Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why I Won't Be Celebrating My Birthday This Year

When I was young, birthdays weren't a big deal. Me and my family would go out to a simple dinner, talk, and go home. That was it. No gifts, no parties, no fuss.

At that time, I hated it. I hated not having gifts. I hated not having a party with my friends. I hated not feeling special on what was supposed to be my special day.

I promised myself back then that I would change that, and I did. During my college years, I started holding parties at my house. When I started working, I would save up for months for my birthday celebrations. I justified it as me making up for all the times I had an "ordinary" birthday.

For a while, it worked. My birthday celebrations during those years were among the happiest days of my life. In fact, this annual tradition would still be going on if it wasn't for last year.

Here's what happened in a nutshell: I didn't have time to organize the whole thing. I assumed that just the simple fact of me sending poorly timed invites was enough for my invitees to pause their lives so they could join me in celebrating the day I came out of a vagina. What a foolish mistake that was.

I realized right then that everything I did was out of vanity. It was only me trying to make myself feel special, because I always felt unappreciated. The problem was, I'm not charismatic enough for people to just come to my hastily announced, self-indulgent celebration. Only well-loved and wealthy people enjoy that privilege.

So instead of happily celebrating my 25th year on this planet, I just made myself miserable. I was trying too hard to make myself seem important, I ended up proving I wasn't. Of course, the fault here is really mine (note to self: send invites earlier), but it did give me a lot to think about.

What are birthdays, really? Why do we make such a big show of it? Why is it so important to count the number of years before we kick the bucket?

The terrible conclusion I came to was this: it's good for business. Like Valentine's and Christmas, it's a great time for businessmen to prey on people's need to feel appreciated. And what better way to do so than encouraging us to invite family and friends over to spend months of savings on a single day?

But more importantly, I think the modern incarnation of birthdays also give us an excuse to make an entire day all about ourselves. Add the instant gratification factor of social media, and you have an entire society of birthday celebrants all secretly trying to outdo each other.

Did that sound too cynical? Sorry, but that's just how I feel about the whole thing right now. I mean sure, I appreciate other people's parties, and I truly enjoyed some of mine, especially my 24th. Hell, I'd do it all again. But this year, I don't want to depend on other people to make me happy on my birthday. In fact, I don't want that on any other day anymore.

That's why I'm taking a break from celebrating my annual countdown to death this year. There will be no parties. No drinks. No dinner outs, except with my family. Hell, I've even hidden my birthday on Facebook so no one will give me a flood of insincere greetings.

Why am I doing this?

Because this year, I want my birthday to be about me and my thoughts again. I don't want to worry about making a show for other people anymore. But most of all, I want to remember what it's like to have an "ordinary" birthday again, and that means leaving only what matters: me and my family.

Dear friends, I hope you understand that I'm not doing this out of spite. This is not me being resentful at you. Nor is this me being a cynical jerk. This is just me being selfish, and deservedly so. After all, it's my birthday and I'll do what I fucking want to.

I'll just see you next year. Maybe.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Accepting Inadequacy

I'm not delusional.

I know I'm far from being the best writer among my peers.

I just thought I was good enough to be somewhere near the best. Or at least good enough to continue writing at work. 

For the longest time, I've received plenty of glowing praise for my writing. Friends and fellow writers said they loved my stuff. Hell, even a few strangers sent me pleasant words of encouragement.

Of course, there were a few criticisms as well. And I took them well enough at first. 

You see, I've been told repeatedly over the past year that there's a certain awkwardness to my writing. I consider it just part of my style, but apparently, it's bad enough to be unreadable and unpleasant for some people. 

So I listened. I scoured the web for additional copywriting tips and techniques. I ruthlessly edited my work. I began seriously analyzing and de-constructing my favorite writers' styles.

By the time March arrived, I've noticed how much better my new writing style had become. I've managed to cut down on my adverbs. I didn't write too many exaggerated metaphors and forced jokes anymore. It became easier for me to get to the point. I was happy with the improvements.

