Hold the line

Editors' Choice (non-fiction) in the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2019

An abstract background of red, black, grey and blue, with triangles, lines and crescents. The text says "Hold the line."

This entry received the Editors’ Choice award in the non-fiction section of the Honi Soit Writing Competition 2019.

At 28 years old, I was laid off from my job.

I packed my things inside a cardboard box and kept my dinosaur-shaped magnets. The magazine I worked with for four years had folded. We had a good run: poking at societal issues with a sharp cognizance, provoking and asking all the right questions. People took notice of our work, and the work was important. For a while, we felt invincible. Purposeful.

But when I carried my box of things home with me, I realized that even significant work was dispensable. I wondered, what’s a jobless millennial supposed do now? I felt too young to be a casualty of retrenchment, too old to keep up with the next generation.

I remember the day the company’s founder gathered the entire editorial department in one room. She read her speech with a lofty acceptance, starting with a story about how a few brilliant, fashionable women gathered in a basement and dreamed up this very publication house, and then lead it to become the biggest one in the Philippines. You could feel the weight of gloom in the air: she wasn’t just reading a speech—she was delivering a eulogy. A year later, the company would replace all its 11 print publications with websites, replacing an editor’s mastery with Search Engine Optimization, prioritizing things like clicks-to-site and engagement ratings.

I thought it a weird time to be in the newsroom. Technology had challenged the integrity of the work that journalists did, and changed the way that these stories were being told and consumed. The political climate was tearing communities apart. Social media festered toxicity. Media businesses struggled to stay afloat. Journalists were replaced by bloggers.

For a year, I let this disdain simmer inside me while I worked freelance writing profiles of celebrities and beauty queens. It wasn’t ideal work, but one needed to pay the bills. I managed until a breakdown one morning. I cried in the arms of my boyfriend and whined about this feeling of “selling out.” He rubbed my shoulders and offered the only comfort he knew: a helpless optimism disguised as bad humor.

Outside, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ruthless crackdown on drugs continued. His brutal war had killed more than 12,000 people. Human rights advocates were sent to prison, administration-critics were harassed and humiliated. The news filled with haunting images: a howling mother cradling her dead son in the darkness of the night; children weeping against the caskets of their fathers; there were portraits of orphans and widows and broken families left behind. At night, the town smattered with dead bodies. Police washed their hands off the blood of the people. To respond, the President hissed at his critics, mocked the poor, tormented the people who fought for truth and spewed misogyny towards women.

I thought, somewhere in the world, another writer is packing their things inside a box. Another paper folds. Another machine stops printing. Another news story is overshadowed by a celebrity. Another truth is bent and twisted and molded into obscure shapes so unlike itself it’s hard to distinguish what it even is anymore. A light goes off.

But as I sat despondently on the sidelines, watching the world turn without me, I realized that I wasn’t the only one wrestling with angry thoughts at 4 a.m. in the shadow of my phone’s blue light. Today, in a time of war, people will raise their armors even higher. In the face of abuse, they will stare attackers straight in the eye. In response to threats, they will speak even louder.

It only takes one person to inspire a group to charge for combat. It only takes one person, so publicly beaten and shamed and chewed up and spat out, to stand up and say “hold the line,” which will inspire this moping writer to get off her ass, pick up a computer, and start writing again.