Where Ghost Words Dwell: In which I share a discarded scrap from my novella

Things have been pretty quiet around here. Bear with me while I adjust to some life changes, including a new job and a rowdy litter of puppies.

But I’ve also been writing a novella at the same time. It’s kept me sane since January, for which I am grateful considering some of the really shitty things I’ve been through of late. This story is the big revision on my Week 3 Clarion story. I’ve titled it “The Witch and the Mango Tree,” at least until a better title comes along.

Earlier today, I got to share over at Where Ghost Words Dwell a scrap that I may or may not reinstate at a later date titled “Apologies Eaten.” Do check it out! And if it makes you want to read my other works, all the better. 🙂

The Great Train Adventure

Image taken by Mithril Cloud via Wikipedia
Image taken by Mithril Cloud via Wikipedia


About a week ago, the Editor-in-Chief of our news site suddenly told me to head on over to activist-comedian Tado Jimenez’s wake in Marikina, all the way from our office in GMA’s main headquarters, thanks to the success of a previous article of mine. I almost immediately said yes, though I had to work out another schedule with my dad, as he and I would be picking up my mom from the airport at midnight.

Inside, I was panicking.

A little backgrounder: the one thing I regret about college was not taking more chances to learn how to commute. My parents were are overprotective, preferring to drive me around to and fro even at the cost of snarled schedules and long-standing irritation. Metro Manila public transportation is unsafe, especially for a girl, they’d often say. I learned how to drive a few years ago, but thanks to a complicated situation and the fear of my damaging the car, I haven’t driven since. My parents would continue this arrangement even well into my first year in the workforce.

Last year, thanks to my job, I learned how to take the MRT. It was a small, but very important step for me. But I still did not know how to get to and from places without a train line and using a jeep or a bus or (god forbid, my parents would say) a taxi. I would have preferred to learn it all slowly and surely, in the company of a friend who knows the area–a bit like riding a bike with training wheels.

But, back to the Tado assignment. My sister and I were living with our grandmother, my dad was in Iloilo, and my mom was in Hong Kong. My grandmother’s new driver could not very well get me there, as he was rather new to the city. I already had coverage in the evening–watching the press screening of “Winter’s Tale” in Rockwell, with my boyfriend tagging along–but my immediate boss and I somehow worked our way around that.

I often complained that my parents need to let me learn to commute on my own–yes, the hard way, because how was I going to learn any other way? I don’t know if the bosses noticed the apprehension I was feeling at the time. But I was out of excuses.

So there I was. I hopped on the MRT, changed lines, asked directions from numerous people, hopped on the LRT and made it to Santolan Station in one piece. I took a jeep down Marcos Highway, all the way to Paket Santiago Funeral Homes, as the driver had been kind enough to drop me off at the pedestrian lane across the street from the home–only to discover that I was at the wrong branch, thereby losing 15 minutes trying to find another jeep that would take me to San Roque. The driver had no idea where that was but told me he could take me to a trike stand. And that’s how I made it, panicking, tired, shaken, to Tado’s wake.

I stayed about two hours, doing the usual journo work as best I could in the face of the rules (no photography) and lack of family members in the vicinity. I panicked again when I heard there would be an artist’s tribute later in the evening, very close to the end of my shift, but I was told I need not cover that. I killed more time chasing one of my interviewees, whose picture I had forgotten to take.

But here was the clincher. I needed to get back on the train. I asked more directions to a jeepney stop or maybe a trike stand. I instead came to a trike stand–and after some trepidation, the driver said  he would take me to the LRT station.

For 20 minutes, panic once again balled itself into a fist in my stomach. That was exactly how long I spent in the tricycle, weaving in and out of traffic, in and out of the narrow Marikina streets as dusk fell. My mind was silently screaming: WHAT IF THIS GUY WAS GOING TO TAKE ME TO HIS HOUSE AND KILL ME WILL I BE ABLE TO RUN FAR ENOUGH CAN I JUMP OUTTA HERE OMGOMGOMG–

–Sure enough, he stopped before a narrow alley, then gave me directions to the station. I gladly gave him his fare, then ran.

Santolan to Cubao, change of trains, Cubao to Ortigas to meet my boyfriend (who was late, as usual, but he willingly treated me to a Waffle Time-I hadn’t eaten for 6 hours at this point), then Ortigas to Buendia. Cab to Rockwell, and we got there just in time for the (delicious) cocktail dinner before the movie began. My foot cramped during the (hilarious) romance-drama. Then we killed time in Starbucks before my dad came around and took us to NAIA.

