header image


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

Interested in What I Create?


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

entry arrow11:20 PM | Coda

Just got back from a much-need fulfillment of the munchies. I'm watching Mike Nichols' Heartburn in HBO right now -- which is one of my old favorite movies, the one with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson in their prime, the one where Carly Simon sings "It's Coming Around Again." After the mad dash of the last three days, it's good to relax again -- although I really shouldn't. I'm supposed to speak soon to a bunch of teachers in a national forum about integrating awareness of global warming in classroom teaching, something I know absolutely nothing about except the barest convictions of my own environmentalism. I have nothing prepared, but strangely enough, I do not care. I'll wake up tomorrow morning, and cram. Right now, I sleep.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow7:50 PM | Palanca Extends Deadline to May 5

My Baguio buddies Tara FT Sering and Rica Bolipata-Santos report from the front: the deadline for this year's Palanca Awards has been moved to May 5, 2008. Says an official-looking notice outside the Palanca office. Bago 'to. Bakit kaya? I'm not sure whether they moved the deadline before. The April 30 one has always been an iron-clad tradition that is now part of the ritual of many young writers' lives. Then again, the Carlos Palanca Foundation did move to a new place this year, did revise many details of their rules (which made Bing Sitoy and I scramble like mad today), and did release their forms a tad too late. Still, this is good news for those of us who've been toiling the past few days (and nights) trying to beat this year's deadline. There's a five-day reprieve, and a chance to revise. Now, go and finish everything.

Note: The submissions page in the official Palanca website seems to be collapsing from what I can imagine to be a flood of entries. Good luck na lang. The old email system they had for the past years seem more reliable. Haaaayyyy...

Update: Success! Finally uploaded everything in the website. (That's my authorization form above.) In fairness, it was kinda quick, although they shouldn't state sa Rules okay lang ang .rtf or ang .jpeg kung hindi naman okay. But that's all over and done with. Now I can finally go out and eat something. The Manila-based gang members -- Luis, Tara, Rica, Jun L., Jun B., Allan, Vince, Mookie, Bob -- are in Serendra tonight, for our Submit-to-the-Palanca Dinner, treat ni Jun. Kainggit naman. Frank and I are so far away from all the action. Ngak. Come September 1, we all will know how we all have fared. Frankly, Rica, I want a mango tree named after me in Casa San Miguel, hehehe.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow9:24 AM | The Effort of Things

My back's aching. I can't concentrate. I have half a story, and I like it, but it's still half a story. And the coach turns to pumpkin tonight, at midnight, if you know what I mean. I smell desperation in all of us. (Right, guys?) I'm still trying to finish my story though. There's no harm in trying. But right now, I'm watching Gossip Girl AND chatting in Facebook instead, bwahahaha.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

entry arrow6:34 PM | Getting Personal

I've been reading the posts of the past few days, and it strikes me that I've been unnaturally candid about my life. Before, this blog used to read like a bulletin board for things Philippine literature. And now here I am airing out my tiny demons and angels, the personal peeking out and pronouncing its presence. What gives? The easiest thing to do is blame the weather. The rain of the past few days, for example, which followed in the heels of the blistering sun of the early summer. The change, like the metaphor, has been refreshing. I imagine what I'm doing must be exactly like the way the earth heaving a sigh of relief as it sizzles and turns to delightful mud as water from above quenches an old parchness. Mostly, it is just this: there is no use having a blog when you can't even write about the interesting misadventures of one's own life. Plus, I've been reading too many Rica Bolipata-Santos essays lately, and for once, I'm emboldened to say what I need to say.

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow1:45 PM | Tomorrow is April 30

I know tomorrow is the deadline for the Palanca. But, unlike in previous years, I just can't seem to bring myself around to care enough to submit something, anything. Maybe this is a bout of Post-Workshop Syndrome, although I've been writing a little bit (snatches of poetry here and there, which is a bad sign, given the fact that I'm a fictionist...), and Frank Cimatu did warn me right after Baguio to just start writing as soon as I could to ward off the blues. (The last one I had took almost a year to snap out of.) But let's see what I can do tonight... In case I won't feel the burning inside of me later today or tonight, I'd like to say I'm sorry, dear Rica, for reneging on our pact. And I wish I can be there with you guys in Bonifacio High Street for the Submit-to-the-Palanca dinner. (You guys are very creative in coming up with ways to do a little reunion!) I have a feeling Tara's winning the short story this year. Right, Tara?

