Writer’s rants and Rizal’s relevance

Happy birthday, Jose.

Rizal inside Instituto Cervantes (April 2009)

You turn 150 years old today, had you lived. But if you were indeed alive today, as I am alive today, here, in the country you so love and I so don’t sometimes, I think like me, you’ll eventually die — from starvation. And why is that? Because like me, you’re a writer.

Writers' night (December 2009 UP CAL)

Let me elucidate.

You wrote novels to tell of ills in our country some hundred years ago or so. The Catholic Church was your enemy then, as they are our enemy now. Same same, Pepe. Same same. They don’t want Filipinos to get a divorce, they don’t care about women’s sexual and reproductive health, they don’t want homosexuals to live in a life well-loved, and they certainly don’t want people not praying. I have so many things to write about, about these current social injustices, about the way the government is still corrupt and all that.

No rights left? (June 2009 UP Diliman)

But my problem is, Joe, who will read me? People would rather read some sucky vampire novel series or other pulp fare featuring cheap love stories or quirky ghost stories. While that’s all good — yes, people still read, hallelujah — they prefer to read non-Filipino authors. They have never heard of your fellow novelists even if they have been bagging international literary awards. They have never heard of your fellow poets who are being honored in Europe or the Americas. They have never heard of your fellow essayists who have been accumulating local literary awards over the years. Never mind if some of them are accused of plagiarism but hey, who reads him, other than his friends in the same literary circles. And that’s the thing, Joe. We Filipino writers aren’t being read by Filipinos of today.

100+ years of literature... but who reads us? (December 2008 UP Diliman)

Let me ask you: who read you, Joe? Who read you? We all did. We are all required to read you in college. But outside of our academic requirements, do you think people will read you outside their Life and Works of Rizal 3-unit course? I don’t know, Joe. I really don’t know.

It was a different time and era to be a writer when you were alive. Writing anything subversive will ban you from the church and you will get killed. But at least they did that because you were brave enough to write something, to stand up for what you believed in.

As for me, I write for what I believe in, for free. And I also write about things I don’t believe in, to get paid. To buy food. To pay for my house. To earn a decent living. But sometimes, Joe, sometimes it’s not decent. At all.

Will you believe it if I told you that writers are the most oppressed artists in this country? Yes, they are. We are. You were just lucky you were alive a hundred plus years ago. You had it “easy.” Now, people don’t seem to care much about writers.

Let me illuminate you.

These books are made for drowning... (September 2009 post-Ondoy Marikina City)

In our information-driven world today, content is key. Content is king. Content is God. But sadly, us content providers have to beg, to plead, to kiss ass, to hobnob against our nature, just to be given writing assignments that pay.

Try applying in a newspaper, Joe. Of course they will give you a column, a special byline where you will have loads of followers every week. Of course you don’t get paid in advance. You get paid after your articles have been published. And when is that? As soon as some person in HR or editorial finishes calculating the newspaper’s daily  content, then it gets approved by the bosses, and then passed on to accounting, and then your check gets signed by the bosses, finally, before being given the go-signal for claiming — that is, if they alert you at all if your check is already ready (they don’t most times, so you have to follow it up until they peg you as “that annoying writer calling again”). I hope you have another job to buy groceries because this whole process might take two to six months, even more. Heck, the old  newspaper where I used to work still owes me three months’ worth of pay for articles published in 2010. Yes, last year. They still own me from last  year. Imagine that.

It's a glossy life... (2009 Ortigas)

Try applying in a magazine, Joe. Of course they will give you the choicest assignments, let you chase the lead stories, interview the celebrity for the cover story. Arrange for your own transportation and food to attend such gatherings and do such cover work. Most magazines don’t give writers allowance to cover such needs. All they  are after are the articles you will email after a couple of days. And sometimes, they will send it back to you and ask for revisions. That’s fine, unless there’s some kind of agreement that the revisions will also get paid. Of course there’s no such thing; I’m dreaming. And  sometimes, your articles get bumped off for some reason or other  (usually, an advertiser wanted your pages). So what happens to the article you painstakingly wrote, you researched for credible information? It gets bumped off. But do you get paid? Sometimes yes, most times no. They call this “kill fee” which is actually lower than the actual price of the article.

Oh yes, prices. Let me get to that now.

It’s one thing to get published yet it’s another thing to claim your payment for it. Now this is where it gets tricky. All I learned in PR handling I learned in my undergraduate acting class. When facing HR and accounting people, you will need the utmost patience and the greatest of acting skills when asking for your check — which could be delayed, not yet signed by one signatory, or whatever else reason — because they won’t understand that you actually use this payment to  pay for your bills, unlike these payment processors who have the luxury of receiving payment every 15th and 30th of the month. No,  these comfy people don’t understand the plight of the freelance contributing writer, no.

And when you finally receive your check, don’t be surprised if they just paid you one peso per word, Joe. Information is king yet payment is poor. I was blown away when I was watching Sex and the City years ago, when Carrie was ecstatic about getting hired by Vogue Magazine which paid her four dollars per word. Four US dollars, Joe. That’s 160something pesos per word if we convert it today. But us writers here, we only get one measly peso per word. There are more elite publications that pay more than that, maybe 2-4 pesos per word. The highest I know is 5 pesos per word. That’s like 11 US cents, Joe. Yes, eleven. What can you buy with US 11 cents here? You can’t live on one stick of isaw everyday, right? You need nutrition.

I'm here, you're there (2008 CCP Harbor Square)

And speaking of American dollars, it horrifies my freelancer friends to discover how much some foreign bozos offer freelance writers they want to outsource from their land of plenty. Browse through online job listings and you will be amazed that such bozos want to offer 150 pesos per article of about 800 words. And the more articles you write, the more money you receive, they said. That is always the lure. But that’s not even one peso per word, Joe. But the sad thing is, there are writers here who avail of this job. I don’t know why, but we all have reasons. Maybe one pressing reason is we want to eat.

What if you try the academe? I know your brilliant essays will astound editors and peer reviewers of reputable academic journals, Joe. But brace yourself. Try to publish internationally, though, because I’ve heard from professor friends that international publications give some sort of honorarium for articles they publish. Fair enough. Don’t try to publish locally, though, because in our academic journals here, everyone gets paid except for the provider of content. Yes, the dudes who do the layout of the journal gets paid, the publishing house gets paid of course, the head editor gets paid (sometimes they say they don’t, too, but I don’t believe them), the peer reviewers get paid once in a while (or sometimes not at all, as well), but the writer — who milks his or her intelligent mind for brilliant arguments laid out eloquently on pages of 5,000 words to be used as source citations of fellow professors, researchers or students — doesn’t get a single centavo. And they have to be thankful for the two free copies of the journal but if they want a third copy, they better buy it themselves.

we write and we write... (2008 GMA7)

I know you might get intrigued by the media, so I imagine you’d be working in some TV network, media outfit or something like that, had you been alive today. And perhaps, like my scriptwriter friends, you will also feel offended if the network bosses would blame you, the scriptwriter, for your show’s dipping ratings (How about the sucky-acting actors? The egotistical director who missed the story’s subtexts? The art department who bungled the physical visualization of the story? What am I talking about? They don’t “exist” when ratings fall, mind you.). Maybe they will lock you and your fellow writers inside a hotel room for three days and won’t let you out until a bunch of you are able to produce an outline of stories that will run for 13 weeks on primetime TV. Or sometimes they will group you to hang out every week and create new concepts for future shows. While your immediate supervisors might be super-supportive of your group and your creative efforts, it’s another thing to please your supervisors’ bosses who actually give the go-signal to have such shows created. And between conceptualizing a show and actually writing the first draft of the scripts for that show until it gets aired, it may take a few months, maybe half a year, a whole year if your team is unlucky. So again, I reiterate, I hope you have another job so you could buy groceries during this time.

Their medium ain't your message. (September 2009 GMA7)

Don’t even get me started if you want to be a film scriptwriter. The Filipino film industry has been on its deathbed for years now, although efforts are being made to revive it fully. The only ones who could revive it are the old gatekeepers who are not so open to new ideas and concepts. Yes, if you still want to tell stories through film, try using the cookie cutter formulas and of course try ripping off Hollywood templates. That’s what the gatekeepers prefer, even if the audience has been hungry for new things. Well, at least there’s the indie scene.

But wait, indie? We mean independent films, especially those being funded by grant-giving bodies who have strange rules in order for you to be a filmmaker. Try applying there with a historical film (maybe a bioflick about you and your love life?) and the gatekeepers might say “We already did historical films last year and it didn’t make money, so no more this year.” Or try submitting a brilliantly-written script but the subject matter is controversial (wow, a film about yuppie lesbians?) that the gatekeepers would want you to return to negative formulations of the radical (“The lesbians are too romantic! Change that.”) plus they ask you if you can shoulder extra expenses other than the grant they will give you. And this is why those brilliant but not-so-rich writers abandon cinema since they have to work other kinds of jobs to buy groceries, and the filmmakers whose groceries are still provided by their mums and dads are the ones being brilliantly produced and screened in local and international film festivals. If they own their films at all, mind you. Some grants also make you sign along the dotted line that you have to surrender your intellectual property to them. But what the hey — you have a film! It’s just “not yours” after all.

Are you truly free, cinema my cinema? (July 2008 CCP)

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? Yes, that’s a song lyric from one of the brilliant songwriters of my generation. Oh yeah, songwriters. They are writers, too. But still, they get the same treatment as other writers. Good thing they have these associations that monitor the playback of their songs over the radio or in public spaces. But do they get paid really well? It depends on where they want to sell their souls. Pop music producers always buy. So does advertising with their endless need for jingles to catch consumers’ attention. In this day and age, Joe, the word “sell out” doesn’t mean much anymore because it has been our way of life. Sometimes, there’s nothing to be ashamed of but sometimes, you also shame yourself. Well, at the end of the day, you still want to buy groceries, right? So what the hey.

tell me when it's on, Philippines (2009 around Marikina)

Oh Joe, I don’t really know how to end this rant. And on your birthday at that. Sorry to be such a party pooper but someone has to tell you these things. I guess in the end, like you, I still have high hopes for our fellow countrypeople that one day, they will eventually have higher recognition for writers like you and me.

Maybe viewers would stop ranting about how formulaic our films and TV shows are and try to go beyond the formula to see how we scriptwriters have reinvented things to make them our own. Maybe readers would finally say things like “Hey, did you see that Nick Joaquin reissue? It’s the bomb!” instead of purely referencing other writers like “Oh the new Neil Gaiman novel is pure genius.”

And let’s also hope that, one of these days, we writers who want to actually use our well-deserved writers’ fees to buy our groceries would get paid decently, on time, and honorably.

Let’s hope it won’t reach another 150 years for that to happen, eh?

Again, happy birthday, Joe, and good luck to future Filipino writers like you… and me.

don't let the sun go down on us (2009 Marikina)

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~ by leaflens on June 19, 2011.

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