It is NVM’s birth month, and so I am reposting an article I wrote long ago on my old blogspot site.
Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzalez (September 8, 1915-November 28, 1999)
I met Nestor Vicente Madali Gonzalez, or NVM, in 1995, at the UP Baguio Writers’ Workshop. I was still an art director for an ad agency then, spending a precious week’s worth of my hard-earned vacation leave credits in a writers’ workshop.
NVM apparently loved to talk, and he talked to any of us workshoppers willing to listen–about everything. One time he noticed a book I was reading (a book about fiction-writing). He said he also had a copy of the book, too, and that he read a chapter every night before he went to sleep. He advised me to do the same, and with a wink, he told me to keep the book our little secret. I’ve not divulged the title and the author to any other soul, to this day (well, except perhaps A–but he’s my husband, and I made him swear he’ll keep it a secret, too).Everything he said, I wanted to take down in my notebook–such gems of advice from a wonderful, generous, writer. He learned that I was going to Bali the week after the workshop because my office was sending me to the company’s regional leadership workshop. He handed me his business card and a P500 note, asking me to look for a Ganesh sandalwood figurine for him, and told me to look up his Indonesian friend, RMAF awardee Pramoedya Ananta Toer (was not sure if he really meant for me to look Toer up or he was just joking) I did not buy him a Ganesh figurine, however. Surprisingly, there weren’t any nice Ganesh figurines in Bali–all of them looked very ugly and evil, and none resembled at all the picture of the benevolent Hindu elephant-god I had in my mind (he’s supposed to bring joy and happiness to the home). So I got him an elegantly carved sandalwood Shiva figurine from Ubud instead, and prayed he wouldn’t mind.
This–plus his change for his P500–was what brought me to his house at Mabini Street in the UP Campus a couple of weeks later, where I got a lecture on metaphors, Vladimir Nabokov , Henry James, Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, his favorite author Anton Chekhov and hack writing, gestalt and creating a “synergistic wholeness” to stories, and an introduction to comparative lit via his former teacher’s book, The Story: A Critical Anthology by Mark Schorer (which he even let me take home to read and study). He also talked about the book he was working on, “A Grammar of Dreams and Other Stories”, the writers’ retreat he and Narita were planning to build in his beloved Mindoro, his weekly column in the Manila Times, the plagiarism on a batchmate’s work allegedly made by a panelist in our workshop , among others. All these, incredibly, in just one afternoon.
Thankfully, he didn’t seem to mind the Shiva I got instead of the Ganesh he asked for (or he was just too polite to tell me he did mind).
After that Saturday, I would find a reason to go back to his house a couple of Saturdays later–to return the Schorer anthology. I was so privileged to have gone to those meetings with him in his bungalow in UP, where I enjoyed the mini-lectures on literature and writing, over fluffy ensaimadas and brewed coffee which the very gracious and elegant Mrs. Gonzalez served. I even got critiques for two of my stories, which eventually got published in the Philippine Graphic Weekly (one of which–“A Harvest of Tadpoles”–came out incredibly only two weeks after I mailed it–it was not at all unheard of to wait several weeks or even months for a publication, or worse, a rejection slip) and because I had mentioned to him during the Baguio workshop that I was thinking of pursuing graduate studies in creative writing, he even gave me a reading list (which mostly consisted of stories from the Schorer anthology), and a list of books which included titles written by women writers (he liked Elizabeth Bowen). And the top book on that must-read list was Chekhov’s Lady with the Lapdog and Other Stories. Looking back, those afternoons comprise what I now consider to be my whole course on comparative literature and creative writing (my undergrad course was Fine Arts, after all). Most important of all, he gave me this advice, “If you want to write, take Comparative Lit, not Creative Writing.”
And during a pause in his lecture (for it was really more like a lecture than a conversation), I asked him how I should start reading him (because I bought all the available NVM books I could get my hands on at Legato Bookstore in Baguio, where we went when we took the cab ride pictured above), and he said that I could start with A Bread of Salt and Other Stories. It had seemed like a dumb question to ask, but I asked it anyway; I honestly wanted to know which story was his favorite in the collection. He said it was “A Warm Hand”.
He passed away on November 28, 1999, and I was too busy with my sad life at the time I wasn’t even able to attend his necrological services and tribute at the CCP.
Looking back now, it all seems so surreal I met him, even much less that I talked to him at all, about books and writing. But to show for it, I still keep NVM’s blue calling card, and that close-up picture I took of him in the cab ride we shared in Baguio.
July 13, 2005