“While the darkness of reality can sometimes overwhelm us, we must, nevertheless keep faith that our profession in the arts has a crucial part in the work of human restoration.”– Marjorie Evasco

ONE DAY I came home and said to my mother, who was intently chopping vegetables to the tune of some widely popular novelty song, “I’ve finally found the answer to counter monotony.”

“What is that?” “I’m writing for the University paper.” “That’s good. Which section?” “The glamour section, I think.” “May lifestyle section na ngayon ang University papers?” “No, it’s the Literary section,” I said. “Oh, I see,” she said.

Months into what I considered an ordeal of never having been assigned the more important stories on campus, I constantly moonlighted in the “non-glamorous” section of the paper, even writing for another college paper, hoping to make my mark in campus journalism by writing about the more important stories. I despised the idea of being stuck in the one-page “glamour” section of the University paper. The horror that one day I might not be able to be a “true journalist” nibbled at me like a terrible itch.

Months of what I considered to be an ordeal of writing about writing, of reviewing books too expensive for the hoi polloi to buy, to read, to understand, I began to see my work as a product of vanity, something tasteful and ornamental, maybe even important, but which the paper can also do without. Something that occupies very little space in the world.

I was jealous of the nimble kids in the paper. They comb the campus for stories, notebook and cassette recorder in hand, digging up stories while I lounge around the office, fingers daintily jumping on computer keys weaving a creative piece or a feature on romance paperbacks.

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I flipped the University paper with envy, wishing my job in my section was not so heart-and-mind-consuming and so demanding of empathy and experience so I could chase after the next rector in the University’s seat of power, the victim of the newest robbery in the campus periphery, and the next student council elections.

But let me tell you how we, in our little section, write about writing: We read, then we read, and we read. Then we talk to people, take a walk or watch a movie. Then we make coffee before sitting in front of the computer for a quarter of an hour without doing anything. Then for the next half hour, we write.

Now let me describe the act of writing about writing: it’s a little psychic. It’s a kind of writing that involves all senses and understanding. If I write about the work of a certain author, say, the languid Christina Pantoja-Hidalgo, I know and loved her without even meeting her. I know she’s languid because when I read her, the air smells of lavender and the air is crisp and cool as Baguio lettuce. I may have gotten all the details of her stories wrong but I cannot be mistaken when I say I can taste the ginger tea she has poured into a crystal cup. If I bump into her in some book launch and ask her something like “how sweet exactly are sweet strawberries laid out on a doily?”without even having eaten strawberries laid out on a doily, I know they are sweeter.

The newspaper where I now work for as a beat reporter adores a style that is sharp and slim, like a dagger. It has no room for the sensuous and experimental form which I was used to.

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The beat has taught me to write as automatically as a food processor. Its also important that you nose into everything available for sniffing and be at the center of the action. Because every second ticks like a bomb, there is no room for a muse. Gone is the luxury of the marvelous high.

Five weeks in the beat, I’ve made it a habit to read the arts section of the newspapers lovingly, wishing the police officer who is picking his nose as I speak to him about a big jailbreak will know that underneath the Manila smog and stuffy detention cells, there is a continuous revamp of culture by those whom we often consider as “creatures in limbo,” droopy eyed-thinkers, and pop philosophers buying bootleg cds in Quiapo while militants are staging yet another racket.

I was surprised when M.L. Ubac, a reporter for a prominent daily, told me he still revisits his Shakespeare from time to time “to get a feel of the language again.”

R.Torre, an Old World newspaper man and who writes Senate warfare like a sportsman, stacks up on Murakami and Dante. W. Vigilia, who has politics as a second nature does not give much for text but can differentiate hues of a gray-Japanese manga.

As a newbie in the job, I have discovered that my brush with literature, has made my world double-layered. It gave me something to come home to after a long day’s work. For once, I was glad that I got to write poetry and indulge in the beauty of the human spirit through the written word.

An interesting conversation I had with W. Vigilia: “If you’re a journalist, you have to get out of your dream world,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “Because you’ll never make a score if you always dream.” True.” “You’ll never see reality if youre trapped in fantasy.” “True. That’s why I read the papers front to back everyday.” “There’s no room for a muse here.” “True. And there’s a cogon seed flying near your nose.” “Are you even listening to me?” “Yes. I read a very good column today. I’m sorry. It’s so white and it looks so soft.”

Mother of Refuge

The world, it’s true, is a world of clerks. Never underestimate the clerks because they make the world go round. Fill the world with bohemians and the world would be in chaos. But dreamers are the equalizers of society.

They listen for the sake of listening, taste for the sake of tasting. Evoke the senses, Marjorie Evasco says, sniffing spice bottles in the supermarket differentiating 50 varieties of cinnamon and 20 varieties of paprika.

It is true that I have not completely harnessed the power to fuse my literary leanings with my journalistic writing. But every poem I’ve penned, every author whose work I’ve written about, has given me a double helix spirit. It has all taught me to feel. The world is indeed beautiful despite all its scars. C. S. S. Valencia


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