Saturday, April 09, 2011

History, rewinded

ONE day while scanning symbols—coded for the unexplored terrain of economics and finance—I realized how the discourse that flows around us exists side by side with small, still pools that separate their secrets from the pedestrian.

While we bob around, content to be carried here and there, by the streams of language we pay only half a mind to, it may happen that our attention is snagged by a tree-overshadowed shallow that, in its stillness, hides creatures that have yet to creep into our fervid dreams.

This summer, I am coaxing the hieroglyphics of numbers and symbols to unlock secrets. More than three summers ago, there was history to circumnavigate.

I like to listen. I like how stories intersect and mesh into a fabric from which surprises emerge, a conclusion that sprouts doubt or a fact disrobed as a lie. I believe in literary journalism, a genre that mines the layers underneath beat coverage and deadlines.

Such quirks and habits from writing features and special reports I brought with me when I joined 54 writers assigned to research and document the histories of the Cebu Province, its 44 towns and nine component cities, and the Provincial Capitol.

The Cebu Provincial History Project was envisioned by the Provincial Government to be the first in the country to preserve and publish local history. Within a year, writers had to pass the manuscripts of 55 volumes that were to be published and read by public school children.

During that heady maiden assembly in December 2007, it was not just the approaching Christmas or the cash advance that plastered huge smiles on our faces. All of us anticipated our appointments with history.

And as for the challenge of luring school kids to line up for their local histories, our smug smiles foresaw the Province going through several reprinting to accommodate the hue and cry to install a 55-volume set in every Cebuano town hall, reading room, library, hut and local watering hole. Foundations might just partner with local governments to convert the histories into graphic novels and resurrect reading among children AND teenagers.

Twelve months later, we reconvened. It was lunch before business as usual. Unusually, though, we were fewer. The present ones had either the skittish look of those haunted by a specter of the past or the fixed stares of those who already saw the hereafter after a quick exit from the painful present.

While lightning, thunder, wind and rain played the chorus to our editors’ dark mood, our project manager reported that, in general, our manuscripts were not just delayed but disappointing. Of infinite patience and incurable optimism, he said he looked forward to seeing us complete our commitments by January of the following year. My final manuscript was received for copy editing a few days before the end of December 2010, or two years after the original deadline.

The Cebu Provincial History Project yields so many lessons for local governments and other entities attempting to preserve local history. There are insights to be gleaned from not only the diversity of the writing expertise but also the unpredictability of the creative sensibility—a monster of so legendary an appetite it will swallow its own self before it ponders on the technical difficulties of a mouth swallowing itself.

After the 55 volumes are completed and submitted to the Cebu Province, a reunion of writers and editors would be nice. We should choose a date when hearts are light again, no deadlines hang over our necks, minus lightning, thunder, wind and rain.

I remember the serious amusement of my journalist-friend when I mumbled I was still lost in the mists of pre-Spanish history. This, while ostensibly turning a colonial letter of eggshell brittleness in an air-conditioned library of a modern university or listening to an upland healer recount the rites of “dulodiwata” passed down generations venerating both the Christ and the spirits animating water, air and land. She kidded, “What can one possibly write about a small and sleepy town?”

The smaller and the sleepier a subject seems, the more difficult the trail. Only by staying as still as the pool can one see that it is far from shallow.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 10, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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