Persona

Soul searching at 70,
long after grief and loss

‘I did not experience vertigo this time.
Even as life has been a rollercoaster journey…’

The author with her newly launched book, 'Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II'
The author with her newly launched book, 'Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II'

I just had a virtual launch of my latest book last December 15,  my 70th birthday. The 152-page, 8.5-by-11-inch hardbound book in full color, with a stunning oil painting by my daughter Maningning on the cover designed by Fidel Rillo, is titled Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II. It is the sequel to my Soul Searchers and Dreamers: Artists’ Profiles published five years ago.

The pandemic did not give me a chance to have my family and friends come together face to face for the event like what I had five years ago when my first solo book was launched at UP Asian Center in Diliman. The recent Zoom launch, however, gave my best friend, a nurse and her doctor husband based in Ohio, a chance to join. Well, Covid-19 can never stop us Pinoys from finding ways to celebrate milestones even in the direst circumstances.

I’ve been cooped up in this pandemic but following my “half-filled, not half-empty” view of things, I tried to make use of the time at home the best way possible. My husband Mario and I spend about an hour to walk and do our exercises at the rooftop of our condo. I do household work as our help is in quarantine herself. I cook more than ever. I do FB for my journal of sorts, an activity which happily surprises me with half-forgotten memories. I read a bit, write a bit, and get entertained thru Netflix or YouTube.  I help carve out a routine for my grandson Raja who often comes from next door after his distance classes, for us to read some classics, practise math, and have fun.

The pandemic gave birth to my lockdown musings, my soul searching which opened the book.

PAIN AND CREATIVITY

When my family returned to the Philippines from China following the People Power Revolution in 1986, Mrs. Narita Gonzales, wife of National Artist N.V.M Gonzales, asked me to contribute a piece to her book, with 11 other women.

It was my first time to write for a publication. What I did was to recollect our life from the time my husband and I met at the University of the Philippines during the First Quarter Storm of 1970 to our life in China where we lived for 15 years. I thought of the words of English poet and playwright Ben Jonson which my husband always quoted— “Look into your heart and write.”

The book, The Writers’ Wives, published by Anvil in 2000, would become a finalist in the National Book Award for anthology of essays. Meanwhile, my daughter Maningning’s book of poetry in three languages—English, Filipino and Chinese— entitled Voice from the Underworld : A Book of Verses published that year also by Anvil, was a finalist too in the same awards, for the poetry category. It was launched April 15, 2000 on what would have been her 28th birthday, but she unfortunately passed away on September 29, five months after her book came out.

Losing a child most beloved is a tragedy that you cannot wish even on your worst enemy. It defies logic and runs counter to the natural scheme of things that children bury their parents, not the other way around.

In my essay The Lighthouse, I wrote, “A few days after my eldest daughter Maningning passed on in 2000, my husband Mario, my youngest daughter Banaue and I found ourselves trekking to Corregidor Island. We thought that the forlorn tadpole-shaped island at the southern tip of Bataan Peninsula 42 kilometers west of Manila would offer solace to our battle-weary selves in the same manner that the island provided the last defense against the Japanese invaders during the second world war.”

Writing that piece was heart-breaking. But it ended with this hopeful paragraph: “From a vantage point atop the hill of a good friend’s seaside property in Anilao, Mabini, Batangas, I took on the exhilarating beauty of nature— the mountains serving as a cove in this part of Calumpang peninsula facing Maricaban island, with water so blue and placid. I did not experience vertigo this time. Even as life has been a rollercoaster journey of grief and pain for us, it has also been a journey of understanding, love and compassion. Friends and relatives journeyed with us in the vicissitudes of life and in them we found our lighthouse.”

The grief and pain from our loss became a wellspring of creativity. On the first death anniversary of Maningning, the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc. or MMAFI which we formed during her birthday on April 15, 2001, launched Beauty for Ashes: Remembering Maningning, an anthology of poems and prose for and about Maningning written by leading poets and writers in the country.

