PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Thursday, March 22, 2012

 

The adventures of a fortune cookie writer, so far

I never expected I’d have writing as a career or, dare I say, calling. Writing initially did not appeal to me much, except as a subject I needed to pass in school. I certainly never intended to be what they'd call a "writer," but entertained the delusion somehow upon reading, on my own, Ralph Waldo Emerson essays and O. Henry short stories in a red Grade 4 English textbook, essay and short story pieces that gave me that profound feeling of wonder at the written word. Ironically, no teacher was responsible for the unexpected interest; like I said, I only stumbled on these works out of boredom at home, not as assigned readings after class. From these two earliest writing 'idols,' I got this notion that written words are not just words -- spun and woven together by the right hands, they can wield spellbinding magic in the mind of the reader. On that fateful day, I felt certainly grateful to become a bona fide reader, but at the back of my mind, I must have had this niggling feeling that I might be able to do it too, to become a magician, with words as my magic wand.

In grade school, I had a classmate, Jocelyn, who constantly wrote down her musings in a diary and composed fictitious stories on stationery paper, and she struck me as extra-peculiar to the point of weird. I think she was an influence, because I winded up like her, as I wrote in my own journal many years later.

For the most part, however, writing was more of a chore. In both grade school and high school, I had written a lot of essays and even enjoyed most of the assignments. I also relished my English classes in high school under a youthful, energetic, and knowledgeable teacher named Ms. Gladys Tan. I had joined essay-writing competitions and won a contest or two inside and outside school. I even became a staff writer for the school paper. But these were something required of me, tasks given to me, and perhaps I was out to prove to myself that I could do them well. The decision to try my luck in being a campus writer, in particular, was born of the desire to have as much extracurricular activities as I could accommodate, knowing that this would be taken into account by the time the honor rankings in class were decided upon by teachers as the school-year closed for the commencement and graduation ceremonies.

In college, I also relished the English classes I had under Ms. Mae Pamuspusan, including the writing exams. But I certainly did not look forward to writing any of those term papers in Ecology and other Biology subjects.

But the primitive thoughts and feelings about writing never left me even if the period of not reading and not writing for pleasure stretched to several years.

***

The first time I tried to write out of my own free will, and only because there was so much time to kill, it was in high school, and it was nothing but juvenile scrawling or scribbling, short diary entries about high school life that, before I knew it, expanded to two or three notebooks. When I left home for college, I sealed those notebooks, hoping to get back to them when I came back. But one day, I discovered to my dismay that they had been tampered with while I was away. I eventually burned them all, in exasperation. I felt violated, for the entries were no-holds-barred, containing uncensored accounts of my high school experiences.

I never kept a diary again, ever, not having enough privacy at home or anywhere. I thought I also had left the world of writing, permanently.

I was wrong. I guess I was tempted again upon reading Outcrop, the journal of the University of the Philippines at Baguio students, where I encountered pieces that moved me and made me wish to pull off the same feat. After all, I used to write in high school, although merely contemplating myself to be writer was a scary thing; the word, I thought, was much too freighted with great responsibility, commitment, and the necessary proof of achievement, say, a novel like Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. I was too intimidated to even try applying for a position in the college paper, although I had joined province-wide campus journalism conferences and contests in high school.

The first time I actually attempted again to write a real essay of my own accord, and just for fun, it was sometime in second year college when I was quite bothered by the presence of so many fraternities in such a little campus as UP Baguio. I wrote about how unnecessary having all those fraternities was, since I thought Christianity was already supposed to be a brotherhood of men. However, after I actually jotted down on paper the first longish thoughts I could claim as my own (about two pages of yellow pad paper), things didn't turn out as I expected. My thoughts sounded too random and incoherent and totally wanting in support points, and was pockmarked with every bit of grammar and mechanics error known to any assiduous student of language. Worst of all, it lacked the necessary conclusion, so I left the sad thing hanging.

Unhappy with the outcome, I felt I had lost it. I had a writer’s block big time for a long time after that, although I didn’t know what to call it at the time.

That single effort convinced me that I could no longer write, save for the requisite term papers, which were quite easy for me. I admired and envied those who could and get themselves published in the school paper, specially the poets and short story writers who were fellow BS Bio students. Subconsciously perhaps, I decided to give up writing, thinking it would never lead me to anything worthwhile anyway. Perhaps I even sour-graped that any effort would most likely not amount to anything.

Innodata Philippines

I was wrong, again. After UP Baguio, my first job involved what else, but writing – lots of it, and supposedly in perfect American English too. Specifically, the task was called abstracting. The company: Innodata in Salcedo Village, in the heart of Makati, the country’s financial district. The client: Humanities Index, based in Anaheim, California, USA. I was so proud to have passed the battery of screening, which of course included writing tests. It exposed me to a diversity of English-language magazines and journals ‘shipped’ from around the world, not to mention to a lot of interesting personalities in the workplace. I was on a roll, in these two aspects at least. Knowledge accumulation excited the nerdy side of me no end, what with the wide array of the most unexpected topics, from magellanic clouds to Nd:Yag lasers, as was having graduates of the Ateneo de Manila and University of Santo Tomas, a long-time magazine writer, and an English major from the University of Hawaii as office batch-mates. I couldn’t believe my luck. I never imagined there was such a job and such a workplace as this, with an American Jew named Mr. Solomon for a boss and English-speaking Filipinos as supervisors. Cindy was my first boss, and she was said to be a former exclusive (high) school principal somewhere in Manila.

In abstracting, I was trained to write in the simplest sentence constructions possible. We abstractors were allowed to use only two sentence constructions: S-V-O (subject-verb-object) or active-voice sentences and the S-LV-C (subject-linking verb-complement) or passive-voice sentences. Active voice simply means the subject is the doer of the action, while passive voice means it's the object that's the doer of the action.

This rule resulted in two types of abstracts, the “informative” and the “indicative” or “descriptive.” An informative abstract is always in the S-V-O pattern, while an indicative/descriptive one is preferred to be always in the S-LV-C pattern. Lifting random samples from the web, I present here two illustrative examples:

Informative:

Article title: Environmental Impact Statement. Federal Register: December 11, 1997 (Volume 62, Number 238). "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Revision of Special Regulations for the Gray Wolf." Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior.

