“Write only when there is something you know; and not before; and not much later.”
Last month, US film company Universal Studios announced the title of the sequel to Jurassic World, that science-fiction adventure film which earned more than a billion dollars two years ago. Titled Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it will be the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park film series, all of which were based on two best-selling novels by the late Michael Crichton (1942—2008): Jurassic Park, published in 1990, and; The Lost World, published in 1995.
Crichton was a very prolific writer. He had published 25 novels and 4 non-fiction books in his lifetime, not even counting several short stories that saw print in various magazines. So prolific was he that there were even times that he was able to publish two or three novels in the course of only a year. And even after his death, three more novels of his saw print. The guy was a virtual writing machine.
One other prolific writer from the US, also a novelist, was Stephen King, arguably more well-known than Crichton because many of his horror novels were adapted into films that played well in the box office. King, who is turning 70 in a few months, appears to be more prolific than Crichton; he has published 57 novels, 5 non-fiction, and several other publications (short stories, novellas, etc.).
Skeptics who have not yet read both Crichton and King might think that, with the rate that they publish books through the years, their works might had been hurried, thus robbing them of quality storytelling. But fans of both Crichton and King (myself included) will immediately tell them that it is far from the truth. Both novelists have crafted into each of their books the kind of entertainment that will glue readers to their seats for a prolonged period of time. Even in fast-paced scenes, readers will not sense any hurriedness in their writing. Each sequence, every subplot, is carefully crafted and well thought out. That’s how damn good these writers are. There is an apt adjective to describe their books: page-turners.
For sure, a lot of writers from the US are page-turners like Crichton and King no matter what genre they’re using. Many of their names are familiar to us (Judith Arnold, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, etc.) even though we have not yet read any of their works because they have become homegrown, always marketed as best-selling authors, which is always the case anyway. Back in college, I remember one brief chat that I had with one of our instructors about these amazing US writers. While our country has its fair share of excellent writers in English, how come almost none of them are best-sellers? Why couldn’t we produce such page-turners? His reply had stupefied me for years: those US authors absolutely do nothing anymore but write. And because they can afford to give 100% of their time towards writing, it is always expected that they can churn out some of today’s best stories and write-ups. On producing excellent writing, King has this to say:
“Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.”
But here in our country, the Filipino writer is forever burdened with other tasks other than reading and writing. In his book The House of True Desire: Essays on Life and Literature, National Artist Cirilo Bautista perfectly describes the dilemma faced by his fellow writers:
“…the Filipino writers cannot live by writing alone, no matter how masterful they may be.”
“My magnum opus, The Trilogy of Saint Lazarus… took me thirty years… The enterprise begot another odd aspect by the fact that I stood to gain nothing monetary by its realization; indeed, it depressed me by its fruitfulness and drove me to misanthropy by its selfish demand on my attention.”
Most of our best writers today are those who use English. Young Filipino writers are always encouraged to hone their writing craft in this language. Even the English Division of the Palanca Awards is the most sought-after contest in the country’s biggest literary award-giving body. But up to now, even after more than a century of English education, the only writer we have ever produced to be of the same caliber as Crichton or King is Nick Joaquín, and only him. It’s because the Filipino writer is poor. His writings, if of any merit, will only give him fame, trophies, but not money which is needed to sustain him. Like Bautista, the Filipino writer is always faced with the dreaded reality that no matter how he strives to make his craft the best it could ever be, he couldn’t because his freedom is limited. The harsh reality of making both ends meet weighs more than art, thus jeopardizing the quality of their works. They could have done more, but employment is a necessity in order for him to physically survive. Crichton and King (and to some extent, Joaquín) didn’t have to worry about monetary problems; they were always assured of huge sums of money. That is why they have more time to focus on the creative writing process.
