This, above all:
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Before Jesus miraculously multiplied a little boy's lunch to feed 5,000, He first lifted up the boy's lunch basket and thanked God. He gave thanks for five tiny fish and two pieces of bread before they amounted to anything.
Before we can ask for more, perhaps we should first be grateful for what we have. How can we be entrusted with much when we cannot appreciate less?
Monday, July 30, 2012
I wrote my first column on mothering for the startup online magazine OSM! (read Awesome!). Only 536 words. I agonized over them all afternoon last Thursday. While I played tea party with my three-year-old, wearing a hat and saying the right things that made her laugh and snuggle close to me, my thoughts chased after words. I was overwhelmed by all that I had to say, by the ordinariness of all I felt.
Sometimes writing is like picking a scab: painful, grotesque, self-mutilating, but you just gotta.
Hot off the press: here's the article.
Friday, July 27, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Friday, April 06, 2012
Vincent sounded muted beside Charlotte, like a superscript or a color washed in white. I knew that if Charlotte were not there, he would be more voluble, more like the Vincent who would lapse into song because it rains. I am a part of the world that he keeps free from job downsizing, laundry, bills and son’s tantrums. When he is away from his family, he becomes the Vincent of old.
He loves Charlotte, adores her. But perhaps in all of us there lies a part that we keep away from family: the part that isn’t weighed down by maturity.
It was a tad strange to see them interact with Anna. They liked her and took and posed for photos, but there was a distance, a reservation, as if they’d had enough of children at this time, thank you.
I left breakfast feeling a little foolish, perhaps a little let down.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
|I have ink-stained fingers.|
Thursday, March 22, 2012
|Anna enjoys the breeze on Malapascua Island (March 2012)|
–G. K. Chesterton
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
They terrify me. They are too pure, too pristine, and I feel my words are not sufficient, not worthy. I have to forgive myself for marring their pages.
Today I exorcise this writing fear rooted in perfectionism. I embrace Chilton Pearce's words: "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."
These are my freedoms:
1. I am free to make mistakes--no apologies.
2. I do not always have grand ideas.
3. I am ordinary.
4. I commit grammatical errors.
5. I will allow my handwriting to go haywire.
6. I do not have to fill the pages.
7. I will not edit what I have handwritten.
8. I forgive myself for starting only now and am grateful for this 45th second chance.
9. I do not have to please anybody, even me.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Sat my butt down at a coffeeshop. Turned off my auto-guilt mode and put my mombligations on standby. Brought a book on editing fiction and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Laptop, ready. Coffee, hot. Soul, squashed by a run-in. I was glad for Hubby, who had reached out for my hand and told me to write, to not let a bad afternoon get in the way of writing.
I love you, Hubby.
You too, Oscar Wao. Because the story I had been agonizing over sounds a little better for my having read about you. You see, there’s this story I’ve been wanting to write. It has an incredible premise and a kickass first paragraph. Even I want to read it. But the story just doesn’t fly. The characters are cardboard. This story is in its third iteration, and it’s still as dry as day-old pizza. I haven’t touched it in years. But you make me want to finish it. You–made on paper and of a writer’s dreams–are alive, the way the heart of a book is. Yours is a story that makes me want to create another. To me that’s the best kind.
Thursday, September 09, 2010
I wrestled with the essay, perhaps the hardest I ever had to write. Motherhood is too big to reduce to words. My heart had been reeling from tenderness, from bruising, from doubt.
The Wordsworth on my shoulder was no help: any spontaneous overflow of emotions, he said, had to be "recollected in tranquility." I shushed him: a mother is hardly tranquil.
By the third deadline, I still hadn't written much. The words sounded cheap, sentimental.
And then there was Hemingway: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."
Writing is at once egotistic and humbling, a struggle between vanity and vulnerability. The truest sentence—my truest sentence—is the one I will tell my daughter.
Two years ago, when my fertility workups seemed futile and our faith was flailing, your father and I attended Healing Room, a prayer-healing forum. The ministers praying for us weren’t told what was ailing us; they would rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what healing was required.
When it was my turn to be prayed for, a woman minister—a stranger to me and unknowing of my petition—gently touched my womb and said, “God wants me to tell you that you have a mother’s heart.” I wept, bearing the burden of the barren years.