Abstract:

On November 22, 1994, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published special rules to establish nonessential experimental populations of gray wolves (Canis lupus) in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. The nonessential experimental population areas include all of Wyoming, most of Idaho, and much of central and southern Montana. A close reading of the special regulations indicates that, unintentionally, the language reads as though wolf control measures apply only outside of the experimental population area. This proposed revision is intended to amend language in the special regulations so that it clearly applies within the Yellowstone nonessential experimental population area and the central Idaho nonessential experimental population area. This proposed change will not affect any of the assumptions and earlier analysis made in the environmental impact statement or other portions of the special rules.

(from: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/documents/abstract/pop10a.cfm)

Indicative/Descriptive:

Abstract:

Types of female power in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice are discussed.

(from: http://www.indiana.edu/~wts/pamphlets/abstracts.pdf)

Combined Informative/Indicative Abstract:

The photocatalytic properties of ion-exchangeable layer oxides are reviewed. These materials have the ability to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen via solar energy and thus have potential as a means of generating hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Semiconducting oxides are attractive photocatalytic materials. This review, which covers the primary literature from 1980-1993, considers the case of niobate-based photocatalysts, in particular K4Nb6O17, and perovskite-type layered niobates, including those with pillared layers. The catalytic performance of these materials for the photodecomposition of water will be presented. The importance of the surface and bulk chemical properties of these materials to these catalytic properties are described by using the results of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, extended X-ray absorption fine structure, and X-ray diffraction studies on these materials.

(from: http://www.chem.duke.edu/~bonk/Chem37301/Abstract.html)

Soon, the ultra-fast turnover rate, quotas, and deadlines took their toll on me. I eventually found the job too taxing, menial, and thus humiliating. It was all merely summarizations to me, day in and day out: summing up article upon article into one compact and coherent paragraph, with around 50 to 200 words each at P20 per four-line paragraph and P50 for a six-to-ten-line paragraph.

The result of editing work on my output was equally humiliating, for the two months that I was at it. When I found myself abstracting articles on such mind-boggling topics as car tires and forklifts (in the United States, it turned out, every conceivable aspect of living has a specialty magazine devoted to it), that’s the time I began questioning whether or not I landed the right job.

The aloof relationship I had with my older officemates was also not very encouraging. I felt like a hick amid a sea of English-speaking sophisticates, some of whom lunched at the nearby Manila Polo Club.

I also had my first taste of ugly office politics, with backbiting galore and constant complaints of favoritism involving someone’s boyfriend. Viv, the supervisor who interviewed me, left the company only after a few days that I was there. It was quite traumatic for me, and I never discovered the reason why. I was also tremendously hurt when a manager fired me through an email she sent through the office’s LAN (local area network), the email cc'd to all the editors.

After two months, I was unceremoniously fired allegedly because of bad writing. What a blow to this 'writer's' ego it was! I found solace in sour-graping.

Wanting to console me, one my colleagues bitched, “Don’t regret leaving such a place and people.” To her, leaving Innodata was good riddance, due to the office politics. To me, however, it meant everything: Goodbye, employment; hello, loss of dignity.

Asec Philippines – Legal Data Services

Forlorn, I scrounged around for another job, hopefully a non-writing one. But soon, the months of unemployment felt like a stretch of years. My faith was tested by fire. I was brought down to my knees. I even applied against type: management trainee at SM and McDonald’s.

I remember the long months of arduous job search that drove me to despairing thoughts. After a number of devastating rejections, thanks to the march of non-response from the companies I applied in, I found a new opportunity called legal coding, a paralegal work in another firm classified just like Innodata as a business process outsourcing or BPO firm, though it wasn’t called that yet at the time. The company was named Asec Philippines, but our batch of new hires was eventually separated and transferred to some sort of a subsidiary called Legal Data. It was located along Buendia Ave., also in Makati. Our client was a company based in Minnesota, USA.

When I found this second job at Asec, I promised to love it with all my life. To be fair, I did, and I got so scared of unemployment that I stayed for around ten long years, against my own expectations. To be more accurate about it, however, it meant hopping from one project and subsidiary or department at a time whenever I smelled a new writing-related project coming up.

Asec was owned by Mr. Norman, a judge from Texas who was a large-bodied man who puffed Cohiba cigars, loved women, and wore such strong expensive perfumes that the scent permeated the office corridors every time he was around. His son, Evan, took care of the marketing side of the business, Asec International, which is based in Los Angeles, California. The company was co-owned by a Filipino counterpart, Mr. Angelo, who I heard was an influential power-broker from the island province of Bohol in the Visayas.

In the start-up company Legal Data, part of the Asec Group of Companies, we pioneer employees were trained by the Americans who came straight from Minnesota: Michael, Steve, Lynn, and Pam. We were even visited by the stockholders/owners at one time, a Pakistani-American named Mr. Nasser among them. During their visit, they generously treated us to a sumptuous dinner at Kamayan Restaurant, and this little gesture made us employees feel like we were big shots. Our group was supervised by a smart but stern law student from UP Diliman named Melo.

The task of building a paralegal database for the client involved litigation cases that were quite thrilling, as we workers learned about the secret inner workings of mega-corporations. It’s a highly confidential job we’ve sworn not to ever reveal or talk about in detail, except to say that we classified and coded confidential corporate documents according to type, including those from big-name companies.

But I could only handle so much corporate documents over time. Writing-wise, I was not growing.

What do you know – the job soon required document titling. ...Writing, in short, or creating a one-liner abstract of documents, to be more specific.

Naturally, I savored the role of being the top editor of document titles. There was pride in being such a major necessity in the workplace.

But again, over time, the job eventually proved equally draining. The sheer volume of documents to work on was ridiculously superhuman. Rushing the last-minute editing of kilometers of files was not fun come “shipment” time. I wonder how I even survived it alive.

An inexplicable feeling of dissatisfaction gripped my being. Although I had exciting co-workers in the form of mostly youngish, carefree people with a wild sense of humor – and I had my first serious crush here, which everybody teased me about – I did see my future in it, save for a dark cul de sac. Clearly, I had to leave.

My second taste of goodbye was bittersweet like the first, but unlike it, the bitter part here was due to losing friends I had grown to love. My cousin Rey was right when he said it was a lot easier to part ways when you’re bitter than when you were in good terms with people. I have proven it myself.

Ei

When I saw an opportunity to jump ship to a neighboring sister-company that was looking for abstractors, I took the plunge. Even though the task was still abstracting, a job I had thought I left behind for good, it was a new challenge for me all the same, though not exactly a very pleasant one because the very topic left me cold: engineering. I felt it was way beyond my league. Nevertheless, I wanted my writing to be challenged to the extreme.

