More than writing
It was an 18-hour workday for me, and I don’t even have a job. I was up at 6 a.m. and was still awake at 12 midnight, with a slight buzz courtesy of the five cups of coffee, the heavy dinner, and the pervading Manila humidity. I had three writing gigs: one in far-away Alabang, another in Makati, and finally in Quezon City, on a street which many jeepneys ply, including a few that bear the signage “UP campus.” As always, I had an urge to hail one and go back. But it was past midnight, and my stomach was complaining of too much caffeine and my heart, of cruel, cruel irrelevance.
It’s on days like this, with too many words written, when I remember I once wrote for the Philippine Collegian. But to say, “I once wrote for the Collegian,” is to say that you did much more than writing.
Which is not to say the articles are not memorable. My first piece published in UP’s weekly student newspaper was on the party-list system. In the same issue, I wrote another piece, shorter and fictional, about joining an orgy. During my stint with the paper, I wrote about the tuition hike, teleseryes, student housing, malls, Sarah’s, the Olympics, corporate social responsibility, Malawi and the World Bank, surviving a State of the Nation Address rally, call centers, gay bars, the UP Pep Squad, and my love life. For a lampoon issue, I wrote about a secret campus organization of sex addicts.
But in between the writing, beyond the paper’s mostly crimson pages, my experiences with “Kulê” will be with me for the rest of my life, as baggage, as lesson.
For instance, years later, I realized that I had become a malicious overthinker. I could no longer rejoice over the news about a petite Filipina singer appearing on an American talk show. Questions would intuitively pop in my head: Why did it take a Westerner’s approval before we, as a nation, started to go crazy over Charice, when before we thought her high, powerful notes were dime a dozen?
Certainly, critical thinking has its merits, but in the middle of a Transformers movie, amid all the explosions and bad acting, I could not even suspend disbelief when the good robots decide to seek out the help of the US Armed Forces. The word “de facto global police” kept on ringing in my ear, and there was, I realized, no way I could enjoy a movie that treated it matter-of-factly, Hollywood’s odd ideological standards notwithstanding.
But such is the Collegian’s mandate, the paper’s 89-year-old directive: to go beyond the typical territory of campus journalism, to scrutinize beyond the run-of-the-mill analysis. Beholden to neither school official nor commercial interest, the Collegian is in a unique position of independence that few other publications can claim. And therein lies the power. Therein lies the duty.
As a writer for its features, and, eventually, kultura sections, I was always reminded of the paper’s high standards when I would get my draft massacred to the last punctuation mark. And even then, I’d feel lucky. A fellow writer found the first page of his draft with, simply, a huge X and, worse, tucked in the corkboard for everyone to see. I heard about drafts being burned, or articles reaching 15, 20 revisions because of a writer’s sullen inattentiveness to editing marks and marginal notes.
This and more: superhuman news writers who could juggle classes with trips to the Supreme Court, or Congress, or, worse, survive the hostile university official who refused interviews because “biased naman kayo e (you guys are biased anyway)”; feature writers who’d rather play “uno-stacko” on Christmas parties than drink; kultura writers who could write entire articles with zero legwork; editors who could edit half-drunk; artists who had the writers in perpetual awe over their skill; photographers who learned the art of taking amazing pictures while dodging truncheons in rallies; and layout artists who would put everything together and were, naturally, the last ones off the hook.
A few days ago, I received an invite for an upcoming reunion of Philippine Collegian alumni. Instantly, my head swirled with the formidable names that have graced its pages. I wondered: Will Reynato Puno be there? Will Franklin Drilon be there? Will Malou Mangahas be there? Most importantly, will Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Kulê’s first female editor in chief, be there?
I once again fell in awe of this institution, like many years ago during my first general meeting, when I saw the faces behind the bylines. So that’s Frank Lloyd Tiongson. So that’s Melane Manalo. So that’s Alaysa Tagumpay Escandor. So that’s Kenikenken. So that’s Jerrie Abella. Even then I realized that this is what makes the Collegian great: all the brilliant people who forsake the potentially easy life of a college student, spending their precious free time and weekends doing legwork, writing and editing, drawing, taking photos, and lay-outing, all for the sake of the UP studentry, the paper’s sole publisher.
And so today, we have taken different paths, sought different things, fought different battles. After leaving the comfortable tower of Vinzons Room 401, some have gone on to media, or teaching, or NGO work. I myself have chosen to dabble in creative writing, to particularize and humanize the injustices that my Kulê days alerted me to, the ills that its writers and artists have chosen to expose and fight.
During writing workshops, when someone says my poem or story suffers from too much political baggage, I merely smile. I remember a cold Saturday night on the Vinzons Hall rooftop when, so close to the stars and overlooking the decades-old acacia trees, a promise was made—a promise about enduring and never bowing to 18-hour workdays and to bouts of feeling irrelevant.
Glenn Diaz, 25, is a freelance writer and creative writing graduate student. He invites all Philippine Collegian alumni to a homecoming on October 7 at UP Bahay ng Alumni. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
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