The troubadour

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Friday, April 4, 2014

ALMOST a million words later, in approximately a hundred articles that came out every Tuesdays and Fridays the past year, this column space is celebrating a year of existence. I know there is no such thing; columns do not have ages. Writing an opinion column on a daily is always a struggle against time. And I don’t just mean beating a deadline.

It has to always be current, hot, incendiary for just like the paper that it is printed on; it becomes stale by the middle of the day. There is something sisyphean about the whole exercise of putting words on paper especially since the material it is printed on is dutifully repurposed as dried fish wrapper or worse.

But thank god for the internet, they are all safely kept in the archive of this paper’s online version. Like paintings in an online museum, they are entombed in the ether between your led screen and its glass cover, made to appear like magic with a click of the mouse.


So to mark this special occasion, I did a review of the harvest of the past year. Save for a few that tackled the burning issues of the day, they are hardly the searing essays laden with so much controversy as to shift public opinion perceptibly. Instead, most of them sound like the languid musings of a chain-smoking hermit reflecting exactly the circumstances of each article’s birth.

There I was expressing my awe about majestic Bukidnon and her mystic role for many migrant families in the lowlands while blowing smoke through the blinds in a cheap pension house room one chilly evening in Malaybalay.

In many occasions, it is my newsfeed that spurs the inspiration. My FB friends do not know but sometimes they cause the acid and vitriol that find themselves splattered on this paper. I think I achieved my 15 seconds of fame with that piece about the cowardly middle class brought on by classist postings about the demolition of urban poor settlements which set twitterverse ablaze. Not really. But it did rankle a few who have since bandied together to launch their middle class revolution of five.

That piece written in the aftermath of Yolanda was especially difficult to write. In order to give justice to the tragedy of thousands, one must bring oneself to imagine the painful encounter of many with death, loss, and destruction at such a grand scale while recognizing the subject position of being safe, at a distance, yet conscious of their suffering. The task of writing feels like an emotional marathon on these occasions as the mental anguish drains me of all strength at the end of it.

But there are special moments when the white hue of a word document appears like an open door to a great adventure. That piece on the cosmos and our attempts to map ourselves on its great expanse was literally like reaching for the stars in terms of writing a piece. To have been able to pull it off gave me great satisfaction and writing then becomes its own reward.

Sometimes it is an encounter with the unexpected that sparks a cherished memory of a person. While driving, it was just a huge sticker emblazoned at the back of a truck that read “The Unknown” which surfaced long buried memories of my father. I then make a quick mental note about the need to write about it in what has become a twice-weekly exercise of documenting my encounters with memories, ideas, people, and places.

So it has been a year in the life of an individual chronicled in all these 100 articles made up of about a million words. It has been no small feat subjecting one’s inner life and political beliefs to the scrutiny of an anonymous public. But I am enriched by this experience, by its constant demand to discipline my thoughts and emotions in the form of more or less 750 words every Tuesdays and Fridays and commit these to publication.

I always wonder if there is an audience for this kind of writing. I would like to think, there is. I have not been given walking papers by my editor yet. And every now and then, a piece manages to catch the attention of a few outside the circle of my less than 500 fb friends and gets passed on like the folk-tales of old. I guess I see myself as a troubadour singing sad songs in dark lonely nights grateful for the few who stop and listen.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 04, 2014.


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