“Like your bedroom, your writing room should be private, a place where you go to dream… the space can be humble, and it really needs only one thing: a door you are willing to shut.”
“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.
There are better writers than me out there, there are smarter writers, there are people who can plot better – there are all those kinds of things, but there’s nobody who can write a Neil Gaiman story like I can.”
“I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.”
Dear Miss Jones,
I am writing you this letter to assure you that there is absolutely nothing in this house you should fear.
Please allow me to explain:
1. I did not topple that porcelain vase in the foyer that evening. You forgot to close the window before you went up to bed and, consequently, a strong gust of wind knocked it down from the table and broke it to pieces. I don’t blame you in the least. You looked exhausted when you entered the house that night. Your concert must have really worn you out. I understand you completely;
2. I am not responsible for the creaking sounds you hear in the corridor at night. My house, or rather your house – for this dwelling is now legally yours – is, as you are well aware, made almost entirely of hardwood and is extremely old. It contracts and expands according to the weather;
3. The noises you hear at night are not “voices” or “whispers” but are rather the crackling of the leaves in the trees outside, and the sounds you described as “sinister laughter” or “perverse groaning” are in fact the cries of wild beasts that are to be found aplenty in the forest beyond the courtyard;
4. As a rule, I do not play the pianoforte whenever you are around. I always make sure that you are out of the house whenever my mood moves me to play a few sonatas. I am fond of those pieces for they remind me of my childhood and of my dear mother. Perhaps what you hear when you arrive home are the faint echoes of the notes I have generated in the morning. Let me promise you that from now on, I will only limit my time at the pianoforte to half an hour, so that the music will not linger far into the evening;
5. You might have detected the faint scent of flowers and candles in the library. Do not be alarmed by them, my dear madam. My sister, Maria, was fond of collecting roses, lilacs, and lilies when she was still a little girl. She kept them tucked between the pages of her letters and she sealed them with candle wax. You can find them on the top shelf of the bookcase behind my, or rather your, desk. I don’t object to you perusing them – my sister’s letters and collection of flowers, that is; and I don’t think she would mind it either if you will take a look at them – but I don’t think it would be very prudent for you to go up the wooden ladder. In fact, I strongly advise you against it, for the ladder is very old and might break. I worry for your safety;
6. The sensation that woke you up that particular evening – the feeling of being touched lightly in the cheek – has, alas, a supernatural cause. I am terribly sorry to confirm your suspicions. The truth is, my sister is very fond of you, and despite my explicit warnings never to disturb you or cause you alarm or distress, she still went and sat by your bed. I was in the study when I heard your screams. She is such a careless and headstrong girl! But let me assure you that she meant you no harm at all. She only wanted to comfort you and keep you company for, she told me, you appeared sad and lonely that night. However, that does not excuse her. She promised me never to do it again;
7. I assure you, madam, that I am fully aware of your right to privacy. I therefore conduct my daily affairs with that in mind. I never ventured, nor do I have any plans of venturing, into your bedroom, bathroom, and powder room. I never trespass into people’s private spaces. It is true that I can pass through walls, but I can’t see through them, so there is no reason to worry. I also keep my distance at all times. I make sure that I am never less than 20 feet away from you at any given moment. Whenever you are in your studio, I stay in the foyer. Whenever you are in the foyer, I stay in the living room. Whenever you are in the living room, I stay in the veranda. Whenever you are in the veranda, I stay in the library. Whenever you are in the library, I go back to the foyer, or else I take a walk in the garden under the moonlight and come back before daybreak;
8. Here, however, I am going to confess to a real sin, madam: the “clapping” sounds which you suspected you heard just the other day in the studio were indeed “clapping” sounds, and the exclamations of “bravo, bravo!” which immediately followed them were indeed exclamations of “bravo, bravo!”. You see, I am a great admirer of your music. I have been admiring you since your first album came out and I have been following your career ever since. How long has it been, 14 years? So great was my joy, therefore, when I found out that my heirs managed to sell the property to no less than Norah Jones herself! It was just as it should be for I would not have allowed them to sell this house to anyone else. Were you surprised to find your vinyl records in the library when you moved in here? I obtained them a few years ago from a nearby record store. I value them like I value my rarest collection of books. Anyway, your rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” that night was masterful and I couldn’t help but praise you for your performance. It was simply superb! You made the song your very own. You have a way of owning every single song you decide to sing or cover. If I loved your music and talent any less, I would have been less effusive in expressing my admiration. In fact, if I had not been bound by all of these restraints, I would have been more vocal in complimenting you. I am more into classical music myself – Wagner, Bach, Mozart, and their contemporaries – but ever since you came into this house, I have come to appreciate and even love blues and jazz music. You see, I lived before Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, and Aretha Franklin were even born, so jazz music was unheard of in my time. I absolutely understand why you “freaked out” (your term) and stormed out of the house when you heard my voice and my clapping that night. My deepest and sincerest apologies, madam. I assure you that the next time you decide to sing a song or record a tune, I will keep my mouth closed. I will only admire you in silence. Your singing is the one thing I look forward to hearing every single day;
