By Maureen Bautista | Book design painting by Imelda Cajipe Endaya | Banner design by Samantha Palanca

More than a year into the pandemic, the virus continues to disrupt our lives, even with the easing of restrictions and the arrival of vaccines. We might  have adjusted to the developments that may hopefully lead us to the new normal, but it has been extremely challenging getting to this point, especially when it came to dealing with the mental and emotional strain brought on by the pandemic. For many, their mental health continues to bear the brunt of this global crisis. 

How do they cope? Art appears to be one of the few things that have provided solace, or at the very least, some semblance of comfort.

In the past year, many Filipino works touching on the issues and experiences of different people in the time of the pandemic were produced. For instance, “Tarantadong Kalbo Vol. 1” (Komiket Inc., 2020), the  printed collection of Kevin Eric Raymundo’s beloved online comic strips, effortlessly incorporates humor and social commentary to provide an often funny yet melancholic portrait of the life of the everyday Filipino during the pandemic. There was also the PGH Human Spirit Project, through which UP Manila published the e-book version of a three-volume anthology featuring the stories of healthcare workers in a COVID-19 referral center, volunteers and people in communities outside of PGH.Here, we take a look at the book “In Certain Seasons: Mothers Write in the Time of COVID” (Cultural Center of the Philippines, 2021) to highlight the stories of unsung heroes — the women we call “ilaw ng tahanan.”. Works like this have no doubt brought many benefits to our wellbeing, but before we get to discussing the book, let’s first tackle the age-old debate many of us revisited in the past months: Are the arts really less valuable compared to the sciences? Why does art continue to be stigmatized compared to STEM? Is there another way to think about the role of art’s function and purpose during a crisis??

Art as a coping mechanism

In her State Press article, Yasmine Mian talks about why many students, especially those from Asian households, are discouraged from majoring in the arts and humanities and are pushed to pursue STEM courses instead. She then suggests that these two disciplines interlap in more ways than one and that it is crucial to reevaluate the dichotomy between the arts and sciences to consider their potential to coexist and work together. 

Reading, writing and creating visual art are generally helpful in addressing emotional distress. In an interview with the psychiatrist Dr. Shyam Bhat at Scroll.in, he explains that books are effective tools in coping with stress and isolation as they connect readers to other imaginative worlds. Stories that resonate with readers today include post-apocalyptic futures touching on themes of isolation and loneliness — these narratives not only mirror the realities of our times, they also remind us of our ability to rebound, adapt and thrive in difficult conditions. Art has gone beyond its status as a commodity and fulfilled its advocacy to be — in the words of art critic María Victoria Guzmán —  “an antidote in times of chaos, a roadmap for greater clarity, a force of resistance and repair.” 

Mothers write and draw in the pandemic

Since quarantine protocols limit visits to bookstores, many artists made their works accessible online, including the book “In Certain Seasons: Mothers Write in the Time of COVID.”

In this pandemic, mothers are among the unsung heroes who carry the burden of juggling multiple responsibilities while keeping their children safe. But perhaps being a mother may not be their only role; they can also be daughters concerned with the health of their elderly parents or activists fighting for social change. “In Certain Seasons: Mothers Write in the Time of COVID” gives readers a glimpse of how mothers cope in this time of crisis.

This e-book was released online on Jan. 23, 2021, by the Intertextual Division of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Edited by Che Sarigumba and Jenny Ortuoste, and featuring the painting Salinlahi’y Iligtas by Imelda Cajipe Endaya on the cover, “In Certain Seasons” contains 41 literary pieces by Filipino mothers from different generations and backgrounds in the Philippines and abroad. CCP states that “the book project aims to understand the importance and the role of women, specifically mothers, and their literature during the global crisis, and promote the narratives of women who are mothers, highlighting that women can be both child-raisers and artists amid the struggles of being a parent.” 

Perusing the pages of this collection is like looking through a personal diary. These short works are  authentic and vivid glimpses into the inner lives of mothers, with a focus on their seemingly contradictory sentiments and emotions: joy for the opportunity to strengthen familial bonds, frustration when dealing with mischievous kids or the work-from-home setup, anxiety from the pressure to keep the household intact, anger or grief from losing a loved one, among many others. What keeps them sane above all else is the maternal instinct to protect their family and keep them happy and loved.

There are also reflections on the value of kindness, gender stereotypes and political sentiments. Other works focus on memories that give these mothers motivation and strength, particularly their journey with pregnancy and childbirth. What is striking is how these mothers find the beauty and significance in the mundane to cope and reflect. The garden became a sanctuary from the monotony of  life in Hope Sabanpan-Yu’s “The Garden is Always There.” As narrated in “Chicken Soup,” the chicken soup that Rica Palomo-Espiritu cooks for her family deepened her understanding of life. While others ride the bicycle to travel somewhere, Adelma Salvador in “Bisikleta” uses hers to escape the suffocation from being confined in the house.

“Masaya ka ba, Nanay? …

… Paano ba? Ang scripted na sagot ko ay ‘Basta kasama kita, anak, masaya ako.’  Totoo ito. Pero ako ay tao rin na nalulungkot, nagagalit at nangangailangan ng ‘peys’ (ang bigkas mo sa ‘space’).”

– From “Mahal Kong Sampinit” by Liwliwa Malabed

Through this book, we journey through the good and the bad in the lives of mothers, which, among other things, provides an opportunity for us to try to practice a little more compassion and empathy during these difficult times. Though we may have different lives, feelings of joy and despair are universal, and so works like this can help us feel less alone as we go through this crisis, reminding us that no matter how much we are taught to stay strong and persevere, we need to accept that we can also get hurt and tired, and that despite our inherent flaws and weaknesses, what makes us unique from other living things — as CCP Vice President and Artistic Director Chris Millado puts it — is our capability of artistic expression. We have art, and through it, we can imagine and will a kinder post-COVID world.

Watch the virtual launch of the book on Facebook. Get a copy here.