20 10 2009

One thing C loves is publicity—and tons of it. Not that it’s an entirely a bad thing, but as a national-based government agency that deals with the culturati, I think there are much better things to focus on when making releases such as the second lease to life of the dying ethnolinguistic groups and their traditions. Although C’s brainchild projects are good, I think we ought to give others the spaces they deserve as well as to inform the general public about our function.

“If it hadn’t been for me then the name of our agency wouldn’t be known!” C would rant in the middle of her random preaching. She’d look up at me, and wait for my approval. I’d look at her and wait for my cue then nod vigorously as a show of respect and understanding.

My officemates, who are twice my age, and who thought that the printed stockings that I wear to work are seriously out of style, think that C is some kind of a genius. She’s smart, yes, but I always have my reservations.

When I was an idealistic college student, I thought that there was only one way for me to go–to be a published writer. Our Journalism course generally frowns on public relations and press releases, as in layman’s terms, these only serve to “highlight the good things” of a company. But in the end, I got employed in Public Relations–my first job that was offered to me by one of my good-meaning professors.

At first the experience was amazing. There were tons of work, sure, but these stuffs were inane materials and I was itching to learn more.

And learn did I, that after seven months of employment I am beginning to see the truth in the words of my professors in college. Now I know that I didn’t become the writer that I aspire for, but I became a writer to “please people”.

“You have to put their names,” C said, “You have to make them feel good.”

Before I knew it, the press release turned out to be a litany of names. Had you been a Catholic who regularly prays the rosary, then you’d know that the press release became a home for the less-than holy personalities–people who love to see their names on the paper at least once or twice in their lifetime.

No longer will I be a “bringer of truth through the power of pen”, as my given name suggests, but I will be the “people-pleaser”, something I never thought I’d be doing in this lifetime.

“Why won’t you quit?” A friend asked me one time. She wasn’t exactly a close friend, if relationships can be defined by friendships, but she was the only one who was there who listened to me when I started ranting. “If all those things happen to you then why won’t you quit?”

Her words hit a nerve, but I didn’t want to quit just because of all these things. Negative or not, I am determined to make the most out of my job and I am not a quitter. I want to survive her type that later on, I’d be able to survive all the other type of bosses out there and maybe someday I’d shout out to the world that “I SURVIVED!”

I learned.



15 10 2009

After C flew to Paris for a meeting, the office had considerably been a much peaceful place. Telephones still ring, but of course, there was nothing of the exaggerated orders and demands that required miracles to flow in an endless stream. But she still called her secretaries from time to time, asking whether the UN-led program had been written down in a press release. W said that I did, his girlish voice hindered by exaggerated coughs.

“She’s doing it now.” W said over the phone. He listened to the girl speaking at the other end of the line, occasionally attacked by superficially loud coughs.

I looked back at his jungle and smiled at him. When C called, I was already on my third press release, with the general PR done, as well as the Luzon and Visayas PRs. I turned myself into a story machine, repeatedly rehashing the general PR and the previos pre-event release I wrote yesterday.

There was an urgency and I felt it. I thought that maybe if I wouldn’t be able to publish one release for this week, then I’d be cut from the government agency I work for. Not that I mind that much, personally, but I mind what other people will say if I ever got evicted from work. You see, they got loads of expectations and I failed them all.

And so I was given an explicit order, that I must be able to publish one at all cost within the period of her Paris visit.

“Ever since that crazy R left, there hasn’t been any press releases published,” She told me yesterday, running her hands through her silver hair. “I have always egged him about releases and ever since he left, there hadn’t been any.”

Of course there were valid reasons why our releases hadn’t even been touched by newspaper editors and the likes. For one, ever since her inclusion in The List, the newspapers have turned cold and they wouldn’t even take a look at it. The newspapers that used to publish releases have run whole-page flak stories regarding her controversial ascent to The List. She had once asked S and me to produce releases ever since R left on scholarship and I was itching to tell her that, “Madam, not even one release made it to the papers, even though I wrote tons of them as you had instructed. All of them are more interested in what the concerned activists were saying about your proclamation.”

But yes, she’d bite your head off.

Second, this national celebration never made it to the lifestyle pages primarily because the person in charge of sending it to the newspapers had come in late, refusing to even step at the office for personal reasons. I count laziness in many of her/his absences but s/he remained unshaken.

And so with the absence of R, I was left to juggle two jobs, three even. First is the Friday issue, second is the press releases and third, the job of R. The first two are part of my job description, the third I’m not particularly sure.

R’s job is basically to oversee the office, write speeches and messages for C and V. There was even a time where he recalled that he had to study the previous’ chairman’s style of writing because that ex-Chairman cannot be satisfied with flowery yet empty words. While the overseeing part is passed on to his officers-in-charge, W and S, the writing part was left yet again to me. A nest, a pail, a casket, a basket—whatever you want.

