I decided to stop writing almost a year ago for certain personal reasons. But becoming a part of the workshop made me reevaluate things. The moment I stumbled on the announcement of DAGMAY (online page of the Davao Writers Guild) calling out for aspiring writers to submit pieces for the Davao Writer’s Workshop 2010, I got a jolt I couldn’t ignore. I felt I should give it a shot. What the hell, if they ignore me then it’s not for me; but if I get accepted—well, I’ll have to see where it goes.
As it turned out, it became a remarkable experience for me, starting with the fact that I had to travel back home from Ozamis to Davao for thirteen hours in order to attend the workshop—which I thought was sort of poetic. The few obstacles I had to go through to fight my way back to attend a week-long workshop may sound dramatic, but I almost jeopardized my career as a clinical instructor if I didn’t make compromises just so I could make the trip. Being a nurse drove me away from my comfort zone, while being a writer (if I’m allowed to call myself that) brought me back home. Whether the universe was trying to tell me something or it was just me and my usual habit of looking for patterns in things remains a mystery.
The Davao Writer’s Workshop 2010, held May 3-7, was sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, UP Mindanao, and the Davao Writers Guild. This year (we were the second batch) there were twelve fellows chosen out of the few who took interest to apply. When I heard it from Workshop Director Ms. Jhoanna Lynn Cruz, the news made me somewhat sad. Is the art of writing a dying craft? Or is it just here in Mindanao? Or what if—what if it’s just the beginning of something: a trickle of would-be writers at first, and then a flood of them? Who knows?
The panelists for the workshop were interesting, to say the least. There was the passionate Dr. Anthony L. Tan from MSU-IIT, who charmed us on the first day with a poetry reading of his award-winning poem “The Sparrows Come Free” and a lecture on “Tension in Poetry.” The funny Satur P. Apoyon enticed us on the second day to try to appreciate Bisaya literature and to write in our own language (or dialect, as the case may be) with his lecture on “Ang Kaugalingon kong Pamalak sa Sinugbuanon.” Dr. Macario Tiu from Ateneo de Davao opened to us the almost forgotten yet exciting world of folktales among the lumads even as he stressed the importance of writing for the community through his lecture on “Mamugnaong Pagsulat Alang sa Balangay” on the third day. Sir Ricky de Ungria from UP Mindanao felt like the cool rock-star dad when he dared us to explore and try new things in our writing through his lecture on experimental literature. While Sir Timothy Montes, also from UP Mindanao, triggered a discussion amongst the panelists as well as the fellows with his lecture on “Story-telling, Writing and the Digital Age.” Last but not least, Ma’am Genevieve Quintero gave us a parting reminder during our graduation on what should motivate us to write, quoting George Orwell’s “Why I Write.”
The learning process didn’t stop after the lectures by each of the panelists; instead it was further reinforced through the critiquing process that is at the heart of the workshop process. The more crucial lessons were learned during the individual evaluation and critique of the pieces submitted by each of the fellows. Among the many things learned, the following spoke to me like a burning bush:
1. If you want to be a serious writer—“serious” in the sense of being successful in terms of readership—you should not write for yourself alone but at a level where everyone should be able to understand your piece. “If you are secretive you are not ready to write it, if you’re not ready, then don’t write it,” said one panelist.
2. “When we’re young we like to break things and try something new. But before you try breaking rules and experimenting on stuff, you should first master the rules pf writing.”
3. If you’re brave or ready enough to write something very personal, you will have to put aside your own emotions and look the experience in the eye. You should avoid being miserable yourself when you write about miserable things. Instead, fictionalize them—demystify things casually while maintaining the humanity of your work.
Thus, we learned not only how to write but how to read a good literary work as well. Recognizing the importance of concepts, like the suspension of disbelief, keeping the reader interested, using tools like the “Ahh” and the “epiphanic” moments, avoiding the arbitrary, and understanding the basic rules of showing and not telling—these were just breadcrumbs from a huge loaf of knowledge we partook in during a week of intellectual or artistic feasting.
It was liberating to meet new friends from different parts of Mindanao. New friends always mean new perspectives—in this particular instance though, friends who share the same passion for the world of words. There were fellows from Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City, Tagum, and Ozamis, but despite our differences we bonded like old pals playing in a playground. This was quite evident on our culmination night on May 7 where everyone simply had fun and laughter as we played our hearts out dramatizing a skit for everyone who came to watch us “graduate” from the workshop.
Apart from being mentored by the best minds in Mindanao literature we were also fortunate to meet different local writers who occasionally dropped by to show their support—like Tita Lacambra Ayala, Aida Rivera Ford, and the award-winning director of Hunghong sa Yuta Arnel
Mardoquio, who left us all in awe, or perhaps starstruck is the better word. Somehow their presence made us dream and dare to want to continue what they started—and that is to assert our own identity as Mindanaoans and share our expressions in art and literature not only with the rest of the Philippines but with the world out there. Mindanao, being a huge chunk of the Philippine archipelago, has plenty of stories to tell everybody else—to the point where using the word “rich” to describe these tales becomes an understatement in itself. One really wonders why we are only known for the ruthless wars fought in our island. Perhaps one obstacle is that Mindanao Bisaya is too varied a language compared to Cebuano Bisaya. There was talk in the workshop of trying to compile a reference manual to make it easier for aspiring writers like us to write in our own language and to establish a ground for our own identity. This might prove to be quite a challenge because Davao Bisaya is different from Cagayan Bisaya, which in turn is also different from Ozamis Bisaya. Pinning down Mindanao Bisaya will be hard work for the local artists—but it is not impossible. In fact, most of the fellows already seemed eager to learn and write in their own tongues with minimum grammatical and word usage guidance.
All in all it was an enriching playful experience. And as one of the fellows Fred Layno said in his Facebook stat message: “it was the funnest summer ever.” Well, fun was just the tip of the iceberg.
Iryne Kaamino is one of the promising fellows in this year’s DWG Writers workshop.