I don’t know grammar

I look at words differently. I use them not unlike how an artist would use his color palette. I don’t care too much for rules or structure, which I know seems weird given my background. The truth is I grew up not studying words, but living in them. I dove into stories and lived in different worlds—real and make believe.

I let great people’s words show me what was, what is and what could be. I have to admit, the dictionary wasn’t of much help to me growing up in understanding different concepts. It was Twain who taught me the word adventure, Austen the word pride, and Alcott the true meaning of family; she also showed me what heartbreak was like. Rowling gave me magic; Salinger taught me what reality is, while Murakami, Nothomb, and Gaiman showed me everything in between that’s possible. I didn’t know what magnificence meant when I was kid. But I knew that it was a poignant story about a girl and a man named Vicente. I didn’t know what poignant meant either. But somehow I understood it. I understood the little girl, I feared Vicente. And I cared not for the pencils.

I don’t know the rules in subject-verb agreement by heart. I’m always confused whether “beneath” is a preposition or an adverb. No, I don’t always know when to use on, in, and at properly. I think I’ve used the future perfect progressive tense only once in my life and up to now I’m still not sure if I’ve used it correctly. And for the life of me, I don’t get why anyone has to quit using the Oxford comma in formal writing. But I know that a comma may mean a second’s hesitation; an em dash a heartbreak trying to conceal itself in that long pause; and a full stop everything you know and love to be over forever—a sense of finality. I know when someone says “can’t” to mean that he “won’t”. I understand that ellipses may sometimes mean she’s sparing you from hearing the harsh truth. I get it when someone encapsulates your entire life together and tries to save it by saying two simple words: I’m sorry.

The eight parts of speech. Whenever someone asks me to enumerate them, I always miss out on one or two. I feel bad for the parts of speech I always forget. I know they are equally important, but I hope they don’t punish me by evading my vocabulary when I need them. I hope I always get to scream “Ouch!” when I need to and say “Yay!” when the occasion calls for it.

I don’t know grammar. The rules do change every so often that I stopped caring a long time ago. Back when people still say “schedule” with a “k” than with an “sh” sound; back when people cared more about what you were trying to say rather than how you said it. I don’t know grammar the way linguists do. But I know how to express grief. I know what to not say during a eulogy and I know where to put the right pauses to emphasize a point. But I can’t recite the rules for when it is appropriate to use the past tense instead of the past perfect. I don’t know what a subject complement or an expletive is. And I can’t justify just how awkward saying “with regard to…” is when “regarding” or “about” would suffice.

But adjectives. Ah, they are my favorites. Those little words that give color to one’s emotion and qualify everything into something more. They make the seas, the mountains, and one’s love unfathomable, breathtaking, violent, and tranquil. They put depth into everything we see, hear, and feel (or not feel). They make things real. I may not care for a slice of cake, but for a moist chocolate cake with a rich swirl of dark chocolate ganache and caramel syrup, I may. People may not care about someone’s breakup. But when they find out that it was excruciatingly unbearable, that it was—let me borrow words from a slam poet—“wilder than grief”, they may just take things more seriously.

It pains me a little to admit that I, in fact, don’t know grammar. I don’t know how to explain why some words look “prettier” or are more appropriate than others. I just feel that they are. And most of the time when I’m lucky, I’m right.

All of this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to at least understand the rules. By all means, study them well enough to guide you, but not so much that they restrict you. Don’t worry if you can’t remember what SVO stands for or how many other sentence structures there are. Remember that there is more depth in words than its structure, than the technicality. Use the rules to let you express your imagination more. Don’t let them ruin you too much and filter your creativity. Just don’t. Ever.

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Thank you for breaking my heart

When I was sixteen, I had a very significant and memorable non-relationship with a 26-year old. The relationship was non-existent. Or it existed, but only in my head. It was the first time I admired someone so much, and the first time someone I liked actually paid attention to me.

I immediately liked him the first time I saw him. Their theater group performed at school, and he played Jesus. He looked the part too, with his long, curly hair, lanky built and the goatee. He looked more like a rockstar Jesus. I didn’t meet him until after a year though, because I didn’t think I would see him again after their play. Turned out their theater group performed another play at school, and that time he played a cigarette vendor—but again, more like a rockstar cigarette vendor. After the second time I saw him, I started seeing a lot of him on campus after school hours, just loitering anywhere like he owned the place.

From the first to the second time I saw him, he remained just a name and a random face. He was someone I would think of when I daydreamed during one of my classes. Whenever I tried to write a poem, I willed myself to think of him to get some sort of inspiration. We haven’t met then, but because I saw a lot of him on campus I’ve already memorized how he cocked his head to one side when he was thinking about something, the way he walked, how he usually dressed, how he greeted people he knew, how he never forgot to smile when someone greeted him, and how he talked. And those were enough for me to write lovely things about him through poems.

