[How To Grow Up] Gmenier Mendoza, Starbucks Pearl – “Do what you can.”

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The Thinking G-Man: Gmenier, rendered in black-and-white as per his request.

“Whenever I think of you, I think of suicide.”

When I say this, he laughs.  Anyone else would be insulted, but Gmenier (pronouced May-nier) Mendoza, a.k.a. G-Man, a.k.a. Kuya/Ahia G, immediately gets the joke.  It’s been over a year since we worked together on Stray Cat, one of the four plays included in the Love C.A.F.E. suite, but he still picks up on the references to our nights as China, the attention-seeking, self-destructive cosplayer, and her beleaguered sempai and reluctant suicide counselor Dom.  Our favorite venue for these back-and-forths is Twitter (where China posts her threat to off herself and where, occasionally, usually during Finals Week, I do the same), but even in real life it seems to come naturally–maybe more so as of late, now that his sister, punk orange-haired, hipster-cool intellectual and Humanities major Kat Mendoza, has taken over the “China” role in Love C.A.F.E.’s re-run.

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Gmenier and our director, Erin Locsin (also the original “China”), going over the script of “Stray Cat” during our first reading.

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Me and Gmenier during our first show.  In case you’re curious, yes, I did gain weight for the role.

Our meet-up is months overdue–I’d been clamoring for a reunion ever since the re-run had been announced, and before then there was a jam session (with my Elinor and his Eleanor) that we kept agreeing would eventually happen but never really did–which is why, when he walks in the door, the first thing that flies out of my mouth is “Yes, I know, I got fatter.”  He insists that I haven’t, and that he has, but to my eyes he’s gotten slimmer and I tell him so.  He laughs and changes the subject, asks what I’ve been doing.  “Schoolwork, mostly,” I say, “I’m not sleeping much.  You?”  “Same old, same old.” he says, smiling.  When we last talked, he’d been new in his current position; now, it’ll be nearly a year.  He works for PLDT Global, the international arm of the Philippine telecom giant, “…targeting OFWs, helping them bridge the gap, you know–family stuff.” he grins wryly, having caught himself quoting ad copy.

Gmenier, like me, lived a colorful university life, full of extracurriculars and onstage credits (when I mention this, he reluctantly admits that he’s “known” on campus–a fact that’s pretty obvious, considering he appears in our university brochures.).  I guess that’s part of the reason why I wanted to talk to him–because he’s somehow managed to balance having been that vibrant person-with-dreams and doing the responsible thing.    I cut straight to the chase.  “How’d it feel to go from school to the corporate world?”  “To be honest, it sucked.” He says, without a moment’s hesitation, but before I can clarify if he wants that statement “off record,” he explains it wasn’t because of his first job–he felt he was able to contribute meaningfully–but in the sense of having to adjust to the “real world.”  “The one thing you have to understand about school is that we’re sheltered somewhat.  The real world is different.”

I have to admit a little lump in my throat when he says that.  “How different?”

“Well…it’s harder,” he admits, “But you’ll get through.”  I sigh, “What if you can’t?”  He looks confused for a moment and asks what’s been going on.  “I’ve actually considered checking out,” I admit with a wry smile, “Except I’m too chicken to actually do anything, so for a time my solution was praying for an early, painless death.”

He gives me a confused look, and I fill in the blanks left between my occasionally depressing tweets, the recap I gave A.G. (who, incidentally, is Gmenier’s friend) and Cito, but with a little more of the inner turmoil filled in.  It’s surprisingly easy to unload, I guess because he’s already seen me at my “worst,” albeit in a fictional context.  “It hasn’t been a good couple of weeks,” I explain, trying my best to summarize the roller-coaster that has been a good chunk of my August-September.  “I’m burning out with school.  I don’t feel I’m doing anything meaningful, and everything I find meaningful I have no time for because of some presentation, project, paper or combination of all three.  And it’s not like before, when I could tell myself if I just hung on the sem would end and I’d have another shot at doing what I love–after this, it’s the working world.  And judging from the older people I’ve seen…a lot of them seem more miserable than I am.  I’m not sure it will get any better than this.”  “I think you’re thinking too much,” he says in response, “Or rather, you’re thinking ahead too much.”  In direct defiance of every “personal development” exercise I’ve ever received–you know, the ones that ask you to visualize yourself ten, twenty years in the future?–Gmenier diagnoses the cause of my anxiety as, “…forcing yourself to plan ahead when you can’t actually know what’s coming yet.”

