September has always seemed to me the point of the year when everything is at the cusp of changing. It is nearly the end of the first semester, second to my last as a graduating senior, and I won’t lie about it: I look forward to finishing college and leaving undergraduate life for good. Partly because I am sick of it—it is my fifth year, having been delayed from shifting courses late in the game. Taking up creative writing is still one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself, but staying in college for this long does make me feel quite stunted: there is an outside world that I need to experience, and I know there is a lot that I want to find and look for there. I don’t say it with much hopeful idealism; there are material conditions, and no one could successfully sugar-coat the generally meager pay of the line of work which many literary arts majors get after graduating, no matter how you look at it—editorial work, technical writing, magazine writing. “Get a day job!” I remember my friend’s tita telling me, who is an essayist and part-time professor at UP Diliman, but she pays the bills working some corporate job in Ortigas. She nearly shouted it at me as I was getting out of the car.
I think the strange albeit irritating thing about university life is that it makes you feel like the world can still revolve around you. Because you’re in that middle space where you have to think about your future but still not be subject to the reality of its consequences, you can concentrate on those details of your life that are, quite literally, self-centered and can ultimately be self-indulgent. I’ve had my fair share of vaguely existential questions (but, in retrospect, mostly a pathetic depressiveness) for a few years, and all that discernment, reflection, contemplation have helped me understand myself better, and it certainly doesn’t discount the genuineness of having asked those questions, but it honestly is quite tiring. I feel the need for a drastic change of view. A professor of mine had in fact told me, when I asked him about my thesis—if there was more to existence and consequently one’s writing than the iterations of the self—he said, “Do you want me to give a blunt answer? Find a job.” It seems that part of what the “outside world” which people often talk about is finding something that will humble you. And that knowledge obviously doesn’t make post-graduate life easier, but I think it’s important to take it upon yourself to realize that you aren’t the center of the universe, and your problems aren’t exceptional, and there is something you can gain from grasping an extent of your insignificance. Self-importance is, more often than not, crippling. And as they toasted in The Devil Wears Prada, “To jobs that pay the rent!”
In any case, as I am working on my undergraduate thesis, that comes in three requirements of a creative manuscript, an exegetic essay, and a self-publishing exercise, along with 18 other units, I can’t say it hasn’t been difficult. Just the fact that a creative writing thesis under my program comes in three parts should already be enough to crash, but alas, so much needs to be done, to be written, to be planned, to be read and reread; things have to pull through. (This isn’t circa 2011, I’ve found myself saying. We can’t let ourselves give up just because we want to.) I honestly can’t say I enjoy working on my thesis. From a purely practical perspective, I’m so far behind with my manuscript that if I seriously start to think about it, I feel I begin to shake. And because I don’t distinguish the project from any autobiographical pursuit—it is equivalent to one—it only makes me want to avoid it more. I don’t like writing about myself, not overtly anyway. There are certain questions that I don’t have the answers to, that I feel I need the answers to to make the project work, and it is excruciating to try. (It is excruciating to attempt to transcend yourself, or merely to speak as oneself, without deceit. I keep fearing that I’ve given up, and that everything bound to be written is just a way to circumvent that fact. If all writing is trying, what happens when you want to give up?)
I’m trying to take it one day at a time. Last Friday, I had the pleasure of attending the 32nd season opening concert of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra; they played Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, his Vocalise, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem of the Scheherazade. That was actually the first time I’d ever seen a full orchestra concert (the few other times, it was just a chamber orchestra). There are points in the Scheherazade when, coming from the large-scale music of the full orchestra, the scale of the symphony will contract, which feels nearly abrupt, because you find yourself caught by the melody of a single violin, played by the concertmaster. To hear it, to feel the notes of the instrument pass through you is like being struck with the awareness that someone in the music has started to cry. And even sound could hold you as an experience of silence. I don’t know what I would’ve wanted then. But the music went on, as it does. It always must.