My brain baby, a secret for one whole year, is now out in bookstores in Metro Manila. It’s all still a little surreal, to be honest, so I’m going to sum it up by borrowing the words of Dear Sugar’s Cheryl Strayed:
From Dear Sugar’s The Future Has An Ancient Heart:
Years after I no longer worked at the last restaurant where I waited tables, my first novel was published. The man who’d been my manager at the restaurant read about me in the newspaper and came to my reading. He’d been a pretty awful boss—in fact, at times I’d despised him—but I was touched to see him in the bookstore that night. “All those years ago, who would have ever guessed we’d be here celebrating the publication of your novel?” he asked when we embraced.
“I would have,” I replied.
And it was true. I always would have guessed it, even all the time that I feared it would never happen. Being there that night was the meaning of my life. Getting there had been my every intention. When I say you don’t have to explain what you’re going to do with your life I’m not suggesting you lounge around whining about how difficult it is. I’m suggesting you apply yourself with some serious motherfuck-i-tude in directions for which we have no accurate measurement. I’m talking about work. And love.
It’s really condescending to tell you how young you are. It’s even inaccurate. Some of you who are graduating from college are not young. Some of you are older than me. But to those of you new college graduates who are indeed young, the old new college graduates will back me up on this: you are so god damned young. Which means about eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself will over time prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true that you’ll look back in twenty years and howl.
My mother was young too, but not like those of you who are so god damned young. She was forty when she finally went to college. She spent the last years of her life as a college student, though she didn’t know they were her last years. She thought she was at the beginning of the next era of her life. She died a couple of months before we were both supposed to graduate from different schools. At her memorial service, my mother’s favorite professor stood up and granted her a PhD.
The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life. For some of you, those things have already happened. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.
I have learned this over and over and over again.
There came a day when I decided to stop lying. I called the college from which I did not have an English degree and asked the woman who answered the phone what I needed to do to get one. She told me I had only to take one class. It could be any class. I chose Latin. I’d never studied Latin, but I wanted to know, at last, where so many of our words come from. I had a romantic idea of what it would be like to study Latin—the Romance languages are, after all, descended from it—but it wasn’t romantic. It was a lot of confusion and memorization and attempting to decipher bizarre stories about soldiers marching around ancient lands. In spite of my best efforts, I got a B.
One thing I never forgot from my Latin class is that a language that is descended from another language is called a daughter language.
It was the beginning of the next era of my life, like this is of yours.
Years after I no longer lived in the state where my mother and I went to college , my first novel was published and I traveled to that state to give a reading. Just as my former awful boss had done in a different city mere weeks before, the professor who’d granted my mother a PhD at her memorial service read about me in the newspaper and came to the bookstore to hear me read. “All those years ago, who would have ever guessed we’d be here celebrating the publication of your novel?” she asked when we embraced.
“Not me,” I replied. “Not me.”
And it was true. I meant it as sincerely as I’d meant that I always would’ve guessed it when I’d been speaking to my boss. That both things could be true at once—my disbelief as well as my certainty—was the unification of the ancient and the future parts of me. It was everything I intended and yet still I was surprised by what I got.
I hope you will be surprised and knowing at once. I hope you’ll always have love. I hope you’ll have days of ease and a good sense of humor. I hope one of you really will bake me a pie (banana cream, please). I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English and/or creative writing degree you’ll say: Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters. And then smile very serenely until they say oh.