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It's a memoir, not an autobiography

By Joy Virata, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 26, 2022 5:00 am

I did it. I actually did it. Perhaps thanks to COVID-19—although it’s terrible to be thankful to COVID-19 for anything. So maybe thanks to being locked up for two years. But that doesn’t sound right, either. So maybe it was finally having the time to sit down and actually write. In reality, it gave me something to do to prevent myself from going batty!

It was also the encouragement of my daughter, Gigi, who consented to being my editor and who guided me through the maze of technology— primarily using Google Drive. I was amazed that I could write from where I was and then instantly get her comments or corrections from where she was. Until lockdowns began to lift, we never even saw each other! Now, I know this is no big deal to the present generation, but to one in my generation it was something just short of a miracle. It was a bit unnerving at first, since she was so fast to react, but I eventually got the hang of it.

Gigi also managed the final processing—getting the manuscript and the photos to the book designer, Edith Creus, in a more or less organized way, considering I went a bit wild with the photos. It took me longer to look through and choose photos dating back more than a hundred years than to write the memoir.

It started a couple of years ago when I was advised that it would be better to write about something that would require less research.

When the first sample came from the printer, I was aghast at how thick it was. Gigi said, “Mom, you had so many photos. Anyway, you can say your book is bigger than Dad’s book (Cesar’s biography written by Gerry Sicat).” That’s my daughter's sense of humor. Cesar’s book is approximately five inches thick. (I exaggerate, but just a bit.)

I also asked Gigi to write the foreword and this is how she began: “We are a family of uncommon reserve. Our deepest thoughts and feelings are not easily shared with one another. So, for my father, this book was a real eye-opener.”

Now, that’s one great “hook” of a beginning. Cesar did read the first four chapters and asked to read bits here and there—I think to make sure I wasn’t being too creative, as he often thinks I am. He’s been a bit wary since I took a course in creative nonfiction. But despite this, he continued to encourage me to write it, even if at times I was unsure if it would be worth reading.

And, as always, in all my shenanigans, he put his resources behind the project and became the unofficial publisher.

When the first sample came from the printer, I was aghast at how thick it was.

Writing this (by the way, I call it a memoir not an autobiography because I read that autobiographies are for the really famous and memoirs are for the not so) was actually fun!

It started a couple of years ago when I was advised (in an online writing class) that, as a first attempt, it would be better to write about something that would require less research than what I was attempting (a historical novel). So I dug up photos and letters and newspaper articles, read other biographies, read a few books on memoir writing, and the memories started coming.

I’d always wanted to write about my mother, so that pretty much formed the first part. Then there were the growing-up years, then marriage and family, then, of course, the “government years,” and then my theater years, which my sister and my daughter agreed was too long, and so I divided it up, and finally my “gift” years—years beyond the standard 70 years. I couldn’t help but include my lovely children in this part. Also included are some of the articles I wrote for this column, upon the urging of Millet Mananquil, that pertain to my family.

So now I’m finally launching the book. I was hesitating to do a launch thinking I would just quietly gift friends with it, but my husband said no, we needed to have a proper launch.

So we’re having one. I’ve asked Dr. Jimmy Laya to do a reading from the first part, my co-actor and friend Jaime del Mundo to read from my theater days, and Grace Koo, who guides my spiritual reading and is a member of Union Church of Manila, as I am, to read from the third part. We’re serving scones with clotted cream and jam and tea, and bibingka, pancit and coffee in celebration of my mixed parentage.

Oh. The book is titled Just Me.