Awitin Mo

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Author: M (page 2 of 2)

Out of fracture

I did not realize I was already speaking until I was neck-deep in it, and so I will speak. I have friends who have very wisely and with great love counselled me to stay silent, keep my head down, and focus on working; this is not to silence me, but because they have seen me break down many times, most recently at the start of this year, and they know that once I get into an issue I over-invest and it usually makes me ill. I have also told myself that I’m no one, really, so what right have I to speak? But to the first point — dear friends, I am sorry, it has gotten to the point that it hurts not to speak because the dam has broken; to the second point, let me say that this is defiance too, speaking. To speak as if I had a voice, had a right to one, just as other people who live in the center, who have power, do.


I will start at a margin. A little over three years ago, my family cast me out because I was queer. It almost, quite literally, killed me. Since then I have lived with a great deal of trauma; the only reason I do not say “it may yet kill me” is because I am trying to hold on to hope.

One thing that left me with is a fear of my wrongness — of committing some error, doing something that is not quite right and not quite perfect, of breaking a rule of ideology or faith — and thus being cast out. Part of me, watching the conversation about the Hugos, about RH, about Laura J Mixon’s report, can feel that old fear rising up my throat again, choking me. It is a very particular kind of pain, being this afraid, flinching at nothing because you know it will happen again. You have marched out of lock-step and you will be punished.

(Incidentally, I find it laughable — the kind of laughter one resorts to so as not to weep — that some of RH’s supporters are framing things this way: “march out of lock-step and this is what happens”. But I digress.)

After my family cast me out, it was my community that saved me. It was my community that provided me with constant support, financial and emotional and mental; my community took my hands every time I reached out, my community did not tire of telling me, it is not your fault, you have worth. My community told me, again and again, please live. Right now I am watching my community at a loss, fractured and wounded, full of distrust and betrayal and pain, and it hurts as if it were one of my limbs experiencing the injury. Because I care about the people in the community and I care about all the energy it took to build the community, I care about its strength and well-being — and it hurts, too, because I am afraid I will lose my community for what I have said and what I will say.

One thing that I think has been overlooked in a lot of discussion about this matter is the deep damage suffered by communities comprised of women and gender minorities of color. There are a thousand thousand different conversations that could be had in these communities about the RH matter and they are all very fraught and painfully difficult to have. I have seen people speak of race traitors and collusion with whiteness; I have seen people question fellow people of color’s commitment to– I will call it anti-racism, for now; I have seen people doubting the stories of those who have come forward about abuse because they are anonymous; I have seen people believing victims, but at the same time saying, and yet, the abuser is doing important anti-racism work, and so we cannot support you. I have seen questions of authenticity and the “right” way of going about doing things, as if such a thing existed; I have seen people doubting fellow marginalized people’s awareness of their actions, as if we were children. And yes, I have seen things that have made me wonder whether I will lose my place in this community if I say, I am glad the Mixon report exists, I would vote for it if I could, as if I did not have the right to my own opinion but must vote with some overwhelmingly ascendant cause. I have seen people speaking out of places of isolation and doubt and fear, I have seen so much, so much vulnerability and rawness.

I have seen so many marginalized people afraid, like me, of being cast out and shunned because of what they feel, what they fear to speak. This is wrong. It should not be happening.

It is a complex painful horrible mess, and we from the margins are in the center of it. I have not seen half as much acknowledgment of that as there should be, in my mind. But then, usually, there never is.


Here are a number of things I will say:

If the Mixon report did not exist, I would have dropped out of the scene entirely. It was the thought that someone was trying to do something concrete against RH that made me stay. I have said before that I would nominate and/or vote for it were I able to; this is still true.

The Mixon report was very painful for many people of color, as many white people seized on it to self-justify and to further fortify themselves against call-outs of racism, sexism and problematic behavior. It was not painful to me personally; to me it felt like suddenly being able to breathe — but it has been used by white people as a defense in that way, and– look, is there a more eloquent way to say this? Stop it, white people. Stop it.

I do not care one way or another whether people vote for the Mixon report or not. That it is on the ballot is enough for me.

However, if people start talking about why one should not vote for the Mixon report because RH was an undeserving target (untrue), because it did nothing good (untrue, unless you count it a loss that I’m still here, and, well, I don’t count it a loss), because RH is not our problem — well. I will not bore you with details, but suffice to say that RH is a problem of mine, as is VD, as are the Sad and Rabid Puppies, as is every abuser in every community I am in, as is every privileged person who has told me that my English is wrong, as is everyone who makes me have to fight so hard for the right to speak. RH may not be your problem, but she is mine, and for you to dismiss the deep and lasting harm she has inflicted on people — including marginalized people, by the way — just goes to show why it is so incredibly hard for me to be in this community.

