Archive | November 2008

Attached


I try not to write too personal posts here, but I wrote this one several nights ago when I was stuck doing SEO writing and could not move on. It was good writing exercise. What’s yours?

I learned early in life not to be attached to people, places, and things. My family moved around a lot from city to city when I was a kid. I learned to say goodbye and not expect to be back. I learned to resign myself to giving up the house I had gotten used to, the comfort of having a big, loud extended family sharing the household, and friends with whom my budding friendships were interrupted.

But over the course of my teenage years, I started to crave for these roots, which to me were unclear. Always when asked where I came from, I wouldn’t know what to say. Should I say Baguio, where I was born? Bacolod, where my parents are from? Or Butuan, where I spent my teenage years?

It’s probably the reason I don’t allow friendships to get to the point of serious. I was always afraid of people moving and “leaving” me and forgetting me. B, who was my friend up to two years ago, proved to me that friendships can last even across the seas, and it’s only unfortunate that a boyfriend had to come between us. M, whom I know I am dear to as she is to me, “disappeared” after moving to Dubai, and not even the powers of Google can help me find her. I’d like to think she thinks of me sometimes as I do think of her.

It’s also probably the reason I cannot see beyond six months from now. I know I want to go abroad. I know I want a better life. I know that plans may fall through. Even my household management is affected. Should I buy a real bed or just invest in a mattress? Should I put up curtains or leave the previous tenants’ blinds up? Should I buy a new refrigerator or stick with the current second-hand model?

It always gets me to thinking that something major might happen. I might move. I might have to give up this residence. I will have to sell my possessions and start from scratch again at thirty.

But there are things I get used to—intangible things like having a warm body beside me at night, which makes me sleep well. Coming home to a hot breakfast cooked by my own mother. A loved one who is online when I am and who answers e-mails. A boyfriend who will come back, because buying a bedding set and matching tableware is something serious, you know? A friend who tags along when I need coffee.

But who was it who said life was constant? We all have to live with these changes. Am coping, but it doesn’t mean I have stopped missing.

People we’re grateful for


It’s Thanksgiving, so for the first time in months I managed to get a real holiday. When I woke up today, I thought of the many things in my life now that I’m thankful for, and as I look back in the last 15 years, I thought of people who have steered my life to where it is now, a position where I’m happy to be.

  • My high-school English teacher. Ms. Sato “discovered” me when I was a sophomore. I was a shy girl back in high school, and I didn’t know where I wanted to go. I didn’t think Ms. Sato noticed me in class–she seemed to have a bunch of favorites, and I knew I wasn’t one of them. But one summer, my mom got a call in her office asking me to go see Ms. Sato because she wanted me in the school paper. The rest, well, is history. I’m thankful she saw something in me that I didn’t see. And that’s why I went on to pursue journalism in college.
  • B, who paved the way toward my first book. Despite everything that has happened to our friendship, I will forever be grateful that she thought of including me in that book project.
  • N, who opened the door to a wide world of writing. He’s one of the handful of designers who produce kick-ass design and can write well. I learned so much from him during the years we were together–design, usability, SEO–before I actually started doing these today. I know I wouldn’t have started on those if he had not taught them to me. He’s probably the only person who gives me books to improve my writing. (A hint, probably, that I suck at writing. LOL)
  • KC, my very brilliant friend, a ballerina, a writer, a filmmaker. Sometimes when I’m so deep into work and don’t get to read for weeks, I remember how she always managed to sneak in some New York Times and New York Mag reading between articles. She sent me this quote from Salon long ago, and it always reminds me to keep better, because that’s what life and writing should be: “Keep your eyes glistening and your intelligence white-hot.” KC is one of those people who will not balk when you send her three-page-long articles from the New York Times. She’s also gone back to school, having signed up for a creative writing course and will probably be in New York next year. She’s doing everything I’ve always wanted to do, and I’m damn proud of this girl.
  • Jacob, my 7-year-old. He always gets me running to Google to research on, well, anything and everything he brings up, and I always learn something new each time. He’s got me to realize that I don’t know the answer to everything he asks.
  • J, for believing in me and making me want to write again. I’ve been struggling with writing for the last six months. SEO writing, which I do at work, has taken away the enjoyment in the craft. I now dread having to write a 350-word article repeating the phrase “custom logo T-shirts” seven times. There should be more to a writing career than that, right?

