“ONCE upon a time” used to be good enough.
Listening to the storytellers in my family and later, in the community, I learned that to hold a listener rapt to one’s tale was to imagine plaiting an unending flow that had one story cascading into another.
Nearly all of the stories I grew up with were recollections. “I remember” was the phrase that made us children quiet and lift our faces to the source.
Face and voice: with such minimal props, storytellers fused the connection between their remembrance and our imagination. Sometimes, an oddity anchored our attention: a snippet of hair kept inside a locket, a misshapen ring that seemed too light to tie down a suitor to 15 years of waiting.
Childhood made us demanding but the most accepting of audiences. Make-believe and ghost stories rubbed elbows with family history, gossip and news recalled word-for-word from the latest long-distance call to faraway relatives.
In this unruly democracy of recall and retelling, provenance and endurance conferred the rare distinctions. The older the source of the story or the better it bore up under the vagaries of memory, the truer a story seemed to be.
Truth, though, was just one of the attractions. What I remember best was being in thrall of the storyteller. Fact or fiction, a story had to have the power of transporting me from reality to imagination.
Education did not just snip off that thick, unwieldy stem of stories; it differentiated narratives into the verifiable, inferred and conjectured.
The early fumbling initiatives in research and scientific inquiry led me down the straight and narrow path of journalism. Not only have I learned to structure my thinking and storytelling in terms of the inverted pyramid of main facts trickling down to subordinate supporting details, I accept this hierarchy of values: facts are the foundations on which to base the upper tier of informed opinion and responsible action.
Often, it chafes that stories cannot take off for lack of a crucial link or a balance of all perspectives. It galls that deadlines make the yield of facts sometimes so paltry, a story emerges half-formed or gasps, near-aborted. A writer tapping a reservoir of self-honesty will never submit such an abomination to an editor for emergency resuscitation.
Obscured by its harried pedestrian façade and habit of crude skepticism, journalism is easy to dismiss as anything but a circuitous detour to accidental sainthood. Yet, how to explain the perpetual vigilance, the solitude for examination of motives and intent, the self-flagellation?
And all for a story? Not just for most or nearly all stories but for every one of them. The privilege to tell the story is also about the obligation to watch out for a mistake, specially that which one makes knowingly and as conveniently excuses and justifies.
In this mundane discipline of making every story matter and getting the story right every time, more perhaps are stained than sainted.
Yet, for telling the stories, daghang salamat, Cebu media. (Written at the close of the 17th Cebu Press Freedom Week)
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 25, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column