We teach ourselves well the business of coping with loss: and so we travel back and forth between magnificent lies to sweeten pain and the small measure of days that gradually heal the punctures our hearts have endured. But we finally love the light at the end of the tunnel, the final syllable of a prolonged goodbye, the last glimmer of disappearing ghosts -- and the first kiss of something new.
When you reach for me in that obscure World where like ashes of the air Your eyes and hands and voice batter With a stark and ghostly urgency The transparent doors of my closed lids, I struggle to confine the precarious grace, The force, the impulse of this fantasy; Yes, I grieve. But in its sure Wise way it is this grief that bids The ghost to go. This is the reality we stand to lose: That the push of muscle strength Is also the dear enfolding brute embrace Of reason shocking all our length, The loss is gain for the will to choose The distance-given right to know.
All roads lead to Montemar, north of Sibulan, on a hilltop house that overlooks the blue of Tañon Strait, on the 22nd of April. The day always seems to be the advent to the higher reaches of summer—glorious May time is just around the corner—and there is already, in the air, a palpable sense of magic and poetry in the way the Dumaguete sun kisses our skin.
This year, the urgency to visit the house on the hill becomes even more so.
And so we trek, all of us: devotees on a kind of pilgrimage, or homecoming, to pay tribute to the Mother who had midwifed our silly young scribbling on paper from years ago towards shades of maturation we haphazardly call our writing lives. The queen herself—who embodies a life of majestic poetry—waits for us this year: the National Artist for Literature, Edith Lopez Tiempo, is celebrating her 90th birthday, and we come to celebrate it with song and food.
The National Artist welcomes us.
Poet Marjorie Evasco and fictionist Susan Lara greet Mom Edith a happy birthday.
Ninety years, I thought. That is ten years shy of a centennial—and the legend is still very much alive, and producing powerful poetry. “Ninety years. That’s a lot of years,” I soon said to no one in particular as our van—which contained several generations of Tiempo writing “children”—began the climb towards Mom Edith’s house, and then made a turn towards the hillside facing the sea.
“It is,” somebody replied. “And look at what she’s done all those years—I’d be happy if I could have a quarter of what Mom has accomplished.” And what has she accomplished exactly? Beyond mere consideration of bibliography—all those volumes of poetry, essays, short stories, and novels—she has gone and done what only a few people can be: literary mother to five decades of Filipino writers. That we call her “Mom” is no accident of familiar terms, nor empty honorific. She is truly “Mom Edith” because she has nurtured many of us in our pursuit of the lonely art of writing—and not just in the haphazard way a typical mentor could be to a fledgling dreamer, but in the gentle (if slightly edgy) way she prods and pushes and makes you realize the potential, or the disaster, of what you have written. Her methods are alchemy of the highest order—it is unique and cannot be studied—and we all come away grateful only for what we have learned.
The Quizo Family Singers serenade Mom Edith.
Mom Edith with poet Gemino H. Abad.
Some of the Tiempo writing brood.
And so we always come back, summer after summer, to give our thanks. It then came to me like the purest of epiphanies: one lives on truly in the hearts of those who love you back. And there are hundreds who love her without reservation, who make this kind of pilgrimage—simply because they feel compelled to do so. It cannot be explained. Is there any other Filipino literary giant who commands such devotion? Nick Joaquin comes close, but not entirely.
Applauding the Quizo Family.
The National Artist is Facebooking! Reading birthday greetings from all over the world on her Facebook fan page.
Her 90th birthday cake.
The dinner aftermath had Mom Edith singing old songs in Cebuano.
We soon entered Montemar bearing gifts and well wishes. Mom Edith, seated like royalty on her sofa, greeted us one by one with a hug and a kiss, and astounded some of us for still remembering every one of our names—as well as surprising tidbits she knew of our current lives. “Ian,” she greeted me as I drew near, her voice soft but not frail, “you must come visit me more often.” I promised I would.
