Stuck in writing, stuck in living

Our dining chair in the province is now old, if not older, when I fell into it.

I remember how my Mom laughed first before giving me a hand. It was such a funny situation for us, and I could still imagine myself being stuck there, not being able to help myself up. 

This was being physically stuck, but the mind and heart being stuck somewhere is a less funny story. 

I felt stuck in my writing.

A page of one of my journals, 2016

I will be honest: I think that some people may think that writing for me is easy. It isn’t easy, but perhaps, it is natural. I’ve always been quiet ever since I was little; I wasn’t as vocal or outspoken as others, so I took to words, to journals, to photos, to things that didn’t require much speaking. 

Writing is how I live twice. It is how the heart, soul, and mind breathes. It is how I process things and life. But sometimes, it just takes so much time and energy that writing continuously for hours can give me a headache. 

Today, my teacher of the recently started The Breakfast Club workshop on writing, Ms Isa Garcia, shared with me how she would watch her roommate paint with watercolors, and the process could be so much fun, and yet with writing, we thought of how frustrating it can get, of how there is not much fun as compared to another field.

In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

There is truly the metaphorical banging on the walls and drips of blood coming from one’s head and fingers when writing about something. As I’m typing this too, I’m feeling a little ache at the back of my head.

This is what they call things that can both ‘give life’ and ‘hurt’ passion, I believe. Passion is both pain and love, agreeing they will learn from each other, deciding they will help strengthen the person in which they exist and thrive in. 

Being stuck in writing can be painful too.

Imagine not being able to put into words something that is dying to be let out onto paper.

I have been writing a lot of short stories (my Inktober story, being the latest one), but it is different with writing about personal things, about the matters I cannot talk with my mouth but with my hands, with pen and paper, with words on a screen. I feel as though I am recycling old words and sentences, typing out the same sentences (not exactly the same but maybe echo similar sentiments). This was how I defined ‘stuck’ to Ms Isa as she listened so sincerely to me, creating a safe place for a shy and private person to be able to talk freely. 

A friend I met online (and recently, in real life!), Ida Torres, shared on her Facebook an eye-catching poster of breakfast food with the words “The Breakfast Club” on top. Reasons I considered joining: 1) I liked writing, breakfast food, and John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club; 2) Ms Isa is one of my favorite writers ever, 3) It will be an adventure; and 4) I was unmoving in my personal writing.

The monthly themed writing workshop was geared towards those who felt stuck in their writing journeys.

Designed by Crae Achacoso

And that was how this Saturday morning came to be.

Two days ago, I mustered up the courage to email Ms Isa to reserve a slot in her class. My email subject was “I like breakfast. And writing too!” 

Yesterday, I asked for the directions to Perry’s in McKinley West, and she gave me the way. 

This week, we were very busy at work, and last night, we had our last day for an exhibit. I was part of the egress team, so there was some physical labor present, which I think my body needed. Ms Isa told me that my classmates moved their schedule to the next workshop; I thought that maybe I should too, but instead, I thought, maybe God is giving this Saturday for us?

So I said, yes, I will be going!

My job for the past years didn’t really require much fieldwork from me, so I wasn’t as street-smart or knowledgeable in commuting and traveling within the metro as my other peers. But I could read maps, I could walk, and I could ask. 

So this morning, I went on a jeep bound for MRT Magallanes, so I could go to the Citylink bus terminal, but when I got to San Lorenzo Place, I couldn’t find it. I got on a taxi instead and alighted in a very quiet place McKinley West, and from there, I followed the map where Perry’s was. 

I got inside this small but picturesque place and found myself in a hug by one of the writers I truly look up to since college. Ms Isa Garcia is the author of Found: Letters on Life, Love, and God and her most recently self-published work Like Lines on a Map. 

Like my friend Denise Celones, we loved reading Ms Isa’s blog before, Everyday, Isa. Her words in her past entries still linger in my mind and heart; they have become a go-to whenever I felt sad before in college, which was frequent. Her words were a balm, meant for healing. Now, she writes at Isa Garcia Writes. It was such a joy to meet her and share this Saturday morning with her.

She was indeed like the words she writes: inviting, warm, accepting, forgiving, true, honest, inspiring.

There are those writers that can get you with their wit, but there are those that can get you with their realness, humanity, sweetness, and vulnerability. She embodies the heart and goodness she writes about. I thought of how blessed her students – both present and past – are of having her as their teacher, and I think of how her family and friends are too as she is truly like a loving and listening person to anyone. 

Photo Credit to Ms Isa Garcia at Perry’s, McKinley West

And I think of myself, how fortunate and humbled I was, to be her student for a few hours in The Breakfast Club. 

