The idealist meets reality for the first time

Once upon a time, an idealist ended up looking for a full-time job on the internet, feeling guilty about the things that he had done recently. He dropped this thesis entirely. He broke down in text messages. He compelled his frantic mother, a judge, to send the police in his boarding house to see if he was still there. He had to face his mother’s arrival, something which he always dreaded. He could not bear to face the distraught ambivalence of his feelings towards his mother, who currently had an eye surgery and was not even ready for travel. He couldn’t decide well with her, and thus ended up choosing to transfer rather than extend for a year. And he and his mother had to ride on a van of one of her friends. He, his mother, and her friends: an encounter that was not designed to go well for him.

This combination gave him awful memories of helplessness, embarassment, and loss of self-respect, and it slowly caught up to him as they arrived in the smog and heat city of Quezon. He cannot endure being dragged around to meet with her friends and broke down nearly with every encounter. It always felt like a bomb activated remotely by a button. It was a bomb designed to destroy the dignity of accidentally deviant people. It was a bomb he first felt when he had to sit down for hours doing nothing as his mother dealt with powerful people. There were no children or teenagers around in that grand hall of Chinese and European design. It was the restaurant owned by the friend his mother is currently talking to.

There was no place where he could be himself. There was no place for him to be himself without humiliating his mother, there was no place for him to be himself without avoiding his mother’s conforming commands. None but outside. This, like other moments when he had to run away out of the parties where his mother was invited. There was really no place for him in the places where his mother is truly happy.

He knew his jumbled self sought a psychologist, a therapist perhaps, to help him sort through his problems. His mother brought him to another friend of hers, a clinical psychologist. She brought him to a man with a gentle voice and soft eyes, who listened as he sorted out his problems in a chair. But he only resolved the conclusion that he figured out a long time ago: that he can only face his demons himself. He also came back to the same state he was before he left for college. He still hated the immaturity his parents had dealing with their marriage. He hated the way his sisters complain when he chose not to follow their orders. He also hated having to use aggressive tones to get his message through, and hated hearing their complaints. He hated a lot of people around him, people who judged him, who were only lacking in meaning and drowning in misery. He had enough of the outside world then.

He had also enough of talking too much. It was too exhausting trying to be interesting to other people when he himself has nothing interesting to share. That’s why he tried to make himself interesting again and this time, for people who he could also be interested. That’s why he tried to study online, write, and learn.

But things were not working out well for him alone in the condominium where he ended up staying. He wasn’t making a consistent progress. He would wander around in the middle of a study, or indulge himself with the endless distractions offered by the Internet. 9gag, reddit, porn, or even the news reports caught on to him, indulging him with nearly meaningless chemical floods. So he tried to find a job on the internet.

And when the freelance work he applied wasn’t confirming his application, he tried to apply in the real world. You know, the one outside the absurdly safe havens of your parent’s house or of your university, yes, the place that was supposed to prepare you for real world? Yes, that place. It came in a search engine he subscribed to, in an ad that offered ready opportunities for the inexperienced individual— like an undergraduate him. It was on Makati, a gold mine of jobs for desperate Filipinos. After getting an surprise allowance boost from his parents, he decided to grab on to the mobile number he texted.

And it wasn’t what he expected. It was unlike anything he ever thought to face, but it was something he should have anticipated if he had used his reason over desperation. It is useless to decide what kind of work they do there. He knows it is some form of outsourcing company, mining inexperienced job seekers to feed off to different companies.

But sadly he wasn’t ready for the wait, nor for the fact that in front of him were dozens of people, both drop-outs and graduates, who were also desperate for jobs. The one who waited beside him was also a drop-out, and he only knew about that upon their group interview with their ‘agent’ (although they themselves claim that they are not an agency, he doesn’t know what word he can use to call the one he talked to). It surprised him to get through without lunch; he, a spoiled son, who never deprived his high metabolism of lunch. It did not brought down his body like he expected, but it was gnawing on his mind.

