By AA PATAWARAN
In the spirit of the Never Have I Ever drinking game I played with Philippine Graphic editor John Pablo Salud and Sigfreid Barros Sanchez in Kooky Tuason’s radio show Bigkas Pilipinas on Jam 88.3, what she and her sparring partner and fellow DJ Marty Tengco described as ‘the literary edition,” I’m going to try to list down things I have never ever done in pursuit of writing.
1. Never have I ever written under the influence, as Jack Kerouac did on a three-week drinking spree in 1951 during which he claimed to have written On the Road on a continuous roll of paper, or as Robert Louis Stevenson did on a six-day cocaine frenzy in 1886 while writing The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
2. Never have I ever stayed in some magical place to write, though I had planned over and over to go find a place like Ernest Hemingway’s Cuba, where he found refuge from a recent divorce and a literary slump and where, later, he wrote The Old Man and the Sea that won him a Pulitzer and immortality. I’ve written on the TGV from Milan to Paris but only in my journal. I’ve written on a road trip to Cape Yamu in Phuket, which I turned into one of my 16 short stories in Manila Was A Long Time Ago, but that wasn’t the same as the cabin in the woods or the manor on a cliff or the cabana on the Pacific or the apartment in Budapest that I wished I could but failed to stay in to finish my book of short stories. Oh I’ve been to places that my muses would have loved! The Marie Antoinette-worthy Imperial in Vienna, for instance, or the Hotel Roja in Lalilbela in Ethiopia, or even my airconditioned tent on the glamping site of the Bluewater Sumilon in Cebu, but I wrote nothing, choosing to be in the moment, instead of in my head. Mostly, I wrote when I would have little time to spare, stealing time from my life, writing at cafés or during a car wash or on my phone whenever there was as little as 15 minutes to write something down.
3. Never have ever I resisted the urge to have someone, or anyone close to me, read my draft, no matter how rough it is, no matter how terribly unsure of it I am. Some say the first draft is for you and you alone. Showing it to other people is like showing up in the clothes you would wear before the party you are wearing them for, but I think it has become a part of my process and so I show my draft to some people I trust and, having toughened up my ego, I make sure I’m open to feedback. While I believe writers when they say the only audience you should keep in mind when writing a draft is yourself, I do write for other people. For that matter, I cannot imagine how it should ever be possible for me to be like J. D. Salinger, to whom the only pleasure of writing was writing or having written, not being read.
4. Never have I ever read The Catcher in the Rye, speaking of Salinger, without crying over the carousel part, and I’ve read it so many times since high school. Never has it occurred to me that it is a waste of time to reread something. So many books to read, so little time to read them that I often read as many as five books at the same time, yet I have no problem reading what I love again and again. After all, as Oscar Wilde put it, “if one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.”
5. Never have I ever accepted my shyness or my awkwardness or my social anxiety, which I think would have gotten in the way of my desire, which I fully accept, to be around people, with whom to make memories, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to have fun. So I have always fought and pushed myself, even when my inclination is to stay safe under the sheets, instead of out there in a crowd of strangers who have the potential to be my friends. Maybe being William Faulkner, who spent a great deal of his life cast away in his Rowan Oak mansion, would have done wonders to my writing, maybe I could have written a lot more and a lot better if, like Emily Dickinson, I could stay home and not go anywhere else for two decades, but I do enjoy my life and much of my life now is the people in it.
And by the way, everything in life is writeable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.—Oscar Wilde
6. Never have I ever tried to read even a portion of my three-volume copy of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in one sitting. I bought it with my college beer money and I have yet to finish the first volume decades later. But I would turn to it every now and then, especially when I am in need of inspiration. Sometimes, one paragraph, which can take as many as five pages, is enough to get me my Proustian fix. I don’t find it weird though that I consider Proust one of my idols even if I haven’t read his most seminal work in full.
7. Never have I ever tired of reading anything and everything about or by Diana Vreeland or Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. Of late, Babe Paley has joined their circle. My fascination with these women of style began when I was very young and never had it occurred to me that I could have practical use of all the knowledge I had gained out of poring over books about them. Until I found myself a decade or so later working for women’s magazines and society magazines. Until one of my favorite Filipino actors, Cherie Gil, played Vreeland in the play Full Gallop and, on the closing night of its run at the Carlos P. Romulo theater at RCBC, she acknowledged me on stage for sharing with her everything I knew about the legendary Vogue editor.
8. Never have I ever read a book on a digital platform. I do have a PDF copy of The Empress of Fashion: A Life of Diana Vreeland by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart from the New York Public Library and an e-Pub copy of André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, but I have both books in ink and paper, the former even in its hardbound edition. My room is littered with books, piled high on the floor, crowded on shelves, heaped up in the bathroom. An ebook to me is like having the ghost of a love. It’s really not mine.
9. Never have I ever plotted out a story I have ever written, nor have I used an outline to write any of my articles. I think I should do better, with more discipline, but I don’t do it. I’ve tried but I find that once plotted out my stories run out of steam. So I write organically, dynamically. I get started by writing a first sentence and I move from sentence to sentence until I get to the end. In the Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury wrote, “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations,” so I keep that in mind. I write to find my characters and I follow them around and, depending on the words that come to me as we go along, I build them up and flesh them out. If in the beginning, my idea is to kill this character, but he ends up resourceful, resilient, and clever, then he lives. I try my very best to let my stories write themselves.
10.Never have I ever said no to any invitation to speak in public, even if I am terrified of speaking in public. It started in 2011, when in the thick of writing my book of essays on the craft of writing, Write Here Write Now: Standing at Attention before My Imaginary Style Dictator, I was asked to teach grammar to the incoming seniors at the department of accountancy at San Beda College. Upon receiving the call, I broke into a cold sweat, but I had to say yes or I would have been such a fake, writing a book on a mission to inspire, encourage, empower people to write, only to turn down an opportunity to teach them more closely just because I had stage fright or because I was worried about making a fool of myself. I’ve since taught at other schools like De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and the School of Fashion and the Arts as well as given talks and workshops in other universities like the University of Santo Tomas, where I taught some teachers, and the University of the Philippines.
Twitter: @aapatawaran | Instagram: @aapatawaran | Facebook: Arnel Patawaran