Que Horror

29 06 2009

mortification_1636_detailWas at a Booksale yesterday in an area with a low reader population (as evidenced by the significantly imbalanced talahib : person ratio), so I was able to pick out a couple of good books to help keep me from my growing impulse to implode these days. One of the books, which I clawed eagerly from its top shelf roost, is Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame. Edited by a Scottish poet dude named Robin Robertson, it features anecdotes mostly from other UK dudes I’ve never heard of, plus a smattering of identifiables like Margaret Atwood, Rick Moody and Chuck Palahniuk. It is what you think it is: writers sharing events they’d undergone as part of their writing career and which they’ve deemed embarrassing.

It’s an awesome concept, and after having gone through half of the book already, it blurts out the very interesting point that most writers are really full of it. Yet, writers aren’t antagonized in this book. Not at all; it’s a couple hundred pages of writers making fun of themselves and their hubris. Being full of it is not so much bad as pitiful and, thus, humorous. In fact, and quite fascinatingly, 90% of the anecdotes in this book tell one and the same story (though, of course, told with enough lit skillz to yank them out of monotony): Writer goes to a reading of his work. Nobody is there. Nobody cares.

How writers see themselves is a very curious thing. After all, a writer’s celebrity, if any, will always be a little off. Writers are significant, yet not.

When I was a creative writing brat at the Philippine High School for the Arts, my fellow CWs and I, unlike most everyone else in the school, gained an instantaneous and unwarranted respect from others. Instantaneous and unwarranted in that the Makiling student population immediately deemed us intelligent and a bit intimidating upon hearing which art field we were enrolled in. Old hat, fine. But what’s more unsettling is that, because our output could not be immediately seen and had to be read, as opposed to the output of the would-be visual artists, dancers, musicians and actors in the school, most of our classmates couldn’t really tell if any of the would-be writers had any merit and, thus, just assumed we all did. Everyone knew who the good ballerina was. Everyone knew whose sculptures kind of sucked. But a lot of the non-CW majors wouldn’t really be able to tell you who the decent writers were and why. Not really. And it’s not their fault. Not really.

I also remember one particular afternoon at Makiling. There were about four of us seniors hanging out at the NAC theater, when a group of tourists (our school was, in a way, an endangered/mutated wildlife habitat, and we were ogled by people on buses to no end) came over and asked us what our art fields were. The conversation went like so:

Tourists: And what is your major?

Theater friend: Theater po.

Tourists: Wow, an actor! *guttural sounds of awe and approval*

And you, iha?

Ballet friend: Ballet po.

Tourists: Wow, a dancer! Di namin kaya yan! *bold beams of envy and delight*

And how about you? What do you do?

Musician friend: Sa music po ako. Piano.

Tourists: Wow, pianista! I’m sure you’re a prodigy, no? Grabe! Ang galing-galing! And you! You iha, what is your major?

Me: Creative writing po.

Tourists: Ahhhh. Okay.

To end this entry, because shit shit I really need to get back to work, here is a chunk from an anecdote by Deborah Moggach, a British novelist:

We [writers] do expose ourselves, of course, by offering up our work to the world’s critical stare, or, worse, its indifference. It’s what we sign up for: that people give up their money and their precious time to read about characters who have never existed. And there’s a prize to be paid for this chutzpah.

Mortification, then, is a source of comfort. From a bunch of dudes I’ve never heard of, and whose works I’ve probably never read.

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4 responses

3 07 2009
Martin Villanueva

during my immersion (because ateneo writers always write about their immersion):

-anong course mo, martin?
-creative writing po.
-ano yun?
-nagsusulat po ako ng kuwento, tula, at dula.
-ah, artist ka? kaya pala madungis ka.

3 07 2009
Marguerite

Ha! Saan ka nag-immersion? (Please say “urban poor,” please say “urban poor.”)

9 07 2009
Martin Villanueva

actually farming sector.

pero, sige, para sayo: urban poor, urban poor.

10 07 2009
Marguerite

Ay, sayang. (But thanks for humoring me.)

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