In the CD-ROM entitled All This Time, rock icon Sting shares how strange and surreal it was to meet your heroes face to face. This realization dawned on him as he met singer-songwriter legend James Taylor for the first time. This was because Taylor was one pop icon whose albums Sting used to buy and listen to a lot during his formative years as a musician. Given the preceding, it is not that difficult to imagine how he must have felt when Taylor unexpectedly showed up backstage right after Sting’s concert to engage him in a conversation. They would, of course, eventually become life-long friends who would sing in each other’s albums over the years.
Sting’s surreal reflection might as well apply to me when I met not one but two real-life writers who have paid their dues as accomplished craftswomen of the written word. Thanks to their continuing long-running stints with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading broadsheet of the Philippines. I am, of course, referring here to Ma. Ceres Doyo whose column Human Face appears every Thursday in the Inquirer and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz who also regularly writes for the Inquirer on top of her duties as Chair of the National Book Development Board and her calling as an educator, a book critic, a reading advocate and prime mover of WhereTheWriteThingsAre. The latter facilitated the afternoon talk which was given by Ms. Doyo on the basics of feature writing.
Since I am a struggling and aspiring writer despite being published 5 times by the Inquirer between 2014 and 2015, it took awhile for me to get my bearings back when I realized I was in the presence of writing greatness. Awed, blessed and highly favored would not be inaccurate to describe how I felt. I took in the whole experience like the first time I saw the U2 docu film on IMAX. Indeed, the experience brought back fond memories of how I felt when I had the privilege of shaking the hand of Inquirer columnist Conrad De Quiros during one of the rallies in Makati sparked by the excesses of the Estrada presidency. The same might as well apply to the first time I got to speak face to face with yet another Inquirer columnist Randy David during the visit of the late philosopher Richard Rorty to U.P. I was instrumental in coordinating Professor Rorty’s visit to the Ateneo by referring Professor David to the Ateneo Philosophy faculty.
Despite the fact that Ms. Doyo conducted her talk sitting down (as she was not feeling well) and notwithstanding the fact that her Powerpoint deck could use some millennial aesthetic fine-tuning to keep up with the times, from the moment she opened her mouth and proceeded to walk us through the various stages of feature writing, you knew this was not just a talk on feature writing. It felt more like a master class. I particularly appreciated her many stories and examples from her writing career. She used these to amplify her tips and advice to aspiring feature writers like me. Among those that seared themselves in my heart and mind were her first-hand experience of being harassed during the Marcos dictatorship, her engaging interview with Chavit Singson, her life-long project of preserving the legacy of Mac-Ling Dulag and her front-seat access to the execution of a serial rapist by lethal injection.
It was also inspiring to realize – as she was sharing tips on prospective subjects to write about as well as numerous angles and approaches one can explore – that one could never possibly run out of things to write about. You just need to have the guts to face the typewriter or the keyboard and, to quote her favorite author, “let the drops of blood flow from your head to your keyboard.” Funny yes but oh so true.
DOWN TO EARTH
After overcoming the surreal dimension of the entire experience, I found the voice to engage with Ms. Doyo by way of questions which she encouraged her class to shoot her way. She answered every single one of them with very incisive insights and in a very inspiring way. I think it was the poet Maya Angelou who once wrote that after several months, people will forget what it was you said to them but they will not forget how you made them feel. Thanks to their sincerity and their being grounded in the reality of their readers and now listeners, both Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz reminded me of my favorite teachers in high school and college. They would not only answer your questions with wit. They would also effortlessly complement their replies to your questions with inspiring remarks. Remarks that inspire you to dream bigger dreams. Remarks that goad you to keep fighting, keep trying, keep writing no matter what.
Maybe it was the reason why I ended up being caught by the camera with my eyes closed when I had my picture taken with them. Maybe it was my self’s physiological way of telling those who cared to observe that clearly my mind and my heart at that time could not snap out of such a transcendent experience. “Was this really happening?” would not be a bad way to caption the said picture. In her book entitled Human Face which I requested Ms. Doyo to sign, she scribbled the message: “Celebrate the human.” That was what I felt like doing through writing as I contemplated her message weeks after her talk. After listening to Ms Doyo’s talk and conversing with Ms Cruz about my travails and worries as an aspiring weekend writer, that was exactly how I felt celebrating by continuing on with my blogging, come rain or come shine.
Maraming salamat po, Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz. Hulog kayo ng langit.