“Would RH have been subjected to this treatment were she a white man?” That is a difficult question. I am not thinking about it because it is difficult in ways that are very complicated including ways that are specific to RH and the fandom — not, let’s be clear, because white men don’t get free passes, because they do — and also the way that this question has been used to defend abuse is sickening. Yes, people of color can be abusers too. Yes, the way in which you say “RH was punching up, she was doing good work” is appalling. I am going to proceed quickly to the next point before today’s mental health unravels.

Elizabeth Bear has said some appalling things in the past. Some, to me: I was someone who called her out about using “death march” to describe hard writing, four or so years ago now, I think. I however am glad for her behavior throughout all this, I am glad for her unstinting support of Rochita and this post was heartening to me. I want to believe that people can change, and in any case grudges are heavy things to carry; having seen more of her, I like her and I am going to read her work. I do not expect this of anyone else. I fully understand people’s side-eyes. Should people start talking about more collusion with whitey I will side-eye you.

It is true that white people supporting people of color get more applause than people of color supporting other people of color. So for all those retweeting and linking to what GRRM, Elizabeth Bear, and other white writers are saying, please consider boosting the words of writers of color with even greater force. Here are some links, even: SAFE, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. (I am not linking to things on journal communities as I don’t feel very comfortable linking to them from an external site. If you would like me to link to you please just contact me.)

I am not going to comment about TNH for the sake of my mental health.

I will defend, with as much vigor as I can, the right of people of color to not vote for the Mixon report and analyze and critique and criticize and dissect it as much as we please. I will defend our right to hold different opinions and not be a monolith and have complicated conversations and not be some sort of ideological prop or tool for people only wishing to use us to amplify their voices. I will defend our right to yell at each other (how I’ve wanted to yell at people the past few weeks! as, I’m sure, some people have wanted to yell at me) and be complicated and get into fights and be human without having to be analyzed by outsiders for it as they seek evidence to buttress their racist positions.

I am really tired. I wish we did not have to fight so hard simply to exist. I wish that when an abuser turned out to be a person of color it did not turn into opportunities for white people to gleefully excuse their racism. I wish we did not identity-police each other and pressure each other to toe some sort of “POC enough” line. I wish my beloved community were not tearing itself apart. I wish, at this point, I were not shaking from the dread of being set upon by racists or judged by fellow people of color for my naivete or lack of awareness.

The safest space for me to discuss RH, outside of private conversations with friends, has been FFA. Thank you, meme.

I am focusing on building — on creation, on doing work — because it is what I can do. There was a time when I had more energy to write posts ripping racist arguments to shreds, critiquing oppressive power structures. No longer. But, truly, this work is no less difficult, requires no less courage — in fact, it requires more. I say this to the voices in my head telling me I have gone soft and weak, and to voices I have seen saying that to put one’s nose to the grindstone is to acquiesce to silence, a form of surrender. But this is my form of speaking out; this is my resistance. Every time I sit down to create art or to try and cobble some sentences or lines together, that is my battle. To create, to build, to love; this isn’t soft. I think of Perelandra manifest: “fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light…” I believe in love. As shield and sword, as song, as revolution and resistance, as defiance.


I had other things to say, I thought. At this point I’m exhausted. I’m also questioning what good it would do if I spoke about the current Hugo ballot, which I had intended to write about as well. Do you know what it feels like when people speak of your existence, of the acknowledgment of your humanity, of your right to speak and read and have stories, as if it were mere ideological discussion, a theoretical point to be resolved between schools of political thought?

Perhaps that is something to be revisited. For now I am dealing with a wound I have opened knowing full well what I was doing, and I can’t speak of painful things anymore. For now here is what I will say: to you who have been reading this, who may or may have not been caught up in the discussions surrounding matters pertaining to RH, to you who are thinking of the Hugos, or the Mixon report, or this pesky thing called diversity in SFF–

Here are some things. Please consider reading them. Some of them are stories. Some are poems. One, the first, is a very important essay.

We are lovers of words, of stories, first and foremost. So then: here they are. Read them, if you like; boost them, if you like. I am linking to them not because they pertain to what I was saying (they don’t) but because they are good work and I like sharing good work; I chose them based on what I am feeling right now and the way I can read them to deal with my pain. They belong to the core of SFF, they are things that speak from the margins with beauty and bravery. What do these brilliant stories care of the bigots who wish them silence and ignominy and ashes? They will shine on. They will endure.


