The people who suffer the most are those who don't know what they want.
That line sounds like it came from a Grey's Anatomy episode. The truth is it did. You know how each episode starts. Dr. Grey tells something that will summarize what the whole episode is all about. They're most cliches but they're effective and true. The line above made me nod. I have always wanted to write. The problem was, I didn't know what to write about. Writers don't just write. They write something relevant. They create their niche, they introduce something unique, they develop their own style. Allow me to say something cheesy here: you have to go back from where you came from in order to move forward. Now, you can call me mushy but that's exactly what I did before I got a good grasp of my identity. So I'm confident to say that I have re-discovered myself during the 3-day writing workshop in a mystical and enchanted island of Sibale, a remote town in the province of Romblon, where I was invited as a resource person. It's a title which I probably didn't deserve considering my performance as a lecturer/critique. If not for the comforting words from friends that I could do it (Jac, Dani, Pol, Maynard), I wouldn't have had accepted the invite from Mr. Nicon Fameronag, organizer of the activity.
My fear and lack of confidence stemmed from the fact that I wasn't good in public speaking which was one of the reasons I chose to write; and I was terribly afraid that I'd make an embarrassing stunt in front of the participants. At one point during the workshop, I think I might have done something awful.
After giving a lecture on how to write a short story, we asked the kids (well, they're really high school students) to make their own fictional narrative. This is the awful part: the piece I was asked to give a comment on was written in Asi, a local language spoken by various towns in our province which I'm not very familiar with. But I got the gist of the story since, surprisingly, the language wasn't alien to me at all. It sounded so familiar like a song I've heard before. My feedback seemed too harsh as I babbled about the importance of making the characters interesting and sympathetic, citing examples from local TV shows, criticizing her work cruelly, in short. I didn't know how the budding writer took it though I was sure she was looking daggers at me.
Mr. Fameronag cautioned me early on that I'd be teaching high school kids. "They're like a sponge who will absorb everything you'll say," he noted during our phone conversation last week before the workshop. It was a polite way of telling me that I should be sensitive. Marc Musca, one of the teachers-chaperons of the students, commented that what I did was okay. "You're just being sincere. There's nothing wrong with that," he said reassuringly when I shared with him my guilt as we strolled around the school, wondering what it's like to study in a serene place near the sea and rolls of mountains. The participants were scattered around writing, some concentrating very hard, on their essay. It was a quiet day. I wondered if it was always that peaceful in the school. There wasn't much noise, not even the waves that crashed on the shore.
"Look at you, you're very lucky. You get to eat free food and you live like you're all pensionados," Mr. Vim Nadera, who arrived at the last day of the workshop looking tired from his trip, mused in his hurried talk. The kids smirked and giggled awkwardly. Mr. Nadera's words hit close to home. "So what can you do to change our country with your writing?" he challenged. The laughter seemed to die in their throats. He concluded his speech by giving the kids 9 very important tips on writing. "Get your pen and paper and write this down: read, read, read, write, write, write, stage, stage, stage."
"I'm planning to stage my plays in Looc, my hometown," I told Mr. Ishmael Fabicon, sponsor of the workshop, while we were inside the van going to Calapan. There was a heavy downpour of rain that made the road in Pinamalayan worse than it already was. He smiled genially and encouraged me to submit a project proposal for funding. "I loved the kids' presentation last night. I'm particularly fascinated with the Onhan inflection," he added, referring to the skit which the Onhan group presented as part of the culminating activity. The play written by students from Looc, Sta. Maria, Tugdan and Guinbirayan was about a typical day-to-day life of an Onhan couple. We rehearsed the play within a relatively short period of time and I got to apply the little knowledge I acquired from watching several stage plays in CCP. The students delivered their lines in Onhan, complete with local accents and expressions. The audience seemed to love it as they guffawed in funny scenes. Deep inside, I felt very ecstatic since it was my first time directing a production after college graduation.
In my speech as a lecturer, I mentioned that I was a certified virgin when it comes to literary workshop outside school and that I was lucky to be 'devirginized' in the mystical, enchanted island of Sibale whose map looks like a head of a fierce dog with its mouth wide open, baring its teeth. The island, on the contrary, doesn't have the ferocity of a dog. Its people are warm and very accommodating, to say the least. We were told that, like any other schools, Conception National High School which was the venue of the workshop has its own urban legends but it wasn't in the list of the participants' worries. What worried them most was going home. To cross the sea that separates Sibale from Tablas is no mean feat especially if the weather isn't so good and the boat isn't too big. Years ago, a boat going to Tablas got capsized in the sea claiming the lives of a number of Sibalenon.
"I hope to see you again here," Mr. Fameronag told me during the closing activity on the third day of the workshop. Every participant had their certificates as proof that they've accomplished the 3-day workshop successfully. Each representative from both ethnolinguistic groups gave their testimonies that the workshop made them aware of their own language and that they should be proud of it. Most of their creative outputs, be it a short story, essay or poem, talked about how it means to be a Romblomanon. Some of them have even praised the workhop, which almost sounded like they're being sipsip or leeches, as Mr. Fameronag noted. But their works were notably sincere. There's an incurably romantic poem written by a teenage participant. It shows how it is being in love. His lines goes something like this: "Tanan ay naghihilipos nga daw may anghel nga naglapos" that when translated to English means "Everyone goes silent like an angel has passed by." The language, not the lines per se, totally captivated me.
I've never really written a literary piece in Onhan before, which I admit is a shame. The poem along with the goal of the workshop inspired me to start expressing my art using my own language. I told Mr. Fameronag in a text message that I'm very thankful for the opportunity he gave me to be part of a wonderful activity. And that the workshop made me discover myself. Needless to say, I now know what I want.