On lost stories

Rambling about past/future selves again, but with more written words to my name. (Originally posted on Substack.)

In high school, I was a quiet girl. Not the quietest, perhaps, but still tangibly introverted. It was after the stain of being called “intelligent, but too talkative” in my junior years. So I instead morphed into “well-behaved, but lacking initiative” which was far softer for a place like school.

I don’t know who I am today. I talk too much when it is about nothing that matters enough to stain me again. And then I keep quiet on many things that hurt. Especially the things that hurt.

A dearest childhood friend got married last month. At our table sat many faces from 13 years ago who have since aged and morphed on their own. It was a beautiful night, all in all, but in between the moments of love, nostalgia and pride, I was caught unsure of who I am.

What did they see now, these friends who once saw an intelligent, well-behaved girl? Did they see it on my face that I do not know where I’m going?

Project Stardust contains a lot of the hurts in my heart. I was able to write this line in a middle chapter: “Memory is a wound.” But there are a lot more that haven’t found their way into words yet.

About how the future is reliant on the past and can never be a blank slate; about how some connections survive the years but they don’t always mean a rekindling; about how the truest stories are built partially on secrets; about how some narrations are interrupted before they are told, and only a few will persist to be told a different way.

Memory is a wound, and tales are the dressing we apply in hopes of healing. There are characters whose names we know but whose histories we don’t think about, and they get to live on in their own stories where we are not the author.

I’m writing to you from a position of ironies, where it is the dawn of December but somehow also a Friday; and where it is chronologically winter but the sky is sticky and yellow.

The past weeks weren’t without activity. A welcome side-effect of my nonstop November drafting is that I also ended up reading more.

I just finished my community-friend Vida Cruz-Borja’s excellent anthology “Song of the Mango and Other New Myths,” which is easily my favorite book of 2023. (Not to brag but I’ve read three whole books this year.)

It’s a curious and creative book that blends lovable human characters with creatures from Philippine myths. I’ve yet to type out a proper review, but I can’t recommend it enough. Friends in Manila, I’d be more than happy to lend my copy.

Since Song of the Mango is an anthology, I paused between each short story to let the last one breathe, allowing me to juggle the book with the nonfiction “Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence.” This has been on my bookshelf for an embarrassingly long time, but it’s one of those books that I pick up at just the right time.

I want to pick up Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” right after this one, but I am also keen on picking up some science fiction/urban fantasy titles, for genre research. Either option should be enough, I think, to fill out the time I’ve been advised to take away from my first draft before revisions.

Oh, yeah. About that. I finished the first draft of Project Stardust 🎉

It ended up much skinnier than I’d originally wanted, but there was really no benefit to filling out a weak structure. “You can add the meat when you have strong bones.”

This is my first time accomplishing a longform draft of anything, having been cozy with shortforms, drabbles and (more recently) flash pieces so far. Which makes it my first time really ready to digest the more technical advice about novel-writing, about cutting out parts and piecing a new whole back together. I’m delighted to discover that I feel most “like a writer” in the revision stage.

Even as I languish in the worry of lost stories and the people I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve become, other writers enable me to think about the girl I might still get to be, and the stories I might be able to tell.

In the mix of that, I hope I’ll learn to tell certain tales the way they deserve, i.e. the way they exist in my heart and mind. Even if that means giving myself permission to call certain things “grief” and “loss” or “joy” or even “love.”

I nearly ended the letter right there, but there is another story I found. One of my best friends, who went through my life audit / goal getter phase with me, found a photo of her 2016 life audit sticky notes. I’m thrilled about how many of her then-goals are truths and realities today; I’m less thrilled to look up my own and see how my life has probably gone off-track since.

But there is one thing I am deeply looking forward to this December, and that’s my annual time-capsule letter. I wonder who 2022 Apple thought she was, and I wonder who she thought I would be.

My letters always go forward, never backward. But how I wish I could let all younger Apples know who we are today.

Are you looking forward or backward this December?

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