With apologies to Irene Cara. . .
Remember my name. . .
The thing is, I’ve never really paid much attention to this whole fame thing. I mean, sure, I got a bit of notoriety in me being a member of Hogwarts Philippines (“oh she’s such a rule Nazi!”, says some newbie or two). You don’t get to be a member of the Numero Uno Harry Potter community in the Philippines without the accompanying celebrity status (ehem). I’ve hosted numerous events, from the low-keyed book launchings, to major CCP or Metropolitan Museum events. From wearing slacks to donning the bongga Filipiniana gown. I’m used to it. I’ve done storytelling gigs countless times. I’ve done the whole lecture circuit, from North to South of the archipelago, via train, plane and automobile, yes, sharing all my knowledge about literature and storytelling and what have you.
I’m used to speaking in public.
But that does not mean I enjoy the attention, hell no.
In fact it takes a lot of internalizing, doing all that stuff. I don’t really like people, you see. I don’t like talking to strangers. I’m not the kind who can easily strike up a conversation with just about anyone. I prefer my own space, my own solitude, my own thoughts.
But as an academic, I really have no choice, do I? Come on. I lecture to students everyday, 4x/week. That’s 3 and a half months for 1 trimester. 11 months/year.
Oh sure, I’ve done formal lectures, too. I’ve presented papers internationally as well, hey. I’m used to the scholarly crowd.
But here’s the thing. For the longest time I’ve been presenting papers here and abroad, I’ve realized that it’s actually easier for me to talk to an international audience than to a local academic crowd. I don’t know. I guess Filipinos by nature are just a difficult bunch to please. I’ve experienced the warmth and the gratitude and even joy of audiences from various countries, and I must say talking to them after any lecture gives me pleasure like no other. Locally, yeah I’ve done that, too. But. . .I don’t know. I can’t say I’ve actually felt the same glow with a local audience. Filipinos are just more. . . or less. . . I don’t know. I can’t seem to find the right words right now.
Something happened after my lecture this afternoon.
Oh by the way, by lecture I do not mean the usual classroom type lecture, no. It’s a lecture given by the Writing Fellows of the University, under the stewardship of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center. The Center granted me the Fellowship (I knooooow, it’s so Lord of the Rings) last year, and part of the deal is I get to keep the title for a year, plus the financial grant as well (not bad, eh?). So for one whole year all I did was do research and write a long (make that loooooooong) paper on Film. I chose to write about Mike de Leon, naturally.
Anyway, so I came to the event well-prepared. Intellectually, emotionally, even physically prepared (the secretary told me I looked like a First Lady with my hairstyle and all, hahaha) for the Lecture. I even bought a new dress, hey. And it’s not your regular LBD. The tag says “Power Dress.” Imagine that. It’s like being a superhero all of a sudden. But of course, even if I came well-prepared, there’s this niggling voice whispering doubts left and right. That my paper is not good enough. That I didn’t do enough research. That my writing is awful. That my reading of the texts is questionable. . . yadda to infinity. I guess some part of me sort of believed that little voice. I mean, I didn’t even tell anyone here at home about the Fellowship grant, nor about the event. The Center gave me a ton of invites for me to use at will, but I didn’t bother inviting anyone. I thought, “well that’s less people to be disappointed in what I have to say.” I cared about the work, but not so much about the reception.
But since it’s D-Day, there’s nothing else I could do but to just do what I came to do. Bahala na si Superman ang drama.
Me in my new LBD. Notice the ‘do. I look so respectable, eh? Photo courtesy of my friend Agatha.
And so there I was at the spanking European Documentation Research Center at the equally spanking Herny Sy, Sr. Hall, sharing the fruits of my labor, when in the middle of my speech, I realized something. The people in the venue were actually listening. To ME. Imagine that. I could hear them laughing at my jokes, and making the appropriate sounds, and nodding their heads in agreement every time the moment calls for all these reactions.
And after the whole lecture, you get the applause (naturally), you say your thank yous (as to be expected), and that’s that, right? I mean, sure, I expect one or two people to talk to me briefly after the event, shake my hand, and say something like, “oh I enjoyed your lecture.” It’s the polite thing to do, you see. And it’s become pretty standard in any academic event. It’s supposed to happen that way.
But again, something unusual happened after the lecture.
As I rose from my chair, one woman held up a sheet of paper (not some scratch paper), an actual clean sheet of bond paper and a black marker to my face, and asked for my autograph.
And I was like, “huh?”
I suppose she mistook my look of confusion as a question of some sort, so she replied with “To Ms. C….” (her name).
She’s asking me to address it to her, to not just sign my name on the paper, but to actually address it to her.
Come on. I mean, seriously??!
I was at a total loss. I was really dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what to do with the pen and the paper.
To cover up my moment of uncertainty, I told her something like, “oh let’s find a stable something for me to write on. . .” but in reality my brain was trying to work double-time, trying to process the whole thing while thinking of what to write on that blank sheet of paper.
So there I was, staring at the paper, pen at the ready, and I totally spazzed out. I started by writing her name as she requested, and then. . . nothing. Come on, I can’t just write her name and then sign it with mine. So I haphazardly wrote something along the lines of gratitude and her passion for the arts (lame much?) and then quickly signed it. With my full name. The whole nine yards. Kulang na lang middle name ni mother dear.
I’m telling you, it was a surreal moment.
And it didn’t end there. Other guests came by and started talking to me, shook my hand, gave me a pat on the back, gave all these very encouraging words, told me I should make a book with my research. A publisher from Kenya (fine, she’s actually an old friend and former colleague who’s on a short-term Pinas break) told me I should publish it in her own company. She even asked how far along I’m with my dissertation, how many number of words I’ve come up so far (apparently they don’t count pages but words by the thousands). There was also this one student (I don’t know who she is from Eve) who came up to me and told me she learned so much about auteur studies from me in my 40 minute speech than in all her classes combined, and that she should have invited her classmates to come along with her to listen to my lecture . . .
IT WAS UNBELIEVABLE.
And there was even this woman who kept talking to me way beyond the acceptable 1-2 mins meet-and-greet the lecturer. She kept on talking to me I ended up being the last person to fall in line at the reception. And then even while I was eating, they still kept coming by.
What in Severus Snape’s name just happened?
I have no freaking idea. Let’s just say that up to now, I still can’t. . . don’t. . .