Tuesday, June 20, 2017

“Deconstructing a non-writing writer” by Tessie Lagtapon


I’ve got my laptop open but I’m not writing. Words were my lover for so long, but now spurned, I just sit at my kitchen table staring out into space. No thought in particular. I glance at my forsythia bursting out in yellow bloom. It’s cheerful even if I’m not. The grass needs repair. Our dog Pip has left her pee marks zigzagging there and about. I hate to go to the side of the house where there is hardly any grass left. Her muddy paws tell me the story sight unseen.

If I still had the gig with our local newspaper that I had for ten years, writing a column each month, I’d be at my keyboard clicking away, happily lost in a tangle of sentences. I’d be chuckling at the little joke I was writing or sobbing at an incident I fished from my memory bank or maybe getting upset at a perceived slight to my ego. Once a month I went through a mandatory emotional catharsis that left me alive and renewed.

“It’s a business decision,” they told me at the paper.

It’s a rejection, I thought. As a realtor, you’d think I’d be used to rejection.

“Are you thinking of selling your house?” I ask at the door.

“No.”

“Thank you. Have a good day.”  I smile and go on to the next house. Multiply this by 30 and I’ve had my quota of rejection for the day. Tomorrow, I’ll get some more. It’s a numbers game. One yes, and the sun smiles through the clouds.

Yet this one rejection from the newspaper has left me disconsolate. Rejection from homeowners is just my job. Rejection from my paper, hit at my soul.

Why, indeed do I even want to write?

I am not a political analyst. Although I come from a country with a turbulent political history, I am quite matter-of-fact in my political views. In terms of interest, I rank political debates with waiting in line at the grocery cash. 

I am not a financial wizard. My crystal ball was out of whack when I told my boys to buy Nortel at the bargain price of $56.

I am not a scholar. Oh wait, let me dig out the paper I did on Ibsen a million moons ago: “His characters grope through the asphyxiating atmosphere into the open, freer life of the liberated.”  Whew! Just reading that sentence feels like navigating through a dark, smoke-filled pub.

I wasn’t paid to pontificate on politics, finance or the arts. My job was simply to bare my soul once a month – which I did 120 times.

My love affair with words started in college. Our school paper needed to fill a column. My friend, the Managing Editor, looked at me; I accepted the challenge and was instantly hooked. I even had the gall to publish in Spanish.  The Augustinian Fathers must have rolled their eyes behind my back.

I magnified this minute experience and landed a job as editorial assistant to the editor of a national entertainment magazine. For my first article, I put my by-line to an AP release of an interview with Richard Burton!  My editor blanched. AP didn’t find out. I kept my job.

I flaunted my press card everywhere, then dashed to the office to beat my deadline. I wrote about food, fashion, and dance – even architecture. I went by gut feeling and wrote with authority. I reviewed TV shows, eyeballed celebrities and picked the brains of society’s business leaders. None of my subjects questioned my “profound” views. So I kept on faking it and every week had the pleasure of seeing my by-line. My youthful ego blossomed with abandon. 

"Well, Tessie, I'm glad you asked me that...."
And then everything came to a screeching stop.  I got married. Had two kids. Came to Canada. Scrounged for a living. Had two more kids. Scrounged some more. Then one day, I lifted up my head and saw the world again. Through eyes, wide open, with time in my hands and laughter in my belly, saw that life beyond work is good.

Finding the funny side of an attack of shingles started me off writing again. The editor was entertained; a friend said I made shingles a must-have disease. I found myself once more filled with joy and clicking away. My hiatus from writing seemed to evaporate. 

Now I feel I am again waking up. My fingers hover over the keyboard. My pulse races. And then ... my heart is skipping with the staccato of the keyboard.

I am re-starting my torrid affair. I wouldn’t call this affair clandestine, for that would denote an affair concealed in the shadows of darkened alleys.  It is, however, all consuming, relentless.  I wouldn’t call this love sordid either. In fact, it is pure. It transcends 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 sentences like:  “The winner of the recent contest, sang ”Hallelujah” 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. I couldn’t get enough words to string together.

I have come down from the heavens a tad since. English is a vibrant language. What other language lets me describe so many varying degrees of 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 coquettish look, a young man’s tremulous caress…

Actions are graphic realities; easily understood; emotions are brush strokes on a painting, the soft cadences of a musical phrase.  “I hate you” is trite but to loathe is to nourish a caustic venom in one’s insides. Loathing 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); and “deliberate haste” (Obama). 

I remember onomatopoeias when I hear the commercial “snap, crackle and pop” and those that make me shiver:  the slithering snake, slime; the screech 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?  How then did I build a wall of procrastination to the very thing that gives me life and purpose?  I am no stranger to rejection; why would I allow a hundred editors’ rejection affect me?  All logical questions. Do I have a logical answer? No…

Psychologists say that putting a name to the problem is half the battle won. Is my enemy pride? Fear?? Ego???

Whatever!

I am writing again. 

Tessie Lagtapon was a supply teacher for the Dufferin Peel Catholic School Board for seven years, then discovered Real Estate was a better fit and has been doing it for the past thirty-one years. More recently, her daughter has been gracefully taking over the business. “I call her my pension fund,” says Tessie. “I earn my keep by being her backup, office personnel, and to go-to resource.  Thank God she likes selling houses. Meanwhile, I can be in the garden and plot the next article.” This essay originally appeared in Forever Young

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