The Silliman Experience: Doves of Memory in Antulang, the Raven in Montemar and coming home from the Nest in the Mountain on the Third WeekPosted: June 22, 2012
On the last week of the Silliman Writers Workshop we were joined by two panelists, Dr. Gemino Abad and Alfred Yuson. Mom Weena and sir Sawi Aquino also return to the panel for this week.
I first met sir Jimmy Abad during the Taboan Writers Festival when it was held in Davao in 2011. The jovial poet and critic was invited to speak in the Ateneo de Davao as part of Taboan’s community extension with Carlo Flordeliza and Ida del Mundo, and his lively way of speaking is immediately recognizable. Later on during the Taboan, he would leave his coat behind, and I end up returning it to him. Meeting him again during the workshop, I mentioned the coat to him, and though he understandably does not recall me, he has nevertheless brought with him the same coat. Sir Jimmy was one of the most endearing panelists in the workshop. Fellows felt that their works really do have value when he gives his remarks – it needs be mentioned that his emotional response to Debbie’s poem on the first session of the week brought tears to both his and Debbie’s eyes. Sir Ian Casocot would later on describe his appeal to fellows: he was the “workshop crush,” consistently rated as the best panelist. I’m personally still not sure to whom I’d give that distinction: all the panelist proved to be very good, but sir Bobby’s bare honesty and sir DM’s surgical precision (something I had admired since Iyas) are also commendable.
My first personal exposure to Krip Yuson also occurred during the Taboan, although I wasn’t able to get as close to him as I had to sir Jimmy. Of course, sir Krip was something of a celebrity among readers: a Palanca Hall of Famer who writes a weekly column on the papers does have some glamour to someone who reads. My embarrassingly fanboyish attempt to meet the man even saw print in the Dagmay! During the workshop, I got to know sides of him I never expected to know. He was thorough with his comments, as would be expected from a writer of accomplishment like him: it was he who introduced to us the concepts of centripetal and centrifugal poetry. But he was also remarkably good humoured, and the glimpse of playfulness I saw in Taboan turned out to be a natural joker’s personality. In one session, he and sir Jimmy brought fly swats in response to the large number of flies the day preceding. Sir Jimmy swatted the most flies, and sir Krip gave him the distinction of “Lord of the Flies,” styling him “lord Jim” thereafter. His random exclamations about basketball during sessions, and his pink phone were also other comic attractions that made this otherwise venerable man much more endearing.
On the second day of the week we had our out session at Antulang resort in Zamboanguita, a few hours by the Silliman Bus from the Writers Village. To digress a bit, I must say that my sense of time during our trips to different places seemed to have been distorted, partly because of the wonder at the unknown sights we passed by, and partly because of the excellent company which made time fly faster. Naming trees, listening to TM Revolution and Gotye, and reading the day’s tabled works all had the same effect on the trip to Antulang: before I knew it, we had passed by rivers, wild woodlands, coconut groves and seasides and arrived at our destination.
Antulang was lovely. The first thing to be mentioned about it is its spectacular view. The resort proper is on top of a limestone cliff overlooking the vast sea south of Negros. The resort showcased this great view by having a balcony and a restaurant just near the cliff edge.
I was delighted at the warmth with which we were received: there were even hand painted signs that welcomed us. The resort had good facilities: there was an infinity pool near the restaurant, there were golf cars to go around the resort. Most uniquely, there was a room dedicated entirely to books, named in honour of the late Edith Tiempo. Many of the books inside, it is needless to say, were signed copies. I later on learned that the resort has always been part of the workshop.
We went to two beaches. The first one was right beneath the cliff: there was a flight of stairs carved into the rock right near the pool. The beach there was largely rocky, but there was good snorkeling fair. The second one was at a sandier beach a few minutes walk from the restaurant. Needless to say, I spent almost all my time in the beaches underwater snorkeling.We sandwiched the session in between sojourns to the sea.
We had that day’s session at the restaurant, and while having the session we had lunch. The food was good: special mention needs to be made about the lemonade (which had a delicate hint of cucumber), the mango rice, the pesto, the eggplant salad and the buko pandan dessert. Later during the session we also had Binignit for snacks.
