Saturday, July 30, 2011

A writing life

WILL I get paid if my article gets published?

That was the first question raised by a campus journalist after I concluded a talk on writing features.

Last July 29, I joined about 30 students in the 27th journalism seminar organized by Ang Suga, the official school publication of the Cebu Normal University (CNU).

Many of the participants are writers and editors of Ang Suga while the others are press relations officers of various student associations. I didn’t get to talk to the students individually but I learned that at least two of Ang Suga’s officers, including editor-in-chief Ioannes Arong, are taking up creative writing.

Though I don’t often get a chance to work with campus writers, I look forward to such interactions.

Meeting those who aspire to work as journalists, writers, poets and storytellers in video and film is an even bigger thrill than meeting the professionals whose works I follow, buy or collect.

The latter most often have cut a swath in the frontiers of creativity. While the best still write with fire in their belly, the writing almost always falls into a groove: once a writer finds his signature, expect few surprises until he or she signs off.

Young writers, though, are unpredictable. They stand before virgin territory. They are the unexplored.

While I’ve come to associate passion with the young, I can’t predict how they decide, or why: why the ones you’ve privately baptized as the Golden Ones disappear soon after graduation, their once-familiar bylines and maturing voices never glimpsed again in the swells and furrows of the creative life.

Or why the ones who complained loudest and longest about writing and rewriting are still at it—groaning about deadlines, whining about the pay but still writing and rewriting, years after passing a course, graduating on time, keeping a scholarship or making it to the Dean’s List have lost their bite.

Why write?

My immediate reaction to the first question posed in last Friday’s seminar was to privately cringe: if the young gauge writing’s value only by the pecuniary, then the future is dark for writing in the age of non-readers.

Yet I tried to emphasize with my answer the opportunities local dailies open to aspiring writers and other freelancers. I said that contributed articles, specially to the section that runs press releases about community events, are never paid for but are published for free in Cebu dailies.

Many other newspaper sections cater to specialized audiences or niches of interest, such as youth, spirituality, heritage, culture and wellness. When there are no regular reporters covering these beats, a paper is usually open to contributors.

A reader who studies her paper and the kinds of articles and style of writing published; who emails originally researched, well-written copy; who’s willing to rewrite, following an editor’s suggestions; and who can also take photographs—such enthusiasm may be rewarded eventually by the editor giving an assignment. Among local dailies, assignments undertaken by freelancers are granted an honorarium and guaranteed publication.

Yet, on the ride home, I examined again that first question. I wondered why I had immediately interpreted the question as solely prompted by the monetary.

Was it possible that the young writer meant: can one earn a living through writing?

Or: can writing sustain a life?

That rain-scented afternoon spent with the aspiring journalists, poets and writers of CNU reaffirms my belief in the rejuvenation one draws from the young.

How I wish, though, I had not been too old, too tired, too jaded to hear the real questing behind that first question.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 31, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, July 23, 2011


LAST Wednesday proved nature has few rivals in staging dramatic exits.

In our faculty room in Lahug, we felt as much as heard the din as the clouds burst and poured for nearly an hour at about 4 p.m.

Tired by a day of teaching, checking and editing, I did not join the crowds that, defeated by traffic, flashfloods and a perplexing fire that broke out on Samson Road in Lahug, stoically shouldered their burdens and walked home.

After two hours of standing under weeping acacias, I boarded a jeepney. It felt good to finally go home.

The day after, I learned that a former schoolmate also had a homecoming on that unforgettable Wednesday.

Until he passed away at the age of 41, Salvi was well-known among fashion cognoscenti as Sal Malto. He was the Sal Malto, a member of the elite Fashion Council of Cebu.

Being sought after by the privileged and influential is a shaky foundation to stake a claim on success and fame. Yet, with Salvi, I felt that the accolades and patronage came to him by merit. He was truly creative.

During a short stint editing lifestyle, I had a habit of scanning the local and national media’s coverage of fashion shows. I looked at the photos, only reading captions to find out the name of the designer whose creation caught my eye.

