Amee, a fellow blog writer, commented on a previous post about how Pinoy parents aren’t keen to encourage their tender offspring to pursue artistic vocations. It got me to thinking as to why that’s so, especially when you consider that the Philippines as an independent republic was formed partly on the basis of the writings of one man, Jose Rizal. Rizal was a writer, scholar, linguist, doctor, artist, philosopher, architect, farmer, musician…the list of his accomplishments is astounding in its depth and breadth. He’s best known, however, as the writer of two classic works of literature, El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere, both of which helped inspire the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish Empire.
With a national hero of such literary pedigree, what’s with the low status Pinoy parents bestow upon creative careers?
I personally know of no Filipino families whose elders actually encourage their children to pursue artistic or literary passions. The tragedy is that I know of many Pinoys and Pinays who have tremendous creative talent and yet are stuck in professional jobs with high salaries and little personal satisfaction. Not that I think that doctors, lawyers, accountants, nurses, and engineers aren’t necessary or even fascinating professions, but when their practitioners are simply in the field because of parental pressure to “make something of themselves,” I do strongly believe that humankind has lost more than its actually gained from their turning their backs on their dreams.
And I realize that this phenomenon isn’t restricted to Filipino families, either. I don’t know too many others whose parents were all that crazy about them chasing after dreams of becoming actors, poets, basketweavers, kazoo players, or ballet dancers. The legacy of our ancestors consists not only of technological, pharmaceutical, medical, and scientific advances, but also of artistic and literary classics, reaching all the way back to Chaucer, the Bible, the Greek and Roman philosophers, playwrights and satirists. Revolutions have been launched not only by technology but also by the pen and the brush. Every city needs its engineers and doctors as well as its writers and painters. I recall one story where someone (an artist?) said that creating art is just as important as saving lives, because without the former, what are we saving lives for?
Amen to that.
On a related note, I had a conversation with a brilliant artist friend of mine the other evening. She said that all art is autobiographical. Now, that’s not exactly an original or earth-shattering statement, but it was the first time I really thought about what it meant. If writing truly is autobiographical, does that mean that every story I write — not including the pedestrian articles I write for consumer magazines — I’ve injected a chunk of my history, if not my psyche? Frightening thought. In order to create really good, meaningful art that will change lives (not just your own), is it necessary to dig deep within oneself and open doors that one has heretofore chosen to leave closed, if not ignore altogether?
If one only chooses to write from the surface of one’s psyche, does that make the work shallow? Does a writer have to be left quivering at the end of a book or particularly feverish writing section, overcome by disturbance she’s created by venturing into the shadowy corners of her heart and soul? I’ve heard writers say that the best writing comes after one has peered into the void, which I assume to mean the darkest parts of themselves. Unfortunately, the problem I’ve always had with that description is that, for most people, I assume there isn’t an actual void there, but more of a swirling cauldron of black thoughts, painful experiences and mind-bending emotions that can literally make one ill just by thinking about them. It would be great if it really is just a void — a black emptiness — but we’re all stuck with enough baggage to give O’Hare International a run for its money. And who wants to stick their hand into that muck?
No wonder a lot of people can’t or won’t write. It’s too bloody scary. You pay thousands of dollars in therapy fees over several years, only to have to vomit it all out again onto your computer screen. (And yeah, I chose the word vomit deliberately. Conveys just the right emotion to describe the feeling of revealing one’s secrets to oneself, not to mention a critical, paying readership.
It’ll be interesting to see how much of my novel will be autobiographical. Obviously, it’s not in the narrowest sense: I’m not a Japanese-American doctor, nor do I live in Singapore, and I was born decades after WW2 ended. However, it’ll be a testament to whether or not I’m committed to writing a really good novel if I can endure the unpleasant task of self-reflection enough to leave at least a little fragment of myself embedded within the story’s own heart and soul.
p.s. Movie alert: Saw The Navigator again for the 3rd time last night, although the last time I saw it was the early ’90s. Brilliant, thought-provoking film, and one I can see over and over again and learn something new. Not everyone’s cuppa, but I love movies with multiple layers of meaning, especially when some involve religion and spirituality. And the kid who plays Griffin is astounding.