Saturday, April 02, 2016


A CLASSMATE from college and I ran into each other. I was walking to get a ride; she, too, must have been going somewhere.

She asked me what I was doing. I replied: teaching again. We chatted a bit and moved on.

Days after that chance meeting, her question lingers. What did she want to know? With my mind on unfinished tasks, I had described my day job. Doesn’t work, like the weather, occupy the hours?

Today, when I woke up to the sound of the question breathing nearby, I realized I had answered my classmate but not myself.

What do I do? In the interval of the 30 or so years since I turned my back on youth, as I chased what I thought I wanted, while I acquired and accumulated and aspired and cut my losses and drifted and lost my way and found something like it and did the countless things I don’t remember even as I’m doing what it took me to be there that afternoon, walking to the place where I usually wait for a ride until this stranger in the mall looked back at me with eyes I remembered from a classroom where we waited for the last few minutes before we could be officially excused to leave the professor who would not be showing up again that afternoon.
I read.

I read not because I do this better than anything else. I read because when I follow the thread of a tale, I’m brought to a place where—hours, weeks, a breath later—I emerge, created anew.

From the moment I am awake, I read to wake myself up. I read until the coffee shop crew goes around for final orders and guards check if I have not been grafted to the bench. I read until someone in the family shouts through the bathroom door to ask if I have not flushed myself.

Despite the constraints imposed by all this bullheaded reading, I do take pauses: to go to work, to eat and use the toilet as it was designed for. And though I’ve not done this for a long time, I recently sat down to take part in conversations about reading and its other half, writing.

The University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu Arts and Humanities Cluster held the 2016 Tagik Landasan Creative Writing Workshop. For two days, panelists, fellows and participants turned to concerns grappling and grappled by those who live for the stories.

Whether just starting or writing for years, the obsessed are the same; they seek to find how a few tools—a word, an image, a narrative—can transform an intensely personal act of the imagination into a form that not just distills the human experience but mimics the ageless aspiration to connect.

When I stepped out from the cool shadowed interiors of the workshop venue on the final day, I could still hear echoes of UP Cebu student fellow Jae Mari Magdadaro reading her poem, “Buak (Broken).”

A child witnesses how infidelity breaks apart her parents in the opening line, “Bildong buak nga gibukotan og abog”. The workshop conversations surfaced many ways of reading and interpreting the poem.

For many, honing the writing means returning again and again to the reading. For this listener, Jae’s line was a counter-flow.

As a shard retains the power to cut beneath the dust, so can a lifetime of reading lead to a piercing realization of the missing beloved: writing.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in the April 3, 2016 issue of the Sun.Star Cebu Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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