As in Innodata, I worked on English-language magazines and journals from around the world for a database project called Engineering Index or Ei. Our client was based in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA. The topics were surprisingly as diverse, covering all imaginable subfields of engineering: civil, computer, mechanical, industrial... It was an eye-opening experience to learn about how things around me were made possible using the latest engineering technologies: paper, plastic, roads, railroads, bridges, electrical systems, vehicles, factory workflows, computers, electronic appliances, spacecraft... It made me see the world differently, as I appreciated the body of human research and knowledge that went with every created thing and concept in the real world.

My natural science course of BS Biology in college hardly prepared me for it – but the writing part I could handle pretty easily. I felt authoritative at it. Even engineers, I found, needed a respectable level of writing skills to convey their thoughts, but the existing staff who were mostly engineers were not writers; they were limited to indexing the articles. Admittedly, however, their strength was my weakness. It was a struggle to cut my teeth from day to day into words and phrases that were largely Greek to me. I had to learn to keep up and be updated on the fly. I felt like a freshman student again.

Abstracting, by this time, had trained me to always find the bottom line (the main point, the whole point, the big idea), compress my support points, then discipline my thought so that various ideas will flow together, with not a strand straying or jutting out. This part of writing – thought flow, clarity of mind -- I found, was hard to teach or acquire, and I don't think I'm particularly gifted at it, either. I still struggle with the issue up to this day, especially when overwhelmed with a lot of data.

I also learned that sorting out all that data was best done subconsciously, particularly during a nap or overnight sleep. Our managers, Ms. Ayie Pajarillo and Mr. Sonny Pulido, seemed to understand this aspect of the writing process, so we were always given flexible-time schedules and allowed to literally sleep on the job.

Of course, when I reached the point of exhaustion, giving up was imperative even when the money was good. Money was no match to being physically drained, what with a quota of 20 abstracts per day at P25 per abstract.

Ei, in retrospect, was a case of working hard for the money hoping something better came along. Nothing better came along. It was a hard slog, a long workhorse life, a long procession, with Kuh Ledesma’s song “Dito Ba?” (Is it Here?) as my soundtrack, playing on a constant loop in my mind. I had to ask God where He really wanted me to be and what He really wanted from me, but I heard no answer coming down from heaven.

I was so stupid and self-deceptively stubborn then and too spiritually numb to discern that it was the answer all along. He wanted me right where I was, writing engineering abstracts every single working day, Monday through Saturday. God’s will at the time sounded ridiculous to me, so it never occurred to me that I might as well enjoy every single minute of it. Looking back, I can’t believe where I got the energy to be able to meet the quota at all, though frankly a lot of it was copy-pasting paragraphs I selected from either the introduction or the conclusion or the blurb of the article. At any rate, the money didn’t feel good when you felt like a machine.

As for my new officemates at the Ei project, I liked them as well, even though they were all mostly mild-mannered fellows in comparison. I got pretty close with the guys, specifically Rey (my fellow abstractor), Rolan, and Edwin, who introduced me to Catholic charismatic spirituality and Christian community life. I was even surprised to find Ara here, a fellow BS Bio graduate from UP Baguio. But I somewhat missed the crazy bunch at Asec, the wild and weird guys whose temperament I shared. I eventually quit not because of the Ei guys, however, but because of the job itself. I simply got tired of unnerving engineering topics.

Back to Legal Data, which became Asec Information Technology Inc. (AITInc)

By some strange twist of fate, I found myself going back to the old company of Legal Data. If unplanned events are God’s will, then this must be a clear sign of His will. True enough, I felt more at home this time. And there was even some pleasant surprise: the old boring paralegal work was gone, replaced by odd projects we had never heard about!

In the absence of our old bread and butter, we made do by jumping from one little project to the next, which was just as well, for my weary worker’s soul was crying out for variety and excitement. Soon, I always found myself being singled out to do all the writing bits. Doesn’t this look like a pattern by now?

For this project, our manager, Titay Aranza, constantly communicated with people in the USA and in the Netherlands, where our new projects from a science publisher came from. It felt good being called upon to assist with all these transcontinental (and transcultural) communications every now and then. We made fun of the Dutch clients’ English because it always sounded “barok” or pidgin to us Filipinos, especially those emails from a Portuguese lady named Mercé, who entertained us with lines like, “Please contact to us” (instead of “Please contact us”). We could only be too careful with the Americans, however, fearing a wrong preposition somewhere could lead us to a breakdown in communication.

PsycINFO

One can say jumping ship had become a pattern in my personal work ethic by now, for I transferred yet again when I heard a new project was brewing at the newly renamed company: Asec Information Technology Inc. (AITInc). The new project was called PsycINFO, a psychological information database project of the American Psychological Association (Washington, D.C., USA), a compilation of psychological abstracts and indexes of articles from all over (what else?).

By this time, I could not help but openly lament how, in my long career of abstracting, I had never worked on a single Filipino magazine or journal, much less Filipino articles -- maybe a few articles written by Filipinos for foreign journals, but never a single Philippine publication. Ed Quiros, a library science major from UP Diliman (and fellow Pangasinense) said the reason was that Philippine publications did not go through the rigorous peer-review process. That was quite embarrassing to know. Caught in a state of denial, I refused to think Filipino academics were that dumb or backward.

Anyway, I enjoyed this one immensely, because it made me explore the mysteries of the human mind, what made it tick, and what happened when there was a glitch in the ‘system.’ One thing I can distinctly remember is that we abstractors read a lot of studies involving all sorts of monkey, lemur, and ape species. I also met here fun new officemates: Ana, Erwin, Connie, Jo Ann, Anton, Herbs, Mykee, Bel, Annie, et al. We became fast friends and often went out at night.

Embase

AITInc., or AITI for short, also handled a medical indexing project, and I lent a hand in the precoding stage: choosing which documents should be indexed and classifying them by type.

One of the most memorable episodes at AITI is being mentored by a tall and lanky British bachelor named Mr. Kuchenbaker, a friend of the big boss. It was quite a challenge dealing with his British accent, but he was generally pleasant and affable. But our relationship was short-lived as relationships with certain officemates soured, and Mr. Kuchenbaker was caught in the middle of it.

All the while, I was like an atheist or agnostic: I kept on asking God what He willed for me, not knowing I was complaining with an irksome constancy. My prayers had become the same tired refrain by now, tried as I might to be a good Catholic: “God, what do you want from me? Are you pleased with me where I am and what I am doing? Because in all honesty, I am not. I am dissatisfied because I believe I deserve better, I can do more. If you are pleased with me, then why am I here, always complaining? What is your plan? Why are you not taking me to greener pastures? I did my part. I tried. Don’t you want me to take care of myself and my family better than this? Am I being unfair, greedy, ambitious, selfish, impatient?”

