Where are you going?


So this month, we’re finally doing the ambition issue for New Slang. I’ve had this topic on the back burner for the past few months already: before Metrophilia, before going to Hong Kong, before my class yesterday when I asked them about what they wanted to do with their lives, then commenced to show them a string of paper cranes I had folded out of boredom at the office. Marla’s even written about it on the site several times.

The job you start out with is rarely ever the job you want, and I was taught this was okay because it’s just as rare that you actually know what you want when you start working. Looking back, I’m not sure I was very clear about what I wanted, but I knew there was something there. I mean, there had to be something there, right?

People around me wanted me to write. Write, like “Here, add copy to this,” or “We need someone to help with the scripts for our call center,” the kind of writing I didn’t want or wasn’t sure I wanted. It’s the “wasn’t sure” part that always got to me. At that point I “wasn’t sure” I wanted anything to do with fashion and “wasn’t sure” I wanted to turn writing from a discipline to a profession: something I did for money.

When you’re asked what do you do, it’s almost always a reference to your job. A better question is “What pays your bills?” which is a lot easier to answer, because the description is usually laid out for you when you sign the contract.

“I manage accounts,” or
“I teach college students,” or
“I write manuals for corporate development.”
And the list goes on. But what else do you do outside all of that? What do you do when you’re procrastinating? Some people are lucky enough to not even have to tell the difference between the thing they do for fun and the thing they do to pay the bills. I’m lucky to be a mixture of both because I genuinely enjoy a lot of the things my job entails.

When you’re asked where you’re going, it’s usually a refence to the thing your job is an obstacle to. Like, “Hey, you manage accounts! What’s that standing in the way of?” You spend nine hours a day staring at that obstacle and it becomes easy to forget, or to just convince yourself that “It’s not so bad.” Maybe it actually isn’t, maybe you’ve found other ways around it that don’t involve drastic measures like scaling the damn thing, or blowing it up Michael Bay style. “Also, I get health insurance in case it gives me a heart attack.”

Yesterday I asked the juniors about future plans, and tried to remember what I foresaw at their age. When I was 20, I had just transferred to UP after a fun stint of messing around onstage in Ateneo, where I had spent two years. How I even got there was completely irrelevant because when I was already knee-deep in the system, I pretty much stopped giving a shit. I just knew I wanted out.

Conversation between me and my mom, re: Ateneo,

“What course are you taking there again?”
“Theater Arts.”
“I didn’t know you were into Theater.”
“Neither did I.”

In my second year, someone had asked me why I was always alone. I think my face fell because he quickly rephrased it to, “Okay! Not exactly ‘alone’, but not with a group.” followed by, “Where do you hang out?”
“I don’t really hang out.”
“Then what do you do with your breaks?”
“I…read.”
I don’t know why it felt weird to admit it, but I never felt like such a loser in my entire life (even if there’s nothing wrong with reading). But I was literally killing almost all my time in the library reading really pretentious shit I barely understood just because it was there in the shelf next to the desk I liked “hanging out” at. Later I would find out that I wasn’t the only library troll in my batch. One of my best friends “hung out” there so often that one of the janitors developed a crush on her. Weird that I never saw her there, but you don’t really go to the library to be with people, do you?

It was the “alone” part. Before that, I never really had to spend time alone, but once I started having to do so I realized how much I liked it. Of course there were little bouts of envy, like “Why am I not invited to your debut?” or “Why wasn’t I included in this group picture?!” or “Barkada? I don’t have one of those.” And being the condescending and judgmental asshole that I was, I figured I didn’t need a group. Groups are lame. Whatever. I’ll just hang out at the library ’til one of the janitors develops a crush on me.

It persisted until I got to UP, where I couldn’t carry on quite the same way because–SURPRISINGLY–the libraries at UP just weren’t as interesting…they actually bordered on sucking (and no one can contest this right now, because the Main Library STILL DOESN’T HAVE ANY ELECTRICITY! [Thanks budget cuts]). So I worked. Not for money, I just found other things to do.

I came to class, finished whatever I had to finish, then went straight home and worked on other things or straight to my boyfriend’s house and got busy…with other things. Like work. Whatever it was, I made sure to fill my time with things that would distract me from the reality that I had no idea what I would be doing come graduation. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there”, was the mantra, and when we did get there, I was too busy to notice.

I was working at a shitty BPO that was in denial of being a BPO. It held potential when it came to stock options and climbing the ladder and there were so many clauses in the contract about “sensitive information” and such. I loved it (in theory), at least I loved it before I started because I figured if I had to know the ropes of big business, what better place to learn than at a company with access to shady deals?

