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In the moment, and in retrospect

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Oct 13, 2021 9:00 am

Eleven years of managing one of the country’s longest-running newsweekly and literary magazines as its editor-in-chief came to a halt in June 2020.

The day arrived like any other day before it, sun-drenched, luminous, my flower garden thick with lighthearted cheer. I remember thinking that the only thing unhinged about the whole day was the fact that the country was in its third month under quarantine.

At the gate, sometime around noon, a man carrying my retrenchment papers stood almost ruefully, knowing it was never an easy task to be the bearer of bad news. I read the document, smiled, and never felt more relieved.

The 11-year editorship had been a long, exhilarating yet largely exhausting chapter of my little over 30-year stint as a writer. So much so that, I thought, the time had come for that much-sought-after piña colada by the sea.

How easy it was to simply dismiss the retrenchment as one of those things where Mercury, perchance, was in retrograde, and the stars, brilliant as they were stunning, refused to smile my way. However, at the back of my mind, I knew there was more to it than met the eye.

Time and again I had been warned by the corporate top brass to pull my punches, sometimes even under pain of sanctions, if not dismissal. Anyway, I was too much of a maverick to lend them an ear, let alone two.

I’m no stranger to disappointments, any more than I am to triple-cheese pizza. I had been quite the naughty editor back then, springing my flaming arrows on the powerful with the littlest regard as to what consequences my articles might bring.

Time and again I had been warned by the corporate top brass to pull my punches, sometimes even under pain of sanctions, if not dismissal. Anyway, I was too much of a maverick to lend them an ear, let alone two.

And so it came to pass that I made quite a few adversaries. Great, I told myself. For what good would all this belligerence accomplish if all I ended up with were friends and admirers?

Suffice it to say that I couldn’t have stopped writing even if I tried. It’s the one life I have come to love, a life I have no reason of halting regardless of what had happened. So, the next few months saw me penning piece after piece in Medium.com.

And then the unexpected happened. Sheila Pascual Paras shot me a message, asking if  PhilSTAR L!fe could republish a story I wrote on that blog site.

The title was “Words for Tears: Reflections on a Mother’s Grief.” It was the heartbreaking tale of Reyna Nacino and Baby River. I wrote it as an essay, a form I had a weakness for long before I became a professional writer and author.

Reina Mae Nacino looks at three-month-old Baby River as she lays her to rest at the Manila North Cemetery on October 16, 2020.

Without batting an eyelash, I said yes. The Philippine STAR has always been my paper of choice, and it would be quite an honor to have my pieces appear in the paper, and all other publications associated with it.

That first piece launched what I would call a life-changer.

The next several months saw me pitching stories to PhilSTAR L!fe where I wrote hardline journalism in literary form. Introspections, movie and book reviews, pieces of memoir, opinion, political and pop-culture commentaries: all with the strain and grain of creative nonfiction.

It was everything I have been searching for all these years: a publication where I can write as freely and as honestly as any writer might wish. 

Writing for Philstar L!fe has turned out to be ‘life-changing’ for the author.

There’s a level of lightness to its pages, regardless of the heavy themes. They’re mostly honest, candid, authentic. Roguish and highly-spirited, too, with its layout and images catering to a visual generation.

I particularly am a fan of stories told using the unique voices of its writers. I’ve always considered it an editorial achievement when editors refuse to impose their voices on the author’s.

Its fresh, young approach to complicated matters, those less likely to attract younger audiences when penned in bland, inflexible form, has given the publication its avant-garde feel.

Progressive, definitely. Revolutionary, in so many ways. Woke? No doubt PhilSTAR L!fe has both eyes open.

The author Anaïs Nin once said that ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.’

From its coverage of political and entertainment news to the curlicues of techy, comic-book and geeky culture, I have to say, PhilSTAR L!fe has outdone itself. Truth be told, the website doesn’t pretend to be anything but geeky, knowledgeable in everything but stuff beyond the known universe.

It’s an intellectual treasure-trove of articles and commentary for today’s young minds, one that can be understood on account of its minimalist artistry. Where hardcore journalism fuses with literature to form today’s stories: what more can one ask?

All these provided the impetus that helped me reassess my life as a writer and journalist. Two years shy of my senior year, my one overarching fear is this old writer’s tendency to refuse the stirrings of his own evolution. To stick to the old ways, the old words, the old lines. That ancient comfort zone.

PhilSTAR L!fe dared me to advance, expand, even defy the ravages of time. To speak to a generation for whom information is at their fingertips is no trifling matter. One must be 10 steps ahead if a writer is to gain their respect. Anything less could mean the end of a long, tedious, and altogether thankless career.

The author Anaïs Nin once said that “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

PhilSTAR L!fe not only gave me my second wind, but as an author, my second breath. A taste of life in the moment and in retrospect.

To me, writing has always been about discovery. In the end, to answer the question “Why?” In order to achieve that, it is imperative for the author not only to remain alive, but to live.

To live to see. To touch. To live to dare. To follow one’s obsessions mercilessly, as Franz Kafka put it. To give expression to tears. To lend color to joy. Where there is loss, hope.

And what better way to live that life than to write as freely and as honestly as one might wish.

Happy anniversary, PhilSTAR L!fe!