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. All that work to make myself a better writer turned out to be an exercise in futility. I just couldn't eliminate the awkwardness in my sentence construction. Basically, I lacked the fundamental ability to write like a normal human being. No matter how hard I tried and how much better I became, the same flaws would inevitably re-appear, like the god damn zits on my face. 

In short, I still sucked. And I couldn't accept it.

Naturally, I was furious. I felt like all my efforts had been invalidated, that I was unappreciated. I hated the fact that my work, which I considered superior to my peers, was not in fact better. All those improvements just made my work more readable. But it was not better. I was just another victim of ownership bias.

At that time, I didn't take responsibility for my own shortcomings. I lashed out, and I blamed the subjectivity of people's tastes. I thought I was being forced to write a certain way. A way that was closer to how my mentor wrote. A way that had more to do with his inimitable style than the actual importance of making people understand what you're saying.

I thought it was ridiculous. How hypocritical! How dare you tell us to be true to ourselves when you wouldn't let me write the way I want? You're just biased towards your own personal style and preferences! How can you say with a straight face that x person's work is better than mine? Isn't getting the message across the most important thing? These were the thoughts that swam in my head for weeks.

In my defense, I was really angry. And angry people are never rational. No matter how smart or well-adjusted you think you are, extreme emotions will always mess with your head. 

I mean, do you know what it feels like to be told you're not good enough at the thing you thought you did best? That your improvements didn't change the fact that you have a fundamental inability to write like a regular person?

Do you know how it feels to know that your shortcomings are probably unfixable? That your skills are good enough for almost everywhere else, except for the one place that matters to you? 

Do you know how it feels like when the place and person you love working for tell you that you can't do what you love anymore? That it's better to quit instead of forcing yourself to fit into the position you can't see yourself without?

These truths were the toughest pills I've ever swallowed in my life. I could either leave or live with it. Simple as that. It didn't matter how many friends I made, how much I loved working there, or how many good ideas I've contributed. It didn't matter that more people loved my work than those who didn't. If I wanted to stay, I had to accept that I'm just not good enough at writing.

Man, typing out those sentences was painful. Fuck, I'm still a little angry as I type this.

But through all those nights of bitter, angry contemplation, I realized something more worrying than my career crisis: an identity crisis. This is not me. I am not a self-centered, immature jerk with self-esteem issues. I am not the the guy that blames others for my own fuck-ups. That's exactly the type of person I hate the most, and I had somehow become just that.

I knew right then that this couldn't continue. If there's one thing my stupid pride can't take, it's becoming what I hate. I just can't forgive myself if that happens.

Thankfully, I've slowly regained some clarity over the past few weeks. I constantly remind myself to forget the past and ditch the ego when it came to work. I slowly became less attached to my creations. It didn't hurt me as much to see that my work wasn't good enough, despite rewriting the same goddamn piece of copy over and over again for three days. Writing became just another inconsequential task to me. It was no more disheartening than running out of your favorite hot sauce brand at the grocery. Why? Because there were always other brands. Likewise, there were other things I was good at, even though they're not nearly at the same level as my writing.

By now, I've accepted the simple fact that I'm probably just not cut out to be a copywriter (at least not in my current company). And that's okay. It's actually kind of liberating. I no longer needed to define myself as such, because I don't need to be one anymore. I can try other things now, which is honestly scary. Because if it turns out I also suck at everything else, I'd be essentially useless. 

But the more I think about it, the less terrified I get. Because thanks to all that self-inflicted torment, I remembered something I forgot. Something I hope to never bury deep in my mind again.

I remembered that I am my own master. That I've never been afraid to take new paths, wherever they might lead. Just 2 years ago, I never imagined I'd be lucky enough to be where I am now.

So who knows where I'll be in the next 5 years? Guess I'll have to wait and see.





Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Romantic Movies

When done well, tragic romances are among cinema’s most powerful and memorable stories.  You’d think that would be the case with the movie adaptation of The Fault in our Stars. After all, few premises are sadder than a teenage couple’s first romance being mercilessly obliterated by a deadly disease.

The film's faithfulness to its source material might be its greatest flaw. Sure, it's great for the book's legion of teenage fans, but not for adult viewers who know that real teens aren’t as self-aware and profound as Hazel Grace and Gus Waters. Their witty and philosophical exchanges are a constant reminder that these teens, while lovable, are speaking words written by an adult.

In the long, immersive act of reading a book, the obvious unbelievability of the characters’ speeches and worldviews probably work well. Credit that to John Green being a great writer. But in a movie with a relatively short runtime, it doesn’t get quite the same effect.

Thankfully, the two leads have a natural charm and chemistry to them. Their quirks, angst and awkwardness were portrayed well, making it easy for us to empathize with their problems. Shailene Woodley’s introverted Hazel has a subtle, yet powerful strength of character. Ansel Egort’s Augustus Waters has a magnetic confidence that’s mesmerizing. He may have lost a leg, but not his sense of humor and ambition. They’re both a joy to watch, and their interactions alone make this film seem better than it is.

I also admired Director Josh Boone’s restraint. He did not let this movie devolve into contrived melodrama. But given the nature of this story, that might have been the better approach. 


The most intense parts of the story could have been set-up better. I could see tragedy coming a few scenes before it actually does. This lessens their emotional impact when they do happen. The movie ends up being predictable, which kills the sense of dread that would’ve made it the heart-wrenching story that the book’s diehard fans claim it is.

I also have issues with the soundtrack's placement in the movie. The songs are good on their own, but they tend to be an obvious cue for what the audience should feel in a given scene. It's like they're trying too hard to establish a mood, even when the actors are more than capable of doing so by themselves. Instead of adding depth and drama to the scenes, the soundtrack comes close to being an unnecessary distraction.

But don’t get me wrong, the Fault in our Stars is very watchable film. Just don’t let your expectations get too high. Enjoy it for what is, and you’ll find it refreshing compared to Hollywood’s usual romantic dramas. For the most part, this movie does a great job reminding us that love can bloom even with death lurking constantly in the background.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

5 Things I Learned as a Social Media Manager

Unless you're one of those people who avoid social media like a toothless hooker, you're probably on Facebook or Twitter everyday. You've probably even liked a few fan pages or followed some corporate accounts for one reason or another.

Most people don't realize that a lot of work goes behind managing these pages. Depending on the brand's influence, it can be anywhere from 1 person to an entire creative team. For the better part of last year up to now, I've been one of them.

In that short time, I've noticed a few things. Some of them are interesting, while others make me want to slap someone's parents for producing annoyingly ignorant offspring.

Here are 5 things I've learned as a social media manager.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Year That Was

It's hard to write my exact feelings on the year that transpired. 2013 was filled with both pleasant and heartbreaking surprises for me. If I can sum it up in a word, I'd say the past year was all about growth.

I'll remember this year for a long time, because in 2013, I...

...finally reached a wider audience with my writing.
Early this year, I took a bold leap with my writing career. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to see if I was good enough to join the insanely talented team at Pepper, the Philippines' best food blog (according to Google and anyone with good taste).

To my surprise, I got in. Prior to joining their team, I've only been writing mostly dull, predictable corporate bullshit in my former day job, and mean, sarcastic, "humor" posts in this blog. I finally had the chance to write funny stuff that wasn't just for me and my twisted friends. I was ecstatic with the opportunity, but also terrified with the responsibilities it entailed.

As expected, I made a few stumbles and cringe-worthy pieces, but overall I think I did well for my first year as a semi-pro comedy writer. I'm still going to need hard advice whenever I forget I'm not writing in my personal domain, but I'm learning to overcome that. I'm very optimistic about what 2014 could bring if I work even harder and explore other creative ventures.

