Tito Jorge would’ve laughed out loud, would’ve teased that this 35-year old was bawling like his widow under the watchful eye of Mother Teresa and an oven called Serenity. The 68-year old man had taught humor well. Irony, too. It seems it took him long enough.
In 1994, Tito Jorge was working at the UP Film Center and on the last day for submission of UPCAT applications, arrived in the rain carrying with him – rolled up under his shirt – an application for this 17-year old. It needed to be filled up within the amount of time it would take him and Angela to catch up on projects ongoing. This would be less than an afternoon, and more like an hour, during which this teenage girl could only be overwhelmed by possibility.
Tito Jorge suggested Geology – the instrument of choice would be a telescope he said, and the view of boys on campus would be fantastic. But it was Comparative Literature that would take up the four years spent in UP, and in those years (and then some) survival meant living off of the books Tito Jorge provided. As courses became more focused on literatures across Asia and the Third World, old anthologies of African poetry and Chinese novels and Latin American fiction would find their way from Binangonan to Mandaluyong shelves. Once in a mad search for a rare Jorge Luis Borges story, Tito Jorge arrived with an old hard-bound book, ratty but whole, with a pointed comment about how the story needed is not the one that should be read.
And then as his distrust in my learning grew, so would a pile of books that were always connected, if tenuously and vaguely, to one subject or other. As the years became about teaching and a graduate degree, and even when it became apparent this shift from literature to cultural studies, Tito Jorge was the constant voice of anti-reason, pointing to the way of the off-tangent. Here was a constant learning that was about a keen eye kept on what is silenced and forgotten, the aspect of discourse considered irrelevant or unnecessary, but turned on its head is revealed to be the most valid point of entry for intelligent discussion.
Tito Jorge was no snob: he pushed the undergraduate thesis on anthological production, even more so the MA thesis on iconographies of women in pop culture. He would discuss the Brechtian drama in the same breath as Agua Bendita, he thought the song “Multong Bakla” so funny he wanted a copy of it, he loved that for a stretch of time the basurero theme song was Fleur-De-Lis. He gave me his copies of the New York Times Book Review after he was done with them. There was nothing that disinterested him about local culture, even as he kept abreast of foreign knowledge production. Conversations always seemed ahead of my years.
And Tito Jorge was also always creative. In 1995, it was fascinating to see him work on a tribute exhibit at the UP Film Center for Tito Ishma, where he installed rare photos using unconventional specially-designed cube frames which he piled one on top of another. At some point I realized he was working not conventionally chronologically, but thematically in terms of what the photos revealed about its subject. That in the end it was clear that this subject wasn’t even Tito Ishma at all as it was the humor in these photos, the silenced perspectives on sex, bodies, filmmaking that he saw in them and how it intertwines with the behind-the-scenes stories about these photos was a revelation. Tito Jorge’s mind didn’t just work against what was expected, as it worked within the gaps in the spectator’s view, which even the spectator does not know to exist.
Those gaps become easier to find with practice, those silences become louder once you learn how to listen. Tito Jorge did not teach that, but lived it. Never articulated a grand lesson or narrative, but revealed this in countless conversations. Who knows to describe a voice? Tito Jorge said of Tito Ishma, that he had a “booming voice that can cover a wide swath of the metropolis – say Luneta to Taguig.” Delayed on his about-the-author for Angela’s last book, “give it two more days, I can’t remember the Vallejo poem that corresponds to a word I’m searching for.” Telling on a grammarian critiquing my long sentences, Tito Jorge sent me a text message: “A long involved sentence may be the only way to convey a metastasized social cancer – not to mention climate change.”
He wasn’t one to praise, but it seemed at some point I had risen to the occasion. It’s unclear when that point came.
What’s clear. Over the months working on self-publishing Angela’s book, Tito Jorge was the consistent voice of encouragement, reminding it was befitting Lola Concha’s original memoirs to do it independently. In the course of my relationships with men, Tito Jorge always only dealt with me as individual, almost like a silent demand that I know better than to be defeated by anyone, least of all a man. We talked often about Tito Ishma’s biography, about the countless projects he and Angela still wanted to do, and when these would end with the question: “Where would we find the time?” He would consistently jokingly say: “Ikaw na ang tatapos, Katrina.”
On our last dinner out he and Angela were dragged by me (the designated driver) to an art exhibit for which I did a curatorial note for the first time. Tito Jorge kept his folded copy of the note tucked inside his bag, showing it to me as he said goodbye after dinner.
And as we waited for his cab, we talked about the projects I wanted to do, Angela’s next book, and the possibility of self-publishing Tito Ishma’s book. I said to him to finish it as much as he could already, and pass it on to me; he mentioned one of the missing pieces to it that I might be able to find. We laughed as we realized that where in the past he was working with Angela, he had moved on to the next generation and was now working with me.
Soon after Christmas, I was driving across cities trying to get a hold of Tito Jorge, if only to say goodbye in the most conventional of ways. But of course he would have none of that: from Ortigas Extension to Quezon City, twice to Binangonan from Mandaluyong, the madness it seemed was the kind he would’ve set-up himself. Yes including the bawling spit of a girl. And he would’ve loved that the word spit is here at all.
As Tito Jorge had said in an email to welcome the New Year 2009, “This is taking much too long <…> I started pa naman determined to be brief as an SMS, but as usual even sad turns to gay. Hope it doesn’t revert.”