Writing messages is like writing shit. Sometimes I’m so dizzy I just resorted to stupid flattery and empty flowery words to appease the people in need of it. It’s generally harder than writing press releases and featurized articles for the Friday issue, or maybe it’s just because I don’t have the aptitude to learn things like that. But whatever the case, it became harder and harder for me to juggle my responsibilities, some of which had virtually disappeared from my memory.

“I never put my name if it’s not done tastefully!” C said to me on one of my editing trips to my office. It had already been my fifth visit to her office for a single editing job of the message I had written and yet I could never reach her standards. Then after the sixth fat-reducing stair exercise, she finally conceded and signed the message. *sighs*

Then Ketsana and Parma hit our country with unnatural force, killing hundreds of people, the death toll still rising even after three weeks of entire devastation. Naturally, the press balked at flying over the the C province, and moreover, the news is Ketsana and Parma. Had the releases been pegged on these typhoons, then these would have inevitably found an easier avenue for publication. See, all the private organizations bent at making a cut at the public always had something to say about Ketsana. Lifestyle pages carried side by side stories on the devastation of Ketsana, so why can’t we do something about the flood victims, too?

It’s a funny fact that she’s an advocate of the environment, always lecturing us needlessly about our role to preserve the environment and prevent climate change. It’s been speeding up and we have no idea at all how to stop it. But while she seemed to have fostered this deep-seated concern for the environment, she seemed to have lost her sensitivity to the plight of the people victimized by the flood. It seemed as if she had forgotten the weight and reach of the damage of Ketsana as she went on with her life as if nothing happened.

“We have to clean up the country, especially our shores.” I remember her saying in one of our meetings. “It’s such a pity to let a beautiful country go to waste.”

I knew she was correct, that we have to act now or lose it all forever. But in all reality, what she had forgotten about Ketsana mirrored the hollowness of the lectures we have received about the environment. We knew that, but what can concern for the environment do if one does not have compassion for his fellowmen who are subjected into a compromising situation?

I may be doing grave injustice against her by writing these, and I know that she may just be getting older, that’s why she was so “enthusiastic” about making her mark in the world. But should I just attribute it to her age? It’s risky to write this but she’s a two-faced woman–not exactly a good role model from a personal point of view, but she’s also an inspiring force that produced writers, actors, and musicians.

Maybe someday I could write about her life—she had tried to pimped it to the press thousands of times I could even recite it for you if you want. But there are a lot of things I still like to share about my work, about C, and about things in general. While my life is not made more exciting by the presence of a man, I could say it’s pretty hectic and stiff and competitive.  The existence of a man doesn’t matter at this age and time. Maybe later when all the things I overlooked begin to take shape.

Playing God on a smaller scale

15 10 2009

The phone rings—an early morning disturbance. I check the clock, let the unwanted phone ring for a few times, and, mindful of the silence around me, I picked it up. A disgruntled woman answered, asked me for my identity and I said that I was a refugee after three minutes of stuttering and confusion.

I stood up, and not far away from me sat my laptop, Megumi, who pulled an all-nighter for my Friday article. (Yes, I gave her a name) It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, but I liked how it was written because the subject of my article, a gay senior citizen was as interesting as he could get. An award-winning local author, FR was a fountain of ideas and fresh philosophies on educating a nation shackled to its colonial past.

Truthfully, I was sure that I’d turn it in by the morning of the 14th. And I was pretty sure that with whatever angle I decide to take up with his transcript, I’d still end up with a good story. He was a no-nonsense humorist, his tinkling laughter even singing songs of educative literature and artistic outputs. What I was worried about was how my boss would take it all in–seeing that C was a people-pleaser and an unconscious politician. For sure, there would be some more inserted names of people who were not directly involved, but there nevertheless.

By eight in the morning, I finished the story. With my cold coffee sitting at a small stool, I climbed up to bed, lied down for a bit and rolled about. After a while, I stood up and tinkered with my files in the hopes of relieving an early-morning stress. Thirty minutes later, I headed to the bath and decided to dress down for the rainy day.

I arrived at the office and before I could even turn myself in for the whole day’s work, the phone started ringing. And boy did it ring so noisily~! When I picked it up, C’s voice blasted over the phone.

“Where are all the people in your division?!” my boss, C, screamed over the phone. “Get up here immediately. Especially S and W!”

Ugh. Deafness will be the end of me. To deal with an early-morning stresser is not exactly my cup of coffee, but I have no other choice.

I took the stairs and went in. I heard C’s voice booming from the other side and I felt a little scared. I have, over the course of seven months, been the receiver of her subject-less rants and anger.

“Is she angry?” I asked C’s secretary. “She was looking for W and S but they’re not here yet.” E was in her 40’s, with a daughter and she looked a little harassed.

