Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Breakthroughs

I have goosebumps as I write this. That's because I genuinely feel my students in my Feature Stories class have achieved major breakthroughs in their storytelling. After several weeks of struggling with subject, content, and narrative technique (and yes, the definition of adverbs), two of my students have turned in really worthwhile pieces.

To give you some idea of the development, let me present to you one early work:

I received a text message from my dad saying that he was about to leave our house to come pick me up. It usually takes an estimated fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on traffic, to get to the school from our house so I thought I had to do something to kill the time. It was 4:00 pm on a Monday; I stood and leaned against the railings near the Roxas gate since all of the stone and wood benches there were already occupied.

Activity period is usually spent in different ways by the students. It was twenty minutes past the start of activity period so students were everywhere. By 4:00 pm, the Roxas area was cramped by new and unfamiliar faces, but the scene itself was anything but new and unfamiliar. It’s somewhat odd for me to enjoy standing there surrounded by people I don’t know. But I was at the Roxas area, and in the context of people who loves to “observe” and generally be around people, it shouldn’t be boring.
From where I was standing, I could see clusters of students, which I assumed to be first year students, who seemed like they haven’t seen each other in years by the way they jumped up and down when they saw someone they knew. I felt like I was about to go deaf when a girl who was standing just three steps away from me started to squeal her throat out of excitement in seeing a few students, who I assumed were her friends, hopping towards her. I remember myself being that way too, when I saw my friends at school for the first time after the summer vacation. Although I do remember myself being very excited, I don’t remember myself squealing. And the sound of that girl squealing definitely did not only catch my attention but almost everybody there turned their heads towards her. I was embarrassed for her, but she didn’t seem to mind the people staring at her wondering what the hell she was squealing about. A few moments later, everybody else went back to their own little worlds.


Now consider this excerpt from her latest piece:

It was a Friday when Maris came home from the office at 5:00 in the morning after pulling an all-nighter. She goes up to her room and sees her two children—Gabby, six, and Patrick, three—sleeping and oblivious to the sound of the door as it tweaked opened. She sat, and then sees two travel bags across the bed that reminds her of their four o’clock flight to Tacloban City that day. But when she glanced at her watch, she realizes that she still has to go to work in three hours.

Coming home late at night, even until the break of dawn, is normal for Maris—at least now it is. She works for two law firms, one in the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel and a consultancy with RR Donnelly (a Business Process Outsourcing company), and she also handles cases in her private practice. Each law firm doesn’t require her, though, to be present daily, thus giving her manageable working hours. But it is not the hours that measure the work that she does; it is the load of corporate cases she handles within those hours, and after hours, which is draining. She has to work long hours. Rather, she needs to. However, Maris does not let this get to her.

But this is not how it all used to be.

Maris and Jude met in 1999 in Law School. She was in first year, he in second year. They were running under the same political party for the Law Student Government. Maris eventually won as PRO, and Jude won as Treasurer. They worked together as student leaders for a year. But it was only after the term when sparks began to fly between Maris and Jude. And “The rest”, she says, “is history.”

Even though it was unexpected, Maris and Jude began a family following the birth of their daughter, Gabby. Patrick followed four years later. Maris couldn’t ask for anything more. She was blessed to have Jude as her husband, and as the father of her children. Maris says that although Jude had a very demanding job, his first priority was always his kids. And when it came to her, Jude couldn’t be more devoted and committed. Maris describes married life with Jude as normal. “May masaya, may malungkot, may mahirap din na adjustments kasi medyo seloso siya. Pero all in all, it was worth it.” Maris and her family lived a pretty comfortable lifestyle. They’re able to balance work, and the fruits of their work, and share it with their children.

It was on March 26, 2007 (Maris’ birthday) when Maris first brought Jude to the hospital because of unbearable stomach pains. “it started with 2 weeks na feeling bloated and gassy sya nung last 2 weeks of february 2007. tapos nung 1st 2 weeks of march may pains na, paunti-unti, pawala-wala, tapos hanggang naka-feel na sya ng constipation.” Since then, their trips to the hospital became frequent.

Maris and her family came back to Manila to Tacloban, and were supposed to start working on April 16. Jude was to go back to his office in Eastwood, and Maris was to start with a law-firm in Ortigas. Unfortunately, Jude was on surgery that day to remove masses in his large intestines.

It was on the first week of May when Jude was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. His doctor said he needed chemotherapy ASAP, and a lot of prayers as well.


And that's just from the first page of a much longer piece of work, around 5,000 words in total.

There's still some polishing to be done for a piece like this, but the coverage and the subject matter have grown by leaps and bounds. I will definitely have to recommend this piece for a workshop this summer.

I am damn proud of my students.

2 comments:

  1. I've been a struggling writer and I love to read good pieces but nobody ever told me yet how good or bad I write. I'm afraid my pieces were both good and original.. I remember one experience you posted here: "the good part was not original and the original part was not good.."

    Dom, I shall appreciate very much if you can post some tips on writing techniques. And when you do some workshop exercises for this piece here, I hope that you can post the comments and improvements made thereon.

    Thank you.

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  2. And thank you, Pres. Mau. You'll have to attend my classes next year to get the full benefit. :-)

    Seriously, I will put together a piece on the techniques and readings I used in this class. I hope to do that soon.

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