Word and the worldBy Aaron de Borja
Philippine Daily Inquirer
To write qualifies as a purpose in life.
I love to write. The first book I poignantly remember reading was “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” I was 11 then. Beginnings bore me, so I skipped the first of the series. A week later, I finished the book, amazed and enthralled by everything about it. Obvious and clichéd, it was a whole new world: Owls delivered the mail, the newspaper printed GIFs (there is a GIF strategically hidden in this article; only those with wizarding skills will be able to find it), they ate Chocolate Frogs, teenagers were allowed to drink (Butterbeer), and everyone carried wands instead of cell phones.
It was the first of the many kinds of happiness in life I came to know. I wanted to read more. Most importantly, I wanted to create something like it—books that not only made regular schooling pale in comparison but also taught children (and adults) what it means to have a family, to be with true friends, and to walk through life with bravery. I continued to feed myself with joy, with knowledge; I guess they mean the same thing. And each book I put down was a seed I planted in my heart, harvesting love for the wit and power of words: the endless ways they capture the essence of a person, tales that stir our emotions and stories that surpass time. Words are marvelous.
So, I started to write—or rather, I tried. My mother enrolled me in a free workshop for creative writing facilitated by our school. I was almost 12 then and my poems were mostly about my favorite food and Mother Nature. I was bad at it, really bad. But I did not care. That’s the thing. I would hate the instructor for giving me remarks such as “scratch this out” or “your point is not clear.” Yet somehow, those words were not the exact ones that stuck in my head. I carried on with this in mind instead: I will fix this because at the end of this workshop, I want to be proud of something. I want to be proud of myself. And this translation of her hurtful remarks worked for me. In fact, it worked perfectly. The simple unheard-of workshop of 20 was turning into a classic story of telenovelas—in my head. And as in almost all Filipino dramas, the protagonist gets a happy ending; later that year, I became a columnist in the school paper. I was appointed by none other than the same person who told me I wasn’t making my point clear. Insert last laugh here.
I entered high school with an adequate amount of confidence—enough to land me in an essay-writing competition. I lost: one, the essay contest, and two, the trust I had in myself. The tenacity to pursue writing, that I was proudly nourishing, turned out to be a second season of that telenovela that was not going to get picked up. My dreams were dashed. Even without anyone telling me I should scratch a part of my work out, it was a harder fall than the last. I did not know how to deal with it. My heart was numb and heavy, like a limb becomes after you sleep in a bad position. As the now panic-stricken writer/producer of that telenovela, I turned to the works of other writers/producers—books, music, films, anything that spoke of the same sadness my system had acquired from an unfortunate turn of events.
I strove to recover. When I was well, well enough to stand back up, I kind of regretted it. Just like the world of Harry Potter, this new perspective provided an overwhelming, entirely different sight. Sure, it was exciting, but it was a frightening one as well. There are people who are so good in what they do. There are people who have spent years—more years than I have—perfecting their craft. The immensity of their talents was like high ocean waves crashing to the shore; mine couldn’t even begin to rise. I started to worry, and it consumed me. Walls that barricaded the limits of my strength now existed. I ceased to play with words. Maybe I was good, just not good enough. I let go of my pen and did not pick it up for six miserable months.
The notion of changing the world with the written word became a ridiculous idea.
My fascination with writing, though, was not evanescent. I was fervently admiring its power to affect people, to change lives more than ever. That one thing never changed: to write qualifies as a purpose in life. However, the dream of sharing that purpose with J.K Rowling, J. Safran Foer, Ernest Hemingway and Tina Fey ended. The insecurities and bitterness festered, and it showed. At the time, only two things came out of my mouth: sarcasm and an occasional grunt.
High school went on. Life doesn’t stop for anyone. And things, proven by an aforementioned, unfinished anecdote, will not always go as planned. Months later, things got worse. And I prefer it to stay in the form of memories, never concretized by words. The company of friends was helpful but the pain lingered. I can only turn to one thing at that moment. It was the only thing I knew would help. It was the one thing I knew I was once good at. I wrote. I wrote of sadness. I wrote of the many means by which life can be cruel to you and how, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t seem to have a lesson in store for later.
A couple of my beloved high school friends read it. That I was humbled and touched to learn that my writing spoke of their same exact sentiments is an understatement. It was an unbearable joy knowing that people take your words for reference in their lives. I recall the moment I wrote the words down; I didn’t care, did I? I didn’t care about being good enough for the people around me. I didn’t care about having a spot in another writing competition. I did not do it to level myself to them. I just did it because it helped me, and I love it. And that is enough reason to chase a dream.
There were more than words on that paper. It was a part of me, one that many saw and understood; one that they can relate to because we are moving on the same planet. For a brief moment, I felt the power, the joy of having spoken to someone else’s heart, through my words.
Yes, you have inferred correctly, the second season of the dream got picked up. I was a happy writer/producer. I was regaining sight of my “right” self again.
Perhaps, it goes the same for changing the world: You will have to first believe that you can, and the rest will unfold as it should.
Aaron de Borja, 18, a student at the University of the Philippines Diliman, says he loves iced tea and the city lights at night.
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