I had visited my former boss' blog www.sunshinephilippines.blogspot.com today on the off chance of reading something new there and I was not disappointed but was in fact overjoyed to find a couple of articles which I really found interesting -- of them was the one about Lucio Tan, who is probably still the richest Filipino I know of.
Anyway, I left a comment on her page which was basically a rave about the articles she wrote and she got back to me through a text message which started a short conversation.
Basically, she asked me how I was doing. I had to say that I was doing better than in previous weeks because the number of writing jobs I was doing had increased somewhat and I had an eye out for a number of other future writing jobs.
Then she said, 'Ganyan talaga tayo, feast or famine.' (That's the way our life is as writers, we
either enjoy days feasting or endure days of famine.)
It rang so true as the text message caught me at the check out counter of a Mercury Drugstore near Nagtahan Bridge. I had accompanied my elder sister while she bought my father's monthly supply of medicines (mostly for his emphysema, hypertension, rheumatism, and other health problems). The meds cost a cool Php8,500 (nearly US$200).
My contribution to that expense was basically nil, as it has been that way for a number of years after I had lost my job at RPN9 where I had written scripts for two news programs. Before that, when I was raking in good money at RPN, I used to give my father something like Php2,000 a month for whatever he needed plus some more when he asked.
Basically, his medicine bills have gone up with the number of ailments that developed over the course of the last couple of years. It was in 2003 that the doctors found out he had a pulmonary aneurysm and then a few months later he was operated on for prostate enlargement. This adds to his hypertension management drugs (medicines to treat hypertension, cholesterol, etcetera) and rheumatism drugs.
Thankfully, my elder brother, who is a ship doctor at a luxury cruise ship that plies the Mediterranean Coast, shoulders all of my father's medical the expenses.
Anyway, getting my former boss' text message got me to thinking about a couple of 'What ifs...'
Having been a writer for broadcast and print projects for about ten years now, I've already experienced a number of boom-bust cycles and for the last six years, my wife has endured the fluctuations.
Life as a writer, especially life as a freelance writer, may have all its pluses drowned out by the fact that you basically have to write stuff that'll get you paid and that really sticks it the romantic notion of writers living a life of leisure between bouts of writing.
There is this vision in my head that sort of captures what I used to think writing for a living would be like. I see Hemingway furiously typing away a manuscript in the morning light then pulling the paper out and setting it aside as he stands up and walks off to his veranda as he lights a cigar. He stands there, coolly puffing away as contemplates either going fishing for Blue Marlin the next day or having coffee with a couple of friends somewhere.
My life can't possibly be farther than that.
I usually find myself sitting infront of my 4 year old frankenstein PC, nervously tapping away at plastic keys in quick spurts as I try to beat deadline after deadline on a number of simultaneous projects. Instead of a cigar, I puff away at Marlboro Lights which will later (most probably) kill me. Instead of thinking about fishing for blue marlin or having coffee with a couple of friends, I think about what to eat for lunch (which is either cornbeef or a tuna sandwhich).
What is most unromantic about writing for a living in a third world country are the number of clients who haggle with my fees as if they were haggling with a carpenter or building contractor. I really hate that part because I tend to pity them when they come up with a figure that makes them look ultimately cheap especially when they are trying to project themselves in the media as a 'premium' something. Thankfully though, there are some clients who do have my best interests in mind and they do give me a pretty good number on my paycheck.