Standing, from left: Susan Lara, Marjorie Evasco, Ernesto Superal Yee, Anthony Tan, DM Reyes, Ian Rosales Casocot, and Myrna Peña-Reyes. Seated, from left: Krip Yuson, Dr. Edith Tiempo, Gemino Abad, and Cesar Ruiz Aquino.
This year, we all come from so near, and so far. Her writing children from Manila—Marjorie Evasco, Susan Lara, Krip Yuson, Gémino Abad, and DM Reyes—had flown in just for the occasion. The local ones—including César Ruìz Aquino, Anthony Tan, Myrna Peña-Reyes, Ernesto Superal Yee, and yours truly—joined them, and we spent the late afternoon of the 22nd day of April, straight on to the evening, basking in the reflected glow of one literary legend. The Quizo Family Singers had already serenaded her with a choice of songs—and Mom Edith was in her element, easily belying the fact of 90 years with a spritely need to dance, and to sing. And sing she later did—a medley of local songs remembered from childhood. And when it was over, and when it was time to go home, we all came away assured that all was well. All was happy.
Happy birthday once again, Mom Edith! And thank you for the inspiration.
[Read Krip Yuson's column about our visit in the Philippine Starhere.]
I cannot help but be wowed: there are three -- three -- Filipino films screening in Cannes 2009! Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay is in Official Competition (together with such luminaries as Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar, Ang Lee, Ken Loach, Chan-Wook Park, Michael Haneke, Alan Resnais, Jane Campion, Lars von Trier, and others), Raya Martin's Independencia is in Un Certain Regard (where directors new to the festival have to debut before they can get into the official competition in future festivals), and Adolfo Alix Jr. and Raya Martin's Manila has a Special Screening! [Download the official list in the Cannes site.]
Is the Philippines finally back in the cinematic world map after a long, long drought? Oh yes we are!
(And, Raya, ang long hair mo!)
Here are the official trailers of Independencia and Manila...
7:30 AM |
To Mom Edith Lopez Tiempo on Her 90th Birthday
I remember taking this photo of you in 2000, in Bacong, at the height of a May summer, when I was just beginning to write. "Capture me in the afternoon light," you told me, as we moved from the interiors of the house we were in to the garden. I remember that afternoon well, how gracious you were. Later, you were telling me the story of your life because I asked. I was enthralled, of course, and I think: your life is poetry of the highest order. Thanks for sharing it with us, all your writing children. Happy birthday.
I have never seen this kind of sunset before—a tantalizing dollop of hot orange lava perfectly suspended in the sky, taking its time to sink into the horizon off Sulu Sea. Or perhaps, thinking twice now about it, I may already have, but not with this kind of concentration, in a heightened awareness of the drama unfolding before me.
It is the ultimate cliché, of course: writing about beautiful sunsets. Every second-rate poet has purple verses extolling the play of luminosity set against a darkening blue of sky, tendrils in various hues of orange, as it disappears into the slow nothingness of dusk. Every hack of a photographer begins with tenderly composed snapshots of impossibly blinding clouds shimmering with magic light. But here I go, doing exactly that. Coming out of my beach-side cocoon after a late afternoon cup of brewed coffee, a shot of caffeine in my system that has suddenly made everything around me seem sane and stable, I had marched into the sandy shallows of Sugar Beach to wet my feet, and when I looked up, the dollop of lava gripped me.
I quickly realized that our days—a cynical age where everything can no longer be taken at face value, and romanticism has become the province of fools—have made our sincerity of regarding the frank beauty of things (such as sunsets) seem like a naïve deal. But suddenly I felt like I was being given a vacation from all that postmodern cynicism. I fell into the setting sun without reservation, without the slightest sense of irony, and I was in many ways glad.
