Images and Impressions
By Niccolo Vitug.
The 42nd batch of the Silliman National Writers Workshop was called the Dumaguete Fight Club because we had boxing matches night after night, in 2003. Not all of us participated, though; there were those who hung out with panelists for nightly cocktails, and there were those who stayed in their rooms to read and sleep. The twelve fellows had four rooms at OK Pensionne; and only one of these (a boys’ room, inevitably) was assigned as the fight room.
The fighting was serious and not serious. There were no untimely trips to the hospital, but the punches came hard and frequent. The fellows who got into the fighting space seemed to fight for their life. The boxing must have helped release the frustrations that writing could not address; words, after all, helped one understand the world, and yet one still had to deal with the world. Dumaguete was paradise for some of us; for me, it was a salve for dwelling on heartbreak, frustration and not knowing what to do with life after college.
Yellow Rose in a Sprite Bottle
Love happened despite all the fighting. There is the memory of seeing a yellow rose in a Sprite bottle in one of the girls’ rooms. In my mind, it was a present that one of our boys gave to one of our girls; the same persons who would eventually marry after going back to Manila. The boy, one of our most talented poets, has taken on the fatherhood business very seriously by going corporate; the girl, known for her tightly crafted stories, is busy as an academic and doting mother. Between them they have a child, life blooming because and despite of us.
I am now able to let go of the heartbreak and frustration for the most part; not knowing what to do does not hinder me from searching for answers now. Many of my batchmates are teachers; some continue to write (and win prizes and publish too), and one is now a professional photographer. There is cheer when we meet, the recollection of happy memories, such as strolling on Rizal Boulevard while snacking on tempura, waiting for the sunrise at Dumaguete bay.
In my memory, there is the happy image of the yellow rose in a Sprite bottle. It is mind-blowing to think that this image, rather than that of the worn-out boxing gloves, is the life-changing one.
Sewn-up Gingerbread Man
The other batch shirts that I’ve seen on Facebook have elaborate or colorful designs. The Dumaguete Fight Club batch shirt only has a sewn-up gingerbread man, made up plain black lines, with no colors and with very spare detailing. Trust the members of my batch to choose an unlikely metaphor for the work that we did during the summer. Our batch was over the top: fellows coming in late, drinking spiked juice during sessions as a way of numbing the anxiety in the Dragon Room. However, our participation in the workshop was both passionate and critical in my memory. I’d like to think that it was Mom Edith’s concern that brought out what was best in us.
We could not have done it alone, giving the best in us while being quite over the top. The help of the panelists and former fellows saw us through too. The laughter and sharing during dinners and trips out of town were very much a part of the workshop. Looking back at all that we did, I now see a process of mending that none of us were aware of back then.
It is only now that I understand what that workshop of 2003 was about. The workshop was never just about the writing. It was about life and love, and not one that was sentimental. It was about sewing up pieces together and making something beautiful.