A gown modeled for a wedding-themed show staged in Cebu I remember till now. The model was winsome in a white column made entirely of overlapping discs that seemed at first like small piyayas, the sweet dough cakes of Bacolod, but then later reminded me of the pristine petals of kalachuchis in full bloom.

Indifferent to clothes, I poorly describe a creation that did not usurp the wearer but made her, ramp professional, become, in the click of a camera shutter, the timeless picture of a radiant, luminous bride.

When I glanced at the caption, I thought how the gown was quintessentially Salvi: quirky, unique, beautiful in ways that could not be defined or labeled.

As an undergraduate at the University of the Philippines Cebu, Salvi was all gangling limbs: he was gifted in theater, his impersonations of teachers and classmates spot-on, hilarious but not cruel; in designing, those bony fingers often twirled around a pencil, sketching prom and date fantasy frou-frou for classmates and friends; and in generosity.

Creative individuals can be selfish, indwelling, insulated. Mortals like us create unending concessions to accommodate their giftedness.

Yet, being Sal Malto never got in the way of Salvi being Salve, Salvador.

Born on the eve of Christ’s birthday, Salvi’s nickname is a greeting, a salute. When my sister got married, he made her gown, as he did for countless UP classmates and mentors. Though the Filipiniana gowns he designed for Prof. Ligaya Rabago-Visaya added to the tradition of Sablay March-watching during April graduation ceremonies in UP Cebu, only his high school mentor knows how faithfully Salvi could be relied on to judge or be consulted for campus plays and contests.

He sponsored scholars; he made it possible for the seemingly ordinary to discover their giftedness. He volunteered for community theater and outreach programs that rarely made it to the society pages.

He soothed and healed without fanfare, away from the limelight. Olive Caday-Fillone, then the chairman of the UP student council (SC), remembers how, as a member of the SC volunteer corps, he was even more active than some elected councilors.

Last Wednesday, neither flash floods nor horrendous traffic could stop his family and friends from receiving and sharing the shock of his passing from aortic aneurysm.

Yet, just before you go home, Salvi, please take one more curtain call. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 24, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Another city

ON the day Cebu City was designated as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) City of Culture, my friend and I were walking back to her hotel along Osmeña Boulevard.

After an afternoon of coffee and stories near the Provincial Capitol, we prepared to part, she to wait for her husband and I to meet up with a son.

My friend declared she planned to walk the few blocks back to the hotel. She enjoyed the stroll along the tree-shaded stretch, liked its difference from the mall enclaves that made many parts of Cebu a featureless replica of other metros.

I took another look at my friend and decided to walk with her. Olive finished her undergraduate studies in the city. As an activist, she walked these same streets. For meetings and study sessions that lasted into the night or till dawn, she staked out with other students, first over doughnuts and batchoy, and later, rice toppings.

Yet family and work had taken Olive out of Cebu for decades. Compared to the jungle of Manila, Fuente Osmeña seems all southern charm and languid pace.

As we walked, I pointed out to her the streets to avoid as a shortcut after twilight. (A fellow teacher and her teenage daughter were walking home at dusk when a foreigner approached them. “I like her,” he said as if my colleague had actually been shouting at the top of her voice that her daughter was for sale. After office hours, many female students complain of strangers propositioning them along this stretch.)

Olive and I crossed one corner for the one where another friend once followed a seemingly amorous couple. My friend and her companion, both in their 60s, looked away as the woman wriggled against her male companion, whose arm clinched her to his side.

The ladies were actually relieved when the man casually walked away, leaving behind his companion. However, when they overtook the woman and took a look at her pale face, the ladies learned, too late, how they mistook them as a couple engaged in a public display of affection.

The man had actually been demanding for the valuables of the woman, who was trying to pull away from the ice pick he pressed against her side.

Hearing the story, Olive said she strolled along the boulevard only during the day. I said the holdup my friend witnessed took place before noon on a busy weekday.

