A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A Story of a Book Written During the Pandemic

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 Nov) – If the pandemic – which has now mutated into another variant known as Omicron spreading wildly across Europe and countries of southern Africa– can be referred to as a “blessing in disguise,” it would be because it gave humanity a chance to take it easy, albeit in a situation of panic and deep insecurity.  The ensuing lockdown meant people have to stay home and follow strict protocols to avoid spreading the virus.

Unless writers are afflicted with a mental illness brought about by the depression caused by the pandemic, resulting in a situation of ennui, the pandemic provided  them with a lot of time to catch up on their need to finally deal with unfinished manuscripts.  Or write that book they had been longing to get published because during the pre-pandemic period they had more urgent things to do. To find the time to sit in front of a computer and begin to bring their thoughts across to the screen was then a luxury.

For two years I had wanted to write a book on my attempt to find meaning to the forthcoming 500th year anniversary of the arrival of Christianity to our islands. Way back in 2017, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) had started to announce plans regarding the celebration of this anniversary.

My fear at that time was that if there were no alternative voices dealing with a more critical view of the 500 years since Christianity was introduced by the Spanish colonizers-friars,  the celebration would highlight more the triumphalistic angle of the event,  mainly citing the positive contribution of Spanish colonization.  I thought I could offer one such view by writing a book.

However, this project needed a lot of time first to do rigorous research and accumulate as many historical materials as are available from history books (both written from a colonial and post-colonial perspectives) to ethnographic studies providing the cultural context of our ancestors when the colonizers  encountered them, to  theological-missiological articles that help shed light on how the early evangelization approaches were employed. Clearly, this manuscript needed to be inter-disciplinary, taking advantage of discourses from history, anthropology and theology.

Once all the documents and related literature were gathered, one had to go through them and eventually find a way to make a sense of these voluminous materials. And begin writing the text, with great effort to make sure when quotes are made that no errors were committed, to not forget those important quotation marks when copying quotes (to avoid even unintended plagiarism), to double-check if data (names, dates, places) were accurate, and follow rules required of foot- and end-notes. In the process, of course, there is the endless editing, deleting and adding new sentences or entire paragraphs.

From 2017 to early 2020, I was running all over the place juggling a number of tasks that instead of diminishing, were constantly increasing, most of which demanded urgent attention. Thus, there was hardly any time to take a breath, sit down with a clear head and begin the book project. On top of this, I had to make sure that my regular doctor’s weekly appointment was never missed.  In short, I couldn’t find the time to even begin doing the serious research.

And then the pandemic entered the scene. By February 2020 – when the virus had already spread from Wuhan City to the rest of Asia –  I still had a commitment with the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous People (ECIP) Secretariat which had organized a Bishops-Beliyan forum with Higaonon shamans in Butuan City. It was only in March when the orders to stay home began to be enforced.

Like everyone else, I wondered – how long would this pandemic last? Was it really going to cause thousands of infections, resulting in deaths especially for the most vulnerable sector of humanity (namely the sick elderly). I belonged to this category, so naturally I had deep anxiety. So for the first two months (March to April), I felt helpless and couldn’t do anything apart from praying, reading, surfing the internet and do gardening.

However, by May I sort of recovered from the early shock brought about by all the exaggerated stories of what this pandemic could cause. And I remembered I had a backlog, namely to write that book. And once, I managed to get a hold of myself and felt confident that I was ready to face this challenge, I began collecting whatever materials I had in my own personal files and our library, as well as what could be accessed online. After a month, I had a voluminous amount and I felt confident that my review of related literature was already adequate enough.

The non-stop actual writing of the text took place from June to August. I would sleep past midnight or rise early at dawn when the spirit was high and thoughts were scrambling in my head. Fortunately for me – a celibate living in a well-provided religious community – I did not have to worry about taking care of babies and cooking meals. Our daily schedule was mainly involving prayer sessions as we sort of returned to our semi-monastic tradition of praying five times a day.

As online classes and webinars had not yet become popular, I didn’t have to prepare lessons, give talks and correct papers. So the only main task was to write the book. But despite the luxury of time, it was an uphill struggle. It demanded a lot of discipline, close attention to details and patience to deal with contradicting data of various sources. It was such a relief when I finally finished the first draft.

However, it would take a whole month to edit and check grammatical, topographical and other errors. And also to provide a guide for the publication,  as one has to deal with the details – Table of Contents, Bibliography, Index, etc. Which made me think that indeed, the devil was in the details!

By September, I was ready to submit the manuscript to Claretian Foundation, Inc., which I thought might consider publishing it. A series of communications with them led to our asking the ECIP to put up half of the printing costs, and fortunately, they agreed. And so the work of packaging the book for publication began to take place.

By April, the printing of the books was done and within a few weeks, copies were sent from Quezon City to Davao. Once I had a copy of the book in my hands, I took a deep brief and thanked the heavens for giving me the opportunity to write this book. Shortly after, Claretian Foundations had an online launch of this book which had this title – HANDUMANAN (Remembrance) – Digging for our Indigenous Wellspring.  Books were then available for sale via Shopee or Lazada (online) and at various outlets.

Months later, the publisher submitted the book for the Cardinal Sin Catholic Book Award for 2021, and just a few weeks ago, during an online ceremony, it was awarded Best Book for Spirituality.  While the award is deeply rewarding, it is at least a consolation, that for all the problems and difficulties I encountered in this uphill struggle, it gave me back a gift that truly warms the heart of any author.

The story has not ended yet. Even after Handumanan was launched, I felt I was in a hangover state. I needed to sort of relax and one way was to get back to the computer and write something lighter.  I then thought of writing a novel in Cebuano-Bisaya. I had written three novels so far and they were always a source of fun in the process of writing.

Writing and finishing the first draft of ANG DAGAYDAY SA PANAHONG NANGLABAY was a walk in the park. Compared to Handumanan, Dagayday was a joy to write and it did provide some kind of entertainment for me. It only took two months to finish as I began in early July and finished by early September.

ALETHEIA Publications took it up and the printing took place two months later, and by this coming week, the first books would now be available for distribution and sale. More about this in the next column.

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]