I’ve been thinking about Camille Dungy’s wonderful posts at the Poetry Foundation blog. Yes, my credo of practicing generosity, having dialogue, being open and answering questions that young writers, emerging writers have about the process of writing, the process of finding publication, figuring out where to find publication. Who do we envision as our readers, audience, and community? What is important for us as writers, in terms of connecting with some kind of community? There are no stupid questions, just the constant work of writing, reading, growing, and sharing.
[Image by Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, from Ninotchka Rosca's Sugar & Salt (Anvil Publishing, 2006)]
I want to say this is straight forward stuff. I want to believe our intentions are pure, and that purity, that clarity should determine how we go about our work. For example, when writers say they wanted to write the book that they wanted to see in the world, the book they never read but needed badly in their lives, I think of this is as a clear and pure intention. I also remember being 18, not knowing anything about the literary world, and being told by my English Comp instructors at Berkeley that that is what Toni Morrison said when asked why she wrote The Bluest Eye. That made all the sense in the world, and I’ve kept that with me.
This is where it’s valuable to be proactive and intrepid readers and seekers of work that is important to you. Who is out there producing the work that you need in your life? How do you go about finding and accessing that work? What are you going to do now that you know that work exists in the world? What does its existence mean for you as a student, as an emerging writer, as a growing, maturing human being? What are you going to do now that you’ve read and thought about that work?
I try to reassure young writers and emerging writers, when they come to me with all kinds of anxiety about what it means to publish. Go back to those original intentions; it’s not a contradiction to do that, and still be ambitious. Not only are those original intentions valid; it’ll keep you real in an industry, which, should you decide to enter it, can mess with your head, as you will find yourself surrounded by those who appear to be ambitious for sake of ambition, hunting only for accolades, juicy connections with “right” people, “powerful” people (whatever the fuck that means), social networking popularity (an extension of the playground dynamics of cruel children?), perhaps not mature enough yet to understand that what matters most is staying true to those original intentions. Success lies in fulfilling those intentions. Not simply collecting “trophies.”
I say this last part because I once recently heard a young writer ask whether wanting status was reason enough for pursuing the MFA in Creative Writing. Of course, it depends on what about “status” is important to you. The ability to teach college and university courses, for example. Is that status, or just creating more possibilities for work? Or is it so that you can walk into the world and wear your MFA like a badge of honor, or another trophy to flaunt? Can we just go back to doing whatever you deem necessary to grow into a better writer and a better reader, and to connect with a community of readers and writers. School is a great place, though not the only place, to make that happen.
Intentions evolve. From wanting to write the necessary book you never had the opportunity to find and read when you were young, to rejecting silence and acquiescence, you will find ways of growing and refining what it is you want to and mean to do as a writer. I was grateful, then, a while back, to come across fellow Pinay writer Tina Bartolome’s blog, in which she wrote that she wanted her writing to “mess with hegemony.” She articulated the thing I needed to read/hear articulated, for I continue to have similar aspirations for my work.
So this is where I am, applying those intentions for my writing and publication, to my teaching work. Speaking of Tina Bartolome, she was one of my visiting writers to Pinay Lit yesterday evening. Along with Aileen Ibardaloza, Lisa Suguitan Melnick, Veronica Montes, and Gayle Romasanta, they shared work, mostly touching upon self-discovery and community as American Pinays, they also spoke about the challenges they have faced as Pinay writers in the publishing industry. Gayle mentioned the absence of mentors and role models, especially Pinay mentors and role models. Tina mentioned the absence of knowledgeable colleagues in graduate school. Veronica mentioned the self-doubt, that what we have to say is important enough to write down for public consumption. I believe many of us can empathize, that we’ve had similar struggles.
So this is where I am, doing what I can to reject Pinay silence and acquiescence.