Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why do I write?

This is one story I have to write fast and furiously before I begin to fail from remembering; before this story loses its purpose and meaning.

For our thesis, our adviser asked us to write an exposition on the question, “Why do I write?” – as an introduction to the body of literary works we had produced that we deemed worthy of compiling into a book, our thesis. I was a Creative Writing major in UP Diliman.

Trying to figure out exactly why I was writing at that time wasn’t easy, for UP, apart from being a hotbed of activism then (as now), was also ( I would presume) a haven for lovesick, romantic fellows.

All the literary theories I had passably learned from my Comparative Literature classes (e.g., deconstruction, Marxism, feminism, realism), collided with my experiences as a naïve and poor probinsyano from the boondocks of Sierra Madre; a cynic activist silently raging mad against the ruling class and the bourgeoisie; a struggling working student enamored with writing and literature; a Piscean creature of love and other passions (to borrow loosely from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who, incidentally, was also born on March 6 – my birthday).     

Why do I write then?

This was a question that preoccupied my last semester as a graduating student of the College of Arts and Letters (CAL), and as a dormer in Narra Residence Hall, until the summer of ’93 when my dreamy concentration was suddenly pierced by an unwanted circumstance. For some reasons (mainly to flush out delinquent, read: non-paying, Narrehans, I guess), one scorching March day, our good dorm manager, whose name I will withhold (may he rest in peace), decided to literally padlock and bar all the dorm’s main doors (paging Narrehans: the main door to the lobby and those that connected the corridors of our square-ish dorm), and turn-off the main electric switch at the end of the day. It was bedlam – boys and their stuff, mostly in big cigarette boxes, crowding the lobby and hallways, all eager to leave at once.  

While this was going on in mid-day, I rose up from typing from a borrowed personal computer, and had the presence of mind to run to the Faculty Center (FC) and report to my thesis adviser this rather unfortunate event, afraid that I might not be able to submit my thesis on time and get a good grade.

It was brief. Taking a deep breath, I said, “Ma’am, I may be delayed with the submission of my thesis.” She asked me why. Trying to be cool and relaxed, I told her about my dorm being barred and padlocked at that time; that I had to pack up and haul my personal things, and look for a boarding house elsewhere. She looked at me - skinny, disheveled, obviously devoid of sleep - and said it was okay. As I was about to leave, I saw her fish out something from her wallet (or bag, I can’t remember now), went to me and clasped my hand with (later I found out to be) a 500 peso bill. Knowing it was money, I was embarrassed and I tried to refuse. She persisted without showing so much emotion behind her glasses. She was calm and much cooler than I thought! Actually, I didn’t have anything in my pocket at that time, and I didn’t know where to stay come nighttime. I walked along University Avenue towards the dorm with my eyes misty.

Her goodness didn’t end there. Soon after, she gave me a grade, high enough to maintain my general weighted average (GWA) for Latin honors. I was able to graduate on time, I received my diploma and medal, and went on to the UP College of Law the following academic year.

At present, I am blessed with a beautiful, loving and understanding wife; two bright and handsome boys aged 6 and 7; and a modest law practice at one of the fastest growing cities in Central Luzon. Now I share with my family a decent life, quite far from my life as a struggling student who started working while in my sophomore year in undergrad until I obtained my law degree.

Yet, sometimes, I would look back alone, or reminisce with a few close friends, about my thesis adviser who played a pivotal role in my life. We hardly knew each other, but the goodness of her heart seemed to know no boundaries or strangers. What would have happened if she failed me, or graded me with an incomplete? The money, of course, went a long way. “Pay it forward, hansam (handsome, hehe.)” “Go back and visit her.” “Write about it.”

As a lawyer and a former iskolar ng bayan, I strive in my own little ways to pay back and pay it forward. I wouldn’t brag about it, but it all starts with how we treat people, particularly the ordinary folks, with fairness and respect; and how we conduct ourselves and live simply and honorably. Caught with tasks both serious and mundane, I haven’t been able to visit her. I am writing now realizing what is it that is important and essential to write about. 

Why do I write?

Ma’am, my dear thesis adviser, Prof. Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, I write now because I want to thank you with all my heart, for saving the future of this poor promdi from Dingalan (Aurora province), who was lucky enough to graduate from Diliman, pursue his dreams and take this life-long journey. (edited, updated. First published for Kwentung Peyups)

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