CAN a room have a spirit?
Waiting to consult my professor in his office, I looked around: the framed ancient magazine covers, towers of books that leaned from all corners of the room, the smudged pane of the window he would later open so his cigarette smoke could drift out while the ancient air-conditioning unit wheezed along.
I learned more about poetics in that single visit than from the readings I made the night before. One semester in graduate class, I brought a thesis proposal on media self-regulation to a class handled by a recognized master of Filipino literature in English.
The professor emeritus was too kind to turn me away from the class I took as an elective. I could feel, though, that the jargon and concerns of journalism stood out—grimy and plain as newsprint—in a class where young writers discussed creative works in progress: poetry, novels, a suite of plays.
The differences disappeared when I waited in the professor’s office. Little more than a cubicle with a door, the room bore more than an imprint of the person that occupied it for decades. I do not know if he had worked on drafts of his poems in that room or edited his landmark anthologies at that desk.
If the room bore more than traces of a reading and writing life, it must have been because of the stories overheard by this room. My professor had a habit of reaching out for a nearby volume, reading from it to illustrate his point, and then—the Muses smiled—passing on to me the journals of poetry.
On the morning of Apr. 1, I heard about the dawn fire that gutted the Bulwagang Rizal (Rizal Hall) at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus. The inferno destroyed the offices and faculty rooms of two colleges.
A day later, fire also razed two college buildings and the chapel in the Manila campus of the University of the East (UE).
No casualties were reported in the two incidents. Classrooms can be constructed; equipment, replaced.
In contrast, the psychic loss was felt to be “incalculable” by UP Diliman teachers, unable to save manuscripts, notes, books and other collections.
Four publishing houses recently launched the “Sagip-Guro (Save a teacher) Campaign” to benefit the 267 members of the UP Diliman faculty affected by the Bulwagang Rizal fire.
This consortium of Philippine presses encourages individuals and companies to purchase and donate books to the teachers of their choice.
According to the UP Diliman Information Office, the UP Press and the De La Salle University Press will give a 75-percent discount to all titles from Apr. 6 to Nov. 29.
For titles published in 2009 and the previous years, the Anvil Publishing Inc. will give an 80-percent discount; titles from 2010 to the present are discounted by 20 percent.
UP Diliman and UE faculty affected by the campus fires are entitled to a free book published by the Ateneo de Manila Press. All of their titles are also discounted by 50 percent from Apr. 18 to Apr. 29.
In this land of termites, mildew and fire of unknown origins, impermanence shadows knowledge.
Yet, in the life of the mind, only one thing ensures that nothing is lost and something is created: passing on knowledge to the next generation of students who may mentor another generation.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s April 10, 2016 issue of the “Matamata,” Sunday editorial-page column