Happy 45th to me. I never thought I’d have my own complete shelf of my own work in my bookcase. Some of the journals and small presses now seen before you have long gone onto the abyss (thus some duplicates for safekeeping), so I can safely say I am part of some precious literary relics.
It’s funny . . . no . . . extremely hilarious, that after being published in 23 journals and 14 anthologies, I am still considered “emerging” in many literary circles because of just having one book published. I actually am not sure what “emerging” or “established” means anymore. Maybe 23 and 14 are small numbers in comparison to someone who has over 100 combined at my age. Does quantity measure being “established”? I have always found the labels “emerging” or “established” confusing as my writing life feels relegated by gatekeepers to simply be published in journals while doomed to face innumerable rejections (probably over 150 at this point) after I have neatly compiled selected works into a cohesive collection. The rejections are always a punch to the gut, but I also wonder if I just had collections published—one right after the other—would I stop refining my craft and become complacent altogether? I trust the Universe thinks I’m a horrible writer, or at best mediocre, and that there is still plenty of room to evolve and grow in this craft without allowing my head to get too big, as that can happen too.
Up until now, I’ve learned there isn’t a finish line to writing until you say there is. I’ve known great storytellers who stop writing altogether, which to me is very odd. They just stopped. Kaput. Gone. No more. And I’m not talking about disappearing from the publishing industry or dying, but they just stopped writing.
I think when we disentangle ourselves from the capitalist race to get ourselves published, the writing is what survives, whether it is for ourselves or intended for a small select audience. I try to keep this in mind as I know how discouraging the publishing industry can be.
To be honest, I was never encouraged by my parents to be a writer, so it is something to have come this far. An entire shelf. Woo-hoo! I just am a writer with or without anyone’s encouragement, though encouragement from my sisters, beloved girlfriends, and my darling husband has been nice. As a fellow writer and girlfriend said it best, “Feels we’ve been writing since the womb.”
For those who are seeking permission to write your stories, you might never get that permission (see previous paragraph: “never encouraged by my parents to be a writer”), which means it shouldn’t stop you from writing. Like any human being, I do sometimes wonder about the alternate universe of having parents who inquire about my writing—like where would I be today as a writer—but I’ve also learned it’s best not to wander too far into the alternate universe.
I don’t at all mean to discredit my parents as they themselves are great storytellers, just not in the written way. They are storytellers in the way of Oral Tradition that has survived generations, despite external forces that have tried to stop our stories from being told, heard, and passed on. If anyone can tell a good story, my folks can, and in doing so, I take my cue to write some of those stories down. Even then, I recognize some stories are best passed on in conversation, music, dance, art, textiles, and other non-written mediums, like slicing tomatoes, where some stories cannot (and in extremely special cases, maybe should not) be written down, which leads me to my next thought:
I don’t think any of us are infallible or invincible when we write—i.e. what memories we might trip up, get wrong, or choose to solely focus on—Was her dress red or green? I’ll just say it was blue. Not gonna lie as stepping into one’s truth is nothing short of a minefield. And I’ve received my fair share of the minefield where complaints from certain individuals have swirled around about what I’ve written, where readers have asked me, “What does your family think about what you write?” The answer to that is, “I don’t know and if I did know, I don’t think I would be able to write at all.” Feeling surveilled while writing can feel like the ultimate debilitation for me.
Telling our stories can be a messy affair, but honestly, do it anyways with all of the valuable and authentic nuances, insights, and truths where the audience who it’s intended for will get it. Whether writing is cathartic, aesthetic, or what have you, write what moves you, compels you. And somewhere out there, the sharing of our stories might reflect back onto our readers who are listening, seeing themselves for the first time, and seeing you. It can be a beautiful thing.
And to those who are stumped and surprised to learn that I am in fact not 32: It hasn’t been much of a compliment where I’ve had people treat me like a kid by those who are actually younger than me, and then tell me, “Just wait ’til you reach my age” and then proceed to give me unsolicited advice about this and that and that and this. Most likely I reached your age a long time ago or I am your age. But I don’t say anything in the moment, but smile and cross my eyes in the back of my head. You can blame my Mom and Lola for the fountain-of-youth genes.
Oh, and if you’re wondering whether the art collaborations on Slicing Tomatoes have ended, honestly, I’m not sure yet. I did have an artist in mind with a new poem, but the stars haven’t quite aligned whether that next post will ever materialize. In the meantime, I’ve been hard at work on new essays while relentlessly pushing myself to submit to literary journals, which is no small feat considering every submission feels not that far from stepping into and out of an MMA ring and studying your opponent (i.e. the masthead) before you even step into that ring. Poets and writers out there, ya feel me? Also with Roe overturned (still reeling over here), I’ve spurred myself into activism through my writing, so the abortion stories and poems have been pouring out of me lately, and that has not been the easiest thing. It feels like splaying one’s guts open for all to see, but I’m trying to keep this post rated G. So circling back to whether the art collaborations on Slicing Tomatoes have ended. Honestly, I’m not sure yet.
So Happy 45th to me in case you forgot what this post was even about. Actually, I almost forgot for a second as I rambled on with my own unsolicited advice about this and that and that and this. What’ll be hilaaaaarious is if I get a rejection on my birthday. Hey, I can’t say it hasn’t happened before. Onward anyways. In another 45 years, I’ll be 90, and if I make it ’til then, I might not just fill another bookshelf, but an entire bookcase! Not really an ambition but these things can happen.
One last birthday thought: we’re halfway through Filipino American History Month. Growing up, Filipino American History Month didn’t exist for us to celebrate, and now here we are in 2022, and what a dream and great honor to have made CLMP’s Filipino American History Month Reading List three years in a row. What a dream, a dream. Here’s to my ancestors from Uyaoy, Ubbog, Labnig, and Cabugao. Here’s to the first Filipino American ancestors, before America was America, who were enslaved by Spanish conquistadors on Manila Galleon ships, who landed on this continent on October 18, 1587, on the land of what is called today Morro Bay, California, but always the land of the Yak Tityu Tityu Yak Tilhini (Northern Chumash) and the Te’po’ta’ahl (Salinan) peoples. Here’s to my Lilang, Lilong, Lola, Lolo, Ma, Daddy, Aunties, and Uncles. I wouldn’t be here celebrating my 45th today without them.
Hugs and kisses from Slicing Kamatis. xxooxoxo