Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ghost writer

ONE of the pleasures of teaching writing is reading a young, sometimes raw, voice straining to hear itself.

The variety and disparity make the encounters. Some write without effort at all. Or at least no effort can make their unfettered voices conform to formula and rules.

Then there are the plodders. If I persist in untangling mismatched verbs and irreconcilable tenses, it is either because glimmers of insight give me the courage to dive into the turgid depths of gnarled grammar to discover an uncommon voice. Or the writer herself has such a hide of resoluteness to unlearn and learn, I anticipate much from sharing the journey with her—and never get disappointed.

One voice I remember clearly to this day. That I failed to recognize it even though the act of composition was being executed right in front of my eyes must be blamed on my mood at that time, as well as a writer’s love-hate affair with deadlines.

One long weekend in Lent found our family staying in a friend’s house along the Santander coast. It was the evening of Good Friday.

We were the only ones occupying one of three rooms. Although we heard the caretaker’s stories about the strange last room, I chose this because it had no TV set. The caretaker said she sometimes heard the shower being used while the occupants were away; I welcome a functional shower, specially in summer.

Since my family was waiting for the tide to rise with the moon, I was alone in the room. I intended to write my column that evening because my duties made it hard to focus during the day.

Opening a blank document on my husband’s laptop, I typed local names for the seaweeds we harvested and ate with our supper. Then I took a shower.

When I returned to the laptop, there were lines written below the words I encoded. Surprised by the gibberish, I automatically blocked and deleted the lines.

I looked out of the window. The family was still on the beach. I heard no one enter the room while I was in the bathroom. I was as certain that my family would not mess around with my work.

Who did? Part of me wanted to leave the room. Yet, remembering my deadline, I decided against dawdling and turned back to the computer.

Three words were encoded while I glanced out of the window: “I” and below this, “The am”.

It was not the air-conditioning unit that made the room feel frigid suddenly. I told myself that the malware-detection program of the laptop might need upgrading again, convinced that my husband’s laptop had some weird bug.

Yet I didn’t or couldn’t erase the three words, arranged in seemingly two paragraphs, with a space in between.

It should have been difficult for me to begin, let alone finish, a column that night. Yet such is the fear of missing deadlines—and to be honest, the dread of finding gibberish encoded again after just a second’s glance away from the open document—that, after an hour or so, I was halfway through the column when the other wrote again.

At first, the cursor disappeared. In its place, blue space bloomed on the screen, followed by words. Strung together, the words, mostly articles and conjunctions, did not make sense. Reading the whole composition, I thought I heard someone trying to talk.

Afraid that the “virus” would take over my composition, I abandoned my husband’s laptop and got my old IBM. Somehow, the temperamental battery worked; somehow, the column was completed that night and emailed the following day, without any more incident. When we returned home, I tested my husband’s laptop and found it working normally, minus the pop-up words and blue text.

Months later, I interviewed an old resident of Alegria. A local healer, she told me it was a pity I didn’t eat the writing that was offered to me and thus, absorb power. After trying to explain viruses, printers and the Internet, I gave up and she looked at me, most certainly with pity, as if I had just been talking about spirits and the supernatural.

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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 7, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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