That didn’t last. Within a couple of months I was spending more time on fucking Pitchfork and trolling design blogs than at work, which I usually finished in the first and last hour at the office. I parked my car on the far end of Makati Ave. in the daytime, then walked over to fetch it in the evening, effectively avoiding parking fees and extending my break by a few minutes. It was a great way of killing time, and when I received news that I was on the list of graduates, I realized “Hey, I should celebrate this!” and bought a ticket to my first music festival ever. Nevermind that it was in Chicago, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

I think there always has to be something in life that remains above and beyond what you can accurately describe. Music has always filled that gap for me. I can’t play any instrument to save my life or sing or arrange a song, but I have a tendency to drop whatever I’m doing for it. If you tell me right now that Wild Nothing is playing a couple of dates within the vicinity, I will go there. And that’s what happened (with The Flaming Lips and Grizzly Bear), only Chicago is nowhere near Manila.

Chi-town 2009

Conversation sometime in May, between me and my mom (who works for Philippine Airlines):
“Do I still have a non-revenue ticket for international flights?”
“Yeah, one. Where are you going?”
“Chicago in July.”
“Okay. What are you doing there?”
“Watching a concert.”
“Oh. Don’t you have work.”
“I’m resigning in a month.”
“Oh. Okay.”

When things fall into place, it becomes not so much a question of “Where am I going?” but “How did I get here?” A month after quitting my job, I was sitting in a diner having lunch. A couple (two graphic designers whose names I forgot) asked to join my table and we were forced into the requisite chit-chat. “So what do you do?” I was asked. “Nothing.” I wanted to say. What do you do with nothing, especially at this point when the “something” you’ve gotten accustomed to turned out to be even less than the “nothing” you’ve found yourself in? I wasn’t supposed to be there with my sandwich and my new friends, I was supposed to be on the 20th floor of a Valero office tower expediting Indonesian textile accounts.

“I…’m here for a concert.”
“Oh hey! That’s great! When is it?”
“It was the other day.”
“And then what?”
“And then I go to LA.”
“What are you doing there?”
I shrugged.
“You should get in touch with my friend Tom! He has dread locks!”

And then she wrote his name down in my notebook. I remember writing something down in her notebook as well, but I can’t remember what it was. A lot of writing things in notebooks happened that month, I’ve found book titles written on the backs of receipts pressed between pages, phone numbers on margins, names of places I should visit, all adding up to the things I should want and need when traveling alone in foreign territory. I remember it was okay, there weren’t a lot of questions about lifelong plans or ambition, but there were a lot of stories about how wonderful and at the same time unbearable America is. As long as you say “Please,” and “Thank you,” before going your own way, you should be fine. And that’s how it worked out.

I came home broke, unemployed, and mildly disgruntled. Then I broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years and distracted myself by looking for a job I didn’t really care for. I needed money. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, but I knew I needed it. I also needed a better way to kill time because I was tired of myself after the month I’d spent alone (in my head, on a plane, wherever). What I was killing time for, I wasn’t sure, but I knew by then that I really liked watching gigs (expensive) and walking around aimlessly in strange cities (even more expensive).

When all you really want to do with your life is travel, you start to wonder what’s the point when you just keep coming back to yourself–a self that’s either dropped a lot of weight from subsisting on coffee and beer or gotten fat from a diet of cheerios and chips. I love to travel, but I’m not sure yet what the end goal is. “Maybe you’re looking for a husband, feeling ko foreigner lang ang babagay sa’yo.” suggested a friend, but…uhm…no. Sufjan Stevens has a song called “The Perpetual Self” and WHATDOESTHATEVENMEAN? You travel, you bring your fortune with you, and with it comes your baggage and 25 years of history.

But it adds just as much as it takes away, and maybe that’s what’s important. After spending an entire month’s salary to stand in front of a stage, soaked to the knees in mud, you figure that’s what all this work is for. And somehow, it’s worth it and you can’t wait to do it again and again and again–even after telling yourself “This is the LAST time I’m going to do this. I promise.” But that’s probably a lie. A guy I went out with said “I have priorities. I have a daughter to look after.” To say, “I have priorities. I have a long list of bands I want to see and places I want to get lost in,” makes little sense to someone who wants something else out of life, but isn’t that a given? Aren’t we all here to figure out what is and isn’t worth the trip?

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Author: alicesarmiento

San Juan, Metro Manila

2 thoughts on “Where are you going?”

  1. “I speak of journeys because of course we are all of us on a journey ourselves. The comparison of life to a road is a very ancient one, and you and I are travelers along that road whether we think of it that way or not, traveling from the unknown into the known….. Travel can be a very unmasking experience, bringing us suddenly face to face with ourselves—as when we are gazing out of a train window at the endless line of telegraph poles whipping by, and we find that part of what we are looking at is our own reflection”

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