Drugged and Still Drugged
By F. Jordan Carnice .
Sometime in the second week of May 2008, I baptized our batch “Katsubongs” without meaning to. Like what the other batches of the workshop did before us, the ritual of naming was just one of those customary but unwritten agreements for hilarity’s sake. But later on, as we braved one session to another, the christening turned out to be as apt as a romantic’s full moon.
In a long trip to a resort in Bacong, I saw thick clumps of the plant lining by the roadside. And perhaps due to my affinity to share things odd but interesting, I told everyone on the bus that those wild flowering bushes have medicinal properties, but when used without proper knowledge could be fatal, hallucinogenic, or drive one to insanity. “It was featured in the news last month, people died taking it,” I ended with a grim note, a kind of warning.
Being the youngest in the group, they earnestly nodded to the insta-lecture I had given, out of courtesy perhaps, except that they seemed unbothered by my closing words. All thoughts just pondered on the effects I relayed. They joked of taking its wonders during a discussion to numb the pains of having a piece of prose or poem dismembered with the sharpest scalpel of critique. And then we all laughed, one of our only means of recuperating from yesterday’s session.
Well, of course, nobody stepped off the bus and plucked a flower or fruit from the plant to prove the medical veracity of my words. We were still, (un)fortunately, sane after the first week of accepting the killing of our babies. Nevertheless, the whole experience was undeniably hallucinogenic.
In Dumaguete, where almost every scene is cut straight from a film of idyllic setting, the allusions to dreams and the metaphysical are inevitable. The sunset, the boulevard, the acacias, the disturbingly affordable food, the slow but pleasant routine of some habits, the streets already in prayer as early as eight in the evening, the university itself that is flanked by seas and mountains, the city proves to be the perfect refuge for the practicing writer.
Each angle or frame of the city is a material for creation. While housed in Davao Cottage along Hibbard Avenue, we momentarily forgot heartaches, social crises, day jobs or the absence of them, and leaped on to literary decadence among other interesting bits of instances:
After Mom Edith Tiempo shared her practices of enhancing poetic content in a chapel at Bravo Golf Course, Sibulan, she asked me, “Do you write poems?” I responded with a feeble, “I do. But I am a fiction writer in this workshop.” She looked at me and smiled. Then that smile would become something I would hold on to when I’m at a loss for words, an elixir that would cure my doubts.
In the second floor of Café Antonio, when the discussion of my story was just beginning, an electric fan in one corner rattled and gave off a little explosion, black smoke filling the open space. We got up from our seats, and the workshop stopped for a while. Was that an omen of awful things to come? Nah, I stopped doubting. I took it as my work’s delayed opening theatrics.
Just beside Coco Grande Hotel, a co-fellow who had too much “little drink” sat in the middle of the street and demanded a security guard stationed nearby for a family-size Yellow Cab pizza. Since the baffled man couldn’t even conjure a single slice, we all ended up eating a bowl of arroz balao in Qyosko at dawn instead, and talked about our plans for culmination night.
The word “feelerette” was born, and a couple of us were adamant that it would find its way to the pages of Oxford or Merriam-Webster soon. It means: being a notch higher than an assumptive person (the arrogant would pale in comparison), or as an expression it declares someone excessively forward. In one of our many gatherings, sometimes we found this and that to be this and that, and out of anyone’s earshot we whispered at each other, feelerette.
On culmination night, we handed to the panelists and workshop staff an anthology entitled Sea[sic]: Prose and Poetry by the Fellows of the 47thDumaguete National Writers Workshop. It was remarkable (debatable or not), because it was something that only happened twice (if not the first) in the record of the workshop. We eventually knew it is now an annual thing. In other words, we made history. Feelerette. Another worth noting was that the anthology proved we did not allow the power of alcohol to conquer us every single day but only every other day.
This list could go on and on and in general, with the city’s bounty of (re)discoveries and the workshop’s effect on us, being high is not enough definition to abridge those three crazy weeks.
We once slept on a shore, we literally climbed mountains, we dared doing a jump shot inside a cathedral, we witnessed the pre-engagement of Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo at Antulang Beach Resort, we conversed, we teased, we laughed, sometimes in the company of Philippine literature luminaries no less, and thought this was all a dream, only better because everything was, in fact, real and happening. We couldn’t believe ourselves at first that we were in this workshop. It was as if we had been—pardon for the word—drugged by a vial of potent Katsubong extract.
And thus, when graduation in Hayahay loomed closer, we formally called ourselves as such. (We even named the same thing with our mandatory lampoon awards, putting to rest the Carlos Talangka Memorial Awards).
All these happened three years ago yet the ecstasy of the experience still lingered and streamed in my veins. The side effects lasted more than I expected. And I am fine with it.