Thursday, September 09, 2010


I've been reading my Mom's book manuscript this week as I format it into book-form for sending to a copy editor. I've been surprised to glean the pain underlying what is otherwise a wonderful project that combines memoir-narratives with her Master's Thesis.

And I've been surprised--and pained--that I inadvertently caused some of the anguish.

That is, while Mom has been generously joyous at whatever I've accomplished as a writer, witnessing my progress over the years apparently also made her feel every so often ye olde immigrant blues. In a new Preface to her Thesis, there's this section:
I wish Dr. [Edilberto] Tiempo were alive today to read this. He and Mrs. [Edith] Tiempo would be tickled to read about my daughter’s reaction when I mentioned their names to her. My daughter sent me a copy of one of her earliest poems. I read and re-read it and I liked it more and more. I called her right away. I praised her poem and gave her a short literary criticism like the universality of her poem, the concrete images, etc. My daughter interrupted me with “Mom, how do you know how to approach the poem?"

Naturally, I was irritated as well as amused ...

“Hey, I had good mentors. Mr. Edilberto Tiempo of Silliman . . ."

“You know the Tiempos? Them Tiempos!” She said incredulously, interrupting me.

“Of course I know ‘them Tiempos,’” I said and proceeded to regale her with stories of my life in Silliman University. That was one time I scored with my daughter and I relished it.

Here's the thing: this incident, this conversation, never happened.

My mother was a student of the Tiempos (who also was her thesis advisors) but we never had this conversation that she recalls. But this conversation did occur in a short story, a fictitious short story, I wrote in the mid-1990s and which was published several times in the Philippines. My nearly 81-year-old Mom obviously read the story, but her memory of it now is that it is a true story. Specifically, for Mom, it is a true story illustrating how I didn't respect her because I hadn't known of her past achievements as a scholar/literary critic prior to our family immigrating to the U.S. where she mostly worked as a secretary (to folks whose grammar she often had to correct whilst typing their letters).

Mom's (and Dad's) stories are not actually atypical for immigrant Filipinos, or other immigrants. When countries cannot support their brightest talents with jobs, those people go elsewhere for often more lowly positions than work for which they'd trained -- aka, the "brain drain."

Or, it's possible that Mom's witnessing me live my dream as a poet also reminded her of old dreams that she never managed to attain. (I remember that shortly after we arrived in the U.S., she'd tried to attend law school but the schedule of doing that while parenting four children and finding reasonably-paying jobs forced her to give up on law as a career. In the Philippines, her mother had discouraged her from being a lawyer as, to my grandmother, being a lawyer was not a "ladylike" profession.)

Anyway, so I'm a bit flummoxed as to how to handle this incident. It's presented as reality in Mom's book, but it actually arose from a work of fiction I wrote years ago.

For now, I'm leaving it as is. I think I'd rather avoid the pain of addressing the matter with Mom. And, for sure, the angst and anguish and sense of loss (at her own aborted potentials earlier on in her life) are certainly True.

I'm just devastated that one of my own writings enabled this situation -- at a minimum, a different take on that saying about Life writing itself...