But I'll be honest. Had He actually said, “This is it!” I would’ve wailed with a long, steely no and openly declared rebellion. I came from a poor family, you see, so I wanted very badly to get rich, quick. After all, I had been a hard worker all my life. I thought I deserved something better. I felt I should hit the big time at this point, for I was not getting any younger.

Throughout all my abstracting jobs, which are technical writing jobs, one can easily accuse me of impatience, but this sort of job is nothing if it does not require great perseverance. Writing and keeping on writing while you did not feel like it was like munching on glass. I had to give myself a little pat on the back. Were I good at sales, I would not have minded abandoning my unintended ‘profession.’

Honestly, though, I saw myself as an also-ran, for if I was really good, I figured I should be writing for the papers and magazines, or teaching writing at a top Manila university. Or at least finding a job at the leading PR and advertising firms. Nonetheless, I was strengthened by the thought that not everyone could write, or write as well as I could, at least in my workplace. I learned this personally, when I was tapped to screen and train wannabe abstractors, particularly in the Ei and PsycINFO projects, where a long parade of applicants failed my imposed standards. I’m sure those I failed saw me as a terror or monster, or maybe I was power-tripping, but to be honest, I knew at first glance whether an applicant-writer could make the cut or not: If the writing flowed smoothly, it is good.

Popline, etc.

There were many other projects in between that I was asked to test-drive, pending pricing negotiations between the top guns. Popline was the most exciting by far, for it was about population control science, an iffy affair I wanted to know more about. Popline opened my eyes to the activities governments and organizations worldwide busy themselves about.

Other test jobs involved topics I did not care much about were: textiles, water science, and aerospace technology. When not busy, I was asked to index for other medical-related projects, but it was in the writing tasks that I found meaning and purpose in life, if I must find one.

These test projects opened my eyes to the enormity of opportunities in the industry that is now called KPO or knowledge process outsourcing, to distinguish it from BPO, which is limited to backroom operations. In contrast to BPO, the work product in the KPO sector is the main product itself. We were barely scratching the surface of a giant iceberg of business opportunities. To this day, I wonder why Filipino firms are not maximizing their chances to win such projects, given the availability of local workforce, especially the new college graduates, and the long-term nature of the business. After all, in a globalized culture, no one ever stops producing and compiling new information. KPO jobs are simply inexhaustible, knowing the steady avalanche of new data, studies, information, or researches piling up day after day in a research institution of a given country anywhere in the world.

***

One fellow abstractor has pointed out that one unexpected thing about abstracting is that it is like playing God, the Omniscient One. The cheeky statement struck me as true, for it is expected for an abstractor to be somewhat omniscient, just so he could write passable, i.e. believable, summaries of any topic, even those that never occurred to him to exist.

Soon, the time came when I had to get really tired of abstracting and possibly writing altogether. It helped that age-old office relationships had to end as well. I, together with a bunch of others, parted ways with Titay and her closest circle for reasons best forgotten.

When I handed in my resignation letter, I did it with uncharacteristic gladness, but not before a new job landed on my lap (but more on this later). Again, is this again a case of God’s hand intervening in my own private affairs?

***

Meanwhile, in retrospect: Throughout my stay at Asec and allied companies, I, a weak-kneed believer still kept on questioning if I was at the right place at the right time. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had long been offending the Deity I professed to believe in. I attempted several times to escape, to seek the proverbial greener pastures, but mysteriously, I either felt punished or was met with a resounding rejection. The various doors closing on me (McDonald's, United Coconut Planters Bank, Philippine National Oil Company, PR firms, etc.) for a non-writing position I was seeking tasted like an astringent, as though to tell me I should have trusted, not doubted, God. I was instead presented with other alternative opportunities I never imagined coming my way (because they were too unappetizing in terms of both the nature of the job and the financial remuneration): I drifted from one project to another, as though enslaved by the wheels of fortune. In jest, I could say I have been a fortune cookie writer.

The most tempting offer of escape came from the US Embassy, thanks to former officemates (Anna, Rina, and Erwin) I was on friendly terms with who had transferred there earlier. It was to be an administrative job, a non-writing one (finally!) with opportunities of training in the United States (travel out of the country!). Unfortunately, the juicy offer came right when I was promoted to supervisor at Asec, with a Php19,000 pay excluding the written and unwritten benefits, which were quite a deal. Of course, I could hardly resist, stupidly saying yes to my then long-time boss and friend when we were still in good terms. I wondered for a long time if I did the right thing of choosing Asec instead of the US Embassy.

But dwelling on the might-have-beens was pointless. Moving on was far more attractive. After about 10 years, I quit without regrets and hoped I would also retire from writing, or at least the kind of writing that I did.

Writing for media publication

Before quitting Asec, the lull at work, when it did come, often offered me the temptation to try my hand at writing for mainstream media publication. The inspiration came from envy, I must admit. Erwin one day showed off a glossy, artsy magazine that carried an article written by his girlfriend, something about her first-hand encounter with a college frat ‘rumble’ leading to bloody murder. A mix of admiration and envy, anger, and self-pity roiled in me as though I was in a blender. The combination of odd feelings left such a strong impact that I thought, “I can do this too! By God, I will show them all!”

Submitting essays to Inquirer

When I smelled the slightest opportunity, I jumped at it like a hungry eagle would. I snail-mailed maybe around thirty essays to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the top broadsheet in town, hoping to get published in its new Opinion page section called Youngblood, which sought contributors from all over from the thirtysomething-and-younger crowd. The section was a hit among the youth. At age 27, I got lucky.

After so many attempts, one fine day my long-winding piece titled “Bored at 27” was approved for publication. The next few days would be heady days for me, filled with greetings of congratulations. Nobody knew I petitioned an unknown saint dressed as a bishop in Baclaran Church for this one, making a pilgrimage and touching his toes, for this purpose.

Getting one’s words printed on paper was like winning essay-writing contests of old. It reminded me that I was an essayist before who had won a string of contests, the height of which was winning a province-wide essay-writing competition sponsored by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Dagupan City.