Frank also reminds us of Douglas Adam's best quotation, ever: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Amen to that.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Monday, April 28, 2008

entry arrow2:21 PM | Things You Don't Know

"Real life is an excuse for fiction."
--Donald Duherme

Past 30, you marvel often at the things you've done in the name of reckless youth.

When I was in college, I pretty much played the field, with a charming subtlety that bordered on the somewhat deceitful. What can I say... I was young, I had a nice ass back then and wore tight jeans often, and was careful to cultivate this aura of sexual ambiguity and this chameleon-like tendency to be both academic boy by day and party animal by night. I played to get what I wanted.

Needless to say, in the games that I wrought, I often got what I wanted, I broke a lot of hearts ... even when my heart broke little by little. All these took a little bit of a juggling act, but it was fun -- "fun" of the strangest kind, but that was me. My philosophy back then was that I had to try everything at least once, and that life was too short to regret not doing anything beyond one's comfort zone. You can imagine the kinds of delicious shenanigans I got myself into -- but I never did land into any trouble, and it might have been simply because most people would not expect me to do anything that smacked of the outrageous. I was an honor student, editor of The Weekly Sillimanian, a writer for Portal, a member of the Campus Choristers and the CYF, a member of the student Supreme Court... all the things that glinted gold in a college resume.

I was also very, very polite. It was enough to throw people off.

But when people would ask me to name a film that would sum up the kind of existence I strove for, I'd always say Stephen Frears' Dangerous Liaisons. Glenn Close's superb (and devastating) monologue in that film about how she reinvented herself and her life was, for me, a poetic rendition of what I wanted to do with mine. As the Marquise de Merteuil, she told the Vicomte de Valmont (played by the wonderful John Malkovich) this confession:

When I came out into society, I was 15. I already knew that the role I was condemned to -- namely to keep quiet and do what I was told -- gave me the perfect opportunity to listen and observe. Not to what people told me, which naturally was of no interest, but to whatever it was they were trying to hide.

I practiced detachment.

I learned how to look cheerful while under the table I stuck a fork onto the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn't pleasure I was after, it was knowledge. I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear, philosophers to find out what to think, and novelists to see what I could get away with -- and in the end, I distilled everything to one wonderfully simple principle: win or die.

Win or die. That was one thing. Indifference was another.

And sometimes the result of that can be quite amusing. For example, it soon came to me, when I came into my own as a Junior, that there were people in campus who looked up to me as a kind of confidante for their unrealized selves. Was it because I dared to live the reckless balance of night and day, and they could not? Maybe. Sometimes, when they sought out my advice, I'd roll my eyes secretly, stick an unseen fork onto the proverbial back of my hand, and say something glib, something full of bohemian bullshit. Once there was a girl who walked with me the entire stretch of asphalt from The Weekly Sillimanian office to the nearest gate. Let's call her Sheryl. She was one of those goody-two-shoes type, perfectly holy, and in fact once jumped on a chair screaming when someone showed her a VHS tape that had a porn label. "Ian," she said to me that one time when we were walking towards the campus gate, "what do you do when you feel there is something inside of you you can't describe? And you want to let it out, but you're scared of what other people will say?" She said other things, and I was thinking, I really have no idea, dear, and I really don't care. Of course I couldn't say that, so I just said in the friendliest tone of voice, full of concern: "Well, Sheryl, why don't you get out of your shell, and see what happens." She nodded, and said nothing more.

The very next week, that prim-and-proper girl got herself a girlfriend.

I was amused but I felt nothing.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Sunday, April 27, 2008

entry arrow2:30 PM | Family Indiscretions

Save for the occasional biographical tidbits about Mother -- and this is simply because she has never tired from insisting her life was a novel waiting to be written -- I have never really blogged about my family. There are simple reasons for the self-imposed silence: first, because I didn't want cousins and uncles and aunties and in-laws glaring at me over some Sunday dinner, hurt at some online "indiscretion," and second, because frankly I thought there was nothing to blog about.

