Pen pals

There are two kinds of people in bookstores. The first batch are those that are content to just be there, for hours on end usually, happily inhaling the wonderful scent of crisp, new pages bound into volumes, browsing endlessly, but not necessarily buying anything. The second batch are made up of those that can stay for just a few minutes, happily inhaling also the wonderful scent of crisp, new pages bound into volumes, browsing decisively, and never leaving without at least a purchase or two.

I fall easily into the latter category, those who will wander randomly inside any bookstore and trudge out of it with, not only a few books with titles that speak to me and that will make for, instinctively eight out of 10 times, a good read, but sometimes a nice CD, too, usually one that boasts of old songs that will make a lot of the younger ones cringe, and lots and lots of ink pens also, preferably gel pens in happy colors.

Yes, I have a thing for pens. I don’t know why. They do to me now what Curly Tops, Choco Mallows, and Presto Peanut Butter Creams used to when I was a uniformed schoolgirl standing in the middle of a busy canteen during recess. They always make my heart lurch a little in happy anticipation, and I unabashedly love them more than just much.

When I was a little girl growing up in Ormoc and both parents had to leave town for a few days to take care of business either in Cebu or Manila we would be left under the care of Lola Apyang, Daddy’s doting nanny, who has since passed. From school, my siblings and I would excitedly go home to a merienda of Maggi noodles abandoned ceremoniously and wantonly over white rice. We loved it so much we would beg for more of the same thing come dinner time. Daddy and Mommy would leave petty cash with her and I knew that so I would always ask her to buy me, not toys or candies or potato chips, but pencils — fat, charcoal pencils with a glossy brown body the color of milk chocolate and wooden floors. I would get a pencil a day and if the parents were away five days then I would have five new pencils by the time they got back home. What joy! I would sharpen them and line them up like soldiers in my pencil case, smiling at them like they were babies. They’ve always been a happy thing for me. I also believe (I do not know if you do, too) that the quality of my script varies with the thickness of the point of the pen; they either make the words I write scrawny and shaky or nice and loopy.

But I digress. I am not going to talk about the merits of a pen, any brand or kind for that matter. That is not why I am writing about them.

I think of them now because I remember A Trying Time In My Life. Without going into specifics, those few days seemed to stretch on like forever — I felt immobilized by the seeming heaviness of it all, as if the world’s weight just landed squarely on my shoulders, ever so inconveniently and stressfully, and even if all of me just wanted to sit and mope and cry in the dark until the sun shone on me again I could not afford to do that. The situation demanded that I act on it. I had to move. And be brave. And believe that when I had already done all I could, God would move in and take it further along, filing in all the gaps, fixing unintentional mistakes brought about by lapses in my judgment, until all the broken and dislodged little pieces are gathered all together, set in place, and made whole again. Because that will happen, eventually, I told myself many, many times, over and over again. Things will just have to get better; it can only get better. I must believe that and hold on to that beautiful promise looming in the horizon. I snapped on imaginary blinders, my gaze fixed unwaveringly on That Day When All Will Be Well.

At the height of all that heavy madness one day, in our kitchen, after a meal I did not taste much less enjoy although I know it was probably good because we have a pretty talented cook, I found myself face to face with Juliana’s sketch pad and set of colored ink pens. I must have been really exhausted, mentally especially, because I ended up drawing — of all things — chairs. I do not know why. It was the first thing that came to mind and I just drew and drew — stools, fancy ones with curved back-rests and curly cues within the frames, a chaise lounge, wooden benches with padded cushions. Maybe it was a tangible manifestation of how tired I really was, although I did not feel it, or I simply did not recognize the feeling as such. Even my mind was looking for a place to sit. So it could be still. And maybe so it could be reminded that, hello, there is God, and I do not have to take on everything all by myself, like some deserted lone warrior.

Pretty soon, Juliana caught on and she covered my chairs in beautiful colors in wild combinations. They looked like something Elle Décor would approve very much of. We drew and colored carefully and joyfully, with each passing day getting better and better at it. A song started to find its way again in my heart. Something shifted for the better. It felt right, this downtime that required little else but imagination and pen and paper, this whole working-with-the-hand bit. More importantly it allowed my mind to quiet down, allowed the storms raging inside me to cease and transform into soft waves that no longer had the power to overwhelm and scare. As the colors came alive on paper I was able to think more clearly, follow through on threads of thought and awakenings minus the stress of knowing I was doing just that. It’s like washing the dishes, folding laundry or crocheting if you like doing those things — the hands move and you are productive, even as you allow the mind to wonder and wander. In that relaxed state, any muddled-in-the-mind-picture can be viewed and addressed with more clarity.

More than just beautiful colors dripping from beautiful pens, there is something about keeping the hands busy that keeps you sane and solid even when everything around you teeters tumultuously. It takes your mind off the seeming enormity of the obstacle, whatever it is, and redirects your focus instead to what can be done about it. Next to praying, it is more purposeful than moping, and worrying.

Looking back, things have indeed, as I expected and believed even at the turbulent onset, fallen into place. That is another thing. Wherever you are in your life right now, you have to believe it will get better. Because it really does.

Juliana and I still draw and color beautiful chairs from time to time, even when we are happy. Those drawings, the activity itself, does not symbolize anything sad for me. It just helped me transition, I guess, into a better place and into my stronger self. I am grateful. I always say, not exactly lightly, that between that and wings of prayer, all can and will be well.

A set of colored ink pens. I find it is a good thing to have handy, and if you know a good thing when you see it you’ll want to have it, too. Think of that the next time you find yourself drawn aimlessly or otherwise in a bookstore.


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