The cost of wordsBy Nina Domingo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
I suppose signing up for the creative writing elective was the closest I had ever gotten to doing anything meaningful with my life. I won’t say it was particularly profound, because scribbling plot twists in the late hours of the night tends not to lead to a greater sense of self-awareness. But I will say it was thought-provoking because exposing your mind to concepts greater than your understanding does.
I came to terms with two things during my time at the creative writing class. The first is that I will never fully grasp how other people think. Up until that point, I’d always assumed that everybody saw things the same way. I was aware that personal experiences molded each of us differently, but I had believed that at the core of every person was a shared flow of thought. The absurdity of the idea had not occurred to me until the issue came up in my writing.
I found that I was continuously injecting myself into my stories, that I was stuck in painting self-portraits. While I eventually found ways to twist a character’s mindset to fit my plot, I was frustrated that I could never go beyond it. Carbon copies can hold your interest only for so long. I could always blame my ignorance on my youth, but I suppose it is more of a failure on my part for not having the imagination to see what is around me.
You should know upfront that my experience did not lead to a sudden surge of faith in people. Do not imagine changed life ambitions or sudden bursts of inspiration, because that is not what happened. What I did was more like taking a microscope, picking up a slide, and analyzing it. I do not mean to say human interaction is something so mechanical, only that it is not something that can change minds so easily. One day we wake up and find that the world isn’t in black and white, that there are countless grays lying between good and bad, and that we don’t always know which side we are working for. It isn’t something that turns the world into a better place, but you learn to accept it for what it is, anyway. There is so much more to humans than they let on. We talk to people so they can tell us what is within them, and we write about them to feel what actually is.
The second thing I learned is that I will never be a professional writer. I can’t say this realization came with much surprise. Coming from a science high school, I’ve always known that writing was not something I could pursue as a career, anyway. But I’ve come to understand that even if the option was available, it is not something I would choose for myself.
I’m afraid I’ve turned into a very limited writer. I try to force myself into other literary forms, but I always fall back into the dirt-common category of unintentional fiction. I can’t see writing as anything other than memory under constant revision, a reality in better detail. The need to remember is always matched by the need to lie, so that a story based on reality is entirely different from a story based on the truth. I use layers and layers of details to gloss over my writing, but I always end up with the same story—another oddity I’ve plucked out of a crevice, another disturbance I’ve stuck under a magnifying glass. I won’t give up writing because my words will never cheat me, but I will drop dreams of it because those might.
There are times when I wonder what it would be like if I were more consistent with my work. I find myself imagining a world where the odds are in my favor and I can write as I please. But then I suppose it wouldn’t be very fair if I got my way. It is familiarity and not passion that has me wishing for these endings. When it comes down to it, I know I do not write for an income. I am too reckless and indecisive for my words to be of any worth. I write because I am unsatisfied. Because I need to make sense of the cards I am given and this is the only way I know how.
I accept the fact that this will not always be enough. I know that there will be days when the crowds will push against me and all I can do is go along. But I’d like to think that in writing I can hold on to a part of my being, and that this last inch of me cannot be changed. I am not sure if anyone will care enough to understand, but I hope that they stay to listen. I am still here. I am still standing.
Nina Domingo, 17, graduated with honors from the Philippine Science High School and is heading to the University of Minnesota in the United States this fall to take up industrial engineering.
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