“When the imagination sleeps, words are emptied of their meaning.”-Albert Camus
The story is that a pauper comes to visit the house of a friend. Upon knocking on the door, he is greeted by an old lady who happens to be his friend’s mother. “What do you want?” she asks as her gaze traces the pauper from head to foot. Dressed in tattered khaki pants and hand-me-down polo shirt, the pauper bows his head and asks in a hushed tone. “I am looking for Antonio.” “What do you want from him?” the mother asks. “I need the letter. He told me to get the letter from him.” The mother raises her left eyebrow and sneers at the pauper. “There is no letter for you. My son has never mentioned about the letter.” Then, she slams the door and leaves the pauper in destitution. Maybe I could go back the next day, the pauper tells himself as he saunters away from his friend’s house. As he approaches the school, he sits on a nearby baluster and watches as the pedestrians hurry to and fro through the street. I need to get that letter from Antonio. Or else, I’ll die before the week ends. After a while, he hears his stomach grumbling that he searches his pocket for a penny, but to no avail. He then opens his hand-palms up-and looks at the sky. I need to get that letter from Antonio or else, or else…The pauper tries to enter the school gate but the guard bars him with a long stainless club. “Give me a pen and a piece of paper,” the pauper asks the guard. “There’s no pen and paper for you here, slob,” the guard scorns the pauper and strikes him in the stomach with the stainless club. The pauper flinches and covers himself from further blows. And suddenly, he remembers his friend Antonio. And the letter. As drops of blood escape from his lips, the pauper utters, “The paper. I need a piece of paper.”
Whenever I talk about writing, I am being reminded by this one golden rule: “show don’t tell.” The details are in nouns and verbs, as one mentor would always say during workshops. I tell my students that they have to be keen in details and must observe people, places, gestures, nuances, etc. since considering these makes an effective narrative. Gemino H. Abad in his essay “Creativity and Philippine Literature” wrote that “All writings deal with human experience, and are limited by it, for we can observe and apprehend only as human beings. All writings are, before anything else, work – work of language and work of imagination, both; and only by that way might every kind of writing move toward becoming a work of art (Imagination’s Way, published 2010 bu UST Publishing House).”
As an exercise on imagery and metaphor, I adapted a storytelling warm-up exercise by Ian McDermott wherein Persons A and B show any picture they brought to the class, and Person C thinks of an issue or problem and states it briefly. Person A now has to tell the story immediately and has to use Person B’s picture that somehow addresses Person C’s issue. I commend my students’ effort although I noticed that the substance of creating a well-developed story has not come to their senses yet. When I asked them about the hindrances as to why it’s hard for them to connect images, they said they got pressured because of time limit. Another factor was the facility of language. Limited vocabulary thwarts them to create and link images. I only had two words for them, “Read and Observe.” Our activity this afternoon brought them back to their childhood, and, as McDermott posited, “the more you are able to engage the imagination that a child has, the more creative you’re gonna be.” I think, the basic technique of creative writing is to loosen up. And as a child, one gets to have freedom of making up stories out of what s/he see around him/her. I guess, my students missed to see the child in them.
You might be wondering what the hell is that story I wrote about. Well, I did not join in my students’ exercise. I wish I did. The one above could have been my own story. Picture A: My picture when I was eight. Picture B: A notebook. The Issue: That’s for me to know. And for you to find out.