I sat on a mass of driftwood stuck on the sand. It was large enough to make for a makeshift, nature-carved “sofa.” I sat on it and looked out at sea, into the orange ball slowly descending into the horizon. With a pair of shades, I could behold its shape more, and there was something tantalizing about its wobbly circle: it felt organic, a living breathing thing of fierce colors. “It’s beautiful,” my friend Moses tells me. We are both looking into it now.
“Yes, it is,” I said.
“I’m glad we don’t have a camera to capture this,” he said.
“Because then we can really strive to remember this moment.”
Perhaps Moses was right, because I found myself nodding in agreement. And then we beheld the sunset once more together, in silence, watching it as it slowly eased into the sea. The setting of the sun was becoming fast now. After a few seconds, half the sun had submerged. After a few more seconds, only a quarter remained. The descent felt like the height of drama. And then slowly, slowly, inches of the fiery ball had disappeared into the horizon, till only a sliver remained. Then it simply glimmered out of view, and all that was left were traces of orange light scattered everywhere.
“Somewhere out there,” I said, “that’s someone else’s sunrise.”
It was only then that we noticed the beach was full of people doing exactly the same thing we were doing, watching the sun set, in a kind of communion reserved only for the sacred. People had stopped swimming to gaze into the orange glow. A beach volleyball game had stopped. A fat middle-aged woman had pulled up a chair and propped it up in the middle of the beach, where she sat like a queen. In the protracted moments that followed after the sun finally disappeared, we all moved in a kind of suspended motion, continuing what had been before our sight was arrested by the drama off the horizon. The children and many of the swimming adults went back to splashing water on each other, their shouts of utter glee piercing through the din that was Langub Beach Resort; those who were talking continued on with their halted conversation; those who were eating, or drinking, went back to the mechanical action of putting spoon or bottle to mouth.
Life went on. But for one brief moment, everybody shared a sunset together.
The slow day—the Monday before the beach madness that grips the rest of Holy Week comes in full force—gets anyone ready for this: I had woken up to the day with a sense of unfamiliar leisure to find it was already midmorning. On ordinary days, that would have had me in immediate panic—because back at home, in the city, there were lists of things to do and tick-off. But I woke up to a muggy nine o’clock, in a bed with a gracious canopy of a mosquito net, surrounded by walls done up in resort-style, varnished amakan and nipa. There was only a pervasive quiet that told me I was not in Dumaguete anymore. The distant hush of surf crashing on sand was what finally made me find my bearings in the strange room: it was only then that I remembered, with the clarity of wakefulness, that this was my second day in Sugar Beach—what the locals call Langub—in the small barangay of Nauhang, in a secluded cove accessible only by pumpboat in the town of Sipalay in southern Negros Occidental.
Sugar Beach is a long stretch of utter quiet facing Sulu Sea, punctuated on both ends by hills of coral stone and small forests. The beach itself is separated from the rest of Negros Occidental by a narrow band of river called Nauhang. The town proper of Sipalay is still a good distance away, accessible only by small tricycles that can charge you an arm and a leg if you look very much like a tourist and you’re not careful. (Don’t be fooled: the fare from Nauhang to the Sipalay public market, via Gil Montilla, is only P20 per head. And not P150.)
In Sugar Beach, once you’ve settled in, you can swim or frolic in the clear waters, or kayak, or snorkel, or dive to sunken ocean vessels offshore. Or you can write, or catch up on reading, or sleep in a hammock, or do nothing but think about sun and surf. There is limited Internet access in a handful or resorts lining the beach, and for a price that’s bordering on atrocious—so one can very well call Sugar Beach a place of utter seclusion. The days here are never boring, but they can pass by like the thickest of molasses. Still, sometimes this is the one thing we need as respite from our increasingly mad world: we sometimes need days dripping to a close like molasses—and that is also the one exact thing that makes one behold beautiful sunsets with the sensitivity of the unabashedly romantic. And become moved by its everyday, awesome drama.
