t do anything about it, I stopped talking to my friends, I kept wishing for death, kept waking up in the morning disappointed. Somewhere in there I stopped writing, and now there is no longer a record of my thoughts and my comings and goings anywhere (not that, in the grand scheme of things, they are worth-recording, but that is beside the point) except the email I send my boss at the end of everyday reporting what I did.

And I am losing touch not only with the people I tried so hard to keep in my life but also with the people that I used to be. So that is what I’m trying to do: to defeat this evil unrecognizable beast, I have to remember who I was, keep a record of who I am now. I don’t particularly like this person, but it’s best to keep them on record.

*Carina Santos, 2016