My family is happily boring: most of them are hardy professionals who have chosen to lead largely conventional and domestic lives. They work, they go to school, they have kids, they spend weekends at their various homes planning the next barbecue, they go to the same church, they shuttle their kids to Sunday school, they go to Bible studies. It goes without saying that most of them are fairly engaged Christian evangelicals whose primary lead-in in every conversation seems to be, "So-and-so has just gotten engaged. Is he Christian, by the way?" or "I hear you're now working for So-and-so. Is she Christian?"

Oh, I do get batty listening to my family talk. Which, I suspect, may be why I chose to be gay. It was antidote and talisman to all the holiness and general sense of myopic boredom that surrounded me. And, you must trust me, I say this with great love for my family.

I realized this when I had lunch with some of them today, in a Swiss restaurant along the boulevard. A cousin was celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary with an intimate lunch with only a few of us. See, I love them all, but the way they talked... I could not relate with their way of thinking at all. And so, outnumbered, I just tried to keep my mouth shut as most of them stumbled their way through haphazard topics like climate change and human rights and classroom management and contemporary medicine, the talk heavily spiced with painfully flawed semi-theological philosophy direct from Oral Roberts University. One of my nephews, whom I love very much, said he just watched Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth in HBO, but was largely unconcerned about environmental issues, because -- with the Second Coming soon at hand -- the earth was bound for that terrible fate anyway. I gulped my grilled squid down. (What is scary is the fact that most evangelicals I know, in the Philippines or in the U.S. or elsewhere, do think this way.) It was an uncomfortable lunch, at least for me, and no one around the table even knew about it.

Sometimes, though, some of them surprise me. My openly gay Los Angeles-based brother Rey (who has since legally changed his name to Rey Gio Rosales -- I wonder why) once bought this gorgeous sculpture, mounted like a painting, of a naked man, his butt the focus of anyone's attention. I instantly placed it as the main art in my old bedroom. Upon seeing the piece of art, one of my aunts exclaimed several prayers of shock and dismay. Mother, who is Dumaguete's Mother Theresa, surprised me when she deviated from her usual Christian rhetoric and proceeded to lecture my aunt about the history and significance of the nude in art.

The only unboring episodes that threaten to mar our history of calmness are the small upheavals caused by the few "mavericks" and "black sheep" (and I am being very generous in that estimation) among us -- but these are rare occurrences constituting mere blips in our collective history. We do have our little dramas and the occasional skeletons in closets, but they pale in comparison to the tales of dysfunction many of my friends are wont to tell. Even the slightest whiffs of scandal within the family's ranks are often met with studied indifference otherwise known as denial. Denial is big in my family. That my evagelical mother, for example, has three gay sons and three straight ones (a perfect balance!) is never really acknowledged, and is in fact, tolerated with such extreme obliqueness. But given that the three of us are the most fabulous and the most successful in our side of the bunch may be helping their "acceptance." That, and genuine family love, and Jesus, of course. Whatever it is, as long as they take me for who I am, I take them for what they are.

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Saturday, April 26, 2008

entry arrow11:46 AM | Chemistry Dud

I once went on a date with this guy many years back. On paper, it was perfect pairing. We had many friends in common, most of whom we're shrieking with delight when we announced our intention to start, well, seeing each other. Plus, we were both academics: I taught literature, and he was in town to pursue his master's degree in marine biology. He had seen me around campus for some time, and I'd seen him around as well. There was no missing his close-shaven head in Dumaguete, but what attracted me most was the mischievous/melancholy air he had around his handsome Spanish face. He was tall. He had deep-set eyes. His mouth looked strong, pinkish and supple. He was also absolutely funny. Witty to death. There's nothing like humor to get straight to somebody's fancy. And so we set a date. A Thursday evening, 8 o'clock. In Chicco's, that European diner along the Boulevard. When we arrived for our rendezvous, we greeted each other with bottled expectations, began digging into our food, began gossiping about our friends, furtively searching into our eyes for something...

There was absolutely nothing.