Finally, we met because of The Catcher in the Rye. My friend, who knew someone who knew him, got his number for me and insisted that I get over myself and just text him (which I did, three weeks later). We started texting regularly after I sent my first text. I thought he was still in college because he didn’t look older than 20, but when I found out he was already 26 I was surprised that I didn’t mind. We started “talking” about a lot of stuff and we would text every day. I just finished the book for the second time that year and he was the biggest Beatles fan I know. We talked about how much I loved the book and he told me how curious he is that David Chapman (John Lennon’s assassin) re-enacted some of the scenes from the book a few days before he killed John Lennon. So I told him I’d let him borrow my copy of the book so he could finally read it, and we decided to formally meet and have a chat. We met one chilly Sunday night in November at school, after the 6PM mass. I almost didn’t go through with it because I was too nervous, but he was waiting by the gate, making sure he wouldn’t miss me, so I had no choice. And to borrow words from Rick Blaine, it was the “beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

It was weird, even when I think about it now and look back at all the things we did. We were like hipsters. We would go to church every Sunday for the 6PM mass, then eat BBQ afterwards. Always, every week. He would play Incubus songs for me in his guitar. He would wait for me after my varsity training in volleyball, let me go ahead and ride the jeep then ride his own bike and follow close behind. I would smile at him from where I was sitting at the jeep because, let’s face it, we looked silly.

He would take me to Baywalk to watch sunsets and we would sit quietly not talking to each other until the sun has officially set and everything was dark. Although, there was one time when he was so amazed at the sunset that he screamed, “Skies of ember!” out of the blue. I thought it was amusing and I just smiled and didn’t care about the people who turned to look at us, looking a bit disturbed.

We would thumb wrestle a lot, which also meant he held my hand a lot. It felt awkward at first because I didn’t want to move my hand too much or even twitch my fingers because it might “disturb” his or something. So my hand felt numb—basically dead most of the time we held hands. I’ve never held hands with a boy before him, so I didn’t really know if I was doing it right—if there was even a right way to hold a boy’s hand. All I knew was I couldn’t believe that it was happening. And that I was happy.

He introduced me to the band Superdrag and he used to sing Sucked Out with such an amazing rasp in his voice that I couldn’t help liking him more. I am naturally introverted and he is the exact opposite, which I loved. He was full of life and he loved adventures. I enjoyed every minute I spent with him, but I still remained very timid most of the time. I was just so star-struck—a kid like me spending so much time with such a cool grown-up. I admit, I felt a little grown-up too just being with him, in spite of my young naïve self.

There were times when I would hang out at a friend’s house because she lives a short walking distance away from the school. He would fetch me there, then we’d have dinner at a small Carinderia a few houses away from my friend’s house because they had the best BBQ.

He would encourage me with my writing. When he was at work, he would send me e-mails asking if he could read something I wrote, and I would send him something I did. He would always tell me I should join a national writing contest, but I knew better. The fact that he read my works already felt like a grand prize for me. How he believed in me—it was all I needed to feel like I was doing something right.

It became our thing—everything we did and shared—the 6PM Sunday mass, the Manila Bay sunsets, the dinners, the music, the stories and the poems.

And then it ended. It’s hard to believe that everything lasted only six months. But it was the most fulfilling six months of my life, ever. We weren’t really together, so we didn’t really break up. Whatever it was that we always did just stopped happening. No more texting, no more dinner dates, no more sunset trips, no more BBQ dinners. It all stopped. And I was heartbroken for a while. I cried over a guy who was never really mine in the first place. I wrote even more poems and stories for and about him. But unlike before, I just kept those to myself.

He was my first love. It was a great experience. He encouraged me to embrace life. Just by being himself, he taught me how refreshing it is to do something fun and spontaneous once in a while. He inspired me to write, believed in me and encouraged me to continue writing, whatever happens. He was a great guy—he still is—and for what it’s worth, I believe he did me a favor by breaking my heart. Because he broke it so bad that I was forced to reevaluate my life and sort out my priorities (we “broke up” right before I started college). But most importantly, the entire experience helped me realized that even when he was gone and I thought I lost my inspiration, I still found myself writing a lot of poems and stories. It dawned on me that it was something I really loved doing, whether or not he was in my life. And for that, I will forever be thankful.

You with the Glasses

Tomorrow when I wake up and decide that I want to write about you, I won’t write about how you’re my favorite reason to lose sleep. No, I won’t even consider writing that I think about you, even when we’re talking and you’re just there, I think about you. Forget it.

What I will write instead is when I first learned to ride a bike and how it made me feel: scared, spontaneous, a little rebellious but wildly intoxicating. I will write about the first time I fell off my bike, and will tell you that my scars are testaments of that great Big Fall, and how it is all worth it; and how much I want to do everything again, even if it’s scary and especially because it’s spontaneous, a little rebellious and wildly intoxicating.

How to Not Write

Late that night
I was actually writing about you
I started off with, “you intrigue me”
Because I had so many reasons
I really did
But I ended up just smiling.
You are that park bench on a warm Sunday
I can do nothing on
And still feel like everything,
Utterly and absolutely everything
Is still happening.
You intrigue me
And because I may never really know you
You always will.