At Taboan


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DAVAO CITY — As I write this, we’ve just closed the second day of Taboan, the Philippine International Writers Festival here in Davao. I can let out a sigh of relief and gratitude that the first two days have gone by more or less smoothly. True, there have been minor hiccups here and there, but on the whole, I think the delegates and the guests are happy. So long as they’re happy, I’m happy.

Taboan has been no mean undertaking for us at the Davao Writers Guild. This week, we brought in some 60 writers from all over the Philippines (and three from abroad) to Davao City for a three-day festival/conference. On paper, the conference consists of panel discussions, speeches, and performances; in reality, well, anything goes. Writing may be a solitary art, but most writers are social creatures, more so than others.

I won’t bother dropping the names of the writers I’ve met in this conference. Truth be told and no boast, I’ve met with each and every one of them. While I’ve had the privilege of being delegate to the first two Taboans, this time around I’m the Conference Coordinator.

That lofty title has meant: with the other three members of the steering committee — thinking up the panel sessions, arranging them in logical and equitable order, selecting the best speakers and moderators; and on my own — contacting delegates, getting preferred flight schedules, booking tickets, getting them to Davao safe and sound. And on top of that, please add web site maintenance, transportation, negotiation, and overall communications.

In other words, I am the master cat herder.

And so for this festival, my being a writer and fan has had to take a back seat. First and foremost, I am organizer and host. Now I have to deal with the writers the way I would with customers and work peers. Be friendly but firm. Troubleshoot first, get autographs later. Tiring as it may be, the momentary transition has not been without benefits: I get glimpses of the real persons underneath. And what do you know, they’re plain folk, too.

Yet here’s the beauty and wonder of it all: ordinary as they may be as I deal with them on matters mundane, but when they read from their work, when they convey their ideas, a kind of transfiguration happens. Their art transforms them. I wonder how THAT could come from such a person, and I am in awe. And once more, I find myself a fan.

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