Like Clockwork

My friend, Shek, and I have both been struggling to write a bit more. A few weeks ago, I sent her one of my (in)famous mass e-mails, which was all about my personal writing slump, and she sent back an online writing kit developed by the poet, Tyler Knott Gregson. (Yeah, she’s pretty great. Thank you, Shek!)

The kit, called Write Yourself Alive, is a PDF with 30 days’ worth of writing prompts. Shek and I try to finish one a week. We shuffle between failing and succeeding on a weekly basis but I’d like to think we’re getting there.

Here’s the last one I did:

WRITING PROMPT

Imagine your current life as an autobiographical novel. Narrate a day in your life as the main character in your book. What story would you tell? Focus on details and describe yourself: include your strengths and weaknesses and everything that makes you YOU.

***

My eyes flutter open at 7 in the morning. It doesn’t matter what time I sleep; the habit began when I was a student and has remained persistent even now, in adulthood. The sunlight is hidden like a secret behind tall beige curtains.

The first thing I wish for upon waking up is more sleep. It’s summer in Manila and I get a month off from work. This, I tell others, is the perk of being a teacher. What I don’t tell them is that the price of freedom is existential aimlessness. Sleep takes me away from the anxiety in my heart, from the question that reverberates: what do I do, what do I do, what do I do with my life?

But it’s 7AM and reality, like clockwork, beckons.

My bathroom is all glass and mirrors and I am confronted with a girl in mismatched pajamas, hair oily and messy, face disoriented, obviously unready for whatever lies ahead. I tie the nest on my head into a ponytail. I brush my teeth and let the coolness of the water find its way around my cheeks, my forehead, my chin. The heat is seeping in now and the sun seems livid.

I grab Mindy Kaling’s autobiography from my shelf and take it downstairs with me for some light breakfast reading. I’ve already finished the book but I like starting my mornings with someone who can make me laugh. Mindy is just the right amount of insightful and hilarious to jumpstart my day.

When that’s done, once I’ve exercised and showered, my brain starts to whirl. What do I do? Where do I go? What do I build?

My days don’t always look the same. Sometimes they’re filled with people. Sometimes they’re bursting with errands to finish. But sometimes I find myself alone and exhilarated at the idea of having so much time to just … be.

I usually convince myself that I will write today, that I have an abundance of obligation-free hours, but something comes up. Something always comes up and I get distracted. Suddenly a friend wants to meet up. Or I end up napping. Or I find myself binge watching the last 5 episodes of Empire.

To say that I love writing is a lie. Writing and I are in a long and complicated marriage. It gets tiring. Sometimes I look for the thrill of something that doesn’t require so much mental energy. Maybe that’s why I started my affair with sleep.

I swear I used to be good at this, good at creating things swiftly with my fingers and my mind. I used to be good at being a writer, I guess is what I’m saying.

Somewhere down the road I realized I valued being good at being human more than my incessant need to weave prose. So somewhere along the way, the prose died. And now here I am.

A better human and a worse writer. I feel bad. I feel bad that I feel bad. I feel bad because what I actually truly feel is ordinary. On some days, being talented yet terrible sounds like a far better alternative.

I decide today that I am going to write, really. I am going to dig and dig and dig until I find that well again, that place where the words belong. I put my stuff in the car. I head to the south. I find a coffee shop — and I also find a nail salon, a spa, and a hair salon I had been meaning to visit. My vanities kick in. My writing plan falls apart. My ordinariness, my glorious self-love, my lack of passion for my marriage with words, prevails.

When nighttime comes, I find that I’m okay. I am not remorseful about my choices. I am not gutted by my lack of ambition. Though I should be, I tell myself. I should be.

As I close my eyes, surrendering to the summoning of sleep, I already know that tomorrow is going to come right on time, at 7AM. Maybe it’ll be different, I think. Maybe the words will be easy like they used to be. Maybe writing will finally romance me again.

But even before I am swept away, I roll my eyes. Because here’s the thing: I know better.

Reality, like clockwork, beckons.

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