There are a lot of wonderful advices about writing. But this one I kept. Sharing this with you, from 1938.
Late-1938, eager to gain some feedback on her work, aspiring young author and Radcliffe sophomore Frances Turnbull sent a copy of her latest story to celebrated novelist and friend of the family, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Before long the feedback arrived, in the form of the somewhat harsh but admirably honest reply seen below.
November 9, 1938
I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.
This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories “In Our Time” went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In “This Side of Paradise” I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.
The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming—the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.
That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is “nice” is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the “works.” You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.
In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,
Your old friend,
F. Scott Fitzgerald
P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent—which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.
“Same sex marriage is now ripe for legislation.”
“Human rights must prevail over national security.”
Above are the topics that were debated upon during yesterday’s interschool debate, CHR Cup, in partnership with Ateneo Law School’s St. Thomas More Debate and Advocacy Society, held at Ateneo Professional School in Rockwell. And these are the vibrant law students from UP, UST, PUP, San Beda- Mendiola, and San Beda- Alabang who competed to outwit, outdo, and outlast the other.
Incidentally, and I felt happy about it, one of the first competing teams that I really sat through to listen became the winner, that’s San Beda- Mendiola. (Debates were simultaneously happening in different rooms.)
San Beda- Mendiola law students will compete with Ateneo law students on November 5 at CHR compound. And I’m so excited.
One observation, though: Debaters should speak in normal pacing. The problem with speaking so fast is that good communication is being compromised. On the other hand, I am guessing this can be a tactic to put obstacle to opponent’s listening comprehension and to not pick up info to rebut. When I brought this up with two of the gentlemen/adjudicators from Ateneo, they agree with me, that one should speak in normal pacing but perhaps because of their training in debate–which is to speak fast to deliver all your arguments within the 7 minutes limit–the burden is passed on to the audience to catch up on their fast train of thoughts.
Stuff that we have to remember if we want to write professionally. The author, Jessica Zafra, wrote this for interaksyon.com and was published online on September 2014. The stuff she wrote, even after two years, remain a gem that we could learn from.
The Perils of Being a Writer
By Jessica Zafra
The original title of this piece was “Don’t Be A Writer”. The plan was to discuss the aggravations of being a professional writer – someone who makes a living off writing, as opposed to someone who does it as a hobby or a form of “creative self-expression”—and dissuade anyone who doesn’t have the discipline (or compulsion) from even attempting to write. However, I was reminded that irony is dead and I would have to use emoticons next to my title to make myself understood. Hence the less compelling, but clearer title.
1-No job security. So you embark upon a writing career and figure you can support yourself by writing articles for magazines, newspapers and other media. “Freelancing” sounds adventurous, like being a ronin or samurai for hire. You get to write full-time, and only about the subjects you care about. In the words of countless refrigerator magnets and calendars, you are following your bliss. Good for you—if you’re independently wealthy or living off your parents.
Freelance writers’ fees have not changed substantially in two decades. In some cases they have declined, and in other cases the writer gets paid not in cash, but in gift cheques from advertisers. You don’t get paid upfront. You wait till your article is published, and then you wait another month or two to get paid. In the meantime, how do you pay your bills? Oh, and you don’t get benefits. The prevailing mindset seems to be: You’re doing what you love, and you expect to get paid for it? Grow up like the rest of us and get a proper job.
You could get a day job in a writing-related field, like the academe or advertising or journalism, and write your novel/poetry/plays at night. If you have the energy left. I hear screenwriting used to be lucrative—not anymore. (By the way, what’s the deal with those Wattpad novels? Can the writers actually live off the proceeds? When they’re sold to the movies, do the writers make big bucks?)
2-Nobody reads. Experts say long-form journalism is dead, and the death knell for print media and “physical books” rang a decade ago. (I suppose the magazines now in stands are zombies.) Come to think of it, the expert is dead—everyone can broadcast her own opinion in the social media now, and its validity is measured not in intellectual rigor but in “likes”.
