From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

In Anticipation of Clarion West

It’s early on a Saturday morning and I am sitting on the edge of my bed when the phone rings. My husband picks up, and I hear him switch from Dutch to English before he hands the phone to me. It is “the phone call”.

An hour after Neile Graham’s call, I am still on cloud nine. I’ve been invited to Clarion West.

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As a mother, finding the time to write often involves making a decision between doing the laundry while the toddler sleeps or sitting down and working on that story. Sometimes the laundry wins, sometimes the story wins. I’d heard of Clarion West and Clarion East, but I knew these workshops came with a price tag, and besides, would I even qualify? And if I did, what would I do about my children? What would people say if I left my home and my family for six whole weeks just because I wanted to pursue this dream?

I shelved the dream for a while, but in the fall of 2008, I attended the Villa Diodati expatworkshop. There I met graduates from Clarion West and Clarion East. With their encouragement, I decided to send in an application to the Clarion West workshop.

At the forum for Clarion West applicants we learned early on that one of our fellow applicants had already received the phone call. I had prepared myself for the worse. Pepping myself with the thought that there always was a next year.

When Neile’s phone call came, I thought I was dreaming.

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Part of my preparation has included telling my friends and neighbors that I won’t be around for six weeks and why.

Some are puzzled by my apparent willingness to leave my children behind. For many mothers, the thought is a puzzling one.

“What about your children?” One person asked me.

“Six weeks is a long time, isn’t it?” Another said.

I’ve had to explain to a number of people that I won’t be leaving my children uncared for, but somehow, that doesn’t seem to help erase the skepticism.

“It’s our life,” my husband says. “And it’s our decision.”

“Good for you,” my next door neighbor says.

And my good friends, the ones who understand how important this is to me, cheer me on.

I know I will miss my children. I know I will miss home. I know I will miss my husband. I know this, and yet I also feel that this is something I need to do. Pursuing this dream, taking hold of this opportunity is a gift to my children as well. I want them to see how important it is to fight for a dream not only for yourself but also because of the people who believe in you.

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Perhaps one of my biggest fears can be explained in the context of culture. As a Filipina, I grew up with this culture that says one must always be polite and not offend or hurt the other. Sometimes, this desire to please the other, or to not offend goes to the extent of erasing the self.

I hope that I will speak my mind, instead of receding into silence. That I will be a bridge builder instead of a builder of walls. I hope to learn from others and to share with others what I have learned through the years. I hope I can share the perspective that comes from growing up in a third world country and having lived as a migrant woman for the past ten years.

In my life as a migrant woman, I have encountered discrimination because of who I am. I confess that I too have my preconceptions, but I hope our communal love for this genre will exceed our personal prejudices.

I’ve always had this warmth in my heart towards people in the speculative fiction field. It’s like we’re all part of this huge family, and while we sometimes may disagree or argue about stuff, we’re still related and connected because of this love we share for the field.

On the Clarion West mailing list, I already see hints of humor and character shining through the email exchanges. I look forward to meeting my classmates in person.

I hope that we will encourage each other during the fourth and fifth week depression. That we will rejoice in each other’s successes, that we will engage in open-hearted and honest conversations. I hope to go home knowing I have made true friends. Most of all, I hope that we will enrich each other’s fictions as well as each other’s lives.

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Reading through the works of our instructors, I realize what a way there is yet for me to go. I look forward to learning from them.

I think what I’d like to do most at Clarion West is challenge myself to delve deeper, and to try my hand at writing things outside of my safety zone.

I look forward to honest criticism and to the feedback that will help me grow and become a stronger person and a better writer.

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In the weeks of waiting for a response from Clarion West, I trawled the internet and visited journal entries by graduates of the Clarion workshops. Reading these entries, I had to think of how my Father once told me that there are three phases to fasting. First, the hunger pains phase, when the body adjusts to not eating solid food; second, the detox phase where the body rids itself of toxins and impurities; and third, the enlightenment phase, where the mind transcends the body and is able to see things clearly. In this phase visionaries see visions, and spiritualists claim to ascend into heavenly places.

I imagine that the Clarion experience could be like fasting–only without the hunger pains as I hear we’ve got a fabulous cook and a well-stocked kitchen.

Who knows what visions we may receive during these weeks of hard work and intensive writing? Maybe we’ll have written stories about zombie cockroaches who fall in love with clockwork dolls, or maybe we’ll have created entire new universes for our characters to play around in…

Will there be pillow fights? Will there be water gun battles? Will we man invisible spaceships and conquer entire worlds? Who knows. Ask me again when I come back from Clarion West.

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