Monday, January 23, 2017

Retiring the chase

published 31 July 2016 
Ten years ago I began a column which I called Chasing Happy. I did not have to agonize about that name for long. The phrase had been brewing in my head. At that time, I believed that everybody was engaged in the pursuit of happiness—some more ardently than others, and to varying degrees of success. Nonetheless, I believed that the chase was the essence of life.
I covered many topics over a decade, and each of the topics showed itself to be some pursuit in itself: Governance, gender, mobility, and everyday travails of ordinary people like you and me. I was partial to real stories of people I met either personally or online, or those I read about.
Many times, too, I talked about my life: Family, friends, habits, dilemmas, decisions and aspirations. Every time, I hoped that the reader would know it was not so much about putting myself at the center of everything I wrote but asserting the universality of our thoughts and sentiment and hoping I could offer a fresh insight or two. Being able to inspire others was a bonus.
For a decade, Chasing Happy worked. It was an all-encompassing heading for everything under this space, which conveniently fell under the pursuit of something higher, or bigger.
Until one day it dawned on me that the chase was a futile exercise.
Happiness, or anything we can equate to it, is so elusive it can never be chased, much less caught. Over the years, I have learned that happiness —for me a few seconds of pure, blissful sense of peace and content—descends upon one in the most unguarded circumstances, only to lift again before one can make sense of its coming.
Perhaps it is a way of sobering up. It seems more practical now to cut to the chase, get back to earth, and deal with what we can make sense of. At least, in this newspaper space.
=000=
Making a long story short is one of the greatest challenges of a writer. We are surrounded by long and complicated stories that develop and change even as we tell them. It is easy to fall into the temptation of telling these stories in a winding manner, focusing on details without ever realizing what the point is, to begin with.
But we serve as gatekeepers, choosing which facts to show and anecdotes to tell. We choose whose voices to amplify, and how.
This is what I intend to do in the succeeding days. Essentially, I will still be writing about the same things I have written about in the past 10 years. I will likely cover the same topics and speak in the same voice. The objective, however, will be different. No more pursuit of that which cannot be captured. It will be, instead, a story that has a clear beginning and a distinct end. The result is not protracted, aimless rambling, but a point loud and clear and consistent.
Note, too, that the column name, when shortened, reads as LSS. A last-song syndrome is a tune you can’t quite get out of your ear. It is not necessary that you like it or agree with it. In fact, you can hate it. But it stays with you, anyway, like a bug in your head, for long hours even when you are about to go to sleep. I hope to make that impression, too.
I will probably not say anything earth-shaking about the state of our politics and our society today. I leave that, as always, to the more seasoned columnists of this newspaper. What I promise though is an attempt to be different and simple and real. I hope to linger, like a bug in the reader’s ear.
The change coincides with change in many aspects. We just changed presidents, even as we cannot as yet tell whether the Duterte administration would be a smooth ride or a rough battle given the country’s many ills. This paper also reverted to its former name, Manila Standard, and its former broad-sheet format. So this seems like a good time to effect our own personal changes, as well. I look forward to telling short, simple—and compelling—stories.
adellechua@gmail.com

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