Saturday, July 15, 2017

Paper cuts

WHEN you write, you make an incision. You make a cut and think you know what follows.

Sometimes, the writing surprises. The sliver opens and a stranger looks out. You cannot look away. You can. You want to. You don’t want to.

Writing is pain. It should come with the standard warning for danger zones: DO NOT ENTER.

I should have said this when I was invited by the “Tug-ani,” the official student publication of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu.

Michelle Grace Cabrales, a Business Management student who’s the current Tug-ani EIC, and her team invited writers to discuss the craft and make a critique of articles submitted by the participants.

I chose covering human trafficking to jumpstart the talk on features, which two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jon Franklin likens to “news of the emotions”.

Students of UP and the University of San Carlos showed up for the Friday talk, which included fellow teacher and writer Joanalyn Gabales and our resident cat, Walter Stefano.

Our small group discussed after my talk our reactions to four articles written by “Tug-ani" writers. Claire Michaela Obejas, a Psychology major who wrote one of the articles, asked how one knew which voice to follow when a writer found herself shifting from one point of view to another in the course of writing an article.

During the workshop, my response addressed the question as a technical one involving planning and publication: on an assignment, a writer discussed with the editor the desired format, angle, length, and deadline.

If contributing an article, a writer has better chances of publishing if he or she scopes out the targeted section, the ratio of text to graphics, and the targeted audience.

Yet, Claire’s question went beyond the challenges of deadline and market. Striking out beyond the safe harbor of information and “verifiable” truth, a writer can wander without noticing into the quagmire of memory, introspection, and self-conflict.

When one finally notices the water rising, what act of self-preservation does one choose: retreating back to the shallows or going into the deep?

In a movie directed by Wong Kar-Wai, a journalist and a secretary discover that their spouses are having an affair.

“In the Mood for Love” is set in Hong Kong in the 1960s, which Wong depicts as a claustrophobic prison of cramped apartments, nosy neighbors, and double standards.

Albeit betrayed, the protagonists do not want to betray their spouses. Or think they don’t.

Not even his profession in dealing with truth saves the man from self-deception.

Beyond the tidy rules of grammar, writers learn that paper cuts are the deepest, “the most unkindest cut of all”.

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s July 16, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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