So what is the point of this long-winded narration about my Great Train Adventure? Well, Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “Do one thing that scares you every day.” I haven’t done anything to scare me in the seven days since my adventure, but I think the commute certainly qualified as such. The act proved, not for the first time, that I can rise above my prim, rule-following, Catholic schoolgirl self and become more like the gutsy, curious wanderer I have always wanted to be.

I have been impatient this past year, but now I know that the war for being treated like an adult is a long one, and the battles situated at random distances, times. It’s also not all it’s cracked up to be, but adaptation is a skill refined with age (at least for me).

So, I think I won this round, at least. Can I treat myself to a massage yet?

A poem, a speech, a haze of doubt, and the importance of darkness

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and thought long and hard.

It took me six months to realize that all the changes, all the fear and sadness I’d unknowingly tried to deny to myself—all of it were symptoms of growing pains, of adjustment pains.

While it derailed me from what I thought were fool-proof writing plans, I wouldn’t take back these months for the world. I’ve met a handful of very interesting people, got rid off some that I didn’t need in my life, read some books I’ve put off reading for two years (such as Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing), and I’ve begun at and continue to adjust to my first job ever.

So all right, I go home at 10pm for four days a week and I have to file a leave for any holidays I wanna take. I sit for eight or nine hours in front of a Samsung LCD screen whose brightness I have yet to learn how to lower. But I also get to watch movies and plays, read books, and attend cool events for free, just so long as I write about them afterward.

And best of all, when I’m in between editing articles, I can browse the internet for inspiring comics and speeches. In fact, that’s all I’ve been reading of late (that isn’t for work, anyway), and it’s this sort of thing that helped get me through really rough times.

I’d like to highlight this illustrated version of “The Winds of Fate” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets), and the part in J.K. Rowling’s speech about having worked for Amnesty International for her first job.

What “The Winds of Fate” is getting at is that it is one’s inner strength that determines one’s path in life, in spite of and not because of the obstacles one encounters. I love rereading this every once in a while, when I feel as if the new arrangements in my life are threatening to crush me and turn me into the overly-cautious, impervious-to-amazement adult I loathe and would loathe to become. I’ll get back to this poem later, but here’s my favorite part of it.

‘Tis the set of the soul
That sets its goal
And not the calm or the strife.

One of the best parts of J.K. Rowling’s speech was the part talking about her experiences at Amnesty International, just before she hit rock-bottom in her life. It struck several cords in me: the part about life experience and human nature and the part about hitting rock-bottom.

Okay, this part’s going to sound completely contradictory to my first couple of paragraphs, but bare with me here. See, I’m in my early twenties and I’ve just begun my grown-up life, but I’m already afraid of going to such a dark place even though I’ve already been to dark places—I think I might be afraid that that sort of dark place will be different from the darkness I know, and worse, I won’t be able to get out. (But that’s where “The Winds of Fate” come in, right?)

My mom said that if I am already thinking about that, then perhaps the job I’ve got isn’t the job for me. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—but I am sticking with it for the time being because journalism seems to be the fastest way to gain life experience, of which I think I have too little of (and which is the key to good literature, even if it is in the vein of the fantastic, and the writing of which is the underlying shade behind all my decisions). That’s how Neil Gaiman worked his way around the publishing industry, after all.

My only other option regarding life experience is to travel (like, town to town and country to country kind of travel), but I need to save maybe a shitload of money for that on top of my grad school dreams. That does not mean I’ve completely put it out of my mind, however.

How do some people do it? How do they decide to just up and leave all that is safe, all that is known, and with what seems like enough money to burn, for dreams that may trip them up at every step? I truthfully cannot even say to myself that I will one day do just that without a few uncertain hiccups. Maybe everyone who has ever thought of that kind of life has been through this haze of doubt I am almost blind in.

But back to Rowling. What her speech is telling me is that there must be hardship before a victory, and there must always be hardship while continuing to bag one victory after the other. There must be glimpses (sometimes more than a glimpse) of the deepest horrors and highest joys of human nature before you can pull a glinting something out of the jumbled melting pot in your soul and lay it bare on the blank page.

There must be darkness before light. Sometimes that’s difficult to remember, but it’s as good a bedrock as any on which to build my life.

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and decided there would be light—maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but there will be light.

There will be light.