The earrings we took off before leaving the coffeeshop was a precaution, I said, against the repeat of another incident involving the assistant of my sons’ orthodontist. While waiting for the traffic sign to flash green for crossing pedestrians, the assistant could only shout in pain as a boy took hold of her ears from behind and tore away her earrings. After nursing swollen ear lobes for a week and regretting the loss of heirloom jewelry, the receptionist and our orthodontist now wear small pearl studs of little value.

At this point in our walk, Olive and I had reached the third block at the inner periphery of the Fuente oval. As I turned to her, two grimy youngsters closed in from behind. Overtaking us, the nearest boy jolted Olive’s arm, the one that held down the purse slung in front of her.

The usual modus is for the youths to beg for a handout. They’re not as keen on the coin you’re getting from your purse as on your bag, jewelry or other property. In early afternoon, a tourist was mugged by a band of kids that first begged and then pushed him down to the curb as they swarmed, running away with his camera and shopping totes.

A security guard at one of the Fuente locators once stopped a thief from running away with a student’s silver bracelet. He told the police that trying to escape, the youth ran towards the guard.

However, since the thief was a minor, the police released him. The boy later visited the guard to threaten him, “Hilabtanon ka (you meddler).” Fearing retaliation, the guard asked for a transfer.

Unscathed, Olive and I parted outside her hotel. Proud to be part of a city of culture, I nevertheless wondered if the accolade covered all forms of the creative and the ingenious. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 17, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Pin-up madonnas

WITH my bags of books and groceries, I squeezed in beside the woman seated quietly beside the Vhire window.

The bags, the woman and I made too intimate a fit in that narrow space. After a few minutes, two other passengers completed our row.

While getting my fare, I felt someone’s eyes on me. When I glanced at my left neighbor, what I mistook to be a bundle hugged to her chest turned out to be an infant girl, nursing.

Like other babies latched on to their mother’s breast, she had this preternaturally wise glance. I’ve a better seat than you, this tiny creature with a few wisps of hair airbrushed on her perfectly rounded head seemed to tell me.

I could tell from the way she was watching me watching her that she was way past the throes of a great thirst. Replete, she was having post-prandial sips, the infant version of watching the world go by while occasionally wetting one’s whistle in a brew mixed strictly according to one’s specifications.

After the Vhire driver called out for fares, my left neighbor rummaged for her purse. When those ancient eyes alighted on the pink thing, there was a loud wet pop as she pulled away from a teat and grabbed for the bright coins.

Her mother told her she could have something else. My neighbor did several things at once: paid her fare, fixed her blouse, rearranged her packages and gave her daughter a slip of paper she waved at me, as if to say: what are you looking at?

Mother and daughter chatted, ensconced in a bubble of bonding that excluded the rest of us.

None of that babble that naïve or occasional mothers use on children they regard as adorable but unknowable aliens.

This mother conversed with her child. When a man on motorcycle sidled beside our Vhire, my neighbor commented that the child’s father must be on his way home from the office, too. Little Ms. Genius agreed. “Pa-pa,” she said and waved the slip of paper at the man on the motorbike.

Until I dropped off for my usual nap, mother and daughter were chatting away, an exchange that was far from being only one-sided on the part of the adult as the young one always had something to say with a few well-placed syllables, accompanied by an emphatic rustle of the paper held in that tiny fist.

On top of the many benefits of breastfeeding, add traveling convenience and jumpstart in socializing savvy.

I’m glad that the month of July, which banners the theme of nutrition, was ushered in this year by public campaigns promoting breastfeeding.

In a mall, an exhibit showcasing photos of nursing mothers drew a respectable audience even during a mall-wide sale.

Even better, I see more women nursing in public places, including jeepneys. One mall conspicuously displays a sign emphasizing that benches were placed to prioritize nursing mothers and senior citizens.

It’s a long way from the time when breastfeeding was perceived to be a low-income mother’s only alternative for good nutrition.

It’s even better: breast milk is the best choice for any woman and her child.

As any envious son of Adam knows, being anatomically equipped to instantly nurse and comfort one’s child makes mothers unequalled at mothering.

