You’re Here Because You’re Good

By Guest Author

Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

I received my acceptance letter from Hedgebrook in December 2013, a few months after I earned my MFA and returned to the Philippines with the intention of finishing a draft of my novel while living rent-free with my parents. It came at a time when I felt the pressure to prove to those who knew me that I was not flailing around after getting my degree or falling short of their expectations.

Fellow writers cheered me on as I laid out my plans to postpone my re-entry into the workforce for a year while finishing a draft of my novel, while well-meaning relatives and family friends asked me if was planning to use my degree to get a “real job”, meaning a full-time teaching job at a Philippine university that would leave me with barely enough time to accomplish what I sought to do. Without the same writing community provided by my MFA program to help strengthen my resolve as I pursued the unconventional path of creating a career out of my writing, I oftentimes felt as though I were mistaken in assuming that I was making the right choices for my life. Yes, I was reporting for work every day at my childhood desk, but would anything come out of it? Would anyone even care about the quiet progress I was making with my novel if they weren’t seeing a finished product?

I applied for a residency at Hedgebrook on a whim shortly before I returned to the Philippines, and when I received an email from Vito Zingarelli with a subject header that read, in capital letters, “Congratulations on your Hedgebrook Residency”, I burst into tears. To receive recognition for my work at this particularly confusing moment in my career meant that somehow, I was doing things right.

I came to Hedgebrook in the spring of 2014 with few publications under my belt and the odd feeling that I would not get along with the small group of women writers whom I would meet at the farmhouse table for dinner later that night. I was jetlagged, and I wasn’t surprised to learn at dinnertime that I was the only non-American in the group. Being a writer from the Philippines, it was quite hard for me to believe that I deserved to live in such a beautiful place, to have my own quaint cottage where I could write to my heart’s content, to wake up every morning in my loft bedroom to watch sunlight pouring in through stained-glass windows, and to have all these delicious meals prepared for me. I can no longer keep track of the times I’ve been told by Filipino writers, “We cannot be published in America because they do not understand where we’re coming from.” And yet, in this American residency program, I had been given this beautiful little cottage deep in the woods, and all I was asked to do was write.

“You’re here because you’re good,” the playwright Dael Orlandersmith told me when we ran into each other outside our cottages on my second morning at Hedgebrook, and she couldn’t have chosen a better time to tell me this. I had just told Dael about wanting to visit an estranged friend in Seattle, a fellow writer from the Philippines who had visited me in Austin, Texas while I was doing my MFA. This friend had rolled her eyes when I shared my dreams of becoming a published writer and, like many of my writer friends, claimed that it was impossible for Filipino writers to make it in America “because they do not understand our English”. While my estranged friend held onto this belief, I was determined to prove her wrong, and as the reality of my Hedgebrook residency sank in during my second morning at the farm, I remembered my friend whom I had cut off, and felt that by just being where I was, I had somehow betrayed my friend. It was a strange feeling that I couldn’t quite explain but Dael told me about how, as an African-American woman, she understood how it wasn’t rare to lack the support of one’s own community when choosing to be successful at one’s profession, especially in writing which is often viewed, and rightly so, as a profession of the privileged. On top of this, as writers of color, we are oftentimes made to feel as though “we’re only here because we add diversity to this program.” “You’re here because you’re good,” she repeated to me, and whenever my own self-doubt crept up on me as I wrote at my desk overlooking the woods, I found comfort in her words.

As I got to know the other lovely women at this residency who labored over their novels, stories, and poems in the privacy of their cottages and took walks around the beautiful grounds of the farm, I realized that I wasn’t alone in being plagued by self-doubt. But Vito and the staff at Hedgebrook were there to remind us that we deserved Hedgebrook’s generous hospitality and that we were there for a reason. Hedgebrook was created to give women writers the opportunity to believe in themselves, to believe that they, too, have a place in a literary landscape that oftentimes feels dominated by men, by white writers, by Westerners. It extended its generosity to me, a Filipina writer writing stories about her own people in her own little corner of the world. I came to Hedgebrook at a time in my life when I needed to be told that I was on the right track, and that it wasn’t overindulgent or delusional of me to want success as a writer. And I still believe that I deserve to be where I am.

 

Learn more about the Writers in Residence program: www.hedgebrook.org/writers-in-residence/

 

About the Author:

Monica
Monica Macansantos was born and raised in the Philippines, and earned her MFA from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. She has been awarded residencies at Hedgebrook and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. Her work has appeared in Day One, The Masters Review, Five Quarterly, Longform Fiction, Aotearotica, and TAYO Literary Magazine, among others. She is currently a PhD Candidate in Creative Writing at Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, New Zealand, where she is working on her first novel. In other news, she has recently signed with a literary agent. Her website is monicamacansantos.com and she tweets @missmacansantos.

 

 

 

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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