...I got really sick
Health is probably the most under-appreciated asset in our busy lives. Last March, I got sick with a still unknown viral infection that had me worried about everything. I wrote about that horrid experience here. This year, I don't want something similar happening if I can avoid it. That's why I'm making a commitment to exercise more, and if I prove strong enough, quit smoking for good. 

What I can't promise is eating healthier. I have gained a deeper love and appreciation for food ever since I got into Pepper, and that won't change anytime soon. Or ever.

...I finally got a job I loved
Luck plays a bigger role in our lives than most people care to admit. And boy, was I lucky. I haven't even entertained other potential careers when opportunity came knocking. I was offered a job by one of the people I admired the most. I took it immediately, in spite of some personal concerns.

At the start, it wasn't so good. There'll always be a rather big gap between expectations and reality, and it became clear to me that it was part of my job to overcome that. Things got weird, painful and even ugly at times. But I soldiered on, with only one thought in my mind keeping me afloat.

These are all just growing pains. We will get better.

And soon enough, things changed. Everything improved, and I'm looking forward to being there for the long run. I will inevitably run into some similar challenges, but I'll be better prepared for them. Actually, I'm kind of looking forward to them. Nothing worth doing is ever easy or fast, so we must be doing something right. 

I just need to get better at bullying myself into giving it all I have. I'm not used to having a lot of freedom, and I'm still trying to find ways to improve my time management. I promised myself that the one resolution I can't break is to make the most out of this opportunity. I owe it to not just me, but to the people who've placed their trust in my abilities. And if I hate anything, it's disappointing people.

...I lost the person I loved the most in this world
Last August, my grandmother died. I cried more in that month than in the last 10 years before it. We weren't prepared for it at all. Sometimes, just remembering that she's gone forever tears me up. But that's life. Sooner or later, you'll lose people, for one reason or another.

I guess that experience was a wake up call to all of us about the shortness of life. Our busy schedules can make us forget what matters the most, and no amount of professional satisfaction can match the very human joy of being with people you love. Money isn't the most precious thing, time is. No one can buy it, and it's always running out. That's why I've become even more strict with how I spend my days. I simply can't afford to be as wasteful with it. Not anymore.

...I really felt like an adult
Work takes up a big part of your adult life. If you're not in the right place, you're essentially wasting your life. It's a tough pill to swallow. Life is the big bad bully armed with heavy hands called responsibilities and obstacles. If you're not prepared for it, your ass will get knocked the fuck out. 

This was the year I raised my own standards for what I should be doing. I became more mindful of the future. I worked harder than I ever did before, but I still felt that I fell short of my potential. You see, it's not enough to just work hard. I can actually work less, but what I really need to do is work smarter and be more efficient. I have to produce higher quality output in less time. And oh, meet deadlines, too. It's tough, but also satisfying to know you're earning your place in the world. 

This feeling was confirmed a few weeks ago, when I met some old friends I hadn't seen in years. They were surprised at how different I am now. I'm still every bit as loud and inappropriate, but they couldn't believe how "responsible"and "respectable" I've become. After all, I was the guy who used to cut classes to drink. I was the guy who got into a lot of trouble for gambling and other things. Now, I'm the guy who takes a time-out in a drinking session to borrow my friend's laptop so I can schedule fan page posts and tweets.

Seven years sure is a long time.

...I learned the joys of reading non-fiction
The fantasy genre turned me into a bookworm. There's so much wonder and splendor in those pages to make everyday life seem so boring. And for a very long time, I preferred to live in those fantastic, fictional worlds. 

After all, the mundanity of life was no match to the magic of dragons, wizards, and gods. But they do not exist in the real world, which is why people made them up. They're works of escapism. That's not a bad thing, but if you live more in the fantasy world, you might be missing out on the nice little quirks and stories of plain old life.

