I did not win that competition. The judges sitting en banc told me that my essay was the best, but that they all could not believe I did not have adult help in writing it. That, I think, was an accusatory judgment, but I was too young to see it then for what it was. I was barely 12 and had yet to perfect the ritual and incantations for calling the spirit to come and fill me, so I could not understand then how those honorable judges could believe their illogical conclusion. Their hysterical suspicion of excellence, their trigger-happy lunge at mediocrity was my first personal experience of falling victim to what Frank Herbert called the genetic drift.
Pity those who have eyes but refuse to see, I thought. The judges consoled themselves by giving me second place instead, but I could not find it in my heart to claim the consolation prize. Their action brought home to me that the world out there was not yet ready to consider – much less forgive – the weird, heretic things I had to say. So for a long time after that I tried never to afflict, torture, or bedevil anyone with what I wrote. Except myself.
In the next Year of the Horse, I fell in love with a wonderful guy who had attended a lot of writing workshops, the kind where they make the budding writers cry and rue the day they ever committed anything to paper. One day, I showed him a fantasy I'd written, and he ruthlessly tore it apart piece by bleeding piece. Much to my surprise, I found that I still had a heart after all. Because, you see, with the most plaintive tinkling that seemed to come from so far away, it broke in slow motion.
But my love was young and he genuinely thought he was doing me a favor. I forgave him and I married him, but for a long, long time I never showed him again anything I'd written, except for technical papers that needed to be ruthlessly taken apart piece by bloody piece.
Years later and eating batchoy at the canteen, Mac Tiu from two tables away asks me to be his associate editor. I said yes, and so began Mac's campaign to get me to show him something I'd written. Perhaps Mac could guess that I have had more than enough of my share of crying. Mac did not make me cry. Instead, he patiently taught me to tie up loose ends, to stay on the topic, and to mercilessly avoid those seductive streams of consciousness that I always wanted to work in. At the end of the day, I would have 80 percent of what I wrote ready for dumping into the Bankerohan River.
Mac should be a miner the way he could relentlessly weed out the sensible nuggets from the tangles of sticky, icky dross.
Meanwhile, that left me with a load of dross that I could not bring myself to dump into the Bankerohan River. The world is polluted enough as it is. Mac, ever the kind man, said, "That's just angst. Write about it."
Then one fateful day when Christmas was in the air, Jowel Canuday calls the office to relay Carol's invitation for my husband to write for MindaNews. I told him hubby was leery – more like mercurial – about writing for the general public, and would they rather I did the writing? But you know, I only said that because minutes earlier I had narrowly missed being included in the police roundup at the Jacinto gate for violation of the anti-smoking ordinance, and boy, was I feeling like someone out there needed to read my riot act.
Perhaps Jowel was just spreading goodwill in keeping with the season when he said that I could send in a 4,000-character piece anytime. But I found that a 4,000-character piece in defense of smoking was something I could churn out in no time at all. It was my third Year of the Horse and I was bloody well past caring what the world thought of what I had to say. And if I were to be ignominiously picked up by a lightning police dragnet any day then, I figured I might as well register my last words for posterity first. Surprisingly though, many seemed to like that whimsical article, and so my wayward and fanciful column was born.
I find I like writing social commentary on the web because the medium allows me my say on public issues without requiring that I take time off the classroom to defend my position. However, it occasionally poses an inconvenience to me and mine. It's harder for my daughters, I think. Sometimes I embarrass them when I write about parenting and they have to own up to being the daughters of that writer – you know, the ones she writes about. But my girls – budding writers themselves – have been very understanding of the times when I need to get something off my mind, and for that I am ever grateful.
An intensely private and territorial man, my husband suffers the supreme discomfort of having to share with the public the part of me that he loves best. I don't think he totally forgives Jowel and Carol for letting me out there. Still, he endures the unfairness of my need to have a bigger audience despite the fact that he is convinced – and rightfully so – that no one out there could appreciate my views better than he.
He draws the line though at sharing any more of me than he has to. Early into my career as a columnist, he sent my editors a very restrained, if somewhat pompous, letter of request for them to withdraw the picture that accompanied my byline. That picture, by the way, was something that Bobby Timonera spent hours diligently polishing. Sorry about that, Bob.
Why do I write? I guess at the heart of it is the belief that I can't help but document what I witness in our time and place, and that if I don't write about it I'm going to become unreal. Like I've never been here. Whatever it is, wild horses can't keep me from doing this fly on the wall bit and I am thankful that MindaNews finds my views relevant for public consumption.
I must admit it's a vanity thing. I am at heart a recluse who is quite content to indulge my voyeuristic compulsions from my vantage point up there on the wall, but I find it affirming that readers from all over the world generally respond on an intellectual level to what I write. So I'd like to think it is as much for me as it is for my readers who keep writing in that I put out this publication.
Fly on the Wall is a compilation of the articles that saw the most responses in the last three years. Going through it I see that the selection is pretty much eclectic. It's about the life experiences that shaped the people of my generation. It's about living our times. There's something here about parenting and about war, but mostly about being a woman, an educator, a Mindanawon, a Filipino, and a citizen of the world. It's about sometimes losing, but often finding, my rose-colored spectacles.
Yes, it's about me. But it's also about you. It's about us.