It’s a bit shocking, at first.  I’ll admit that I sort-of assumed Gmenier had those three-year, five-year, and ten-year plans we’re all supposedly required to have in order to get ahead. The reality, however, is a bit different.  “You can’t live too much in the future,he says, explaining our tendency to demand too much of our future selves with those tick-boxes of achievements to accomplish by thirty, forty, fifty.  “I’m not saying stop having ambitions.  I’m not saying stop dreaming.  But you have to accept the fact that will not do everything.”  The best thing to do, he suggests, is to “live in the in-between,” a term he later mentions came from inspirational blogger Jeff Goins.  I ask him what it means, and he explains it’s sort-of a better term for the present–the tiny sliver of reality that’s somehow within our control.  Without ditching the concept of the long-term goal, Gmenier explains the shift in focus to “What can I do today?”, working towards those goals one small step at a time.  At the end of the day, it’s likely–actually, certain–that not everything’s been neatly crossed off the list.  There will be things, he explains, that we don’t manage to do, or do right.  “But that’s life.  What you’ve done is what you’ve done.  If you want to do more,” he says, “at the risk of sounding kind of corny here…what Scarlett O’Hara said in Gone With The Wind: ‘Tomorrow is another day.’  That is, if you have a tomorrow.”

“But you can’t completely throw out the future, can you?  I mean, what you’re going to do?  What if you’re not sure yet?”  We both note the irony in that, in how part of my fears about having to grow up are about how I won’t get to do everything I want, when I’m not even quite sure what I want.

Lately, Gmenier explains, he’s been focusing on figuring out his purpose, which is why, disclaimer: “If this is meant to be a career talk, I may not be the best person for the job.”  I dismiss career as the least of my worries–I’m actually a bit allergic to the word, truth be told–and say that his current focus fits the discussion nicely.  Purpose is new.  Well, not quite, but mostly I hear about passion, about doing what you love–a definition that’s confused me to no end, largely because I’m a jack-of-all-trades; I love doing a lot of things, to the point that to not be able to do one of them, ever, terrifies me.  I’ve been told that passion is somehow supposed to point to purpose, but I’ve always felt like if that’s the case, then I’ve got arrows pointing in too many directions.

“I guess because when we’re in university, we get to do a lot of things.” Gmenier says.  He himself, like me, juggled theatre with other extracurricular activities, and had more than one outlet, aside from, of course, his majors work.  “But that was then, that was what I had to be back then.  What I have to be now can be different.”  Gmenier espouses a single purpose, but one whose execution is ever-evolving through every chapter.  And as for passion, he considers it merely a quarter of the equation: good as a starting point in the search for purpose, “But sometimes it can be the other way around.  Sometimes you find your purpose first and become passionate about it, over time.”

Gmenier’s idea of purpose comes the closest to my ideas of adulthood–the inevitable sacrifice of dreams–but without the misery.  On the contrary, unlike the sad, cynical adulthood I’ve envisioned in my head, he seems strangely at peace with the idea, more than I would be.  I’m haunted by the “What ifs,” the potential longing.  “There’s so much I still want to do though,” I say, “What if I never get to do them, because I have to grow up?”

“What if,” I repeat, “It doesn’t get any better than this?”  I ask him if he believes in the idea of “Glory Days,” the fact that we peak at one point and then taper off after.  “I’m afraid that this is it, you know?  I will never have as much potential as I did in this moment.  It’s all downhill from here.”

“Well, if you’re worried about that, then you could stay in the academe.” He says.  “NO.  ABSOLUTELY NOT.” I say, and he laughs at my horrified expression.