Here is what I will do after I post this: I will go offline, and I will read a good book. And I will go forward into another day of this long struggle ahead.

News on words and art!

Hello! I am still here. As you may have guessed from, er, the previous post, my health has not been the best, but I am recovering and now return with some lovely news tidbits!

First, I have a new publication! Juli is live in the sixth issue of Through the Gate, a small but exquisitely curated poetry zine full of sharply elegant work. Juli is one of my oldest poems, and I struggled with thinking I had no place to submit it to — so I’m very glad that my little piece has found a home in TtG’s issue, and in such company! I share the every-shifting Table of Contents with writers I very much admire, such as luminaries Bogi Takács, Lisa M. Bradley, and Sonya Taaffe.

Second! I am excited to announce (belatedly) that I am illustrating An Alphabet of Embers, an anthology of unclassifiables edited by Rose Lemberg. I have read the draft manuscript and all the stories there are amazing, each and every one, and I’m working hard to make sure that my illustrations can in some small way frame all that breathtaking prose!

Another announcement — this one not too late — I am the cover artist for the first anthology for GlitterShip, an LGBTQ SFF podcast! I’m so excited about this project, as I care very deeply about having lots of awesomeness and queer representation in SFF. They’re running a Kickstarter as well, so please consider supporting that if you are so moved!

Lastly, I’m thinking about merging my art and writing blogs — they’re all mixed together in my brain, after all, and it’s difficult for me to have finished one project and then have the choice-paralysis of figuring out which blog to post it on, etc etc. Hah. We’ll see, I suppose; in the meantime, if you have any thoughts about that, I’d love to hear them.

depression songs, i.

and if the body will not move, what then? we see inertia
in the same unfolding mathematical spiral as force diagrams,
but have no words for the gravity pinning limbs to a mattress,
the anguish filling lungs that, somehow, still breathe.
when i was a child my elders exhorted me against the story
of juan tamad, sitting under a bayabas tree, head tipped up
to the moving shadows of leaves, open-mouthed in waiting
for some eager fruit to fall. i see myself under the same tree.
inexorable sunlight stitches through the air: g = 9.8m/s^2.
scrawls on my limbs: a body at rest will remain at rest…
oh, but external force! i draw my knees to my chin, teeth set,
eyes blotting out
the eventual fall.

A manananggal, and an awards eligibility list

On the last day of 2014, Goblin Fruit – Fall 2014 went live, and my poem Manananggal was in it! Such a lovely way to start 2015 in the company of brilliant poets — when I was finally able to read the whole issue in order I found myself breathless with wonder and awe at the end. It is a magnificent issue, and even now I still have to fight disbelief/doubt and the voice that says in my ear, what a fluke, you don’t deserve to be published alongside such amazing writers! Well. We struggle onward, despite such voices, and take what joy in poetry we can.

Speaking of disbelief, doubt, and fighting impostor syndrome and other awful things, the ever-wonderful Rose Lemberg linked me to Amal El-Mohtar’s post on awards eligibility lists, which is full of badass encouragement and yes yes yes, and so in that spirit– here are my poems (all four of them, haha!) which are eligible for Rhysling nominations:

Long poems

  1. Ahas, tala in Interfictions 4
  2. The Exile, i. in Stone Telling 11

Short poems

  1. Seeds in Strange Horizons
  2. Manananggal in Goblin Fruit Fall 2014

There! And now, having performed the badassery of the day, I shall now hie myself off to bed. Thank you as always for reading!

Poems like morsels of fruit

Full-flavored, intense, layered with a hundred different shades of sweet sour salt bitter, a thousand spices. This rec post comes on the heels of a long period of illness, exhaustion, and general unwellness, and the vibrant, blade-edged beauty of it just shattered through all that gray. I luxuriated in the feel of all this poetry — sometimes without being able to grasp concretely the shard of story the poet wrote on, but– experience is enough. That taste. Such richness of fruit.

