What Are You Working On?
For a long time now, I've been wanting to write something autobiographical; I've published a couple of novels, two short story collections, and a collection of essay, but I've been wanting to write a creative non-fiction that draws from my life. My mother's death in 2002 pushed me into doing this. She was 91 when she died, and she had been a strong and powerful, and yes, controlling woman who influenced her children greatly. I loved her and at times disliked her. Her death and the subsequent chaos among her children caused a big upheaval in my life.
Except for the book Cecilia's Diary 1962-1969 I haven't written an autobiography, and I've wanted to create something good using the material of my life -- in particular my past in the Philippines, where I was born and lived until I was 22. It has not been easy. For some reason I can work with fiction better; I can make things up and think in scenes and use dialogue and all of that, for made-up characters and situations. When it comes to my life or my mother's life, it's been a struggle to find my voice. I've written sections that are chronological narratives -- dry and lifeless. Now and then I'm able to write something passionate and lively, but it's emotionally exhausting, and I feel drained for days. My mind gets confused as to what I should be writing about, what to focus on. After my mother's death, I wanted to write about her, but then I realized that I'm really writing about me -- and on it goes.
Even though the work has been been slow and painful, it's given me a lot of insight about my mother and other family members as well as myself. There are family legends, repeated and repeated, but when you really look at them and analyze them, you see them more fully, in a more powerful way.
For example, I had always been told I had beri-beri when I was just a few weeks old and had almost died. My mother danced a prayer to the Infant Jesus -- Santo Niño -- and miraculously I recovered. So when I started to write this part, I researched beri-beri, which is caused by a vitamin B-1 deficiency, and realized that it must have been my mother who had been malnourished when she carried me in her womb. I understood that her malnourishment was a result of World War II; that is, she conceived after the war when life was still chaotic and she and my father were trying to rebuild their lives. My mother did not have time to eat properly; consequently, I had beri-beri.
The way this knowledge expanded and gave me insight into the situation in the Philippines and the repercussions on my family's life has been very powerful. It makes me think about the long-lasting repercussions that will linger in places of war such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
I frankly don't know when I'll finish this book project, because as I've said it's been difficult to work on this. Since I know several publishers already, I feel confident that when I finish it that I'll have a publisher.
Cecilia's page on the Philippine American Literary House website
A bio and CV on a Univ. of Minnesota site about Phillipine history and culture
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published 2 Feb 06 on Too Beautiful. email copyright 2006 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco