Friday, March 19, 2010

there's something about this work

Last week, an idea struck me on my way home: I should be writing more about the workplace and the work itself.

It was, at the back of my head, a good idea. Since I have been wallowing in unexplainable distress the very first second I gambled my ideals, just to immerse in the curious sterility of the corporate world, why not capitalize on this emotion and get something fruitful from it?

In fact, way before the epiphany, I have produced one short fiction that revolves around an executive, a staff member and a blue-collar worker. All it needed was a workshop for polishing, I guess. Also, I have two drafts set aside because they (not me) don’t know where to go next.

These days, in between breaks and rest hours at home, I am trying to complete them. What could have been a very promising self-imposed project is now a little bit shaken when I read an
article two days ago with this sentence inserted somewhere in between: “many contemporary writers are notably silent about a key area of our lives: our work.”

What a serendipitous moment.

The essayist Alain de Botton has written that statement, and his blow-by-blow pointers hit a lot of realities especially in the state of modern Philippine literature. When was the last time people have read something about a farmer or, for the sake of timeliness, a nurse or a call center agent?

Botton’s study is hilarious yet worth quoting:

“If a proverbial alien landed on earth and tried to figure out what human beings
did with their time simply on the evidence of the literature sections of a
typical bookstore, he or she would come away thinking that we devote ourselves
almost exclusively to leading complex relationships, squabbling with our
parents, and occasionally murdering people.”

Botton shares that many novelists in the past have this goal of capturing the working life, such as Dickens, Steinback and Kafka, with the latter’s collection of short stories The Office Writings. I know little (or maybe none) of Filipino writers steeped on writings about work—especially that many of them serve it as a “décor” or, as how fictionist Ian Rosales Casocot puts it, “the wallpaper treatment”—but I am sure there is a rich heap out there.

Casocot pondered that Arturo Belleza Rotor could be an example for his “doctor writings.” I tried thinking for myself who else could be a practitioner, and F. Sionil Jose entered my mind, but later on, I realized his are peppered with lots of politicism even if many of the details in the narrative are distinctly Filipino chores of the working middle class.

And today, writers seem to veer away from the most relevant thing in the world.

But then I consider this could be an issue of escapism, what with the dourest clouds hovering above the heads of many unemployed men these days. This assessment of work absent in recent literature is then brought up again in an
essay written by Jennifer Schuessler in The New York Times.

Especially for those working in a corporate setup, one would ask, as written by Schuessler, “how much do we really want to read about what goes on at the office? Don’t most of us spend far too much time there already? The specifics of modern-day labor are, in many cases, utterly dull…”

I can attest to that that it rings all the bells. Why should a student read the mechanical routine of, for example, a restaurant manager when he or she can read the romantic tribulations between a glittering vampire and a sleepy girl, right? Wrong.

This must be the reason why most people, especially the student sector, are so detached from current affairs. We have been busy accumulating too much fantasy in our lives that we have forgotten how the machine works.

The thought of escapism as a means of momentary comfort is all right, but the tangible just keeps on drifting away from us because we have fastened ourselves to the idea of “anything happens,” disregarding the pinch of lesson one could get from stories about the luxury of retirement, the dedication in overtime, or the pitfalls of resigning one’s position.

That’s too much drama; however, to echo Botton, it is just ironic that critics praise a novel by Joshua Farris, saying it tracks “the antics inside a corporation… tackling the fresh and entirely unexpected subject matter of going to the office” when all the while most, if not all, people are laboriously working for days on end. Haven’t people noticed it yet?

It is true that the realm of work is a tedious vacuum but, on the whole, to grasp the reality is to grasp the fundamentals that establish all things as real. And anyone’s job is one of them.

Thus, I will go back to my two drafts now and finish them.

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