Poetry

  1. Proserpina, Going Deeper by Jack Hollis Marr. So much Persephone-themed (Persephonic?) writing is caves, forests; this one is of the sea, salty, full of light, shape-shifting, utterly gorgeous. It drowns, goes deeper. It had me from the first line: “In shallow waters stolen coral fish eggs burst”… Yes, salt. Sweet.
  2. The devil riding your back by Gabby Reed. Raw and rich with a rhythm that cannot be denied. This piece’s imagery comes up before my eyes as I read, as if in a movie of earthquakes and city streets and shadow. And that finale! Struck me to the core.
  3. Dark Light by John Serreno (John Reinhart? -not sure, as the names in byline and bio are different! anyway). My poem Ahas, tala appeared in the same issue as this piece, and when I first saw the latter I went, damn, that’s how to write interstitial poetry. Again and again I return to the structure, the way it tells the story, the way it is the story, and find ever more beauty in it and each vivid image of a scene.
  4. The Monkey Climbs the Tree, as the Turtle Watches by Isabel Yap. I have this wishful kind of dream that I’ll be able to rec all my fellow issue…ees in Stone Telling 11: Reverberations (they are all amazing and yes yes yes I recommend them all) and this, this is what I want to start with. This story from my childhood, one of the first stories I was told, wrapped in graceful language that encloses the entirety of a story in beautiful economy of form. This poem read, to me, clear as glass and sharp as a knife-edge. So sharp, in fact, that you only realize you’ve been cut after the poem ends. (Still, if this were a fruit, it would be bananas, because. Pagong and matsing, okay!)
  5. Salamander Song by Rose Lemberg and Emily Jiang. I was rooting so hard for Strange Horizons to reach their fund drive goals, motivated in part because I so badly wanted to see this piece! And hear it, as it turned out. Woven in fire, a story, a life, a salamander a song a sun– Just magnificent. These words and the beautifully sung music intertwining with them, make me think of golden glory, and for a moment I see a world radiant with light. If this were a fruit this would be mango, golden heart. How are people so good, how? I don’t know. But give this a read, and a listen.
  6.  
    (I don’t know why my recs are getting longer! Maybe because I am drinking tea and feeling better, from earlier. The length of my squee is not proportional to its intensity or sincerity, okay, just proportional to my wellness at the moment. Anyway, let us have more!)

  7. Chant for Summer Darkness in Northwest Climes by Neile Graham. This is the kind of poem I adore reading: each line a painting, a work of art created with exquisite, seemingly effortless skill. I don’t think that’s where I go, myself, but every time I see such mastery I feel honored. Breathtakingly gorgeous and alive, sunset to morning. Plums, berries, beautifully ripe stone fruit. I have read it– I don’t know how many times, trying to learn from it as much as I can.
  8. You Are Here by Bogi Takács. My jaw quite literally dropped when I first read this — and hung open for a good five seconds, I’m sure. This piece pushed past the limits of what I thought poetry was, showed me what poetry can be. What poetry is! This fluid, joyous interplay between words and word-reader, between sight and understanding, and always: memory, place, mirrors, breath, moments elusive and indelible — such an experience. Augh! This is freaking brilliant, read read read!

In closing– so much awesome stuff, what the actual eff. And there is still so much more I want to mention. But yes– Read! Immerse yourself! Enjoy!

Reading on worlds, bodies, desire

Hello, fellow reader! I have been away so long that I haven’t gotten to post about two more poems of mine that have gone live, for which– let’s pretend I have proper excuses for that and move on, shall we? Here, I shall bribe you with tea! Good, good.

One poem is The Exile, i., up at Stone Telling 11: Reverberations.. This was my first sale/acceptance, something I’ve written about at length before. What I haven’t said is that this poem very narrowly escaped being trashed — or at the very least, never being submitted, ever. Initially all I was going to send to Stone Telling was Seeds, but then I decided– why not add in its younger sibling as well, for all that the latter was raw and more like a song than a poem. I was very surprised when it turned out to be the poem Stone Telling chose!

The other poem is Ahas, tala, up at Interfictions. The bones of this poem are very old and I was starting to despair over ever finding a way to finish it. But there we go! It is a mirror-poem, a snake-poem, and I’m quite fond of it.

I should write up more poem notes later. In the meantime, look! Recs!

Fiction

  1. Inventory by Carmen Maria Machado. How, how can something be so brutal and yet so beautiful at the same time? How can I adore this story so much even as it rips my heart out? I don’t know. But there it is. I didn’t think a zombie apocalypse story could be like this, but oh, this is genius.
  2. Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife by A.C. Wise. I’ve been loving the stories I read in Shimmer — all so utterly outside expectation, and unapologetically, gloriously so. This is a gorgeous, sexy story, and there are tentacles and the sea and an abundance of words so richly and sensuously used I couldn’t read it without blushing. Good good goooood.
  3. In Winter by Sonya Taaffe. Short, but wow– each line is a fragment of poetry, a shard of brightly glinting glass. And like the best poems, this story contains worlds layered with so much history, so much pain, snow and war and the glint of guns, and it draws one into it with certain skill. I could still feel the cold, see guns and sunlight and forests, after reading this story.
  4. This Shall Serve As a Demarcation by Bogi Takács. I am having to restrain myself from keysmash because I have so many Feelings about this story; I mean, how even– kink and science fiction and magic and the living planet and serving and oh, oh, oh. The relationship between Enhyoron and Î-surun touched something very deep within me; I did not know I needed to read a sci-fi story with D/s protagonists who are happy, who thrive, but I so did.
  5. Wine by Yoon Ha Lee. I have admired Yoon Ha Lee since I first read a story by them; I find their writing’s beauty unmatched, so graceful and supple and bladed. Each story feels like a weapon, deftly cutting my heart open– this is no exception, and I think one of my favorites among their stories. War and terrible choices, a plot that feels like a labyrinth of teeth, a world of horrific beauty. Breathtaking. I have reread this, oh, at least five times I’m sure, and it remains a stunning, complex read.