But the foregoing accounts may have not always been the case. In the last century, we have had prolific writers (and researchers) who have poured their everything into their works despite the absence of any promising monetary award. They may not have had published as much as Crichton or King or Joaquín, but the circumstances they were in will astound any aspiring writer today who are also faced with the dilemma of focusing solely on their craft for the sake of quality. Take for instance former diplomat León Mª Guerrero III who was able to translate Rizal’s memoirs and novels despite his political and legal chores. And then there was the daunting task of writing Rizal’s biography even as he was fulfilling his duties as ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s in London (that biography of his ended up first prize in the Rizal Biography Contest of the José Rizal National Centennial Commission in 1961). Years before Guerrero entered the scene, another nationalist, Teodoro M. Kalaw, wrote essays every single day for the newspaper La Vanguardia. He also wrote several books on history and politics despite his schedule as director of the National Museum and as a public servant. Dr. Domingo Abella was both surgeon and historian. Máximo Solivén was writing profound and up-to-date political commentaries in his column at The Philippine Star while serving as its publisher, making him a writer-businessman. So was Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsín, Jr. who was able to helm those biting editorials that we now sorely miss in his defunct Today newspaper while serving as board of director for big companies, one of which was San Miguel Corporation (he rarely writes nowadays as he’s too busy with his tweeting engagements).
However, it should be noted that Guerrero, Kalaw, Abella, Solivén, Locsín, and a few others like them had the wherewithal to accomplish their tasks. They could afford to delegate mundane chores (cooking food, washing clothes, payment of bills, etc.) to other people so that they could go about with their writing/researching assignments without any hassle, unlike in the case of many writers and researchers today. Including myself. With five kids to raise (no nannies!) and a job that requires a rotating graveyard shift, it’s virtually impossible for me to focus on what I’ve always wanted to do: read, write, repeat.
Speaking of my kids, I remember one meeting that I had with novelist Joe Bert Lazarte in some monotonous fast food near his place in Bacoor, Cavite more than a decade ago. He was then helping me out to secure an employment with the company he was working for at the time. I can still clearly remember how he told me that when he had heard about the news of my unplanned marriage years before, he felt disstressfully sorry for me. There was, of course, no derision from his part. He was just aware of the travails of being a writer and a family man at the same time, and his being distressed was simply a show of concern. If I’m not mistaken, I only had one child back then. Now I have five. Just imagine (disclaimer: in no way am I blaming my family for my shortfalls in being a writer).
I also remember one brief chat that I had with poet Radney Ranario many years ago. Chancing upon him as he was exiting one of his classes, he mentioned to me that he was thinking of going on a hiatus from his teaching job to focus on his poetry, even if just for a while. With a frown on his face, he complained that his teaching job, even if it has something to do with literature, was also draining his creative juices.
The likes of Crichton, King, and many other US authors never had to go through such challenges. But Lazarte, Ranario, myself, and a host of other Filipino writers had to struggle monetarily just for our dreamy heads to keep afloat in this sea of unreality.
For my part, I’m trying my very best to follow at least part of King’s advise just to stay alive, to keep me sane, by reading during traffic jams on my way to the office and by blogging every day. That is why if you have noticed, I have been blogging every single day since the inception of this blog last June 24. Ideally, a blogger really has to post daily since a blog is considered as an online journal. But due to daunting challenges that I face (working as a wage slave by night, as a consultant for two local government units by day, and as a dad in between), I might not be able to keep this up. Most probably after this blogpost, I’d be able to blog only during weekends. Or during my free time. Or perhaps only if I feel the urge to write about something that I know (“and not before; and not much later”).
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, talent and discipline are the true accomplices of a prolific writer no matter what the challenges. Don’t give up on your dreams. The Filipino writer simply has to rally on no matter what the odds.
And those odds are not forever. This I believe.
In the middle of last year, I bid adieu to writing for a variety of reasons. Grudgingly, I shut down my blogs Alas Filipinas and Filipino eScribbles and decided to just face my fate: that I’d forever be another faceless wage slave this side of the planet. There was no escaping my dreadful situation, I thought. I can never have the conveniences a writer should have (solitude, natural light, comfortable seating, etc.). And I am always faced with the reality of sacrifice: that I am an unprivileged family man, and my family should come first before anything else. My dreams therefore should go out the window because it is not possible to serve two masters at once.
I thought that, at the very least, my life would go back to normal, that I’d begin to think and act just like everybody else, that I might be able to garner more friends compared to the number of fingers on both hands, that I might even become a productive employee at last, haha. But in only a few weeks after that hurtful decision, I immediately went back to writing. As I took solace in the verses of José García Villa, Manuel Bernabé, and other Filipino writers in both Spanish and English, I realized that, despite my problems with both reading and writing, I still couldn’t gravitate away from books. And the itch to write was still there. I devoured as much time as possible amusing myself with tomes and tomes of lore and non-fiction. I also dug up old verses of mine kept in various old bags stashed underneath our family-sized bed; I thought that it was the right time to reread, review, and edit them all up, which was what I did. And while I was doing that, I started writing new verses both in English and Spanish. I also experimented with Tagálog (using the original orthograpny). Eventually, I started posting some of them on my social media accounts. They didn’t become big hits, of course. But at least, they somehow managed to ease up the itch and kept me sane.
