The faith chronicles

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Adventures in unemployment limbo

How did I come to this? I can’t believe I have reached this place at all. It’s all quite disempowering, especially since it had to happen to me right after attending a series of talks about empowerment, transformation, and all that.

It’s true I sometimes battle anxiety and panic attacks at home, but I’m not totally disabled. I can still hold down a job, so I should not feel totally useless. Yet, here I am hobbled by exactly that kind of feeling, as Manila’s job market seems to have left me out. To think the job market has changed: it hasn't exactly shrunk; in fact, much of it has gone online and thus has gone global and borderless.

It’s true my own unique situation imposes hard conditions: I have been looking for a job that is online and home-based that I can do at my own time because the daily commute stresses me out, making me dizzy and hypertensive. I am at least gunning for writing, editing, and even proofreading projects. These are a lot doable these days, supposedly; I know the market is out there. But because I am also asking for a steady source of income that way, which I know is a lot demanding, I am met with difficulty. Yet even this demand is not impossible. I know I could hack it, if only I could tap into the right market: clients from all over Metro Manila's offices and universities, and beyond, just waiting for me. Because I've been a long-time blogger, I can even do blogging work; just spare me the repetitive jobs like SEO writing. There are many freelancers like me out there, it's true, but I strongly believe there's also an entire multitude awaiting our assistance. Like they say, it's a big world -- there's more than enough to go around.

I am incredulous at my situation because it’s totally unbelievable. No one of my stature at my age could possibly be jobless. I am a UP graduate and a DOST scholar, too. The knowledge and experience I have accumulated in my field in my accidental profession as a freelance writer is nothing to sneeze at. Just like most of my contemporaries, I should still be seriously at work, saving big while enjoying the fruits of my labor, among which is imparting the knowledge I had gained in my 20s and 30s. And yet here I am.

As I sit inside a 7-11 branch along Merville Access Rd. waiting for the right break, I can see my raison d’etre staring at me in the face. It comes in the form of a billboard hanging near a David Salon franchise. It says, “Stamina Fitness Center. Specialize (sic) in Women’s Body. Services Offered: Loose (sic) Weight. Gain Weight. See Upstair (sic!)." And that's just for starters.

“See,” I convince myself, “I am not totally useless yet. I can still copyedit, or if worse comes to worst, proofread.”

To be really accurate about it, I wasn’t totally left jobless after I lost my job at the last company I worked for. The truth is the Australian client in our project suddenly backed out because of change of plans, and Innodata, to be fair, offered me another project. The problem is the new schedule being offered was an option that would have killed me at the time, given my sensitivity to heat and humidity. Moreover, there’s the other option of continuing my tutorial work online. The problem with this one is that the work is too demanding intellectually and too stressful to handle because of the time frame for each essay I have to work on. This part-time job always left me feeling exhausted, causing my blood pressure to shoot up to dangerous levels. As well, I could still probably be a contributing writer in several media outfits. However, I know the tight deadlines would be oppressive. Besides, the pay in media writing leaves so much to be desired. It was never a source of sustenance, to begin with, that’s why I treated media work as more of a hobby. Simply put, I need a bread and butter, a stable, because steady, source of income.

Lastly, I had clients now and then, as a freelance writer and editor – my friends, mostly, who needed someone to edit their work or help with their graduate school assignment. But with this arrangement, I could hardly make both ends meet. I have bills to pay, among other responsibilities, and since these are my friends, I tend to accept starvation pay. Charity can’t keep my body and soul together. I need stability more than the kindness of favors.

What I get instead, in the face of the certainty of financial obligations, is some great uncertainty. One can just imagine how anxiety-inducing, even panic-triggering this is. Where, pray tell, would I get my next meal, and I mean literally? “Will I lose my dignity? Will someone care? Will I wake tomorrow from this nightmare?” (Yes, I am quoting Rent, the musical play.) Even if I could ask cash from a few members of my family, that would be too embarrassing for me. I know it's a matter of pride. All my life, I was the giver, and because of my background, I am loathe to tell any of them, “It’s payback time,” because I’d like to think I gave because I wanted to, without any preconditions, and not because I was bound to get something back. At least that's an important lesson I want to teach everyone. I found that it’s utterly humiliating to ask my siblings for anything, even if they are my close siblings, because they each have their own obligations, too, and as I said, I don't want to impose myself to them as another obligation.

