Solitude, Thanksgiving, and Writing

Solitude. Thanksgiving. Writing.

Three seemingly unconnected concepts, it seems.

Thanksgiving is supposed to be spent with others, with that ritual gobbling up of turkey meat with the cranberry sauce or hazelnut gravy bought a la express from some enterprising chain of retail stores that invariably dot each verdant landscape in Hawai`i, as is the case of the mainland United States.

Thanksgiving is thus not for solitude—not for that sentimentalized way of internalizing that exilic experience and then getting Biblical for effect, importing images of the abused and oppressed tribe of Israel going into diaspora and then called back into the Promised Land by some gods that came in too late like the policemen of Manila when they arrive in droves after each crime.

But I did, at least before 5:00 PM on thanksgiving, when the early dinners begin. A writer—a novelist of our sorrows and a poet of our redemption, who just joined me to the university from the homeland in order to assist me run the Ilokano program –had accepted, with me in tow, to go to three dinners on this day.

There is much misery and poverty and hunger in the homeland and you accepted to go to three dinners? How could you do that, Manang Lilia? I raised my voice, but smiling at the same time.

I did not for her response. We were laughing—laughing at the possibility that we are going to finally commit the sin of gluttony on Thanksgiving Day.

Which number is this sin? I asked another visitor of the Pfeiffer household at the foot of the Manoa Hills.

Gluttony is number five, I guess, she said. A, forget it. She looked at me straight in the eye. I am taking back what I said about the number in the hierarchy of sins. I never went to a Christian school, much less raised as a Catholic one. I never believe in those.

As I sit now imagining the prospect of heaps and heaps of turkey on each plate for the three dinners we were expected to go, I look at the mountain slopes framed by my office window. Solitude for me is going to my office in the university where the whole fourth floor is mine—all mine—and the only sound I hear is my breathing and the soft, whirring, of an air-conditioner. I remind myself now: We cannot say no to friends, not in these parts. We have to go and bless their turkeys, baked or roasted, with a generous heap of cranberry on each slice, and then in the silence, thank the god of turkeys and the god of thanksgiving days.

So this solitude has to be broken.

So writing has to be put aside, believing that even a writer has to connect with friends, smile at the contradictions of Thanksgiving, and eat one heap of a sliced turkey killed for today, the turkey whose life had to be offered to people so that people would remember to thanks the god of turkeys and the god of life. Or even the goddess. Or the gods and goddess in the fullness of their genders, and therefore, like the turkeys on thanksgiving, they are no longer male or female but simply the giver of gifts and grace.

These are our joyful realities we have got here in Honolulu.

Apart from that regular banquet in hotels that you need to go to—because, remember, you are running a heritage program, and therefore, you have to be nice to people even if some of them are not nice to you, playing to the hilt that congeniality you have seen from the ranks of the academic elites and the political elites and the cultural elites that can afford to make that beso-beso in exchange for connection (“It makes a difference if you have got connections, brahh!”)—you have to sit it out with coronation balls and those dubious pageants that only reproduce a cloned form of Robinhood morality.

So given all these, this Thanksgiving morning is all mine, and mine alone. I tell my sister: I am going to work and I do not want any calls. I want to catch up with what I have not done, with all the deadlines that I have to meet, some of them deadlines I imposed upon myself, forcing me to sit down, lotus-like in my mind as I watch the coming of the rainbows in this valley of the rainbows in the early afternoon even as the sun in this late part of Fall slips to the west, to the mountains in Kapolei, to the sea in the North Shore.

For me, this day comes as a balm, with solitude generating the energies I need for writing, and with writing generating thanksgiving in that endless circle of creative production and Zen-like rendezvous with the magic moment that seldom comes in the land of exile. As an academic of a heritage language, I am bogged down by the pretensions of intellectual rigor, by the commitment to new and critical knowledge, and by the service that I have to extend to the community.

In these parts, when you run a heritage program, you do not depend on the government for help; you need to creatively pull all your punches to look for money in every corner and pocket so you can run your heritage program the way it should be run.

Add to this unenviable situation the fact that in these parts, the long hand of that oxymoron we call ‘national language’, aided by that moronic boob-tube programming exported here by the same pulp culture forces reigning supreme in the homeland is clawing its way to all the hearts of the peoples of the Philippines who are all nostalgic about patis, bugguong, suman, and the ‘good life’ down there, with anecdotes about the ease with which the household help can do wonders to our otherwise humdrum existence.

I know that this Thanksgiving business is what it is: a business of a nation and a business of the retail stores and a business of mythmakers.

We should know. A Spaniard who came here to the Americas more than half a century before the pilgrims performed their Thanksgiving with dead turkeys broke bread with the Native Americans one day on September 8.

A Solver Agcaoili
UH Manoa/Nov 22-07

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