Neo-verse in My Universe
By Libay Linsangan Cantor.
It was more than half a decade ago since I saw The Jojoes last—or anyone from Jologz4Evr—when they were here in the Philippines. Since getting married, they have visited Manila several times, but I always missed meeting them. It was only when I visited New York last 2010 when we finally got together again.
I couldn’t forget the time we three met up. I just splurged a few dollars—okay, a lot!—on books, good condition second hand books from Strand Bookstore. For people like us, we couldn’t resist such a sale. It has always been a habit-slash-hobby of ours, to scavenge dusty nooks for good titles, the first time we all met, some twelve years ago to be exact, in a small place outside Manila called Dumaguete.
It was nighttime in Manhattan and I traversed from Times Square to search for Ace Hotel. At the lobby, it was half of the Jojoes—Jojo, or Jessica del Mundo, in “real life”—who greeted me with a hug. “Mamuuuu! Kamusta na?”
Later, the other half—Joe, or Jose Beduya in “real life”—followed. “Uy, Libay!” Tight hug. Tight hug back.
Both were so happy to see me, as I was equally happy to see them. After the greetings, of course they spot the yellow plastic bag I was carrying and immediately became curious, especially Joe the Poet.
“Uy, sino binabasa mo ngayon? Patingin ha.” His curious eyes were obviously hungry to know the contents of my Strand bag.
As Libay The Fictionist, I gave my usual reply on which books I’m currently reading. “Mostly young adult fiction. Dun ako nahihilig ngayon, e. Ganun lahat binili ko.”
As he helped himself in inspecting my latest book loot, Jojo The Fictionist and I chatted to catch up with life. “Funny naman, sa New York pa tayo nag-reunion!” she snickered.
And when we three took pictures and posted it on Facebook, the other members of our batch chimed in—at least the ones who are still in touch to this day. We aptly named our subgroup Jologz4Evr composed of three male poets sub-sub-named Hanson and three female fictionists sub-sub-named All Saints. Oh, we were Batch 1999 of the famed National Writers Workshop in Silliman so, judging by these crazy sub-sub-names, you could guess which pop tunes were playing over the radio during those times.
Fictionist Bernice Roldan, who is somewhere in Amsterdam, commented “I send hugs! Miss you guys!”
To which fictionist Indira Endaya, who is somewhere being a mom in London, said “Seeing this makes me happy. Jologz Internationale. The saga continues.”
Meanwhile, the Facebook late bloomer, poet Allan Popa, remains quiet somewhere in Missouri while fellow poet Mayo Uno Martin, somewhere in Singapore, once said “Ang pasaway! Umalis talaga tayo lahat, ano!”
Jologz Internationale indeed.
Once, during some down time in Dumaguete, one of the boys made a new joke.
“Why did Allan Popa cross the road?”
And the answer is: “To get to the new books.”
Allan did have such a reputation of the original and best book scavenger in our batch.
But we were all addicted to this activity as well. Three weeks of being cooped up in a coastal town during the latter half of a sunny Philippine summer, you would also find ways of entertaining yourself after learning from the luminaries of Philippine literature on a daily basis. And with that, we traded, all things—stories, poems, essays, hey I’ll introduce you to a new poet, novels, which title is best to read, you have to read this author if you’re interested in this and that, those kinds of things. We did all of those during the workshop sessions, in between breaks, after rejoicing or grieving (depending on the piece) the result of our manuscript’s workshop. That was how we celebrated and/or that was also how we consoled ourselves.
Of course it was a given that we all learned a lot from the workshops. I couldn’t forget when literary matriarch Ma’am Edith Tiempo, during the workshop of one of my stories, compared my writing to that of Ezra Pound’s. Something about being bold and daring in style, she said, and I shared that apparently with him. I was just blown away with the comparison. Maybe because it was 1999 and it was rare to read bold and daring stories written by an openly out lesbian writing about lesbian heartbreak in the Philippines, in a style that used song lyrics to tell the narrative. I was elated.
I also learned a new word at that workshop: versification. After that particular workshop day—when Ma’am Edith elaborated on the art of poetry—we six just went around, walking and goofing off along the Boulevard, repeating this five-syllable word to our heart’s delight. For what reason? None in particular. We were just also being goofy and kooky. Yes, sometimes writers do that. Or most times.
Even if we were not all poets, we were curious and interested about poetry. Once, I asked the lovely poet Marjorie Evasco on how one would actually know when to cut the line of a particular poem, like how to actually actualize this versification thing, and she simply said “You wouldn’t. You would just feel it. Then cut it.”
Spoken like a true Oracle, like when Neo learned on how best to conquer The Matrix, as he was advised to think that “There is no spoon.” Yes, that movie was shown in Manila days before our workshop stint was about to end, too. Pop culture, you know. We ingest it as well.
Lots of new things, new knowledge, infused in our beings, in our universe. Neo-verse, indeed. We were a happy bunch.
Twelve years later, we still find ourselves reminiscing about what we learned, what we shared, missing the times we spent together, the camaraderie formed. I guess this is how the Dumaguete workshop yielded its effect on us.
Thus, to this day, we not only share book titles or new authors that interest us. We also share life stories, updates on what’s happening in our personal and professional lives, things like that. We may have formed our own galaxies separate from one another, encircling different orbits while gravitating towards new beings, but it’s still comforting to know that your literary barkada is just somewhere out there, sharing one universe with you.
And with that, we smile.