Last week, you finally came home to us, 10 months old and perfect. A gift from God and born from the heart. Though our infanticipation wasn’t coursed through my womb, how could we not burst out in praise, as Adam did, that you are flesh of our flesh, and blood of our blood? It was then I lived out what John Donne said in The Good Morrow: “If ever any beauty I did see,/ Which I desired, and got, ‘twas but a dream of thee.”
The second day we had you, I forgot to give you your vitamins, fed you two hours too late, and bathed in you in water too cold your lips started shivering even as you loved playing in the water. That night I cried in your father’s arms. “I’m a bad mommy,” I blubbered. What made me think I am able to nurture and care for another life?
In C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, when Aslan asks Prince Caspian to rise to his leadership, the boy says, “I do not think I am ready.” And Aslan replies, “It is for that very reason that I think you are.” I’d like to own that truth in your father and me. It is humbling, overwhelming, to be your parents. The more we read on parenting, the more we realize how inadequate we are, how much we do not know. All we have is this certainty that you make us want to be better people. This time we aren’t just living for ourselves: we live for you.
A few nights ago while I was singing you to sleep in Mommy’s home, the light of a star filtered through the trees, and it hit me: the God who created Canis Majoris—the hypergiant star so immense it would take 7 quadrillion Earths to fill it—is the same God who breathed life into you with a Word, and when He did, He saw that you were very good. He will not fail you or me, dear Anna. All my inadequacies as a mother He will assuage; He will fill in the blanks.
I wish for you, Anna, to be awed by a world “charged with the grandeur of God,” that you would easily find joy even in a can of sardines as you would in Bach’s Air on the G String. There is a magic to this world, and it takes a special set of eyes to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Your Ninang Germaine once said that all we need is Jesus, family and ministry—everything else is a bonus. Revel in that bonus, dear Anna. When we realize that God’s grace operates in the everyday, that it is only by His tender mercies that I am able to write this and hear your breath as you sleep, that every day is God-breathed and God-allowed—only then will we have a heart that finds joy even in the direst of circumstances.
What a privilege it is to be your mother.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Which is a massive misstatement, of course, but one laden with a few non-negotiable truths about the good and the bad that I inherited from Papa.
My love for words came from Papa. He is not averse to filching a book from his friends’ or children's shelves, reading and keeping it until you forget you ever had such a book. He is like a Rottweiler: he grabs a book and doesn’t let go even after gnashing of teeth. Before there were National bookstores or bookshops of previously owned books in Cebu, Papa already knew where to find those dumped by U.S. public libraries and middle schools.
Books were the priority. Our house, built in the ‘60s on Mama’s GSIS loan, had only two-and-a-half rooms for six growing kids. Space was limited, but my parents invested wholeheartedly in a library, on a mezzanine that overlooked the living room and the dining area. The library was bigger than my sister’s teeny-tiny half-of-a-room (I didn’t even have a room), with Britannica volumes that lined the shelves, Reader’s Digests since the ‘50s, and a huge atlas that was bigger than one of the windows. And books. Oh, the books. I know now that part of my almost manic stockpiling of (unread) books in my home is the need to recall the best part of my childhood. They are my one true link—sad, there is no other—to my father.
Papa thought and wrote in images; maybe that was why he could never find, even now, the words to tell us he loves us. (He gave me an awkward pat a few times.) When I needed assurance that he loved me, I should just have asked him to write me an image, instead of creating a card that began with If you truly loved me (I was only nine, and I never gave the card). He took great pleasure in language, and in my wedding, he took to the stage with much pleasure, piling on the audience the image of him and my mother riding into the sunset, and talking much about Will Durant. A philosopher.
In my junior year in law school, I wrote an impassioned plea for him to fund my extracurricular studies in French. Money was hard to come by—Papa worked for the local government, Mama was a public school teacher, one brother had just finished medicine, and yet another was finishing med proper—and he replied with the only letter I ever received from him, one I keep in my Happy Box. He wrote that if he were an outsider looking in on my life, he would give his eyeteeth to be my father.
