Lystra Aranal: Of right choices and last-minute decisions

Jerald T. Uy
RAPPLER profiles an 'accidental' winner at the last Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards

LYSTRA ARANAL (second from left) RECEIVING HER award at the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards last September 1 for her short story 'Bright Lights.' Photo by Richard Soriano Legaspi

MANILA, Philippines – Lystra Aranal juggles work and graduate studies in Fine Arts, so it is not hard to assume that she has lost touch with the outside world.

Add the fact that she cannot not write if someone invades her personal bubble — she writes best when everyone at home is asleep or when she has exiled herself in a quiet coffee shop surrounded by complete strangers.

“I have this weird thing where I feel like their thoughts are invading my brain and are muddling up the story I’m trying to write,” the 26-year-old writer confesses. “It’s almost like I can feel their brainwaves or something.”

But Lystra is neither a recluse nor a telepath.

She used to play guitar and sing for rock band “Fairlight Madison.” The web writer-editor-English teacher also supports her 13-year-old sister’s fanaticism with young adult fiction, although she hopes that one day her sister will eventually move on to other books and experience the pleasure of literary fiction.

Lystra also lets her family in on her writing exploits — sometimes. One instance is her first attempt in joining this year’s Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature where her short story Bright Lights landed 3rd place.

“Only my family and boyfriend knew I submitted something, and I had told them not to expect anything ’cause I was just using this year as a trial period. I just wanted to be able to say that I at least tried to send something in,” Lystra says.

Going back to the time she learned of the good news, Lystra recalls, “It (still) feels surreal. I actually cried out of happiness when I opened the letter. Well, not really cried; it was more like my body couldn’t decide whether I wanted to laugh or cry.

“So it was a lot of laughing and crying all at the same time.” 

Lystra says winning an award in the Palanca short story category was always something she told herself she should do one day. But she is quick to admit that winning a Palanca isn’t everything. 

“It’s just an award,” she says. “But it’s a great validation nonetheless.”

Creating Bright Lights

Her winning piece Bright Lights maps the tale of 3 generations thrust into the Filipino diaspora and how they deal with the distance placed between them.  

Writing and editing the story took two years from writing the first paragraph on April 2010, finishing its first draft on September 2011 to tweaking it to its current form around April this year. Lystra says she had a hard time editing and re-writing it because of the story’s non-linear structure.

“From start to finish, if you follow the story’s main timeline, nothing really happens to the main character, Aly. All she does is walk from the parking lot to her Lolo’s hospital room, and that’s it,” she says.

“So it was such a pain trying to make sure the story’s movement between time is seamless and necessary. I spent months moving paragraphs around, deleting things, re-writing huge chunks of text.”

Lystra admits that joining the contest was a last-minute decision. She actually decided not to submit anything a few days before the deadline because she felt the story was not ready.

She only felt satisfied about her story the day before the deadline, and that was when she decided to take a chance. She sent her story in.

“I somehow changed my mind — I’m a very indecisive person — and hastily sent it in. It tickles me when I think back on it now,” Lystra says.

Bright Lights is the story Lystra has worked on the longest and, until now, she cannot help but still tinker with it.

“I don’t think it’s perfect yet,” she says sheepishly.

A good choice

Lystra’s foray into writing came as an accident when she had to move back to the Philippines with her family after spending almost 14 years in Singapore.

When the Mass Communication course she was aiming to continue in De La  Salle University was closed, she randomly picked “Literature” from a course list and stumbled into reading and writing.

“Choosing Literature as my major exposed to me to the idea that I can possibly use writing as a way to reconcile the two countries I will always call home and the myriad of homes that I’ve lived in since birth.

“This idea of home and trying to fit-in in the Philippines is something I have been dealing with since college and even until now,” Lystra says.

She adds that she is always preoccupied with trying to map the diasporic way of life carved by her parents, and turns to writing to make sense of it all.

“So I guess my random choice worked out in the end,” Lystra says, with a mega-watt smile. – Rappler.com

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