The works discussed at Antulang were particularly notable. The first to be discussed was Meghan’s essay “The Doves of Memory,” which chronicled her struggle with her father’s death. We read the piece the night previous, and it is enough to mention in passing how, after reading the piece I and Mich sought Meg and hugged her with tears in our eyes. The panelists commended it for its able execution of the braided essay. A bit more controversial was Vida’s story “The Thirteenth Fairy,” a different take on several European fairy tales. The piece had already incited some debate on cultural identity in literary works while we were on the bus to Antulang. On one side was the insistence that writers should write from their own culture’s mythological tradition, on the other a declaration that all a work needs is to be well written. A branch, I conjecture of the Villa-Lopez debate. In the end, sir Krip brought it to practicality in pointing out that works of a Western milieu written by non-westerners end up having to compete with more authentic sources, thus describing the little market for works of such nature.
The trip home was tinged with a bit of sadness: we were beginning to feel the end of the workshop. This sadness actually started on the second week, when TJ first felt it and shared it on the bus. We only had three days, and they couldn’t be shorter. I set the melancholy aside for a while though, there was time for that, and this wasn’t it.
On the morning of Wednesday my hands became restless and I ended up making a cairn. I had been planning to make a cairn for some time since the workshop began, but it was only then that I felt like starting it. I built it near the Panelists Stairs, so anyone arriving from there will have a view of it. On the advice of manang Bibi, I took some Pine Crab from the pine trees and wrapped it around, hoping it will grow on the stones and keep the cairn together.
On that day we once again welcomed guests from the US Embassy to talk this time about Visual Narration and Literature and Film. Richmond Jimenez discussed the differences in telling stories by visual presentation and by writing, and introduced some contemporary attempts at video storytelling. Alan Horst talked about the influence of literature and of film on one another. A great amount of movies, he said, are actually based on literary works, and the film industry owes its beginnings to literature.
In the afternoon, we had a session on a poem by Debbie and a story by Thomas. Debbie’s poem discussed mono no aware on perceiving The Ruins at Talisay in Negros Occidental, a site I was familiar with after having visited it in Iyas the year previous. The panelists were not aware of it, and I had to mention it. Mich, with technology in her hands, passed her phone around to show pictures.
That evening we craved for Sizzling Bulalo. So we decided to have dinner at Royal Suite Inn for the second time. Fortunately, Sirs Krip and Jimmy were generous enough to treat us! we had a delightful time having our second taste of this famous Dumaguete attraction.
On the afternoon of Thursday, we were set to have our session at Mom Weena’s home at Montemar, in Sibulan. On the way we stopped by Robinson’s (where I once again grabbed a piece of hot piyaya). Then we stopped by the cemetery, were we got our closest chance of meeting the late lola Edith and Doc Ed. I was rather surprised to see how simply they were buried. The State Funeral somehow also made me imagine a mausoleum.
The road to Sibulan was by now familiar to us: the stunning view of nearby Cebu, the old lampposts and the Acacia trees dipping their leaves on the seawater. Montemar was a subdivision which we entered by going uphill left from the road. The house was beautiful, with a balcony overlooking a lovely view of the sea. Inside, there were pictures of the Tiempo family, and we got a glimpse of how pretty Mom Weena was in her youth. We also got to meet her husband, sir Lem Torrevillas, who flew all the way from Iowa to be panelist for my play!
Let me then take the opportunity to talk about Mom Weena. I had already written earlier about how soft spoken she was. She had a motherly kindness and gentleness about her that gave the workshop sessions a nurturing feel, exactly what it needed considering how sensitive the workshop process is. There was, nevertheless, no mistaking her advanced intellect, and her comments reflected her years of immersion into the literary craft. She also had a sharp sense of humour, and no witty remark escapes her – she even quipped on the moment I introduced myself at the start of the workshop. So under her soft and gentle disposition it was easy to see an indomitable spirit hiding under. I distinctly recall it surfacing while she was giving her “creative critique” of Vida’s “Six Characters in an Accident” on the first week, as she read with the voice of an opinionated young reader. I knew she was not to be messed with! This, I must say, added more to her appeal as a motherly figure, and it was I with my hopeless audacity who asked in behalf of the batch if we could call her “mom” on the second week. She has become, no doubt, one of my dearest literary mentors.
