My family and friends often ask me why I take a trip of 40 kilometers, including a 15-minute pumpboat ride, from Guimaras Island to Miag-ao, Iloilo, every day just to study literature. Yet the biggest question for them is not the distance I travel, but the reason I am taking this course.
In a generation where high school graduates aim for a practical course (which will provide them not only a stable job but also a huge salary), it is rare to see students enrolling in “nonmarketable” fields of study such as literature, history, sociology, etc. It is unfortunate that the youth nowadays sacrifice their passion and become money-driven individuals. I was also tempted to take that path, yet I was lucky enough to be saved by the books that continue to inspire me every day and the words that fuel my passion.
Literature was actually my first choice, but with my mother nagging me to take another course that would help our family financially, and the fact that literature would not provide me a life of comfort in the future, I had second thoughts. I was also distracted by the amount of money that some of my relatives earn as businessmen, doctors, nurses, chefs and seafarers. That was why I had written “marketing” as my first choice on my college application form. I was already standing in front of the University Registrar when I grabbed my student profile card and changed my course to literature. I didn’t know what came over me at that time, but until now I can remember the happiness I felt when I went out of that office.
My first semester as a college freshman was difficult. Except for the fact that I had a lot of readings to catch up with, it bothered me that our campus is located in a rural area far from home. So I often cried at night, being homesick and wishing I had taken a different course in a university in the city.
I made a lot of adjustments to survive the first semester. And I also decided to live at home instead of in an apartment, which is why I have to travel 40 kilometers every day. The second semester was worse because three out of four of my batch mates shifted to another course. Arnel and I were the only ones left; we tried to be steadfast in our choice of course despite the temptations that bothered us all the time. We were tortured by the questions and statements of shallow people around us: “What are you going to do after you graduate?” “Do you really want that?” “That is not a course, that’s a hobby.” “You won’t earn money through that.” “Writers are poor.” “Literature students are crazy, lost and eccentric.” “Shift or take another major.”
And, of course, the most popular of all: “Why literature?”
I coped with all their comments and answered their questions, not with words, but with a smile. I did not want to get into trouble arguing with them, but there was one question that really made me burst into rage: “Is that good enough for you?” I replied with these words: “That is not the question. The question is if I am good enough for my course. I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I know one thing for sure, and it is that people like you are not good enough to live in this world.”
I sounded really harsh, but my feelings had piled up. I felt better afterward, knowing that despite all my uncertainties, I am sure that I love my course—and I am prepared to defend it.
My high school reunion also added to my misery. I graduated at the top of our class and I was also the president of our student body, so much was expected from me. My former classmates started bragging about their chosen fields of study and announced how they saw themselves after college, while I slouched in a corner wishing no one would torture me with those comments again.
Eventually, one of my former classmates asked me what I was taking at the university and I answered plainly: “Literature.” They chorused: “Ha?” (a shortened “What is that?”). I was not surprised by their reaction because I get something like it all the time. But their question was not really “What is that?” Of course they know what literature is. What they were really asking me was: “What will you do after you graduate then?”
After much laughter I mentioned a couple of jobs that I might end up in, and I summed everything up in one word: “LIVE.” And they all laughed again.
This is what I should have told them: “Why literature?”
I was greatly inspired by this quote from the book “Walking a Literary Labyrinth,” which was written by a nun named Nancy M. Malone. It talks about the spirituality of reading as an act of meditation, and how words that are absorbed and transformed into imagination cleanse and allow the mind to grow.
Like any other reader, every time I open a book and start reading, I am transported to a different dimension which steals me away from reality. It seems like I forget how to breathe and I start inhaling the words I read. This is an experience that I always want, and this is why I know that literature is what I love. Nothing else matters.
Poems, short stories and novels change us. Literature changes my life again and again, and this is how I want to live.
In the present, I’m proud to say that I have gotten through all my doubts and insecurities. I’m now in my fourth year as a literature student. My struggle was not mostly in my academics; it concerned the discouraging thoughts and words I encountered every day. Until now I admit that I don’t have the perfect answers to those comments, and I am consequently bothered by the fact that I may not find a stable job in the future. But I never regret that I took literature. Yes, I am filled with uncertainty. I am not even certain if I can graduate on time, but I know that I am HAPPY and I know that the rest will just follow.
This is something that I would like to share with the future graduates of 2013 and every soul whose heart is enslaved by luxury and money: You should always follow your passion because the pressures in life will be spelled as “pleasures” if you love what you are doing.
Danielle Lenaiet Dolar, 20, studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas (Miag-ao, Iloilo).