A working mother survives the rigors of graveyard shifts of feeding on demand and waking up in time for the office because of the maneuver I call “roll on-roll off”: roll over and uncover a breast when the baby just stirs. Roll away after the little tyrant nods off again. All this without the three of you—madonna, baby and pater—losing sleep.

Given all the good it’s wrought, breastfeeding deserves one of those gigantic Edsa billboards. Why distract motorists with only one type of breast: the cheeky uptilted ones that have not yet been sucked, pulled, squeezed, chewed and remolded to suit a small tyrant’s specifications?

On the other hand, I’d rather sit beside nursing mothers any day rather than gaze up at a sagging, floppy breast blown up to the size of a skyscraper.

If breastfeeding has taught me one thing, it’s that looks aren’t everything.

( 09173226131)

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

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Mixed blessings

A BABY is a blessing.

Why is that beginning to sound more like an invocation than a statement of fact?

After Andi Eigenmann, 21, was reported as pregnant, two fellow actresses advised her to use the break to become a good mother.

According to an ABS-CBN TV report, Ruffa Gutierrez said, “I’m really sad ‘kasi’ I was really looking forward to working with her. Of course having a baby is a blessing.”

In the same report, actress Eugene Domingo also regretted the setback in Andi’s fast-rising career but predicted she can always catch up. After all, Eugene seconded, “A baby is always a blessing.”

Though no actress, I said the same words when a young woman told me she was in the family way. I can only guess at what was in the minds of Ruffa and Eugene, but I had mixed feelings when I blurted to my young friend, ”a baby is a blessing”.

That’s more than a statement of observation. You don’t say this only after you’ve taken your first epidural-addled look at the wrinkled, preternaturally ancient-looking son seconds after the doctor cuts the cord connecting you to him for the past nine months.

“A baby is a blessing,” my friend told herself when she first knew she was pregnant; weeks later, when she suspected something was wrong; on the day tests confirmed there were several things wrong with her baby; and after she lost the child. “A baby is a blessing.”

More than a dry observation of verifiable facts, “a baby is a blessing” flies in the teeth of what’s naked and threatening. One says and means it even after catching one’s child tell a lie for the first time. Or when you face a sullen stranger you’ve just forbidden from joining his friends.

As the years whittle away the baby fat, exposing a hard and brittle independence of intelligence and will that can set itself fast against you, you might find yourself exclaiming less and less in company but still admitting in your solitude: “a baby is a blessing”.

Then you realize that the trite phrase family and even strangers coo when they tickle the moon-faced innocence gazing back at them is actually more invocation than statement of fact.

“A baby is a blessing,” we invoke and appeal to the listener for good wishes, patience, understanding, steering.

A summon, a plea, a prayer, a protection for all that may be, or not.

Touching the arm of that young mother, I only repeated the universal gesture of reaching out in comfort, in empathy, in kinship.

Wishing Andi the best, Ruffa, mother of two and ancient in the ways of the world, said, “Having a child will really change you in so many ways.”

Though the world insists on dwelling on the moot and irrelevant—judging and probing, why did they do it (as if, by asking, one can undo a child like a mistake)?—motherhood takes a woman into another stage, as sustainer of life.

Whether abandoned or supported by partner and family, a woman expecting a child must start thinking and acting for two: herself and her baby.

For this reason, I think of teenage pregnancy as first an issue of child and maternal health, rather than of morality.

Physically, a young mother may be more fit than an older woman. Emotionally and socially, a minor is less prepared. To abandon her is to condemn not just a person but another generation.

We should make it so a young woman does not have to be drawn into a continuum of mistakes: early marriage, abortion or worse. We must make our society not just child- but mother-friendly: a world that’s going to “promote healthy pregnancies, improve birth outcomes, and reduce infant mortality”.

The pervasive culture that’s rife with images and messages encouraging sexual permissiveness should also give space for stories of those who’ve made it past consequence and repercussion: young mothers balancing classes and feeding schedules, young couples emerging from the limbo between diapers and diploma.

Because, yes, it’s still a beautiful world where a baby is a blessing. Always. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's July 3, 2011 issue of the "Matamata" Sunday column