Since I no longer had enough time to sit back with a 600 page fantasy epic, my insatiable reading urges were unleashed on online articles and Seth Godin books. I used to only read a lot at Cracked.com, but I now have so many websites to visit daily for my regular information/entertainment binge. 

All this reading about the real world has given me a wider scope of how everything works. I learned the value of using a different tone to convey the same message. I learned why some businesses rise and fall. I even learned how incredible Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were. Turns out real life can surprise and delight you beyond just memes like Doge and the Harlem Shake. 

The bad side to this is that it becomes a constant source of procrastination for what I really need to do. One great article often leads to another. Before I know it, a couple of hours have passed already and I'm still stuck with a blank word document. 

... constantly thought long and hard about who I am, and who, where, and what I want to be 
I spent a good part of my year contemplating the present and imagining where it fits in my future. As a result, I've had to be more mindful of what I'm doing with my life. I've always been very self-aware, but none more so than last year. 

Every major decision I made has been thought out in advance, weighed relentlessly against other options, and with a post completion analysis for comparison against my projected outcome. It sounds so clinical, but all I'm really saying is that I think, imagine and compare choices a lot. About everything.

Our mid-20's is such an exciting time. Depending on who you are, it can be exhilarating or terrifying. To me, it's both. I'm frequently optimistic about where I'm going, even if I'm not too sure just where it is yet. I try to enjoy the ride, even when the road is rocky and occasionally lined with the figurative horse crap. 

It's hard enough on its own, but it gets even tougher in these times. With the constant loom of social media displaying everyone's yearly highlight reel like some sort of publicly viewable trophy room, you can't help but feel like you have to compare yourself regularly against their achievements. 

You think you've done awfully good for yourself until you see a younger batchmate get on TV, or someone you didn't think highly of get promoted in a great company. Everyone's lives are on full display, and it's only natural that some would look brighter than yours.

But here's what I'm really curious about:

Are their lives really as peachy as they and their friends make it seem? And even if it is, why should I even care about the life that's not mine to live anyway?

I don't know. The way I'm wired makes me obsess about trivialities like this. It might be my way of subconsciously measuring my own worth against others. I'm probably just looking for some confirmation that I'm headed somewhere, but it makes me feel bad knowing I'm unintentionally using my peers as either goal posts to aspire to or cautionary tales to avoid. 

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking this. The uncertainty of early adult life is intimidating. You never know what'll happen, as even the best laid plans can go awry. All you can do is work, dream and keep your focus. Because in the bigger scheme of things, no one will care more about your life than you.

That's why I can't wait to see where I'll eventually end up in 5, 10, or 20 years. I can only hope it's something I'll be satisfied with.

Happy New Year to you. Now go, make something.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Alone


I often wonder why our culture seems so shocked by the fact that some people prefer doing certain things alone. Whenever people hear that I often shop, eat and watch a movie by myself, the most common reaction is "why?"

I've given up trying to make people understand. I'm just wired that way, and no words can fully explain it. It's not that I'm antisocial. I simply enjoy the aforementioned activities with or without company.

Our culture is obviously quite extroverted. It's become somewhat of a social stigma to be alone in a public place, and God help you if people find out that you prefer it that way.

Is it really that hard to grasp the concept of some people needing more alone time than others? Since when has it been a taboo to enjoy spending time with yourself?

I've never asked an extrovert these questions. I do understand why they enjoy going out so much, because I enjoy it too. Just not on their level nor frequency. Prolonged social interactions tire me out, even when it's fun.

That's kind of a problem, because people often mistake me for an extrovert. When I'm with good friends, I'm loud and bustling with energy. I drop joke after joke while chugging down the booze like a hardened sailor. But I can't keep that up as long (or as consistently) as true social butterflies can.

That's when I get asked the somewhat annoying questions. "Bakit ang tahimik mo bigla?" "Uy, okay ka lang?" Relax, people. I just need a break. Or maybe I'm just bored with the direction we've taken with this night's topics.