Nothing. No attraction, no chemistry. Nothing. Despite both of our best efforts, there was absolutely nothing there, and an hour or so later, we parted right outside the diner's entrance, wishing each other good luck and God bless. Good luck and God bless? I hurried home feeling somehow amused as well as ravaged, the way one feels when magic evaporates and all you have left is the stark reality of a dull ache. I'd been on dates before where everything was dreamily effortless, as if things were grinding towards a foregone conclusion that two selves must meet and somehow connect. I'd been on dates before where I knew just the right words to say at every given moment, where every chance at touching the other's skin -- accidental brushes with elbows, hands, back -- would set off a thrill down the spine, confirming an inevitability.

We've since become good friends after the fact, Rick and I, but I have to say this: that was probably the worst date I've ever had. It was so uncomfortable, you could balance an elephant in the wooden tension between us.

I don't know why I'm writing about this now. Perhaps I've been thinking about the laws of attraction since I started rereading my Brett Easton Ellis books again, to prepare myself and get into the mood of the story I'm currently writing. The old truth resurfaces: you can't force anybody (much less yourself) whom to love, or to be attracted to. And sometimes you realize that the thing you thought was attraction is merely a flicker in the fog, or the light of dead stars*: there's nothing there except illusion, temporary tempests in a teacup easily stilled when sanity comes back to calm you.

And all that's left is sadness, really. Because for one brief moment, before you realize there was actually nothing, that expectation, that kilig was something.

*to paraphrase Paz Marquez Benitez

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

entry arrow5:57 PM | Loreto Paras Sulit, 99

When I was staying with Rica Bolipata-Santos at the Bolipata house in Manila a few weeks ago, I spent a great deal of my off time (when I was not out with Plet and Emong) reading up on the matriarchs of Philippine literature in English -- Paz Marquez Benitez, Angela Manalang-Gloria, Paz Latorena, and Loreto Paras Sulit -- simply because Rica had books from ALIWW (mostly authored by Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz) scattered around on her work desk as she prepared to teach Philippine literature in the coming school term. The literary biographies were a delightful bunch, and Paras-Sulit's story proved to be more than interesting. I just learned today that she just died, and with her loss is the closing of one window into the beginning days of our literature in English. She was 99. Her body lies in state in Funeraria Paz.

From her profile in the ALIWW website: "When Loreto Paras enrolled for the education degree at the University of the Philippines, she promptly became a charter member of the UP Writers Club in 1927. Her stories earned her the admiration of peers, including Jose Garcia Villa who later identified her as his 'idol' during those years. Decades later, in response to a request from ALIWW, Paras-Sulit donated a typescript entitled All About Me. It is a brief autobiographical narrative that promptly begins with a disclaimer about her birthdate: 'For many years my birthday was listed as Dec. 10, 1908.' Then, Paras-Sulit proceeds to tell how a pious 4th-grade teacher changed her name from Loreta to Loreto Paras. The writing dates back to February 1945, when she first took it up, and extends to her retirement from the Philippine National Red Cross, of which she was the first woman Secretary General. All About Me attests to the undiminished verve in Paras-Sulit’s storytelling. Brief and poignant, the narrative captures precious scenes from a girlhood devoted to fairy tales, her U.P. working-student days, and various portraits as a young bride, a mother of eight coping with the death of her favorite child, and, as her devotion to the Philippine National Red Cross affirms, a tireless public servant all her life."

You can read her short story "Harvest" here.

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

entry arrow2:51 PM | Birthday Girl at 89

I'm off to visit National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo at her home in Montemar, somewhere in Sibulan. It's Mom Edith's 89th birthday today, and in a few more days, she will also be celebrating the 47th year of the literary workshop she founded with husband Edilberto.

Labels: ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Monday, April 21, 2008

entry arrow11:54 PM | The Dumaguete Workshop 2008 Fellows

National Artist for Literature and National Writers Workshop Director Emeritus Edith Lopez Tiempo and Silliman University are pleased to announce that the following young writers have been accepted as fellows for the 47th National Writers Workshop scheduled on 5-23 May 2008:

For Poetry
Lawrence Anthony Rivera Bernabe (UP Visayas)
Noelle Leslie G. dela Cruz (De La Salle University)
Ma. Celeste T. Fusilero (Ateneo de Davao)
Rodrigo Dela Peña (UP Diliman)
Arelene Jaguit Yandug (Xavier University)
Bron Joseph C. Teves (Silliman University)

For Fiction
Marguerite Alcarazen de Leon (Ateneo de Manila University)
Dustin Edward Celestino (UP Diliman)
Joshua L. Lim So (De La Salle University)
Liza Baccay (Cebu Daily News)
Fred Jordan Mikhail T. Carnice (Silliman University)

For Creative Non-Fiction
Ma. Elena L. Paulma (Xavier University)
Anna Carmela P. Tolentino (De La Salle University)
Lamberto M. Varias Jr. (UP Diliman)

Among the panelists expected to assist Dr. Tiempo are Dumaguete-based writers Ernesto Superal Yee, Bobby Villasis, Myrna Peña Reyes, and Cesar Ruiz Aquino, as well as guest panelists Dr. Rowena Torrevillas from the University of Iowa, Butch Macansantos, David Genotiva, Susan Lara, DM Reyes, Anthony Tan, and Lito Zulueta.

The workshop is sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and coordinated by the Department of English and Literature.

Labels: , , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow12:07 PM | Literary Roundup


The zany new Fox Books, which tags itself as a publisher "for discerning readers," launched its first titles last April 14 at Fully Booked Bonifacio Global City, and among its roster of authors are some of Philippine literature's young and finest: Adam David, Mykel Andrada, Layeta Bucoy, Beverly Siy, Anna Felicia Sanchez-Ishikawa, U Z. Eliserio, Vlad Gonzalez, among others.

My Baguio-buddy Jun Balde has this to say about the first batch of Fox books: "... Sa totoo, malaking improvement ito, hindi lamang sa kaayusan ng pagsulat ng mga kuwento, [kundi] sa anyo at sa pagiging attractive sa mambabasa [rin], kung ikumpara sa mga libro ng Precious Pages PSICOM. Pagbutihin mo rin ang pagsusulat, ang sipag at ang sigasig upang patuloy na maisulong ang iyong mga pangarapin sa larangan ng literatura. Hatayaan mo at aalalayan ko kayong mga kabataan para maibenta [...] ang inyong mga likha, nang sa ganoon ay ganahan kayo sa pagsusulat, at magpatuloy sa inyong sining."


One of our foremost storytellers of the Chinese experience in the Philippines, R. Kwan Laurel, has new book out. Already, Ongpin Stories promises to add to that rich and growing Tsinoy literature with such stalwarts as Charlson Ong and Caroline S. Hau.

It is a collection of stories that deals with the Chinese in the Philippines and Chinese-Filipinos before they were stereotyped as wealthy businessmen. These stories show the effects of global forces on the lives of simple people who want to live in dignity amidst racism, poverty, and persecution. In the blurb at the back of the book, the late National Artist, NVM Gonzalez in a letter to the author expressed his hope and estimation of the stories: “I hope you have pursued your Ongpin story as far as it can go. I know you are on track and need only to go on. Ongpin lives in these stories.” Underneath the comic and painful situations of characters with names like Washington Dee See and Thomas Jefferson Go, we read about how generations sacrificed their lives for the hope of a better future, how identities are formed in the crucible of historic national and international anxieties, and how the present generation who are reaping the fruits of immigrant sacrifices may have too easily forgotten what it means to be children of the diaspora. The book is published by Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, Inc.

The Bibliophile Stalker already has a short review of the book.


Power couple Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar have just announced the fourth outing of the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series. What? The fourth already?

The full notice can be found here.

Dean defines speculative fiction as the literature of wonder that spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror and magic realism or falls into the cracks in-between. As works of the imagination, the theme is open and free. The deadline is 15 September 2008, with target publishing date between December 2008 and January 2009.


I heard the news from Cecilia Brainard before I left for Baguio, but Krip Yuson breaks the news over at the Philippine Star that the anthology which some of us contributed to -- A La Carte: Food and Fiction, edited by Marily Orosa and Cecilia -- placed third as Best in the World Food Literature Book at the Gourmand Food Awards held in London last Sunday, April 13.

