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I am writing you a letter.

For my thesis, I've chosen to work on creative nonfiction, which I think is deserving of more attention as a serious form of literature, especially in the Philippines. For most people, creative nonficton is either one of only two things: the 1000-word (or less) features we read on magazines and lifestyle sections of the newspaper, or the kind of writing people "do" when they blog and talk about themselves. While CNF on its own is not one to be harsh on labels (as it is battling with some sort of identity crisis itself), it is begging to be defined as something other than those two, or more precisely, beyond them. CNF is not just "expressing yourself" i.e. the kind that writes about what you ate for breakfast or how well that skirt went with those boots. Yes it does involve including an "I" as the narrator of a story, but it does not always have to be completely about it - the "I" is merely just the starting point to a larger narrative, a deeper web of stories and people and places. It can be the entry to a myriad of other perspectives in which the story will establish itself far outside the spheres of the writer's own world.

The gap between the "I" and the "you" is what got me curious about the culture of epistolarity, or letter-writing, in the first place. I grew up writing letters, to myself, to my parents, to objects that can obviously not reply, and I have always been fascinated by the whole art behind it: how it begins with a nervous greeting, like the quivering one feels when making a first impression, then ends with an hopeful valediction, thankful that the reader went through the entire thing. There is a quiet, unpretentious intimacy that happens between the writer and the reader because the letter is exclusive to both of them. Within each letter lies a continuing transfer of influence over the narrative: the sender of the letter asserts his voice to the "you" in the beginning and all throughout, but steps aside and makes way for the reader to respond in the end. It's quite absorbing how the "I" can evolve in the course of a single letter in order to accommodate the "you."

The first semester required us to write a critical paper on our topic; that is, we were to research and come up with a criticism and an exploration of the genre and theme we wanted to dip our toes into. It was particularly hard for me because while there has always been an abundance of letters (yes, even in the age of e-mail), it is precisely this sheer number that makes it hard to decipher a certain criteria. Because epistolarity as a genre has never been fully established (especially in the Philippines), it was difficult to actually find letters that I could try to follow and consider as framework. Whose work do I criticize? Which ones do I want to emulate? What should they be about? I had to go through a lot of anthologies and sift them through to see if the writer by any chance wrote an open letter to anyone. Luckily, I did, and was I surprised at the possibilities each letter provided. It was a daunting task, since like what I said, no one I know has done this before, and so I felt like I was alone in creating a niche for myself. I did use books on epistolary novels as references, and even bought a book from Amazon about epistolary histories. But it paid off. I think I have come up with a good enough explanation of what I wanted to do in my critical paper.

Now comes the more challenging, but also more liberating part. The second sem means it is finally time for us to do our creative work - meaning, to write what it was we were set out to do in the first place. For me this means writing letters, to people, to places, to events. I want to explore the idea of the "you" as something more than just a faceless audience member and into something of a particular reader. I will try to do long-form narratives to echo the kind of writing done before the Internet reduced everything to 160-characters. It will be a challenge, but I am up for it. I just finished my first letter-essay last night (and was proud I didn't break the deadline I made for myself!) and I am hoping it is well-received by my thesis adviser. I think I have nine more to go.

Letters by Bienvenido Santos
One of the books that inspired me to
work on this as my thesis topic
How fascinating it is to have a portrait of your life in letters!

So there, my thesis, in a nutshell. This has been what's occupying my time, my mind, and my sanity lately. It's funny how suddenly my course-mates and I have gone from lax, carefree students who submit papers late to zombie-like creatures that cannot stop talking and worrying about our stories, novels, and thesis proposals. People think that being a Creative Writing major entitles you to just do whatever and charge it to artistic license, but writing, for us at least, requires more than just a selfish purpose. It's about getting your story out there, sure, but it's fleshing out others' too. It's taxing, emotionally, mentally, and physically, to do that because writing is something you can only do yourself - you have no one to help you write. But sometimes just having a single willing ear (or more like a willing eye) to read through your work is enough reassurance. Even if it's just your blockmate whom you asked to spell-check for you.

I have about four months left. Let's see what happens.

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