I had a list of poems to rec as well, but as today I’m a little unwell I will reserve that for the next post– oh, and they’re such beautiful poems! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the stories!

Hello!

Welcome to my writing blog. I write poetry and fiction of the speculative sort.

Recent publications: Brown woman at Safety Beach, Victoria, in June in Uncanny Magazine 10.

I keep my art at Likhain, and I have a Patreon that supports my creative work — if you like my writing or art, please consider checking that out! If you need to contact me, you’re welcome to email me.

Post-drought reading

I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction and poetry lately. Since my depression hit me very hard upon migration, my reading dropped off dramatically; I used to be the sort of person who could (and often did!) finish several novels a day, but then I stopped reading almost completely, making exceptions only for fanfic written by friends. As life stabilized, though, I slowly began to get back into it. And since I’ve started dipping my toes into the (terrifying! wildly churning!) waters of the SFF field, I have been reading so much. So much. It’s like rain after a long drought. I read during my morning commute, my lunch break, my afternoon commute. While I’m cooking, stealing five-minute snatches as I wait for things to brown and caramelize. With tea, with wine, with water. After waking, before bed.

I have a little list of recs — stories and poems available to read for free online — here for you. They’re not serious reviews per se (I’m limiting myself to 2-3 sentences each) but things I’ve liked and want to share. I read widely, based on whim, so there are some old pieces here, some new ones. If you are so inclined, do give them a little read, and enjoy!

Fiction

  1. Anna Saves Them All by Seth Dickinson. Beautiful, painful, brilliant; clear and sharp, a glass blade. My chest hurt after reading this — a kind of story I will never be able to write but that I needed so badly to read, a story that left me breathless with its unflinching truth. Augh.
  2. A City on Its Tentacles by Rose Lemberg. What a gorgeous terrible city, framing Luba — a mother drawn with both delicacy and intensity — and the necessity of choice, the silent persistence of love through it all, and again: necessity, endurance. I read it as though in a dream, and loved every moment of it.
  3. Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong: part 1, part 2. Reading this was like coming home, and although from the very start I could see how events could possibly unfold (in the patterns of folktales and love stories and tales of family in inangbayan) that did nothing to blunt their impact. I adored Tin, the unquestioned presence of the supernatural in history and life, and the familiar sights and smells, fruit and fire and dust and sun.

Poetry

  1. Nagapadam by Shweta Narayan. I talked a little about Stone Telling in my first post; Shweta Narayan’s poetry, the way she used language and forked tongue like blades, brushes, threaded needles, was vital to my choice to submit, to trust the zine with words and stories of Pilipinas and know they would not be sanitized or watered down by unwieldy explanation. This poem still takes my breath away. It pierces, burns, bleeds.
  2. A User Guide to the Application of Gem-Flowers by Bogi Takács. I love poetry that opens up new worlds to the reader, and this one does that perfectly in so few words. I had these vivid strange images in my head while reading it, as if I were given the barest taste of stories upon stories full of magic and possibility, and when it ends I couldn’t help but think, but oh, I want more. Bogi has such a gift for telling stories in poems and I always enjoy reading eir poems.
  3. Mawson by Bella Li. So sometimes I will read a poem that crushes me, it is so undeniably beautiful, and brilliant and perfect as cut diamond, and so very heavy in all its layers and meanings — stories and lifetimes within so few words; and it is so well-done it’s out of my reach. This is one of those. I had the poem open in a tab for weeks and weeks, and each time I read it I would find more and more and more, would see it was ever more out of my capacity, and so reading it was always glorious joy with the faintest tinge of pain, breaking bones.

Voices, and a foray into Filipino Fridays

First things first: the ever wonderful Rose Lemberg has posted their thoughts on reading, writing and submitting in response to my previous entry. It’s so lovely and always illuminating listening to Rose speak about this — they founded Stone Telling, which was the first venue I felt able to submit to, the first place I ever sold anything to, and when they say don’t lose faith I can only say: yes, yes, thank you so much.

