Thursday, August 15, 2013

Identity Crisis

I like it when they call me Germelina. I happened to sit in the poet Allan Popa’s class, “Malikhaing Pagsulat,” in the summer of 2009 and I was not “Ma’med” there. I was with a bunch of undergraduate kids--they called me Germelina. When we had poetry readings, and they were whispering to each other whose poem was being read, the guy named Mike or Cedric or any such name, would tell his classmate, “That’s Germelina’s” and I felt like I was one of them, young again—am I fooling myself? So, who is this woman they call Ma’m now? Sitting here at a table, with a wyteboard pen and eraser in her hand, pretending she had some intimate knowledge about the world? What comes to mind was Reina, my editor, the second editor I ever had in my life, when I was still a young reporter and now, I’m not that young anymore, but still I remember that poet-writer-columnist the first beautiful real feminist I ever encountered. She used to tell us inside the newsroom, “Don’t call me, Ma’m, call me Reina,” and that’s how we called her Reina; though we were uncomfortable about it at first, because she was so ahead of us in years and intelligence, she deserved to be Ma’med. But Reina was not that ordinary kind of Ma’m. She was fond of wearing shorts and thick glasses, and she had her Walkman always, the tiny wirings dangling down her ears somewhere, and once or twice, she jaywalked to cross the street to Sunstar office at Jones Avenue(this was in Cebu) without using the pedestrian lane and got caught by the traffic enforcers, whom she wrote about in her column the next day, praising them for doing such a good job of catching her. One time, as the story goes, the guard at the UP campus in Lahug, where she handled a journalism class, refused to let her in because she was wearing shorts and her usual T-shirt, complete with a Walkman, with the earphone on her ears, and those sunglasses. In her class, she also told her students, “Don’t call me, Ma’m, call me Reina,” but I heard she did not last very long there because the students petitioned her, they said she smoked in class and uttered expletives, which people were saying was okay at Diliman but not here in Cebu, it’s the province, the barrio, you see. I did not Ma’m Maritess, my first editor, the editor I can always claim to have taught me how to write a story. I did not Ma’m her because—well, she had a way of telling you something and you can't do anything else but obey and the first thing she told me, as I sat near her desk, where she edits her stories, was not to call her Ma'm—she was just three or four years ahead of me when I was still a reporter fresh out of school, entering a newsroom, feeling uncertain about the world. Though Maritess deserved to be Ma’med every inch of the way: the way she imposed the editorial discipline, the way she taught me how to deal with sources, I owed it to her my beginnings in the newsroom. “Tell that source of yours, if she wanted a copy of your story, tell her to talk to the editor," she would say, with the usual pout in her mouth, her head tilted at an angle, "Or better tell her, we don’t do that in the newsroom, we have our editorial standards, but if you are really so desperate to read my story before publication, talk to the editor.” And I know some of them did not but some of those who did must have suffered such a lashing.

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