I FINALLY agreed, dear karikna, to pursue what well-meaning friends and readers have been prodding me to do: write a book.
I made the decision the other week when I opened our refrigerator and saw my newspaper column wrapped around a bundle of Saluyot. I asked mom why, she said it was, anyway, from an old issue.
Even with the amounts of time, and energy, and sanity that go with writing a regular weekly column, I have always known that yesterday’s paper is today’s junk, and there was no way I would have been so sensitive and felt offended. Still, not unlike in a melodramatic soap opera, memories came flashing back because of that incident. I remembered how many hours of sleep I missed to meet deadlines. The cups of coffee downed, and the many bottles of SanMig Light I gulped to reward myself for articles that I was particularly happy with.
I recalled one time when I hit the keyboard while a nasty typhoon pounded the city. Because my laptop ran only on battery, I had to adjust the screen to its dimmest, and to my eyes’ protestations, so that the power would last. And then there were times when internet access would be faulty, and, aboard my good old bicycle, I would brave the rains or the scorching heat, to find a computer shop with a working connection so I can transmit my work.
But the most difficult part lies in determining what to write. There were countless moments when I would stare blankly on the screen, trying to balance, not with ease, the varying interests of a wide range of readers. There are those who would complain when I write about local issues, which they cannot relate to because they are not from Ilocos. But then, how could I be significant as a writer if my essays are so not-here? I see things in the locality, and I get affected by issues in the community. How can I not write about them?
The big challenge, I realized, is in striking a balance, a synthesis. The order of the day is to show how the issues we face as Ilocanos are not remote and isolated, but are rather inevitably linked with the struggles of the Filipino people, and with the sojourn of humankind.
Of course there are essays that I am not proud of, and they will surely not see print in the book.
Writing, as you probably know by now, is not the source of my bread (and some butter). I just squeeze it in between preparing for lessons, meeting classes, correcting final exam papers, checking assignments, evaluating research papers, computing grades and distributing them, and being chased by those who got red marks. I am not even mentioning here the many other responsibilities entrusted to me in the university.
There are many reasons not to write, foremost of them is not being able to have SanMig Light as often as I wish to because I am no Edgar Allan Poe, but I write for my column every single week, and mainly because I have the paper’s readership in mind. It’s like a weekly date with readers, and I know how it feels to be stood up on a date.
Writing in itself is a joy. It is just a bonus when you figure that some people, aside from your supportive family, actually read your work. I have come across some folks, in person and through the web, who say they read Riknakem, and I’d know they really really do when they begin to tell me stories they remember from my writings. As I often cannibalize my life in my essays, it could get awkward when people know so much about you, but then suddenly you feel happy, not at all due to cheap fame, but because suddenly you realize that, you are not, after all, alone.
And so I am writing a book.
What better time to do it than now? It’s been a decade since Who wants to be a Filipino (2000), the essay which brought me twenty seconds of infamy. Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Youngblood section, it reappeared in other newspapers and magazines here and abroad, was posted in a number of websites, circulated in email, anthologized in books, discussed in top universities, and featured in documentaries and talk shows on national television. Although it caught the ire of many Filipinos who filled my mailbox with hate letters, it was my ticket to a writing career in Malacañang.
But it was not the first time I knew I could write. As editor of our high school publication, I advocated the banning of fraternities in school. As a result, I got lynched by a mob of angry fratmen. With my head locked in the muscled arms of a gangster, my face was on the receiving end of powerful jabs. While I tasted blood dripping from my nose and saw nothing but black except stars and twittering birds circling around my head (the kind of which I though only appears in cartoons), I realized, I could be a writer.
The book project is still fluid, especially on the themes we will delve on. It is tempting to arrange the essays chronologically to see how my thoughts matured or degenerated over time (2000-2010), but a thematic approach, I feel, would allow for a more focused and vibrant discussion of issues.
With the launch slated in January 2011 in time for the golden wedding anniversary of my parents, the book seems all set, but only because of the generosity of family and friends. The foreword will be written by Alona U. Guevarra, a fine literary critic from the Ateneo de Manila University. She also happens to be my best friend. June Arvin Godoy from the mighty kingdom of Quiling in Batac is working on the critical analysis. MMSU’s Fides Bitanga will contribute an introductory chapter. Fab Ianree Raquel is doing the cover, and he wants to do it “with a twist”. Luvee Hazel Calventas-Aquino is language critic while Sharon Laeda is working on the layout. Dr. Vangie Blust, a US-based sociologist, is also throwing in her intellectual support. My former students Byron Asuncion and Kit Reyes will share their reflections while Lolita Chestnut of New Hampshire USA, who has posted the most number of comments in this blog, will pen a note.
Riknakem the book is not just a collection, but a celebration of a gift, of writing, of Ilocanoness, of being Filipino, of being human, of our togetherness, of discourse, and of our weekly dates here in this space.
I will appreciate it very much, dear karikna, if you would send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) indicating interest for the book so that we can determine how many copies to print. It will cost two-hundred something apiece.
I understand that some of our comrades are based abroad, so I will try to find a way they can avail online. Otherwise, they can ask their relatives here in Saluyot Land to grab a copy.
We have heard many times about the three things the Talmud suggests one should do in the course of one’s lifetime: plant a tree, write a book, and have a child.
I hope you be with me in this endeavor so I can spend more time planting trees and dodging my family’s questions on when, if I ever will in a world of seven billion people, sire a child.