9. And I am going to admit to another thing. I am the reason why your beau, the bass player, left you. I can see through any person’s character and he clearly was a sleazy kind of individual. I saw that right away when he first set foot in this house. It was too obvious that he was only after your body, not your mind and your soul. A real gentleman conducts himself with strict propriety. It was thus highly improper of him to visit you even though you do not have a chaperone. And it was highly imprudent, and I daresay quite shocking, of him to tempt you to kiss him in the driveway and elsewhere in the house. Finally, it was absolutely scandalous, if not downright immoral, of him to seduce you. Marriage was far from the scoundrel’s mind, and it is my belief that a man and a woman can really only rightly consummate their love for each other if they do it within the context of the sacrament of matrimony. But let us not speak of love for I penetrated through his heart and did not see love there. I only saw lust and an insatiable appetite for pleasure. His motives were impure from the very beginning. Hence, I drove him away. Just as he was leading you by the hand into his bed chamber, I appeared in front of him as a macabre reflection in the mirror, and I contorted my face in such a way as to give him a very good fright. My impersonation of Count Dracula must have been convincing for he jumped up right away even before he could unzip his pants. He dashed out of the house through the kitchen door so I teleported down the driveway and met him there. He was beside himself with terror. I warned him, in a tone of voice at once ghoulish and sinister, that if he did not want me to haunt him for the rest of his life, he better not return here or make any attempt to reach or contact you. My dear madam, I do not at all regret what I did. I believe I saved you from a relationship that would have given you nothing but misery. You deserve a better man.
Madam, is it true what I overheard? Do you really wish to resell the house? This news fills me with the profoundest grief. This house won’t be the same without you. The bedrooms, study, library, foyer, living room, drawing room, sitting room, veranda, courtyard, and garden will be haunted by your absence. I beg you, kindly reconsider your plan of leaving. I am sure that this is all just a matter of misunderstanding. Forgive me for saying so, but I believe you are being too hasty in wishing to relocate to a new residence, considering that your stay here has not exceeded a month. The house will grieve if you will insist on going away. Maria, too, will grieve. I will grieve. And eternity shall pass us by once more. Eternity is such a long time and I cannot bear to go through it without you.
Diego Lopez del Fuego
Dearest Norah, please forgive me, but I now have to be liberal in expressing my feelings. I will miss you terribly if you will go away. I will miss the sound of your smoky, languid voice. I will miss your singing. What will become of this house without your music? I will miss your pianoforte, your Wurlitzer, and your guitar. I will miss your jazz records. And although I can no longer eat food, I will still miss the smell of your cooking. The kitchen has gotten used to the aroma of your unusual recipes. I will miss seeing you brush your long hair in my mother’s dresser. My parents’ portraits that are hanging on the walls always looked at you with the highest admiration and approval. I will miss hearing your steps in the stairs and hallways. There is always a musical quality to the sound of your heels when you walk or when you run. I will miss your laughter. I will miss your shadow. I will miss your very presence.
God knows there are still many things I want to say. For instance, the garden will wither away without a lady to look after them, and even if I could take care of them myself, what good will the sight of roses bring me? One eventually tires of looking at roses, whereas no one can ever tire of looking at you. I never tired of gazing at you, Norah.
My dear, dear Norah. I am a terrible liar. The truth is, I simply cannot live without you. That may sound strange — me saying that I cannot live if you will go away — considering what I am. But it is true. I cannot live without you. I will literally pass away again, and pass away every day, if you will leave. I am not ashamed to confess that I have been weeping since I heard the news yesterday. Yes, people like me do weep.
Dearest Norah, is there anything I can do to convince you to stay? If you’re not comfortable with 20 feet, I can increase the distance between us to 30 feet. If you’re worried that you might hear my voice again, I can go as far as 50 feet. If you’re totally not comfortable with me looking at you, I can banish myself up the attic and stay there for as long as you want. It will be most painful for me not to see you, but it will bring me consolation to know that we still live under the same roof.
