Journal

Where I was 7, I acquired a small handmade booklet of Filipino myths and legends bound with a stapler. It felt like a secret passed from palm to palm. In the book were stories how the first humans sprung out of bamboo, how the pineapple was a once a lazy girl, why the Filipino is brown, stories about the gods and goddesses that the people believed in before the Spanish came.

And hungry for more. I asked my mom what stories her nannies used to tell her when she was a child. “Oh you know, about princesses and princes,” she answered as if it wasn’t interesting at all. And it wasn’t to her, but it was to me, with my imagination overflowing and in need of  more. I left disappointed. While the Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties, knights and kings, were the stories that made up my childhood, I already knew there were more, and those stories were supposed to belong to someone like me, not just the golden haired and fair skinned.

My dad supplied just a dribble more. He told us about the aswang (vampires) with their long tongues that would stick down through the nipa hut roof and drink your blood, and the dwende (dwarves) who would cause trouble in your homes, how you always had to beg pardon when passing a certain tree so that you don’t anger the spirits. I wanted more, but the stories stopped there. They weren’t as much stories as warnings.

When I was older, I was hungry still, I gravitated to the library shelves of world mythologies. I devoured them all. I could come back from the library with an armful of Irish myths, but all I had of my own remained that slim little booklet.

When I was 14, on a trip to the Philippines, the katulong (house helper) at my uncle’s house killed a beautiful orange lizard and I was upset. “It brings the lightning,” he explained to us. I heard my aunties whisper that whatever business opened in the corner store kept failing because of multo (ghosts). These things were a matter of fact, not just superstition.

When I was older yet, I learned stories peripherally through dance. Dances acting out planting the fields and praying to the gods for blessing, or hunting magical birds, and lovers turned into volcanoes. But these were tiny things, scraps of stories sanitized and stylized for consumption, reproduced from vague bits of information, that were felt rather than known. But it was a small glimpse of something more, that left me with questions. Stories with holes like sieves. Context lost.

From my friends I learned ghost stories that kept me up at night. We shivered at stories of the white lady, and the footsteps heard in empty rooms, dwende shaking beds and causing trouble in our homes. I never thought of these as folktales, because to us they weren’t stories, just life.

A few months ago, I found another book of folktales, just twice as fat as my palm sized booklet, and barely half as tall. It was entirely a different thing. This was a book of folktales written after Spanish colonization had taken hold. Instead of magic, there were miracles. Instead of selfish girls turned into plants, pious old women saved their villages. Local spirits became engkanto (fairies). Goddesses turned into lonely women who wandered the mountains.

I think about how much was lost and what echoes are left behind. What does it do to you when your ancestors stories are stripped away and all you’re left with are monsters?

P.S. If you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it: After a Revolution “We are tinder. Stories are the spark.”

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Journal

Writing:

The first draft of the beasty book is done! I didn’t think I’d get there so soon, but the draft was shorter than I predicted. This is not a terrible thing, because I already know it will need heavy rewriting that will bump it up. The tone is wrong, it starts in the wrong place, and the genre needs flipping. Sometimes I don’t know what a book is about until I’m done it, and this is one of those times. There will be a lot of work ahead, but I know what that work needs to be done so it feels kind of exciting rather than daunting.

In the meantime, I need to ice my wrists and take a break. We’ll see how long that lasts, but I doubt it will be long. The writing part of my day is usually the only thing I get to do for myself. It’s not exactly therapy as much as it is a refuge from the world. When I don’t write, I feel restless, listless, and wrong. Maybe it’s just become so much a part of my daily routine that I feel lost without it. Do you ever feel that way?

Living:

Despite getting a lot of writing down, in all honesty, the house is a mess, I’m a mess, and I’m tired all the time. This is not at all unusual if you have a young child in the house, and likely all of our parents have been there and done that. People will tell you that parenting is hard, but its worth it. The truth is a little more complicated. Some days are wonderful, and other days the day job has you overloaded, the child is screaming, you’ve got cookie crumbs in your heels, stains on your clothes, there are meals (she’s just going to throw on the floor) to cook, you don’t remember the last time you showered, and you just want to run away from your life.

Maybe it’s just the darkening days that have me mulling the passing of time. Every night I lay in bed wondering how I got through the day and I try to make plans to feel a little more control and more like myself (writing helps, reading helps). But my life feels like groundhog day and I can’t seem to break free. Time keeps flying by and I feel like I’m just hanging on to that spinning wheel for dear life. I’m afraid I’m going to blink and a decade will have gone by.

People say kids grow up too fast, but maybe it’s just because there’s no slowing down until they’re grown. To my fellow parents of tiny demanding children, I salute you.

Reading:

  • Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  • The Mortal Instruments (Books 1-5) by Cassandra Clare
  • Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kia Ashante Wilson

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Journal

Writing:

It’s back to the beasty book I started writing between drafts of the current thing. My brain is enjoying the change in pace: a near future science fictional world and fresh characters: a cheerfully sweet genetically modified monster, and the son of the scientists who made them.

Drafting is my happy place. Even though I tend to work with a loose outline, things still happen that surprise me. Consequences grow out of personality and decisions, and characters start growing out of a seed into complex individuals. Watching the story emerge one of the few magical things I know. Its more like discovery than creation. The ride is always wild, but I always hate the end result.

I only love a story after it’s edited, because I never really understand the heart of a story until it’s gone through multiple drafts. For me, editing takes me longer than drafting. It’s is where themes emerge, I add layers to the bones, and where I can sharpen the words into needles or salves. It’s where the shape of the thing becomes clear, and I can decide whether or not the story has merit.

Which part of writing is your favorite?

Commuting:

My daily bus ride takes me through the shit part of the city every day. The people are a mix: construction workers, people in suits, people going to the gym in the early mornings, drunks, people going home after night shift, foreign students going to English school, homeless people, elderly folk heavy with groceries on their way home from Chinatown.

It’s never dangerous, but sometimes it gets uncomfortable. There are the occasional bible shouters who condemn everyone. The mentally ill passengers who babble nonsense. The usual men who demand your time, and then scream at you whether you politely listen or ignore them. There was the lady who kept bugging her drug dealer boyfriend for a score and threw a tantrum on the bus floor when he told her to wait till they got off. The homeless guy who ran into the bus to escape an argument with his girlfriend with only one shoe on. There was the drunk man who fell asleep on my shoulder. Once a correctional officer casually struck up a conversation about how inmates could turn plastic forks into shivs. He smelled like beer.

But always, someone will get up if they see someone elderly, disabled, parents with strollers. Usually no one makes a fuss, or even mentions it, someone just gets up and moves down the line. On a bus packed to standing full, a lady helped some French tourists figure out how to signal a stop and cleared the way so they could get out with their luggage. No matter how people are standing at the bus stop, people remember who came first, and a queue magically forms when the bus arrives. Small orderly niceties. People noticing.

And some of them are familiar now, even though I’ve never spoken to them. The construction worker with the worn out boots that looks like Cillian Murphy with a broken nose. The Filipino man that looks like a younger version of my grandfather. The woman who has two phones and is constantly on social media. The chatty woman who likes to talk about her boyfriend in Texas. The mother and daughter duo who both work downtown, but don’t live together. The daily work out fiend, with the unfinished tattoos. The ex-Albertan who used to (physically) throw tires for a living, and smokes too much. They’re part of my days, and I wonder about them if I haven’t seen them in a while.

You never know what you might mean to other people, even fleetingly. You are noticed as you pass through the world.

Books Read:

  • The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
  • The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Iron King by Julie Kagawa
  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  • The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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