Weird Tales: chiles samaniego on Being Asked

Ann VanderMeer • December 22nd, 2007 @ 4:08 pm • Culture

Writer: chiles samaniego
Weird Tales Story: Time and the Orpheus
Writer Bio: chiles samaniego started out wanting to be a storyteller, like John Hurt in Jim Henson’s The Storyteller, but by putting words down on paper rather than speaking them out loud by a fire to a cheeky dog. Later, however, he realized he was better at rambling insensibly. He dreads growing up to be that uncle, and spends a lot of time trying not to worry about it.

***

A while back, Neil Gaiman flew to the Philippines, saw how steeped in realism our literature appeared to be and began endorsing the first Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards to promote what he called “Filipino Unrealism”. Here: “There is a strong tradition of Filipino realism in literature; I want to encourage Filipino unrealism.”

It wasn’t that we didn’t have a rich, imaginative background to draw from and Mr. Gaiman knew this. Our folklore wades at least waist-deep in bizarre things like demon babies, winged demon-witch things that leave the lower halves of their bodies to go hunting for innocents at night, giants and horse-headed men who live in trees and smoke nasty cigars, dwarf-like goblins who live in anthills or termite mounds and for whom the term “pissed-off” seems to have been tailor-made.*

There’s a strong tendency for our people to be magical thinkers, such that after we had that whole EDSA thing in the 80s, it became the formula, maybe the super-special secret ingredient for the most magical of magic spells: a mystical short-cut through democracy, the Holy Power of the People Incarnate; righteous, infallible, absolute; more importantly, repeatable. (Not that i know my way all that well through the morass of Filipino politics, mind you, so we’ll speak no more of it here.) Urban legends aren’t just a dime a dozen, they’re handed out for free, and they almost always have some element or other of the supernatural: a lady in white (the “White Lady”) who hitches a ride whether you stop for her or not, and a dozen or so other tales about her or only someone, something like her; a white Mitsubishi Lancer (the “White Lancer”) that plays chicken every night with late night commuters and never “loses”; some of these might not be originally ours, but we embraced them like we embraced Gospel Truth the first time we heard them.

But while we may have this really rich literally (literarily?) fantastic oral tradition that not only dates back to our early history but also extends well into the present, until recently, Filipino fiction seemed dominated by “social realism”. i say seemed because i can’t say my experience with local literature has ever been enough to speak authoritatively on the matter. Certainly, “genre” writers back home almost unanimously agree that they have always been forced to the fringes of the “Pinoy Literary World”, as though there weren’t enough action between the socioeconomic classes and political, ethnic and religious groups that our people have to engage in “literary warfare” as well. (“Warfare” i say: i exaggerate, of course. We Filipinos also have a tendency to embellish, to sensationalize; melodrama and its cousin sentimentality flow thick in our blood.) Who does the “forcing” i can’t say; certainly the market for SF from foreign authors has always seemed a lucrative business.

The point being that though we may have this really rich literally (literarily?) fantastic oral tradition, fiction writing back home seems (again, until recently) to have preferred drawing inspiration (and whatever else fiction needs to be born) from other things. Are we to make anything of the fact that the most significant expression of this imaginative background in publishing may be in the numerous cheap digests of “true accounts”? One wonders at the significance.

***

i look back at what i’d just written and wonder if i should take it all back. i’m no authority on anything i’d just said; i’m the last person you should trust for this sort of information; i am entirely the wrong person to play at being spokesperson for Filipino SF literature. But then i remember: some writers have a story to tell; others have some sort of agenda. Some people simply have more to say than others. Why even bother to try? Well, i suppose there’s only one answer: because i was invited. Whatever my faults as a writer, i wasn’t about to pass up the chance to come out here and play with words, not when someone actually asked.

We only have to be asked, you see.

We always have to be asked.

*As children, we Filipinos are warned by our elders to watch where we point; they tell us to bite the tips of our fingers when we do in case we’d “rudely” pointed at one of these “dwendes” or their homes. We are also told to watch our step with extra care at night, particularly when walking through fields and wild places to avoid treading all over these dwellings; to say our equivalent of “Pardon me, coming through” frequently (“Tabi-tabi po”) to respectfully let them know we’re coming–presumably so they can magically whisk themselves and their mounds out of the way. We’re told to say the same thing when we pee in the woods in case…well, i think you get the picture.

It’s all very reasonable, really. How would you feel if someone flooded your house with urine?

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