Not that we had a lot of readers to begin with. A country of 100 million people, and a book that sells 5,000 copies is considered a bestseller. Our culture just isn’t into books, no matter how many teenagers you spot toting the latest dystopian young adult title. Maybe it’s the climate, which is cruel to books. This may be why as a people we have such short memories and make the same disastrous mistakes over and over, but that’s the subject of another column.
If there are no readers, what is the point of writing? Of course we write the stuff we want to read, but we still have to live.
3-The reading list is daunting. Before you can even dare to write, you have to read. You don’t have to major in creative writing or take writing workshops in order to write, but if you don’t read, you won’t know what good writing is. You will have nothing to compare your own work to and nothing to strive for. You will remain ignorant of the nuances of writing, and inflict your awful tone-deaf prose on the public. No wonder they don’t want to read.
My Jedi master, whom you can now find on Twitter advising people to go asterisk themselves, said that we read because we are essentially alone. We read in order to deal with the one inescapable face of existence: We are all going to die. Life is precious because it ends. Each novel that we read is an extra life on top of our own.
4-You don’t get days off. Writing is not merely the act of typing words on a keyboard or dragging a pen across paper. That’s just the penultimate phase, the physical transcription. When you’re a writer, you write all the time. You’re standing in line at a supermarket checkout, you’re thinking of what to write. You’re washing the dishes, you’re plotting out your next chapter. You can’t take a break. You can’t wait for the lightning bolt of inspiration, or you’ll write one paragraph a month.
Writing is a discipline. You train for it the way tennis players do. They practice serving a thousand times a day so that they can do it automatically. If you’re serious about writing, write every single day. 1,000 words a day.
5-You have to be alone. Think of writing as a conversation you’re having with yourself. It’s a form of public introspection. If you’re boring, if you have nothing to say to yourself, forget it.
6-You become a cannibal. You don’t eat human flesh, just your own. When you’re a writer, everything is material. It’s your duty to your craft to lead a thrilling life, or be around fascinating people; otherwise, what would you have to write about?
Your own life is source material – not surprisingly, many first novels are thinly-veiled autobiographies, or if you want to sound smart, Bildungsroman. This can lead to existential questions like: Am I living my life, or am I just going through this for the story? What is my real self? Do I have a real self?
And when you have existential crises, you don’t go to a psychotherapist who will prescribe antidepressants so you can function “normally”. Are you kidding, and cut off all that potential material? (But if you could find a psychiatrist who does talk therapy, like Dr. Melfi in The Sopranos, that would be great.) When friends invite you to self-improvement activities, just say no. If you get “fixed”, you may find that you have nothing left to write. Great literature, art, music – they all spring from hunger, thwarted desires, unexpressed rage, unresolved “issues” and all the stuff self-help books promise to rid you of.
When you hear an interesting story, you feel like whipping out a notebook and making notes that you can use in the future. When you watch a movie, you can’t just sit back and enjoy it – you’re already writing the review in your head. When you read a book, you’re trying to figure out how the author did it or how you would do it better.
There are advantages to consuming your own life. You learn that regret is useless and embarrassment is fleeting. No matter how terrible your choices prove to be, you can still write about them. In fact, the more horrible things get, the more material you have. Because the truth is, horrible stuff is easier to write about, plus it has a wider audience. You may ask yourself, Am I an opportunist, a vulture sniffing out carrion? You should be so lucky.
7-You will get ripped off. In the digital age, you are one cut-and-paste away from having your work stolen from you and claimed by someone else. In most cases you won’t even know that it happened. You can hound the thief and scream yourself hoarse until justice is served, but you will end up spending valuable time that you could’ve used writing something new. You will have to trust in the wisdom of crowds, and hope that a reader somewhere discovers the theft, and that the discovery goes viral.
Some years ago, a reader directed me to the blog of someone who had taken an essay I’d written and posted it as his own work. He cannot have been very intelligent because that essay had been published in one of my books. Worse, the essay was written in the first person, and when he changed certain details to make it appear that he was the author, his subjects and verbs did not agree. Bad grammar gave him away.