My dearest Norah, are all of the above to your liking? Please let me know soonest. I am most anxious to hear your reply. Is it too much to ask you to dine with me tonight? I won’t be eating, of course, but I would love to prepare for you a modest dinner of paella, filete de cerdo, and escabeche, with a bottle of vino tinto. Maria is excited to play the violin for you.
*An earlier version of this story appeared in this blog several weeks ago.
Woohoo! I’m so happy. Just got published in the Opinion section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer for the first time. The write up (“What if there is no God?”) appeared last October 10 and has been shared in social media almost 80 times.
It was his girlfriend who first introduced him to Norah Jones. The year was 2002 and they both were working for a BPO company.
“Listen to this,” his girlfriend said to him one day, and she inserted a cassette tape into the player of his car. They had just finished their shifts and were on their way to get some breakfast. Outside, it was still a bit dark, but the sun had begun to rise in the horizon.
When the music began playing, he listened. Norah Jones’ voice captured him the moment he heard it. It was smooth, languid, and smoky, like a breath of fresh air. He smiled and rolled down the window to let in the scent of the morning. Everything looked and felt new and beautiful.
He borrowed the tape from his girlfriend and played it as often as he could: He played the tape every night in the car on his way to the office. He played the tape every morning when he and his girlfriend would look for a place to eat. And he played the tape at home when he was alone. In fact, he played nothing but Norah Jones wherever he was and whatever he was doing. He listened to her when he washed the dishes, did the laundry, read a book, clean the car, buy the groceries, pay the bills. Pretty soon, the lyrics stuck to his memory and he would hum along to every song, often adjusting his voice so that it could “blend” with Norah Jones’ voice. He wasn’t a singer, not by a long shot, but it pleased him to hear his voice merge with her voice.
He played Norah Jones so much that it began to annoy his girlfriend.
“Can we play something else, please?” she said in an agitated tone one afternoon. And she would switch the radio to an FM station without waiting for his reply.
Norah Jones also almost always came up in their conversations.
“Did you know that Norah Jones is half-Indian?” he would ask his girlfriend. Or, “Did you know that her father is the famous sitar player Ravi Shankar? Did you know that she’s only 21? Did you know that she has sold more copies of her album in a year than any other female artist in a decade? Did you know that so far she’s won 5 Grammys? Did you know that she used to wait on tables? Don’t you find her low-key, down-to-earth, self-effacing, and modest manner very intriguing?” And other such questions.
“Do you know how sick I am of Norah Jones?” his girlfriend finally told him one day. “That’s right, I’m sick of her. I’m so sick of her. I’m tired of hearing her name and you talking about her over and over again.”
Then she looked at him squarely in the face. “Norah Jones is getting in the way of our relationship. You must make a choice right now. Either you lose her or you lose me.”
And that’s how he lost his girlfriend. But he did not stop listening to Norah Jones. In fact, he listened to her even more frequently. If there’s such a thing as comfort food, she was his comfort music. He especially clung to her after the break up. Those were the darkest months of his life and Norah Jones pulled him through it. He would play her album over and over again, even in his sleep, so that Norah Jones invaded his dreams.
He would dream that he was riding her 1971 Cadillac, the very car you see in one of her music videos. He would glance at Norah Jones and he would see the locks of her hair blowing in the wind. And he would remark, “I love your great tumble of black hair.” And Norah Jones would move her lips and sing, “Come away with me in the night…” And his answer would always be, “Yes, yes, yes, Norah, I’ll come away with you.” She would continue, paying him no attention, “Come away with me and I will write you a song…” And he would exclaim, “Oh, yes, oh, yes. That would be great. Please write me songs, Norah.” And she would sing on with her smoky twang, “I wanna walk with you on a cloudy day, in fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high, so won’t you try to come?” And he would answer even more excitedly, “Oh yes, I will come. Wherever you like, fields, mountains, seas, I’ll go there with you. Just tell me.” And he would then wake up.
He followed her career over the years. She made more albums and he bought them all. He watched her Youtube videos and kept track of her interviews and public appearances.
He really only had one great desire in life, and that is to meet Norah Jones in person. He had no idea how this is supposed to happen considering that he’s at least 10,000 miles away from her. She lived halfway across the globe, and there seemed to be little to zero chance that she will ever visit his country for a concert. All he really wanted was to hear her live, then somehow see her up close and shake her hands, and then have a photo taken with her so that in the future he will have proof that none of it was a dream, that it really happened, that he really did meet her, that he even shook her hand, and she shook his, and he felt her hand, and they exchanged words; it was so fleeting but he really met her and he heard her voice and she heard his and he was brimming with joy, and here’s the proof.