Also, when I gave up on writing/blogging, I was still under contract with our city government to produce at least two local history books. That was something I couldn’t free myself from. Luckily, I was able to write one which got published and launched early this year, the biography of Abelardo “Captain Remo” Remoquillo, a World War II hero from our place. It was a dream come true, something that I thought would never happen anymore. Quite ironic for someone who publicly gave up writing (the second book’s still in the works, another story altogether).
No, Captain Remo’s biography didn’t catapult me to published greatness, but it was still a dream come true nonetheless. Publish or perish, critics always say to writers. To my mind, that book was my ticket away from becoming a spurned genius. And somehow, it inspired me to publish some more!
As the months piled up, so did ideas from books and news, both fake and true. The war between Yellowtards and Dutertards became more appealing (and appalling) than the war against drugs. ISIS was on the move and has even reached our shores. An imbecile who was voted to Congress sought to change our country’s name. So during these tumultuous times, I kept my silence. I rarely visited my social media blogs and stayed away from online wars. But the ideas kept piling up. They have welled up inside my head so bad that it almost became unbearable to even sleep. I became more and more restless, especially during days when I’m trapped for hours inside a bus in EDSA. As I have written before, my tired mind felt like an empty glass pitcher that’s been gradually filling up with water, then placed inside a freezer until it froze and expanded, breaking the pitcher in the process.
Should I write again?
During one lunch hosted by eminent Filipinista scholar Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera for my family at the Casino Español de Manila early this year, my wife Yeyette told him of my troubles. Upon further analysis, Señor Gómez said that I must have suffered from a nervous breakdown, only that I didn’t know it! My golly. He confessed that when he was my age, he suffered the same thing, and it took him two years to recover. Two years! His advise to me was non-medical but spiritual: to pray the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Apostle’s Creed, all in threes every day. That is what he did, and it worked.
Last summer at Villa Escudero, Gemma Cruz Araneta (who doesn’t know her?), my youngest daughter’s godmother, warned me of the dangers a writer could face once he stops writing. She said it is no different from a pianist who doesn’t practice that much and then suddenly goes back to playing the piano again. With disastrous results. It’s that bad.
Little by little, I realized that what I really gave up on was blogging. But I haven’t really given up on writing (as evidenced by those poetic pieces that I post on social media from time to time as well as my first book). Because it’s something that I just couldn’t. No matter how good or bad I am on it, in spite of my fear of mediocrity, it’s something that I couldn’t part myself from.
I just had to go back. The soonest. I had no plans of becoming like that apocryphal pianist.
* * * * * * *
When I thought of going back to blogging, I was struggling with the decision if I should revive my two blogs. I already said goodbye to them. And it was definite. But in the end, I decided to just create a new one.
EL FILIPINISMO will be a combination of ALAS FILIPINAS and FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES. They will be written in both Spanish and English. My blogposts, however, will not be bilingual, meaning that there will be no Spanish translations of my English texts and vice versa because I find it too tedious and time-consuming. There will be times that I will write only in English, and there will be times when I will write only in Spanish. Or both. But English will certainly dominate this blog because it is in this language that I was trained to write. Admittedly, I write comfortably in it, and I immediately point a blaming finger towards our educational system which has trained me and my generation and the ones who came before us. But enough of that for a while. Although English blogposts have more chances of getting the spotlight on this blog, the importance of Spanish as a Filipino language will always be highlighted and emphasized.
There might also be a chance for Tagálog to make it here. But be forewarned: I write my Tagálog correctly, i.e., they will be written in the original orthography. So haters (of the UP nationalist mold) beware.
There was also the thought of buying my own domain. But I shrugged it off. Two years ago, my other blog LA FAMILIA VIAJERA which is now handled by my wife suffered a little online accident. Travel blogger Berniemack Arellano of HabagatCentral also experienced the same fiasco earlier that year. When he shared his troubles regarding having one’s own domain, he made me and my wife think twice about buying one for our family travel blog. And that is why EL FILIPINISMO is on free hosting (thank you, WordPress). Berniemack was right. This is all about the simplicity of blogging. Why buy a domain when we can blog our hearts out for free? Less the hassle, less the headache. The most important thing is that I am able to write down my thoughts and ideas, and then share them online.
