LIKE Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, playwright and poet Nicolas Pichay has his own double-personality to show.
At daytime, Pichay is a tough lawyer who uses logic and reason in studying jurisprudence, reading legal cases or conducting cross-examinations.
But when nightfall comes, Pichay turns into a rather fragile creative writer, possessed by words or child-like fantasies, enamored of nebulas of imaginary worlds and the ether of love’s fables.
Pichay said it takes a lot of discipline for a writer to detach himself from being a creative writer while doing his formal work.
“Before, even when I’m inside the courtroom, I cannot separate my being a lawyer from my being a creative writer. My imagination flows freely even during court hearings,”Pichay told the Varsitarian. “But eventually, I learned to set my mind that I am a lawyer during the day while at night I am a creative writer.”


A writer’s childhood
As a child, Pichay had a playful imagination. He dreamed of becoming a teacher, a lawyer, and a doctor someday.
“When we were young, we had different aspirations of what we wanted to be,”Pichay said. “I had my own childhood dream of becoming a writer.”
Pichay’s dream of becoming a writer was realized during his middle years in grade school.
During an English class, his teacher asked them to write an essay on a very hackneyed topic –about fathers.
When the teacher read Pichay’s essay, she was dumbfounded. The maturity of insights contained in the article made her suspect the young Pichay was not the one who wrote it.
“I was wondering why my classmates would write the same thing about fatherhood,”Pichay said. “I avoided the trap of writing the common things about my father by describing him at a different angle.”
True enough, his essay on his father opened doors to the world of creative writing. For the first time, Pichay found himself winning in a literary competition among elementary students. He won for the same essay about his dad.

In defense of art
After discovering his literary gift, Pichay’s parents enrolled him at the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling, Laguna.
The school had a lush and green vista of the Laguna mountains, and Pichay learned to develop his sense of observation and his style of writing.
After graduation, Pichay took a course in Theater Arts at the University of the Philippines (UP) – Diliman, where he was a scholar of National Artist Lucresia Kasilag.
Most of his works for the course were theater scripts, such as Ang Balutan ng mga Gamot at Pagkain, Uyayi ng Ulan, and a Tagalog translation of Calderon de la Barca’s Alcalde de Zalamea.
Pichay later became a fellow of the UP Writers Summer Workshop in 1982 and of the Dumaguete Writers Workshop in 1992.
After doing theater scripts and mounting plays, Pichay decided to take up law at the UP College of Law.
“We cannot deny that a writer earns little with his work,”Pichay said. “The only way for me to continue the things I love is to find another source to support myself.”
Despite the demands of law school, Pichay continued to write plays. He joined the Linangan ng Imahen, Retorika at Anyo, a poets’ group, and co-founded the Telon Playwrights’ Circle in 1987.

History and poetry
Pichay said his works have been influenced by Virgilio Almario, Wilfrido Nolledo and Vim Nadera. Some of those who greatly influenced him were his teachers at UP.
“It is always our professors and our teachers who influence and encourage us to do the things we wanted or we excel at,”Pichay said.
Critics said Pichay’s poetry is very sensuous. His poetry collection, Ang Lunes na Mahirap Bunuin, was published in 1993. It is composed of 39 poems mainly tackling the ordinary lives of people.
But it is as a dramatist that Pichay is best known.
In the 1998 Centennial Literary Prize, Pichay got the P1 million jackpot when his epic drama, Almanac of Revolution, about the life of Marcelo H. Del Pilar, won the grand prize for the zarzuela category. When the book was published, it won the National Book Award for drama.
Two of his works, Pangulo Naming Mahal and Psychedelia Apocalypsis, won the Don Carlos Palanca Award in 2004.

Surviving cancer
Last year, Pichay developed venereal heart disease. He underwent a triple heart by-pass and the operation was a success.
But shortly after, he was found to have colon cancer.
At first, Pichay could not believe it because he had made it sure to live a healthy lifestyle.
“I lived a moderate life. I never smoked; I regularly ate my greens and engaged in dutiful exercise. Yet I’ve been stricken with two deadly diseases,”he wrote in his blog article, “Stigma-Stigmata.””Under these circumstances, my cancer becomes a misterio—a stigma or a stigmata. Depending on one’s perception, cancer is either a reward for a life of blessedness or a punishment for a life of excess. Cancer leads the sufferer to a road to sainthood or to the front gates of derision.”
But Pichay did not lose hope. Instead, he turned to an unconventional treatment and therapy–writing.
“I would not waste my time feeling bad about my situation,”he said. “Instead, I would spend my time doing chores with my family, hanging out with my friends, writing scripts for plays, and composing poems.”
Pichay said that it was through his ailments that he discovered that intimacy with death has another emotional but familiar effect.
“Twice confronted by death’s proximity, I woke up to a world transformed into an inimitable, precious, and fragile place,”he said. “Each day burns itself into a vivid, sensoramic, techni-color memories. I become ecstatic at one moment and then sad at another.”
For Pichay, having cancer is like writing an exciting play or poem.
“Like performance art, or the horror movie, or your favorite telenovela, participants around a cancer story form expectations on what the definitive narrative must contain,”he said. “I anticipate the care I will receive from my relatives. I bask in their love. With friends, I will celebrate each day knowing that hope is a bridge being built everyday.”
Pichay said people should always stay strong despite the quandaries they face.
“Bravery is a virtue I am supposed to uphold as I fight this cancer into remission,”he said. “Although I know I am no saint, not even close to being a martyr, I look at my agony, not as a chance for heroism, but as my sweet dance with death.”
If there is any good brought about by his ailment, Pichay said it would be the opportunity to place one’s life on the right track.
“The best thing about being treated for cancer is the blessing that, in the interruption of normal life, one is forewarned,”Pichay said. “Having received a notice of a possible eviction, having cancer gives one the chance to write the dying scene.”
In a way, it could be said that Nicolas Pichay is his own best classic drama. L. J. D. Postrado

Montage Vol. 10 • December 2006


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