He was also never prepared for the sordid meaninglessness of a life as a drop-out. He won two national literary awards. These were not recognized well, sure, but he had impressed people he never thought would be impressed. And he could not bear the possibility that the hard work he had invested in his skills would be wasted to what– a life dealing daily with irate customers? Was this the life most Filipinos had, a life driven by dissatisfaction, insecurity, and survival? Sure, survival is a necessity, and it is essential for the most fulfilling self-growth. But it is hard to deal with the sense of survival corporations created with the easy offers of outsourced jobs. It may be a battlefield, but it is a war that can only be handled by the most mediocre.

No matter how hard he tried, he could not be one of these desperate ones. Not even the gamers, hooked on their fantasies of war supplemented by assembled codes of skilled programmers, offered the opportunity for world-changing challenges. They may have the one skill he doesn’t have– the ability to talk fluently, to wage tactics through speech, but he have a lot more they don’t have. He just wished he dedicated more time to crafting them. He never felt more helpless.

Pride slowly won him over as he waited for five hours on that stool with the other job-seekers. Listening to a mentor who taught them about winning an interview. It was an amazing talk, and it opened his eyes to the minefield his old course did not show him. There will be solitary souls, charismatic women, and friends who stick together. There will be profiles that will intrigue more people over others. There will always be successful people who will rise above like leaders, and disinterested people who will live a repetitive life of sustenance.

And there will be rare gems like him, our idealist, who can only gamble chances, praying against that slot that will devalue people like him of all their worth.

The wait ate through him. And as the hours stood by and afternoon came, he knew that he could not handle facing the hiring managers, who will only call his name by surprise. No rehearsal can prepare him for his first mistake, of resisting the interview that he might never pass in the end.

He immediately refused the first job interview he got after five hours of waiting. He left, untying the necktie he bought for that moment.

He lingered in Cubao in the new suit he bought yesterday. Wasted money buying a book, a shake, a Flashdrive and card reader for his sister with the allowance he recently received from his father. Bought a hefty ticket for a movie he did not care to finish. Took a cab home. Wasted money loading his broadband and phone. Masturbated. Slept.

The real world and its mediocre citizens horrified him. And by the end of the day, he finally decided to continue his studies, work better, and become a person advertising and publishing companies hunger for. As of now, he hopes his immature ass in a state of melancholia.

_____

The gnawing feeling still remained within me and I decided to get through with it. Perhaps it may help me face much more difficult problems in the future, problems that I might encounter once I face the real world again. I certainly will not return to sordid jobs such as BPO nor be enticed by easy promises of money. I should have recognized the fact that they have mentioned bloggers and journalists rarely, and focused on call center agents and technical staff.

And I will be more aggressive. For the sake of saving both of my younger sister’s futures in the long run, I will be more aggressive.

The prose was a challenge too. For too long I have been accustomed to writing my experiences in the first-person. This shift of POV was a way for me to see if I can detach myself from the things I experience. It did surprised me. Not only was I able to get through with the details of the day so quick– a feat I was not able to achieve in the first person, compelling me to linger with the sensations for too long, but it also allowed me to focus on necessary details. I only ended up falling into first person in the rising action and climax of the story. These were thoughts that involved me the most.

I also saw that I was not taking risks with my language. Only in the last paragraphs did I deal with fragments. My sentences were too soft. They weren’t daring. They didn’t have enough character. Just like me.

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Tips on Winning On-The-Spot Writing Contests

On the spot essay-writing contests are similar to the theme writing assignments you normally do in class. The judges or the club or institution will give you a phrase or a question which you need to expand, explain, defend, or agree or disagree to into a set of paragraphs. But unlike these assignments, these contests are often (not always) strict in word count and time limit. You do not have an opportunity to assess whether or not you did well until you know that you have joined the rank of the winners.

These contests are also one of the two arenas for many young and emerging writers in the Philippines, the other one being Press Conferences. This is also the arena where I used to thrive and often win, sometimes with little preparation. And now that I am old enough to be out of the competition, I believe many aspiring writers may benefit from the following tricks that helped me through these contests:

  1. Read about writing arguments

Know those American college writing textbooks or readers you find lurking in book sales or school libraries? In a town without a strong reading community, these books became my companion. Not only are these selections entertaining, but they also contain the rhetorical modes that I use in these contests.

Try and focus on the section on writing arguments, since on the spot essay writing contests are argumentative by default. You would also find yourself having to defend the question or theme involved. To do this, you have to support it with various statements, provide evidence, and prepare for flaws or counter-arguments.

