Author pre-publication notes on Anxiety and Reticence

Friends, we’re getting close! Invocation to Daughters is due for release November 14. It’s going to come fast.

I’ve just proofread the galleys, and sent my feedback back to the editor. It looks really great, very simple, which is my usual preference. It’s clean. Add this super clean design to the vibrancy of the cover and its colors. I am so pleased. This book is exactly what I want it to be — the publisher I want (and the chillest, most polite editor ever), the content I want, the aesthetics of the design that I love. (Does this ever happen? I’m not sure.)

Maybe the more relevant question though, is why I’m feeling really anxious about this. Specifically, why I’m feeling anxious about this book being released into the world.

Well, readers don’t always love your work. I’ve been raked over the coals before, especially for Poeta en San Francisco, which had some readers not enjoying my “reverse racism,” and “anti-whiteness.” Other readers have gotten catty and bitchy about my work just being published (presumably, in place of theirs — hello, scarcity model) in the first place. Other readers have gotten catty and bitchy about critical acclaim my work has received. Other readers are Filipino Americans who claim I have gotten Filipino-ness wrong, that my work “does not properly represent them,” and especially “the beauty of our culture.” These are things to which I have grown much accustomed.

Some thoughts.

I think part of my pre-publication anxiety has to do with timing. I’ve recently blogged about Lola Eudocia Tomas Pulido, as we’ve read through the narrative/narration of Alex Tizon. So many of my questions and concerns about this story — perhaps they are solely or primarily “writerly” concerns — have to do with Tizon’s narration, versus Lola Eudocio’s narration.

These are not new issues to me or my fellow Pinay writers. We discussed this at our Critical Pinayisms panel a few months ago. How do you tell the stories of these women, and not perpetuate/further the victim narrative. What does it mean to “humanize” a person via your writing. How do you do this. How do you tell these stories, and not appropriate them.

I’ve been thinking and talking about a lot of these things. I was recently interviewed for the NEA Art Works Blog, and one thing we talked about there was my assertion that there is no singular narrative that encompasses our ethnic experience. The same can be said of any individual person. Does/can a single narrative ever do justice to a human being’s entire life lived? My students and I talked about this at the end of the semester — how even a trail of official documents does not sum up the human being’s life. There are so many gaps, so much substance beneath the surface of a label or official status. There are different points of view. There is translation. And so then, how can one book speak for us all, and get it all right. What about the dissent, what about the contradictions, what about the silences and secrets. What about the non-verbal clues and cues.

I return to the discussions I have with my Pinay Lit students about the many ways in which women tell their own stories. That we must ask. That we must listen. Even when we hear something we don’t want to hear.

There is narration, and there is dialogue.

We do not own these stories, so do we have the right to tell them — this is a question that comes up a lot. One response — if we do not tell them, then who will ever know. Alex Tizon told a story (in an enormous venue), and because of this, Lola Eudocia becomes known to us.

I am still chafing from the terrible stuff our community has been processing in the wake of her story. I am overwhelmed with it, the responsibility to “get it right,” in which “right” means what exactly?

I think a large part of it has to do with position in relation to the subject. Are we speaking too much, too loudly, drowning out the voices of others. Have we left space for others to speak their piece. And have we opened up space for others to speak.

There’s this other story at the Philippines-based The Rappler, in which the writer interviews the surviving family members of Cosiang, which is what they called Lola Eudocia. Many things about this story are making me think. There is so much more in this story, including the fact that the writer of The Rappler article gives space for the surviving family members to speak for themselves, in their own native language — printed in Ilocano, with English translation in parentheses. Perhaps for The Atlantic that would not be an option, I don’t know. So I go back to “getting it right.” We get to read the questions they are asking, and the stories they know. There are so many other stories of Cosiang. We can only hope for even more stories, more points of view, more voices. And perhaps that will contribute to a larger picture, with more depth and dimension.

So I am thinking about how to go about “getting it right” in our own writings in/about our community. And for myself, for Invocation to Daughters, I am hoping I am getting my poems right. I can only say I am doing my best to make space for other voices. Which, of course, you may point out is a contradiction, given that this is a work of my authorship. I hope I have asked enough, and I hope I have listened enough. I hope it contributes to a larger picture of “us.”

I also understand why so many writers I know are so reticent, why their writings never leave their notebooks and their closest circles. The blow back is so painful. But we do have to try. Even if we fail spectacularly.

 

 

 

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