8-Happiness is counter-productive. Have you tried reading something you wrote when you were madly in love and your passion was requited? It’s mush. When your life is fabulous and everything is right with the world, your writing goes straight to hell. Usually you don’t feel like writing at all, being content to sit there with a stupid smile on your face. On the other hand, when your world has fallen apart and even your dog won’t acknowledge your existence, whoosh, you write like one possessed. You dredge up the dark and icky glop from the bottom of your soul, and that’s the stuff of literature. The universe strives for balance.
9-You have to be your own worst critic. This is your first line of defense against bad reviews. How can critics break you when there’s nothing they can say about your work that you haven’t already said to yourself?
Of course, in order to be your own worst critic, you also have to know your strengths. Otherwise you’ll be so busy picking on yourself that bad reviews won’t be necessary – self-doubt will prevent you from writing anything in the first place. Again, balance. If you think you’re brilliant, keep it to yourself.
10-The second you think you’re great, you’re finished. Complacency and puffed-up self-regard will kill you. Don’t believe your own press. Just because you have fans doesn’t mean your work is worth anything. Be wary of your cult, make sure you’re not the designated human sacrifice.
When being strong is becoming a stereotypical role for women (A girl doesn’t need to be “strong” to be interesting)
Writing ‘strong’ women
Tris Prior, Xena, Natasha Romanoff, Katniss Everdeen, Lara Croft. Right off the bat we can associate these fictional female characters with the word “strong.” And in recent years, this has been the main kind of portrayal of women circulating in the media, or at least this is what people seem to value the most. But is this really a good thing?
Sophia McDougall, writer for the British magazine NewStatesman, put it this way in one of her articles: “Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”
Okay, I do love “The Hunger Games” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as much as the next person, and I appreciate the ideas behind Katniss and Buffy. But “strong” cannot possibly be the only word defining them, and it is not. So why is that single word the one we use most to describe them? Women are as complex and diverse as male characters like Sherlock Holmes.
Don’t get me wrong. It is completely reasonable for people to seek strong female characters as a result of years and years of them being tossed to the sidelines as mere romantic interests and damsels in distress, but the growing issue is that a “strong” woman is beginning to be the only acceptable portrayal. It’s starting to seem like she has to be a strong, independent woman who refuses to show weakness in order to be deemed a good and inspiring character.
This just doesn’t seem right. Women can be complicated, shy, stoic, independent, afraid, or any other real characteristic, and still be valid and intriguing people. It should be okay for women in these stories, and in real life, to be not stereotypically strong.
It is important that we stop thinking that we will effectively get away from the ideas of sexism by promoting a single personality type. I understand that because of a history of passive women, people want to see stories in which women stand up for themselves, but writing one-dimensional characters will not help us beat sexism in the media and in real life.
Now we can say that there are quite a lot of female heroes in movies, TV shows and books, but a lot of them are still male-centered—or at least in the posters.
When you look at the movie posters of films like “The Fantastic Four,” “The Avengers” and even “The Smurfs,” you will see that the female hero is still one girl in a group of guys. Even with big leaps in gender equality, there is still a higher ratio of boys in most films and novels than girls.
Why can’t we write female characters the way male ones are written? Why can’t there be more female leads, sidekicks, mentors, villains, etc? In my opinion, we don’t need just one great woman in a story for it to be right; we need as many varied primary and secondary character roles for women as we have for men. I hope to see a 1:1 male to female ratio in the media. There needs to be equality.
And for too long, female roles have been there to help define other characters, mostly male. We need to start having fictional women in the media that aren’t mere props but beings with personalities. We don’t need strong characters; we need well-rounded characters.
Take, for example, Pepper Potts in the “Iron Man” films. Is she strong? Well, not in the typical way, but she took Tony Stark’s place as head of Stark Industries, right? She’s smart, hardworking, loyal and resourceful. She serves an important function throughout the films. But she gets some backlash because she ends up as the damsel in distress in the stories, which people want so much to avoid. I know people might argue that in the third film she beat up the villain, but is it because of this that we will start legitimizing her as a proper female character?