We held the workshop’s penultimate session in the house. It was on Mich’s “Housekeeping,” which I saw in an earlier form back in Iyas. This was when I saw one of the things that made this workshop unique. Suggestions for alterations outside the author’s intent came, from sir Sawi and sir Krip mainly. It was a delightful moment because it might not contribute much to the improvement of the work being discussed (the story by all opinions did not need to be improved anymore), but it was a rich source of material for a writer. It was clear fellows and panelists alike were benefiting from this workshop!
Montemar saw a pen tragedy of sorts for me. I left my Silliman Pen behind in the house, a pen I bought from Book Sale in Robinson’s on the first weekend, never to get it again. There was a foreshadowing of sorts before that: I left my pen case in the bus, and I had to upturn the seat’s upholstery to thankfully see that it had just fallen inconspicuously inside. I would not be able to find the pen itself again later. The pen had been dear to me, and I was saddened when I lost it. Mich bought me a new pen on the last day as a consolation.
The dinner saw many esteemed guests. Present amidst Lechon and Caserole were previous workshop fellows, like kuya F. Jordan Carnice (whose blog I’ve been following without me knowing!), miss Tin Lao (who kuya Mo described as the “mother” of her own batch), and even the poet Myrna Peña Reyes, who once again dropped by. Others also present were kuya Mo, sir Ian, ma’ams Parts and Alana, SU President Dr. Ben Malayang and many others. Sir Greg Morales took photos all the while.
That night we had our Fellows Night after having dinner. I took on the role of Master of Ceremonies, and the program included awards for fellows, a violin performance from TJ, poetry readings from the Panelists, and a dance performance of Katty Perry’s “California Girls” from the fellows. There is a video of the dance performance, but I do not think the fellows wish me to share it here!
I also performed, as I usually do in workshops, a dramatic recitation of The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe from memory. It was the first time I performed this poem – with all the memories I have of performing it – with my favorite shirt, which is of equal sentimental value. The poem was of considerable length of course, and sir Jimmy made a humourous indication of this when he said, before following me, that he would recite the Iliad from memory.
The highlight of the program of course were the awards, courtesy of Debbie and TJ. The awards made reference to each of our peculiarities, something Debbie was very keen at observing. The awards had humourous names, like TJ’s “Colonel Sanders Award” for his Indignant Chicken pose, Mich’s “Unang Tikim Award” (First taste award) for thoroughly enjoying the workshop with many first times, and my very own “Reader’s Digest Award” for being knowledgeable and having “many issues.”
On the last day of the workshop, my play was discussed. Actor students from Silliman, among whom were auditor Arkay Timonera and auditor Gio Chao’s girlfriend Danna Didal, arrived in the morning on the bus to perform it. Other guests, including former fellows and teachers from the English Department, also came. Basically, my session would be the most viewed session!
Apparently, the other fellows were also eager to give payback, I mean feedback. I spent the entirety of the workshop critiquing works, and they said it was their turn to say something. But they said it so humourously I swallowed many a laugh out of nervousness.
When the session began, the play was first performed. The performance went better than I could have expected! The actors took their roles very seriously, and it consequently evoked genuine laughs from the audience. I was constantly changing my opinion on who the best actor was, and I ended up settling for Bamboo Ranada, who pulled off an Aristotelian portrayal of Manny Reyes Sr. ala Marlon Brando. Each time the audience laughed was a magical moment for me, and when they gave their final applause I was elated.
It was probably because of that initial elation than any criticism that followed thereafter seemed only to be constructive to me. In fact, though they were indeed corrective, the intimate bond I formed not just with the fellows but with the panelists made the comment giving further occasion for laughter. I knew they saw genuine potential in the work, and the comments were the sincere wishes of fans who wanted to see something they enjoyed be brought to its fullest potential. All the fellows gave comments, and even the actors were given a chance to say something. I really could not help but feel special.
While we were having lunch, our batch shirt arrived. CD went down to Dumaguete to have it printed, and he returned just in time for the closing ceremonies. The design was by Vida, and it featured drawings of us with objects we were known for.