Who are the people you’re grateful for?

Writing About Characters Past


I picked up a five-day-old newspaper this afternoon and found myself drawn to a lifestyle column about an artist who had long died. The writer shared how she first met this painter and his impact on her. I won’t quote what she said–that would be giving it away–but I was surprised how, after reading the article, I concluded that the artist must have been a really important figure in the writer’s life.

She talked about him in that personal tone one usually reserves for a boyfriend or a lover. I was amazed with the writer’s frankness and courage to put her strong feelings down on paper and have the entire country read it. I could be wrong; I could be reading too much into what she had to say, but it also got me to thinking about how writing about other people affects their lives and their privacy, and how they have no choice in the matter.

How many of us would want to be the inspiration for a character in a novel or a short story? Leila, my good friend, asked me once to make her a character in my next fiction, and I promised I would. Doesn’t it feel heartwarming to inspire a story’s character?

But on the other side of the fence, how would bad exes feel if you write them into your storyline, especially if they’re the terrible, philandering ones? Moreover, what would their children and their current partners feel? There’s power in the pen, and one can immortalize an evil, manipulative former in a book. But several years down the road, when wounds have healed and bad memories are forgotten, the books are out there in public. Just imagine how a grown-up child would react, knowing a father’s secret past from a book.

Writing about one’s life, whether as fiction or nonfiction, can be therapeutic. But if it opens a can of worms for other people, is it worth it?

Form and Substance, and Working with Brilliance


Form and substance. It’s an idea I got from Joan O., whom I worked with early in my career. Writing should make sense, but most importantly, the presentation should be topnotch. Especially in public relations, where first impressions count, form matters greatly. You want to get people’s attention, but the idea has to have something more to it than just attraction.

At work now, I sometimes wonder—am I too demanding to ask for both form and substance? And more importantly, is it too much to ask people to have the initiative to strive toward form and substance? Does one have to give instructions to resize images so they fit on a screen? Is one too myopic not to notice that the font is too thin, too small—an eyesore? Again, is it too much to ask of a developer, a designer, a creative director to have a little more initiative, improve a little here and there, to take my suggestions and improve on it? Does one have to go by the letter? Is it too much to ask of a designer to look at the work from a reader’s point of view, from someone who knows nothing about typography or treading?

It is during times like this that I miss Sam, my American boss from a trade journal I worked with. Having done manuscript editing before I joined the magazine, I understood that every change was meant to improve a piece and was not a judgment of my capability as a writer. Certainly, there were times when we argued, times when I felt I had made the right judgment, but ultimately I took criticism and suggestions with the knowledge that these were meant to improve my craft and to come up with better copy.

These are times when I also miss good old N, my former significant other, a kick-ass designer whom I worked with briefly. His creations never failed to impress. He had a bunch of ideas, and he would constantly run them by me during our alone times. SEO. Design. Usability. These were things I learned even before I actually read about them.

I miss working with someone brilliant. While I surely am learning a lot of things from what I do now, a big chunk of it is my own doing. But don’t you just miss having brilliant people who never fail to make you think every single hour? I am glad there’s J, who keeps me sane, and whose reading preferences run parallel to the NYT best-sellers list. He lent me Freakonomics some months ago, and I haven’t returned it yet because I keep on reading it over and over, digesting the wisdom.

I just miss brilliant interaction, that’s all. I miss fellow writers and editors who send me well-written articles they’ve read about on NYT, Salon, NYMag. I miss Kace and how we laughed so much over Cary Tennis.

I miss a great mind fuck.

The Hardest and Easiest Things to Write


The easiest thing to write is a resignation letter when you are ready to move on.

The hardest thing to write is a goodbye letter to the people you won’t see much of when you leave.

The easiest thing to write is a birthday greeting to someone whom you’re happy to see grow old a year.

The hardest thing to write is a eulogy to someone who would never grow old a year, not anymore.

The easiest thing to write is a will leaving all your money to someone whom you know will use it right.

The hardest thing to write is an invoice, asking a client to settle a long-delayed payment.

The easiest thing to write is a letter to someone you have no love for, someone you’d be very happy to be out of your life.

