Painting a King’s Lexis

Northern Dispatch
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Everyone who closely follows literature in Filipino knows Jun Cruz Reyes, novelist and short story writer. He is also a painter, photographer, and filmmaker – but he is primarily known as a writer. “The people would be pitiful if there were no honorable writers,” he said.

A mix between my grandfather’s austere looks and the stir of my young uncle-editor –most definitely an imminent picture of myself if and when I finally realize the dream of becoming a great writer – Sir Pedro “Jun” Cruz Reyes best fits all my descriptions.

Though fragmented, the memories we shared are far from a mere interviewee-interviewer relationship. Psyched and flushed, I saw Sir Jun again after met earlier this month during the Likhaan Seminar-Workshop here, sponsored by the University of the Philippines (UP) Baguio and the UP Institute of Creative Writing (UP-ICW). Anxious, I thought he wouldn’t recognize me, yet he did (to my relief).

Sir Jun, with a couple of groupies like me, and his friends, Sir Tony Serrano (UP-ICW member) and Sir Rene Villanueva (famed children’s book writer who is also one of my super favorites), spent time gallivanting in the celebrated ukay-ukay in the city, looking for shoes to perfectly fit Sir Jun’s 9-year-old (acting like a 19-year-old) prince.

We were formally introduced (finally, from years of wondering when we will ever meet) when UP Baguio’s official student paper Outcrop invited Sir Jun for a writers’ workshop last March 3. With deep breaths and my usual tension response (chain smoking), our conversation went from I fishing for details about him to him fishing for details about me.

Sir Jun said that to be a flexible writer, one should be a wide reader. He read Latin, African and Western literary works; hence, his views expanded.

He wrote his first story “Isang Lumang Kuwento” (An Old Story) in 1973. The story targets former dictator-president Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law (1972) by showing that there is nothing new in the so-called “New Society.” The piece won a Palanca Award in 1973.

Numerous other works followed suit.

“Sa kasaysayan, malaki ang papel ng satire. Kawawa ang sambayanan kung walang mararangal na manunulat. Kung kaya’t sa panahon ng panunupil, magsasalita pa rin ako through my writings and paintings” (Satire played a prominent role in history. The people would be pitiful if there were no honorable writers. So in times of repression, I would still speak through my writings and paintings), he shared on the current political crisis.

“Yang Pinoy Big Problem, yung may garapata sa nguso, ilan ang nateterorrize niya tuwing lumalabas siya sa TV. Inaatake tayo sa puso sa taas ng presyo ng mga bilihin. (The Pinoy Big Problem, the one with a flea near her mouth, she terrorizes people whenever she appears on TV), he joked. Katulad naming UP (Diliman) faculty, nakikisiksik kami sa canteen ng estudyante dahil mas mura dun” (Like we in the UP faculty. We go to the students’ canteen though it’s always crowded because food is cheaper there).

So casual our chat was that he was more of an old wise friend advising me to pursue my filmmaking and fiction writing interests. Yes, he does not only create compelling scripts to capture the essence of humanity and its difficulties, he is also a painter, a photographer and a filmmaker.

Gaining popularity from his short story “Utos ng Hari” (The King’s Decree) and novel “Tutubi, Tutubi, ‘Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe” (Dragonfly, Dragonfly, Don’t Let the Bad Man Catch You), his visual arts career was almost unnoticed. He was typecast as a fictionist rather than a painter. “Minsan nga natatawa na lang ako pag nakikilala na lang ako dahil sa mga sinusulat ko” (Sometimes I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that I’m known only by my writings), Sir Jun shared.

He has already held four one-man shows exhibiting his paintings and sketches. One of his paintings was the cover of his book Ilang Taon Na Ang Problema Mo? (How Old is Your Problem?). Unfortunately, his paintings and some original manuscripts were lost when his ancestral home in Hagunoy, Bulacan burned down on Sept. 30, 2004.

Speaking of burned down works, he burned his own English love sonnets when he first attempted writing. “Feeling ko kasi corny, nonsense. Pero nung tumanda na ‘ko, naghinayang ako (I felt they were corny, nonsense. But years later I regretted that). You should never be ashamed of what you do. Be yourself. Dapat linawin ang pinaniniwalaan at panindigan ito” (You should clarify your convictions and live these) he said as he enlightened me.

“When I started (writing), I thought to myself, I’ll make sure I’ll make the difference,” Sir Jun shared. Indisputably, he did. Northern Dispatch / Posted by (

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