One insecurity I have is not having a writing degree. I wanted to take up Creative Writing or Literature, but my parents, both ambitious and typical Asians, wanted me to be a doctor. After flunking every major subject, failing the NMAT, and detouring to Nursing only to give it all up – my California license, job offers in NY and Cali – I took the path I wanted. I began working for content mills, then later on, small agencies and publications. It took me this long – 14 years – to be bold enough to believe in my essays and poems to send them out to foreign journals and magazines.
At times I still get intimidated though. Writing, as it turns out, is a cutthroat industry. I am “competing” with a large contingent of white people, many of whom have a head start. They have the writing degree, on top of an MFA (like a Master’s in creative studies here in the Philippines), workshops, grants, extensive networks, the money to pay submission fees to top journals and to enter contests. Outside the Philippines, I found out, often you need to pay to play, and that doesn’t guarantee publication. I don’t want to do that shit.
Yesterday, I received an acceptance from a non-profit, BIPOC-loving print literary mag in Texas whose editors and board are professors and published writers with MFAs. It is my first paid poem. The pay is modest, but it doesn’t even matter. To me, as a minority – a 39-year old woman who is unheard of internationally, an Asian trying to take up space in a literary scene that has little space for rebels and rejects from developing countries – every acceptance, more so this one, is a victory. It’s validation that I don’t need the degree, Master’s, fellowship, money, and connections for my work to be worthy. These people have what I don’t have, and they saw something in my words, my stubborn Filipino-ness.
My mentor once said, “Just do your thing. And what your thing is will get you through.” I always try to remember that when insecurity peers in as I type. There is no “real” literary world, and we are not as powerless as we think we are. We keep doing our thing – because it is breathing. One day, our thing will be seen. We will be seen.