Friday, October 2, 2009

Brain Farts

In a previous post, I held forth that work can be a blessing in times of crises, personal or otherwise. In that work occupies our attention and gives us something constructive to do, other than standing still worrying about things we have no control over.

While many of our countrymen are still reeling from the aftermath of Ondoy, life - and work - goes on for the rest of us. A colleague was grousing over the fact that work demands have effectively cut short his volunteering for the Ondoy relief efforts. I suppose it's a question of priorities: in the long run, what does truly matter most? Helping others in a time of great distress, or making sure one meets the deadline for yet another radio commercial?

I maintain that we all have different responsibilities in life - work included. And that the needs of others may still be best served by the mere fact that we continue to do our jobs, and do them well. If everyone who worked for telecoms and other service providers like utilities companies, stores, and media just dropped everything in order to continue trooping to volunteer stations, we would grind to a standstill and be worse off than we already are.

And so, to help, some of us simply have to continue just doing our jobs - mundane as it may sound.

It's at times like these that I question the relevance of what I do for a living. The last time I had any real existential angst about being in advertising was when I was but a young copywriter during the first Gulf War. Everyone went panic-buying and, as the countdown to the US invasion of Iraq drew ever closer, believed that the world was about to end. It threw into great relief what little value our work had when set against the greater scheme of things. As one of my CDs so succinctly put it: "Wala talagang kuwenta ang ginagawa natin."

Advertising - and its cousin, show business - is a study in contrasts. The stress levels are high, but so is the fun. The output may be shallow, but the input that goes into making them are serious. The hours we keep rival those of doctors - practically always on-call. But I can't say our work directly saves lives or anything noble like that. Oh, sure, there's the occasional pro bono work and advocacies, but most of the time, my opinion is that these are little more than awards-bait and ultimately, self-serving.

I'm writing this because I am once again stumped because I can't seem to summon concepts for a project whose deadline has long passed and is terribly overdue. Ironically, in the midst of all this death and destruction, my task is to think of a humorous approach to sell something prosaic. And while I am distressed by what Ondoy has wrought, I cannot in all honesty say it has devastated me to the point of immobility. Like others, I and my loved ones have been spared this time around, and therefore I am fine and functional. I'm writing this, am I not?

I just can't write what I'm supposed to write for a living right now.

One of the priests in my alma mater once lamented that they trained us to change the world, and we end up writing back label copy for pineapple juice instead. Perhaps, just like the priesthood, many are called, but few are chosen. And even fewer make a conscious choice.

I ended up in advertising by sheer happenstance. I was going to be a journalist - at least, I thought I would be. Like most youthful idealists, I was going to rage against the system and stab it with my pen, crusading for truth, justice, and freedom.

As that old chestnut goes, life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. And so it passed that I find myself having chosen to stay in this line of work instead. I have no illusions about advertising and have long stopped equating my work with my self-worth, unlike newbie writers who take it personally and weep the first few times client rejects their brilliant ideas. I'm old enough to know and canny enough to accept that all of us in this field utilize our talents in the service of commerce - nothing more, nothing less. My art and whatever pet causes I have, I should do on my own time. Given the constant demands of business, that time doesn't amount to much.

What is the point of this long ramble?

Sigh. Father, while I understand that what we do shapes us more than we know, what I do for a living is not all that I am. While my work informs who I have become in imperceptible ways, I am still more than the sum of 30-second commercials hawking beer and bubblegum.

What I do is not who I am.

At least, that is what I would like to believe. And I would like to give it more thought, but right now, I have to write a funny commercial and sell soap.


  1. my stand about work is that as long as i love what i'm doing, i'm sticking around. regardless if it's stressful, the hours are killing me and even if politics is the name of the game.

    what's important is i'm enjoying, and there's internet! =D

  2. @ engel: Hey, good morning!

    Oh, I love what I do; far be it from me to bite the hand that has fed me so generously.

    The question, engel, is existential: if we are what we do, then does what I do have any meaning beyond its material, utilitarian aspects?

  3. Should I keep this impression that your job is still, glamorous, for some reasons my Advertising teachers in college have imprinted on me?

  4. @ Knox: I would be lying if I said that it doesn't have its moments. If you consider meeting local and international celebrity talents, shooting in far-flung, exotic locales, and free trips abroad on official business as glamorous, then yes, it's glamorous.

    But as anyone who works in related, "glamorous" fields such as fashion, glossy magazines, TV, and the movies will tell you, there's A LOT of behind-the-scenes stress, heartbreak, and hard work behind that "glamorous" exterior.

    If you've ever seen a cover model or Hollywood actress stripped of layers of make-up, hair extensions, massive styling and hours of Photoshop, well...advertising's a lot like that.

  5. Work does not define you. You define your work.

    And Engel is right. As long as you love it and still feel fulfilled, stick around.

    I quit what I was doing for 14-odd years because towards the end, I was running out of creative excuses not to show up :P

  6. kinda sums up what i am feeling right now, though with
    more eloquence, clarity and wisdom!

    consider me a follower! :-)

  7. @ Eternal Wanderer: "Work does not define you. You define your work."

    I'd like to agree with that statement, although I'm more inclined to think it's one of those philosophical conundrums, like "I am, yet I am not my body." Cartesian dualism and all that. Heck. No one ever said introspection was simple. Or easy. Like leaving a job one has held for 14-odd years, like you.

    @ Theo Martin : Hey there! Welcome to my little blog. Thanks for taking the time to read my brain farts, for the nice words, and for following.
    Round and round we shall go; where we stop, no one shall know.

  8. you're now selling soap? dude, in my previous work, i used to make soap!

    needless to say, i didn't like it that much. now, i'm making a new formula, something that will make me so rich i wouldn't need to work again in the future.

  9. @ john_stanley : I have been fortunate enough to push everything from cars to kornik. Ang maganda lang naman sa trabaho namin eh dapat marunong kang sumulat for all audiences, from A to E. It gives you insight into how people from different walks of life think, act, and speak.

    All the better to fleece them with. Oops.

    As for your soap, if it can wash away our sorrows, I'm in.