The co-editors are among the 25 writers represented in the collection, and the rest include Dean Alfar, Erwin Cabucos, Linda Ty Casper, Carlos Cortes, Erma Cuizon, Butch Dalisay, Susan Evangelista, Romina Gonzalez, Shirlie Mae Choe Mamaril, Margarita Marfori, Reine Arcache Melvin, Veronica Montes, Corinna Nuqui, Oscar Peñaranda, Edgar Poma, Brian Ascalon Roley, Nadine Sarreal, Joel Tan, Janet Villa, Marby Villaceran, Edna Weisser, Yuson, and yours truly.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow11:02 AM | Where Am I?

I still wake up each morning a little disoriented, thinking I'm somewhere else, and never in the place I'm supposed to be. Yesterday, for example, three days after arriving back in Negros, I woke up around 6 a.m. and the sunlight streaming through my apartment windows revealed nooks and cranny that did not at all look familiar. Where the f**k am I, my brain raced, and by golly, who is this person beside me? Of course, a few seconds later, I would soon recognize that this was home, and that this warm body was M. sleeping soundly beside me. I suppose you get that kind of experiential vertigo when exactly one week previously, you spent each day in different places -- Monday in Sagada, Tuesday in Baguio, Wednesday in Manila, and Thursday in Dumaguete, each day, of course, full of things as life can possibly cram into one's existence. That I've slept those days in various versions of sleeping venues -- bus, assorted hotel rooms, etc. -- did not help. I'm home, but not really. But what makes it more strange is that I like the way I float through the days, unanchored, if only mentally, to specifics of geography. There's some satisfaction in that kind of escape.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Friday, April 18, 2008

entry arrow2:58 PM | Milflores Online

It's the small publisher that could, and can. Milflores Publishing finally has a blog.

Labels: , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow12:04 PM | Notes on a Week in Baguio, With Photos

This should be a long post, I would have to warn you about that. Plus the pictures will certainly take their sweet time downloading. And there's 135 of them, culled from a set that must number a thousand. There is just no way, you see, to compress the events of the past two weeks into a very short post, and there is just no way to talk about them without necessitating the emotional immediacy of photographs -- and by God, we did take a lot of them. A camwhorish batch, someone had described us in Baguio, that plus the description that we were "the most trouble-free" so far in the Kamustahan Series (a designation we mock-protested to, and to which Tara FT Sering replied, "If that's the case, we will create trouble in our writings." O, diva?).

I love my batch; we all do, in fact. We were a merry mix of everything, and somehow, together, we clicked and we jelled.

Going to Baguio was many things to many of us. It was a perfect chance to escape the sweltering heat of the lowlands, and for me to see the sights of Northern Luzon for the first time. Vacation it was not, however, although it was a little bit of that: see, we worked our butts off to read and critique the thick manuscripts of all our works for the workshop phase of the Kamustahan, and then later to prepare our individual talks for our final project overview, most of us trying to come up with a stirring Powerpoint presentation. "I run a tight ship," Sir Butch Dalisay told us from the get-go, and so we scrambled to impress our panelists that also included National Artists Rio Alma and Bienvenido Lumbera, Gemino Abad, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Charlson Ong, Jun Cruz Reyes, and Vim Nadera. For most of us -- in a workshop that was redesigned by the U.P. Likhaan to consider the progress of writers in "mid-career" -- it was a week to take serious stock of where we were going in our current writing projects, which forced us invariably to think hard about our own poetics. If only for that, it was an experience, one for a lifetime. It was the workshop to end all workshops, we all agreed.

This is all of us for our official portrait, taken Thursday morning last week. From left, there's the Filipino fictionist Allan Derain (the pronunciation of whose surname we have Frenchified) whose Muting Banal na Aklat ng mga Kumag (a bible of small creatures) blurred the boundary between fiction and poetry, and whose theme resonated with all of us throughout the week, Tara FT Sering whose upcoming novel Good People is bound to turn heads, Frank Cimatu who was made to reconsider his abandonment of Filipino poetry, Jun Lana who gave us the stirring screenplay of Kariton, Mookie Katigbak whose collection of poetry History and Magic is a literary sleight of hand, Rica Bolipata-Santos whose essays will take the memoir down a more searing path in You Make the Road by Walking, me, Jun Balde whose novel Ramayana sa Donsol is a certified pageturner, Luis Joaquin Katigbak whose story collection Dear Distance will take his fiction to new heights and deeper insights, Vincenz Serrano whose poetry collection Short Walks will redefine the geography of Manila's streets, and Roberto Añonuevo whose angry poetry collection Sumpa, Simoy, Supling is sure to enthrall. The fabulous Nicolas Pichay, who shocked us all with his play Sa Silid, is up front, all with his own ideas of where to get the drama.

