Candy Villanueva-Lykes is an international travel and lifestyle writer. This Bacolod-born lady, who is an expert on journeys, has edited and/or contributed to asianTraveler Magazine, Lifestyle Asia Travel, Speed, Rektikano Magazine, and many more. She continues to write for leading international travel and leisure publications while living in Oklahoma City with the dashing Mr. Lykes, watching their son Finn grow up. Read more about her adventures from her website: Ana Viajera – Tracing My Literary Footprints
Mrs. Lykes did not strike me as someone who would have a lasting impact on my life the first time I met her, back in graduate school at De La Salle University, about five, six years ago. The cruel, ghetto girl I was back then was terribly close-minded, and I silently measured her from the outset – rich girl, from a rich family, only daughter, princess.
That judgment was initially reinforced after I heard her read in non-fiction class her childhood memoir. She wrote about growing up in Bacolod, in her lawyer-father’s house, surrounded by older brothers, with whom she had to compete for the best sunny-side-up fried egg on the dining table, every morning during breakfast. She wrote about the family’s fancy car. She wrote about riding that car to school. Ah, princess rides a grand carriage every day across hacienda land, good for her, I thought – so? What earth-shaking truth about that good life of hers could be worth the bother?
All my gall was shushed only once I heard our professor, the great Cirilo Bautista, along with the other poets in the class, discuss the imagery of what she wrote, something I failed to immediately see because I was too busy judging her.
She wrote that as the years went on, while growing up in that grand country house, she started noticing how the race for the best sunny-side-up egg was becoming a no-contest, because her competitors, her brothers, began disappearing from the breakfast table one by one, as they one by one moved to Manila for college. She wrote about her feelings of loss, seeing that table slowly emptied, and how she missed her brothers. She wrote about not caring about eating the best sunny-side-up eggs anymore, and her willingness to waive that privilege if only to have the company of her brothers back.
Mornings, breakfast, eggs, beginnings, departures, movement, heartache, coming-of-age, growth. Princess sees the poems in her life, alright.
I listened to her from then on.
* * *
Mrs. Lykes, then editor-in-chief of asianTraveler Magazine, gave me my break in journalism and professional travel/lifestyle/art writing in January 2009. My first assignment was to cover a feast in Paete, Laguna, and write about the town’s famous sculpture heritage. Soon after that, she was sending me to review five-star hotels and restaurants, and luxury white sand beach resorts.
Was something wrong with this editor, entrusting such high-end assignments to someone from the ganglands of Sampaloc? Apparently, none, in fact, during those times that I’d wax mushily unworthy of her faith, she brushed off my sappy trip with something like, “Come on, knock it off, I’m giving you the assignment ‘coz you write okay enough for me not to have a headache while editing!”
The princess made sure I get the lessons right through my hard head, and these lessons covered almost everything from writing to reporting. These are lessons you do not learn even from writing school, but can only be gleaned from a seasoned practitioner.
My first two biggest writing lessons from her would have to be: (1) easy on the metaphors, and (2) not to ever, ever submit to her a travel piece beginning with “I arrived at the airport…”.
The latter is quite self-explanatory. Though I never actually gave her an article opening with an airport scene, and not once even considered doing so (because I thought that would reflect laziness), she was quick to remind me, “Please spare me that!”. Be in the midst of events, in the heat of action, in real time, she would say. “Unless there’s something extra-ordinary that happened in the airport, related to the subject destination, I don’t want to hear about you at the airport, please,” I remember her pleading. It’s the craftswoman in her at work, applying the mode of in medias res on the features, and expecting her pool to be capable of following suit. It was a great technique, and gave immediacy and vibrancy to the features.
On taking it easy on the metaphors, she simply reminded me to be conscious about our readers, as she is aware of my tendency to imply parallels, or allude. She would remind me along the lines of, “We have readers, and they don’t have time to decode your symbols – what they got is big bucks to spend on travel and glossies that can tell them where to go.” She was not curtailing her writers’ voices – on the contrary, she encouraged/imposed the first person point-of-view writing for the magazine, to ensure the character of every piece. She only knew just when to tighten the leash for anyone who self-indulges at the price of benefitting the reader. Practicality! Should be automatic, actually, for someone who used to hold luxurious the mere act of eating at a pares joint that has servers wading off any creature that flies, or serves drinking water with ice.
Then there was that meeting I had with our publisher, for which the tips she gave still serve me to this day, and are equally applicable whenever I meet up with clients and high-profile interviewees. What she said was along the lines of: “Jeniper, don’t wear slippers, don’t carry your backpack, and put on a dress, and make up!”