Rose also tweeted a powerful series of truths last night, on diversity, power, and language; their tweets are compiled into a Storify, and I very much recommend reading it, what they say is so so important. We must make room for multitudes. Infinities of stories. And voices, voices.

As I’ve begun submitting, taking my first few steps into this field and trying to become part of the community, I’ve never ceased to be surprised: many things have happened that have disappointed and disheartened me, that have made me afraid — but there’s so much brightness, too, such beautiful voices of great strength and wisdom and depth; there’s generosity and encouragement and kindness and people who have reached out to me to say, we’re glad to hear you and help me up whenever I stumble (as I so often do) into discouragement and doubt. I have a beloved friend who speaks often about nurturing young writers, and I’m beginning to see why that is so vital; without these warm, encouraging, kind people, I perhaps would not be trying so hard to write — pushing myself raw past limits of self-questioning and self-rejection — and perhaps I would be silent.

It is a struggle to find one’s voice; one must fight so hard for it, against all the pressures toward silence and easy untruths. It is also a struggle to keep using one’s voice, to keep speaking. To hold fast to it. I’m at the very start of this long journey, and I look at what those who have gone before me have done, continue to do, as they raise their voices — and I cannot but marvel, cannot but be humbled, at the vastness and the power of all these songs.

Although I am no longer in Pilipinas, I find myself doing whatever I can to keep connected to what’s going on there. (I am trying not to see this as “M fantasizing about being back in the motherland” because that just sounds terribly sad, even though it may be at least a little true.) I can’t do politics, but I want to read more Filipino books, learn more about the book+reading community back home. I want to learn more, reach out more — because I write for myself first, but for my kapatid, my kababayan, my kasama second.

So, I’m going to start doing Filipino Fridays, this book-blogging meme/prompt that Filipino ReaderCon, a con held in Manila for readers by readers (it’s happening soon; how I wish I could go!) started this month. For the second week, the prompt is: “Have you ever wanted to write a book?”

As a reader, have you ever thought about writing a book? What kind of books/stories do you want to write? Or are you now a published author, and what compelled you to go fulfil this dream? How was your journey from reader to writer? How did you go about getting your book out there?

Oh my goodness. The short answer is: yes! I’ve been thinking about writing books since I was five. Fast-forward twenty-three years and that still has not happened, but I do believe I’m closer to it now than I have ever been, mostly because (wonder of wonders) I am still writing. And as long as one keeps to the words, that is continuance on the journey right there.

I have always been a reader of fantasy and poetry. I got started on poetry at the age of four; my mother bought this gorgeously illustrated book of poetry for children, and many of the poems were pretty fantastic (my favorites: The Tyger, a condensed version of The Lady of Shallot, How Doth the Little Crocodile, and of course, JABBERWOCKY!!!) — they stayed with me. So definitely if I were to write/publish a book I would want it to either be a collection of my poetry or a fantasy novel.

I have an in-progress fantasy, this bamboopunk Philippine AU thing I love dearly, which I return to from time to time — every month or so I’ll poke at it, see if it twitches. It’s still gestating — I don’t think it’s time for me to finish it just yet, I need to do so much work on my writing and desperately need to learn things like Actual Plot — but I don’t mind. I’ll be patient. And I still struggle with this idea that I’m not good enough to publish; I think I’ll struggle with that for a long time to come. But I’m learning: just write, dammit. Don’t worry about whether you’re an artist or a writer or whatever. Just keep doing the work. Eyes on the work.

I’m not sure if I count as a published author. Which is a little funny, really, because I shouldn’t doubt that 1) I have written something; and 2) it has been published. It’s just not anything as substantial as an entire book. As of now I have one published piece, a little poem: Seeds, up at Strange Horizons. (SH is one of my dream markets, so I am incredibly happy to be there!) I have a few more pieces that have been accepted to publications, so you know, my happiness, it abounds! Part of me still thinks– pinch me, I must be dreaming. Yet even as I say this, I’m already thinking of the other pieces I have in the works, that I want to send out into the world. The funny thing is, having my words read hasn’t at all blunted my desire to write more, tell more stories. It’s only intensified it.

As for my journey, such as it is, I wrote about it on my previous entry: The first leap.

Anyway, one of these days I will actually finish something book-length, and then I will go through the process of searching for an agent and a publisher, revising and revising and revising, hammering words into place, finding a way to get the work out there. I don’t know if there will be any success in that, honestly. But at the same time I’m not going to be too fussed about it. Eyes on the work. Just keep writing. And that takes more than enough of my energy, my focus, my blood.