The argumentative mode is also easy to use, because you give emphasis to information rather than style. You can also engage the judges quickly if you know and are confident with what you want to say.

  1. Read newspapers, particularly opinion articles

Reading opinion articles give you the opportunity to understand how other professional writers write from the top of their head. No; it doesn’t mean that these writers are uninformed; if they are, then these opinion articles would be unconvincing and useless. Most of these opinion writers know what they want to say about a significant issue, and by writing an opinion, they interpret and assess the topic. Thus, when you read an opinion article, ask yourself if these writers are convincing and try to understand how. This attitude is the same attitude many judges use to gauge your work.

  1. Try to outline your essay into paragraphs

Since these contests are timed, you cannot afford to dwell too much on brainstorming. You need to do this, but you have to do it quick. I deal with this constraint by writing a quick paragraph-by-paragraph outline. I estimate the number of paragraphs I need to use for the introduction (one to two), for the explanation and defense (two to three), for managing flaws and rebuttals/implementation (one), and for the conclusion (one). I also try to highlight what I need to do, achieve, or include in the outline.

Once it’s done, I write from the top of my head. I don’t follow it sometimes, either out of circumstance or train of thought, but it helps to have a guide to help you if you’re lost.

This mode of brainstorming also helped me ace those essay examinations with little preparation.

  1. Know how to disagree with and please simultaneously

No, it doesn’t mean you flatter the hosts. But if you can, if it boosts your argument, and it satisfies the theme or question, why not? This is better understood as: know how to uplift the role of the institution/s involved in the contest in your essay. It is a must when the theme involved represents a core value in the host institution’s beliefs and virtues.

This is also why you always have to be agree with the idea or theme, unless the contest openly states that you have an option to disagree. Your primary goal after all is to win, not to create meaningful conversations with a wide audience.

So when you counter possible flaws in your essay, show that these flaws do not threat the integrity of the institution, or that anyone can deal with them by following certain steps. And when you flatter these institutions, make sure that you maintain a consistent tone. Make your flattery seem like a part of the argument, not an appeal to their ego.

  1. Preparation is optional. But if you have an idea about the scope of the contest, it is best if you are well read about it. More so if you barely know about any context or significant events related to it.

Because nothing is more convincing than a timely essay that is well supported with real information. If you have any relevant experience, that can stand in or boost your essay even further. But if you neither have experiences relevant to the contest nor knowledge of related events, you just need to begin reading.

And if this page ever had a cult following among writers, be prepared to be more creative in your essays. Know how to spice up your words, take risks with your paragraphs, or come up with entertaining ways of presenting your case. The argumentative mode I presented above should only be your emergency weapon, right when you have no idea how to deal with your on-the-spot problem, or if you only have cold information on your mind.

As of now, two other methods I know that could stand better than the argumentative mode is the experience mode and the creative/linguistic mode.

  1. The Experience Mode

As the name goes, you answer the question based on experience. If you want to tell your experience first, try to demonstrate how it is relevant to the question. If you prefer to use it later, it becomes your defense or evidence, as stated in Tip #5 above.

Relevance becomes a weighty word in this mode. You have to know how to create a perfect balance between telling the story and making it relevant. If the story is relevant enough, then good. But if it is not, dig into the experience and make it relevant. But if you barely have any relevant experience, don’t give this mode a thought.

For this one, it is best if you have read a lot of personal essays, or generally recommended short works in creative nonfiction.

  1. The Creative/linguistic mode

This mode allows you to play with your words and your presentation of the topic. But only dare to be creative and playful if you are sure what you want to do, and are certain that it can satisfy the question and can be considered as an acceptable form for an essay contest. The freedom you have may indeed be enticing, but there are just so many uncountable things that can go wrong in a limited period of time.

On the plus side, if your work does more than what is given and achieves that entertaining, enlightening, or witty effect (or whatever effect you have planned), there is a very high probability you can get that award.

These tips don’t work if you haven’t expressed your words and ideas clearly and properly. And you should always ask if these tips does apply to your contest. Following the instructions and knowing their standard comes first before using any trick.

What do you think? Do you also have any tricks or tips you use in writing contests? Share them in the comments!