Ephemera, and the magic and mysticism of the artist and her muse

There is a widespread perception of “the editor is the enemy because he is the gatekeeper,” that editorial process stifles our true voices and our truths. And rather than rush to debunk the perception of the editor as gatekeeper and stifler of truth, I want to say that I am interested in how experienced, knowledgeable readers, teachers, mentors work to support us by bringing us into focus, by pushing us into more pointed, more thoughtful exploration of language, speaker, perspective-position-argument, nuance, complexity, layers, texture.

This goes much deeper, well beyond expressing one’s truth. In a well written, well composed, well edited work, one’s truth is laid bare and tested.

9Muses

Hi all, it’s been an interesting last few weeks, during which I was interviewed twice, by two different Filipino community members — Rochita Loenen-Ruiz in the Netherlands, and Anthem Salgado here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I definitely appreciate being sought after to engage in these wonderful discussions about writing and community. I am honored to be thought of as someone with knowledge worth sharing.

One thing that these conversations had in common was talk about work ethic and (for lack of a better phrasing), creating work, and working within the specific industry of publishing. It always makes me think about/reflect upon whether working within the system that we know as the publishing industry really is best for us (Fil Ams) —

If so, why. If not, why not, and then, more importantly, what’s the alternative.

I am thinking about readership and audience. I’ve talked about this in various places, but it bears repeating and thinking about again and again. Who do we want/envision as our audience and readers? How far into the world do we envision our work traveling? How are we going to get our work to that imagined, desired place?

These are not abstract questions, but questions that should inform strategy.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some limited run, community based productions, and their ephemeral quality. Community ephemera then. Surely, the fact that these community based publications exist in limited quantities, or specific circles makes these productions special, and precious. The existence of these community productions is empowering. We did this. With our own hands, we did this, created something for us, by us. We have exercised freedom of expression, and no one can take that from us.

The productions do live on, usually in community memory, in personal collections, in community members’ archives. Perhaps they get mentioned in our local Asian American and Filipino American classes, as testament to the creativity and the initiative taking/DIY ethic of our community.

Years later, decades later, the existence of this ephemera becomes legendary. And the fact that they are legendary — Good thing? Bad thing?

Good, in that the members of our community who took a chance and created what they created — they show us what we are capable of creating. They show us our stories are worth documenting. We are affirmed. The creators become our mythical heroes, and we need heroes that look like us.

Bad too, in that when the work has fallen out of common knowledge, discussions of the work and the substance of the work also fall out of common knowledge.

For me, questions arise: How do we bring the work, and substantial conversations about the work, to our continually growing community, of new immigrants, of students, young artists, young activists — locally is already a challenge, but think also about beyond the local. Not just Filipino Americans in the Bay Area, in Northern California, in California, on the West Coast, in all parts of the country. And then to our “allies,” workers, activists, creators of cultural productions from other communities with whom we have shared so much history and struggle. Chicano/Latinos in California, in the Southwest. Latinos/Nuyoricans in New York. People of the African Diaspora. Various APIA communities all along the West Coast, and Hawaii, and their growing numbers mobilizing in all parts of this country. What about indigenous people of the Americas and of the Pacific Islands, what about worldwide indigenous peoples, and so many conquered and displaced people.

Then there’s Filipinos in the Philippines, and Filipinos in our own Diaspora, global, transnational Filipinos.

There are all kinds of conversations happening on the internet, regarding populating collections and archives. I wonder though, how accessible to the general public — the community outside of academic and political spaces — these collections and archives are.

I am concerned with knowing the specifics of reaching beyond our specific and our local. I don’t have definitive answers as much as I am concerned with mindful strategizing.

Thing is, there are a lot of people interested in strategy, SEO-ing, website building, being enterprising, and perhaps there’s more interest in these than in the work itself, qualitatively. There seems to be a lot of open-ended dependence in what the internet, what technology can do. If you self-pub, if you optimize, then people will buy your book. For me, not only does this lead to the same problems as I’ve just written about DIY ephemera. There are also more questions about the work itself. The manuscript, the quality of the writing, the quality of the editorial work.

There is a widespread perception of “the editor is the enemy because he is the gatekeeper,” that editorial process stifles our true voices and our truths. And rather than rush to debunk the perception of the editor as gatekeeper and stifler of truth, I want to say that I am interested in how experienced, knowledgeable readers, teachers, mentors work to support us by bringing us into focus, by pushing us into more pointed, more thoughtful exploration of language, speaker, perspective-position-argument, nuance, complexity, layers, texture.

This goes much deeper, well beyond expressing one’s truth. In a well written, well composed, well edited work, one’s truth is laid bare and tested.

You know how you read a (dare I say) masterful work, and the way you come to feel is unexplainable and even unutterable. The writer leaves you unsettled, or makes you think things you had not anticipated. When you expect a clenched fist, instead you get a troublesome whisper or a question. When you think you are ready to make a judgment, you are instead presented with some kind of complication, turning you ever so slightly towards compassion. When you think you are exhausted and ready to quit, the writer somehow urges you to stick with it to the bitter end, and leaves you still with questions you take with you, into the real world, into the ways in which you see the world.

This is not just good writing that makes these things happen, nor is it raw cleverness. It’s painstaking work over time, in the writing and editing the writer does, and then in editorial collaboration with colleagues, mentors, and/or editors, who balance the integrity and effectiveness of the work with the intentions of the writer. And also in the mix are the vision and mission statement of the press, if that work has already been accepted by a publisher. Nothing I am saying here is new; it’s coming from various recent conversations I’ve been having with other writers. What do you need, what does your work need, specifically, to get there. How can you get what you and the work need?

This is unappealing stuff to think about; we want to believe in the magic and mysticism of the artist and her muses. But I write all of this, precisely because people are asking me all the time how I’ve gotten published, and how they may also get published. For me, it is not by mistake or luck or trickery that my work continues to end up in the places it has, and with every manuscript, it’s still a challenge to get placed. I am still learning, still improving, and I still receive rejection letters. I want to believe it gets easier, but I really don’t think it does. I can’t blame the professionalization of creative writing or the proliferation of MFA programs for this difficulty. I can’t blame racism for this difficulty, that if people don’t “get” me and my Filipino-ness, then I won’t be published. We know that’s not the case; there are plenty of Filipinos and POC in this country writing some formidable work, getting published in some scary amazing places, being talked about, being read, being taught. We can’t blame whitewash for their accomplishments. That’s cheap.

[To be continued.]

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My First Book is Ten Years Old and a Hat Tip to Henry Rollins

gravities of center

“A snake is crawling along a desert trail that parallels a straight, black paved road. Over the horizon walking down the road in the opposite direction is a woman. The two get closer and almost pass each other, but each stops in time. They both step into the area that runs between the trail and the road. The wind gusts suddenly, and the snake is instantly transformed into a man. He has dark hair. He is marked with scars and symbols, patterns of his tribe. The two walk toward each other and embrace. Another gust of wind comes and blows all vestiges of clothing off them both. The sun holds still for a moment and starts to slowly rise, and as it rises it turns a deep crimson and gives off a low, metallic whine. The couple are fully embraced and perfectly still. Their bodies fit together like two parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Another gust of wind comes and blows the flesh and organs off the man and woman so all that’s left are two skeletons locked in embrace.”

— Henry Rollins, from Pissing in the Gene Pool & Art to Choke Hearts

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