Saturday, May 08, 2021


THE NARROW notebook I carry around for jotting has beautiful paper and Japanese characters I cannot read. Since I love this cream paper the color of churned butter that is a joy to write on and smell, I can live with symbols I can only guess at.

Recently, I discovered at the back of the notebook a page with a list of initialisms in Anglicized and Japanese forms. 

WIP stands out. In English, it means “work in progress”. The phrase can mean a draft for rewriting by the writer or polishing by an editor.

The Japanese characters for WIP are still three, which, I am guessing, illustrate the essence of each word in the acronym. 

These three symbols intrigue this non-Japanese reader. The first character looks like crochet needles with bits of yarn hanging as if a knitter hastily put down the needles to check if the pot of rice she put on boil hours ago has not run dry.

There is never an ideal time to write. In between chores, duties, distractions, and excuses, I have even tried the proverbial trick of waiting to write until the children are asleep. By that time, I am also asleep.

The second symbol seems to be a mad woman caught in the crosshairs of a web of yarn, reminding me of every sentence I ended up writing after a whole day of reading and thinking. At the extreme end of the spectrum languishes my long-suffering editor, CTL (not an initialism but her actual newsroom acronym), who often returned my copy because I wrote more than the news hole could fit. 

Hovering somewhere between a yawnsome trickle and a destructive torrent of words, the fluctuations undergone by a WIP are more maddening than my battle with pounds and kilos. 

And the last Japanese character in the translated WIP resembles a small plate mounted on a stick, like the labels a gardener sticks before a row of seeds to jog memory when the future brings the impressive fruits of her labor. 

Writing an essay takes a person to places not foreseen. This is a form that thrives on digressions.

Even more disorderly and disruptive is the use of the “I”. In an essay, the “I” is more than a point of view looking outward. It is an interior digging towards light at the end of the tunnel. Or into the septic tank.  

The reason WIP occupies my mind these days is a project I am undertaking with other women writing about organizing, supporting, and sustaining community pantries in the south. 

If you have a WIP to contribute, please email your essay to

A friend speculates that the community pantries may be long gone before the stories see print. But as the wonderful Japanese ideographs suggest, a story-in-the-making is a measure against forgetting. Long live, storytellers!

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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s May 9, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”    

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