|Writing to remember (aka Longest LJ Entry Ever)
||[Jun. 14th, 2010|11:17 pm]
“We all know there is nothing more daunting than facing an empty page, the cursor blinking by a heartbeat. We venture [into writing] entirely alone, on our own. Writers workshops exist to lend each of us a sense of community, to make ourselves feel we’re not entirely alone in that singular voyage as we seek to find words to fill the blank page. When I [met] you 15 fellows, I forgot to say there’s a reason you’re called fellows, and that comes from the root of why we are here, a sense of fellowship…”
- Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas “Mom Weena,” Director-in-residence, our literary mother
When my first story was being workshopped during the first week, I was just blown away by the fact that that story had been once a germ of an idea, a thought bubble realized on paper, and it only began as a sentence, a sentence that had become a favorite because it sounded good in my head. For a year, it was just sitting in my hard drive, a sleeping baby. Took me a while to expand it into a four-thousand-word story. When the panelists were starting to tear it apart, I just had this smile on my face. That a child of my imagination, a product of my makebelieve, was suddenly out in the open, here, in the hands of the writers I’ve looked up to, amazed me. That this story “The Abduction,” together with two others “Stains” and “The Healer,” brought me to Dumaguete, was nothing short of marvelous.
I still can’t believe my luck.
No question, it is the best three weeks of my life. I’ve always known the rep of this workshop, how it exists to change your life. And it did, it did. What they didn’t warn us was the hangover. How it could last for weeks, for months. I still miss everything. I miss the Writers’ Village.
My memory being unreliable, it needs something to sustain it. I’ll try to write as much as I can and remember events, little details as I go along. Pictures are up on FB, yes, but I need this solid reminder, I need this lengthy account.
Day Zero: pre-workshop. I arrived on a Sunday—the fellows were expected to arrive that day. There were 15 of us, four fellows for poetry, eight for fiction, three for non-fiction. Getting to know each other, calculating each other’s movements, wondering what’s in store for us. We roamed around the city the entire day, as we were told we were not staying in Dumaguete. For the first time, the workshop would be held at the newly built Writers’ Village, located in the mountains of Valencia, Negros Oriental.
Writers Village, Valencia. The place is, in one word, breathtaking. Up in the mountains, pine trees everywhere—no wonder locals call it the Little Baguio. We had a view of the Tañon Strait. The Writers Village was practically transplanted in the heart of woods, which would explain the presence of insects we’d never seen before. For three weeks, we would be cohabiting with cicadas and bees and other bugs; yes, they stayed in our cottages and insisted on their presence. Cicadas, especially, were everywhere that we invented a song for them. Bees died in our cottage every night. We’d wake up to see about 20 of them all over our living room floor. And there were bigger, scarier bugs, most of them we had to drive away from our cottages with a broom. And there was this darling of a dog that protected us from these creepy crawlies by, well, eating them. We named this mutt Nomnom (more on him later).
Writers Village at night
View from the veranda
Our home! And look, another dead bee! And more dead bees under the table!
The Writers Village was our home for three weeks. Four cottages, four-three fellows in each. We stayed at the Jasmine House, also known as “The Haunted House,” “Ang Bahay Na Laging Sarado Lahat Ng Bintana,” and “Ang Bahay Na Maraming Nakasampay na Labada.” Oh, this house. There’s no denying it’s haunted. The Village is right smack in the middle of the forest and you could just imagine the supernatural elements that surrounded it, that lingered permanently. First week, we only spotted moving shadows, felt the presence of someone following us every time we’d trudge up the hill where the main cottage (session hall) was. On the second and third week, the elemental being became more…aggressive. One time, I woke up to the door opening by itself. It was 3AM. Suddenly I knew what “chills running down your spine” meant—there was this series of shivers literally poking my back. My three roommates and I had learned the importance of covering ourselves with blanket from head to toe to prevent ourselves from seeing things, so when I sensed movement on my mattress, I just thought it was my roommate, no big deal, she had opened the door, and had been stepping on my mattress. Alas, I lifted my blanket to see none. There were scarier incidents: the ghost typing, sitting beside us (you could sense the weight on the bed), breathing down our necks, humming, knocking on our windows, and that night we went down to Dumaguete and there were two fellows who had chosen to stay in the Village, we received this alarming message: “Uwi na kayo. Ghosts everywhere.” Fellows from the other cottages felt the presence too, but it was stronger in our cottage. Someone offered this explanation: “Alam mo siguro kaya may multo sa inyo kasi ’yung mga panty niyo nakasabit sa bintana n’yo. Baka pervert iyong multo.” Hahahaha. We just learned to crack ourselves up. Besides the ghosts drew us closer, no one dared to go to the Jasmine Cottage alone. “Gel magc-CR ako, samahan mo ako?” “Sam may kukunin lang ako sa kwarto.” “Dom naiwan ko ’yung manuscript sa bahay.” The proverbial response: “Tara.”