Perhaps I was trying to prove that my ‘luck’ was no fluke, because I kept on submitting articles left and right. Pretty soon, I got published again in the same section. The next break I found, if I am not mistaken, was in the Inquirer's Travel section, to which I submitted a travelogue on Sagada, which I wrote and reworked on in between work for at least a couple of months. I felt giddy going to work being greeted with the news by officemates. Getting published in the biggest paper in town was addictive, I found. I could get used to this, I thought. I promised myself to go back to that saint whose identity I was not even sure of, except he looked like someone who reached higher education. (And I did, but I still couldn't ascertain his identity.)

Being an Inquirer ‘contributor’ was a watershed event in my writing life, a big break, for who can argue against the real deal – seeing one’s creation actually laid out on a widely circulated medium for everyone to read? I tried to be humble, but the feeling of high was so great, like a drug, that I had to remind myself that I remained essentially a nobody, a nothing, when it came down to money matters, particularly the amount of mammon expected of me at home. I was not complaining of the P800-P1,500 fee for each article that got the green light, but the irregularity of being published did not constitute a viable livelihood. It was more of a hobby. I had to accept that bitter reality.

I tried my luck at other sections of the paper, until I found myself landing on the pages of Sunday Inquirer Magazine, Lifestyle, Business, Youth, and People at Work (spelled People@Work) sections.

I got published the most often in the People@Work section under the editor Ms. Regina Reyes, whose editing of my work was minimal, I’d like to point out, like all the editors who looked over my work. I was able to publish 25 pieces here as “Contributor.” One would easily get confused whether or not I was a regular columnist, for there was a time I was published almost every weekend. Who would have guessed what my first article was in this section, but one titled “I got fired through e-mail,” which was about my baptism of fire at Innodata involving one of the bosses.

Each chance of my work seeing print felt unbelievable, considering my belief that I had indeed lost my writing talent a long time ago, and that I never dreamed of getting published someday in a paper. The knowledge that I could indeed write – essays at least -- gave me tremendous encouragement. I believe I earned the title ‘writer’ by this time, and I am grateful to the Inquirer for giving me that break. I remained shy about the mere thought of appropriating such a title, though, because I held the word in high regard. I believe it had to be earned further, if not conferred upon me by the reader.

This nonetheless gave me the confidence to try out other publications that interested me outside Inquirer. When Alma a.k.a. Gorgeous, the most ardent fan of my writings at Asec, told me to join this travel-writing contest at a major (that is, nationwide) competition (of Inquirer), Philippine Star, I tried hesitantly, out of fear of not ever taking on the chance and the fear of losing. To ensure a place, I submitted maybe around ten travel pieces, carefully rewritten from my old articles. Happily, I won the seventh place, and was rewarded with a free two-day-three-night trip and accommodations to Boracay. It was not a bad win at all, for a competition of its kind. I was encouraged further to write on.

I never joined any writing contests or even those competitive workshops except for this one time. I avoided awards because I had an early-life issue with honors and awards. I thought they damaged me so early in life by making me feel superior to others and viewing others as inferior. I should not think that way, I know, but I had had my taste of awards, yet I never felt satisfied or happy with them. I am far happier being actually read by many, from my opening sentence through to the end. That’s a far better reward or award or prize for me. Early in life, I guess I have already discerned that I wanted to be loved for who I was, not for what I did or could do, not for the medals and certificates I brought home, not even for my writing ability.

The only writing workshop I ever joined is one by the highly esteemed Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, a top Filipino novelist and essayist and a teacher of creative writing in English at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. It was a paid-for “creative writing” workshop conducted in cooperation with the old Ayala Museum near Greenbelt, Makati. Boy, did I learn a lot from this woman in such a short period of two or three days for only Php2,000. Creative writing, I would come to know, was the reverse of abstracting. You give the whole point of the writeup only when you are ready to make the whole point, and preferably in an oblique way. Whew! But I learned to love creative writing.

Blogging

Around the year 2000, I also discovered blogging, thanks to Dean Jorge Bocobo, an Inquirer columnist I often followed despite finding his views provocative, if not unpalatable. One day, Dean, the infamous (because contrarian) atheist physicist, announced that he was writing in this blog of his, so I just had to find it online.

I liked what I saw. The blog, as a medium, felt like a writer’s haven to me: no editors, rejection slips, word limits, space limits, topic assignments from a higher-up, strenuous revisions that mangled paragraphs, or any restrictions whatsoever except one’s own. I even had quite a wide audience who willingly obliged with thoughtful but often audacious feedback in the comment box. It was an exciting time in my writing life, a wonderful side trip that would prove to be a long-haul one.

In the blogging world, I met a number of fellow bloggers of various political stripes with whom I exchanged views and comments. The relative anonymity it afforded, now called “disinhibition effect,” felt liberating.

Magazine writing - Fudge

My newspaper writing and blogging spilled over to other online writings (i.e., on websites other than my own) and magazine writing, mostly feature and opinion writing. I found myself writing for a glossy magazine called Fudge, thanks to a veteran magazine writer Anna Gan whom I met in an online writers’ egroup who was working for the Manila Bulletin, the publisher of Fudge magazine. It was not a very popular magazine, but I found the type of writing I did here to be even more enjoyable than newspaper writing, for I was allowed to be brash and bold and creative, as were my photographer and graphic artist counterparts who worked diligently on every piece I submitted.

There too was glamour in being printed on a glossy page, on paper that was not recycled as fish-wrapper the next day, with fine pictures shot by professional photographers and professionally laid out, too, with cutting-edge design done by special art consultants, not to mention editing by veteran journalists. The actual work was largely online, through lots of email exchanges. I only got to meet in person Anna twice, both during magazine celebrations, wherein I was within intimate distance with a lot of celebrities in the music and entertainment world.

I also had a brief stint writing CD reviews for Jay de Jesus’ TitikPilipino.com, a Filipino music fan website. I took up the challenge through Asec officemate Tammy who knew Jay, not just because of the free CDs he gave away, but also to challenge my writing anew, to tease it out of its comfort zone again, by writing about something I was not really an authority at, although I had always been a music lover. (Not hardcore, maybe, but a lover nonetheless.)

Opinion and feature writing in a magazine seemed to be my niche, if I must have one, until my thoughts were found to be too offensive and the offers stopped coming.

That was okay. It had a good run; it was fun while it lasted. But I had to be true to myself, I thought. I did not mean to be offensive; it was just that the content simply could not be compromised.

I guess I was no longer writing for the money or approval at this point. I was being my own man – take it or leave it.

