A writer’s workplace

Where words pour forth

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By Kristine Jane R. Liu

It is their second home—a place where they can relax and find the serenity to think about anything they want. In that place, they are the masters, the lords of the characters of their creative pieces. The place is no other than the writer’s workroom.
To others, the four-corner room painted in light colors or plastered with wallpaper might be no different from any other room one might come across while visiting a house or an office. It has books, pencils, and all the other paraphernalia. But to these writers, the workroom is like the hospital’s delivery room—the place where their pieces are given life.

Lumbera: My place is me
Take the case of a modest room located in the third floor of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Arts and Letters in Diliman.
Aside from the name of the occupant displayed at the wooden door of the room, the workplace’s entirety can already give any visitor a glimpse of the occupant’s personality and the nature of his work.
Unlike most working desks where a computer or a telephone is at arm’s reach, the table of National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera has no touch of technology. Instead, newspapers, books, and invitations make up most of the clutter.
But what is extraordinary about the artist’s workplace are perhaps its walls, which are fully embellished with politically and socially-driven posters—the oldest one dating to as far back as the Martial Law era.
Here, Lumbera told the Varsitarian, is where one can see most of the problems plaguing the country—the theme many of his works dwell on.
“I write creative pieces whenever I am asked to do one, usually by organizations who are rallying against the government or when I am asked to talk in a forum,” Lumbera said.
The idea of decorating the room with posters was started by a fellow roommate, Nicanor Tiongson, who worked as a professor in UP.
Lumbera narrated that Tiongson hated the original green color of the wall and decided to cover it instead with posters, a habit Lumbera continued even after Tiongson’s retirement.
As he started collecting posters as early as 1986, Lumbera has lost count of the number of posters that have accumulated over the years. There is now little trace of the once “boring” green wall.
“I don’t think I would ever stop adorning the walls with these posters as long as the problems the country is facing still exist,” Lumbera said.
Aside from posters, Lumbera’s workroom is also filled with textbooks written by Filipino authors and some native artifacts he got from his travels.

Balde: My workplace is my ideal place
As early as three in the morning, multiple National Book Award recipient Abdon Balde, Jr. would rouse from his sleep, go to his working area, and start writing his novel—finishing one to two chapters before calling it a day.
“To be able to publish a book yearly, one must have discipline,” said Balde, who has not failed to publish award-winning books annually since 2001.
While some might think this is a bit too rigid for someone past his retirement age, Balde says a writer’s writing area plays a big role in helping the writer finish his story.
“I believe that there are places that have good and bad vibes. A writer should always find a place where he can have peace of mind and where there is less distraction,” Balde said.
Balde’s working area, an extension room in the veranda of the main house, is a good example of Balde’s ideal workplace.
At the center of the room is a table containing most of the writer’s paraphernalia and handwritten manuscripts of his novels. Positioned at the right part of the room are two of his paintings and some photo albums. The left side of the room has a two-level bookshelf containing much-treasured books which he bought from his travels and does not lend to others.
“A good writer spends 70 per cent of his time reading books and the remaining 30 per cent writing his own. That is why it is very seldom that you don’t find a book lying on a writer’s desk,” Balde said.
More than serving its purpose as a writer’s workplace, however, Balde said that the room has other purposes as well.
“Usually, this is also where I paint or if it is raining outside, this is where my wife and I set up the table and drink,” Balde said.
Although Balde agrees that a writer’s work must not be constrained to a room, he nevertheless said that a writer must still sit and work in a place where his mind is free to think about anything.

Dimalanta: Everywhere is my working place
Southeast Asian Writers awardee Ophelia Dimalanta’s working area is perhaps the most interesting of the three—because she does not have one.
“A real writer does not have a specific place for him to be able to write. Any place can be a working place,” Dimalanta said.
True to her words, Dimalanta said she writes most of the rough outline of her works while traveling.
Her book, The Ophelia Dimalanta Reader Volume 1, for instance, chronicles the many working areas where her poems were born—while on board a cruise traversing the Nile River, or while passing through a scenic view inside her car.
“When I see something and I get inspired, I ask the driver to stop driving and I scribble down some notes,” Dimalanta said.
Her latest poem, “A Feasting,” was born inside her own office at the Center for Creative Writing and Studies (CCWS) at St. Raymund’s Building while admiring the oil canvas given to her by painter Joey Velasco. The painting, “Hapag ng Pag-asa,” which shows Jesus Christ dining with a group of indigent children, is hanging at the wall near her table.
Because most of her time is spent inside the University, Dimalanta considers the reading room at the CCWS as the closest place she would call her working area.
Similar to a conference room where there is a long rectangular table in the middle and with chairs arranged parallel to each other, the reading area has two shelves housing all the books she has accumulated when she was still chair of the Manila Critic’s Circle—books she also would not lend to anyone.
“Actually, the place is too formal for the purpose of creation. But when you write something, books are necessary,” Dimalanta said.
If the place may seem full of distractions, it does not matter because distractions are very much welcomed by the poet.
Take her working desk at home. It is situated just outside the kitchen and near the living room where, in the course of finishing a poem, she would have all kinds of noises.
“You see, in writing, there is no hard and fast rule. Same thing is true with a writer’s working area. As long as you feel the need to write, wherever you may be, you can start jotting down what’s on your mind and call that place your working area,” Dimalanta said.

Montage Vol. 11 • September 2008