Short and possibly sweet
FROM MY HEART (The Philippine Star) - January 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Around this time in 1988 I came home from the United States. At the time, I had two dreams. The first was to become a columnist. That I wanted more than anything else in the world, but I did not yet know how to do it. I knew that I would never make enough money as a columnist so that led me to my second dream — to find a career that would fund my life and afford me the freedom to become a columnist. I knew I would have to find my second dream before I could reach for my first dream.

My youngest daughter graduated from college the year before. Suddenly I realized I could probably go home for a vacation at last. In the US I worked as a secretary. When I left the Philippines four years before, I had been the division sales manager at Avon, handling Metro Manila to Aparri. Before that I was about to be appointed vice president of McCann-Erickson.  Suddenly I realized that the main difference for me was that in the US I had a job. In the Philippines I had a career. Now that my youngest daughter was through with college, maybe I could pursue a career.

In December 1987, I sent Christmas cards to my previous bosses. Jose Mari Franco, who has passed away, was my boss at Avon. George Balagtas, who has also more recently passed away, was my boss in McCann. Mari, as we used to call him, asked me to come home earlier rather than later in the year. He said he had a job for me. He hinted that he wanted me to be national sales director. So I came home in January and, instead of two, I had six job offers. That made me proud. I chose to join McCann-Erickson again, as vice president for the Coca-Cola account.

But I still wanted to be a columnist. I bought all the newspapers for a whole week and looked at what the columnists were writing. Almost everyone was writing about politics, a topic I hated. Then there were those who wrote about health, cars and driving, religion, plants, etc. I had just come from the US. There, columnists were beginning to write about life and lifestyles. I remember someone writing about his life spent in a wheelchair. They were very successful. I decided to write about life, my life and the lessons I learned.

I decided to write in the first person so I would not threaten anyone. When you write in the first person, you write from your own experience; you don’t need proof that you experienced that. If you wrote in the second person — the pronoun “you” — you could become accusatory or threatening.  If you wrote in the third person — “he,” “she,” “it” — you would have to present proof. How do you get your hands on proof? First person was clearly for me.

I wrote a few pieces and sent them to Eugenio “Geny” Lopez, Jr. and the next thing I knew I was a columnist in the now defunct Manila Chronicle. Initially, the media women did not like me. How dare I write about myself? Was I not ashamed? Comments that I could afford to ignore because I published my email and I got tons of mail from ordinary people.

But one day an old male friend called me and invited me to lunch. He said he liked my work, liked what I wrote except for one thing: “Your pieces are far too long,” he said.  “Cut them shorter. How long do your pieces run now?”

Around 1,200 to 1,500 words, I said.

“That’s too long,” he said. “Try to use only 800 words.”

Eight hundred words!!! I gasped. Isn’t that too short? There’s so much I have to say, I protested.

“There’s so much you want to say,” he said, “but you really don’t have to say it. Think more. Try it.”

This man was one very smart man who led one of the big corporations. But this was 1988. Thirty-two years ago.  Without question, he knew what he was talking about. Without question, he too has passed on. 

So I tried it. First I wrote down all the things I wanted to say.  Then I went back to edit, and edited more and more until the piece was down to 820 words. I have to say, I liked it. It wasn’t tiring to read. It stayed interesting. I learned the difference between what spilled out of me and what was finally short, but all there. I guess he taught me indirectly the magic of editing.

Of course, I am not faithful to 800 words. This is 829 words, more or less. It makes us — you and me — feel good. My pieces are short and easy to read. I have finally arrived at a point where I write meaningfully, albeit short, and possibly sweet.

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