Friday, November 17, 2023

In good company

This is a copy of my closing remarks as panelist that I delivered during the closing program of the 4th National Creative Nonfiction Writing for Doctors by the Bienvenido N Santos Creative Writing Center of the De La Salle University. 

In 2020, in a small condo unit in Mandaluyong, isolating from the world that was confused and broken, I received an invitation to join a Zoom writing workshop for Joti’s mentees. These were young, bright-eyed medical students. Dr. Elvie Gonzalez was in that crowd, too. I was unemployed. I had just finished my medical oncology fellowship, with plenty of time in my hands. I had a blast. That would be the start of my involvement in being a panelist of the creative nonfiction workshop for doctors by the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. Through God’s providence and grace, I found myself in the company of like-minded, curious, kind people who like words and stories and books. In a sense, I have the experience of two worlds: being a participant and a panelist of this workshop. I suppose I am in a unique position to share my thoughts on the importance of this workshop and why it has worked for the last four years.

First, they offer instruction to doctors who have stories to tell and who have the willingness to write them. Most of our participants had no formal training in creative writing. This workshop was probably the first time they had heard of terms like “in medias res” or “close reading”. The workshop is done online, a format that is convenient for doctors, even those who live outside of Metro Manila. This workshop is truly national in scope.

Second, they offer encouragement. This encouragement is inherent to this community. The past iterations of the workshop, including this one, have been open, safe, perhaps nurturing environments for stories to be shared, examined, and analyzed. I believe the advice to not care about what other people think is nonsense. We must think of what other people will think of us, but not all people, for we cannot please everyone. I am talking specifically about the people who matter to us. I remember this line in The Lord of the Rings, where, after receiving a compliment, Faramir says, “The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.” For our stories to receive the rapt, kind, compassionate attention of celebrated writers like Prof. Marjorie Evasco and Dr. Joti Tabula buoys our hearts. To hear that our stories have moved our peers, people we have only met because of the workshop, is a great kind of feeling.

Third, they offer possibilities. Some of our fellows have gone on to reap literary awards and get their creations published in magazines, anthologies, and books. Those are great. But I am also talking about the gift of insight in what we can do with an idea or a figment of a story that might, in the future, might find its way to other homes and hearts as well. I am talking about the realization that doctor-writers share a space in the world.

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