He signed his letter not with his name or with Papa—he has lovely, elegant and extravagant penmanship, eruptions of his creativity—but with a drawing of his square glasses, the lines heavily etched onto the paper. I would often feel the ridges it had created on the other side. “I am old, decrepit,” he wrote.
He didn’t end his letter with the usual, familial complimentary close, Love or With love. He came from the old school where parents were strictly figures of authority. My eldest brother, Manoy Uriel, had told us, “Papa wants to be respected, not loved.” It was the same likeness I projected onto God—He was a Father, after all, and I used to cringe before Him, even in prayer. Jesus I can deal with, he was a brother, see; God, well, He had an iron hand. It took several years of patient loving from my uncle (my Papa Danny, my father’s younger brother) and from The Coach for me to accept that though all the power in the whole universe is God’s, still He has chosen to be tender. That though the Holy God should be the righteous judge of sin in me, He has chosen to love me, gently.
Oh, the gentleness I craved, for Papa had quicksilver moods, shifting always to his default mode: anger. I know how rage tastes. But I don’t know how it looks like: it has no color, not the red that angers the bull or the white heat that blinds. It has a burning that starts from between the shoulder blades that flares down in an instant to the palms, where it seeks release.
I’m now middle-aged, but there’s still this little girl in me who needs her father’s approval. Some years ago I sent Papa drafts of a few stories, needing the father-writer to affirm me at that crucial turn in my life when I spurned his and Mama's advice and took the road less traveled by. He never said anything.
Then I got an SMS from my sister, a year or so ago. Jan, she said, Papa wanted me to text you that he thinks your stories are good.
That almost beat the eyeteeth line.
I am now in my Mama’s house—we call it that even if they built it together, that’s another story—and I see my father struggle to remember if he already put sugar in his coffee. Sometimes he doesn’t know how to prepare instant-mix oatmeal anymore. He talks to me a lot, genuinely interested, and I wonder when I’ll have the guts to tell him I love him.
With the union comes a merger of books: each one probably having about a thousand books each.
So they gave away books they have multiple copies of—good ones!—to the guests, with a special Paul & Sandra bookmark sandwiched in the pages. One book for every guest. But which to choose? There was Ondaatje, Calvino, Loorie Moore, David Foster Wallace, Hornby, Rushdie, Byatt, whew. You gotta make a decision, quick, because while the rest of the guests were lining up to get food, the writers were already circling the pile of books. As soon as it was considered, well, appropriate, we snatched the books we like. Paul gave me the blessing to get a lot, yeah, plus Paul and Sandra’s choice for me (Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain—which I still have to open, sorry, sweeties).
We, of course, knew that we hardly have the time to read our loot. “This is greed,” Butch Guerrero said, with his horde tucked safely away in a corner. We were shameless. (Now, six months later, I am merely midway into Midnight’s Children. Love it. Hate my schedule.)
For the godparents, Paul and Sandra gave a beautiful Parker pen.
Mine is engraved Ninang Janet.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Months after we bonded at the UP National Writers Workshop in 2003, a bunch of the fellows met up at our house. I am their Mudra, designated mother goddess, which only means, really, that I am responsible for stocking enough food and drink on my table and cleaning up after their mess. (And, yeah, I am way older than they are.)
Jay Fernando, one of two beautiful writers who facilitated the workshop, had predicted that our post-workshop camaraderie would last only so long; we had been tight, true, but he said the fellowship would wane.
He was right, in a way. Some of us formed deeper attachments and some stalwarts could be counted on to attend get-togethers, but through the years it became harder to gather warm bodies. Our yahoogroups conversations have dwindled to a trickle.
I miss my kids. I read about them a lot, in their blogs and in others', where they and their work are praised. I am proud of them and their achievements and accolades, as if theirs were my own.
I'm thinking of mustering the brood again, just to catch up. I'm hoping this post on that Octoberfest at our house will help rekindle the fellowship.
That night we played Taboo 'til kingdom come—you know, that game where you're supposed to describe the word to your teammates but there are some terms that are taboo, words you cannot use. No gestures or actions allowed.
Here are snippets of our game:
K (trying to describe the word PLATINUM): This is better than gold!
R (shouting): Sex!
U: This is what I'll never find!
G: LOVE!!! [True enough, the word was LOVE!]