We talked about ourselves first, my writing journey which really sprouted from summer journalism classes and being part of the schoolpaper from elementary to college, shared our sentiments on getting stuck and a little about our lives, pondered on writing over some hearty bread, eggs, and tea.

She asked me to write too as part of our activity in the workshop, and it felt so freeing to be able to write with someone who knows what’s it like to be stuck, to be striving, to be trying. It was both challenging – the two things I had to do – but it felt good. 

I would like to share the one I wrote and which I shared with Ms Isa too, on who I was, on what makes me ‘Arli.’ Note: it must be in 10 sentences! I used up all 15 minutes and did my best to articulate something as deep as defining one’s own essence.

My cousin and I once talked about what makes a person himself/herself, and now I face a situation wherein I have to answer what makes me, ‘me,’ and the first thing I thought about was my soul. There’s still a little girl within who cries whenever the topics of family and belongingness are opened up or whenever a part of her childhood – Lion King or hearing emotional Disney songs – crop up unexpectedly. There’s also a teenager who felt undesirable or not pretty because of how she perceived her body. And then there’s a young woman who keeps her gaze towards heaven even if she’s treading murky mud, shallow water, or thin ice. Sometimes, anxiety can set in her heart like a comfortable blanket, stopping her from opening herself – both flaws and sunshine – to old and new friends alike. Her soul is aged 7, 14, 20, and 26, but maybe when she tries to read about God and His mysteries, her soul can feel a little more mature than usual, probably because this is when the Holy Spirit tries to connect more intimately, closely with her own human spirit. This is Arli, and she is made up of water, cells, and invisible wounds, but she is also molded like a clay pot by the masterful hands which created the universe. She is hopeful and in joy. Arli’s soul is just love waiting to happen, waiting to be poured forth like water and blood. And now, she is alive. 

Ms Isa shared her own too, and I loved what she said about how writing is like problem solving; we hope that once we put the words together, they will make sense. There are a lot of lessons I learned from her which she graciously shared with me like 

  1. living our lives so we could have a story to write about
  2. we have our own stories to tell; if we are coming from joy, write from that. If others write from tragedy, from pain, from their own points of view and personal experiences, that is theirs to tell. 
  3. not being fearful of what other people will think if you start bearing your heart out
  4. letting yourself play again. And your words too, allowing them dance on the paper
  5. taking the truth and putting a heart to it
  6. our writing grows with us; what we used to write about before may be rewritten from a fresher perspective now that we are older
  7. living my life and opening myself up again to new memories. 

I bought a copy of her book Like Lines on a Map, and I cannot wait to dive into it. 

Written by Isa Garcia, edited by Dyan Zarzuela, designed by Crae Achacoso

I took her words – old and new – to heart, that by the time we parted ways, I followed her advice to live, for this is where our stories will come from.

Instead of taking a jeep or asking someone, I listened to myself. I walked from McKinley West to Market! Market!, which was probably around 3.5 kilometers, where I hopped aboard a jeepney to home. (And then, I walked an additional two kilometers… I truly am a stubborn long-distance walker!)

The sky and clouds were Toy Story-blue-and-white. The trees were speaking with the wind. The shadows of their leaves danced on the grass, and this reminded me of words dancing on the page. This brought to mind too people dancing on the maps of our lives, going, gone, returning, staying… 

It took me long hours to write this again.

Writing personal things is more difficult for me than writing fiction. It is easier, because I can hide myself, my personal experiences, or lessons I learned from God, people, and life behind characters and settings and dialogues with nobody guessing or thinking that it was both factual and true.

But with something as open as personal writing, subject to people’s critique and judgment and to one’s self, it can get a little tricky, and maybe it can get a little funny like falling into and getting stuck in an old dining room chair.

All these fleshed out, raw, and alive-and-kicking-and-screaming moments of my life and my outlook, written like a problem solved, and I too, like Ms Isa, hope that they will someday make sense.

I opened the page of Like Lines on a Map, and the dedication read: “To you, if we have met. And if we have not, may the future bring forth a grand collision. Let there be stories & let them be good.”

The grand collision did happen today. 

I am thankful for a new line on my map who taught me, a young woman who feels so lonely and isolated sometimes – by her own doing or by her own circumstances – to not only write but also to live. 

Right now, I sit on a new dining room chair in a new place. 

I can stand up, walk, and go around places. 

I am not stuck.

Join the Breakfast Club with Isa Garcia!

The next themed workshop will be on January 19, 2019! I invite you to join! Email Ms Isa Garcia at to reserve your slot. Go! 🙂 YOU will LEARN a lot.

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