This is us with the formidable panelists from U.P. Likhaan, consisting of some of the pillars of contemporary Philippine literature.

My Manila trip began when I flew in Friday, April 4, some two days before our scheduled bus trip from U.P. Diliman straight on to Baguio. Rica happily put me up for the weekend, and I finally got to meet the Bolipata family. "Ric," I told her. "Your family intimidates me." She just laughed. I mean, who wouldn't be intimated? This is a family of artists we have all grown up knowing. I remember spending much of my college years listening to the Bolipata Trio's Pelikula at Pundanquit album...

"Elmer Borlongan is your brother-in-law?" I shrieked a little to Rica. She laughed again. That's the artist Emong Borlangan, with Non Bolipata, the artist Plet Bolipata-Borlongan, and Rica. Saturday night, Rica had a singing engagement with DZMM, and so, after a great dinner at Spoon off ABS-CBN, Emong and Plet decided to take me to Cubao Expo for the bazaar...

... where Plet bought this really old and gorgeous alampay or pañuelo. Early the next day, Rica and I hied off to U.P. Diliman to catch our Baguio-bound bus. We met the rest of our co-fellows as well as the Likhaan associates and staff. Some highlights of that bus trip...

And then we arrived, past 3 p.m., at Camp John Hay, where we were billeted at the wonderful Igorot Lodge. This is Nick Pichay unpacking...

... and this is the rest of us spending our first afternoon in Baguio with a little merienda.

We looked scared, eh? We had no idea what to expect from this workshop. "What's a mid-career workshop?" someone asked. "Does that mean we're old?" Soon we were hitting the books, er, the manuscripts. We read and read and digested the works-in-progress of our co-fellows, often in Starbucks right beside Igorot Lodge, where we came to hang out the rest of the week. Eventually, those of us in our batch who frequented the cafe were collectively known as the Starbucks Crowd (coined by Frank). What can I say. I'm addicted to their White Chocolate Mocha, hot, tall, "Ian, please."

... And then the grilling began Monday morning. The panelists and our co-fellows went through our individual manuscripts, and rendered their judgment -- some in unqualified praise and adulation, some in a critical nudge to shape the material this way or that. But it was a congenial workshop, even if you were made to sit in front of the rest, like a gladiator in the middle of the Coliseum. This is not your typical workshop. Here, you are treated as a colleague of the craft, with the ultimate goal of assessing the strengths and the flaws of a work, beyond basic creative writing considerations.

This was me on Thursday morning, right after the group portrait, presenting my work-in-progress that I have titled Sugar Land. It's a novel about Dumaguete, in all its sweet and murderous historical details...

The workshop proved to be quite a head-trip. There were ways to cope with the pressure of the week-long workshop. Jun Cruz Reyes soon took to completing a whole collection of pen drawings in the middle of all the debate, which did not stop him from giving one of his hard-edged questions. Below, that's Jun Lana doodling on his manuscript compilation. He doodled a lot. I have a feeling he drew all of us in various stages of whatever.

Tuesday night, in Baguio, we decided to celebrate our having survived the workshop phase of the workshop, by letting go. So off we went to...

That's Nick Pichay (second from right) laughing the night away with Likhaan staffers (and fellow writers) Marby Villaceran, Ralph Semino Galan, and Butch Guerrero...

Allan Popa, dropping by, with Vincenz Serrano.

With Marby...

Later, after we had our fill of the cafe's famous slow food, we all decided to do what writers usually do on cold nights ... stage a poetry reading. Not! We got hammered. The following are shots of the Room 4 party in full-swing...

By midnight, we were all so happily intoxicated, we decided to do two beer (and wine) runs into town. This is a shot of our second run, in a convenience store somewhere near Camp John Hay, all of us tipsy and ready to fall into the ground laughing.

