Everyone assumes that writing is such a romantic occupation. I most certainly did—I wished with all fervent hope that I would eventually walk the path that Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Conrad and Mary Shelley took when they made it through the annals of literary history.
In my youth, I had imagined writers cloistered away in their lavish Victorian-inspired home, dark with velvety crimson curtains and thick tapestries. Quill in hand, parchment under their elbows, these writers would look out into the vast open countryside seeing not the green landscape, but characters—fictional characters, characters of their own creation—speaking, weeping, and eventually floating back to the paper, becoming wisps of breath fashioned into the writers’ great languid scripts where both characters and writers would eventually be immortalized in written text.
That is not the scenario I am facing here in Davao City. It is true that I moved to the countryside to pursue freelance writing, and I had hoped to lead a romantic life of solitude and creative inspiration. However, instead of working on the great novel I had planned, I am working on several online articles for the outsourcing company I work for. I can assure you, being a home based writer is certainly not at all romantic—at least, not when I am assigned to write about such topics like reverse mortgages, and tourist destinations in Australia, or how to overcome brain damage.
I start the day at 3 AM—not out of choice, but because the incessant crowing of the roosters right outside my bedroom window is something not to be ignored. Nothing could keep out their hoarse, throaty pre-dawn summons. I have tried ear plugs and I have tried playing violin concertos on my ear phones. I have even tried to shoo off the birds with buckets of water. Inadvertently, I earned the title of the “crazy girl chasing chickens in the morning.”
Unfortunately, even if I manage to splash the roosters senseless, they tend to crow every few minutes after that. When the other neighborhood roosters start crowing along, nothing could deaden my ears to the cacophony. And if that is not bad enough, the hens and their broods of chicks make their characteristic clucking noises, along with flapping wings and scratching, scratching, scratching on the ground all over my house—way before the sun is up. In the morning, when I have to grudgingly get up from bed, I have to constantly sweep away chicken droppings from my front porch, lest someone step on them and inevitably bring it into my house.
For this series of misdeeds, I have given up on eating chickens and eggs. I simply cannot stand them now.
As I prepare myself for the day, I do my daily exercise by being chased around the house by gigantic house lizards longer than my shoe. These large-headed, dark-and-green-banded lizards do most of the chasing—and I do most of the running away. For one reason or the other, they are not afraid of me. They tend to approach me whenever possible, even leaping great distances to get to where I am. Naturally, the higher they leap, the faster I run away. These reptiles too, would also leave droppings all over my house, and I have no choice but to clean up after them.
If I could, I would have placed a huge sign for both the chickens and the lizards that would read, “My house is not your toilet! Do your business elsewhere!” Alas, I’m not particularly sure that they could read English, and I am not at all well versed with the local speech.
When I complained to my landlady about my chicken and lizard problems and all the tiny souvenirs they leave, she only shrugged me off. She said those were the signs of luck. Droppings for luck? Gosh, if that was indeed true, how come I never heard of very lucky chicken or a lucky lizard winning lotto or something? My trash can is probably filled to the brim with their luck. But I let it pass though. It’s a veritable waste of time talking about, well, waste and its relation to luck.
Sometimes, I think this is all a conspiracy. As soon as I sit in front of the computer to work, everything erupts into madness. The vehicles passing outside would be competing with each other for the loudest and most obnoxious radio sounds possible. With their bass sounds pumped up to full volume, they would inevitably make my walls vibrate and my teeth protest in their gums.
People passing by would be talking so loud, unmindful of who might hear their conversations. Often too, you could hear the passengers of tricycles and habal-habals conversing in full volume, their voices disappearing at the bend of the road.
Around 8 in the morning and thereafter, my next door neighbor (whom I have never met but I have since dubbed as Celine) would turn on her karaoke machine and blast out nail-on-the-chalkboard versions of each and every Celine Dion’s song she could muster. The goat tied right outside her backyard would try to bleat to her time. Their amazing impromptu duets have brought me nothing but an increase in my consumption of headache tablets.
Hawkers of pan de sal, fish, and puto pass by in front of my house between 8:30 and 10 AM. Along with them there are also the very numerous hawkers for scrap metal and recyclable plastic materials.
The street dogs, numbering anywhere from five to twenty would start their daily barking regiment soon after. They would bark at passing people, passing vehicles, passing animals on their way to the slaughterhouse. By lunch time and just after dinner, these canine sentries would give in to the most dreadful mass howling, very similar to the ones you hear in horror movies.
Living in the countryside has also taught me to recognize the different faraway sounds that very often invade my consciousness whenever I am deep in thought. The whinny of the wayward wild horse sounds so loud I could actually believe it is standing right outside my doorstep, probably counting the chicken droppings on my front porch. The melancholy moans of the cattle and the piercing shrieks of the pigs on their way to slaughter always give me frightful goose bumps. Not because I feel their pain, but because those sounds are similar to the ones I make whenever I have to clean up another lizard dropping or when the reptiles suddenly make a jump at me.
I certainly cannot imagine Edgar Allan Poe or Joseph Conrad or Mary Shelley having to contend with the noise of farm animals during their time. But who knows? Maybe they did. If this dissonance has not injected common sense into my head as to correcting my romantic notions of being a country-based writer, my landlady Nanay certainly has, and just this morning too.
Nanay, my ever omnipresent landlady, literally invades my house every day, pretending to check up on me and wanting to know why I do not leave the house. Explaining to her the concept of providing writing services to a company in Makati City while I am here in Davao is simply impossible: you get that intense look followed by a toothless smile that basically means Thanks-but-I- have-no-idea-what-you-just-said.
She would often point to my computer and ask me if that is where I do my writing. And I say, yes for the millionth time already. And she asks me if I write anything, and I tell her that I write what my boss specifies. She often gives me a thoughtful look after that and asks if my boss is in the computer. And I tell her, no, she’s in Makati, and I talk to her through the computer. (I cannot even begin to think how I could possibly explain to her the concept of communication via the World Wide Web.)
This morning though, she brought over her nephews, who asked me to write for them. Nanay apparently told them my rates, but she promised her nephews that I would give them discounts. (How nice of her!) Since all of them looked at me pleadingly, and I know from previous experience that Nanay would never give me a moment’s peace if I say no, I asked what they wanted me to write. They gave me a scrap of paper and said they needed six copies. The paper held three badly scrawled words that said: Lubi for sale.
Ah, I finished that writing job in an instant, and yes, out of the sheer generosity of my heart, I did give them 90% discount off my standard rates. I even let them have the copies for free. Soon after they left, I decided to print the warning signs for the chickens and the lizards: “My house is not your toilet! Do your business elsewhere!”
Yes, indeed, what a writer I have become!
Weng was a fellow at the recently concluded Davao Writers Workshop at Ponce Suites.