The situation is doubly serious, and the evidences are all over for a verdict: that two of the children are about to follow suit the path that I have followed, less traveled, less trodden. It is the path to some enchanting romance with language and its magical possibilities. It is the same path to penury as well, with the food money earned by working doubly hard: one for that regular job that helps you pay the urgent bills and the other job, the one for calculating what good parsing and phrasing can offer to account some form of meaning pregnant with the seven or more types of ambiguities, some of them perhaps escaped Empson's scholarly expertise.
And the plot thickens.
The older of the two bearing your name called it quits with his first job as a peon of a capitalist system of providing customer service. Ok, call it the most economical way: as a call center worker, the stress on the word ‘worker.’ For in the larger scheme of things, the call centers are all making a fuss about giving better pays to better minds and many of them are graduates of the better universities around, with a number of them sent to school, subsidized for their tuition, by the people’s taxes, sufferings, and carabao-like patience.
I am going to be a writer, he announces, as if he were a god coming down from a sacred mountain, and there in the summit, he has had that one fat chance of meeting up with the giver of messages and saw, perhaps, heard—I do not know—that he is going to be a writer, that it is the role given him by the god of fate and fame and fortune.
Good graciousness, I said, on the phone, some thousands of miles away in the middle of the Pacific, in these isles of paradise now in peril because of the same capitalist ambitions and greed so conspicuous in Hawai`i as in the islands of the country I came from. Good graciousness, we have another writer who will sacrifice self and sense of security for and in the name of writing, capital W, in the word ‘writing.’
This is what I want, he said, the other end of the line faint and choppy in the middle of the night in the home country. I have waited for that time to call because I knew the two culprits would be there, both of them night people, and which, for humor and wit, their mother eventually calling them our ‘security guards’ because both would be awake the whole night and would both be curled up in fetal position as if newly-born babies, so deep in their sleep, the whole day. Never mind that their pre-school and rambunctious sister, some 16 and 14 years apart, would be singing, to her heart’s content, all those lines from Dora the Explorer, Land Before Time, or Sound of Music, her most favorite fares.
What is going to happen to your work? I thought you like your work? I queried, my questions calculated and calculating, careful not to open up wounds or hurts or sensibilities some pretending young writers have. I had taught in writing courses and I have learned to be careful with the imaginary and imagined sensibilities of cranky and psychologically challenged young and old writers. Perhaps, perhaps, I am banking on my own experiences of writer’s bruises as well, the bruises that heal and the bruises that simply would not go away. It is far easier to bruise egos in the classroom because you have the grades to use to your advantage as a teacher. But in that classroom of life where children dreaming of becoming good writers are students, the scores have changed, the roles reversed, and the cue cards might not be the same even as you try to speak with authority as a parent.
With me as a not-so-good example of what a father who is a writer is and should be in terms of providing, to my children's content, all the luxuries there are, imagined or invented, you cannot advance much in arguing for your case, at least, when the children know perfectly well their poetic punches. As a struggling writer that tried hard not to sell his craft--and art, if there was one, there was no way I could provide the way fathers in some other more economically rewarding profession could. While they did not hunger, they did not have so much, and part of that so much they have to earn with good grades and good behaviour in a blackmail I called, and which they knew full well, carrot and stick, reward and punishment--or that uneven power parents exercise to their advantage in the name of parental discipline, guidance, vision, and some such crap.
In the morass of situations like this, you just have to come full circle and see clearly that the children know what they want to do with their life and you can only pray they will discover the means and ways to nurture their ambitions, their dreams of meaning and relevance, their pursuit of that which is worthwhile.
So, what do you want to do now? I asked. I felt vanquished in that emperor-like stance before a son who probably can write better than I do, if he will try harder and sustain and work on his craft. That is what his mother has emailed me a few days back: In fairness, she said, I see that your son, somehow, writes better than you do—or at least, he will.
I am going to an interview right now, he said. It is a writing job in a new publication. And the editor used to be your student in creative writing.
What did the student say?
She said good things about you, as her teacher.
Well, give her my regards then. And tell her I need a job as well. Do well then, and pray you are doing things right. Ask for blessings from the Lord of life.
I will, father, he said. I have to run now. I am going to be late for the interview.
You have my blessings, I said.
The end of the line clicked.
A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa, Hon, HI
Oct 4, 2006