Sunday, July 5, 2009

"I ‘fess up to a love affair," Tessie Lagtapon

I wouldn’t call it torrid because torrid is x-rated.

Clandestine would be giving it an illicit flavour; it would denote a forbidden love, a love affair concealed in the shadows of darkened alleys. No, it isn’t. However, this affair is all consuming, relentless, even distracting as my thoughts stray to it as I drive home in the darkness of the night. But I wouldn’t call this love sordid. In fact, it is ultra clean, pristine, pure. This love affair transcends time and place, age and weight, wrinkles and love handles. It is enduring, and exquisitely passionate.

I have a love affair with the English language.

In university I inhaled words then exhaled them into simple messages like: “…the winner of the recent contest, sang ‘Allelluia’ with such rejoicing that one can imagine a staircase from heaven descend among the clouds with our Saviour’s hands spread out to welcome everyone to His kingdom.” As you can see I was a drama queen. Like a kid in a toyshop I couldn’t get enough words to string together.

I have come down from the heavens a tad since.

English is a vibrant language. Where else can I describe the varying degrees of my anger? The fact that I’m upset does not preclude a smile on my face; when I turn sullen you better not be talking to me; when I start fuming I need you out of my sight; when I’m raging mad all the knives better disappear; and watch out when I start foaming at the mouth!

Every thought has a nuance, every action a measure that can be peeled off layer by layer like the petticoat of a wedding dress, exposing just enough until the next level of revelation. What power!

…the gentle quiver of a leaf; the muted sigh of helplessness; the serene face of acceptance. Life at its best is the translucence of the newly sprung leaves of spring; the angelic grin of a toddler; the rapture of first love; the impassioned rhetoric of a politician; the wild and frenzied leap of a triumphant athlete. Such infinite shades of being!

… a baby cries, a widow weeps; the action is the same and yet different. I can only imagine a witch’s cackle, but I hear my daughter chuckle, my grandchildren giggle and my men’s earthshaking, belly-wrenching guffaws. And talk about a sexy language; a young girl’s coquetish look, a young man’s tremulous caress…

Actions are graphic realities; easily understood; emotions are brush strokes on a painting.

‘I hate you” is trite but to loathe is to nourish a caustic venom in ones insides. It permeates its host with impunity, feeding on the excruciating anguish of a broken heart, crushed expectations, a tragedy; to fall into despair, alone into the dark abyss of hopelessness.

English grew some more, while I was busy scrounging for a living. A hundred years ago, I knew only ten figures of speech; now I can understand only the top twenty among hundreds. Oxymoron is my current favourite. True lies (Arnold’s movie) comes to mind first, then ‘brawling love, loving hatred’, (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet); ‘deliberate haste’ (Obama).

I remember the onomatopoeias when I hear the commercial “snap, crackle and pop” and those that make me shiver: the slithering snake, slime, the screetch of nails on a blackboard.

Dr. House, MD (a TV show) is a master in metaphors. “Saying there appears to be some clotting is like saying there's a traffic jam ahead. Is it a ten-car pile up, or just a really slow bus in the center lane? And if it is a bus, is that bus thrombotic or embolic?”

Given these infinite expressions of being, how then can anyone not love the English language?

Yet, for all the words of love I can find in the thesaurus, I always revert to my mother tongue when I say I love you.

Somehow ‘You are my palangga (beloved) just seems right.


As a child in the Philippines, Tessie Lagtapon’s earliest artwork consisted of a stick picture of a sailboat merrily sailing along the calm waters of the ocean. A bright yellow sun smiled down at little Tessie. Tessie grew up and crossed this vast expanse of water into Canada. In Canada, Tessie brought up four children, 3 boys and a girl, and more recently got a bonus with two grandchildren. Tessie rediscovered her love for the written word when she wrote about her bout with shingles, and it was published by the Toronto Star in January 1, 1999. The following year, she submitted an essay about her mother to the Brampton Guardian, and they published it on Mother’s Day, 2000. Since then, between selling real estate, she’s been writing once a month for The Brampton Guardian. It is her dream to be able to compile all these columns into a book. On June 18, Tessie gave a reading of “I ‘fess up to a love affair” at CJ’s Café.
Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

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