We are two for two with Eduardo Galeano’s Bay Area events. As you can probably tell from my previous post, his City Lights Books event had me ecstatic. It was like sitting in a living room, sitting at an elder’s feet, hearing him talk story the way we talk story, with all kinds of asides and unscripted dramatic pauses, while someone refills the wine, while someone asks, “Maestro, please tell us about the time that…” He misheard one question shouted from the back of the room, and Oscar reiterated it for him in Spanish. Galeano then responded with a nod. “Ah yes, okay, I see.”
This is about process, I think. First, behold my fancy Instagram pictures from yesterday’s Eduardo Galeano event at City Lights Books. This was a rare thing, to have such an intimate event with such an immense human being. Big treat. And I am clearly ecstatic still. Galeano is one of my major literary idols, even though “idol” may not be the best word, and even though maybe it’s not the best thing, to have “idols.”
But he is BIG in my literary pantheon; without knowing it, he’s been a tremendous informer and influence on my work for years now. Whether it is about sustaining the form and hence sustaining the meditation; sustaining acute attention on the smallest moment; focusing the gaze even finer than I thought possible and then panning out macro within the same body; finding the most specific, most direct, and most clean ways of saying, telling; forging the connection, however tenuous, however unapparent and unlikely; learning how to empathize and/or write with compassion. He calls it feel-thinking, or think-feeling.
I’m tired of the party lines. I’m tired of the authenticity police.
I’m tired of people pushing their agendas in my face.
I’ve been trying to hang back, and to just focus on work. I know I am a human being of very strong opinions and beliefs. Whoever agrees with some of what I believe, that’s fine. And whoever doesn’t, that’s fine. My writing, essaying, reviewing, are places where I can voice these strong opinions and beliefs. I do not try to impose my opinions and beliefs on others. I put it out there, and if you’re not down with me and what I write, I’m good with that. I’m confident enough that my writing will resonate with others.
It’s no big secret, that I am gaga over Eduardo Galeano. Since being introduced to his work some years ago, something has opened and has continued to open in me. The things he does in his work, those are the things I need in the world, in my writing and reading life — I have just found this: Galeano, “Why I Write,” posted a few days ago at The Progressive. It’s a brief thing, but it is certainly not lean, and it is more than enough; there’s no reason to be verbose in explaining oneself as an author. You let the work explain yourself:
* I tried and I go on trying, to say more with less, looking for words better than the wisest silence, naked words free of rhetorical clothes. Writing has been, and still is, quite difficult but frequently it gives me deep feelings and high pleasure, far away from solitude and oblivion.
You let language do its thing, you let words work cut, penetrate, linger, redirect/reorient, transform.
One more class meeting at SFSU and then we’ve survived the semester. It’s rough, the pace at which I’m working, but I also really love it. Sometimes I think that teaching only/mostly Filipino Lit classes should bore me, but really, it hasn’t been.
As I blogged yesterday, I am really grateful that my students are an open minded bunch. This having to relate to the literature being presented, I don’t know if that’s something I was ever really given an opportunity to talk about when I was an undergrad. I did know that when I was reading canonical English literature for my classes, there was always this assumption and expectation that we should all read the literature and know its greatness, and that was enough to keep us engaged.
A lot of the canonical literature I did read long ago, I’ve come to understand now that I’m older, now that I’m a more mature human being and more mature reader. At the time, it was so easy to just feel alienated, “pushed out.” I thought perhaps I was deficient, that my upbringing was deficient, because in my mind, we were not one of those families whose dinner conversations consisted of Western high art. That because I could not go to my parents for help on my Lit and Humanities papers, somehow I was living in an uncultured culture, that somehow my language and reading was not as sophisticated as the language and reading of Americans around me.
Even though my sisters and I haunted the local libraries and bookstores during the summer. Even though we tackled our summer reading lists with a kind of voraciousness.
Call that whatever it’s called. No wonder a lot of us immigrant children are pushed by our parents into the sciences and more objective fields. No wonder people keep proliferating the flawed idea that Filipino Americans don’t read.
Yes, I’m grateful.
On FB last night, one of my FB friends, who’s a professor, wrote that a student could not relate to a certain assigned work, because it took place in Oakland, and the student did not know where Oakland is.
A citizen of Oakland, I don’t take that personally! But it got me thinking that I don’t face resistance that way in my classes. So I am really fortunate, and I am grateful. My students seem so open and open minded already, which is something I think makes a great student, right? If you’re closed in your world view and assumptions, then you don’t think you have anything new to learn, any other perspectives to consider.
To Be Bound [poem edits below!]
We are not scarred –
indicate space tell stories
For Of unbound bodies
To heal Healing – proud flesh.
We are wounds, vessels
Bound, together, dark-
Flesh our birthright.
We are beasts, broken.
We are small, darker
Than your binds, opening
Our unmended flesh.
This one is in response to Jane Hirshfield’s “For What Binds Us,” which I think is a lovely poem, and then I find it a little dishonest, and then I find it a little offensive, this thing about “binding” and “darkness” in her poem. I don’t know how else to say it. I’ve been experiencing ongoing horror at the treatment of women’s bodies, not just in popular culture, not just in Philippine/Pinay inter/transnationalism, but in American current events. It isn’t enough, for example, that of the girls and young women who have gone “missing,” for them to have been so easily taken, and so easily concealed, and so easily abused and tortured in this country. I’m sickened by this. I am trying not to look away, but I am sickened by this.
A fellow Pinay writer and I have been engaged in some interesting and much needed conversation about teaching and writing “ethnic” “identity” literature — this comes about as a result of my previous blog post on Resisting Objectification and Cultivating Readers.
Another word to use here would be essentialism. How does that strip us of our agency as readers and as authors. How does that also strip our students of their agency as readers and critical thinkers.
A long time ago — eleven years ago, April 2002, to be nearly exact — I handed the first draft of my first book manuscript, Gravities of Center, in its first drafted iteration, to my editor Eileen Tabios. We were in a bar on Folsom Street, South of Market, SF, after having attended a Diasporic Poetics reading featuring Summi Kaipa and K. Silem Mohammad. It was such a good moment, as I’d never known I had a 72-page body of poetic work in me. (The book turns a decade old, this coming June, which is — holy shite! — next month.)
Who knows now, how “good” this manuscript draft was, but at the time, handing it over, Eileen had one of many words of advice for me, about the “ethnic artifact.” It’s not about the presence of the ethnic artifact in our work. It’s never been about the presence of the ethnic artifact in our work. It’s always been about what we are doing with the ethnic artifact, why and how we are doing what we are doing with the ethnic artifact.
How am I minding the ethnic artifact in my work.
Well, almost. We’ve survived the heavy lifting, so here is what’s on the summer readin’ list:
- Robert Kirkman, et al, The Walking Dead Compendium One
- Mark Siegel, Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson
- Jessica Hagedorn, ed., Manila Noir
- Lysley Tenorio, Monstress
- Gerry Alanguilan, Elmer
- Jason Bayani, Amulet
OK, what do I have to offer today to push forward any discussion of Filipino American Literature. How about a reiteration that we need to push past the identity politics and past theorizing the work into abstraction. Where is the middle ground, or the place where we handle the work not just as Filipino American cultural artifact, but as creative writing, as literary work. Literary work that is written by an author of Filipino descent (or maybe not!), that may be read within various traditions and contexts, that should resist objectification.
And how does a work itself resist objectification in the first place. Or is it the writer writing in an effort to resist objectification. Or is it the teacher teaching against objectification.