And I have some news: Being a damsel in distress is bad only when that’s her sole purpose and if that’s the sole thing that defines her. If a well-rounded character just happens to be in distress at a certain part of the story, then there should be no problem, because it happens to everyone—to all characters and actual human beings.
In the case of Tris Prior in the “Divergent” series, she isn’t just a girl that can kick butt. She has many other things going on in her life, including how she’s being discriminated against because of where she came from and how she’s facing the challenge set before her. She has a soft side for her family. She is even afraid for some time. And this is why so many people are invested in her character. A girl doesn’t need to be strong to be interesting. She needs to be relatable.
JK Rowling, author of the famous “Harry Potter” series, pointed out that physical strength did not mean so much in her books: “I’m a female writer and, what’s interesting about the Wizarding World is, when you take physical strength out of the equation, a woman can fight just the same as a man can fight, a woman can do magic just as powerfully as a man can do magic and I consider that I’ve written a lot of well-rounded female characters in these books.”
It is normal for a girl to cry, to want independence, to need validation, to want a husband, to not need a man at all, and to have her own ideals and fears and strengths that actuality implies. A legitimate female character should be able to reflect experiences that real women have.
I want to see more female characters. I want to be inspired by them. I want to cry because of them. I want to hate them. Just give me something to which I can give a strong reaction. They can be strong, weak, neither, or a mix of the two. And any of those is okay because they are so much more than those labels.
McDougall of NewStatesman ended her article with a paraphrased version she made of the performance poet Guante’s work, “Man Up,” and it perfectly sums up the ideas I want to bring forth: “I want her to be free to express herself. I want her to have meaningful, emotional relationships with other women. I want her to be weak sometimes. I want her to be strong in a way that isn’t about physical dominance or power. I want her to cry if she feels like crying. I want her to ask for help. I want her to be who she is. Write a Strong Female Character? No.”
We can’t let ourselves be backed into a corner with the thought that we need to be strong to be noticed or valued. Authors shouldn’t focus on writing strong female roles; they should focus on writing people, with all the complexity that comes with them.
Written by Courtney Allison P. Tirol, 16, is a former editor in chief of her school publication, a book and film enthusiast, and an incoming freshman at the University of Asia and the Pacific taking up a political economy track to the Juris Doctor program.
(Published in Youngblood, Philippine Daily Inquirer/ 13 May 2014)
1. The most important person in your life is the person who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them as such.
2. You might live a long life, or you might live a short one — who knows. But either way, trust me when I say that you’re going to wish you took better care of yourself in your youth.
3. Stuff is just stuff. Don’t hold onto material objects, hold onto time and experiences instead.
4. Jealousy destroys relationships. Trust your significant other, because who else are you supposed to trust?
5. People always say, ’’Make sure you get a job doing what you love!’’ But that isn’t the best advice. The right job is the job you love some days, can tolerate most days, and still pays the bills. Almost nobody has a job they love every day.
6. If you’re getting overwhelmed by life, just return to the immediate present moment and savour all that is beautiful and comforting. Take a deep breath, relax.
7. Years go by in the blink of an eye. Don’t marry young. Live your life. Go places. Do things. If you have the means or not. Pack a bag and go wherever you can afford to go. While you have no dependents, don’t buy stuff. Any stuff. See the world. Look through travel magazines and pick a spot. GO!
8. Don’t take life so seriously. Even if things seem dark and hopeless, try to laugh at how ridiculous life is.
9. A true friend will come running if you call them at 2am. Everyone else is just an acquaintance.
10. Children grow up way too fast. Make the most of the time you have with them.
11. Nobody ever dies wishing they had worked more. Work hard, but don’t prioritize work over family, friends, or even yourself.
12. Eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient with a stroke — so you never actually become one.
13. Maybe this one isn’t as profound as the others, but I think it’s important… Floss regularly, dental problems are awful.
