The narrator of “Penmanship” is a man madly in love in the art of writing. It is through entering the enchanting world of pen and paper that he is able to face the complexities of reality like social cancer (corruption), violence (murder) and fiery emotions (love) with strength and confidence. He could feel “a twinge of sorrow” every time he mails a letter because he had voluntarily given away a part of himself. I think for him (and may I boldly include everybody else who writes) that every word is carefully chosen to project, be it hinted or open for others to see, the personality, character and experience that molded him into becoming who he is at the present of writing.
There are similarities with Jose Dalisay’s life and that of the narrator in “Penmanship”. According to the book cover of “Penmanship and other stories”, Dalisay was described as “the most prolific Filipino writer of his generation” same as the narrator who loves to write a lot. It can be found there too that Dalisay is currently teaching “English and Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines, where he also serves as Associate for Fiction of the UP Creative Writing Center, like the penman who was once a teacher. There was also the mention of an old fountain pen, clerk, coffee, and cigarettes that can be verified to have an association with Dalisay in his book compilation of essays, “The Best of Barfly”. He was an enthusiastic collector of fountain pens that he uses and describes very much the same way as his protagonist in
“Penmanship” does. Dalisay’s mother on the other hand had worked as a postal clerk while his father did odd jobs to support his schooling. The caffeine drank during coffee breaks is the author’s way as well of getting a recess from the land of imagination and be snapped back to reality. Like Nora, he had his cigarettes and is now already a reformed smoker who treats the occasional cravings as mere nightmares.
The narrator’s encounter with Nora was a terrible one. She only used him and destroyed his writing principles in the process. She let his emotions for her grow so she can use it to get him to be an unsuspecting accomplice who will write the lies she weaved about herself for a certain Mark (probably an ex-lover) whom she wishes to instill guilt for leaving her. The deed totally upset him. The poor penman had his heart broken again into pieces and now with a sullied principle to go with. He was filled with “filthy hurt and “felt overcome with precious feelings”. The only way for him to release those pent-up emotions from the burdening lies he had absorbed is through his pen, which already felt heavy with words waiting anxiously to be written.