There was quite a number of other rejections after that, and it was not a very enjoyable thing for anyone for one's writing to be rejected. I shifted all my efforts to blogging, where I continued to express my honest views freely. As a blogger, I tried to be everything: reporter, investigative journalist, editorial writer, features writer, travel writer, theater reviewer, book reviewer, music reviewer, art critic, film critic, political analyst, opinionator, technical writer, fictionist, tell-all diarist, weather reporter (albeit tongue-in-cheek), humorist, spiritual writer, linguist, glossary author, health correspondent – name a newspaper section, and I have tried writing an equivalent “post.” The only thing I could not do was sports writing; I only wrote about sports to make fun of boxing and Manny Pacquiao and myself being a non-sportsman.

Maybe I was trying to be like Jose Rizal, my childhood’s biggest influence, or at least a fraction of him. In blogging, all my other influences came to the fore, from the earliest inspirations (apart from Rizal, it was O. Henry and Ralph Waldo Emerson) to the latter-day (Oscar Wilde, Lawrence Durrell, Truman Capote, Vladimir Nabokov, et al.).

By now, it was more than clear my kind of writing would just not bring home the dough, so to speak, and would not bring me much following either. I had to find another way to make a living, if I had to survive.

I kept on trying all along each time a window of alternative opportunities presented itself, but for some reason or another, my applications were roundly ignored or rejected just like my initial attempts. I also tried infiltrating the copywriting world because they said it was where all the money went, but for some reason, I never made it, as though I was blacklisted by an entire industry.

As for blogging, it was habit-forming, like diary-writing of old. I felt like I was an old hand at it. Soon, however, it felt more like talking to myself.

Eventually, I found blogging to be humbling. I was but a mere drop in a sea of wondrous talents from all over the world, with new brilliant ones being discovered almost every month.

Netsourcephil and Smarthinking.com

In search for a 'temp job' after leaving Asec, what would I find but yet another writing job? Groan. (Or not.) A friend and former officemate, Anton Lee (a Chinese-Filipino surgeon), offered me an online English writing tutorial job at a company he had just started up. It was called Netsourcephil, and the client was Smarthinking.com, which has a headquarter in Washington, D.C.

I was among the pioneer online tutors or “e-structors” in Manila. It was a charming new opportunity -- still writing, yes, but definitely a change of direction, a breath of fresh air. Even if I really didn’t feel much qualified and confident for the job, being a trilingual, non-native speaker of English, I passed the screening. Who was I, a Filipino, to teach Americans their own language, right? The mere thought of doing the job gave me immense pride. There was no harm in trying, I thought – I’d be here for a few months anyway, or so I thought.

In a brief period, I learned a lot of new things and was exposed anew to a lot of cultures. I tutored not just native speakers but also US immigrants from all over the world, mostly college and postgrad students. It was like I returned to high school and college, and tried taking master’s and a stab at a doctorate degree at the same time. It gave me a feeling of high to learn not just about the technicalities of writing (comma splices, nominatives, subjunctive mood, etc.), but also about the national dish of Bosnia, what Sikhs feel as marginalized citizens, how to skin and cut a deer hunted in the wilds of America, and so on. The variety of topics I had to handle was even more novel and mind-boggling. Some days gave me terribly boring subject matters, but otherwise the topics were oftentimes exciting.

But a few months turned into a few years, to my chagrin. I guess I enjoyed the job too much, not to mention the pay: Php100 per an average of three-page student essay. Measly, even very low, in my estimation, but not that bad if you worked on a quota of 10 essays a day. In short, I got stuck with it.

It was only a matter of time before I realized that tutoring was a thankless task that required no less than missionary devotion. The quota, pay, and time it entailed, not to mention the sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise), were killing me by the time I decided to go slow and eventually give up.

Data Gateway Philippines

A chance encounter at the MRT with Rey, my friend and former officemate at the Ei project, saved me from encroaching unemployment and destitution at a nervously advancing age. I found myself getting hired at Data Gateway Philippines (DGP) in faraway Quezon Ave., Quezon City, owned and operated mainly by University of the Philippines-Diliman alumni who quit their former company and now competitor and nemesis with much rancor, allegedly due to conflicting opinions on labor or union issues. Guess what the name of the company was: Innodata, which happened to be ‘my’ first company. I instantly clicked with the DGP people because of that shared past. The world I revolved in – the local KPO world -- proved to be quite small.

My stint at DGP was brief and quite unenjoyable, mainly because the company felt like a start-up and the commute was quite wearisome. From my place in Parañaque, I had to take a tricycle, a jeepney, then the MRT at Magallanes up to Quezon Ave. Then I had to walk a distance of 500 meters long to the office.

Furthermore, I went back to the toilsome task of abstracting, with probee status and measly pay to boot. After the pride of reaching supervisor status in Asec, it was so humiliating. I worked on a UK-based chemical industry database project under a layer of supervisors who edited my work.

Despite the downsides, I had to give it to my new colleagues: they were wonderfully kind despite being the sharp people they were.

Pretty soon, I was showing my age by committing errors that made me look like a hapless neophyte. I was so stressed and unhappy with my poor showing and slow learning curve. Maybe it was time to finally reconsider livelihoods.

However, I met here a desk editor from Ninez Cacho-Olivares’s paper, the Philippine Tribune. His name is Alvin. We always ate together at lunch. His newspaperman or journo (he used the word “diarista”) stories were instructive and entertaining. I envied his experience as a desk journalist. I wondered whether I could be one, too, given the chance. I felt sorry to leave DGP because of interesting people like Alvin.

Back to the old grind, at the old company, now called EMCI/EISI (Engineering Manufacturing Company Inc./Engineering Information Services Inc.)

Just in time, while I was feeling low, Anton, who owned the aforementioned tutorial firm, was on the phone one day, offering me a new job at the new Innodata (now renamed and split into three companies). The offer was too tempting to say no to. He said he was now a manager of a new project there. The project and position was still a demotion, being non-managerial, but I liked my new title: “Copy Editor” of medical articles for a US-based website offering evidence-based medical articles for doctors and the like. I worked with Nen Q., a bright and fun new Journ grad from UP Diliman, along with Treece, a clerk from Cebu, and Cesar, a librarian/archivist who also used to work for the broadsheet Manila Standard.

