Laura Samson, retired sociology professor at the Philippines’s national university, passed away recently. She was the first of my book publishers to leave, and ironically the youngest. Our association stretched way back to my undergraduate years during the military-dictatorship era, when she conducted a kick-ass writing workshop for the sub-rosa student writers’ collective I was in charge of. I made sure to take her popular-culture class later for the Philippine studies master’s degree I never completed, and congratulated her on her appointment to the University of the Philippines Press. She gave the most invaluable practical advice when I informed her that I was accepted to a US doctoral program despite the expiration of my Fulbright grant: finish everything, including the dissertation, before returning home, or else accept that you will never be able to complete the program.
It was during my last visit during my graduate-studies years when she insisted on an extended merienda at a café near the press. She asked me about the books I’d written, so I described the first and second and how one differed from the other (demonstrating some chronological development, or so I hoped). She responded by mentioning how she convinced O.D. Corpuz to allow her to publish his monumental study of Philippine economic history by working on an earlier manuscript of his, and then she came up with the clincher: she wanted a book out of me, during her term as UP Press director. Of course she recognized that my grad studies had to remain my priority, so we should look at existing materials that I already had on hand – term papers, reports, notes, and the like.
I mentioned the classes I took (I was ABD by then) and the papers I wrote for each one, as she scribbled on a piece of paper. After my recollection, she presented me with a structure, essentially a ready-made table of contents. I forget the exact proposal she prepared, but I was astonished: this was the way our grad-school advisers were telling us to get our dissertations ready with minimal suffering, by writing papers that could serve as chapters. The first of four sections that she suggested focused on formalist arguments, but I wound up jettisoning some papers here (as well as in the other sections) and incorporating the others in the other three sections – specificities, subjectivities, and sexualities.
This was how I came up with Wages of Cinema, a book for which I hold much ambivalence. I told her why I thought it suffered several lacks and lapses, but she brought up a crucial insight: no book (and this includes any thesis and dissertation) will ever be satisfactory enough, and the ratio of the author’s discontent will be in direct proportion to its ambition. Through the years, with several titles preceding and succeeding it, WoC remains the book I have the most complaints about, even though I’ve been able to draw forth several journal articles, my dissertation, and my first book monograph from it. But I’ve also learned to keep Laura’s admonition in mind: like having an unruly brood of siblings or a classroom of restless students, the most gifted will invariably cause the most headaches.
What unusual mentors I’ve had, and what an exceptional one Laura was.