Saturday, May 21, 2011

At the 50th Anniversary

This week found me--now with my wife--back in Dumaguete, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the Silliman Writers Workshop. We hadn't planned on coinciding our trip with the celebrations and we booked our tickets well before the committee announced the dates and activities. But as it happened, we came right on time for the fellowship dinner on the 19th and the gala night on the 20th.

Coming in just as the workshop was winding down, I feared we wouldn't feel as connected as we would have if we had come earlier. I needn't have worried: even without the reservations or even the advance notice, familiar faces bade us hearty welcome when we crashed the party.

"Hello, Jimmy! Good to see you again! Hello, Krip! Hello, Sawi! Hi, Rowena: we made it this year again! Hi, Susan! Hi, Danny! Where's Marj?" The greetings roll out from my tongue without a self-conscious thought. Only later does it strike me: I'm on a first-name basis with the leading lights of contemporary Philippine literature? A part of me wants to switch back to "Ma'am" and to "Sir", but doing so would only be more awkward.

How did it come to this? Five years ago, I was a lucky bloke who got a phone call from the workshop secretary: "We're pleased to inform you that you've been selected as one of the fellows...." After failing to make the cut the year before, I was ecstatic. Finally! I'm part of the workshop! At the time, though, I had very little clue as to what a workshop really was (lectures? writing exercises?) and neither of the fullness of what it meant.

I've written about The Workshop before, so I won't repeat the specifics of the hijinks. Although I made good friends, I came out of it somewhat traumatized, and I ceased all attempts at fiction for over a year. I threw myself back into IT and into the family enterprise, but little did I know, some seed had been sown.

I eventually went back to fiction and got a few published here and there, none of them particularly memorable. But all that were just the nascent buds; the real flowers lay elsewhere. I enrolled in formal literature classes and joined the Davao Writers Guild. I now help to run two writing workshops in Davao, and have put out five books by local authors. I'm still no great shakes as a writer, but I've been borne fruit in some other way.

Of the fruits, I'm proudest of the fact that many of the young writers in our Davao workshops have gone on to join the Silliman Writers Workshop. The talent and the effort are theirs, but I like to think that I've helped to pave the way for their own experience in Dumaguete. I guess, in a manner of speaking, that I've become a literary big brother.

At the gala, host Moe Atega called on representatives of past batches of the Silliman Writers Workshop. He began the roll with: "Can I call on...the members of batch 1961!" The full impact of 50 years didn't really hit until I saw it in view of individual years. As Moe called them out, alumni of each year stepped up to whoops and cheers. And so on, until it came to my own batch, then on up to the current fellows.

I flipped through the pages of the souvenir program, and there our names were, too: all the fellows from the very first one in 1961, to the graduates of 2011. Each name represents a branch in continuity through all fifty years.

We are family, as it were, a big extended family. Without appreciating its full import five years ago, I became a member of that family; and for that I can call on everyone by first names and nicknames. And yet, for all that, I cannot be more proud than to have the privilege of calling Mom Edith...Mom Edith.