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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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Thursday, May 25, 2006

entry arrow12:53 PM | The Sweet, Delirious Madness of Being in Dumaguete in May

Last night, I got drunk on just three bottles of beer, oogled at a fashion walk-off where Mark was part of the bevy of models being fashionable for a night on a catwalk at El Camino Blanco, and then much later -- around two in the morning and just next door -- we danced to an intoxicating reggae beat, all our flesh touching, at Hayayay, this outdoors bistro with a treehouse just along Tanon Strait. Danced like there were no limits to being dazed and sexy with the fellows of the National Writers Workshop, who are now on their last week of glorious self-abandon in Dumaguete. But this is how we really get to be in Dumaguete -- any previous fellow can attest to that -- and perhaps no other workshop in the country can approximate the headiness of our May days and May nights. Patricia Evangelista gets it exactly right in her new Philippine Daily Inquirer column, Rebel Without a Clue. She writes:

Drunk on Dumaguete
By Patricia Evangelista

The sea is blue and green, and scattered with a thousand diamonds, but right now I'm sitting inside a coffee shop, a full block away. I tried to write by the sea, I really did, but melting under a scorching summer sun with the concrete pavement roasting my backside to a crisp isn't quite as inspiring as I thought it would be.

There are 11 of us here for the Dumaguete National Writer's Workshop led by Dr. Edith Tiempo, who is "Mom" to half the writing community in the country. We sit wide-eyed, soaking in wisdom, learning literary lore, discouraged one moment and encouraged the next. If there's anything I've learned, and learned well, it's that I know very little, and that I have a long, long way to go. No wonder so many writers have gone mad -- how can anyone stay sane working in a world where a misplaced comma can spell doom?

I read somewhere that the Chinese character for "crisis" is wei-ji, represented by two symbols: danger over opportunity. I'm beginning to think of writing as walking a thin line -- cannons to the right of you, cannons to the left of you, and the voice of Mom, authoritative in the background: "Don't disappoint me." I'm guessing everyone has someone's voice somewhere in the back of their heads.

I've found that there's a certain freedom that comes with being here, a sort of sovereignty over self. In Manila, I'm the girl who cannot sing, cannot dance and cannot swim. I tried to sing once for a class musical of "Aladdin" in second year college. The play was over when my friend JP went up to me and asked, "Why didn't you sing?" I was annoyed -- I sang, I told him. I sang twice, and he should know. He looked confused. "I thought you were reciting a poem."

Here in Dumaguete, I've sung in tricycles, in the shower, at the dining table, sometimes alone, sometimes in chorus with the rest of the writing fellows. We've run the gamut of the Beach Boys, Aegis and Smoky Mountain. The other night, at Mom's glass-walled home, somebody brought out soda and vodka. I don't think it was the alcohol that had us singing for a good two hours -- without the benefit of music, microphone, or anything resembling melody. Writers, they say, teeter on the edge of madness. I think some of us fell off. Someone would ask "Do you remember Moon River?" and we'd burst into song. Whenever we forgot the words -- which we usually did -- there was still Doc Noel's rich voice to carry on while we scrambled to catch up.

Fiction literally means illusion, fantasy -- an invention of the mind. Poets and fictionists can create worlds and change realities, non-fictionists never. Truth, always truth -- but there's a way out for non-fictionists like me: memory is a tricky thing. Some things we choose to forget, or have forgotten, or remember in the strangest of ways. When I leave, there are things I'll remember -- and things I'd seriously hope to forget. I'll remember giggling and sighing with the other girls over Dr. Gemino Abad -- Sir Jimmy -- the poet whose love for literature has him pounding the table and practically erupting out of his seat in his attempt to express that love. I'm told that girls (and boys) from every batch of Dumaguete fellows fall a little bit in love with Sir Jimmy -- the gentleman whom even Mom Edith claims she can fall in love with. I'll remember Krip Yuson's resounding delivery of his beautiful poetry, and his unstinting generosity to penniless young writers -- but will attempt to forget the sight of his black-and-white snake print swimming trunks. I'll remember I danced laughing in the rain at two in the morning, and try to forget the fact that I slipped on a puddle a minute later, slid down the sidewalk, fell sprawling butt-first into a canal and was pulled up dripping, barefoot and half drowned.

The minutes are going, going, going and then it'll be over. Just one more week left until reality takes the driver's seat. All of us have had so many firsts. First time to ask for a boy's number. First time to dance on top of a bench in the middle of a blackout. First time to eat tempura on a sidewalk, at three in the morning. First time to get drunk on laughter and cheap beer. First time to see the sunrise. First time to walk barefoot in the rain. First time to lie on a sidewalk and count stars.

Yesterday, I was talking to Sir Sawi -- poet Cesar Ruiz Aquino -- when he told me a story that accounts for why so many writers, artists and poets have called flying into Dumaguete "coming home." Legend says that hundreds of years ago, whenever the rainy seasons came, the wily south wind would blow pirate ships into the island's port. Villagers would send up a thousand prayers to the sky in despair. Marauders would swoop into the villages to steal away the beautiful daughters of Dumaguete. It is said that this is why the island became known as Dumaguete -- from dagit, meaning "to take" -- in memory of how the pirates of old took beauty from the island.

Now it's Dumaguete that takes. People find themselves walking down the shore one moment, the next moment stunned by the realization that the island has taken hold of their souls. They sit and they stare -- at the clouds scudding across the sky, at the yellow sun beating down on the asphalt ledges, and at the edge of the world, the place where nobody knows where the sea stops and the sky begins.


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