14. Don’t take anyone else’s advice as gospel. You can ask for advice from someone you respect, then take your situation into consideration and make your own decision. Essentially, take your own advice is my advice…
15. The joints you damage today will get their revenge later. Even if you think they’ve recovered completely. TRUST ME!
16. We have one time on this earth. Don’t wake up and realize that you are 60 years old and haven’t done the things you dreamed about.
17. Appreciate the small things and to be present in the moment. What do I mean? Well, it seems today like younger people are all about immediate gratification. Instead, why not appreciate every small moment? We don’t get to stay on this crazy/wonderful planet forever and the greatest pleasure can be found in the most mundane of activities. Instead of sending a text, pick up the phone and call someone. Call your mother, have a conversation about nothing in particular. Those are the moments to hold onto.
18. Pay your bills and stay the hell out of debt. If I could have paid myself all the money I’ve paid out in interest over the years, I’d be retired already.
19. If you have a dream of being or doing something that seems impossible, try for it anyway. It will only become more impossible as you age and become responsible for other people.
20. When you meet someone for the first time, stop and realize that you really know nothing about them. You see race, gender, age, clothes. Forget it all. You know nothing. Those biased assumptions that pop into your head because of the way your brain likes categories, are limiting your life, and other people’s lives.
Our national hero is Jose Rizal. From high school to college we were taught to read and discuss about the life and works of Rizal who lived during the 19th century. Rizal wrote the historically famous novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” that spoke against the tyranny of the Spanish regime in our country. After his death, a lot of books from different parts of the world have been written about him. But there have been constant debates from generation to generation that Andres Bonifacio is more deserving to be called our national hero than Rizal. Others are firm that it is only rightful that Rizal was chosen as our national hero. Before, I like Andres Bonifacio more because he was an activist, a revolutionary, he expressed his rage through action by fighting against the Spaniards who were violating the human rights of Filipinos. Bonifacio wanted freedom unlike Rizal who only wanted reform. However, it must be mentioned here that it was Jose Rizal and his works that inspired Andres Bonifacio to establish Katipunan, a movement that was composed of Filipinos willing to go on war, risking their lives to release our country from the chains of the Spanish tyrannical rule.
Regardless of whether who is more better, Rizal or Bonifacio, one thing is clear. We owe so much of our freedom to them although sad to say, human rights violations are still happening everyday. And worse, it is Filipinos against Filipinos. There is a story that I like to share. This was taken from the 1996 published book, “Scent of a Filipino, Anecdotes & Aphorisms” by Andrew Maria, MMHC. I discovered this while cleaning our bookshelves at home. Read on.
In one province, the governor organized a debate. The theme was ‘Who is the real National Hero–Rizal or Bonifacio?
On the day of the debate, many people gathered to hear the most intelligent minds of the province to debate on the issue. However, since the two debating groups were so brilliant, the judges found it difficult to decide who won.
At this, Arbularyo Ambo, the town quack doctor, proposed that he conjure the spirit of Apolinario Mabini to decide the case for them. Everyone agreed. And so, after his rituals, Arbularyo Ambo conjured the spirit of Apolinario Mabini. A strong wind blew inside the hall where the debate was held. The eyes of everyone were focused on the quack doctor who was convulsing and shrieking strange words. Arbularyo Ambo rushed at the center stage and with a deep peculiar voice spoke.
“You came here to argue who is the national hero, whether it is Rizal or Bonifacio. But I tell you, there is something more important which you must first resolve,” the voice of Apolinario Mabini spoke through the quack doctor.
“What?” the crowd questioned the conjured spirit of Apolinario Mabini.
“How you can be heroes like them! This is a more important issue than the latter.”
The story is told about a priest who was preaching about loving one’s enemies. When he asked the gathered faithful who among them had plenty of enemies, no hand was raised. When he asked who among them had a few enemies, a few raised their hands. When he asked who among them had no enemies, an old parishioner raised his hand. When the priest asked him why, he said, “Father, I am 102 years old, and all my enemies are dead.”
