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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

entry arrow5:30 AM | Timothy Montes on Creative Writing in Dumaguete

Dear Ian,

I would have wanted to participate in a colloquium [regarding] the state of creative writing in Dumaguete [part 1, part 2, and part 3], but the long quote from my S&C article was, I think, enough. A person like you, native to the place and perhaps hitching one's literary dreams to the locale, has reason to be disturbed. People like us who just passed through hold the place in our hearts like a cherished dream of youth.

When I was young and voluntarily stuck in Dumaguete, I thought it was the center of the universe. My post-Copernican phase in life, however, won't let me forget that I nurtured my literary dreams there. I still believe it is one of the best places (better even than UP) for a would-be writer to grow up in. If there is a downside to it, it would be the realization that it is a Garden of Eden, and a lot of interesting things happened after the Fall.

I never considered it a problem when I was there, though. Loneliness is part of that sullen art of writing and, performer that I was, I was always uneasy about being in a "literary barkada." I remember Cesar noting in a recommendation he wrote for me saying that if I had any weakness it was my aloofness to other writers. My remembrance of Ed Tiempo was that of him walking ALONE every afternoon along Bantayan and Silliman Beach shoreline. I took walks ALONE at night. Organized literary activities were few and far between, usually in the launching of issues of Sands & Coral, and we had to take the initiative in publishing the journal.

I remember my sister Rhoda coming over from UP to take up creative writing in Silliman in the early 90s. During Founders Day, she, along with another guy from UP, organized a poetry reading in the middle of the booth area during Founders Day week. Can you imagine their frustration? Nobody would listen to them -- the boosters and amplifiers were blasting at them with rock music. That, I think, is the position of the literati in a postmodern age.

Despite the roster of writers coming from Dumaguete, creative writing has always been an elitist, marginal activity, and I am saying this sans the negative connotations of those qualifiers. Writers have always been a minority, often a silent minority, even in a revered literary center such as Dumaguete. What I liked best about the place was the sense of humanity it gave me, a sense of humility that is a by-product of a reverence for life -- an attitude necessary for a serious writer. According to Neil Garcia, writers in UP are a dime a dozen, and I would add that most of it is mere posturing and you would have to shout at the top of your lungs in order to be heard, so that I remember the workshop in UP I attended in the late 80s as a circus.

In Dumaguete, though, one need not have pretensions of being a writer, and the title does not confer any privilege or exemption from the pains and joys of ordinary living. I do not remember THE Cesar Aquino as a magisterial character but as a nervous companion to my courting girls at Chapman dorm. I remember Mom Edith not as a philosopher-savant but as a teacher with quiet demeanor who would serve us binignit during breaks in class discussion. As for the rest of the populace being philistines, well, that's their problem. A writer should go on writing despite the dearth of fans.

In Dumaguete I learned that one can live life with integrity as a writer. When I moved over to Davao, I was shocked by the lionization of writers, it being associated with rich and famous families that often I equated it with social graces, like learning to play the piano if one comes from the alta sociedad. In Dumaguete, to be a writer was no big deal because the act of writing and the living of a rich internal life was what mattered, not the title or the adulation. If writers continue to go on pilgrimage there every summer, then it comes from a realization that it offers something to them on a deeply personal level, usually associated with what the Tiempos represented. You should ask Susan Lara about it -- she has been a faithful pilgrim.

As for me, I like the ambiguity of reality the place has given me. True, Dumaguete is not the microcosm of social reality of our country; one only has to cross the channel to see the contrast of Cebu City. But in moments when my Protestant sensibility gets the better of me and I am frustrated by the sordidness of life in Manila, I think that Dumaguete SHOULD be the reality of our country, a place kind to writers and to human beings in general.


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