The Valencia Nightlife. For the past 48 years, the previous fellows had Dumaguete as their home, and every night they’d explore the town and discover what this seaside city had to offer. Whereas batch 49—that’s us—we only had each other every night, and we’re not complaining. We were happily stuck in Valencia where every night we’d drink Tanduay we had bought from the lone store in the area. We’d troop to the Champaca House, aka “The Least Haunted House” and drink and play silly games and dare one another to go to the Jasmine House or run to the woods...alone. We’d just talk and talk until someone would pipe in, “Teka di ko pa nababasa ’yung kwento tomorrow!” Or, someone would suddenly point to a certain story in the manuscript and ask the group, “Sino nagsulat nito?” (The workshop committee assigned pen names to our stories for anonymity’s sake.) I loved that night when we shared our reactions to getting admitted in the workshop: One stayed in front of his computer all day, refreshing his inbox and waiting for that email that bears the subject “Notice Of Fellowship,” and the moment he received it, he didn’t waste a second and immediately reply with one word: “Confirmed.” I, on the other hand, excitedly emailed the workshop director with “omggg!!!! thank youuu!!! yes,i'll be there on may 2!:) will take the plane for this one. thank you thank you!” and then following it up with another email that said: “Dear Ma'am: Apologies for my very informal response awhile back. Just got carried away :) Should I proceed booking for my flight? Thank you so much Ma'am.” Hahaha. Cool and casual have never been my middle names. Apparently.
And oh, I loved the poetry reading during our sober nights. We all came to Valencia armed with our favorite poems and story excerpts, and we’d read them to the group and we’d elicit “ooohs” and “aaahs.” My favorite poems to recite were those by Jeffrey McDaniel and Dorianne Laux. Others loved Mark Strand, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins, unfamiliar names (for me) made familiar as the weeks went along. One was a big fan of Louise Glück. Another was a Chingbee Cruz disciple, which thrilled me because I love her poetry, so much so that when I saw her once in Cubao X I just had to call her name out and brazenly ask, “I’m a fan. Pwede magpa-picture?” (GAH. I embarrass myself all the time.) I can’t write poetry, I suck at it, and I do believe it’s a higher discipline—fictionists will kill me for saying that—but l love everything about it and it was just my luck I was sharing this love with my co-fellows.
What else did we do in Valencia? We held a bonfire and I roasted hotdogs for everyone. We came up with 15 interpretations of William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow.” We whipped up songs dedicated for cicadas and Manang Bibi, the boys’ dearest laundrywoman—the girls knew how to wash their clothes, thank you very much. We took advantage of the Magic Sing and it was enough entertainment for us, there were no TV and radio, and internet connection was wonky, see. We nursed the drunk, we consoled the heartbroken, because like any other writers workshops, love affairs were inevitable. We read a lot, and tried as we might, most of us weren’t able to write. Our reason: “Writers writing in the Writers’ Village during the Writers’ Workshop? How redundant!”
Inuman session #2
The Workshop. The workshop/discussion was held in the session hall, which was basically the veranda of the Main Cottage that sits on top of the hill. Birds darted in and out of the session hall, butterflies fluttered around us—I couldn’t imagine a better setup. How the workshop was conducted: The panelists—esteemed figures in Philippine literature—would discuss the story or poem first. They’d take turns interpreting the piece, dissecting it, pointing out the flaws and strengths. Then, they’d ask the fellows for their input. After the discussion, the author would be revealed, and he would go on defend his work or comment on the critiques or tell everyone how the piece came into being.