(Ha ha! Thanks Fr. Jerry for sharing this.)
After hearing the same question over and over from friends and family — “Why aren’t you married yet?” — art director Suzanne Heintz got tired of it and set out to do something about it. She got herself a little family…of mannequins.
Over the course of 14 years and 10,000 miles of travel, she took her fake family everywhere and took all kinds of “family” pictures….
She’s underlining the fact that for many people, a family seems to be little better than a trophy or badge to prove that someone has succeeded at fulfilling society’s expectations of them. How many families look great in photographs but are actually empty inside? The point is not to condemn family life, but to refuse to accept that a good life is simply one that looks good to other people.
Note: Thanks to Mr. Robert Alejandro for sharing this. 🙂
When I was around 4 years old, my parents entrusted me under the care of relatives, with my auntie Dalen and her family in Ilocos Sur. There, I met their dogs, Garit (the mother) and her son, Yabang.
Garit, with a dark brown colored fur with a little streaks of black was the thoughtful, caring one, the gentle one. The other dog, her son Yabang, had this predominantly white fur with a little streaks of black. Oh Yabang lived up to his name because he was very independent as a dog, a loner, and enjoyed exploring. I hardly touched him because he’s kind of elusive but I have one memory of him that to this day, I have never forgotten.
It was a lazy afternoon and I was attempting to take a nap with my fellow little cousin in this house of another auntie who was auntie Uring, my father’s other older sister, when, just as naturally since I hardly fall asleep in the afternoon, I decided I would just go out of the house for a while. Instead of going to the front door I chose the back door to have a view of the outside. Then I saw Yabang walking all by his lonesome and just as naturally, being his adventurous self, he tried to venture out of the fence that separated our territory from this house that had a wide and spacious grass in front of it—it was so wide that the house looked too far to reach.
So there goes Yabang, trying to crawl beneath that little gap between the soil and the wire fence and succeeded. Shortly after, I saw these big, tall dogs running towards him then as fast as the blink of an eye, I saw a brawl of dogs. Three against one. Big, tall dogs against this small height Yabang. These tall dogs even brought with them their little offsprings, maybe one or two of them, if I’m not mistaken. When Yabang was already weak and wounded, the ferocious dogs left him. I was thankful they didn’t kill him on the spot. Like I told you, Yabang was a very independent dog that despite his pitiful condition, he managed to lift himself up and crawl back beneath the fence, back to our territory.
Then the memory that I next remember was Yabang already limping, with one of his legs broken. He couldn’t anymore climb the stairs to seek shelter inside my auntie Dalen’s house. Then I remember my uncle Uping giving Yabang a bath and he looked so weak and shaking. I was so afraid of what would happen to him. Eventually (I don’t remember when this was if this was many months later or weeks later or what), I had to leave because my parents had to bring me back to Manila to start studying in elementary. I wasn’t able to ask my auntie and uncle about Yabang. Because I don’t ask questions then.
When I returned to Ilocos a few years later for a vacation, probably I was around 9 or 10, I never saw Yabang again. Shy to ask, I guessed Yabang must have died. Oh, but Garit was still alive and she had these new children and I met them already grown. The new dogs were Brownie and Sampaguita. The older one Brownie was just like her mom Garit. So gentle, so kind. Sampaguita was the mischievous one, the flirty one. She would jump or sometimes throw herself at me just to play with her.
When Brownie had babies and was probably not yet ready for the role of motherhood—I don’t know if mommy dogs get to experience post-partum depression after giving birth just like mommy humans—Garit would be the one to breastfeed her grandchildren. And when I found out about this when I took a peek below the bed where the babies are, I would get mad at Garit and shoo her away. Garit understood my action for she would just leave obediently. The puppies then I would put beside Brownie who was just nearby, sad as a dog and indifferent as a mother.