But he knew that none of that is ever going to happen. However, he was free to daydream.
Fourteen years passed. He became more mature and therefore less dreamy and romantic. He never married for the trauma of losing his girlfriend never left him. It was still there inside him, gnawing at him like a black hole. He still listened to Norah Jones every now and then, but the playlist of his life now included musicians Norah Jones herself considered as her heroes: Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan.
Then one day, while browsing through one of Norah Jones’ social media page, he came across a post. She was at her house and she was inviting her fans to send her requests so that she may play some of her songs through Facebook Live. This was to thank them for supporting her just-released new album. He almost choked with excitement. He jumped at the chance and sent her a message asking if she could play an old track of hers. His message traveled electronically across the globe and reached her smartphone almost instantaneously. It was one among thousands of requests which poured in that day. And this is what happened next:
The light particles from the afternoon sun which entered Norah Jones’ window at her house in New York City bounced off every solid surface and illuminated her room. There were thousands of other messages in her smartphone screaming for her attention but somehow her eyes fell on his message in particular. She trained her eyes on his message and the light particles bounced off the letters of his name and entered her corneas. The light particles then passed through her pupils and were “caught” by the lens inside her pupils. They then went straight to her retinas and her retinas sent impulses to her optic nerves. The optic nerves then carried the impulses to her brain and there images of his name were created. She must have seen his name in her head. Oh, how he wanted to dwell there in her head for a few moments longer. How he longed to linger there and sift through the contents of her mind. It must have been filled with words, images, and musical notes. She must have tons of songs stashed away there, pieces she hasn’t sung in public, tracks she hasn’t even recorded. But a fraction of a second later, her brain shot his name to her vocal cords signaling them to enunciate his name.
Then, gloriously, his name vibrated down her larynx, tumbled luxuriously on the surface of her tongue, and joyfully, albeit unwillingly, escaped her mouth and lips, riding ecstatically upon the gust of her breath.
This is what she said, exactly: “This next song is from my third album,” and she peered into the sheet of paper on her piano, “it’s called My Dear Country and it’s requested by Darcy Gomez from the Philippines.” She then paused and looked at the camera and said, “Well, Darcy, I don’t know if you’ve experienced election fatigue in your country, but here we do. This song has been on my mind lately.”
She then placed her fingers on the keys of her piano and sang him the song he requested. The notes which flew from her lips were detected by the mic in her smartphone, and it then sent electronic signals across world, which then ended up in his smartphone. Her notes then jumped from his smartphone and shot to his ears and into his brain.
He stared at the video and couldn’t believe it. Is this really happening? he asked himself. Did she really mention my name and address me? He pressed the rewind button and played the video again. Then he did it again and got the same result. Joy welled up inside him and he laughed. It was the most surreal and magical thing that’s ever happened to him. He felt like he was in Norah Jones’ living room and she was giving a private mini-concert for a handful of people and he handed her a note with his request. Or it felt like reading a fairy tale book and the princess suddenly popped out of the book and called him by name.
Her performance lasted for only 3 minutes, but those 3 minutes were addressed to him and therefore belonged to him and him alone. Those 3 minutes took only a tiny fraction of her time but no one can ever undo it. Those 3 minutes are irreversibly, irrevocably, and eternally his.
He smiled. He may never have a photo taken with Norah Jones, but he has something way better. He may never actually shake her hand, but his name passed through her eyes, mind, and lips. You can’t get any closer to Norah Jones than that, he told himself.
Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! My wildest dream just came true! No, I did not get to see Norah Jones live in a concert and meet her in person. But I got the next best thing: Norah Jones was at her house a few days ago, and to thank her fans for supporting her latest album, Day Breaks, she gave them the chance to request songs which she could play via Facebook Live. I left a comment, and out of the hundreds of requests which poured in, she picked mine, along with 4 others, and she played it! Live! At her home! With her home piano! And she even mentioned my name and addressed me! (I really lost it: My favorite artist and singer of all time enunciated my name!) It was the most mind-blowing, surreal, and magical thing that’s ever happened to me. It was like watching a private mini-concert with Norah Jones. What a blessing. I felt like I won the lottery 3 times in a row.
Here’s the video:
So, thank you, Norah! I still wish I’d meet you in person someday.
“The most important thing in writing is to have written. I can always fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.”
”The man who is lost in his passions is less lost than the man who has lost his passion.”