I just have to say this, but my co-fellows were just too damn brilliant! (And this included the 17-year-old Miro who already had a Palanca under her name.) I’m not a Literature major, I have little background on theories, so I’m not the best literary critic around. I was just bowled over by my co-fellows’ literary acumen and their ease in analyzing a literary piece! I loved the discussions, the surprises and secrets discovered in each piece, how everyone in the session hall was devoted to the craft, how everyone could spend an hour just talking about character development and narrative arc and plot devices ♥
Taking a nap in between sessions
The Panelists. We had the country’s Palanca Hall of Famers and multi-awarded writers for our panelists. Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, daughter of Edith and Ed Tiempo, the progenitors of the workshop, was so gentle and generous and motherly that we started calling her Mom by the end of the workshop. Three of the writers I look up to—Alfred Yuson, Jimmy Abad, and Cesar Ruiz Aquino—were also part of the panel, and it was just overwhelming to have sat in their presence. We also had a foreign visiting writer, Xu Xi, who taught us about the central energy of the story and gave us a lecture on Asian Writing in English.
The panelists were also former fellows themselves, and I treasured their lovely stories about how the Nick Joaquin, NVM Gonzalez, Edith Tiempo, Francisco Arcellana, and Kerima Polotan Tuvera—the greatest Filipino writers who ever lived—were together in the panel. They also passed on to us what they had learned from these literary gods. Sir Jimmy recalled what Jose Garcia Villa taught him: “Clean up your lines.” Francisco Arcellana would always remind them, “Edit yourself!” Sir Bobby Villasis would regale us with classic stories of Doc Ed and Mom Edith in the panel: how they would argue over a story, how Mom Edith would all be gentle to the fellows while Doc Ed would never mince words. I loved how the panelists kept reminding us that this workshop is a rite of passage for the country’s writers, then go on enumerate the names of those who had been under their tutelage: Lakambini Sitoy, Ninotchka Rosca, Chingbee Cruz, Tara Sering. Their energy, their kindness was just too much to bear. I took note of everything they said. I just couldn’t thank them enough.
Awesome trio of Mom Weena, Sir Krip and Sir Jimmy
Mom Edith. I’m referring to National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo, who, at 91, is still keen and hip and adorable. She established the workshop together with her husband Doc Ed Tiempo 49 years ago. She is a ‘mom’ to practically every fictionist and poet here in the country. The first time I met her, I was moved to tears. I would never want to forget the image of us sitting beside each other, my copy of her book “Six Fictional Symbols” in her hand. The autograph signing, picture taking, kissing her on the cheek. During the graduation ceremonies, when she handed the certificate to me, she asked: “Will this matter to you?” I replied, “Of course mom, of course.” And she said, “Then, show it!”
Mom Edith signing my book :)
Mother and Daughter :)
Falls! Beach! Falls! Beach! During weekends, we’d go down from the mountains to visit any of Dumaguete’s natural wonders. Weekend One saw us at the Casaroro Falls, whereas the next weekend we were at the island Siquijor. Siquijor beaches are beautiful. After our outings, we would be found roaming around Dumaguete, eating at Il Piccolo, panic-buying inside Booksale Robinsons Dumaguete, walking along the Rizal Boulevard, and downing beer at Hayahay. We’d bunk at cheap inns and by Sunday, we’d start pining for the Writers’ Village and wait patiently for Manong Fred to drive us back to Valencia.
We also had outsessions every Wednesday. On the first Wednesday, we held the workshop at Bravo Golf Course; on the second week, we drove to Lake Balananan and Antulang Beach Resort on the third week. I’d have to say we had the most fantastic time at Antulang, as we braved the waves and swam with Sir Jimmy—we were all amazed at his humility, charm, and candor. Here was the man of letters, the Professor Emeritus swimming with us and even assisting us ladies as we went down the perilous waters.
Casaroro Falls ♥
Antulang Beach Resort ♥
The Great Booksale Raid Part 1 of 10!
