Friday, April 24, 2009


Keeping me busy in my spare time these days is the Davao Writers Workshop. Believe it or not, I am the Deputy Workshop Director, a position I achieved (or was volunteered for, depending on your perspective) on account of my technical expertise and willingness to sully my hands. Tiring? Yes. Madcap? Absolutely! But fun and fulfilling as well.

The Davao Writers Workshop doesn't quite have the same prestige as, oh, let's say the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop. It's a much smaller undertaking, only a week long, limited to Mindanao residents, and geared towards workshop virgins. Nevertheless, I was pretty happy with the turnout. All in all, we received 51 submissions. After that came the arduous deliberations that whittled it down to 15 fellows.

More fun ensues: budget allocations, printing the manuscripts, preparing the certificates...and to think that the workshop proper isn't actually until May 4.

If you had asked me some three years ago if I would ever get involved in an undertaking like this, I would have said no. That, for a variety of reasons: I didn't have the experience, I didn't know the people, I didn't move in the circles. Pray tell, just what do you do in a workshop again? And yet, here I am.

If I'm throwing myself into this project, I can trace my motivations to my own experience with the 45th Dumaguete National Writers Workshop way back in 2006. I didn't know it then, but it was a course-changing event. Sure, I was already writing for the Metro Post (another venue and opportunity I am very thankful for), but without the Workshop, life would have gone pretty much the way it did.

Attending the Workshop is probably a semester's worth of an MFA in Literature. Nowhere else in the country would you get three weeks' worth of intensive tutelage and criticism from some very fine writers. More than that, it's also an inside track into the society of local literature, a circle that feels aloof and exclusive from the outside. Probably because it is.

Now, I'd like to say that it's warm and friendly on the inside, but that wouldn't be entirely truthful. As I've come to learn, it can be petty and pedantic and catty and strange. At the same time, there's no denying that there are also brights spots of warmth and friendship.

Looking back, I'm very fortunate to have done the Workshop at the time that I did. It was the perhaps last time that Dr. Edith Tiempo would chair the panel for the entire three weeks of the Workshop's run. I sat in the workshop of the subsequent year and, without meaning to denigrate the dedication, skill, or caring of the panelists then, it just didn't feel the same.

When I first met Dr. Tiempo, I felt overawed. After all, I had never met a National Artist before. A few days into the Workshop, awe gave way first to admiration because her mind was keen and her explanations lucid, and then with affection because she always spoke with kindness and encouragement -- she could point out where your work was weak and still make you feel like you were the smartest person. Towards the end of the Workshop, well, I couldn't hold out any longer: she would be Mom Edith to me forever.

Which leads me back to where I am and what I'm doing now. In a way, I feel like I'm the son born out of time, as-yet-unaccomplished and just beginning to make his way. Despite my inexperience, I consider it an honor and a responsibility to be able to continue, in my own fashion, Mom Edith's legacy. Out there, there are young writers who are still struggling with acceptance and direction. As the Mom Edith gave me opportunities, I hope I can pass along those same opportunities to them. And I hope that, in time, I will also reflect Mom Edith's keenness, lucidity, kindness, and nurturing spirit.

Thanks, Mom Edith, and a very happy 90th birthday.

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