Saturday, May 22, 2004

MAY 22, 2004 (SATURDAY)

The Brilliance of Stars

How to write about going home is a subject that has been increasingly difficult over the past three weeks. This is what a workshop does to you: it allows you to exist in a vacuum, to create bonds with people you barely know; the alternative is to drown. Everything else is left behind: family, friends, obligations, responsibilities, memories. You are a blank slate once you step off the plane and enter into a world with limitless possibilities.

I was about to cry when we started to sing "There are places I'll remember, all my life..." just outside Montemar, Mom Edith's home. Yes, we call her Mom Edith now - she calls us her children, and like the other fellows of the Dumaguete National Writers Workshop, there is a kinship of sorts, a bond that transcends mere acquaintances. Last night was a realization - I didn't want to leave. I was dragged here kicking and screaming, but that was only on the outside. Inside, I wanted to be here. I wanted to test my capacity for change.

When you go to a writers' workshop, your ticket is your precociousness for writing. But you learn more than the craft here. I've heard more than one person say that this is the workshop with heart. Maybe it's the length of the time you stay. Maybe it's the place. Maybe it's the way the workshop is conducted, handled, pushed forward by Mom Edith's gentle yet firm hand.

I've learned how to live on my own here, really live on my own. How to survive with your life in a suitcase. How to walk from here to there without looking back. How to deal with absence, and realizing that the spaces were simply there to be filled by other people. To stand up on my own, without judgement or reservations. To be honest about myself, about how I feel about others. To value friends. I've learned that P200/day is not enough when you live on your own, and that convenience stores are named aptly. I've learned how to bring home inebriated roommates, to listen and to give advice, and to walk away and yet be there. I've learned that hugs are the best gifts you can gift friends, and that bald girls can sing better than you any time of the day. I've learned how to write better, and to read with a discerning eye, and to let go of inhibitions while retaining your dignity. I've learned to rely on myself. There's only one person who can make me truly happy: myself.

Last night, we had our farewell dinner at Mom Edith's house in Montemar, in Sibulan, which was a good 30 minutes away from Dumaguete City. We arrived there with the stars above us, shining cold and bright. I remember when Ma'am Marj taught us how to spot the Southern Cross and the Big Dipper and the North Star; I wasn't able to look for them because we had already arrived at the driveway and there were shrimps and lechon waiting for us inside.

Pictures were taken with Sir Rofel surrounded by the womenfolk, and we were treated to a historical event: like children surrounding Lola Basyang, we (fellows and panelists alike) sat at the feet of Mom Edith while she related the story of how she and Dad Ed fell in love with each other. For a woman well into her 80s, she had a remarkable memory, and the gift of a true storyteller - she captured us with her words. Spellbound, we could almost imagine her slender nightgown-clad form tripping down the steps of her older sister's house in Nueva Vizcaya, hurrying to meet Edilberto K. Tiempo, who had traveled all the way from Leyte just to see her after two years' worth of letters.

After dinner, we sang a song for Mom Edith, and presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a sketch portrait of her - courtesy of the incredible James Neish - framed in a tasteful silver frame (yes, Myrza, you picked a v.nice color); we all wrote our short dedications at the back. And trust writers to do an impromptu karaoke session - even without the karaoke! Mom Edith sang, and so did a few of the fellows - my favorite being Ia's rendition of "Tell Him" with all the facial expressions - as well as the panelists. ^_^ Books and manuscripts were passed around for autographs, much like slambooks during our grade school years, and wine was poured, and soon it was time to go.

I found myself at the end of the Yellow Submarine (a dilapidated yellow jeepney that was our usual mode of transportation), with Mitzie nodding off beside me. The air was crisp with the smell of the sea at night, and as we rambled down the mountain, my eyes followed each lamppost as it disappeared round the bend, retreating into tiny pinpricks of light, much like the stars. My eyes blurred; lamplight and starlight melted into one glowing halo of brilliance that shimmered in the air. I waited for the wind to dry my tears. So this is how it was to say goodbye.

I'll be home this afternoon.

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