Nomnom. Here’s the thing, the fellows and even the panelists fell in love with a dog. He came to us on May 2 and we left him on May 22, with a heavy, heavy heart. Boy, was he spoiled! We’d feed him with the same food we’re eating from the caf. He’d sit with us during the workshop. We gave him a bath, we let him freely roam around our cottages, we kept nuzzling him and running after him. “Andito na si Nomnom!” we’d hear from the other cottages and we’d immediately go to where Nomnom was. Every time we’d come home from Dumaguete, we’d holler his name, and as if on cue, he’d be running right back to our cottages, as if he were just waiting for us to come home. So much was our love for him that we even made him a Facebook fan page! (Search “Nomnom The Kangaroo Dog”). Dom even wrote a poem for him:
To name you,
the first time you were taken, found
as a scrawny pile of puppy sad,
meant you are ours. Ours for the taking,
ours for a while – unnamed, all named
until a decision is made to call you:
“Pano na pag iniwan nyo na siya?” asked the workshop coordinators who’d seen how much we pampered him. That Nomnom, he stole our hearts.
My stories. My first story “The Abduction” was my strongest story, I think, and I was happy that during the workshop, it received the nicest of praises. My second story, “Stains”, on the other hand, really sucked. I was a mess the day before the Workshop because the guest panelists assigned to my story were two fave writers of mine, Sir Krip and Sir Jimmy. The story, according to the fellows, “ends abruptly” “lacks narrative arc,” “is hurriedly done.” But my ego was salvaged when Sir Krip went, “Actually kung sino man nagsulat nito, she or he is a very talented writer with a gift of language. This is a very tidy story, well-structured, ganda ng linggwahe. Just add more pages to this story, para ma-address lahat ng problema. It’s too short.” That did it. Coming from him, wala na, nabuhayan na ako. I couldn’t believe I was hearing those words from Sir Krip Yuson. I remember the time Mavz and I caught him during a poetry reading months ago, and we were like, “Omigod, Krip Yusoooon!” ♥
Workshop schedule: Week 1
The Day My Story Got Butchered :)
Farewells and How We Survived. My fellows and I forged a bond that promised a lifetime of friendship. We squeezed ourselves in single mattresses when we’re too afraid to sleep alone on our beds. We’d sing the Cicada cheer when we’re inside the Silliman van: “When I say Cica, you say Da!” We ate our meals together, and yes, by day 21, we were all N pounds bigger. We danced to Bad Romance and Manang Bibi Song (after Justin Bieber's Baby). We sang Calle Ocho and Get Busy. We talked about our writing woes. We had this silly habit of adding “Mebbe” to every sentence—“Mebbe I love you? Mebbe we need to sleep?” We had Nomnom, Mom Weena Torrevillas. We would badger the boys on how silly they looked every time they’d scream when the cicadas started attacking them. We’d borrow each other’s clothes. We’d panic every time we’d run out of clothes, sending us straight to our sinks to wash our undies and shirts with Tide Bar.
Sadness hung in the air by the start of the third week. All of us were already dreading the Last Day. We knew we’d have a hard time leaving the Writers Village, ghost-infested and all. It was our home, and we were family. We’re the first batch to reside in the cottages Writers Village and already we felt protective over it. The last poem we discussed was entitled “Parting” and it was just so poignant to end the workshop on that note. During the graduation ceremonies, most of us cried.
When I got back, it took me a week to shake off the post-workshop sadness and adjust to my normal life. Valencia and Dumaguete and the workshops made up an alternate universe and it was worlds away from where I was: 6th floor, Cybergate, Boni Mandaluyong. I couldn’t work for a week. I was just facing the computer, Facebooking away and waiting for updates from the fellows and panelists. I miss Nomnom. I terribly miss the fellows; we try to see each other as much as we can, we had poetry readings, spontaneous dinners. I miss Mom Weena. I miss everything, I really, really do.
Miro: Di ko maexplain nararamdaman ko. Sobrang saya ko. Best three weeks talaga!
How did I get so lucky. Best three weeks of my life, indeed.
(We're coming back next year for the workshop's 50th anniversary. We're going home. ♥)
Sir Krip Yuson's articles on the Workshop: http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=577799 and http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=579827