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Writing ‘30’ | Inquirer Opinion

Back in 2002, when I was in sixth grade, I remember my school paper adviser telling me to always write “30” at the end of my articles.

It is, according to her, a sign of completion, a symbol that journalists traditionally use in ending their stories. I heeded her advice right away and with this newfound knowledge, “30” ceased to be that mere number that comes after “29” and before “31.” It became, to me, something special.

During our training sessions in preparation for the annual Division Schools Press Conference in our province, where I was tapped to compete in copyreading and headline writing, I developed the peculiar habit of checking first if, by any chance, the last page of the practice exercise already had “30” on it.

Writing “30” on paper became almost second nature to me. Even as I competed (and won) in other journalism competitions and categories during my junior and senior years in high school. Even in the articles I painstakingly wrote and edited when I became editor in chief of our high school paper.

The summer right before I entered college, the number had taken on a new significance in my life. It was an age deadline this time. Not the age I intended to marry, have kids, or before which I should already have millions in my bank account, but the age before which I should have already gotten published — even once — here on “Young Blood,” which only accepts contributions from those age 29 and under. The essays I’d read in its first three book compilations really tugged at my heart, stirred something in me, made me realize that we all have stories to share, and inspired me to contribute something, too, someday.

Was there a time in your life when you wanted something so bad and you promised yourself that you’d make it happen no matter what? This may sound petty, but for me, that was getting published in this column. Because for the first time ever, I had a dream—the only thing that I was sure about in a vast ocean of uncertainties and doubts. I was 16 then and the plenty of preparation time that I still had was a chance I didn’t want to botch.

Reading the thrice-a-week column then became a habit. It was my catharsis as I juggled my physically and mentally grueling course with my duties as a staffer and eventually as chief editor, once again, of our university publication.

Soon, I graduated, passed the boards, landed an 8-to-5 clerical job in a government agency, and got engrossed with the usual adulting stuff. Yet, I had never forgotten about my dream. It lingered like an itch, with “30” slowly drawing closer like a ticking time bomb as I got older.

When I turned 20, I finally mustered the courage to give it a shot. My first entry, however, never made it. It felt like “30” morphed into its Roman numeral equivalent—in three huge and bold red X’s as if telling me, “Nope, not this time.” Of course, the rejection stung. But the stubborn and determined soul in me knew better than to quit. I knew I just had to keep improving. And revising. And trying.

All these I did, over and over. Until I got it right. Until I got here, right at this very moment, writing about a dream that, after 14 long years, has led to at least three published essays—more than what I’d initially hoped for.

And now that I’m turning 30, I can’t help but feel sentimental.

Writing has not only allowed me to immortalize memories I know I will most likely forget in the long run (especially the little details that matter the most), but also to momentarily forget my frustrations with my career that is seemingly going nowhere.

You see, I never expected that seeing my own byline, both online and in print, would somewhat compensate for the repeated disappointments of not seeing my name on the roster of regularized employees in my company despite my hard work and almost a decade of service. It is the affirmation I never thought I needed in light of my crumbling self-confidence. Somehow, it feels good to have been reminded that I still have it in me and if there’s one thing I must have done right in the past decade, this must be it. Because this dream, no matter how small, has kept me going.

My “Young Blood” stint that I now bid goodbye to also reminds me of the beauty of transitions. Of passing that symbolic torch to the much younger generation. Of stepping aside and giving way so that other voices and equally relevant causes could be heard. Of leaving no matter how badly I want to stay because only then will I grow. I guess the same is true with life in general.

I will forever cherish everything that “30” has signified in my life. From a journalism convention, a contest strategy, an age deadline, rejections here and there, to a fulfilled dream.

And now, as I turn 30, the end of this very special chapter in my life. That which started, ironically — and is also now ending, very fittingly — with writing “30.”

* * *

Erden Jan D. Legaspi, 29, is yet to marry, have kids, and have millions in his bank account, but he is forever grateful and honored to have shared the “Young Blood” space with thousands of other dreamers and to have written stories for the Filipino youth.

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