AROUND this time last year, you and I gave birth to this humble column.
While I was not exactly new to writing—having previously published my works in newspapers, books, and websites—the thrill of composing an article on a weekly basis was unparalleled.
Among all the columns written by local journalists, Riknakem has appeared most frequently and most consistently in The Ilocos Times. In the past one year, I failed to pass my weekly article but once.
I still wonder how I do it. Teaching, we all know, is a very demanding job. In addition, I also work at the media office of MMSU, carry out research projects, and serve other publications either as writer or consultant.
Of course, it is not without sacrifices. There have been many times of whole nights spent out of bed, and vacations spent in front of the computer. Having this column also meant less time for my bicycling, which I used to do during my free time.
There are times when I am tempted to miss a column, but my friend Ianree Raquel always reminds me of my responsibility to readers, and I oblige.
But, no, I am not complaining. I have never looked at writing as a burden.
But, why do I write, anyway? Of course, it’s not about money. Community papers are not exactly big on profit. I write because, along with teaching, it is the best way I know to help, as every dutiful citizen should, build a nation. It’s a bonus that writing gives me immense joy. I am thrilled with wordplay, I find meaningful the cathartic self-discovery that goes with composing and expressing my thoughts, and I feel relieved that my opinions are no longer just my own.
But writing is also potentially a lonely job. At certain points, you ask, “may nagbabasa ba?” That is why it is very reassuring when you meet people who tell you they read, even love, your column, and you know that they are not bluffing when they begin to talk about ideas and stories from your articles.
I am thus very exacting when it comes to my craft. I always strive to check on facts, to zero in on the right words, and, most importantly, to meet highest ethical standards in journalism. And yet, there are shortcomings, too, and for them I seek your understanding and forgiveness.
Jun-b Ramos, our patient Editor in Chief, knows how I barely meet the deadlines. We are supposed to pass articles every Wednesday so that Michael, his associate, can have sufficient time to do the layout. But lately, I have been passing articles, including this one, at the last minute on Fridays.
But, Jun-b is a remarkable EIC not only because of his leniency when it comes to deadlines. The best thing is that he never interferes with this column’s content. “You can write about anything,” he told me when we first met to discuss my writing for the Ilocos Times. The paper thus remains true to its role as Ilocandia’s bastion of press freedom. And it is also to Jun-b’s credit that The Ilocos Times has consistently remained in circulation, thus shedding off its old image as The Ilocos Sometimes.
The online version of Riknakem has been no less fruitful. The blog was initially meant to be just an online storage for my articles, but it has evolved to something more.
In cyberspace and in flesh, I have the privilege of meeting several readers, foremost of them is Lolita Bareng Chestnut of New Hampshire, USA (originally from Batac). Tita Lita, the most active blog visitor, has reacted to all my blog posts, and has written around a thousand comments. Then there’s Donna of The Netherlands, Don of Iraq, Gerry of Canada, Jen of Manila, Byron of San Juan (MM), Mars of Kalinga, Renato Dumlao of Currimao, the Ramorans of Bangui, Taylans of Dingras, Cajigals of Badoc, ad infinitum.
Articles from Riknakem have also been reposted in other blogs and circulated in online mailing groups.
Four articles in the Filipino language have appeared in this column, and they are among the most read and most reacted to. I continue to dream to be able to write in Iluko, and that I will do before we turn two.
It is a good thing that I have access to blog statistics which give me an idea of what articles are most frequently read, the links that lead visitors to my blog, and a geographical profile of my readers.
Based on stat reports, the blog registers at least a hundred visitors per day, and has catered to at least 10,000 web users on its first year. Not bad at all.
The most read article is “Pitaka ng pag-asa: Isang pagpupugay kay Leoncio Pagtama at sa lahat ng tulad niya,” which tackles the refreshing honesty of Pinoys in the face of poverty. Pagtama is a janitor in our school, who, on several occasions, returned lost money and things. He is increasingly becoming an internet phenomenon. Try to google “katapatan at kagandahang loob” and the results will lead you to articles written about him.
Coming in close second is “Agosto: Buwan ng Lip Service (patuloy ang pagdedma sa mga katutubong wika),” sought after by students and researchers on the use of the mother tongue.
“Pretentious and Meaningless: Pamulinawen Festival kicks off,” which lashed at the February festivities in Laoag, stands at third. I have written two other articles on the subject, “No to Beauty Pageants and Political Invocations,” and “Hitler’s Visit, Unbearable Speeches, Amazing Ms. Laoag, and Other Notes on Pamulinawen Festival 2009.”
“Why the National Anthem Should Precede the Invocation in Secular Gatherings,” which sparked fiery debates among blog readers, grabbed the fourth spot, with “Legalize Marijuana,” read by Internet users from 28 countries, at fifth.
“Portrait of a Writer as Ilocano: A Tribute to Zosimo Ma. Pablico,” which tackles the life and times of a fellow columnist who went to the Great Beyond last April, and “Pockets of Redemption,” a photo-essay on the little things my students do to make the world a better place, are in sixth and seventh places, respectively.
“Mga Larawan sa Maharot na Dilim,” written by my student Cherry Gatiw-an, which I featured in a two-part series, was the eighth most read. Offering inputs on how to make Ilocos Norte a bicycle-friendly province, “Pedaling our way through the crisis” ranked ninth, and completing our top ten is “Gloria as Obama’s mentor,” my commentary on Malacañang’s hilarious claim that the charismatic US president stands to learn from the bemoled queen.
When I wrote articles that criticized the church, starting off with “Slap the Bishops,” people thought I was anti-church, in the same breath that some City Hall supporters branded me as “a minion of the capitol” because of my stance on a couple of issues. It’s good that readers begin to consider your karikna, neither as enemy nor as minion of any person or institution, but simply as a dreamy writer who pursues, with no fear or favor, a future less unfair, less unjust, and less inhumane.
Yet the most rewarding experience for me is not that my column has earned a captive audience, it is that budding writers, by reading my articles, have been encouraged to nurture their passion for the written word, and to continue to hone their gifts.
Eaglepower, a young reader, frequently visits my blog where he posts well-crafted comments. I always encouraged him to write essays, but he had been hesitant, saying that he was not confident.
The other day, however, Eaglepower sent me two essays that show healthy doses of inquisitiveness, idealism, and bravado, reminiscent of my early years in writing.
And so I will carry on with my work, no matter that a journalist’s job is not without serious dangers, and no matter that government is inutile in curbing the attacks on members of media.
Because first anniversaries are always special, allow me to say, at the risk of being too cheesy: thank you, dear karikna, and ’til next week.