Other than that, I am reminded of a time when me and history blogger Arnaldo Arnáiz of With One’s Past visited travel blogger Glenn Martínez at his stylish home in San Mateo, Rizal. Despite his blog Traveler On Foot‘s popularity, Glenn refuses to buy a domain for it because it will have the tendency of becoming “commercialized”. This is not to say that I’m totally shutting my doors to having my own domain. I’ll just cross the proverbial bridge when I get there. The most important thing for now is to write.
But what difference then is writing from blogging? One could still write even without blogging. But then, I will no longer have an audience (publish or perish, remember?). I guess it is safe to say that all writers are “pretentious”, but not in a bad way. Because a writer too is an artist. And like all artists from other artistic fields, a writer should also have an outlet in order to impart his views. Nobody writes for himself. That’s preposterous. A writer and his reader are inseparable. One cannot exist without the other.
* * * * * * *
Definitely my biggest challenge right now is my complex regional pain syndrome, the major reason why I had to stop blogging last year. I had physical therapy to get rid of it, but to no avail. Surgery is the only possible solution, something which I couldn’t afford to have at the moment. Surprisingly, my wife and a few friends (including Captain Remo’s nonagenarian brother Vicente) discouraged me to go under the knife because it might debilitate me for good instead of healing me. I am in constant pain, even as I write this. Under my physical circumstances, going back to writing is a bad idea, especially since I am still employed in a private company. Other than that, we are still financially disabled, and I am on a rickety, malware-infested laptop that’s been suffering from the dreaded Blue Screen of Death for several months now. But a writer’s got to to do what a writer’s got to do. There is no more turning back. I feel that I have a mission to accomplish, and I will do it. I’ve wasted so much time already. So consider this blogging/writing endeavor of mine to be my suicide run.
* * * * * * *
When I shut down my blogs last year, comments and messages from concerned friends immediately poured in. All of them, of course, were saddened, and they made it known to me in one way or another. And during the dismal months between then and now, I always received encouragement from others that I should and can go back to writing. I think this is the perfect time to thank each and every one of them, and what better way than to mention their names: mi comadre Gemma (“Tienes el don. No lo desprecies,” me dijo); Imus City Councilor Raymond Argüelles who revived my interest in historical research and gave me another chance to prove myself that I’m good at it by recruiting me as one of his city’s history researchers; my brother for life Arnaldo who was the one who created the snazzy banner for this new blog of mine; Aris Catáquiz who, when I met him during the thanksgiving Mass for his mother’s electoral victory early last year, personally expressed his dismay when I closed down FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES (I didn’t even know that he was reading it!); Atty. Ceferino Benedicto, Jr. who pleaded that we keep in touch the moment he learned that I stopped blogging; John Christian Canda, a history buff who never gave up on me even though I gave up on myself. Señor Gómez who never doubted that I would go back to writing; Poli Laurito (he’s an FB friend for years but I’ve yet to meet him; he pleaded that I don’t bring down my blogs so that people would still be able to access them); Glenn, who never fails to give me words of encouragement whenever I’m down; Ate Che Paderes-Dones who offered to bake me a cake just to cheer me up (I still have to pay her a visit, though); my mother-in-law Teresa Atienza-Perey who is always there for my family through thick and thin; mi compadre José Perdigón who was deeply saddened when I declared my intention to stop writing; Roberto Rico (Gracias por creer siempre en mi); and my spiritual brother Michael Wolf (Guillermo Lobo).
Finally, there’s my wife and kids who put up with me throughout my eccentricities and mood changes. They gave me everything that I needed, from coffee to a good massage, in order for me to write comfortably. Whether I become famous or not, it doesn’t trouble me anymore. Having a wonderful family steeped in Christianity is more than a family man could ever ask for. That is accomplishment enough. ¡Gracias y os amo mucho!
Finally, this blog is not about me. While I might write about daily experiences and personal thoughts from time to time, this blog will deal mainly with the struggle to uphold the Filipino National Identity. Because I beieve that this identity, which is based on our shared Hispanic past that is strongly rooted to the Spanish language and the Catholic faith, will be the source of both social and spiritual salvation of our people.
¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!