That afternoon, Mom Weena gave a lecture focusing on e.e. cummings’ poem “In-just,” a discussion which capped the workshop with a display of her critical prowess.
Then, the closing ceremonies were held. Sir Ian served as Master of Ceremonies. After messages from Dr. Eve and sir Jimmy, TJ gave the batch valediction. When he began listing down our peculiarities, tears came to my eyes. Then, mom Weena gave her message (where I was mentioned as saying “Lacan and Derrida”). The certificates were then handed out. Performances from the Quizo Family Quartet also gave life to the program.
After having our last dinner together, we bid the panelists farewell, vowing to meet them again. As I write this, I can still feel the warmth of Mom Weena’s motherly hug. We bid farewell to sir Sawi, to sir Krip and to sir Jimmy.
That night we wanted to go down Dumaguete. Walking around the city, we got to Cafe Antonio, which was remarkable because there was almost a colony of birds nesting on the corners where wall and ceiling met. After that, we bought drinks and went back up the Writers Village again. Under the influence of three spirits (Rum, Vodka and Tequila), we engaged in literary gossip and some live action drama with kuya Jordan and sir Ian as we reveled on the grass with spread out blankets.
Next day was farewell day for most of us. Meg and Thomas were the first to leave. Barely any of us were awake when they left (they had to go down by 4 am). Then, at around 8 we went down Dumaguete en masse. We bid farewell to Manang Bibi and Manang Jo, who took care of us for the three weeks of the workshop. Manang Bibi was even kind enough to give me some Pine Crabs, some bulbs of the Negros Spider Lily and some branches of both Magnolia and Gardenia for me to plant at home.
Sooey and Debbie were the next to say goodbye, we left them at Sibulan airport before lunch. We had lunch at Robinson’s food court, where Mich was gentle enough to give me a postcard of encouragement. After that we went back to Sibulan Airport, where after painful goodbyes we left TJ, Vida and Mich. My goodbye with Mich wasn’t too sad, she was planning to visit Davao in August. (Now I’m pleased to know TJ too is coming!) But it had its tinge of sadness, and I did find myself teary eyed when we left her – much sadder, definitely than when we parted in Iyas.
I still had company of course. Like me, CD and Christian were to leave the next day too, so we took a room at Silliman’s Alumni Hall. Arkay, who has a place in Dumaguete, decided to stay over too. Alumni Hall, which was basically a hotel dedicated to visiting Silliman Alumni, had rooms for 2 and for 4, and it amused me to think how intimate Silliman is with its Alumni. I also somehow felt that I too was now indelibly marked by this charming place, that I too will end up being an alumnus.
That night we had dinner at Captain Ribbers, just in front of Silliman Hall. The ribs were delicious, though I preferred the honey mustard flavour Arkay ordered. Christian shared “Answers” by Mark Strand, with which I fell in love instantly. We later met up with kuya Jordan and some of his friends, and had a drink at El Amigo, where their Dumaguete Paradise was worth mentioning. Sir Ian followed shortly after, and we went to Kiosko, a welcoming coffee shop, where I had hazelnut milk and adobo flakes with rice. After that, we went back to Alumni Hall to sleep.
I personally couldn’t sleep so I spent the night walking around Dumaguete. It was indeed possible to fall in love in three weeks. I had found myself passionately in love with this place.
I never really slept. I waited until 4 in the morning, when I woke ninong CD and took a tricycle to Sibulan. There I got on the plane and, with “Pantalea” playing from my mp3 player, I said good bye to Dumaguete.
But somehow I knew that all the farewells I had said weren’t ends but beginnings. I knew I started something important during the workshop, a kind of spiritual nest, tucked at the foot of the mountain and in each of the friendly people’s comforting presences, where I could and was bound to return. It was as if my “goodbye” to Vida, to TJ, to Debbie, to everyone was saying “welcome to being part of my life.” And it was as if, like my good bye to Mich and to Meg, my good bye to the Boulevard, to the Bell Tower, to the cicadas of Valencia, to the Spirit Pine Tree, to the Gardenias, and to that imposing view of mount Talinis – my goodbyes to all of them really just meant “see you again.”
Because I will definitely see them again. I’m sure, I will definitely relive the Silliman Experience.