Ever since I learned how to, I haven’t stopped writing. It’s pretty much the only way I know how to express myself and my thoughts and all the strange mostly useless things that my brain comes up with. But I never really considered myself a “writer”. Not that I don’t want to be one—believe me, I do. I want to be a writer in the same way that I wanted to be the first person to reach Pluto when I was 9, or in the same way now that I want to get 12 master’s degrees and 5 PhDs. In a nutshell: impossible and far-fetched.
If you know me well enough and you think about it, this doesn’t make sense. I wrote news reports for six years, I was a literature major in college, I teach creative writing now, I’m starting grad school soon, and in the near future my goal is to return to a life in the academe, so why in the world wouldn’t I consider myself a writer?
For a few reasons, each of which demands a confession out of me, and I am always fearful of spilling parts of myself in public spaces, and there’s nothing more public and permanent as the internet. But it’s the end of a godawful year, so I guess what the heck.
First, I’m superstitious; I don’t want to jinx it. Maybe if I don’t declare it out loud, Satan or whoever won’t hear me and therefore can’t possibly sabotage my plans.
Second, I just haven’t written enough — not anything good anyway. How can one call herself a writer if she doesn’t have anything to show for it?
Third, to seriously consider a career in writing and to choose that option is a privilege i couldn’t afford. Right after finishing school, the goal was to get a job that pays for the bills and helps the family. Made a lot of mistakes along the way following this line of thinking, but I can’t entirely regret it, either.
Last, more than anything else, I think of myself as a reader first. Not a writer or an academic or a teacher—though being a reader led me to all of these. I love books. I love reading. I want to read books for as long as I can, and if my eyes fail then I will Milton it and listen. Because I haven’t loved anything in my life in the same way, and for the longest time I thought that this was enough.
And then I read Neil Garcia’s MYTHS AND METAPHORS, and that changed. Well, I read it at a point in my life when everything was changing, so an epiphany seemed inevitable. It’s a collection of his critical essays on his own work, and papers he gave during conferences and lectures. What was most striking about it for me is how he found a way to bridge the literary and the personal. Reading his essays you would be surprised to realize the seamless movement between criticism and confession. First he’s talking about his poem’s imagery and next thing you know he’s holding hands with a poet he met in London. He writes about his own work and in so doing has to write about himself as well, and he makes it work.
This felt like a revelation to me. It’s possible to make a living out of your own life and experiences? Do something you love and make it work? Of course, even beforehand, I knew this to be true, but I didn’t know that it could be true for me, specifically. And oftentimes it takes an external force to realize that one is not immune from the universal truths that one believes in. And it’s what reading Neil Garcia’s essays presented me with, though I doubt that’s one of his goals in compiling the contents of this book. As a proponent of queer theory in the Philippines, he made me realize, too, that queer women needs—deserves—better visibility in our literature.
I include this excerpt from “The dream made flesh”, Neil Garcia’s eulogy for Francisco Arcellana, and one of the many anecdotes in the book that I love. Arcellana—the same guy a beloved room in the now burnt down Faculty Center was named after—says, “Turn your back on the void!” words to take to heart, and onwards to 2017 for me.
So, to end this lengthy post, in fear of sounding excessively maudlin (if not already), here’s one last confession: the dream is alive, and more possible now than ever.
31 December 2016