But like I told you, Brownie was a thoughtful, caring one. Because one time, when it was sleeping time already—oh we were sleeping on this banig and the house of my auntie Dalen was still a bahay kubo, a big bahay kubo that was nice and neat—Brownie entered the door which was slightly open and sat in front of me while I was lying. I remember her pulled back ears which as a child I knew already as a sign of friendliness. And her face, I remember it was the sweetest face I’ve seen from a dog, like she’s showing that she really liked me. And in return, I would pat her on the head or caress her fur.
In our own home, we never had pets because my mother didn’t want pets inside the house. That is why whenever I would tell a story to my siblings about my stay in Ilocos, I would often tell them about Garit, Yabang, Brownie, and Sampaguita, the dogs that kept me company and made me learn that dogs are not just animals. They can teach you something about goodness and loyalty.
So missing the company of dogs, I would just be contented playing with the ants. Or one time when my mother was brooming the dust and dirt away from our floor, and from every nook and cranny, and I saw these three baby rats with those gathered dirt, I stole one of those baby rats as my pet while the other two I let them die under the heat of the sun. Looking back, it was so cruel but those were babies of pesty rats. Or sometimes, whenever I would eat and would see this house lizard waiting for a rice to drop from my spoon, I would make the effort to put a pint-sized of rice near the lizard and he/she would eat it. But this was when I was still young and silly. Now that I’m old, I don’t think I can take care of a dog when I can’t even bring myself to wake up early in the morning.
That’s why when I read this article by Alya B. Honasan last month (which I kept and now posted here) about her dog, Larry, it really pulled my heartstrings then tears welled up in my eyes.
Why I never gave up on our old dog
by Alya B. Honasan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
When he first arrived, and for the first few years of his life, he was bright-eyed, cute and full of energy, just like any young creature. My niece named him after her favorite Ateneo basketball player.
By the time our family’s beloved black labrador retriever, Larry, passed away last May 16 of congestive heart failure, he was three months shy of 13 years old. By some counts, that’s 91 human years. He slept a lot, tired easily and was sometimes grumpy when pestered by his younger “sister,” 5-year-old Kikay.
He had cataracts in both eyes, worn-down teeth and white hair in his black fur. He was almost deaf; you could sneak up behind him and surprise him, and it would take several calls for him to hear you, laboriously lift his 75-lb frame, and come.
Still, even if it had admittedly gotten difficult to care for him in the last few weeks of his life—we were constantly monitoring his body temperature to avoid heatstroke—I wasn’t complaining. Neither were the house help, who backed me up when I couldn’t do the job by myself, especially when I was fighting cancer the last 11 months.
Our cook and our houseboy learned how to use a digital rectal thermometer on a dog. They had seen Larry grow old through the years, too. He was family.
Larry was the last of our family’s big dogs, a pack which had, at one time or another, included a rottweiler, a German Shepherd, a Belgian Malinois, a pit bull and three Dalmatians—all of them given to us. Still, I was peripherally involved only in their care.
After the other dogs from the pack passed away one by one from old age, it was Larry who remained, and I took over his care when he turned 7—the onset of old age for some large-breed dogs. I immediately had him neutered, started mixing fruit and vegetables in his diet, and added on to the vitamins. Still, within a couple of years, the health problems started.
Just like with humans, seniorhood is a different ball game for dogs, with the corresponding adjustments that have to be made. Sadly, this is something some dog owners don’t think about. In the West, older dogs are sometimes surrendered to shelters when owners can’t (or won’t) manage their care; if they’re not immediately adopted and the shelter isn’t a no-kill establishment, they are inevitably put to sleep.
In the Philippines, where shelters are not an option, some heartless people (especially irresponsible dog breeders) simply abandon dogs. Animal welfare groups like the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (Cara) have too many horror stories of senior dogs tied to posts, left on unfamiliar roads, left behind when the owners move house, or even dumped in canals or trash bins.
PAWS gets regular calls from people insisting that their dogs be taken off their hands—“Mabuti na, kaysa iligaw pa ito (That’s better than us having to lead this dog astray).”
