On writing and being read What do you write?

>> Saturday, July 29, 2017

BENCHWARMER
Ramon Dacawi 

A journalism student asked me this when he dropped by Wednesday afternoon .Why ask me, I asked. He said he saw this corner of this paper and decided to visit. He said it was for a class assignment.  
The young man’s question somehow affirmed the sneaky suspicion that crept up my brain way back in college - about some columns being read by no one except those whose by-lines are attached to them. And a more recent one – about newspapers not being read, much less studied, even by those who study to become journalists.
If he did before coming to interview, he would have deleted the “what” and focused on the “how” and “why”. He did ask those questions and drew answers which were partly cautious so as not to give the impression of ego-boosting, mental dishonesty and false humility.
We write, or talk, because we want to be read, or heard. To be read or listened to without our imposition is definitely the only measure of our work’s effectiveness.  That’s why we, provincial journalists, try to rein in our urge to talk about our own work. Except, of course, when triggered by a colleague’s own display of his story or photo on the front page of a national daily he is trying to attach himself to.  
The outbursts happen during those nights of loosening up with alcohol, to bring to stable levels the surge of adrenalin common to practitioners of one the most stressful and lowest-paying jobs around.. Alcohol works wonders. It sharpens the tongue and loosens the brain. Or loosens the tongue and sharpens the brain. Or both.
 Gin, pressure of work and our week-end arguments exhausted  me and my editor, Steve Hamada, to sleep while bedding The Baguio Midland Courier. It was one Saturday night, way back in the ‘80s, when the opinion pages had to be set in linotype, that giant typewriter that embosses on sheets of lead the words, phrases and lines.
Unable to stir us back to life, the letterpress machine operator ran the editorial  page without the usual proofreading. He was worried then Benguet Gov. Ben Palispis would find his Sunday morning incomplete, without his copy on his usual breakfast table at Session Caf√©, then the hang-out of politicians and newsmen that is now Jollibee’s.
 I woke up too late to wake up Steve. He rushed to the operator, snatched a copy of the editorial page. I saw terror in his eyes when he realized the lines of the editorial he labored on were mangled, garbled, beyond coherence. When the operator told him he was almost through printing all the copies, Steve pulled the sheet towards his glasses, covering his face.
 “Saan ka kadi nga madanagan no han nga maawatan dayta insurat mo, anak (Just don’t worry if what you wrote can’t be understood, son),” the operator said. “Ammom met nga awan ti agbasbasa ti editoryal (You know pretty well no one reads the editorial).”
I couldn’t look at Steve, whose editorials and column (Fore and Aft)  I always read -  partly because I had to proof-read them on Saturday nights. To help fulfill his class assignment (and my own need for “psychic income”), I told the journalism student what I write – and read.
I write about ordinary people with extraordinary deeds, people whose names may never hit the papers. The latest was about Tessie Panis-Romero, a volunteer day-care worker at Gibraltar Barangay. She passed on recently, after spending the last 20 years of her life quietly taking care of toddlers. So their parents could be free to work and earn for their own families.
Why them? Because I’m inspired by stories of lesser mortals that are the stuff the great writings of Frank McCourt, Jimmy Breslin, Dennis Brady and Lane DeGregory are made of.
When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, media sought the expressions of grief and loss of heads of states and political news makers. Breslin interviewed and wrote about the grave-digger assigned to prepare the president’s resting place at Arlington.       
Breslin wrote that 42-year old Clifton Pollard had bacon and egg prepared by his wife Hettie, before he was pulled out to dig the grave on a Sunday morning
“He was a good man,” Pollard was quoted by Breslin. “Now they’re going to come and put him right here in this grave I’m making up. You know, it’s an honor just for me to do this.”
Critics agreed Breslin’s story is a mini-classic in journalism. They said Pollard’s words somehow summed up America ’s -  the world’s – deep sense of loss. The journalism student asked me if my daughter Beng and son Boogie also write. Beng was exposed to writing as managing editor of The Beacon, the college student publication of the University of Baguio.
Boogie began to write later with his wife Lovelyn (nee Pontino), to forget their missing home while trying to work and raise their two boys in Italy . The couple’s blogs are for my grandsons – Lukie and Dylan – to read when they grow up.
I was irretrievably magnetized by Lovelyn’s narratives about her family roots. Now and then, I would fill this page with Boogie’s own. After reading a couple of Boogie’s articles, lawyer Bangsoy, the husband of Annabelle (nee Codiase, one of the best Baguio feature writers before she quit to raise their kids), texted: “Boogie should take over your column.”
My boyhood buddy Camilo Candelario also e-mailed: “You son sees and feels better than you do.”
My daughter Beng e-mailed about her meeting another girl: “She admitted she  had no childhood; I’m luckier because I had one.”
Juxtapose that to Michael Jackson’s childhood denied by early celebrity status.
Their notes make me proud of my children’s sensitivity. They make me feel better, not as a journalist, but as a father and grandfather on the other side of the globe.  
The icing is that from their feedbacks, these people close to me read what I write. Even when, deadline-pressed to  fill this week-end corner, I turn redundant. (e-mail:mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments).

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