Fast forward to a month (and many anxious nights) later, we did it (*happy dance*) and, to be honest, I'm so glad we did. What I took away from that night, and the nights I spent preparing for it, is something that'll probably stay with me for a lifetime.
Preparing for that talk reminded me of why I love writing and why I do what I do in the first place, despite how hard it gets, and the infinite number of odds stacked against me (and all other aspiring writers out there). I decided to put it up here as a reminder to myself to keep on barreling through even when, no: especially when times are tough, when I have barely any money in my wallet, when it feels like a series of unfortunate events (as things have been lately).
Anyway, I don't know what took me so long to put it up, but here it is for your reading pleasure (visuals and all):
I. Creation as Cathartic
She starts with a scene in the airport. How during the day of writing, she could still feel the heat in the air, and the dampness of her skirt against her legs from the sweat. Later in her life, she writes a book based on that scene in the airport, and in that book she writes about a woman, but in the airport, there was no such woman there. She made that woman up, and placed her in that picture in her head and gave her a story.
I have returned to this piece so many times, I’ve lost count. But those pictures in her mind that Joan Didion keeps referring to – the ones that shimmer, I think I have them too.
Please don’t think I’m insane.
But sometimes you walk into a room, and there across you is a girl you think is more beautiful than sunlight, and the rays are hitting her lashes just the right way, good enough for a photo, good enough for a scene in the movie and you just have to write about it. And sometimes, it turns into a poem
And then you end up realizing something big. And that something big, for me, is this.
II. Creation as self-reflexive; creation in pursuit of truth
It just so happens that at the time, a friend of mine - the one I ended up writing about - tells me one afternoon that there is something he has to say to me.
So we go out to have dinner and he starts the night off with “Everything you know about me is a lie.” And how could you not put that into writing?
I discovered that there was some truth behind his lies – that for every single fictitious story he told me it was his way of saying, “I am here for you.” I don’t know why he lies, but it was through this essay, I learned why he had to say them.
Because of that, my approach to writing changed.
And through that, I later learned, writing can then become a way to pursue truth.
Let me tell you what I think I know about Truth, capital T, Truth:
For those of you who don't know, in a workshop, you’re supposed to sit in a circle and give your opinions about the essay a classmate of yours had just written. First, you talk about the essays strengths - is the tone? Is it the voice? Is it the structure? Is it how the story is told? Next, you talk about avenues for improvement. And then finally, how to make the essay better in total. Ways to push it to become more.
At the time, we were working on the very, very, very first baby draft of one of my essays called “Not Otherwise Specified.”
The day it was discussed in class, my professor returned my essay with a letter stapled to it. In that letter, she said thank you for being brave enough to share this story with us.
Comments on my writing, yes, definitely, but also, and more importantly: words of encouragement. Words trying to make me laugh. Classmates of mine highlighting the four phrases that started the essay saying, this resonates with me; saying, “thank you for this. I think I know you better know.” THANK YOU FOR THIS. Can you imagine how that made me feel?
I did not know, could not have ever known that so many months later, friends of mine or strangers would text me saying I read your essay and I am crying (you bitch), or that people from other places in the world would stumble upon it on Medium and say you perfectly captured the emotions, thank you for this essay. How could I have ever known that it would get this big? It would go this far?
It was this essay that made Truth, capital T, Truth real to me.
In writing this essay, I learned that while truth is relative, it is universal. And that sometimes, my truths are others' truths too. And sometimes, when I show my work to other people, even if I don’t mean to, they end up finding something to anchor themselves to. Words to use when they are at a loss for their own.
I cannot begin to describe what it feels like to have someone come up to you - or tell you in one form or another that your writing made them feel like they were home (when home is literally an airplane ride away), or that your writing is brave, or that a piece of mine speaks to them.
In the end, I realized this is why I keep writing. Because there are things that need to be said. Realities that we have to make other people know. To make people, and women especially, feel like they have a voice in a society that isn’t always kind to them.
III. Creation as empowering
And then I read something that someone wrote about dogs and about how they are never "just a dog"; how they stay with you even after they've passed on.
And in its own way, that, as simple as it was, made me realize that there is a world out there full of dog lovers who have loved a dog and lost them, or are about to and are struggling to deal with that. And I took comfort in that, and while I was sobbing like a fool while reading it, it made me feel better knowing my dog (who I later ended up writing about) was still somehow with me.
And, more importantly, that seemingly menial piece of writing made me realize that I was not alone.
And that’s what I one day hope to achieve.
At the very least, the best I can do is to be able to capture a story and tell it as it is. Tell a story that will resonate and will matter to people other than myself.
Writing and art have always been my ways of getting by; of finding something to ground myself to. When I am feeling particularly sad, I watch spoken word poets on youtube. When I am angry, I read books to keep my mind off things. When I am stressed, I watch films to help me escape. When I write, all the tension in my body drips from my fingerprints to the pen and paper in my hand.
I am standing before you today because art is the string of the balloon tied to the porch that has kept me tethered to an idea of home.
And I want one day for the world to feel this way too. Not just about my writing or my art but about art in general. To look at the magic that the act of creation brings “I am going to get by. Things are going to be okay.” More importantly, to look at art and say, “I am not alone.”
Written work, as is with any other form of art, is a powerful tool. It can help change perspectives. It can help change minds. It can persuade. It can coerce. It is empowering. It can hurt you. It can let you feel love and happiness. It can let you feel grief and loss and heartache. But most importantly, I think it allows you to feel alive. To be alive.
And that is what I hope to achieve with my writing. And that is why I write. Why I keep writing. Why I will continue to bring life to words - no matter how seemingly menial they are.
To end, if one day, and this is the optimist/idealist in me talking, someone will look at something that I made and it will touch them and make them feel something then I will have been able to touch a little piece of this massive universe that we live in and that will be enough.
Another note: If you noticed the amazing visuals that I used, those were made by my very good friend and equally amazing illustrator and designer, Che Bantayan. She created all the visuals Tony and I used for that talk: posters, Instagram posters, online teasers, the visuals, even the color palette that we worked with for that night. Thank you, thank you, thank you for making my super lengthy speech a little less boring by giving it color (literally) and life! Che and I have collaborated several times and there are very few artists I trust with my work and she is one of them. We're also working on something big to come out (for sale) this October at Komiket so if you want to see more of her art, stay tuned for that (yes, I'll definitely post some teasers on here).