Something good happened tonight--and it is salving and saving.
You savor each second you talk with--not talk to--two exilic writers and another one planning to become one because, he says, the dear old homeland has ceased to give us writers and citizens and workers some ray of hope.
We all should add--obliquely at best, that some writers here and there, are also hopeless, especially those that accidentally got into the business of writing the first lines of their dubiously 'major' works, the quality of these works the same mediocrity we see among pulp poems and dismissible writing produced by uncreative and uncritical writing factories these hopeless writers have put up to perpetuate themselves, to enthrone themselves--with the glory of Rome in their hands.
There is that banality and vanity in this--that desire to call eternity for eternity's sake, cheating time, and cheating Ilokano consciousness to the tilt. We do not know how to learn--we do not learn, we are not learning.
There are a number of them, this cabal of pretenders calling themselves writers or poets or some other literary terms that they fancy upon depending on their company, who normally are their own friends and court-jesters. I say this: there is incest in literature and writing, in the Philippines and elsewhere, and we have become a witness to this incredible game that borders on make-believe.
It is past eight and I was about to call it a night after spending long hours writing and writing--and endlessly reading and cataloguing and researching and note-taking. I have learned to punish myself by not taking lunch--and to get away from that, I take a hearty Ilokano breakfast of sauteed bawang leaves and dinengdeng so that at eight, when the whole university is all mine, I feel that pang of hunger from some crevices of the gut.
I promised myself to be kind to myself this Christmas, to be kind with my self-criticism, to keep on thinking and praying as well, hoping that that right language and expression would come right off so I can continue with my commitment to produce something I could be proud of, with myself competing with myself and not--never--with anyone else. For the best competitor is oneself, and if one were to look at it some other way, if you compete only with yourself you are not pulling another along, pulling him down nor decapitating him so that you will rise, and rise above the rest, as some people are wont to do. This, to me, is one unpardonable act any writer with a conscience ought to not do, instilling in his or her head that self-respect is fundamentally respect for other people. He or she needs to instill this in his or her soul as welll, if he or she has one--or if he or she has not allowed it to be corrupted by flimsy literary awards he or she won in a short shot.
But the call of the novelist from South San Francisco is as important as recognizing hunger and taking up the duty to feed onself--or this promise to keep things to myself after breaking my silence for an issue I have kept at bay for so long.
Organizing writers to come to a bargaining table and make them see that we have a vision to pursue for and in the name of our language and culture and people is not a walk in the park, this I have known for quite sometime. I knew deep in my heart that we will come to this farce--the most farcical of all the farcical-- with the authors and characters choosing to remain anonymous to protect their honor but not minding that those that they are destroying are also people deserving of their own self-respect and honor. There is a huge question of basic justice and fairness here.
In the Philippines, I had come from various organizations and from a writing institute based in one of the country's better universities. These various exposures have equipped me with the relational skills I need to get by. But I am at a loss now. We should call for all the baglans to come and heal us all, heal our hurts, heal our bleeding hearts.
I make do with my silence, my solitude, my aloneness. For a writer has to summon the energy in silence, in solitude, in aloneness.
But hearing the novelist from the Mainland has shattered my illusion of keeping to myself for this season of song and sorrow, of contemplation and consciousness building, and of patient understanding and perseverance.
I hear him and that illusion of aloness is gone like a smoke or a morning fog, and the tentative feeling of hunger for missing my lunch--missing it intentionally for creative writing reasons--flies out the window and goes to the wet mountains to the northwest, their leaves dripping with the Christmas rain--or so I imagine. It is night, and the flickering lights yonder remind me much of Lorenzo Tabin's sad and irredeemable tale on Escopa and its wretched people. But I fight the feeling now, prefering to summon the spirits and angels and the anitos to come give me company in this not-so-dark night of my writer's soul.
I hear them: the novelist of exile and settling, and the other great writer from another city with its white christmas grandeur, the writer a pillar in the history of Ilokano writing, a pillar in many of the genres no one ever dared to explore. Name the literary genres and he was there, he is there, and he will, I am sure, not stop going into their possibilities and promises, with his transcendental literature good pieces for what we, students of literature and creative writing would call, the nexus between literature and religion, the nexus alive, infused with the spirit, inspired by the notion of the divine we can never find in the warrooms of capitalistic generals and clumsy presidents and imperialist prime ministers, and in the narrow minds of pretending writers.
I connect the dots now: Salt Lake City going into South San Francisco and crisscrossing into the channel of the night and the airwaves get to link up with me, in this evening of joy and hope. There is another voice at the other end of the line: the equally capable writer with his poems on the miserable city of our lives in the homeland, the city like Quiapo and its joyful jeepneys and its mean streets, and the University of the Phlilippines chapel, the details of that poem you imagine like the sensitivity of an evangelist John, the hours intact, the shadows clear despite the semiotic richness of the painted images, the painting a fusion of light and its absence.