Frustrating and embarrassing is the ensuing disability to give, no matter how much I wanted to give anything to anyone. I want to be the one providing for my parents in their old age; I'd endure all that complaining it entails; no, I will try very hard not to complain of compassion fatigue by thinking of my obligation as sacrifice by choice. I want to be able to give anything in support to any family member having a birthday, wedding, and the like. I too find joy in giving nice things to other people I care about.

At this point, perhaps what I need to practice more is to receive, without any trace of embarrassment or humiliation because of pride.

I have tried searching for jobs online, but so far, I have been unsuccessful. I tried Odesk, Craiglist, Freelancer, and Elance, but I have yet to find something of interest to me. And with the closest project I had found to have potential, did it have to be a ghost-writing job for an erotic material ("How to give oral sex")? More than gasping at the prospect, I laughed, and incredulously said to myself, “God, why this, of all subjects?” I knew I couldn't hack this one.

But, yes, this desperate situation has forced me to swallow my principles a bit. When a friend requested me to write her paper for her because she was too busy to do it, I had to say yes, even though a part of me was revolting at the very idea of cheating her teacher. I am a part-time English writing tutor, not a ghostwriter of term papers. To what lengths of ridiculousness will I be subjected to next? I hope I have tanked out, I hope I have reached bottom.

Right now, here I am writing down my heartache in the middle of trawling through the vast ocean of social media, hurling lines and hoping to catch small fish, or hopefully big fish.

Snapped back to square one, back to job-hunter mode, all the thoughts of rejection and uncertainty from the past are coming back one by one. I am particularly reminded of the jobs I longed for but didn't get: The teaching position I was hoping to win at my high school alma mater, Pangasinan State University, College of Education, any of the office positions I was expecting to snag at the Department of Science and Technology and its many allied agencies, the researcher position at the Philippine National Oil Company, and so on. There was also the high possibility of a good job with great benefits at the US Embassy, which I forsook in favor of Asec, and the attempt to be a media regular for the long haul, which did not happen, for some reason (my media writing career was in fits and starts, especially when I discovered blogging, where I could write anything I wanted in any way). A few years back, I also tried Landbank because I have many backers there, but I failed even at this latest attempt.

One of the things I learned from being jobless/unemployed is that it is impossible to live without money, and very difficult to live without a steady stream of income. I have learned to let go of my wishes and desires and make do with what’s available. I had to forego malling and my cherished time at the café with friends. I had to let go of movies, concerts, and plays as well, which can cost an arm and a leg. I had to refrain from buying new clothes; I couldn’t afford it anyway. If I prefer a bath soap with aloe because of my dry skin, I had to make do with the usual soap that everybody uses. The same goes with shampoo, toothpaste, and other everyday things at home.

I had to account where every peso goes to. My typical day is not expense-free. It means spending for the following immediate needs: vegetables and fruits, meat/fish/canned goods, tip for the garbage disposal guy. Lest I forget, I need to spend for the following in advance if I have to stay alive, and sane: rice, water, mineral water (because the tap looks suspicious), electricity, other kitchen essentials (cooking oil, spices, condiments, etc.), Internet, gas, maintenance medicine, bathroom essentials, newspaper (because I don’t like watching the news and reading news online tires me out).

If there's anything positive about this, perhaps it is that this has driven me to feel for the jobless much more intensely than before and those who lose their jobs at the snap of a finger with zero safety nets. I can say in all honesty "I feel your pain," because I have gone through it personally.

Where do I go from here? I am now officially a soul of an unbaptized child, waiting for redemption on the wings of uncertainty.

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