The first leap

A few days ago, Strange Horizons published my first poetry publication, Seeds. (This was my second acceptance; I’ll talk about that more later.) The nights leading up to when the poem went live, I found it difficult to sleep. Anticipation, terror’s edge, unalloyed excitement — I was charged with their electricity and a kind of disbelieving wonder. That’s how I deal with good things most of the time. I don’t think it will happen until it does.

It’s taken a while. I’ve wanted to submit to a zine and have poetry published for ten years. It took me four years to work up the courage to submit anything.

This is what it’s like. You are a young Filipina who grew up speaking English and Tagalog; you learned to read and write both languages at the same time. From the age of three, your mind is filled with stories in English: fairy tales and rhyming poetry, Lewis and L’Engle. You go to schools that fine you for speaking Tagalog outside of recess and lunch hour — one peso per word — and at the same time punish you for writing in English too well. Your tongue is forked. You live with that; it was always going to be this way.

Because English is a prestige language, the language of the academe and the elite and “true” literature, you read more of it, so much that by the time you are ten you struggle to make out Tagalog sentences on paper. But the rhythm of your tongue, its music, is still that of Pilipinas: cadence of passionate unfettered song, maya and tires’ screech and sunlight. So when you write, you write in that rhythm. Excess, abandon. It’s what feels natural, what you enjoy.

You make friends over the internet, many of them American. You are fifteen the first time someone tells you your English is wrong. You don’t understand. Your grammar is excellent, your vocabulary wide-ranging. No, your friend explains. We don’t use those terms to refer to those things. Change them, because people won’t understand.

You delete “comfort room” from your story of a student struggling with coming out in a Philippine high school, replace it with the appropriate term, “restroom”.

This isn’t anything. It doesn’t mean anything.

You’ve lost count of the number of times people tell you your English is good for a Filipino; they’re offset by the times your writing is referred to as exotic, strange. The times your friends (they, most of all) say it’s good because it’s so unusual. Because your English isn’t yours. Why? You use adverbs just like everyone else.

No. Not really.

You are twenty-two before you find the word for it: “Other”.

And then, just like that, a tumult of realization. They (this nebulous ‘they’, the outer world, the West that has always been the standard by which your right to exist has been measured) will not understand the way you shudder at torrents of rain, your bone-deep fear of flood; they do not know (and have no interest in knowing) the chaos of your streets, the dance of persistent vehicle and outrunning feet. They do not bear the weight you were born with, ghost-chains of colonizers long-dead and yet still living; they did not grow up marked with your grandparents’ blood, fugitives and rebels and shivering women fleeing a war. No enormity of debt resides in their bones. They have not heard of aswang. Most likely, they would think such things silly. They will not hear you.

You have stories welling up in your throat all the time. Oozing out your ears. You close your mouth and tamp down on the words. Your words are precious to you; faulty as they are, they are cracked mirror reflections of everything you’ve grown up seeing, they carry echoes of the songs you know.

But you’ve learned: there is a very subtle kind of hurt in being assigned strangeness. A small hurt, made with a quick, sharp blade.

Pilipinas has taught you that pain is better avoided.

You grow. You stop writing. You start again.

The words stay within you. Rain in barrels, to prepare for water outages.

It feels silly to say this; even now I’m warring with myself, telling myself I shouldn’t press that handy link, “move to trash”. I’ve been reading online zines for a long, long time. I used to dream of submitting to them. Then I learned that there were certain kinds of English that meant something, that were valid and legitimate, and yet others that were looked down on, degraded. I tried to fit my writing to the mold of the former. It would be respectable, then.

It didn’t work. Of course. There was no blood in it.

And then Racefail happened, and I met people who were like me — who lived on the margins, who struggled with issues of othering their whole lives, who knew imperialism’s weight, whose tongues were also split; people from everywhere, people struggling in the West, people from our neighbors, fellow Filipinos both diasporic and still at home. We did not agree on everything, of course, but look! People on the internet! Who heard me!

I first heard about Stone Telling through them. I devoured the poems on it with a kind of furtive, guilty enjoyment, willing myself not to hope.

One would say, well, then! You have found a venue. Certainly you would have submitted as soon as you could, no problem!

And yet, and yet, no. There is still a lot of will, so much courage, involved in doing that. Putting your words into another’s hands. Yourself, your heart, the heart of your country and your childhood stories and your mother and grandmother and the women who came before them, everything laid bare. I don’t know what it is like for others. I wonder at the kind of courage that’s like steel, determined and bladed; mine is more like closing my eyes and leaping, limbs flailing, into a soundless dark.

