Because the family is moving to our new house in Bulacan, the last couple of weeks have been one of decluttering. In an attempt to minimize the cost of transporting so many items and personal effects from Caloocan (while coming at the cost of having to buy more new stuff), we’ve been picking from our furniture and appliances, as well as from our clothing, documents, and personal knickknacks to identify what’ll be left behind (most of them donated, while those beyond repair are to be disposed) and what’ll be taken along to the new house.
The process, for me, has been very tedious. It occurred to me that I had just little south of 400 books, which I was finally able to un-haul and diminish to a final count of 334, all but ten of which I was able to fit in eight boxes. Aside from the books, there was also the matter of my private documents, which range from my academic records, certificates, awards, some medals and trophies, written, printed, and typewritten drafts of stories and abandoned novel projects, a photo album of my travels, and, of course, letters and memorabilia received from friends.
I am something of a documentary nut. This fact I’ve known for a long time (I remember a fun little personality survey we were made to take as part of an ’employee engagement’ activity when I was still worked at Jollibee’s head offices which, to my delight, revealed that I had an obsession of curating memories and collecting memorabilia) but the move has so far shown me just how much fun (and not a little worrisome) it is to see your patterns laid down before you.
To wit: I have with me all eight of my Form 5s. Those who did not personally attend – or are not acquainted with those who did – college or graduate studies at the University of the Philippines will need some explaining: the Form 5 is essentially our registration form, which also doubles as a receipt, indicating one’s student credentials and the classes being taken at a certain semester. For freshmen who did not yet have their identification cards, the Form 5 is a precious thing, for it serves as proof that one is a student at the university, and is authorized to enter colleges, libraries, and laboratories.
Another document of my undergraduate days that I thought was especially interesting are these pink slips that one receives after completing the enrollment process. I don’t know if it’s still in practice today, but back then (talking as if it’s already ancient history, I know) one had around 15 (or was it 20) consumable hours of access to any computer laboratory in the university. Though we had some computers in the old School of Statistics building, the lab I frequented was the one at the Main Library. When one wants to use the computers, one had to simply present their pink slip to the main desk and then take it back when done. At each visit, the pink slip will be marked with the starting and end time of usage, along with the remaining number of hours. Unlike with my Form 5, I don’t have all eight of them. I’m not sure why.
Why these pink slips carry sentimental significance to me is because I only ever used the university’s computers for one thing: writing. Through my undergraduate days, I was privileged enough to have access to a laptop and a stable internet connection (at least as far as early 2010s standards go) for my academic needs. But during breaks in between classes, or to pass the time when a class got cancelled, I would make my way to the Main Library, secure myself an iMac (interestingly, those were also my first encounter with Apple computers), and write whatever came to mind. Sometime in the middle of my freshman year, I came across Ray Bradbury’s anecdote that he wrote the first draft of Fahrenheit 451 on a coin-operated rental typewriters at a public library, and I thought the iMacs at Gonzalez Hall were a close enough alternative.
A la Ray Bradbury, I would do a mad dash of writing on whatever essay or story idea came to mind, for whatever time I had available, and finish mid-sentence when time came to leave. The buzz of other students rushing last minute term papers or researching literature for their theses simply vanished from around me. The ever-present time limit, coupled by the lack of pressure or expectation that what I was writing needed to be good or publishable (before 2015 I’d only ever published three pieces – one in the Collegian, another in Young Blood, and one that placed second in a national writing contest – so I wasn’t really expecting anything big to come out of those drafts), I was able to simply breeze into the work. Getting my attention away from the word processor (ah, Pages, my favorite since 2014) was like waking up from an overextended nap. Some days I’d even be late for my next class because I just couldn’t stop.
So in a way, these pink slips are like time cards for my early writing apprenticeship. These serve as proof of the times that I showed up for the work and practiced my craft. I wish I could have something like this again, but so much has changed since then. For one, writing has stopped being so fun, or so easy. And there’s the constant pressure of making sure every piece I sign off on, if not publishable, at least pushes me higher up on the ladder of mastery, at least by my standards. When the muse comes to ask if I did my share of the labor, I can take these out anytime and show her.
And I guess to round out this narrative of the pink slips, I wanted to mention that one of the pieces I was working on during these one-hour escapades did end up becoming something. In a remarkably hot afternoon after class, I was walking through my shortcut from Palma Hall to the Math Institute when a variation of a line from – again – Ray Bradbury came to mind: “You ever seen a burned house? It smolders for days,” says the hero, Guy Montag, to his wife during an argument. And at once an entire world revealed itself to me: a family is torn apart at the discovery of a father’s infidelity, but the child, through which we experience the story, is unable to grasp what’s going on around him, doesn’t have a vocabulary for cheating or affair. So instead he imagines his house coming apart in an apocalypse, and he reports back to us from among the debris. I sat through my Math class in a daze, anxious to leave and begin writing the story. For the next four days, I would punch my pink slip at Gonzalez Hall and try out variations of scenes, trying to give substance to the spirit. The story, A Firsthand Account of the End of the World, placed first on the 2017 Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio Literary Prize, and would later be published in the Brasilia Review.
Typically these sorts of reminiscences of one’s apprenticeship is written by authors at the height of their careers, at which I am not. So that definitely reduces the inspiration other budding writers could get from this piece. Regardless, as it happens I am nostalgic and – as we’ve already established – obsessed with documenting my own life, so I’m writing this now. It also feels apt given that Gonzalez Hall has been emptied out and is undergoing renovation. I don’t know what plans are for the library, but I do hope they keep the computer labs. What to most students must appear as a boring, functional room is, for me, a treasured spot in my romantic imagination, as is the classroom where I first met Monica (now my fiancée) in a writing workshop. It’s one of the many places that I can say had a tremendous impact in shaping the person I am today.