(as published on The Philippine Daily Inquirer Young Blood column today, December 8, 2019)
Half-baked characters from my half-written stories have this habit of lingering precariously on the peripheries of my undemanding days. Not always, of course, but they are frequent visitors at hours they think they are most welcome. With their sinews and bones molded from printer ink and several unfinished drafts several folders deep in the corner of my laptop, they would say hello when a certain scene in my day would trigger their presence.
For instance, when a shaft of sunlight poured from the blinds straight through my clear mug of coffee one morning, it reminded me of the color I gave the eyes of a Little Prince-sque kid in a fairy tale I abandoned. I took a sip of the beverage and he was there, slumped on the chair beside me.
“Have you ever thought of coming back?” he asked, cradling his face in his cupped hand. “You know… of opening my story again and giving it a happy-ever-after?”
“Not now,” I replied. “Writer’s block.”
“One of these days, you have to stop making excuses and give me an ending. It’s one of your escapes anyway,” he said, waving vaguely at the paperwork I took home.
I shrugged, and he vanished. That night, I opened my laptop and peeked at the draft of his story. I let my eyes crawl over the outline, winced at how bad it was, then deleted the whole thing without so much as a by-your-leave.
I just know in my heart that some stories do not even deserve to live.
“You’re being too hard on yourself,” said a local demigod from a Filipino short story I created for a literature class in high school. “I don’t think it’s that bad.”
His draft, too, went into the recycle bin.
These characters offer opinions, and in the end they all urge me to pick up the pen again. There would be a coltish maiden inspired by Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve, a mech-driving time-traveler in some crossover fan fiction I wrote for fun, and even animals I quilted from drawings I had discovered in an old box from my kindergarten years.
All their tales I eventually flushed into nothingness, then I would deadpan my way back to work — battle my way into the eighth wonder of the world we call Philippine traffic, then wrestle myself into not having an emotional breakdown during my 8-to-5.
The truth is, I’ve always wanted to give them the closures they deserve. But there are calls louder than their pleas for me to write again — straight from my gut, where my inner demons have carved themselves a home to continuously taunt me, “Oh, but are you good enough?”
Ever since I left my magazine job, I’ve become hesitant to call myself a writer. I still write now, sure, but they are mostly for events briefs and newsletters; mostly I dabble in graphics design and stand as one of the stewards of our organization’s corporate branding. It’s fulfilling, too, serving the people in the ways I know how to, but there’s a tiny reverberation in my head that continuously nags at me: Weren’t you a dreamer once, Airiz?
Has it really changed?
Gone are the days when I would go out and experience all sorts of things — from gigs in seedy bars to big-ticket concerts, from sidewalk chitchats with kwek-kwek vendors to interviews in posh restaurants. I would get all the stories they had to tell and pour them all out into our glossies. The pay was bad, I’ll admit, but that was the closest to my dream of being a print journalist.
Enter “adulting”: Suddenly, there is a surge of towering bills, this mountain of obligations to the world I must pay heed to before I attend to my dreams. To keep myself sane, I read books and still compose on the side — jot down a paragraph here and there, build this and that plot point. Fiction has become my safe haven.
But my fingers feel stiff and rusty, and though I know I can still weave tales, I would hear these voices telling me, “Oh, but are you good enough?”
Longhand drafts notwithstanding, my laptop at home has basically become a cemetery of my fiction. On good days, I retrieve corpses of the stories I’ve deleted and will be happy to revive them; on bad days, I banish their existence altogether and think, why bother? I’m no longer a writer!
On days so nondescript, I would scoop up their parts — plot and characters and world-building and all — and tell myself that every fragment of every tale I write carries a shard of my heart, which has always been that of a writer, a dreamer. Sometimes, that would suffice.
Sometimes, I will have the courage to face every character who visits me and promise them the endings they deserve.
Sometimes, the light in my chest would be strong enough to drown out the insistent echoes telling me that I’m inadequate.
And sometimes, that’s all that matters.