The hardest thing to write is a love note to someone whose cold heart will never be moved, not even by the most eloquent writers.

Give Up the Blackberry? Obama Will Have to


When Barack Obama moves to the White House, he’ll have to give up his one biggest addiction: the Blackberry. It surely will be one big sacrifice for Obama, who, like most professionals in this day and age, always has a BlackBerry/phone/laptop within arm’s reach.

That will have to change soon. According to the Presidential Records Act, all of the president’s correspondence will be considered official and will be reviewed.

For all the perquisites and power afforded the president, the chief executive of the United States is essentially deprived by law and by culture of some of the very tools that other chief executives depend on to survive and to thrive. Mr. Obama, however, seems intent on pulling the office at least partly into the 21st century on that score; aides said he hopes to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, making him the first American president to do so.

It will be difficult, and I guess that’s just one of the many things you have to sacrifice when you become president, but he’ll live. He’ll get used to it. Before the Internet, what were we?

If it were a life-or-death things and you were asked to give up your online life, would you? I would be happy to go back writing on my notebook, no violent reactions about that. I just don’t know about e-mail. I can imagine how difficult it is not to be able to send off a quick message to a friend.

Read the full-length article: Say Goodbye to BlackBerry? If Obama Has to, Yes He Can.

Inspired Writing


I found myself writing furiously, excitedly again two months ago, when San Franciso-based J was just a new presence in my life. The thought of him inspired me to write–he gave me a boost by telling me he thought I was such a brilliant writer, and of course, I fell for it. I would rush home in a jiffy, ideas and characters melding in my mind.

Masterpieces! I would tell myself. And I would bang furiously at my laptop, oblivious to the sometimes-missing punctuation, birthing something–300 words here for this idea, 250 words there for that other idea.

The inspiration peaked in September and went downhill late October (I wonder now if I should have checked the expiry date). And I found myself staring at the screen for minutes, hours, days, weeks, not knowing what to write. Blogging fatigue, maybe? I asked Armand. Lack of sleep, perhaps? It could be both, I told myself. Or some other thing.

Yesterday, as I walked home, I thought, I cannot anchor my writing on someone–what if this person goes away? Should I stop writing then? “I cannot!” I wailed dramatically. “Writing is my bread and butter. Without it I am nothing!” And that punctuated it.

I resolved last night that I will not find inspiration in people who might not constantly be there for me (San Francisco, we have a problem–I am not getting any reception from you).

And so I drew up a list of things that inspired me:

1. Jake, my ever-loving child. I wake up sometimes, look at him, and say, “Damn, you are one good-looking boy, and I gave birth to you?”

2. A good book. I confess to this sin of not instantly finishing a book I start to read. That’s because when the text stops to move me, I move on and find something else that does. I’ve resolved to read anything and everything I can get my hands on, to expose myself to other people’s writing. I think it does a lot of good to a writer. (Although I must say I was surreptitiously reading Kris Aquino’s magazine at Powerbooks last Sunday, not for some showbiz gossip but because I was curious about her vocabulary.)

3. Flowers. I love sunflowers! I love yellow flowers! They’re like Lexapro to me, making me happy, making me write.

4. A good work of art. I almost missed this artist’s exhibit Sunday night, but I told myself I needed some inspiration and put on the best decent casual outfit I could put together in under 60 seconds, plus my new gummy white footwear, which I love to death.

I loved Plet Bolipata’s paintings featured in the Looking for Juan exhibit at the Ayala Museum. There are works whose messages sink in instantly when you look at them. And then there are works whose details you study carefully, and you think them over your mind for days, and then you go back and look at them again, and you understand it a little more. Plet’s works are the latter: there’s always a discovery each time you look at her pieces, like you’re slowly putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

5. Chocolate. A girl’s best friend is shoes; next to it, chocolate. Seeing pieces of Bizu chocolate balls nestled lovingly into dainty little boxes makes me melt. One piece and I am back to writing again.

6. Starbucks coffee. The smell of mocha intoxicates me so, and I write as soon as I put down the paper cup. (Psst, the Starbucks Christmas Tradition has begun! Are you in?)

I have a long list, but I don’t want to bore anyone. Writing inspirations, anyone? Share, share!