WHEN THE GRASS, THEY SAY, IS GREENER
By the end of this year, I shall have retired from full-time teaching. I have been living the academic life for forty years now and have enjoyed it immensely. It has not only disabused me of certain preconceptions about my fellow human beings but also provided me with lessons that have served as moral guideposts "in this dark world and wide". Those years shaped my attitudes and consciousness, establishing the foundation for what I am now, with all my strength and frailties. Recalling them drives little nails into my heart, yet gives me also a surge of joy.
<>Right after graduation from the University of Santo Tomas in 1963, I was accepted as an instructor in Saint Louis in Baguio City. I was twenty-two years old and sure of myself and righteous then, and thought I held all the answers to the riddles of the universe. My Belgian dean gave me different subjects when in fact all I wanted was to teach literature. I was very strict with my students and demanded quality performance from them. Later, after I got my Master of Arts Degree, I taught Poetry and Creative Writing in the Graduate School. My four years of stay in Saint Louis were highlighted by marriage, the publication of my first book of poetry, the begetting of two daughters, and the grant of a fellowship to the International Writers Workshop at the University of IOWA, USA.
The American Midwestern landscape gave me almost a year's respite from the teaching life. I worked on finishing my epic poem, The Archipelago. Paul Engle, The Workshop director, and George Starbuck, the Beat poet who was a faculty member there, gave me encouraging praises when I showed them some parts of the poem. My short poems also appeared in three American magazines. From IOWA, I wrote a letter of resignation to the Rector of Saint Louis in Baguio City. I told him my salary there could no longer support me and my family. I was hoping he could offer me a raise, but he did not, so I had no more job to return to in the Philippines.
But Far Eastern University, and the University of the East offered me positions when I came here to Manila. On the first day of classes in FEU, but I changed my mind about teaching there when I saw what looked like hordes of students moving all over campus grounds. In IOWA, I hardly met students in the hallways and greens, but here, they seemed everywhere. I had the same disorienting experience when I went to US. So I returned home and pondered my situation.
Finally, my former teacher in UST, who is now chair of the Literature Department there, told me she had a place for me in the faculty. There was plenty of space for me in the Dominican school and the classes were not large.
However, because of unsatisfactory salary rate and class schedule, I could not remain there for more than a year. Then I was accepted for a full-time position in the De La Salle College of Manila in 1970. I liked everything I saw in the place -- the small student population, the spacious campus grounds, the excellent qualification of the faculty members, and the Philosophy of the Christian Brothers who ran the school. I found the learning and the teaching atmosphere I had been looking for, and decided to spend my teaching career there. At the same time, De La Salle was sympathetic to my excursions into the field of imaginative writing. The school recognized the importance of literary creativity in the over-all scheme of tertiary education. The Academic vice-president needed only a little prodding to establish the Writer in Residence program for the encouragement of the production of the literary works from both the students and the faculty members. I was fortunate to be the first grantee of the program, a position I held for close to ten years. Later, with the establishment of the University Press and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center, the literary activities in the school were rationalized and centralized.
Now that I am retiring from De La Salle after 33 years of service, people ask me what I plan to do. For teachers who are also writers, retirement is not really a full stop from the usual work: rather, it is just a pause to smell the flowers, or to read that extra book, or to visit those dreamed of places. Or to ponder the mysteries of the living or take stock of one's achievements and failures. As a teacher and writer, I do not have the luxury of time, no matter how much I would like to heed Horace's carpie diem. I am a teacher 24 hours a day, whether I am in the classroom or not. Only between the breaks in these hours do I have the chance to finish that poem or that story.
With full-time teaching over, I can have more time for my writing. There are still some novels I would like to finish. As to whether the grass is greener on the retirement ground, I do not know. Perhaps it depends on the quality of life you will live then.