Saturday, August 10, 2002

Fire Drill

"Riiiiiiiing!!!" The school bell always sounded pleasant, whether it was signaling the end of class or a fire drill. If the former was the case, we'd be counting the minutes left before it was break time. If it was the latter, as long as the time wasn't spent on listening to the teacher and doing class work, it was something we all looked forward to. This was the typical day of a high school student enrolled in Xavier.

While the ringing of the bell for recess and lunch was scheduled, fire drills weren't. There'd be a month or two wherein fire drills would be held. You didn't know when it would happen or what time it would occur. It just did. It was common for students to pray for the fire drill to occur while they were having an exam.

This would go on year after year that fire drills became too commonplace. Sometimes, we'd even have fire engines outside the school to simulate a fire rescue. Seniors would walk down the stairs from the fifth floor down to the ground floor. It was a practice we all thought we'd never use but did it nonetheless since it was an excuse to keep us out of the classroom.

One memorable event was during my second year. We were at the ground floor, inside the Macintosh lab. The room was well ventilated by the air conditioner so we were closed to the outside world: no open doors and no open windows. Everyone was busy with the computers, trying to finish the activity Ms. Conception had assigned to us.

And then we heard the bell. We had just started class so we knew that it didn't signal dismissal. We ignored it, thinking it was just a fluke. We resumed our work on the computers but the bell kept ringing for five minutes. One of us finally said that it was probably a fire drill. A lot of us sighed at that. We didn't want to leave the comforts of the chilly room. Computers were something some of us enjoyed, and for those who didn't, there was always the attractive teacher who kept watch on us. It took us another five minutes before we finally got out of the room.

Since we were on the ground floor, we saw a gathering of students when we came out. They were all with their teachers, asking them to form lines and neatly arranged themselves. Of course none of the students followed the teacher's commands. They were all staring at the top of the building. When we looked up, we saw smoke. Yellow smoke to be precise. The fifth floor was burning and a haze of yellow smoke concealed the right part of the building, where the various laboratories were. There was actually a fire.

Everyone wasn't shocked. Surprised, perhaps, but not shocked. The fire was like a circus attraction which everyone pointed at and kept on looking. Me and my classmates were joking that what we thought was a drill was actually a real fire. The fifth floor was evacuated and soon, fire trucks came. We saw firemen from the trucks enter the fifth floor but how they managed to extinguish the flames, we can only surmise. Classes for the juniors and seniors were suspended during that day as damages were being reported and filed.

When I came back to school the next day, I took a glimpse of the fifth floor. The windows of classrooms were broken. The walls of the lab had small black marks but other than those, everything seemed to be intact. I didn't explore more since exposing myself to seniors were something undesirable. Our freshman days of being intimidated by seniors were still fresh in our minds.

Later that day, it was said that the cause of the fire was an electrical wiring fault. As to why it caused yellow smoke, we never really knew. Some hypothesized that it was caused by the sulfur in the lab. While that theory seemed to be reasonable, I don't see how sulfur could have gotten mixed with the electric wires. It was the talk for the rest of the week and the seniors endured classes with broken windows.

You'd think that after that incident, our reaction to fire drills would turn into something quite serious. That's not the case though. Our view of fire drills was still the same: it was something to get us out of class. When we'd hear the bell, we'd talk and fuss, all the while lining up to exit the room. There was no feeling of panic, no sense of dread since we always reassured ourselves that it was only a drill. If there was a real fire, we'd probably make a stampede running out of the building.

Friday, August 09, 2002

To Read or To Write?

If my journal seems to miss some entries for the past two weeks, it's because I haven't written anything as of late. I might attribute that fact to hours of gaming, long hours of schoolwork, or even claim sickness. The fact of the matter is, I've been busy reading, reading, and doing more reading.

My enthusiasm for writing has always been rooted in reading. If it wasn't for all the books, magazines, and other forms of print media that I've read, I wouldn't even think of becoming a writer. The reason I took up Creative Writing as a course is because I want to improve my writing skills so that someday, I can live my life as a writer, hopefully not the starving type. I'll leave the writer part as vague since right now, I don't really know where I'll specialized in and the fact that a lot of writers I see in the Philippines are not tied down to one style of writing. I mean look at Krip Yuson: he's a poet, a journalist, and a teacher. Or Jessica Zafra who's a columnist and a fiction writer.

I think every writer will agree when I say this: you can't write well unless you've read well. Talent isn't something innate. It needs to be cultivated. In the case of writing, a person needs to read good stuff not only so that he gets the proper form but to get inspired as well. The English language has become second nature to me. I don't need to think if this is the proper conjunction or if the tense is wrong. All I need to do is read it aloud and see if it's a pain in the ear or not. Of course I know it's not perfect, which is why if I'm writing, I edit my work afterwards, but for the most part, this type of reading (and writing) suffices for me to identify correct grammar. I can only attribute this to hours of reading and listening to the television.

While writing with correct grammar is important, it's not as vital as having an imagination. What differentiates a good writer's work from that of an initiate is that the story they tell is compelling no matter how mundane the subject matter is (yes, reading all this must be boring you... I know I'm not a good writer). This is done through various techniques, even if it's unorthodox. That's where imagination comes in. I mean I was reading Dream Hunters, Neil Gaiman's collaboration with fantasy artist Yoshitaka Amano and I can't help but enjoy it. While the words he uses run deep, it's not as striking as the entire picture. Gaiman writers a lines of text in one page and beside that page is a full color illustration by Amano. Sometimes, text isn't even present. Or perhaps a better example is the Griffin and Sabine trilogy, wherein the books pop out at you and there's even a letter with souvenirs inside. It's not what you expect with a book but it tells a detailed and intriguing story. More important than enjoying it, I'm inspired by it. I'm motivated to make a similar masterpiece (i.e. untried, unique, experimental, etc...). It's the drive that makes me want to become a writer.

Of course desire isn't the same as action. I can get inspired all I want but if I don't act on it, it's not writing. Imagining or pondering is a better description but in modern society, there aren't careers for people who just keep on imagining and pondering (well, maybe not pondering? there are philosophers, after all). I can claim to be a writer but if I don't write, I'm not a writer.

This is when pulling me away from books becomes a problem. Undoubtedly, I love to read. I mean I also like to write but my need to read is stronger than my will to write. Usually, the only time I actually get to write is when there aren't any interesting books for me to read.

And that is what has happened for the past few weeks. I've been reading in the morning and reading in the evening. Since I need sleep, there's not enough time for me to read and write at the same time. Breaking away from the book I'm currently reading is next to impossible, unless it's another good book or book shopping.

Like most things in life, excessiveness of one thing is unhealthy. I must find the balance between reading and writing. I can't live life with "phases of writing" and "phases of reading". It would be a lot better for me if I managed to juggle the two. A writer who does not read stops growing. A reader who does not write is not a writer. I could have chosen English Lit. but I chose Creative Writing right? I need to write, not sporadically but consistently.