One of the events cancelled (or for more emphasis, cancelledtht) by the rapidly escalating Corona crisis was the short story writing workshop I attend twice a year. In these workshops I am coerced to write–I like the pressure of someone looking over my shoulder and having to turn in something after a few days. Upon completing a short story you read it in front, and I am thrilled at the prospect of having a built-in, captured audience forced to listen at my pathetic attempts at stand-up comedy. My classmates are always the most intriguing people I know, always very diverse, brought together by the common love of writing. They always have very interesting stories to tell–both their fiction and the personal lives they are willing to share.
Back in 1999 I used up my only free elective to enroll in Creative Writing (short fiction). Our teacher was this tall handsome guy named The Red Hood, who Data Skullky later told me was hitting on her. Come to think of it, I never got to ask Data Skullky if they ever went on a date! Some of my memorable classmates included Janine, a very articulate Mass Com major who had quite the vocabulary (I had to look up short words like peccant, trabeate, slattern in the dictionary ); Crocodilium, a gaunt bespectacled guy with very long hair who always looked stoned (the main character in his story, indeed was a gaunt, stoned guy who went on a roadtrip with his friends who were unaware that he was hiding a samurai in the trunk); Mrs. Buenaventura, a retired UP employee in her late 60’s who took the class to cope with the empty nest; Varicella Zosterina, who would always stand up in the middle of the room to regale us with dirt about her fascinating mother-in-law; and Jayson, who hated everything.
Near the end of the semester we turned in our short stories written under a pseudonym, and copies were distributed to everyone. We would read each story at home, then critique them in class, with the identity of the writer revealed at the end of the session. My short story was about a guy who looked very young for his age–he would usually go to seedy adult movie houses just to see if the guard would let him in without checking his ID. His romantic interest, Stella, would never love him other than as a younger brother, which infuriated him to no end. I can’t quite remember how it ended–I think he rammed his head in a vat of boiling acid–and the story got some rather mixed reviews from the class.
One story written under the pseudonym Chummy was particularly skewered. The story, “Prayers Can Move Mountains”, was 15-page family drama that involved a lot of dining area scenes, a lot of plot lines seemingly lifted from horrible telenovelas, and excessive description. The physical characteristics of the main character, for instance, were described down to the color of his hanky. The writer seemed to have taken the professor’s words “describe the things inside your character’s pockets” quite literally.
“I’m sorry but it’s quite… a snooze-fest. Not necessarily bad naman but it was such a tedious read. I couldn’t really finish it sorry!” Isis Santos said with a sheepish look on her face. The rest weren’t as kind.
“That’s really awful, man,” Jayson said, complete with agitated hand gesture. “I felt asleep reading it. Took me one week to get through the description on how the damn kitchen looked like!”
As soon as the fangs were out it was only a matter of one-upping each other in viciousness. Allan Santos said: “In terms of quality, among all twenty stories, this would rank the twenty-first”.
Otto Von Hurrman very succinctly: “Napaka-boring po”.
“Anyone else?” The Red Hood asked. “If none may we ask who Chummy is?”
We all watched in wide-eyed horror as the nice elderly woman suffering from empty nest, Mrs. Buenaventura, stood up, hands semi-raised, a guilty look on her face.
“Uhm, actually ma’am, maayos naman po,” Jayson immediately said. “I think some of the fat could be trimmed, but in general I actually like it po!”
“I, I actually agree,” Varicella Zosterina stammered. “In particular the atmosphere was well-developed po!”
“I like the archetype of a strong Filipino mother that Attorney Evelyn represents,”–or something vaguely crappy like that–was my contribution to the major undoing extravaganza.
All this time The Red Hood was watching us, nefariously smiling, enjoying the view of vultures attempting to put the carcass back together.
|Always enjoy the people and their stories in Jessica’s Writing Boot Camp ( August 2019). (photo c/o Lord Fernandez)|
|Post-writing ramen. (photo c/o Jitka)|