Forget the hunger.
Forget the promise to allow aloneness and solitude to get hold of you.
A writer like me should be given the opportunity to break his promise once in a while. For a cause that is grander, greater, more glorious.
With the dots of distances bridged, I am dining twice over.
No, I am dining thrice over, with three creative minds bombarding me with the simple truths of life, social and human relationships or their absence, and writing.
I am filled with energy, and I feel it, the same feeling, I must confess now, you realize you have in your heart when you are before mindful people, mindful because they are decent and dignified--and simple in their honest ways like Amado Yoro the poet whose presence you cannot exchange with some other braggarts and honor-seekers.
When you are with decent and dignified people, you ought to allow yourself to be infected, and you can count your marbles: you cannot be with them unless you allow infection to come about, and let that human infection reside in your heart as well. Which is good, because, the infection checks your finitude, your mortality, your humanity--realities all that every writer in his or her right mind must continually account, check, and re-check. Winning one or two awards does not a writer make. A consistent communication of the creative vision is what a writer makes--because that is precisely what he or she leaves behind. Not the one or two mediocre awards--not even all the awards he or she has gotten, whether legitimate or calculated.
I am dining tonight, and three times over, and it is Christmas, and I am pardoning myself for this flow of grace when I talk to these three great minds with their intents that are only blessed and graced. Blessed. Graced. And I can only thank what tough luck I have got tonight, one tough, rare, rarified luck.
I am dining with dreams, despair, and depression--and then the whole conversation has this coup de grace: hope for the Ilokano language and culture, a living legacy for Ilokano writing despite all the shenanigan of those who can afford to come up with all these verbal gymnastics, their claims as empty as the empty promises of emperors and empresses running around town and in the valleys of our shocked and surprised consciousness, running around in their self-proclaimed glory but with no clothes on.
But they do not know, of course, that they are naked, nude as nude can be, their minds as narrow and infertile and infantile as some wretched earth in a wretched land peopled by a wretched people, these people talking about wretched ideas only wretched thoughts and wretched imagination can think of. The circle, indeed, is vicious.
Can we have a teleconferencing? the San Francisco writer asks me.
Shoot, I say. But can we use my landline? I am at work. Working still, and trying to catch a metaphor, or pursue a dream.
Ok, then, he says, his reply curt as always, and to the point. A classic him, the business savvy that made him rich in the pocket and in the heart despite all. He does not know how to surrender, this man, taking all the faith that he can summon, taking each day one at a time, and even enjoying the name-calling thrown his everyday existence. He must be afflicted with that cross-bearing sickness, a sufferer of some kind of a Messiah complex, and a masochist.
But I do not tell him this, in total deference, because if I did say that, I should, at least tell that same thing to the other writer in Salt Lake and the wife. And now the other writer from Manila who is allowing his powerful metaphors to go on vacation so he can meet up with his wife based in the US Mainland. Oh, what exiles have we all become, exiles of our art and poetry and stories.
And then our phones connect, the sound crisp and clear.
We simply abandoned ourselves to laughter. I threatened them that I would blog this--and I thank them for this wonderful night of exile, a night that makes you remember your missing home so bad you did not tell them that you just called up your Manila home just to say hello to your children and wife.
I hear their voices ringing with so much hopes for our land, for the homeland, for our people, for our language, for our literature.
Our abandoning ourselves to laughter made us bolder, braver, more daring--and we tell ourselves: Let us move one, let us put zest and spirit on our next steps.
I imagine Herman Tabin's poem set at the University of the Philippines chapel, and I remember that same chapel I went to many times to ask for blessings, to commune with my God, to summon the spirits of life.
I imagine Lorenzo Tabin's quick wit, his "Pakpakawan Berde" needing critical evaluation and which I am beginning to re-read and write about in the hope of bringing the work to light and to the attention of students of our culture, pretenders to glory and fame included.
I imagine Terry Tugade's insistence on his middle name, and which he threatened me with forgetting by history if I did not include my mother's maiden name in my work. I imagine him as Alvaro Cortez, the exile who made good, who found love, who found himself by synthesizing all the bundles of contradictions in his immigrant life.
I imagine Amado Yoro's salient metaphor of 'siit'--the thorn, literal and religious and symbolic. But I imagine his pen, the creative rage in there, the consistency in there, the decency at its tip, the quiet dignity of his words.
I look at the night. I see many brilliant mornings in its womb.
I went home to dream--again.
To dream about our language. To dream about our poetry. To pursue those dreams for our people.
A Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii at Manoa