Clarissa Militante’s Poetics

 

 

WHY I WRITE

 

My reasons for writing may be changing.  There is not one overarching philosophy or influence underlying these reasons. I can only cite specific occasions when I felt the need to acknowledge the question “why do I write?” When I’m deep into a novel—reading the work of others—I get convinced that I need to write too, as I realize that I make sense of the world and its chaos through fiction. I write because I am an avid reader of fiction. Fiction is the medium through which I understand histories, ideologies, philosophies, religions, etc. But I will contradict this faith in fiction by saying that it is only in accepting the limitations of literature that I am able to write.

I was in the midst of writing my novel “Different Countries” when the Greenbelt explosion in Makati happened, and I felt then the unreality and insignificance of writing if I would just continue with it, undisturbed by the horrible event. Yet it was another horrible news, that of the disappearance of activists, specifically of Jonas Burgos and Karen Empeno, both of whom I did not personally know, that would compel me to write the first scene of said novel, believing that it would be my first chapter. As it turned out, it would not be.

During several occasions while finishing the novel, I also entertained guilt as I doubted the power of my motivation to write or the validity of my objective when I began writing, especially about “giving voice” to the disappeared. But it was again only by writing that I was able to free myself from my desperation about what’s happening in society. My writing saved me more than it saved Karen, Jonas and other victims of enforced disappearance. This reality I am learning to live with.

I started writing short stories in Filipino when I was in college, having acquired the penchant for creative writing as a consequence of being in the literature program of La Salle; after college, my only published story was “Mira, Tanso, Baril” in the National MidWeek.  I submitted short story entries to Palanca a couple of times and did not win. But I cut short whatever writing career I imagined I would have. I was convinced at that time that my writing didn’t serve my political cause. I knew my endings then, but I didn’t know how to write the stories that would bring me to the endings.  Now, I guess, I have the stories but I don’t know how to end them.

 

HOW I WRITE

I am convinced I couldn’t have written “Different Countries” if I hadn’t written my first manuscript, still unpublished and unready to be let out in this world.  It was my rite of passage in coming back to fiction writing; at a more practical level, it was a dress rehearsal that set the stage for writing “Different Countries.” After I “parked” the earlier manuscript which I wrote for about five to six years, the story/stories that eventually went into the second novel “came” to me. It had become easier writing the stories. The first scene I wrote, as I said, was motivated by the anxiety I felt about news of enforced disappearances. Then I stopped. I read history and other political stuff, and came across this essay by Foucault on the connectedness/disconnectedness of historical events; the validity of believing that there are big historical causes that have big historical effects as if these effects were inherent in the causes. But I may even have misread him. If engaged, I could not even enter into an intellectual debate about this, but at that time something clicked in my mind and the idea connected with more personal scenes and thoughts, and the writing of the manuscript proceeded.

 

Sometimes I will observe scenes around me, and I would be motivated to write a story about what these different, unrelated scenes, like that time when I saw this group of three young boys loitering around UP, carrying a plastic bag which they used for the scraps and wastes they picked from the ground.  The first time I saw them was on one late chilly afternoon, when they seemed to emerge from a cloud of mist.  I had the urge to give them names, to create stories that would make me “know” them.  Eventually, they were “transformed” by experiences of children that I picked from some memory of personal encounters with other children during my advocacy work with an NGO.  But the same process I mentioned above would be repeated—I would need some “back up” idea, or what Ma’m Charie called issues, to get the fictional world and character going. It’s only when a scene in my mind connects with a question or dilemma that I could go on writing. It’s not that I intentionally seek issues and imbue my stories with them—maybe it’s more like my writing cannot happen without my social-political activism, and my activism will be less defined if I am not writing.

I am not able to explain to myself the meaning of scenes while I am still in the process of writing. As Arundhati Roy said, a writer is a medium through which stories are born, written. What I do with intent and planning is the mapping of the scenes after I’ve written them; they should have some kind of “logical” flow, not necessarily based on the chronology of the events in the stories or characters’ lives.  Now that I am rereading my novel, I find myself often asking myself why I wrote a certain scene; what did I mean by what I wrote. Was I expressing a personal belief or philosophy?  I am amazed and amused by the meanings I discover, and the ones shared to me by those who’ve read the book. The two perspectives sometimes are in stark contrast with each other, but at some level I do accept that I am no longer the sole owner of my characters and stories now that the novel has been published into a book.  There is this thought that the writing is mine, but the authoring—the book—is a necessary consequence of the act of writing. Writing is done in solitude, authoring is a more social/public act. The extreme result of merely writing is obscurity, making the act or process of becoming author necessary, but external to the writer.

 

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