To submit to a place I must have at least a little trust in it. Rejection is fine. Having my language labelled strange, being questioned yet again about the reality and reasonableness of my experiences, being asked to explain the specificity of Pilipinas (all the versions of it I hold in my head), being asked to water it down for the comprehension of a Western majority– that is something I did not think I could bear. (When I first posted the drafts of my poems on my locked journal, to a very small filter of trusted friends, I had to put a disclaimer for my own peace of mind — something like: please respect my English, for all that it is not yours.)

So I read, and read, and watched Stone Telling carefully to see if it would publish words that did not apologize for what they were, and did not pander to distances in experience, and carried the voices of the marginalized and unheard and forgotten of victors’ histories in their music, in their swells. If it would hear someone who was very small and nameless and unknown.

This year Stone Telling put out a call for submissions from writers they had not published before. I had the submission date and several alerts (a week before, three days before) saved on my phone. I sent in two poems.

It’s funny, because even now I feel apologetic. I want to say, sorry, I shouldn’t be making such a huge deal over this, they’re just submissions. Sorry, I shouldn’t have been afraid to try for so long. Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed that including Tagalog words and not wanting to italicize them would mean an auto-rejection. Sorry, sorry.

I don’t know. Is it just me? Even growing up in the Philippines, I knew to be excruciatingly polite to white foreigners, felt that odd desire to please them, impress them, not make any mistakes in their presence, not show any weakness, coiling in my spine.

I want to say: here comes the turning point. The truth is, even that decision to send the submission email wasn’t so much a turning point — a conscious watershed act — but me being brought to the point of breaking, bursting, wanting something so much I won’t be stopped… and saying, maybe, maybe, this will work.

I’ve seen editors discussing diversity lately. How does one get more diverse writers submitting? I don’t think it’s enough to say, hey, we’re open to people from all backgrounds, especially if you’re POC, queer, etc. That means little to me.

Rather, I would say– what have you done in the past? What are you doing now? Do you care about the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the oppressed? Those who have felt, for years and years, that they cannot speak, and even if they did, they would not be heard.

These may sound like vague high-minded things. Really, they’re not. When I tell you that a lolo of mine survived the Death March and was wracked with illness for the rest of his life I want to know that you’re hearing what I’m saying: he was someone, he lived, he had his story. Even though you may not have heard these histories before, I want you to hear: we all have stories too.

So: I first submitted to Stone Telling because I thought that if I made that leap into darkness, even if I fell I would not end up impaled on kind, well-meaning blades (could you take those words out? replace them with their English versions? can you explain this? that?). That’s really all I wanted. It’s not much. But it’s a lot.

But yes — I didn’t. The editor wrote back to me with a wonderfully encouraging letter. They could take just one poem, but this editor at Strange Horizons was reading for the month — I should send the other poem there!

That was my first acceptance.

I did what Stone Telling’s editor had suggested, and Strange Horizons accepted the other poem — my second acceptance! — and to my disbelief and wonder and surprise, both my poems had found a home, and all this without any requests that I water down my words to make them intelligible, nothing that directed me to silence.

The thing is, I didn’t think that could happen. The poems were encoded with too much of Pilipinas. I wrote them without caring about what the white people reading them would think. They didn’t conform to those high ideals of standard respectable perfectly legitimate English. They were too me.

I think– look, I won’t say, “that just goes to show you never know until you try!” –I’m not that optimistic, and submitting pieces is especially fraught coming from marginalized experiences and histories of ruin. No outcome is guaranteed; it could very well just have been me being reminded yet again of otherness (quickly, kindly, sorry, that piece is just too strange and might discomfit people, put them off). But I think it does go to show that what editors do with the pieces they’re given, with the venues they curate — it means a lot. It means a lot to see editors making efforts to reach out to the margins, to say welcome, you are welcome here, to see them making clear that they believe in hearing these stories, want to hear these voices. To see editors publishing pieces that are outside the majority experience. To see them making room for all this richness and difference — for multitudes.

And, I think, to make it clear that one can trust them with all the vulnerability of writing on the margins. That, even if they do not accept the work (because this isn’t about rejection) it will not be because of the strangeness or unfamiliarity or otherness or one’s words, the lack of legitimacy of language. That, in the end, there will be enough space to listen and take the writing as it is.

You see: I write poetry because there are songs inside me that must be heard. I’m glad that there are editors who will hear me. I’m glad I can say, to those of the majority whose histories have silenced our voices: no, enough. Listen. I’m glad I can be part of saying to my kababayan, kapatid: here I am, here you are. We are here.

With thanks to Rose Lemberg, Shweta Narayan, and Sonya Taaffe.

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