It was during this time that I started writing more even as I held a full-time corporate job in Makati. Writing became my outlet to focus my mind and my heart on other things, and not to wallow in grief and sadness.

FOR A CAUSE

The Maningning Foundation activities opened avenues not only for the annual award to honor Maningning’s memory and to encourage, support and award outstanding poets and artists 28 years old and younger, but also to connect with artists and writers, as well as participate in activities involving art and culture. These opened opportunities for me to embrace a cause—to bring to the fore the best there is in our art and culture by writing about it and having it published for the appreciation of more people, and hopefully, the bigger public.

I started writing about young and old artists and their exhibits, and my two volumes speak a lot about them. I write about topics close to my heart and which my family is passionate about—cultural events like concerts and theater, museums and places of historical and cultural interest. And I found an ally in Lito Zulueta, the sub-editor of Arts and Books of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and later, the PDI Lifestyle editor herself, Thelma Sioson San Juan who wrote the Foreword to my latest book. My original coverage of arts and books expanded with Thelma, to include health and wellness, like my article, Why the Good News Clinic in Banaue is a rare good news, which segues to art as it features the most generous artist I know, Addie Cukingnan, whose solo exhibits benefit good causes such as GNCH in Banaue and World Vision.

I also cover architecture and design— Notre Dame: The Lady of Paris will bloom again and I. M. Pei’s Louvre glass pyramid— and education, too, like Championing Filipino as a global language, about Dr. Teresita Ramos who devoted 60 years to teaching the language. My creative juices flow when my heart is touched.

I wrote for other publications as well. NCCA’s Sanghaya Yearbook editor-in-chief Delfin Tolentino commissioned me to write about the National Museum of Natural History, in line with my Inquirer article about the Helena Benitez heritage house and museum, the MiraNila. I wrote for the Kaisa publication Tulay, the article Finding Rizal in Europe of the 21st Century.

In her essay, The awakening of Miss Goody Two Shoes, in the anthology, To Be in History, Dark Days of Authoritarianism edited by Melba P. Maggay and published by Langham Publications, United Kingdom, where I also contributed, Elizabeth Lolarga wrote:

“The writer’s business is not to worry about bylines, prizes, or reviews. Rather, one should be aware of the gift of language one is fluent in: one speaks for others who do not know how to express themselves. In this way, one becomes an instrument of something greater—something divine, perhaps?”

 

I must have been a reluctant writer. I must have been a writer of persuasion when my first crack at writing was in that anthology of writers’ wives.

But when my writing continued, and when one article was followed by another— because I was in the midst of it all, and because I saw the necessity of writing something that needs to be written—my heart tells me what Lolarga said: “in writing, one becomes an instrument of something greater – something divine perhaps?”

At this age, I’m thankful that I still have the stamina and the passion to write, and listen to the words of poet and author, Maya Angelou who says: “Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”

The author and husband Mario at I.M. Pei-designed Glass Pyramid at the Louvre in Paris in 2016The author with daughters Maningning and Banaue in Zhuanjialou (Foreign Experts' Bldg.), Beijing, in 1980The author with baby daughter Maningning in Shibasuo, Beijing, in 1973The Writers' Wives cover

(Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II is published by the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc. and Erehwon Center for the Arts. To purchase the book, message/text 0918-9057311 or email: [email protected]. Payment can be via BPI savings account no. 0326-0448-45 or Gcash: Banaue M. 09995042898. The book is also available at Solidaridad Bookshop in 531 Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila.)

About author

Articles

She is a freelance writer and retired business executive. She is president of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc. which has held the Maningning Miclat Trilingual Poetry Awards (Filipino, English and Chinese) during odd-numbered years since 2003 and the Maningning Miclat Art Award during even-numbered years since 2004. She is most proud to be a wife, mother, and grandmother.

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