Date posted on June 21, 2006

Last week, after watching “The Lakehouse” (starring Sandra and the ageing Keanu) and dropping off Che, I met up with my friend Jarell and decided to have a round of beers in Kalye Juan (Tomas Morato). We were sharing work angsts. He was contemplating leaving his job in Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK), and he wanted to unload on someone lest he commit to a decision with nary a thought and end up regretting it. I gladly obliged, and took the opportunity to unload some of the work baggage that’s been weighing down my shoulders. Indeed, misery loves company. And San Mig Light.

Jarell has been working for MMK for almost as long as I’ve been with Star Cinema. He started as a researcher, and now works as the show’s head researcher. It doesn’t sound like it’s a big step up, but it actually is. For weeks now, he’s been feeling a little stifled by the work load and the erratic and unstable income. He tried consoling himself by looking ahead, by exploring the possibilities in store for him, only to be disappointed cause there might be none. He looked at his seniors who, in Jarell’s words, blew off their youth in this same job he’s holding. It took them years to get where they are now, resident writers for MMK. He looks at them and sees how sucked out and wasted they are, and Jarell’s suddenly not too sure if all this is truly worth it.

I asked him what his options are if he was to leave MMK. He’s thinking about leaving for the Middle East to work in a hotel. His relatives tell him that he only needs to train for six months after which they are sure to find a job for him. It’s not like Jarell has been dying to get into the hotel industry, but the hefty pay check the job promises to reward him will at least provide him the security he’s been looking for. Being passionate about your job just isn’t enough. He’d love to stick around as a writer, but right now, it’s just not sensible to do so.

Our conversation corroborated the prevalent restlessness symptomatic of kids my age. Even friends with fatter salaries in other jobs don’t feel like they’re getting enough. Imagine how much worse it is for us who try to live off creative writing. Jarell thinks I’m lucky cause my mom’s well-to-do and there to supplement the unbelievably low compensation writers like me in the Philippines get. But what of the future, when my life’s completely my own and there isn’t my mom’s wealth to rely on anymore?

In writing, there isn’t a ladder you can climb up, unlike in corporations. There are no rungs to step or hold on to to pull yourself higher. We’re not assured of salary increases every X number of months of service. Rarely are we given the statutory benefits most employees get.

In writing, it’s just about you and your work. Years of writing can improve one’s craft, but it doesn’t guarantee an increase in one’s value. Companies (in this case, TV stations or film outfits) may hold you in a particular esteem, but in the end, it’s still about your work. If they don’t like what you hand to them on your deadline, you’re asked to revise or put out of commission altogether. It takes a lot of laborious years to build on a good name, but it only takes one bad draft to be of ill-repute.

In writing, there are no tangible standards for excellence. One cannot be guaranteed a promotion after writing for a certain number of years, or after being published, or after a film you wrote grosses over a hundred million in the box office. For starters, there isn’t a higher position to promote a writer to. But more importantly, excellence can’t be measured because the whole business of writing, of creation, is subjective.

I feel restless because of the uncertainty. Or perhaps because I’ve always thought that good things come to those who are patient, to those who deserve it. This epiphany about the nature of writing as a profession tells me that you don’t always get what you deserve. I want to do everything I can so I can remain in the industry, scribbling and imagining and creating until my dying breath. But it isn’t all up to me, much as I want to be the one in complete control.

On top of that, I want to feel secure. I want to be assured that pursuing this passion will yield to a bright and fulfilled future. That I’ll be okay for as long as I work hard and believe in my capabilities. But it isn’t all up to me, much as I want it to be.

Jarell admitted that even if he ended up leaving his job, he would still want to return to it. There is still nothing he would rather do than write. He just wants to earn enough so he can focus on what he loves doing in the future.

All of a sudden, our conversation was interrupted by this commotion. A guy whose mouth was bleeding came running down from the bar above Kalye Juan. He was shouting for help, asking the men on the ground floor to block the door and not let his pursuers out. In a few seconds, four other guys appeared. Apparently, they were in an altercation upstairs. Something about the guy with the bleeding mouth being maangas. The ladies from both groups desperately tried to keep them off each other, but the four guys were too inebriated to listen to reason. The girls asked the security guard from the bar we were in to intervene, but the guard said,

Di po sa amin yan, di ako pwedeng basta makialam.

The customers on the other table immediately fled the scene, afraid they might get involved. I told Jarell to stay put, sure that they wouldn’t involve us unless we did anything stupid to call attention to ourselves. So Jarell and I just sat there to watch the ongoing ruckus.

The bleeding guy, in a major blunder, decided to take refuge inside Kalye Juan, where we were drinking (I was thinking, kundi ka ba naman tanga, e di lalo kang na-corner. Dapat nagtatatakbo ka na lang o nag-taxi paalis.) Naturally, the drunken quartet tried to follow him inside. All the Kalye Juan waiters retreated to their kitchen. The girl who was with the bleeding guy stayed outside Kalye Juan, inserted her arm through the door handles to keep it shut, and tearfully begged the drunken quartet to have mercy on her friend. The drunken quartet was relentless. It was a glass door, so they could see their target with his tail between his legs, wailing,

Tama na, please! Sorry na nga e…
(comment to self: “Ang yabang yabang kanina, titiklop din pala.“)

They were less than a meter away from Jarell and me, who were still lounging on our chairs.

At this point, some of the other original customers from Kalye Juan had started goading the bar’s security guard (the same one who washed his hands off of any obligation to get involved) to do something about the disturbance. His earlier excuse had been rendered inadmissible since they were actually inside Kalye Juan already. He was duty bound to protect the bars customers and employees. The guard reluctantly took his gun from its holster. But one of the guys saw him and started shouting at the guard,

Ano, ipuputok mo yan? Ipuputok mo yan!? Sige nga! Sige, iputok mo!

The guard just backed off. Obviously, the guard wasn’t a believer of sticks and stones hurting the quartet’s bones, cause words were enough to hurt him. I then noticed one of the guys pick up an empty glass from the table nearest to them. That’s when I finally asked Jarell that we better steer clear of any flying shards or ricocheting bullets. Things were getting out of hand.

The exchange of shouts lasted for a few more minutes before being capped by one of the quartet throwing the glass at the guy when glass doors opened wide enough to allow his hand inside. The glass shattered to pieces, but fortunately hurt no one. And then, the quartet was gone.

The bleeding guy lingered inside the bar for a few more minutes before emerging. By then, the rest of the customers who witnessed the hoopla (us included) were just already talking about how the policemen are always too late the hero. And then there was the security guard! Talk about being useless! We rarely see security guards in action, but I’ve always had faith in them. This would’ve been the best time to show his wares, to finally get some piece of the action, to live up to his sworn duty. But he just backed off. Probably more afraid of hurting the our tormentors than potentially getting their innocent patrons hurt.

Which only proves my point that there is no real security in this world. Whether it be in our careers, our future, or in bar brawls. We can only do so much, and the rest, faith will have to account for.