Philippine Literary Etiquette

(I’ve been exposed to the quote-and-quote literary community of the Philippines long enough to know there are unwritten rules that govern intercourse within it. So, hoping that you, my much valued and well beloved reader with literary aspirations, will not commit a social faux pas in the presence of Pinoy writers, here are some tips in Philippine Literary Etiquette)

Never call yourself a writer. You will look vain. ‘Self-styled’ is not exactly very flattering. If you write poetry, don’t call yourself a poet, if you write fiction, don’t call yourself a fictionist etc. And never, unless talking in plural or out of indignation, call yourself an artist. When Edith Tiempo described herself as ‘a woman who likes to think she’s a writer,’ she showed the humility expected of those in the literary art. Poetess Marjorie Evasco also denied being called a ‘poetess,’ saying the last poetesses lived in Middle Ages. Let others describe you by your work, it means you’ve been recognized for it. Just say ‘you write (insert genre).’

Never talk about your work unless you are asked of it. You will look very vain. If you’re talking about a work in progress, you risk exposing your ‘brilliant’ ideas to ridicule (see Plato), rendering them vulnerable to literary theft (see T.S. Eliot), or both (see Tito Sotto).

Never say you’re writing a novel if you’re writing a novel. You will also look vain. The immediate response you should expect from the literati is ‘really, so you’re novel-writing caliber now?’

Never say you’ve written a novel. You will look even more vain. Specially if said novel is doomed to be stuck in your computer never to be published because it reads too much like Game of Thrones. If you must mention it, mention the date of publication. If it isn’t published, shut up.

Only say you’re writing a novel if you’re not. You will look deliberately, and humorously, grandiose. It’s a good way to keep up the appearance that you’re still active when you’re currently in a slump. Note: only do this when you have at least one national award, or are at least 40 years old.

Pray delete that Facebook page or website you made for yourself. some Palanca Hall of Famers don’t even have their own Facebook accounts, what right have you to broadcast yourself? Or so the literati will think. Besides, in the literary community, fame is all about obscurity. But more on that later.

Never announce that you’re joining a contest or workshop. You will again look vain. Tell a few close friends, but utang na loob don’t give us a blow-by-blow live coverage of your Palanca application or your Silliman Writers Workshop submission on your Twitter and Facebook. And because you look vain people will laugh at you behind your back when you don’t get accepted (‘Oh the hubris’ they will say). And if you do win/get in? People already found you vain, they won’t be as happy about it as you’d want them to be. Make it a pleasant surprise for them.

If you win an award, or get into a workshop as a fellow, follow the prescribed format of announcing it. If you’re doing it online, caption the link to the announcement with 1. An expression of being blessed (if you believe in God, if not, that you’re fortunate) 2. An expression of being humbled because you’re following a great tradition, 3. An expression of gratitude to all who have, or who you think will feel they have, contributed to this good fortune (‘I could not have done it without your support and guidance…’) and 4. An expression of having much to learn.

Memorize as many literary passages to quote as you can. While Voltaire did say that a witty remark proves nothing, Borges himself said life itself is a quotation. Just make sure you don’t sound like a thesis’ review of related literature.

Quote, and namedrop, as casually as you can. If you overdo it, again, you will look vain.

Observe the gradation of writers you should namedrop. The gradation, in decreasing order of acceptability, is roughly as follows: obscure writers, writer’s writers, classics, popular literature writers. Writers have been hipsters since the 16th century, so the general rule of thumb is the more obscure the writer you namedrop, the better. It will make you erudite. Of course, this has its repercussions: if you’re too obscure nobody can relate to you, so if you’re flirting with that hot Atenista CW major namedrop that obscure writer she has read (expected reaction: ‘oh my gosh you read Pu Song Ling too!? I don’t know anyone but me who has!’ followed by flirting). Classics are somewhere in the middle, because while many people have read them it takes serious dedication to do so, so most of those people are very legit. ‘A classic’ once quiped Twain, ‘is a work that everybody knows but nobody has read.’ And NEVER NAMEDROP POPULAR WRITERS, unless you’re doing it ironically or pronouncing a revolutionary new reading of it ex cathedra as an esteemed critic (ie: ‘I think Twilight is the greatest piece of performance art since the work of William McGonagall’). Racially, nowadays there’s also a preference for reading non-Western works, with a rough gradation (again in decreasing order) of emerging Asian-Oceanian literary scenes (Contemporary Polynesian, Cambodian, Indonesian, Tibetan), the obscure Chinese and Japanese writers, African, Indian, Latin American, then the western writers from European (usually from the obscure Scandinavian to the more prominent Anglo-French writers) to American (Canadian before American). Rule of thumb for this one is exotic = obscure = erudite. ‘What are you reading? ‘Twilight’ (go back to your province and plant camote) ‘What are you reading?’ ‘This collection of poems by Fiji poet Pio Manoa.’ (legit!). And because  Filipinos consider themselves exotic

Namedrop as much Filipino writers you’ve read as you can. You can’t get wrong with this one except with Bob Ong. Because most Filipino literati are guilty of being over-saturated with American (North or Latin) and, to a lesser extent European reading, chances are a Filipino writer will be obscure (yes, Caparas was wrong, Filipino writers don’t read Filipino writers either). Doing so will also serve to stroke the ego of the Filipino writer you are talking to – you are after all a potential reader.

Espouse your own ideology or expertise. Not required, but it will make it easier to find your market, and for people to remember you. be a Marxist, or a feminist, or a fighter for the rights of the Lumad or whatnot. Heck, you might even be invited to be a speaker or lecturer on SciFi because this literati heard you were in town and that you watched Star Trekk. But be careful and

Try to avoid being outwardly right wing. The huge bulk of the Philippine literati is generally center-left, with a sizeable proportion of them leaning towards communism. There’s also a quiet but large number of them who are atheists. Most of these people found solace in their youths for being ‘enlightened,’ and that encompasses their perceived liberation from (medieval) religious beliefs, openmindedness to modern behaviour (heck some might even sight classical libertine culture), and what they see as ‘genuine care for the masses.’ What you get is atheistic, egalitarian, utilitarian, Nietzscheian-relativistic liberalism bordering on Socialism if not communism. So if you find premarital sex disgusting, are anti-same sex marriage and anti contraception, are against divorce, or whatnot, try to keep your opinion to yourself.

Always bring a book, or more, around. Props, of course. Above rules apply for said book choice.

Memorize a poem or a short passage to recite in case there’s an impromptu poetry reading. Or at least bring a book of stuff you can read aloud. Again, rule of obscurity and exotica applies. I once went around workshops reciting Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven from memory and thinking it was legit, only later realizing how much I looked like a hideously studious high school student from some terribly bureaucratic public school. I should have memorized Langston Hughes or Willy Sanchez. But avoid reciting a poem if the poet is present, you don’t want to look over-flattering.

Choose, as your Facebook profile picture, your obscure writer of choice. It should preferably be a writer’s writer.

Comment on your Filipino literati friend’s profile picture of an obscure writer and point out who it is. Add that you love said writer.

Status, Tweet, or send Group SMS messages of quotes from obscure writers. Only like, retweet, or reply to obscure writers when you receive from others, ignore that Stephanie Meyer quote (yes, the Atenista CW major is testing you, don’t like all her statuses dammit). Never forward an SMS message, and only reply with an even more obscure quote.

Never give advice on writing, or on anything literary, unless you are a Creative Writing professor, a Palanca Hall of Famer, a National Artist, are over 70 years old with a whole generation of writers in your debt/under your influence, or all of the above. This whole blogpost is a literary faux pas. Oh the vanity of this Karlo David!


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