In grade school, I would spend countless hours writing on a secret journal made of recycled notebooks from previous school years. When I transferred to a new campus, the principal handed me a copy of the school paper and then told me I should write for it after reading the essay I wrote for the entrance exam. On my first day in high school, I was already working towards my plan to take up journalism in college by turning the school paper into my baby; sometimes it even became a personal tabloid. I couldn’t wait to start writing professionally.
In college, snagged two solid internships – one allowed me to write speeches for a former president while the other opened my eyes up to the inner workings of a busy editorial floor. As soon as I stepped into the real world, a TV news giant hired me to do archival work for them. I had one foot in the game, but I was not immediately satisfied and I started jumping from one publishing company to another. The next thing I knew, I was already trying to make a career for myself at a widely circulated publication as a lifestyle writer.
It was easy to say I was off to a good start in the profession I’ve chased after for most of my life; but for some reason, when people started calling me a writer, it somehow felt forced.
One Sunday afternoon, I decided to hop on a bus bound for Baguio instead of reporting to work. The day prior to that, my editor asked me for a write-up and some runway photos from a bridal show held in a hotel that was two hours away from home. I barely made it to the event. My camera batteries got drained and all I had were blurry shots of the models though my mobile phone.
It wasn’t the first time I disappointed myself during an assignment; it’s been going on for months since I got hired. Looking back, it was perhaps my tipping point. I was scared but at the same time convinced that I couldn’t do it anymore. When I realized this, I was already in a public toilet somewhere in Pangasinan. I bought a hot cup of noodles during the stopover and carried on.
It was dark when the bus arrived in Baguio. And for some reason, I walked out of the terminal smiling ear to ear. Maybe it was because I knew no one was looking after me any longer; maybe it was the lingering feeling that I can go missing for a brief period before someone finally notices something is wrong. I never thought that this chilly place between the mountains will serve as my fortress of solitude for three months. I had no clear explanation for it. I just ran away, plain and simple. Suddenly, I’m the missing writer.
When I settled into my walk-in accommodation for my first night in town, I rummaged through my bag and found out that I failed to bring a pen with me. I easily took it as a sign to take a rest from writing. I made a pact with myself not to get a pen until I leave.
For the next three months, what I had was a much-needed purge from what few writing I’ve done in my life. I climbed mountains, met weird families, tried to get odd jobs that pushed me out of my comfort zone, cooked for myself, shared coffee with vagrants, pulled all-nighters in parks, and went to churches whose beliefs I deeply opposed. I knew no one and no one had a clue about what I did. Most days, I was just afloat, waiting for nothing to happen. It was if I was in my own coming-of-age movie – it was playing at its own pace, had no age restrictions, and had unlimited total running time.
Writers are supposed to recall every little detail about an event or an experience. Taking down notes is a common skill required in this profession. I never wrote about any of those things, thinking that writing anything about them would take away from the experience. Or maybe – just maybe – there wasn’t really anything to write at all! At that time, I felt no pressure over anything and felt that I did not owe anyone an explanation. For the first time in years, I felt calm and free.
The day I left was not only the day I stopped writing; it was also the day I stopped writing for myself. It was the day I stopped writing to read my own byline or tagline printed out on paper; the day I stopped writing to impress people. It was the day I stopped writing about the lavish dinner I had, the extravagant theater plays I saw, and the hip new watch brand every local celebrity was gushing about.
Fast forward to three years – I’m writing again from an office desk. But this time, I’m typing down articles to inform people about how they can make use of technology products even better. Today, I’m writing to help readers make informed decisions about making gadget purchases and service subscriptions. I’m writing to help my colleagues understand trends, threats, and opportunities specific to our company. I’m nowhere near all the running, dressing up, and faking smiles I did back in the day.
These days, I don’t write on weekends so I won’t miss random lunch dates with my siblings or the occasional family getaways. I realize they make me happier than all the free multicourse meals and staycations I enjoyed years ago. The thought of holding time in my hands or not having cold sweat run through my temple as a deadline draws near gives me a certain kind of calmness I would never trade for anything in the world.
Every time I pass by EDSA-Cubao, I still get wide-eyed over the series of bus terminals I see in both sides of the usually busy road. Imagine, anyone who finds himself strolling along Cubao’s sidewalks can virtually go anywhere he wanted to – there are buses bound for Tagaytay, Camarines Norte or nearby Tarlac. Some bus companies even offer straight trips to Samar. My mind wanders back to that Sunday when I decided to hop on a bus and leave everything behind – I was without a goal, unsure of myself, and clueless of who I am. But then I quickly snap back to remember the lessons I got from my so-called escape. I decided to take control of my life, and that also meant learning to act on my own and taking responsibility for my actions later.
No, I’m not telling you to pack your bags, move to another town where you don’t know someone, and burn up all your savings like I did. You can do your own version of it; and it wouldn’t even require you be physically on leave. You can even just go back to your five-year-old self and start to see things in whole a new light. You don’t need to be afraid of getting fired from a job or failing multiple classes. You don’t need to be defined by your career, by your skills, by your parents’ accomplishments, or even by the way you conduct yourself in public. You don’t need to be afraid about getting lost in a city or giving up all the comforts in life you used to enjoy. Once you decide to take control of your life, things become surprisingly clearer.
I’m a writer who once stopped writing; a proof of how resets can pave the way for people to get back on track.
Detach yourself. You’ll be fine.