I remember that Tuesday night well. And, of course, because this is my first time in Baguio, I had to play the role of the tourist as well. I absolutely refused to do the horseback riding cliche, or the boating in Burnham. It was enough to get lost in and around Session Road, taking stock of the cold weather and the quaint places to hang out...

I love Baguio's cold. Camp John Hay got foggy one night...

Thursday night, off we went to the hillsides of Asin, for National Artist BenCab's birthday. This is the birthday man...

This is Yvette Natalie Tan and Luis Katigbak, with Butch Dalisay in his glorious fedora...

This is Jose Wendell Capili.

Vim Nadera with Rica Bolipata-Santos.

Tara FT Sering with Rio Alma.

National Artists Rio Alma and Bienvenido Lumbera.

Jun Balde, Rica Bolipata-Santos, Bobby Añonuevo, and Charlson Ong.

Gemino Abad, Tara FT Sering, and BenCab.

Tara FT Sering, BenCab, Rio Alma, Bien Lumbera, and me.

Karina Bolasco and BenCab's wife.

Sarge Lacuesta and Mookie Katigbak.

And all of us inside BenCab's studio...

This is Tara trying "to sell" BenCab's house. The whole act was a riot, and had us in stitches. Tara has a future as a comic, seriously. I love this girl...

On the jeepney from BenCab's party, on our way to Rumours, and later, Volante...

Friday afternoon, we were all herded into a literary seminar in U.P. Baguio, with the promise that we could sneak out and enjoy what remained of our week in Baguio. That's junior faculty member Junley Lazaga standing guard. And that's Ed Maranan in the third row from left.

We have an excess of hugging in this batch...

Later, on our way to Vocas...

Sometimes, we tire of Starbucks and go for the pasta in Cantinetta instead.

Wendell took me pasalubong shopping in the palengke. The day before that, a huge part of the public market was razed to the ground...

Wendell and I went as far as Good Shepherd to get the best jam...

Then, after pasalubong-hunting, we met up with the rest of the gang in Bliss Cafe.

This is Jing Hidalgo with Jun Lana. She gave us tips on how to get published. Later that night, we graduated, ate a feast, and sang karaoke. Bobby danced to the merry music of Madonna's "Borderline." I began packing. The next day, the workshop was all over. And everybody left for Manila (on the same bus that brought us here) before noontime. I had gone ahead of everybody else, in the early morning, to proceed to Sagada on my own. (See post below.) A few days later, I returned to Baguio where I met the rest of the city's writers...

This was a meeting for a planned anthology of Baguio writers in Zola Cafe. (We had hijacked a press conference on reproductive health, courtesy of Frank, and ate a lot of chicken.) From left, Grace Subido, Nonette Bennette, and Butch Macansantos' back.

Nonette with Babette Lolarga. That night, the guys took me drinking in Ayuyang, in the basement of my hotel, Baden Powell. Goddamn, I couldn't sleep when I got to my room around 2 a.m.. They had pelted me with stories of Baguio's ghosts (and there seemed to be a lot of them everywhere), and I couldn't sleep. The next day, I found myself back in Manila, ready for a quick reunion with the rest of the fellows. Where did we go? MetroWalk. In Starbucks (of course), after dinner in Sanctuario.

Rica Bolipata-Santos and her gay Baguio husband, hehehe.

This is the lovely Ginny Mata, who tagged along. I had a meeting with her earlier, with the artist Angel Shaw and my Dumaguete-compatriot Arlene Delloso-Uypitching (for an upcoming exhibition in Negros and Siquijor). We also stopped by Butch Perez's envy-inducing apartment in Roxas Boulevard to get strawberries, before proceeding to Ortigas, the traffic heavy.

Nick Pichay and Isolde Amante, a former Dumaguete workshop batchmate.

This is Jun Lana, taking more pictures of everybody.

These are our lovebirds, Yvette Tan and Yvette's marshmallow Luis Joaquin Katigbak. Mookie and Bob and Allan and Jun Balde couldn't go to the dinner, and Tara was flying to Singapore that night.

And that's it. Batch 2008. The Troublefree Kumags of Baguio. It was a whirlwind. And suddenly, we're all back to regular programming.

[some photos by vincenz serrano and marby villaceran]

Labels: , , , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich