Thursday, February 09, 2012

how we are relevant

A few days ago, I was invited by one of my old university organizations, the Writers' Club, to talk about the relevance of a Creative Writing degree. Well, "invited" is a bit too strong - more like, the original speaker was sick and offered me up as an alternative in his place. And since I am currently gainfully unemployed, I figured it was no skin off my back to pop by and talk about writing. Of course, it didn't help that I only saw the message past midnight, and so spent a good 15 minutes after I finished doing what I was doing at 2 in the morning (and no, it is not as dirty as it sounds) just scribbling down talking points.

To be quite honest, the word "relevance" in and of itself is problematic, simply because (a) it doesn't seem as productive as it is when you're not in school anymore and (b) I think that you are only as relevant as you make yourself out to be. So basically, if you're a lazy sod with no job and no future, then it doesn't matter whether or not you received a degree in molecular biochemistry from MIT. You will be irrelevant.

But like what myself and my co-speakers (both Palanca winners and infinitely more relevant that me, in my opinion) said, it's not so much the degree that is relevant, but what you bring to your writing. CW majors have this chip on their shoulder, like "I am so much better than everyone else because I Write" and really, that's not the case. Some of the best writers in the Philippines and elsewhere have been doctors, teachers, anthropologists, biologists, social scientists, astrophysicists. Writing is a vehicle, a tool, to convey what one learns and feels and thinks about the world we live in and about the human experience.

Personally, I don't think a CW degree is relevant in terms of getting a job. It's not relevant if you want to earn enough to feed a family of four. You need to arm yourself with something else, with some other skills set, you need to thoughtfully and consciously and ethically build up a network that can help you use those skills to earn some money, and then use the spare time to write. I mean, let's face it: not everyone become full-time writers. And even full-time writers do things other than churn out novel after novel after novel: they make music, they put up awesome YouTube channels with their brothers, they write episodes of Doctor Who.

If asked, I think that creative writing as a pedagogy is important because it teaches craft, and craft is important. All the great ideas in the world will be useless if you can't communicate them in a way that is understandable, poignant, and beautiful. People focus so much on content, on "life experiences" that sometimes craft falls by the wayside. But then again, craft is not the be-all, end-all of writing, and let's face it, you can have all the craft drilled into your head but if you're not inclined to write, if you don't have the impetus of producing something at the end of the day, then there's no point.

Creative writing is not a relevant degree because people take it up out of love of the written word, the consequences be damned. In that sense, it is not as relevant as, say, computer engineering or management or business administration. But in terms of contributing to something larger than yourself and your immediate concerns, then yes, writing is one of those activities where we try and figure out the intricacies of the human experience. But in doing so, we need to remember why we write in the first place, because it is that thought that will sustain us, that will make us pursue this love of telling stories. Because, let's face it, human civilization began because people said "Hey look, hunting and gathering and making and bearing children is not enough. Let's sit by the campfire, drink some alcohol, and tell stories."

And a thousand and more years later, we're still doing the same thing.

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