Anyone can perhaps predict the scenario at this point. The sheer length of medical monographs to fix spelled drinking tons of three-in-one coffee for me, and major burnout. In between constant thoughts of quitting, I was singled out for test jobs too, as in my life of old. Among other things, I did travel-guide writing and worked on another medical editing trial project. Meanwhile, I found myself working with cranky doctors who were themselves seething inside the pressure cooker of a job. And...our overseas editors were a bunch of straight-talking American Jews who went back home to Israel (Innodata has an Israel branch) and who minced no words when demanding to know why an error was committed.

asianTraveler magazine

By this time, too, I was doing actual travel write-ups for a magazine as a sideline. The magazine, asianTraveler, is owned by Mr. Gabby C., a resident of Merville Park Subdivision, which is near my place he's practically my neighbor. I got the ‘gig,’ thanks to tip from its editor-in-chief, Candy V., who was a reporter and fellow contributor at Inquirer’s People@Work section and later editor of an independent People@Work news magazine that our editor Ms. Reggie R. put up after she quit the paper. Her pet project post-Inquirer, unfortunately, floundered right after the launching. At asianTraveler magazine (yes, it is officially spelled that way), I finally experienced real media/journalist work – going out to gather data at the source and interview people – although limited to lifestyle matters and one that made leisure a serious job. Of course, this was a great new opportunity for me – travel to exotic locales, review of high-end hotels and fine-dining places, meeting people in the upper crust of society.

When Candy gave up her post due to pregnancy and the souring of her relationship with our publisher, Mr. Gabby offered me the editor-in-chief position, but I had to decline, knowing all the deadly stress involved. All I acceded to was the Associate Editor position.

I still write for and edit the magazine from time to time, if I like the assignment and if there is time to spare.

Other writing 'gigs'

In between what we freelance writers (Kitty Go, the freelance journalist, used “bottom-feeders”) called ‘writing gigs’ such as the above, there were other writing opportunities for me that were sources of little pays, or shall I say hidden wealth: editing grad school papers written by friends of friends of friends, which was not too often, to be fair. The compensation was paltry, of course, but good enough to tide over the constantly poverty-stricken.

Church-related writing work also keeps me occupied from time to time. This one is always gratis, and I gratefully oblige, thinking it to be both a duty and a privilege.

As for my blogging non-career, I’ve become unstoppable, a total addict. It’s like that old joke about Pringles – once you pop, you can’t stop. Still, I have to admit I was happiest and most satisfied, professionally speaking, when I got published in mainstream media or anywhere I was read widely while writing on matters I really cared about, not topics arbitrarily assigned to me, but in which my work went through several layers of review: fact-checking, initial editing, proofreading, and final editing. I miss being published widely again and again. The sense of professional validation is far weightier that way.

However, I realize that my wish to become a full-blown writer, in fact, had already been fulfilled without me being aware, through my works online and the social media. Again, I missed the message of the times: online media/social media is the new media.

Back to Innodata via an Australian nursing website

When the medical website work was gone due to nonrenewal of contract and souring of company-client relationships, I was quite thankful, though scared. It meant taking on a new project that might not be to my liking, and worse, not according to my job description, as indeed it was. When my worst fear happened, it was back to agonizing times. But through fervent prayer and the mercy of God, another project came along like rain in the summer.

For a nursing website based in Australia, I had to rewrite the daily news Monday to Friday for a section of the site that aggregates the news that are of interest to Australian nurses. I am writing this recollection from this current position, a job position that’s another big demotion for me, because I have been doing this since Day One: write and rewrite abstracts. It makes me somewhat depressed that I had to return to this kind of job at all and I was expected to be thankful it is not some kind of SEO (search engine optimization) writing, which would have been even more draining and thankless for me. Am I being ungrateful, or being so presumptuous as to believe I am capable of something more?

I am not sure where this will lead me next, but as the Joseph character in my favorite musical Joseph the Dreamer sings, “If You lead me to the where, I will never have to need the why.” I am currently at the point of trust, trusting that where I am right now is where God wants me to be, where He thinks I will live my life to its fullest possibility, and any alternative I could think of would be an inferior choice. It is tough, but it is a decision I had to make, so as not to fall into the trap of chronic self-pity, and despair.

Right now, I am thankful I can afford the luxury of thinking about the wildly dreary ride I had taken, writing-wise: Resigning from my BPO job brought me to another BPO job, then to another, and another, as though to say I was too good for local positions. (The truth probably was I did not have the right connections, unlike others, or that I didn't try harder.) To put it more technically, I had jumped from being an abstractor, to paralegal coder and corporate document titlist, to abstractor, to abstractor again, to newspaper contributor, to blogger, to magazine and website writer (including music reviewer), to online English writing tutor, to abstractor again, then to medical copyeditor, to travel writer, and now news rewriter.

Postscript

Through all these bread-and-butter jobs and sidelines, I noticed how I constantly served foreigners’ writing needs, which was sadly ironic, if seen through pessimistic lenses. Through it all, there's this back-of-the-mind wish that I was working for my own country and people instead, for, after all, it was here where I worked. The truth is that the reason could be more selfish than that: I wish my own country and people would actually see a need for me.

The strangest twist is that I am now back in the company where I landed my first job, although on an entirely new project. Still, it was a writing job where I always ended up, a job that never left me in peace, tried as I might to let go of it.

On a more positive note, I do find myself in some 'extra-curriculars' or unexpected writing sidelines these days. Again, I am still either being driven or asked to write, but I am happy to note that I don’t even chase after these little jobs. I guess years of ‘investing’ in it have afforded me the funny situation of jobs being the ones chasing after me, and I having to turn down most of them, pleading exhaustion. For the most part, it involves editing papers, if I am not writing anonymously, for free, for this and that cause I happen to believe in. (If I compiled all my works written anonymously, I would probably have at least two or three books-full.)

Apparently, writing loves me so much that it has never left me, even if I have been constantly a doubting Thomas, always wondering whether it's for me, or whether or not I would finally get rich if I left it entirely, and whether I was really good at it.

I am too old now, I’m afraid, to even bother wondering, or to start anew, and I am based in Manila too, a place overflowing with the choicest talents, with fresh batches year in and year out coming in to join the job market. I do not feel like I have done enough of my duty as a Filipino citizen and as a human being, for I honestly feel that I have yet to achieve anything of significance, that I have yet to reach my fullest potential. But I do not know what else to do in life apart from writing.

I would like to think I can do more at midlife. Surely, there is more to life than being hunched over the computer, my face lit up by an electronic screen, my eyes straining to a blinking cursor?

This lingering doubt, through it all, is especially troublesome, if viewed on a spiritual plane. Although I pursue to have a simple-minded or child-like faith, I have never stopped wondering whether I made the right choices and decisions or not along the way. I suspect this seeming rootlessness comes from a lack of parental affirmation. What did my mother and father think of me and my writing? Since my mother collected some clippings of my articles, I could sense an amount of pride, but I could also sense both of them are unhappy with the turn of events in my non-career. It has not been bringing home the bacon, so to speak, just bones and gristle, slim pickings that come in self-deceptive sense of imagined fame, illusory honor, and fleeting glory (actually vainglory).