Was my editor being superficial? Was she thinking of our job as no more than an exercise of having to put up appearances before each other? Her explanation of those seemingly banal tips give unique insights on what the physical appearance of the writer can signify to the client – a writer who has self-respect and respect for the interviewee, a writer who values the trust of her publisher by representing the publication with a professional look, a writer who loves her work more than her punk ego.
Her hand at my make over exceeded choices in apparel, as she constantly reminded me not to slouch and to do away with the use of street language. It made me laugh without fail whenever she’d ask me how I plan to get home after visiting her at her condo, and I’d answer her with, “Mag-si-sitak na lang siguro ‘ko.” It always sent her off into her litany of how I should start shedding my kanto girl stance, because if I don’t, a kanto boy is exactly what I’ll end up attracting in life. I used to sometimes argue that I don’t mind having a kanto boy, as long as he’d be a great poet. The princess easily debunked me by simply asking, in her usual sharp but sweet tone, “Talaga lang ah?” Truth is, she’s right, I don’t want a kanto boy who romanticizes poverty and wallows into being destitute, I’ve had enough hardships in life, I need a break. I prefer a man who wishes to provide and share with me the good life. A prince? I don’t know, but definitely more than the “astig sa kanto”.
Oh, the slouching, let’s not forget that. She hated how I slouched, but understood how it can be a hard habit to break, because she used to slouch too. “You got great shoulders, show it off!” she tells me. So what she does is remind me to straighten up from time to time. To this day, she never fails to still text me from out of the blue, all the way from Oklahoma: “Back straight!” There are lots of instances when I’d receive these messages while I am writing, and I would immediately straighten up before replying to her, “Thank you!”
There may be those who would find these too much already, a thirty-something woman still taking posture tips and G.M.R.C. lessons from a friend, but that’s exactly why everything she says to me in the form of advice is no longer seen by me as advice – we have become friends. This means when I receive her “Back straight!” text message at 3 a.m., I no longer read it as “Back straight!”. I read it as a telegram from a friend, oceans away from me, over at the comforts of her Oklahoma paradise, saying, “I remember you still.”
* * *
I was at first bummed when it dawned on me that Mrs. Lykes’ departure from the Philippines may be for good. Of course she’d still come back and work for Philippine publications, but her marrying Mr. Lykes entailed that her base would have to be Oklahoma City from then on. One of our writer friends, Althea Ricardo, tried comforting everyone by pointing out that we’re not really losing Mrs. Lykes, and her departure even meant that now, “we have one of our own out there”. Our trailblazing friend was setting the precedent for us, and as Althea would say, it’s raising the group’s average. So, from moping, I just imagined her cutting big time projects for big international publications such as Random House, or Viking Press, and writing/editing for National Geographic, or Conde Nast, or all of the above.
She went to OKC, OK, alright, but only after making her writer friends star in the instructional video series “Tim’s Tagalog Tutorials”. These videos were shot by Mrs. Lykes before she left the Philippines, in hopes that they’d encourage Mr. Lykes in learning Tagalog. In one of my earliest participations in this project, where I was still toothpick-thin and all fangs out of skinniness, the featured word was “mahal”, which means love. Or expensive. I’ve always wondered if Mr. Lykes actually learned anything from us when his wife just made the whole thing impromptu, mostly while goofing around with us.
Mrs. Lykes continues to write for international travel and lifestyle publications, is awaiting the publication of her novel, and is impressing Mr. Lykes with her Magic Sarap-tinged spaghetti, all while watching their son Finnyong grow up.
I have moved on to somehow becoming my own version of Mrs. Lykes to younger friends, passing on to them what I learned from her. Whenever I’d dish out an advice or a tip I heard from her, I am quick in telling them that I only picked it up from my bosing, Mrs. Lykes, who I bet would not like to be called bosing, and who I would never tire telling new friends about.
To this day, the princess still gives to me, and to all her friends here in the Philippines. For one, she’s given us a reason to want to travel to OKC. I could make such a journey, but wanting it is the first step to carrying it out, as Mrs. Lykes has proven. The princess wanted to be with her boys, all of them gathered before her on the dining table, which now nourishes with hypnotic Pinoy-style spaghetti instead of sunny-side-up eggs. She wanted it with all her heart, and with absolute faith that what her Main-Man-Up-There’s princess wants, the princess gets.
She got it.