12:00 PM |
The 2009 Dumaguete National Writers Workshop Fellows
National Artist for Literature and National Writers Workshop Director Emeritus Edith Lopez Tiempo, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Silliman University are pleased to announce that the following young writers have been accepted as fellows for the 48th National Writers Workshop scheduled on 4-15 May 2009:
• Mariane Amor Romina T. Abuan (University of Santo Tomas) • Jonathan S. Gonzales (Ateneo de Manila University) • Arkaye V. Keirulf (Ateneo de Manila University) • Patricia Angela F. Magno (Ateneo de Manila University) • Niño S. Manaog (Ateneo de Manila University)
• Keith Bryan T. Cortez (University of Santo Tomas) • Ana Margarita Stuart del Rosario (De La Salle University) • Monique S. Francisco (University of the Philippines - Diliman) • Russell Stanley Geronimo (De La Salale University) • Aleck E. Maramag (De La Salle University) • Gabriel Millado (University of the Philippines – Mindanao) • Gabrielle L. Nakpil (Ateneo de Manila University) • Joy C. Rodriguez (University of the Philippines – Mindanao)
For Creative Non-Fiction
• Philip Y. Kimpo Jr. (University of the Philippines - Diliman) • Marck Ronald Rimorin (University of the Philippines - Baguio)
This year’s panel of critics is composed of Dumaguete-based writers Ernesto Superal Yee, Myrna Peña Reyes, and Cesar Ruiz Aquino, as well as guest panelists Gemino H. Abad, Juaniyo Arcellana, J. Neil C. Garcia, Susan Lara, Rosario Cruz Lucero, DM Reyes, and Alfred Yuson.
The workshop, which is the longest running Writers Workshop in Asia, is coordinated by the Silliman University Department of English and Literature.
1:10 PM |
Streaming From the Start of the Loooong Weekend in Sugar Beach in Sipalay
It’s difficult to find something to write about in a noisy Internet café right deep in the heart of Sipalay town in Negros Occidental, where I’m currently holed up for the Holy Week in the, umm, holier pursuit of sun and surf and sacrilege.
The young boys next to me, huddled with such concentration in their little cubicles in this dark, small room called Jurecis Internet Café, are deftly going through their keyboard strokes in whatever computer game they are playing, cursing as they make their play—“Hijo de puta!” seems to be the requisite curse—and calling out to each other with such abandon. Their shouts resonate, and then some, in this small room. And the cavern becomes cacophonous, and so I straddle the fine line between amusement and irritation. I choose amusement instead. (I always try to see all manners of glasses as half-full these days.) Their Hiligaynon—peppered with a little Cebuano—is gibberish to me the uninitiated, and it takes a while for me to settle in the rush of unfamiliar words and inflections, and the unfamiliar southern brusqueness of speech.
When I finally do, the noise they make becomes a kind of music, almost, and I find myself forming a strange new delight: of knowing that I am in new, strange place, and there are new adventures afoot. It is a Monday when I write this and the week has barely begun. It can only lead to better things, I’m certain of that.
Still, my own words do not form.
I have always needed the stillness of a calm room—where nothing must stir or make sound, not even lilting music—to find my words. This is especially true when I need to articulate things I know that I must be careful about in the handling of the appropriate diction and style. Complete silence gives me that. And I had really wanted to write about the inspiration I get from some of my former students in the ways they have led their young lives. But that essay calls for nuanced sensibility, something impossible to achieve in the din I find myself in.
And so I have decided, finally, to write this post guerilla-style, hoping that the stream-of-consciousness approach can jumpstart a panicked brain that has yet to have its daily dose of caffeine. (I have not had coffee in two days. Imagine my panicking veins.) Thus: noisy boys in a café plus no coffee in sight equals inability to render words.