When I'm with people, I need a good variety of talking points to stay focused. I don't mind discussing the newest pop trends or crass showbiz rumors, but those things get tiring after a while. I much prefer to have deep, meaningful conversations. I want to talk about topics that matter (to me, at least).

Unfortunately, not everyone knows or cares much about these things. Sometimes, it seems like I'm wasting my time trying to explain my perspective. And the sad part is, I'm not even trying to convince or sway them to my personal biases. I just want a have an impassioned conversation, one that's thought-provoking and honest. Is it really that weird? Isn't that what makes us socially intelligent beings?

If I can't get that from being with people, is it any wonder now why I prefer being alone?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

For the Woman I Loved the Most in the Whole World

Life begins and life ends. That's the way it is, and the way it always will be. But we don't often realize that until it's too late. We were reminded of that fact this morning, when my grandmother passed away with almost no warning. I was in the office when I got the news, and that single text message broke me down completely.

My first reaction was to curse in disbelief. I re-read the message again to make sure I had not misunderstood it. I didn't. She was gone forever, and I was unsure how to act. So I retreated into a corner and did the only thing I could: I cried my heart out.

In the middle of my uncontrolled weeping, I realized this was really happening. It sunk in like an anchor, dragging my optimism about her supposedly improved condition with it. I broke down knowing that I will never hear her voice again. I will never taste her cooking again. I will never hear her wonder aloud if I was gay again. All her quirks, mannerisms and expressions are just memories now.

I couldn't accept it. I still can't. Especially not after seeing (and feeling) her dead, cold body. I cried again after that. It seemed unfair that it should happen so soon. I had so many things left to say, and so many things I wanted to do. Her birthday was just 2 weeks away, and I was looking forward to buying her something really nice. Maybe treat her to a classic Spanish dinner. She was a simple woman, my lola. Food and company were all it really took to make her happy.

And we all loved making her smile. She became more child-like with old age, and despite it making her more impatient, stubborn, and a little insensitive, we all knew she was still our sweet old lola. She still loved us very much, and showed it every way she could. She'd bring home food for us whenever possible. She always worries sick whenever my sisters were out late. She'd constantly ask us about our careers, making sure we were happy with it. Hell, she would even troll us occasionally. She cared about us a lot, and so did we to her.

I think we all knew this was coming, but we just didn't want to acknowledge it. The signs were there. She was getting more forgetful, and had trouble with her normal body functions. She started eating a lot more than she usually did, despite her doctor telling her to limit her food intake. She would get mad when we tried to enforce her strict, doctor-ordered diet. It was a constant challenge getting her dressed and bathed, and sitting for long periods of time would give her difficulty standing up.

Still, I guess we all thought it would happen later rather than sooner. She was still very lucid and full of personality. I thought we'd still have at least one more Christmas with her; probably her favorite time of the year. I thought we could go on more food adventures to find her stuff she'd love eating. We all wanted her to come home safe so that she could get to know our sweet new puppy, Mochi. Even in her final hours, she was asking about the dog, since she loved animals like we did.

It's just so heartbreaking.

I have many regrets over everything. Our busy lives made it difficult to save time for her. We had our fair share of quality bonding moments, but in hindsight, they seem so inadequate now. I guess what really hurts is knowing I could have given her more. More of my time, more of my attention, and more of my love. She deserved it, after all. We'll always remember her as our defender, nourisher, and source of inspiration for living a simple but good life. She made us all better people.

Most of all, I'll remember her as my second mother, and the woman I loved the most in this world. We were raised in her house, but she made sure it was our home. She made me believe that the world is not always the evil place I know it could be. She reminded me that family was everything. She was my heroine.

And now she's gone. Just like that. I'm not sure when I'll be able to accept it completely. What I know for sure is that I will never forget her and everything she taught us.

Rest in peace, Lola. You'll live in our hearts forever.






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