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Why Do We Have to Write About the Pandemic?

A One-On-One with Dr. San Luis, author of the COVID Chronicles

What inspired you to write a book around the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the early days of lockdown, there was nothing else to do: no clinic, no patients (wala pang teleconsultation noon!). I might as well do something; actually, the first poems were just my musings on the COVID situation.

How did you approach the challenge of capturing such a significant and evolving event in your writing?

As the situation evolved (looking to be a prolonged period of time with challenges in the economy, restrictions in society, and the deaths of friends and relatives), I thought of creating “glimpses” of people’s lives and how we deal with them. Especially with deaths reported (only reported as mere numbers, instead of actual names), I thought that the poems could be a tribute to the departed, whom I knew from social media or calls from friends and relatives.

Later on, with no let up on the worsening situation, I started tweaking articles from medical journals, news stories, and Viber messages, which I thought would be useful information to the general public if I could spin messages and layman-ize medical terminologies and jargon; thus, instructing readers on the state of what we were in. To better relate things, I used lyrics from songs from yesteryear and recent vintage to start off the poetry materials. Example: Cliff Richards’ song “Summer Holidays” would introduce the poetry of what we were missing during our hot summer with lockdown in place.

Can you share any personal experiences or anecdotes that influenced the direction of your book?

When I tested positive for COVID, even as I was entirely asymptomatic, I wrote some poems on what it meant to be “positive” to somehow relay to readers how to behave in such a situation. My thrust was always to be educational to others, with a series of poems (“Hi, I am COVID”) to make him more known to people as if a person; thus, I would refer to COVID as “dude” to make him more relatable to us.

What themes or messages do you hope readers will take away from your portrayal of the COVID-19 pandemic in your books?

For the three years that the “dude” was with us (2020-2023), he was an uninvited/unwanted visitor to our lives who would linger on, causing disruptions to normality and wreaking havoc on society and the economy, causing confrontations between or among medical sectors and pharma industries, the vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated, and those favoring treatments with unproven or repurposed drugs. The dude caused conspiracy theories to arise (“The Great Reset”), geopolitical maneuvers and agendas were floated about, and many other issues and strange occurrences and sequelae (“Long COVID”, mental health, etc.)

How did you navigate the balance between providing factual information about the pandemic and crafting a compelling narrative?

My medical and scientific sources were from reputable journals (J of Amer Med Ass or JAMA, New England J of Med); or publications (The Economists, Wall Street Journal), etc., whose data were unassailable. The tweaks I made to these articles I read were made with due acknowledgment of the authors. 

The turbulence of the Afghanistan evacuation and the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war became topics of some poems as they were compounded by COVID.

But it was the lyrics of music and dances that proved to be very material in crafting some of the poems (and made light of the dire situation). They were the soothing balm (so to speak) suitable to ease pain and suffering and to provide inspiration and uplifting of the spirit).

Lastly, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

My advice is to take stock of any situation and give it a new dimension. I initially entitled these poems merely “Thoughts on a Blank Mind” until they had grown enough in number that they no longer filled “a blank mind” but a universe of very diverse bits and pieces of information that would soon be structured. 

Aspiring writers would need to focus on something and let creativity run its course. Surely, there will be periods of aridity, just as there are times when the floodgates are released. The Latin phrase “Omnia possibilia sunt credenti” (All things are possible to him who believes) should guide anyone embarking on an initiative.

Get a copy of COVID Chronicles here: Volume 1 & Volume 2

Or why not catch Doc San Luis at the upcoming Philippine Book Festival on April 27, 4 pm? Limited copies are available at booth T40.

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