Think about that for a moment: intentionally leading your dog astray so he never finds his way back, and could die from the exposure, hunger and thirst. It takes a special kind of cruelty to do that.
Owning a dog is a lifetime commitment—the lifetime of the dog, which will never be as long as our own, anyway. Part of that pledge is accepting that, one day, our dog will get old, get sick and die, and it will be our obligation as his guardian to do the best we can.
“We were never meant to share all of your life, only to mark its passages,” Jon Katz wrote in “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die,” in what he imagined a letter from a dog would read like. “We come and we go. We come when we are needed. We leave when it is time.”
A senior dog will be less hardy, more prone to illness and will have less energy. He will be less resistant to changes in temperature or in his environment, and may require different food. A senior dog will suffer in this heat, but his bones will also hurt in colder weather. Caring for him will need more time, attention and money.
“It’s the same as with people,” says Larry’s long-time vet, Dr. Siday Peñaranda of Vets in Practice. “They get lethargic, have a weaker immune system, have less appetite, engage in less activity and may not want to play as much with other dogs. Just as we watch over them when they’re very young, we have to do the same when they’re old.”
Larger breeds age faster than small dogs, she notes. “Expect that they will need more care talaga. Keep their weight down, and keep walking them, even if they can no longer handle vigorous play. If veterinary care is expensive, then you can just get a baseline test, for example, and then work on keeping them comfortable and giving them a good quality of life.”
The right thing
Please remember those pointers the next time you want to bring a cute puppy home, for yourself, or for your kid, who keeps asking for one. If you can’t see the animal in your or your child’s life for the next 12 years or so, then please do the right thing.
With Larry, there were constant skin problems, a bout with ehrlichia (the tick-borne doggie equivalent of dengue, which also causes their blood count to plummet), and a regular battle with ticks and fleas when the seasons changed. There were rickety joints, and a marked slowing down that forced us to adjust his walking schedule to early morning and late afternoon to spare him the heat.
There was a close call with heatstroke that landed him in the emergency room, when we thought his heart would stop when it was beating at a frighteningly fast rate. Naturally, this meant veterinarian’s bills that made me wince, and I did ask for generic, less expensive options for the medicine.
And then, as I had written about before, there was what I consider a clear case of “sagip,” when Larry saved me from a common side effect of chemotherapy. He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle, and I knew deep in my own heart that he had absorbed the illness in my place. He had anywhere between three months and about a year left, I was told.
Larry lasted for seven more months, pumped with diuretics, supplements and an anti-hypertensive medicine.
The night before he died, he already seemed restless. After calming him down and checking his body temperature, I prayed for a good death when his time came—that it would be quick, that he would go on his own, at home and in familiar surroundings, and that I would be there to say goodbye.
Early the next morning—the day I was scheduled for a follow-up CT scan, three months after I had been cleared of cancer last February—I woke up to find Larry panting. His breathing became more labored when I cradled him in my arms. Our houseboy knew the drill, and was ready with a second electric fan, ice packs, more ice cubes and some calming oil.
But I already knew he was tired, and just wanted my permission. I think he even timed it so I wouldn’t miss my CT scan; I made it to the hospital later that morning, crying inside the machine.
Our old, faithful dog was ready to go. “It is my time to say goodbye,” Katz wrote, and I could imagine Larry saying the words to me. “… My spirit is fading, and I have been called home and away from you.” I whispered in his ear, just as I have released all the beloved dogs I have sent off on their final journeys: “It’s okay, baby. You can go now.”
And with one final heave of his massive chest, Larry’s ancient heart slowed down and eventually stopped. He flew straight to heaven, I know, where he is a puppy again, running around at the feet of God.
“And finally, I ask these things of you,” Katz concluded. “Remember me. Celebrate me. Grieve for me. And then, when you can, let me go, freely and in peace.”
I am still missing Larry; he would be the first to welcome me home whenever I pulled into the garage, and it hurts deeply to realize he’s not there anymore. Still, I know I can eventually let him go in peace because I never gave up on him—just as he never gave up on us, his humans.