Over the years, I have acquired a liking for non-fiction, specifically Filipino non-fiction. Every trip to the bookstore includes a long, patient investigation of the Filipiniana section seeking a few surprises and some dose of Filipino non-fiction. I’m not sure how it began, maybe I started to acquire the taste via Bob Ong’s humorous essays and then strengthened by Ambeth Ocampo’s narration of National History that fostered in me a desire to read more. It is this taste and my unwavering habit of scanning the Filipiniana section that I found Rica Bolipata-Santos’ book of essays.
It was the combination of book cover art, synopsis and accolade that made me buy this book. The book cover is the artwork of the author’s sister (more on the artistic Bolipata family later). The synopsis read:
“In Lost and Found, Bolipata-Santos continues traveling the terrain of the mundane and domestic, still unafraid to find gravitas in the tiniest of experiences…Bolipata-Santos trains her eye on everyday things, using words to transform the ordinary into something revelatory.”
I’m a sucker for anyone who talks about the mundane and yet able to find wisdom in it. And lastly, the author won the Madrigal-Gonzalez Best First Book Award for her first collection of essay (not this book) with judges calling her work “provocative and well-shaped essays” as well as “luminous, little narrative.” Given this trifecta, I knew I had to get the book which I do not regret buying it at all, after having read it. I was, in more ways than one, captured by Bolipata-Santos’ ability to truly make everyday luminous.
The Human Experience
Bolipata-Santos’ essays are personal. The essays let us in her life, in her many roles as mother, daughter, wife, writer, and teacher. The experiences are hers, in a sense that the readers are but spectators in her struggles as a mother of a special child, or as the sister of a famous artistic family. Yet, as a reader, I found myself in these stories. I found myself nodding my head and recognizing familiar emotions. I suppose this is the success of Bolipata-Santos’ narratives. While they are her personal experiences, her writing touches on universal human experiences of love, relationships, loss, and faith. Our lives after all are filled with mundane things and when people talk about these mundane things we fall into the familiar. We are able to relate and connect. After all, humans falling in love with vampires or discovering themselves to be wizards or the missing child of a billionaire are fantasies that are but fillers to true human experiences. While these fantasies bring color to our lives, it is in the mundane that we seek a friend—someone who can understand what it means to be a mother, a wife, a lover, a friend, and a child.
Another thing that made me love this collection of essays is its honesty. The writer mulls over experiences and gives us her open hearted answers with equal doses of conviction and uncertainty. The books open to an essay entitled Because you asked. In this essay, the author tries to reply to the question: Why have children? In reply she writes:
“I am convinced that the desire comes when I am overwhelmed by love and it naturally spills over. Here, in bearing children, the crystallization of love complete. It begins with loving an equal. It becomes overpowering that the need to create becomes great. We all want to love, but imagine the kind of love you must learn to love your helpless, hapless creation…”
In another essay, entitled A Room of One’s Own, she tells her reader how she wanted to have her own room, her space that is only hers—not her husband’s and not her children’s. An unusual request in a culture that believes in giving everything up, even one’s own space for the children, so the writer explains:
“I don’t think I was put on earth to save my children. I don’t think I would be a good parent if I sacrificed myself for them. If anything, I think it teaches them to be afraid of the future. ..I want my children to watch me claim my own dreams so that they become brave to claim theirs. I want them to see me pursue my own dreams so that I never pass on and expect them to fulfill mine.”
There is truth to this and only in reading the whole essay do we capture its true context, I can only say that her individuality shines through here.
I do not do justice on her profound honesty with the two quotes I’ve pulled from her essays, but let me say this, Bolipata-Santos puts her thoughts and convictions out there. And while some may disagree with her, one cannot be angry at her. She does not force us to believe her, she allows us to consider and say “let’s agree to disagree” with sincere smiles on our faces.
A Perspective worth Considering
Finally, this collection of essays offers a perspective worth considering. I have great respect for people who talk of life’s realities with stories of their lives. It’s easy to preach, but to preach while baring one’s soul is not an easy task. I respect that the author talks of her experiences and the lessons she learned. Her life experiences bring credibility to her realizations, hence making the reader easily consider her perspective.
One such perspective is found in her Essay “Hope is the thing with Feathers” wherein she is asked to concretize how it feels to be a mother of a special child, in which she writes:
“…It feels as if a secret has been revealed intimately to me by the world. And unlike all secrets, it is delicious to know, but overwhelmingly difficult to keep to myself and painful to carry on my own…What is this secret that I can share with you? It is this: You don’t know how strong hope truly is, until you have truly battled with despair.”
And yes, while I nod to this statement, you may disagree with it, but needless to say it is a perspective worthy mulling on and considering.
The book is a treasure to have and to read. While it does cater to a female audience, given its perspective I feel it transcends gender. It speaks of life and in more ways than one it grasps at the marrow of it and we, as readers are invited to taste.
The author, Rica Bolipata-Santos comes from the artistic Bolipata Family. Her older siblings are the Bolipata brothers known for their musical talent, and her other sister is a painter (visual artist). She currently teaches in Ateneo de Manila University.