In his Penman column for April 2, 2007, Butch Dalisay wrote that he and his colleagues—Charlson Ong, Jimmy Abad, Jing Hidalgo, and Ricky de Ungria—were, in the early years of their writing, “driven and fascinated by writing, not by being or becoming writers.”
I remember my “anxieties and apprehensions” (my professor’s words) when I started out, more of which centered on being a writer than by writing, though there was that, too. Perhaps it was because I came from a profession that overly—and mistakenly—valued titles. Except for SyCip Salazar law office, the first law firm I joined, there was never any Miss or Mister among us: it was the ATTY. that defined us. My classmates said that one earns one letter for every year in law school, from the A to the Y, and then get the period when he or she passes the Bar.
A few years ago I wrote this in my journal. I feel a certain sadness when I read this, even as I have gone past this spell:
I need to own to being a writer—a term I wear like clothes that are too snug on me. What do you do, people ask, and I say, Well, and I pause, Well, I am a writer. I shrug and tug my shoulders to bridge the moment.
It does not help that my mother and father—both of whom slaved to see me get my letters A to Y—think that writing is not a real job. You write when you’re happy or sad. You do not write to live.
I carry the term with some deprecation, like I should issue an apology—Yes, ma’am, I am trying to write and maybe someday I will create something good. And perhaps continue to create something good.
I know I can write—people tell me so, and there are instances in my scribbling when I know I have written something well, and I rejoice in the wordplay—but I am not certain I deserve to be called a writer. I write, perhaps, but I am not a writer.
Alice Munro’s character in The Office has her own version of writerly disquiet:
The solution to my life occurred to me one evening while I was ironing a shirt. It was simple but audacious. I went into the living room where my husband was watching television and I said, “I think I ought to have an office.”
It sounded fantastic, even to me. What do I want an office for? I have a house; it is pleasant and roomy and has a view of the sea; it provides appropriate places for eating and sleeping, and having baths and conversations with one's friends. Also I have a garden; there is no lack of space.
No. But here comes the disclosure which is not easy for me: I am a writer. That does not sound right. Too presumptuous; phony, or at least unconvincing. Try again. I write. Is that better? I try to write. That makes it worse. Hypocritical humility. Well then?
It doesn’t matter. However I put it, the words create their space of silence, the delicate moment of exposure. But people are kind, the silence is quickly absorbed by the solicitude of friendly voices, crying variously, how wonderful, and good for you, and well, that is intriguing. And what do you write, they inquire with spirit. Fiction, I reply, bearing my humiliation by this time with ease, even a suggestion of flippancy, which was not always mine, and again, again, the perceptible circles of dismay are smoothed out by such ready and tactful voices—which have however exhausted their stock of consolatory phrases, and can say only, “Ah!”
So this is what I want an office for (I said to my husband): to write in. I was at once aware that it sounded like a finicky requirement, a piece of rare self-indulgence. To write, as everyone knows, you need a typewriter, or at least a pencil, some paper, a table and chair; I have all these things in a corner of my bedroom. But now I want an office as well.
And I was not even sure that I was going to write in it, if we come down to that. Maybe I would sit and stare at the wall; even that prospect was not unpleasant to me. It was really the sound of the word “office” that I liked, its sound of dignity and peace. And purposefulness and importance. But I did not care to mention to this to my husband, so I launched instead into a high-flown explanation which went, as I remember, like this:
A house is all right for a man to work in. He brings his work into the house, a place is cleared for it; the house rearranges itself as best it can around him. Everybody recognizes that his work exists. He is not expected to answer the telephone, to find things that are lost, to see why the children are crying, or feed the cat. He can shut his door. Imagine (I said) a mother shutting her door, and the children knowing she is behind it; why, the very thought of it is outrageous to them. A woman who sits staring into space, into a country that is not her husband’s or her children’s is likewise known to be an offence against nature. So a house is not the same for a woman. She is not someone who walks into the house, to make use of it, and will walk out again. She is the house; there is no separation possible.
(And this is true, though as usual when arguing for something I am afraid I do not deserve, I put it in too emphatic and emotional terms. At certain times, perhaps on long spring evenings, still rainy and sad, with the cold bulbs in bloom and a light too mild for promise drifting over the sea, I have opened the windows and felt the house shrink back into wood and plaster and those humble elements of which is it made, and the life in it subside, leaving me exposed, empty-handed, but feeling a fierce and lawless quiver of freedom, of loneliness too harsh and perfect for me now to bear. Then I know how the rest of the time I am sheltered and encumbered, how insistently I am warmed and bound.)