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Pen, Paper, and the Pandemic Period

A Writer's Journey

Words by Karissa De Leon

“The essence of writing is listening to other people while telling a story at the same time.”

- Sofia Paderes

Meet Sofia Paderes, a fine arts graduate from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. Besides being a visual artist, musician, and dancer, the 24-year-old is also very passionate about poetry. Check out this TEDx talk from 2019 to learn more about her. CONVO decided to interview this exceptional writer to ask her about her inspirations and creative process.

During quarantine, Sofia managed to write poems with the help of a friend. Once every week, they would challenge themselves to create themed pieces, which they would exchange with each other afterward. While in isolation, she also joined an online writing workshop which really helped her improve her writing skills. 

In the workshop, Sofia wrote a piece called “Lumad Hymn”. Lumad is a Visayan term in the Philippines for “native or indigenous people”. Majority of Lumads live in Mindanao—an island in the Southern Philippines. These indigenous people suffer from discrimination, poverty, and different kinds of human rights violations. Additionally, because of their social status, they do not have substantial support from social services related to health and education. 

The poem was inspired by one conversation Sofia had with a few Lumad students while staying at the Lumad Bakwit School—a school created for refugees from the increasing militarization in Mindanao. After speaking with these students, Sofia realized that conversations have a way of not only bridging people, but also uprooting buried creativity. “I remember one of these Lumad students telling me that she does believe in God because of where she lives.” The Lumad girl said, “The world is too beautiful. It’s too detailed and well-designed to not have a creator. When I look at the stars, the mountains, the river in Mindanao—only a creator could put those things so perfectly and make it so beautiful.” Sofia recalled that she almost wanted to cry because the depth of realization was so deep. Sofia shared that the Lumad people have been oppressed for so long, yet they still chose to forgive those who persecute them despite everything that their people have been through. As her ideas ignited through the conversation, she expressed that Lumad people are best described as stars and constellations. 

People used stars and constellations to find their way home, so I used that as a metaphor for the Lumad people. For those who are trying to find ways to forgive, to love, or to have peace, they can look at the Lumad people and find it within them. They are the perfect example of it. They’re like constellations that lead you to forgiveness.

It was this realization that led Sofia to write “Lumad Hymn” which aims to communicate to the Lumad people. With this piece it somehow helps her to seek their welfare and safety amidst the pandemic. She knew she couldn’t visit them at UP or contact them easily. “Even if I do message them on Facebook, they don’t always have access to the internet. This is why everything that I wanted to tell them is going to that artwork—in a way that is creative, in a way that’s meaningful.” As much as the poem serves as a tool to communicate, it also honors the Lumads themselves. Sofia confessed that there is a responsibility on her end to present heavy topics such as indigenous oppression in a respectful and truthful manner.

Although she was able to create such a piece, Sofia admitted that she had difficulty writing during the quarantine. “That’s why I attended the writing workshop. I knew I needed something to push me.” At the time, she wasn’t planning to write anything about the Lumads yet. It was only when she was participating in the workshop when inspiration struck her. “Safia, my poet instructor and an American-Palestine based in the United States, gave us 20 minutes to write a poem for any group of people, may it be family, friends—anyone.” 

Sofia admitted that the entire creative process did not go as smoothly as she expected. Some days, she would feel unmotivated but forced herself to do a little bit every day, whether it be writing for 30 minutes or just drawing until something came out of it. “We can’t always expect that inspiration will strike anytime. We have to develop our craft little by little. I think that’s how I’ll overcome the challenges that come with the next poems that I write—to keep doing a little every day.” 

Later on in the interview, Sofia expressed her thoughts on the significance of writing as a form of art, especially during a crisis. 

For poetry, in particular, I realized that I don’t want to just be creative and metaphorical—I want to tell truths with my poetry. I don’t want to write pretty words just so that people would feel good. It’s easy to do that. Looking back, I used to just create a quote and put it on Pinterest, but I don’t want to write like that anymore. You have to be responsible for the gift that you’re given and use it to tell the truth, instead of giving people false hope or making them think that life is all okay all the time. It’s not. There’s a beautiful way to present hard or ugly truths.

Sofia also reflected on her philosophy when it comes to writing in general. 

The essence of writing is listening to other people while telling a story at the same time. Most captivating poems are pieces that a lot of people can relate to. If you want to be a good writer, you also have to be a good listener to other people’s stories. If you’re always trying to get your own story out there, it might be harder for people to connect with your writing. Try to be a good listener and incorporate other people’s stories to your own. By reading your poem, help people realize that they are not alone. 

As the pandemic continues, we encourage all our readers to remember that, even in a time of crisis, literature maintains the ability to convey powerful messages and nurture hope among others. It is an art that binds principles and beliefs regardless of race, sex, gender, and religion. Writing reminds each of us to be limitless and explore beyond the borders while maintaining respect for other cultures. To all aspiring writers, may your craft continue to inspire other people. We may all be isolated, but your creativity and passion to translate impactful stories into words connects us all. 

Facebook: Sofia Paderes

Twitter: sofiyichka

Instagram: @curiouslemonpie

Hello Poetry: Sofia Paderes

JULY 25, 2020