“You have to allow yourself to miss things,” Gmenier continues, “You let yourself look back, relive it all over again…but at the end you accept that it’s over.”  This leads to a long, semi-philosophical discussion on what “missing things” means, ending in the admission that even our university’s required nine units of philosophy subjects are perhaps no match for nostalgia.  At the very least, though, we both conclude it has nothing to do with regret, the idea that “you didn’t do enough.”  Looking back is supposed to be joyful, not fear-inducing, and as for the idea of “glory days,” well, “I think there’s one for every chapter,” Gmenier says, “You’ve got to accept that you did all you were going to do at this point in time, and you move on.”  He circles back to the idea of purpose, and how it changes manifestation with each stage: just because we aren’t doing everything that we used to do doesn’t mean we’re not doing what we have to do.

It’s a balancing act, he admits, between the possible and the desirable, but that’s what makes it easier, in a sense.  Passion is pure fire, in Gmenier’s book, and its light can blind–“You can get so hung up on your passion that even once you’ve reached your peak, you refuse to let go, and that can keep you back.”  Purpose, on the other hand, helps you move forward–once you accept the limitations of what you can and cannot pursue, you manage to get on a track that fits you.  “Keep doing what you love doing,” he says, “But be realistic–sometimes you won’t have the freedom to do so at this point in time, and that will be okay; you can do something else.”

In essence, Gmenier’s philosophy–combining the elements of living in the in-between and living for purpose–is to “Do what you can.”  Only, instead of this being limited exclusively to the idea of capacity, in Gmenier’s view it combines also the will: the willingness to do it, the desire, the so-called element of “passion.”  Purpose is what you can do, because you can only really do something you love–anything else is less success and more subsistence.  In a sense, it’s that “mythical” intersection of the Venn Diagram between what you love doing, what you do well, and what can earn you money, only how Gmenier explains it, it feels less mythical.  His idea of the constant evolution of how your “purpose” is expressed adds the element of hope: what you give up may come back to you.  Or it may not.  Don’t think about what you’ll be doing in the future.  Don’t think about what you did in the past.  Instead, do what you love doing that you need to do, in the here and now.  The important thing is to do what you (and, it’s implied, only you) can.  

After he explains this, I tell him about a change that I’ve recently noticed in myself: how I don’t really feel the need to be onstage anymore.  Before, a long absence from theatre would send me into agonies–I’d feel physically drained dry, my life absolutely meaningless.  But having given it up for nearly a year due to thesis and academic responsibilities, I don’t feel the same ache.  Instead, I tell him, I’m focusing on music and writing, and finding that those fulfill me just the same.  He smiles, but true to form never says “I told you so.”  Instead, he simply repeats, “Do what you can.”  And I realize he’s right: I’m doing what I can, and I don’t really feel the worse for it.

Our conversation at this point has run on for nearly two hours (which, to all you readers, explains why this post is longer than the others), and I note that it’s nearly time to pick my mum up from her Bible study.  As I wait for my driver to arrive, our conversation turns to small talk–the stuff we skipped in view of handling the profound topics of “growing up” and “purpose.”  I comment on a photo I’ve recently seen on his timeline, of a carwash named “G-Man.”  He laughs, “Yep: first a comic book, and now a car wash.”  He shows me the comic book in question, which leads to talk of superheroes.  On Twitter, Gmenier has a penchant for mentioning the Batman-verse, specifically casting himself in the role of the caped crusader (though, full disclosure, I wasn’t actually supposed to tell you all that).  “Why Batman?” I ask him.  “There’s a story behind that,” he explains, “I started with Batman, as a kid.  Then, for a time, as a teenager, I got really into Spiderman.  Lately, though, I felt it was a good time return to my roots.”  “Like coming home,” I say.

“Exactly,” he says, with a smile, “You can always come home to Gotham.”

~ARoamingTsinay~

P.S.
Special thanks to Gmenier Mendoza for nearly 
two hours of his time.  Stay tuned for the results of our jam session, if we ever get around to having one.  Also, after I took his photo, I asked him if anyone ever told him he looked sort-of like John Lloyd Cruz.  “I only have one answer to that,” he said, “It’s the other way around.”  Sure it is, Dom.  Sure it is.

P.P.S.
In the interests of full disclosure, the original quote at the end was “You can always come home to Batman,” but then that conjured up the funny image of Gmenier coming home to find Batman waiting on his couch…so he told me to change it to Gotham instead.

But yes, Gmenier, you can always come home to Batman. 😉

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