Entrepreblues

Our venture into the food service business opened me up to various facets of living I wouldn’t have known existed. We are one stall in a row of eight, the newbies in the community. When we first came in, we thought the veterans were somewhat standoffish; over time, my wife made close friends with a few of them. We caught glimpses of their business operations and of their travails therein.

If you’re ever thinking of opening a canteen in a private high school, my definitive advice is “Don’t.” There are far too many restrictions and arbitrary impositions, making it extremely difficult to fight the tide of rising prices. Despite this, our friends aren’t budging: for them this is their livelihood, a make-or-break proposition. And the school we operate in isn’t fazed at all: there’s a long list of entrepreneurs waiting to take the spot if anyone ever drops out.

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Contraband

Without it being in our plans at all, my wife and I took over a canteen in a private school in January this year. The opportunity presented itself in December. A tenant, forced on the venture by his mother, had decided to follow his true calling. He sought someone to assume his lease. We took a look at the numbers, glanced askance at neighboring stalls that were doing extremely well, thought somewhat optimistically of our chances, and waded right in.

It wasn’t easy going, as I soon learned. Grade school and high school students are an especially finicky lot, and being generally well off, and being from Davao, feel especially entitled. Our first two days were a loss, but thanks to some of my wife’s quick pivoting, the next three weeks broke even. I felt discouraged but my wife persisted and after some more innovative ideas and adaptation, the store was humming along and actually turning a profit. Not as much as we originally envisioned, but decent enough.

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Signs

To recap last week’s column: the reproachful writer, dangling dangerously close to despair, asked for a sign to show that God was not asleep. As if in response, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck that afternoon. Buildings swayed, groceries fell, houses crumbled; thankfully, no one was injured. Such an event should have been sufficient to strike terror and bring one to one’s knees. Instead, aforementioned writer laughed with delight that he should receive an answer.

And yet, having been steeped in Giovanni Guareschi’s Don Camillo in his youth and adopting that priest’s spirituality, the writer went on to address God further: “An earthquake? Thank you, but how very Old Testament! Since we’re following this theme, now you have to give THREE signs!”

What an idiot I am.

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God Answers Back

Spirituality is a deeply personal aspect of how we live and for this reason it’s not something I’m inclined to bring up in ordinary conversation. For what I’m about to relate, though, it may be necessary as a preface.

To begin with, I am a practicing Catholic of the Roman persuasion and a traditional one at that. As such, the center of my spiritual life is the Holy Eucharist. I try as best as I can to go to Mass every day, a commitment made easier by the fact that my places of work or residence have always been walking distance to a church. All else flows from that: my participation in the other sacraments, my recitation of the rosary, my daily Gospel reading and reflection, and moments of mental prayer. Some days, even weeks at a stretch, it may be a struggle, but these are always what I return to.

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Scandal and Silence

On August 25, the former nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a lengthy and explosive statement implicating high-ranking prelates, all the way up to Pope Francis himself, of conspiracy to cover up abuses perpetrated by a former cardinal against priests and seminarians spanning decades. Not only that, Archbishop Vigano’s expose also reveals the inner workings of Vatican politics and how a powerful and well-entrenched cabal of insiders controls appointments and communications with the Pope.

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Self-Censorship

The thing with writing is, you never really know the final form until you set your work down in actual words. For myself, the process begins long before I lay my hands on the keyboard, imagining in my mind what it is I am going to write. Often this leads to moments when I stare vacantly into space, my fingers twitching against invisible keys. My wife, who notices these things, at least knows that I am writing in my head. And yet, for all this extended preparation, the outcome can be vastly different from what I originally envisioned. Such is the way of art.

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A Textbook Story

One day someone asked me to endorse the textbook for a course that was to be taught to all university freshmen. Okay, I said, but I’d like to go through the book first, just so I knew what it was I was endorsing.

As I flipped through the pages, I was somewhat put off by the incongruous presentation of the material. Not that there was anything egregiously wrong with it, but the chapters felt like they didn’t flow smoothly. I initially shrugged it off. After all, they would have been using some variation of the same textbook, and this did come from a reputable publisher. If that was what the department wanted to use….

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On Textbooks

This little story is from my time as assistant dean, but it’s been three years, so I guess it’s fine to tell it now.

An officer of the student body approached me with a letter they had drafted. They were raising the issue of teachers who were requiring their classes to purchase textbooks that they themselves had written. I read through and handed it back to her.

“No,” I said.

“No? But…why?!”

“Because it doesn’t quite cover enough of what’s going on. Give me an hour, and I’ll show you what you can really bring up. If you like it, you can make it the official student body position.”

What follows is my version of their complaint (apologies if it’s a little long) —

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Leaving Academia

I stumbled into university teaching back in 2008. I was three years out of my last corporate job, a year out of managing the pharmacy in Dumaguete, back in Davao bouncing around with no real plan, and I finagled a part time gig at Ateneo which a year later became full time, master’s degree included.

I stumbled out of university teaching back in 2015. If I trace it back to its proximate cause, I stronglyu suspect it was when they asked me to become OIC assistant dean of computer studies the summer prior. Silly me, I accepted.

If it hadn’t been for that year-long stint as OIC assistant dean, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to take a paid semester off. One doesn’t equate to the other, of course, and I certainly never planned it that way. But this is how it happened:

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