But my editor has texted the previous night, begging me that I must send something by Tuesday, before the whole country shuts down and goes comatose for the Holy Week. The problem is that I have already taken my Holy Week leave a little earlier than usual. In the previous week, I had slaved over the making of grades for my classes in the last semester—and I still remember the rush and sweatiness and sourness of the horrible days and nights I spent wading through the muddle of papers and other requirements, and even through the bigger muddle of crunching the numbers. I finished the whole grading project the Saturday night before the official Holy Week started. This, after more than two weeks of utter hard work, softened only by the occasional urge to go out into the Dumaguete night life to unwind with a little beer and conversation with friends.
The ink on the grading sheet had barely dried when my older brother Edwin called—and announced, without so much as a preamble, that I had to come with him to Sipalay for a week’s sojourn. And that we were to leave Sunday morning—the very next day—pronto. “I can’t,” I immediately said. Because there were still many things left to do and finish before I’d go about my own plans of going to Siquijor at the height of the annual witching season. But he insisted, and I could smell the subtle sense of emergency in his voice. He wanted me to come with him. He was set to leave home for Switzerland the very next week, anyway—and this was our chance, I guess, to bond before departure.
And so I have found myself here, in this sleepy little town in the other side of Negros. The beach is gorgeous. The sun is delicious. The days are long and mostly quiet. The nights are soaked with song and interesting conversation. The people are lovely. Last night, after arrival, we did the “village thing” by attending the locality’s weekend bayle, which was in honor of the crowning of their newest chapel beauty queen. (Don’t ask.) That was interesting. Last night, I took a moonlit bangka cruise along Naw-ang River, which then made its way towards the open Sulu Sea, and straight on to the beach front of my resort. While we were cruising, the green ocean waters gurgling beneath us, I felt the rush of the open night skies, the starlight generous and beaming on my face and on the clear waters. This was how it is to live, I thought. Work hard, play harder.
It is that thought that brings me close to a sense of fullness, and I begin to accept the varieties of experience a good life can bring—even if that includes noisy Internet boys playing games.
My former student Marvin Flores and conductor David Robertson have lately taught me not to dwell or believe in excuses anymore. Hard work is the triplet of patience and resilience. There is no such thing as not having enough money to be able to accomplish things. And the show must always go on.
The lovely Arlene Delloso-Uypitching decided to throw a last-minute small dinner party last Friday night for Marvin Flores, a Physics graduate from Silliman University (a former student of mine) who is our first summa cum laude in 24 years. Kuya Bodjie (Pascua, of all our Batibot memories!) also happened to be in town for an acting workshop, and so we all had a grand time listening to Marvin tell his inspiring story of success and striving despite so much hard circumstances. Patrick Chua -- Dumaguete's finest dentist and pâtissier (aren't those two jobs such perfect combination?) -- cooked the great paella dinner...
With Dessa Quesada-Palm, Moses Joshua Atega, yours truly, Kuya Bodjie Pascua, and Annabelle Lee-Adriano.
Kuya Bodjie, Annabelle Lee-Adriano, and the kids.
Listening to Marvin Flores tell his story over red wine.
Don Ramas-Uypitching, Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio (who was just recently promoted!), and Patrick Chua.
I will write about Marvin and all my other former students who have made such a great impact on my life one of these days. (Maybe tomorrow.) Their story needs to be told. Even old teachers like me -- and all the rest of the world -- can learn a thing or two from them.
Milflores Publishing is coming out with Chris Martinez's award-winning play Our Lady of Arlegui. (Anything from the author of the plays Welcome to IntelStar and Last Order sa Penguin, and the director of the film 100, is always interesting.) The play is about a comedic encounter between a Christian film geek and a Muslim pirate DVD/VCD vendor in Arlegui, Quiapo, who both suddenly find themselves enduring a raid by the men of the Optical Media Board. I saw the premiere of this play when it was staged in the 2007 Palanca Awards (with the great Irma Adlawan as the DVD vendor), and it is a genuinely funny and intelligent piece. (Funny moment I still remember: the film geek asking for a copy of Francous Truffaut's The 400 Blows -- and then being given a pornographic video, hehehe.)