By IAN ROSALES CASOCOT
Sometime in 2008, I had the fortune to be asked to form and moderate LitCritters Dumaguete, a fledgling group of young writers in Dumaguete — all of them students studying at Silliman University at that time — who were keen on learning about creative writing in depth, and were willing to go to great lengths to produce stories fit for national publication. It was a local branch of LitCritters Manila, a group led by Dean Francis Alfar, which was known for following a strict workshop and reading schedule, like so: every weekend, usually on Saturdays, the group would meet and discuss three or four stories by known [and some unknown] authors, and try to see what made them work [or not work]. And then, after three weekends of reading and critiquing stories, each member of the group was required to produce their own short story — to be workshopped by all the rest on the last Saturday of each month. This period, which lasted until 2012, was probably the most productive time I had writing-wise, and many in the Dumaguete group would go on to publish their works in national magazines. Many others [both in Manila and Dumaguete] would also win national awards for our efforts. It remains an unequalled time in terms of personal literary production.
One such story that saw national publication was Justine Megan Yu’s “Sweet Baby.” This story came about because of a writing challenge we posed to the entire group: they had to write fiction whose sensibility was the complete opposite of their own. One member of LitCritters Dumaguete hated domestic realism with passion, so he was asked to write one. [He made a refrigerator fall on his protagonist, just to end the wretched exercise.] Another one was of the religious sort, so he was asked to write a story that was in complete negation of God. I have never been known for my sense of humor, which makes me uncomfortable with writing comic stories — so the group challenged me to write one. [My effort, thankfully, was later published in Philippines Graphic Magazine.] Justine was famously a fervent feminist, and so she was asked to write a story that followed what we called a “male chauvinist pig.” She demurred, but she nonetheless accepted the challenge. The story she produced was phenomenal for its stark rendering of a character we knew she hated, and we encouraged her to submit it for national publication. A few months later, the Philippines Free Press accepted it.
This made me realise that sometimes going outside one’s comfort zone in writing can make for the best literary exercise. That “comfort zone” may be defined by what we believe, or what we know, or what we are used to in terms of style. You may call this your “voice.” Admittedly, many of my own stories are products of what I believe in, and what I know, and what I am used to in terms of narrative style — but I also find that sometimes going against my innate writing instincts, governed by all three, usually give me stories that are surprisingly fulfilling for me, although the effort in crafting them is hardly easy.
What’s on the other side of what we know, what we believe, and what we are comfortable with?
Justine Megan Yu‘s short story “Sweet Baby,” about an unrepentant Romero in Dumaguete forced to deal with an unexpected twist in his love life, is certainly a testament of what can be achieved when one considers the above question fully.
Bacolod writer Nicolas Lacson‘s “The General” also does the same: he confronts a towering family figure he barely knows, and sees that the ghost of the past may still haunt, but they are irrevocably gone. What’s on the other side of legend? Dust.
In Dumaguete writer Francesca Flores‘ “Multiverse,” we get a science fiction twist to a tale of amnesia and “lost” love, and posits this dilemma: what’s on the other side of another life?
And because it is his 98th birth anniversary on September 22, we have decided to include Duamguete screenwriter Cesar Jalandoni Amigo‘s short story, “Rain Without Meaning.” It is reprint from the pages of the 1946 issue of The Sillimanian Magazine. What’s on the other side of devotion and expectation? Hatred and disappointment, Amigo tells us in this story about a daughter, who could never measure up as a pianist to her exacting elderly father.
In our collection of poetry for this issue, we begin with two poems by Cesar Ruiz Aquino. In “Illuminatus,” Aquino derives playful dilemma from an interview with Negros Oriental’s Father Eleuterio Tropa, a former Catholic priest turned founder of an environmental cult he named The Lamplighters. [He died in 1993, and is buried in Zamboanguita.] What’s on the other side of your professed beliefs? Secrets you can never tell the world. And then in “Sun,” Aquino does his occasional exercise in revision of an earlier poem [this one has various iterations in previous publications]. What is the other side of “finished”? A poet always on the side of tinkering.
In “King of Comedy,” Bacolod poet Hezron Pios tackles one magnificent trapo of a politician — the offending person goes unnamed in the poem, but is not difficult to deduce — whose ungodly shenanigans pains the poet, who unleashes a magnificent tirade in this piece. What’s on the other side of bad politics? A lost dream.
In “New Key,” Dumaguete poet Lyde Sison Villanueva takes the metaphor of a key and fills it with rumination on memory, geography, even grief. What’s the other side of a jammed lock? A spare key that does not want to be useful.
For our essays in this issue, we are reprinting from the pages of Silliman Journal, Niccolo Rocamora Vitug‘s impassioned reconsideration of the legacies of Dumaguete writers Edilberto and Edith Tiempo and the legendary workshop they co-founded in 1962 in the light of recent criticism about their work [in English] and the claim that the Sillliman University National Writers Workshop is problematic because of its alleged ties to American imperialism, its supposed adherence to the tenets of formalism, and its insistence on only considering works by Filipino writers in English. The other side of all these is nuance.
Finally, in celebration of Amigo’s 98th birth anniversary, I have written an appreciation of the Dumaguete filmmaker and writer. He was acclaimed and well-awarded in his prime, and produced many great works that have contributed considerably to Philippine cinema and literature — but he is sadly mostly forgotten now. Only last September 2, a restoration of one of the films he scripted, the Gerardo de Leon classic The Moises Padilla Story, was screened by the Film Development Council of the Philippines in Quezon City. This was part of the celebration of the Philippine Film Industry Month this year—and the organizers forgot to invite Amigo’s family to the screening. This second issue of Buglas Writers Journal aims to rectify this cultural amnesia by devoting space in remembrance of Cesar Jalandoni Amigo.