U (describing SADDLE to his teammates): Assholder!! Assholder!!
His teammates (confused, of course): Chair?
U (getting more incensed and raising his palms to cup the air): Assholder!! Assholder!!
U (describing FINGER): F**k you! F**k you!
U: This is what you use when you F**k you! F**k you!
Me (describing POEM): This is what G writes!
Someone (I forgot who): Trash?
U (nagmamarunong, after G found it difficult to describe SALMON): Dapat sinabi mo, G, "Blank Rushdie."
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
I don't receive 13th month pay or health insurance or a sack of rice. I have no Kris Kringle during Christmas. I miss the jump-up-and-down joy over non-working holidays that suddenly sprout during the week. I buy my own stapler, envelopes and toner. I pick up stray paper clips because, hey, when you're paying for your office supplies those clips can dent the budget. I suffer the commute and long lines to file my income tax, get a cedula, claim registered mail, photocopy documents, pay my IBP dues. I'm my own janitor when the cup of coffee crashes to the floor.
Before I junked law for writing, I had my own secretary to spurn cold calls, make restaurant reservations, assign a messenger to pay my credit card bills, tally my expenses, or find a spare safety pin while I frantically hold on a skirt that unraveled. I had the entire office machinery and budget behind me, so smoothly run and accommodating that even golf lessons (over which I chose diving instead) or Japanese language lessons (Bengoshi desu!) came for free.
I should've had a harder time adjusting to going solo.
I love working from home.
I avoid office politics, run-ins with colleagues, and the obligatory participation in some ghastly Christmas party program. I am allowed to deduct certain expenses from my gross income and lower my taxes. I can drop anything I'm doing when The Coach needs me. And when I'm gnashing my teeth editing a particularly horrendous article, I take a break without guilt: TV, a story, a household chore, a trip to the grocery or the Starbucks hidden inside Cybergate.
I don't have to wake up too early (read: before noon). The most of traffic I encounter is when the sounds of altercating drivers below intrude into my reading or when the turtle pace of cars lining the Guadalupe Bridge catches my eye.
Tackling emails in my nightshirt, without having to brush my hair or teeth, is also pretty neat.
When I crave company, I log onto Twitter to check what my friends are doing. It's my version of the chatter around the water cooler: consultants decrying their clients, new music discovered, reading junkies finishing a book, a touchscreen eee PC being sold.
Every now and then, friends come over to the house and work—fellow freelancers who share a procrastination gene. The mood is relaxed, even with the doom of deadlines, and we put up our feet. It is like working with officemates you are fond of. (There is no such word in American English, but, yeah, I’m not about to edit that.)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I'm on forced rest—a happy conspiracy between The Coach and my OB-gyne to ensure the success of our baby program, launched this month to mounting pressure from the family and the clamor of well-meaning friends (and a maternal instinct kicking waaay this late, Julia Roberts be darned). I am to avoid any possible stressor. I try not to bother with crumbs that fall from the table or remember a beloved niece’s unplanned pregnancy. I have license to laze.
But what the hey. Hotwired in my system is a happy-go-lucky stress lever. It activates even when I am happy or on a vacation. It takes a lot for me to keep still. (I, of course, prefer to call it ebullience.)
I hate working; ergo, in my mind, I am not a workaholic. So when my writer-friend Sandra sent me an email from Korea on how God desires me for me to rest, it jarred me, but only a bit. A workaholic, I thought, is one who enjoys working hard and long hours. I don’t. A workaholic is compulsive. I’m not.
But friends—the good ones—they don’t let us get away with specious arguments. Germaine staged an intervention in her apartment last year.
“You’re a workaholic,” she said.
“No, I’m not.” I said. “I just always have a lot of work.”
Silence. And then laughter: much of it incredulous, much of it from me.
The thing is I feel guilty when I rest. I feel guilty when I’m not productive. Mix that with unrelenting slothfulness and a massive dose of procrastination (perhaps arising from perfectionism?), and we’ve got a Janet waiting to explode.
I get my guilt from my mother, whose love language is service. She has borne much of the burden for the family, and there is never time for her, for us, much less for rest. Six children on a schoolteacher’s salary meant there was much to do, much to finish. Her busyness told me: if she stops, the house, our home, our family, will fall apart.
The laziness is all my own, a shortcoming that has hardened into an attitude because I was, growing up, pretty much left to my own devices. “Suma nimo,” my mother would say whenever I asked permission. It’s up to you—appealing to one’s maturity, one’s discretion—you decide. I guess I decided to be lazy, to not exert myself. It was easier, fun, that way. I was a child. I still am, that way.
The perfectionism—the fear of failing—I suffered from my father. Papa, a closet writer, has elegant, extravagant handwriting, with the curlicues and whorls of his letters all set in a flourish. Mama’s writing was neat and coordinated, like that of a schoolteacher who knew she was meant to be one. There was such a tenderness to her letters. I was ten when my father asked me to write in a card meant for my uncle in Marikina. My writing was still finding its place, my hand unsteady in its youth. He took one look at what I wrote, clucked, and said, “Kabati nimo’g agi!” Your handwriting is awful.
Three years ago I finally understood it was around that time I stopped writing the stories and poems I started when I was seven. I didn’t plan on stopping. I didn’t even realize I did. And I had forgotten that incident. It took me twenty-four years to return to that first love, to acknowledge it as such. I am glad I rediscovered writing, though now I still struggle to allow myself to fail. (I thank Joseph Chilton Pearce who said, “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”)
The beauty of God’s love—which I discover in fresher, very real ways each day—is that it allows me to see myself the way He does, unsullied by my own unforgiving eyes or those of my parents. I don’t have to do anything to merit His grace. I give Him joy, just as I am, and there is nothing I can do to add to or take away from that incomprehensible, all-encompassing love. I do not need to perform for Him.
It is true, what Sandra sent my way last year, that God does want me to rest, not just from my labors, but also from my mixed-up conceptions of what I ought to be and what I ought to do. To cut the ties of a past that can torment the present, I pray in the Spirit to break the yoke of guilt, burden-bearing, laziness and perfectionism I find in myself. I forgive myself—are we not often tougher on ourselves than on others?—even for the ways I responded to negative things in my life, and those who allowed those things in my life.
And I will rest.
The lovely cartoon is by the talented and inspiring Inkygirl.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
How to explain?
My closest friend in law school died on a Wednesday late September. Or a Thursday. We're still not sure when. I rushed to the hotel where she was discovered, but I couldn't go up to her room to help identify the body. I didn't want to remember her steeped in blood and in what looked like signs of struggle. Three days later, ABS-CBN would flash scenes of her and the lacerations, the tangled sheets, the knife, the cord, the cutter, the duct tape. And I couldn't look away. It had been a year since I saw her last, and in the mess of the moment, all I could think of was if her left shoulder was still higher than her right.
We shared the same name. We imposed the same acid test for our dates: their inner thighs must not rub against each other and they must know how to kiss. (Alas, The Coach had cornered me early in my life, so I never had the opportunity to try out the test.) We created our own vocabulary, like twins, and earmarked certain legal provisions (Article 25, Civil Code, on “thoughtless extravagance in expenses for pleasure”; Article 247, Revised Penal Code, on crimes of passion)—it was one of the ways to survive law school. In the summers between semesters, she in Manila and I in Cebu, we wrote each other 20-page letters, back when there was no email or easy access to computers. Then we started working, and this time we shared summers. Each January we'd bring out our Filofaxes, plot the holidays, save money, and on all long weekends we'd hie off somewhere, often to the beach where she’d swim and I’d dive. Even when I married we still kept to a few of our yearly jaunts.
We were easy with the term best friend, back when it didn't seem to require too much of each other. Somewhere along the way, the term sounded high-schoolish, uncertain, like a trend that didn’t catch up with the times. Our differences—did they multiply? were they there in the first place?—caught up with us: she couldn’t understand what she called my “extra long good faith,” and I couldn’t understand why she frowned, hard, when applying her makeup.
Her leaving was sudden—what leaving isn’t? But this, this was all for the wrong reasons, reasons I could’ve gauged had we been in each other’s lives the last year, extending our communication beyond texting and calls and gifts left with the lobby guards. Perhaps I wouldn’t have understood—I still don’t—but I would’ve at least been there.
I'm still saying goodbye, and haven't found the words for it.