Wednesday, June 13, 2007

leavetaking, and the love of friends

"IN THE DEW of little things, the heart finds its morning." And I, born once upon a high noon in August under a lion's sign, roar amen.

We'll meet again--all of you in whom I have taken root--in yet another sunrise soon...

* * *

IT'S BEEN A MONTH since I left the country and settled (temporarily, I hope) with my family in the heartland of America. Ah, the sweet sorrow of departure and the thrill of a new adventure! And, yes, the geyser of goodwill and the grace of friendship that I've been blessed with all along! It had been a whirl of beer binges and videoke, reunions with friends long missed, and poetry dedicated to me like a talisman for tracing my way back home soon (Thank you, dear ole' Temistokles Adlawan). Plus a toast from two kindred spirits whose beautiful minds and hearts will always be cherished. Read on, here's a reprint of two opinion columns from Mayette Q. Tabada and Ana Escalante-Neri:

Xman Redux
by MAYETTE Q. TABADA, Sun.Star Cebu, 13 May 2007

CHEAPSKATE that I am, the first thing I bought when I had something left over from my salary was this mobile phone. Inexpensive and simple, the new phone fit me, down to the longish time it took to unlock and the limited memory of my ancient SIM card.

As far as coexistence anxieties went, this new phone and I settled down in no time, except for a few days ago, when this infernal gadget went crazy.

Fumbling with the keypad, I panicked every time the phone tone indicated an incoming message. Each time, I feared the worst: my younger son finally swallowed his older brother and was regurgitating him out, with the pieces in odd order.

Every time, it was this and that writer asking if Myke was gone, had gone, was really, really gone.

Texting is really ideal only for thumbs that fly over the keypad and eviscerate nimbly the rules of English writing. It is not for technophobes that feel they have to use the shift key every time to begin a sentence with a capital letter; or leave a space after punctuations (two if a period).

Also, texting is just too bloody for explaining to the young, the heartbroken, the dreamers that the mentor they wrote for, imitated, drank with—heck, loved—had, as of 3 PM last Friday, taken off for an 18-hour flight with his two young sons and a pocket full of finger puppets to go home to his beloved Arlaine.

Thanks to Myke, my editor-on-leave, I discovered a facet of the phone I thought I knew: push the buttons too quickly and this unremarkable piece of plastic will rear its spirit and refuse to execute a command.

Toxic, my editor would have said, nodding his bangs sagely while smiling roguishly.

Yeah, everything’s toxic alright, Xman. Some just use the poison to make poetry.

I first worked with Myke U. Obenieta in 2000. Our group of writers and photographers were prowling in the firecracker-making countryside of Babag, Lapu-Lapu to catch children and minors assembling in the illegal trade.

It was my first special report but my heart was not in it. Why punish the victims? For Myke, his interest was not to expose and investigate; he wanted to listen to the stories woven by those small, nimble fingers before an accidental spark sent them flying all over the countryside.

In the exacting world of journalism, Myke and I felt, more often than not, like mutants. In the backyards of Babag, we took to calling each other Xman, or “X-Man,” if according to Myke, as he was more straitlaced about grammar than I.

Over the years, in the newsroom or during coverage, we bumped into each other desultorily. I knew him better though as one of the most graceful editors to light up a classroom or a young writer’s dreams.

Some students stumble into writing because, caught between the devil and professors who believe in “publish or perish,” they have nowhere to go but into the roiling waters of the publishing world.

But the ones that grow into their craft have, hovering over their pens, not just Muses but angst-ministering angels and nurturing mutants. Until he finally made good on his travel plans last Friday, the Xman did not assign writers as go off with them on rambling, irreverent, offbeat, funny explorations of language, the movies, drinking, poetry, parenting, loving and other digressions that inexplicably fed the Craft.

For those unable to believe he has left, let me comfort you with Epictetus.

It’s not only because quoting some long-dead Greek confers the proper gravitas on leave-takings. The fellow is in one of the books left behind in the normal clutter of my editor’s desk.

This, as well as an oil-and-pastel painting of a ballet dancer, the communities of writers woven around his four scrupulously updated blogs, and the unfinished series of despedidas requiring at least half-a-year to complete, are portents that Myke has just stepped out and will, one afternoon, pop up to declare to us, day-shift stiffs: “Hi, beautiful people!”

* * *


by ANA ESCALANTE-NERI, Sun.Star Weekend Magazine, 25 April 2007

IT IS HARD to write about someone who has left, but even harder to write for someone just about to leave when you imagine you could still venture the hope that they would stay. Offer a final argument against their departure. The ache is keener when you see what spaces remain occupied—his mess on his desk, blunt-tipped pencils in a mug, he on that chair where he’s sat in the lifetime of eight years—while knowing that a mere few, few days would empty all that.

There are only five days left, to be exact, before my Weekend editor Mr. Myke Obenieta leaves with his two boys for Kansas to join his wife Arlaine.

I am tempted to send him, in lieu of this column, something incoherent (uh, not that my columns aren’t) with twice the usual character requirement.

Or maybe I could be dramatic and turn in a blank page, tell him that would be enough to explain the great void we would all feel in his absence. Sniff, sniff. Choke, sob.

Or I could do the corny but heartfelt thing and write about his being more than an editor, but an occasional beer buddy, too, for whom I’ve offered to foot the bill only to find out when it was time to pay that I had not enough cash in my wallet—the only time we managed to laugh about not getting paid enough writing.

A mentor, he was, as well, paneling in the two regional writing workshops I attended where he was the easiest of the bunch to forgive despite all his insulting comments on my poems….naw. He did no such thing. If anything, he’s been best at giving encouragement and good advice, literary or otherwise.

Perhaps what I can do is give some of that back, casual good advice, from one traveler to another?

Myke. Stuff your suitcase with the usual chicharon, otap, rosquillos, dried mangoes, pastillas, danggit. Our kababayans in the States are heartsick for those. They won’t mind your charging them quadruple their original price. Use profit from sales to tide you over until you find rich relatives to mooch money from during the first few months of your stay.

On the plane, when your two little men start to become a handful, think tranquilizer. Not for them, silly. For you. There should be at least three hundred other passengers on board anyway to keep an eye on them.

When you get there, don’t stop yourself from constantly calculating exchange rates. That way, you won’t have the heart to spend on anything, especially the little luxuries you never needed anyway when you were here. So when you come back home to Cebu, to us, to me, your favorite columnist, you could feel free to bore us with your stateside tales in an unnatural American accent if only because you’ve saved so much dolyares and could afford to buy us beer. If you spring for more than a couple, we might even pretend to be interested.

The important thing is coming home, at some point. Hopefully before the new Weekend editor recommends to fire me due to an attitude problem. A catty treatment from me. Uh, wait. Sorry to have to break it to you here, but I believe that position has been offered to me. Great news, right? You’re guaranteed a job when you return, and I get the chance to pay you back for all your kindness by offering you a tiny 300-worder space-filler under my editorship.

Meantime, ayo-ayo, Bai. Do enjoy your new adventure and give our regards to our fellow-poet Arlaine.

Wait, wait, a final thing. Don’t bring large bottles of toiletry in your hand-carry.

And your desk. Maybe don’t clear it.

Or clear it.

Or don’t.


Mayette Q. Tabada said...

hi, xman, salamat for posting the column. i really enjoy reading your paeans to walking and reading there. God bless mo ni Arlaine and the boys :-) Happy father's day, too! From all of us, Roy, Carlos and Juan :-) Hi diay from Ticia, Jill, Jos, Cathy, Ze, Ms.Erms :-)

fullofrain said...

hu hu hu...miss you na hu hu...