“I don’t know, she’s been like this for quite some time now.” E said, and I must have looked scared because she immediately wrapped me in a hug. “I feel bad for you. Don’t worry we’ll be here to cheer you on.”

I walked over to the connecting door. It was ajar, so I listened to C rant again. “I’m telling you to put it like this. Get a good picture for this!” The screaming and frustrated sighs went on for a couple of minutes. When she calmed down a bit, I entered the room.

“Edit this,” was all she said.

And so I did.

But the day cannot end in smiles when C’s around because she’s demanding miracles from her understaffed division. For starters, she had earlier ordered us to change the whole lineup for the Friday issue to give way for a United Nations-led campaign and a national celebration. I have already submitted my article on a Sunday to keep me off the fringes on the days to come, and then there was this. Secondly, when she said she wanted it changed, I immediately cornered FR for an interview which yielded good results. Third, she sent another division to cover the event in the national office, with our division lacking a photographer.

Mfatty, a division head, called us up in the office. (I wrote Mfatty for easier reference because there’d be another M later)

“Is PC there?” (PC does not necessarily stand for her name, just a random title, say, Print Coordinator) Mfatty asked. She wasn’t so I said no. Then she asked who I was.  So I answered.

“We can’t send anyone to take photos of the event.” She ventured. “What we can do is lend you the camera and send someone to take care of it.”

Alarm bells sounded in my head and I had a funny feeling they’d ask me to cover it. My heart broke. My eardrums no longer functioned.

“There’s no one here to take care of it for the moment. We’re all packed.” I reasoned out.

“Oh.” There was a funny silence. “So, can you just cover it? We can’t send people there now. If they take bad pictures then we’ll be at the receiving end of Ma’am C’s anger.”

“Ha?” Was all I was able to say. “Ma’am C is asking me to rush things. And we’re still going over the Friday issue. I have press releases to write.”

“Press releases?” She asked. I didn’t know what she meant by that, but judging from her tone, she must have thought that writing press releases and going over the Friday issues are basically easy stuffs to do. Well if you can produce a miracle in a fraction of a second, then that’s easy stuff.

My officemate, M, went to lunch and dimissed the whole thing. I, on the other hand, couldn’t care less because there were things I still had to do—all of which should come first in my priority list.

I had lunch, then by the afternoon, with my half-baked press release sitting idly on  my workplace, PC called me up to say that Ma’am C wanted my FR article rehashed into a straight news. I was incredulous.

“Are you serious?” I asked over the phone, mulling over the impossibility of writing another article. “Then, this would look like a press release, a litany of names!”

“Then just don’t put your name as a byline.” was all she said. Then the sound of silence.

I did as she instructed, harrassed though I was–because putting names in order is an easy feat–if you can stand writing a bad article and a bad press release.

No reprieve there and by four in the afternoon, I’m beginning to see stars. But work is yet to pile up with a string of angry tirades aimed at me, Ma’am C, at people in general and at our helplessness. I’ve received streams of text messages that said, “Call me.”

So I did, and in the four times that PC picked up, I had always been shouted at for neglecting to coordinate with the other division for the pictures that Ma’am C wanted and PC needed.

“I got loads of stuff to do. Things to write.” I reasoned out, frustrated.

But she can’t be reasoned out, and she was screaming over the phone. The editor of the newspaper had just given her the sticks, and so she was venting it out to the clueless me. I had missed most of the things she said. Either it was because I had turned deaf, or maybe because I was frustrated, depressed and stressed.

“Find a way to get a picture.” She ordered in a firm tone. “I need it. I need it now.”

Tears started to well, but I blinked them back. N and RM are still at the office and I can’t afford to cry.

And so, with my articles hanging, waiting for a sleepy me, I called three people, two of whom directed me to the last. A was not exactly happy to oblige, saying that I “should have told her earlier so there would have been a way to produce pictures.” But she said she’d helped and needless to say, I had been hysterically grateful.

In all honesty, I didn’t know what I did wrong. But I knew there was something I could have done to relieve the people of undue stress. It’s probably because I suck on prioritizing things, or that I tend to forget things so easily that even the names of people I used to know have been disappearing on my memory list. Whatever it was, I missed it.

But while people can blame me of being irresponsible, lazy and inept, there are those who should and must share the blame in this entire ruckus. Perhaps it was the combination of an understaffed division and a demanding artist-boss who just loves to produce miracles out of nothing. Not even a bread or a fish.

That night S called.

“The press releases?” She asked. I was on my way home, and on my lap was the documents waiting assistance from me.

“I’ve put them on your table.” I said.

“Oh. Okay. Just send them to the newspapers tonight then we’ll have someone send it out tomorrow.” She answered, satisfied.

I actually had no intention of sending it out because for one, I left the article at the office and second, well. I’m too tired.