A note from Davao


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DAVAO CITY — Hello. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m still here. If I haven’t been writing, it’s for the reasons I will soon enumerate.

I’ve come to dislike personal revelations in spaces like this (that’s what my blog is for), but because I’ve been away for a while, I feel a brief recap is in order.

I started teaching full-time with Ateneo de Davao University last year. While teaching pays less than what I used to earn working for a multinational, I get much more fulfillment out of the work.

Young people make me feel and think young. As far as dividends go, no consulting or sales job can match that. And while there are still administrative headaches to deal with, I have perspective now, and can see it for the silliness that it is.

I teach for both the Computer Studies Division and the Humanities Division. Computers or literature: I’ve given up trying to choose between one and the other. I love them both.

The subjects I teach — operating systems, information security, and open source for IT, and creative nonfiction for English — are all rich and leave plenty of room for experimentation. I don’t feel like I’m wearing down a groove on endless repetition. I have found that I am happiest when I am learning new things.

After several false starts and stops, I’ve returned to graduate studies. I like it a little less than teaching. It’s harder to follow someone else’s plan than your own, more so if you don’t agree with the track.

But there it is, a necessary evil in higher academe. If it’s the price I have to pay to do what I love, well, so be it.

Learning has a price, though, and it can be painful. Because I’ve delved deeper into literature in the course of teaching, I’ve learned that, well, I don’t really write as well as I think I did.

I’m more a journeyman than an artist. My prose is functional, but it doesn’t soar. With time, this might change, but I am resigned to the idea that it might not, that I might remain at this level. I’m afraid that the self-criticism has taken its toll. Ah, well.

Competence exacts a price as well. It’s the reverse of the Peter Principle: you can be so good at what you do that it’s hard to move on to other things because people have come to depend on you.

Such is the case with the work I’ve been doing for the Davao Writers Guild.

It’s not that I don’t like the work or the people I work with, because I do. I like the idea that, even though I don’t write as well as I would like to, I’m moving the state of local literature forward, even if only in small inches.

But my technical competence means that I end up doing a lot of the drudge work. Let’s see: I run the web sites, I organize the annual workshop, I co-edit the weekly journal, and so far, I’ve put out three books and am in the process of turning out another two.

And because Davao is the host for this year’s Taboan International Writers Festival, I’ve spent the past two months arranging the conference program, purchasing tickets, negotiating with printers, and managing other writers’ expectations.

Don’t talk to me about delegation: I tried.

You know what they say about writers being difficult to work with? Well, it’s true. They’re absent-minded, they take their own time, and they don’t really listen to you. It really is like herding cats.

But I’m happy to say that the stereotype is more the exception than the rule, and if I’ve had any difficulty, it’s come from a minority, and it’s never really been out of malice. Respond firmly and succinctly, show no fear, and snigger in private. Heh.

But it rankles a bit. I ask myself why I am fixing and promoting someone else’s works instead of improving my craft.

It can’t be because of the pay, which is peanuts. Maybe because I can? Maybe because no one else will? Maybe because I’m thinking of lamps and how they should not be covered? Maybe because I really am just such a nice guy? I don’t know.

Yet, it does pay in other ways, just not in what I expected. For instance, the year before last, I marshalled two books to publication — by that, I mean editing, laying out, bringing to the printer, and following up payment from the NCCA.

It wasn’t easy: the author was sweet but technologically Jurassic, her work improperly formatted or available only in hard copy. In script form, too, which is a pain to work with.

But get the books out I did, and what a sweet thing it was to look back on the experience. Yatta! I did it!

It also turned out that the author had a niece. Though the niece and I didn’t quite hit it off the first time, we eventually got together. We’re getting married this May. But that’s a story for another time.

(Back to MetroPost HOME PAGE)

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