writers have certain ways of dealing with solitude.
i've been working on the last few transcripts of my dvd camera interviews with writers across southeast asia and australia. i'm currently on merlinda bobis. i was particularly moved when merlin said that she had decided to write at age 10 primarily to overcome a deprivation. merlin felt the impulse to become a painter but her parents could not afford to buy her paint, brush and paper. bereft of equipment, merlin decided to paint with words instead.
what merlin did was strategic. out of adversity, the most sensitive person writes.
suddenly, i remember franz arcellana during my first years as a college teacher. we used to take short walks around diliman after our classes in the late 80s. he often spoke with authority pointing out the few trees he had grown. he even asked me to look after a tree he had planted behind the faculty center parking lot.
years later, i could not possibly turn my back on franz. or his tree. when i supervised the construction of the new arts building, i did everything to keep architects, engineers and contractors away from THAT tree. his favorite tree held on. it survives to this very day.
i was naturally thrilled when franz became national artist. but when i dropped by his class to congratulate him, i ended up saying the wrong things. wouldn’t it be deplorable to be disposed of at the libingan ng mga bayani?, i asked.
franz simply shrugged his shoulders. i see discomfort in his eyes. i must have embarrassed him.
realizing my clumsiness, i promptly apologized to franz. instead of showing further signs of irritation, he gave me a pat. i’ve always been alone, he replied. then he turned around, drifted back to his room and faded away.
perhaps ophie dimalanta was right some twenty years ago when she discussed the greatness of writers like dostoyevsky and tolstoy. throughout her lecture, ophie underscored how easily we get to share some affinity with writers who make us feel alone. because we are happily sad when we do so
it is 4:51 a.m. in canberra. throughout this entire maze at coombs, i have been the only one writing. it feels good to remember ophie, merlin, franz. there is warmth and certitude throughout this kinship.
with merlinda bobis in canberra
franz arcellana in diliman
ophelia dimalanta with edith tiempo in iowa