Words Over Wine

"How does one search the anonymous labyrinths of Manila for one steadfast memory?"
Puppy Love

Along Padre Faura sits the vintage Solidaridad bookshop that houses the largest collection of Philippine Literature. Arranged within its bookshelves are knowledge and stories that surpasses its half a century existence, and perhaps even the rich history and abundance of tales that the surviving remains of the old and the current scenes of Ermita, Manila has to tell.

The colonial home that was turned into a quaint bookshop is owned by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, where you can indulge in finding all the titles of his body of work.

F. Sionil Jose just turned 90-years-old on the third day of December 2015. As the month neared its end, he celebrated this milestone once more with members and friends of the Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists). It was on the same day that we decided to visit him in Solidaridad.

And there we were, three new faces in the crowd of writers, poets, playwrights, and artists. Conversations mostly centered on their newly published novels or the anthologies they were part of; each word of their stories seemingly jumping off their lips from excitement.

F. Sionil made his rounds and insisted on pouring wine whenever he saw a guest holding an empty glass. Mine was still half full when I asked him to sign my copy of Puppy Love, an anthology of 14 short stories which I had since high school.

We were seated just inches apart from him inside his office, shortly cut off from the noise of the party outside. It was unsurprisingly brimming with books and decorated with portraits.

On that day he did not miss donning his signature golf hat and double-breasted shirt that conveniently held a pen and notebook.

And just like that, the usual clips that we see on newspapers, magazines, and book flaps were suddenly recreated there in front of us.

"Do you have any questions for me?" F. Sionil said as he closed and handed us our books.

For an aspiring writer, it was cliché to ask him what pieces of advice would he give to the younger generation of writers. But I asked him anyway.

Immediately he showed us a thick journal with a dark emerald cover. He began reading passages from the days that have passed recently and showed us what he wrote using his ink calligraphy pen. He told us to write everything down — every experience, every bit of news, every thought, and every idea that we meet within a day.

And the most reassuring and unexpected thing that he told me that night was to stop trying to find my voice as a writer, to stop trying to define and elevate what exactly my style of writing was. That he, even with decades of experience writing stories, still struggles with such things sometimes.

"It will come to you," he said, "and every time you realize that, it changes."

We  were lured to visit Ermita and meet a voice that has spoken to us long ago, only to realize that we exchanged our first hello's the moment we lived within the pages of his stories. As he said himself, "the writer is never apart from his work."

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