The guilt is made into a full-blown guilt complex by my being an “iskolar ng bayan” (non-euphemistically, a tax-subsidized scholar) who had to pay up the debt that accumulated from four years of free college education, with stipend.

The resultant anxiety of not meeting social expectations often brings me to the hard questions I have been avoiding all the while: What has happened to me in the first place, 20 years after school? Here I am still single at 41, and feel I have achieved nothing, at least according to my parents’/family’s and society’s materialistic standards. Most of my contemporaries have gone abroad, each with a solid career, a house, a car, a wife, and kids of their own. How did I end up with none of the above? Why? What terrible transgressions, if ever, have I committed to deserve my lot?

Simple human logic dictates that, if there’s someone who needed to work abroad, it is me, and yet here I am, stuck here at home in the Philippines, and funnily enough, serving foreigners too without ever lifting myself from my ergo chair. And I don’t even have anything to show for it. In my most despairing moments, I am capable of thinking myself a failure.

It's also true, however, that, at the back of my mind, I had been hoping I would never be faced with the option of going abroad, believing that I could somehow make it here. But against my fervent wishes, that didn't happen, bursting my bubble of pride.

I do manage to pick myself up, each time, to be fair. I bounce back with thoughts that I am not doing so bad at all. I just have to remind myself that I have been blessed with a lot of things that many people are not. I only have to take a long, hard look at my interests, the things that give me a thrill. Calling myself a failure would be a big lie because I have at least one achievement in life, although it is also the biggest risk I have ever made: having an open and trusting relationship with God, and facing and finding myself in God.

As a writer and as a person, this can only spell success, for it means I am able to write about anything because there is no ground that I fear to tread on. When I met some of my old friends, I noticed how most of them have never changed; the same weaknesses I saw back then have remained alive all through these years, as though nurtured and pampered like an infant. That’s the time I realized I had been blessed much with self-awareness, though I tend to forget that in moments of weakness. Writing gave me that, at least.

Indeed, the amount of subjects I can write about with conviction is a silent testament to the richness of my life. An envious person would have a lot of axes to grind with me. If I focused on what I have – great experiences, although sufferings galore included – instead of what I don’t have, then I am a very rich man indeed. I forfeit the right to be depressed.

What good, then, is doubt for? The doubt, I suspect, comes from a lingering dissatisfaction out of the sense of being still very much alive. I guess I will always be dissatisfied with my work, especially my perceived achievements, and accomplishments as long as I live. Maybe the real problem is me, that I have set my own standards too high.

In any case, I, then, hereby reiterate my preference to trust my homing instinct, that where I am is where God wants me to be, even if I don’t feel like it mostly or some of the time. In faith, I shall step back in times of doubt and choose to trust that this is the best for me at the moment, far better than where I thought I should be. In faith, I trust that my 'blind' surrender will be rewarded in the end.

There is another problem right now, but it is more of a practical nature: It is the problem of nichelessness, the failure to find a writing niche after playing God, which is tiring for all the obvious subterfuge it requires. The game of playing God, I found, is absurd because “the more I know, the more I know I didn’t know,” to steal a line from a National Geographic ad, and "the more I know I didn't know I didn't know," to appropriate a line from the Landmark Forum. It is very humbling to find out how there is an entire academy of experts out there in every field of specialization, while here I am growing to be this proverbial jack of all trades and master of none.

I can probably, at the least, find consolation in one of my favorite essayists of late, G.K. Chesterton, who was a great generalist, the great collector and connector of various strains of ideas. Maybe there's a niche in there, too.

Then again, my experience with specialists is largely cautionary. Though their work is very important, their knowledge is so specialized they tend to miss the bigger picture. They often fail to contextualize their accumulated knowledge in relation to other specializations. Of course, only God has the ability to be the perfect generalist, but we humans can try, if we are intent in seeking the truth. We can try to increasingly integrate knowledge, working from the integration of 'holons' (to use Arthur Koestler's coinage) of specialized knowledge accumulated through the generations. In the ever-evolving field of psychology, for example, researchers are continually surprised at how knowledge in the field continues to evolve, as new breakthroughs are discovered within a few years of each other. The same thing is true in the field of medicine and computer technology.

For some reason, I find investigating ‘truthiness’ particularly fascinating, so maybe there’s a niche in there, too. Maybe it comes from the natural revulsion for lying that the very act of writing is allergic to or obsessed about; for what is writing if it is not discovering the truth, and when found, proclaiming it, or maybe an attempt to arrive at it, or at least close to it?

Oh, but investigative journalists and writers of all stripes seem to have long beaten me to it, or to anything for that matter, and I was just following their lead.

Sometimes, I wish I were abroad, or wonder whether I’d ever get to be, as everyone in my family (and extended family) hopes for. Like I said, I have been working for foreigners all my life anyway -- I might as well line up at the Department of Foreign Affairs for a passport. All I am left to do now is teleport my body to a desired destination. Just as it is obscenely funny that, of all people who should be abroad, it has not been me, like I have said, it is also obscenely funny that, of all people who stayed on throughout, it had to be me as well.

But I am a realist, even though oftentimes on the pessimistic side. Those among my contemporaries who are abroad now have long had established roots, or came by way of ‘anchors,’ or family members who had immigrated long before them. I had no such a connection, except for an uncle and a number of first cousins, who could not do anything for me even if they would love to help.

If I had to be very honest, though, I would hate to be working anywhere but here. There is great happiness and satisfaction in serving one’s own people. Maybe it's the thought of giving back to the place and the people to which and to whom I owe my whole life and formation. (I wonder why I was never given the chance, especially a position in government.) But if my 'body of work,' if I can call it that, can be a form of service, then I will be deeply honored to offer it as an oblation.

But why obsess with giving back, with returning the favor, with quid pro quo arrangement (as though to exchange something for something)? Have I been writing for the honor and the glory, in order to be loved? I'd like to think I have been writing because I love to write and that it is my own way of loving, and that I am loved or always will be whether or not I write or am good at it.

My ardent wish at this moment, therefore, is that, no matter what job I'll be having next (I don't know what what else to do, but surely the universe has something in store for me), I wish it will not have anything to do with writing again. ...For I wish to write on, not as a job, not as means to live. I wish to live in order to write, for a change, but only because it's my real calling.

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