Winning My 1st Writing Contest

We always remember the first.

The 1st writing contest that I joined and thankfully won was an essay-writing contest during the Provincial Science Fair and Quiz in Bohol during my sophomore year in high school. I no longer remember the number of participants but schools within Tagbilaran City (including mine) and from the towns sent their representatives to join the contest.

My Biology teacher had called my attention one day and asked me if I would be interested to join the contest. I remember feeling both excited and afraid about joining. I told my mother about it the day before the contest. I also began to think by then that I would be facing much older students (junior and senior students from other schools) and perhaps it was not really a good idea to join. I have no memory whether my mother was particularly encouraging in my joining the contest. What I did remember is that she gave me tips in winning the contest.

My mother asked me if I knew the  theme of the Science Fair that year. She then told me that the essay topic for contests would usually be about the theme or related to the theme. The theme that year was something about the role of Science and Technology towards progress. And so to prepare myself, I looked for books and newspapers at home which had a similar topic and read them. This was the time before the internet (late ’80s) so there was no Google to help me.

Mother gave me what I consider as a key in my winning that contest. She said that I should begin with a strong opening statement or sentence. I practised writing several ones on paper and finally told her that I think all I managed to write were weak ones. And then she told me I can actually quote a source and use what that source or writer said to begin my opening paragraph. I was happy with this advice and so I proceeded to search for relevant quotes which I also liked and one I could easily memorize! I found a one-sentence quote from an American writer which I thought I could use for the contest.

The essay topic the next day was not directly about the theme but still related to it (just as my mother said). I was indeed thankful that my carefully memorized quote and source (writer) was something I could use for the contest.

To cut the story short, I won the silver medal. The first 3 placers were sent to join the Regional one which was held in Danao, Cebu. The contest had paved the way for me to travel for the first time sans family or relatives. I went on to win a bronze medal in the regional one.

I look back with gratitude to my Biology teacher who believed in me (interestingly, my husband is also a Biology teacher), my late mother who coached me  and of course, God, from whom all blessings flow. My teen years were challenging (teeming with family concerns and a good dose of adolescent angst). Winning the two contests and being able to travel away from Bohol were bright spots of hope during those years with overcast skies.

Wislawa Szymborska’s Joy of Writing

The first poem I have come across of the late Polish poet and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature, Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska, (1923-2012) is the enthralling: The Joy of Writing. For weeks after, I keep seeing a doe running through a maze of words in my mind.

I count this poem as one of the best poems I have read or perhaps will ever read in this lifetime. I first read it sometime in 1998 and somehow, while alone in the house this afternoon, I was reminded of it.  And I took the time to read it again and decided that as it is one of my favorite poems for all time, it should occupy a space here in my blog.  Perhaps,  in time, I might attempt to translate it in Cebuano.

Here is the poem:

The Joy Of Writing

Why does this written doe bound through these written woods? 
For a drink of written water from a spring 
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle? 
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something? 
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth, 
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips. 
Silence – this word also rustles across the page 
and parts the boughs 
that have sprouted from the word ‘woods.’
Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page, 
are letters up to no good, 
clutches of clauses so subordinate 
they’ll never let her get away.

Each drop of ink contains a fair supply 
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights, 
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment, 
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.

They forget that what’s here isn’t life. 
Other laws, black on white, obtain. 
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say, 
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight. 
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so. 
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall, 
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.

Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs? 
An existence become endless at my bidding?

The joy of writing. 
The power of preserving. 
Revenge of a mortal hand. 

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