Exercise #1: Opening Lines

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. He caught a whiff as he was walking along 4 Avenue, right by the decades-old bakeshop that prides itself for being the only vegan bakery in town. Vegans, he thought. Stupid vegans.

But she was vegan, that girl. It was two years ago when they parted. He used to blame it on her decision to stop eating meat and on his adamant refusal to drink the “cruelty-free” milk that she made by soaking almonds overnight and calling the slimy muck her “dairy alternative.” Some days she used the word “substitute” — to replace, to switch, to change.

Ah, vegans. Stupid, crazy vegans.

Call me Jonah. My first name is Sebastian but I go by Jonah, my middle name. Sebastian is a mouthful, and everybody calls me Jonah save for the octogenarian receptionist at work, the middle-aged ladies in the bank, and the presumably fresh-from-college phone operators who remind me to pay my student loans every month.

“Hi, this is Anna speaking from Oz Financial and this message is for Sebastian Lee?”

Damn, I wonder how so many people — women, especially — talk like they’re always asking a question? Sebastian, I’d like to remind you of your overdue balance for June? It amounts to $560.75 including interest? If you have any questions, Sebastian, you may call us at this number?

No, Anna, I do not have questions. Yes, I will try to pay the balance soon as I could. And since it will take twenty more years to pay off my loans, please — call me Jonah.

She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance. She sees him running towards her, his short legs sprinting in tiny little steps. He’s four now, turning five in six months and three days, but in her mind she freezes this image: him forever four, forever three-foot tall, forever excited to see and give his mum an embrace.

“Mommy,” he calls her, and he throws his scrawny arms around her thighs.

She smiles, leans down, and hugs him back. “Jonah,” she responds. “How was your day, hun?” #

I found this writing exercise here. The instructions were fairly simple: grab a book and write down its first line. Do not read any further. Just set a timer to five minutes and start writing whatever you can think of.

Five minutes was too short for me so I decided to use three lines from three different books on my table. Each first line was from these novels in order: Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.

I did minimal editing to fix the typos but that’s about it. There may be grammar mistakes — I’m not too solid on the rules, sorry — but I otherwise enjoyed doing this exercise. Reading what I wrote gave me the impression that I may have sounded a little anti-vegan. Part 2’s last line also seemed like a cop-out (time pressure bes!), and the entire third part was already tainted, nay burdened, by the previous two narratives. Constructive feedback is of course always welcome.

And in any case, I hope some of you could give this writing practice a try. It’s quick good fun, I tell ya.


  1. rAdishhorse

    Gusto ko yung 1 at 3 (siguro masyado lang “foreign” sa’kin yung idea ng “student loans”, hahaha). Sinubukan kong basahin yung “Cholera” (si Juan Flavier ang naiisip ko sa word na ‘to) dati, hindi ko kaya, di ko kinayang tyagain. Binili ko yung libro actually (asan na kaya yun). May nabasa din ako dati (pero di ko na natapos), parang may magic realism din, yung Lila ang Kulay ng Pamamaalam, baka or malamang nabasa mo na.

    Thanks, subukan kong i-try to. hehehe.. hirap kasi mag intro.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      Ang foreign nga n’ung 2, mula sa middle name na pangalan din, sa patanong na intonation (valley girl accent yata ang tawag), hanggang d’un nga sa student loans. Sarap i-edit pero that would defeat the purpose haha.

      Hindi ko pa nababasa ‘yung Lila, hehe. At gawin mo ‘to dali na! Paspasang exercise lang naman, hehe. 😀


    1. Jolens

      Talaga buh? Isa si Gabo sa mga paborito kong writer ever. Kaya nag-aaral akong mag-Spanish para mabasa ko ang original texts niya haha.

      Uy, gawin mo rin ‘to baks please! Mabilis lang o, five minutes lang tapos may first line ka na! Hehehe. 🙂


    1. Jolens

      Dito-dito lang din sa WordPress. Huhu, ba’t nawala ang feelings? Baka masaya ka kaya gan’on, char. Usually ‘yung mga nagsusulat ‘yun ‘yung mga masyadong maraming time mag-emote e, charot huhu.

      Liked by 1 person

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