Reflecting on Hello, Ever After
Writing about tragedy is not my lane. I may have tried it once or twice as a younger writer, but when deciding on a writing career, I chose—and stayed—in the romance lane. It’s a misconception that these books are all sunshine and rainbows, but I will argue that it’s about that light and hope that we have to find and maybe create in darkness.
When the darkness and the tragedy is absolutely based on reality, I often don’t want to write about it. Last year, as quarantine and lockdown started, and we were starting to see the effects of it on our lives, part of me did not want to acknowledge its existence. I wrote a whole entire book set in 2019, digging deep into a story idea I really wanted to write that did not at all have anything to do with Covid. And then I and several other #RomanceClass authors did the opposite and wrote about Covid.
There is, I can say now, a common anger, sadness, and grief to the episodes that we ended up writing and producing. Because we chose characters we’d already created and released into the world as published work, there were very specific voices we used to channel our feelings. Depending on where and who the characters were, the idea of a lockdown life was different. These scripts and episodes weren’t workshopped. I had finished my script first, so I just shared it with everyone participating so they could see the format. At most our scripts were edited for length (to fit a 10 minute running time when produced), and revised to be on the right side of medical information as we knew it then. (Good thing we had a pathologist, Dr. Celestine Trinidad, among our authors.)
As I write this in April 2021, things have gotten worse in terms of the health care system being stretched; the number of cases per day has risen to new higher defaults; the extreme version of community quarantine was imposed again; businesses have closed; public education has suffered; politicians and rich people flaunted multiple times how the rules don’t apply to them; many loans granted in the name of Covid were announced but people are jobless and hungry; our vaccination rate hovers at 1.1% and people are dying before getting their first shot; the vaccines we have were acquired in a fraught and corrupt process and even as our lives are theoretically being saved, we are made to accept less than we deserve.
But also (because it’s in my lane to find slivers of light, don’t tell me it’s a futile exercise) of those vaccinated, many of them are our healthcare workers and senior citizens, as prioritized. I’ve gotten my first shot, because of a health condition considered a “comorbidity.” As government systems fail us, communities and very specific public servants step up. The Office of the Vice President has been a light, as has been the very recent community pantry movement. It also was the network of communities, in our own neighborhoods and others, that got essentials for us during the worst of the lockdowns. There are so many stories of what formed to fill gaps.
Hello, Ever After was a community effort and it’s often my instinct to downplay it. In this space, let me talk it up—I’m proud of what we were able to do.
Episode 1, my episode Make Good Days, features Ben and Naya from my book What Kind of Day. Ben is a senator’s speechwriter, and would have been right in the thick of things but on the government side, but here I had him reflect on a eulogy he has to write for someone he hasn’t met, now that Covid’s death toll has meant eulogies are part of his job. Naya had a tour business, and was joining a bigger firm as their travel consultant (a career move I had actually written into the book) but now that job is no longer on the table and she’s worried about her future.
Episode 2, “We Will Be Okay” by Celestine Trinidad, is about Cris and Nathan from her book Ghost of a Feeling. The book is already a careful portrayal of the mental health toll of their jobs for people who work in health care, and the episode takes this couple (a doctor and a pharmacist) and places them right in the storm of the long shifts, vigilance against misinformation, the stolen moments for meals and video calls.
Episode 3, “Safe Space” by Miles Tan, features her characters Carlisle and Mateo from Finding X. This one is about the responsibilities conveyed on the “quarantine pass holder”. Who takes care of the people taking care of an entire household? What do they need? (Donuts and samgyupsal can work.)
Episode 4, “Happy Endings, Please, and Thank You” by Tara Frejas, features Audrey and Pio from her book Like Nobody’s Watching. Pio is an actor who’s away on a “lockdown shoot” and his girlfriend Audrey’s helping him rehearse his script from home. The movie Pio’s doing is dark and triggering, and Audrey questions why this is the kind of entertainment he has to make—and why this is the art that gets funded—while people are sick and worried and exhausted.
Episode 5, “Lab Notes” by Six de los Reyes, shows Kaya and Nero from her book Beginner’s Guide: Love and Other Chemical Reactions. This conversation is about how a long lockdown feels for people who actually didn’t mind the isolation before—that maybe there is a limit, and our relationships and friendships help us cope.
Episode 6, “Midnight Melodies” by Carla de Guzman, is about Adam and Isabel from her book How She Likes It. Isabel is a CEO dealing with the pressure of safely bringing her business back up when there has been no mass testing or support for the business sector—and that’s through midnight stress baking and watching Netflix with Adam.
Episode 7 is “Favorite Alarm” by Jay E. Tria, with her characters Ringo and Kris from You Out of Nowhere. This is a too-early video call, with Ringo already at work, because he’s “essential” and work-from-home doesn’t apply to him. It’s about that reality of people who have to keep going to work, and small business owners like Kris who have to adapt.
Episode 8, “No Giving Up” by Ana Tejano, features Nico and Faith from her book Keep the Faith. Nico and Faith are disaster relief workers, who have to keep working because disasters still happen in a pandemic. On a regular day their work takes a toll on their well-being and mental health. The long days and lack of government support in a pandemic is a lot—or too much.
Episode 9, “Kalad-quarantine” by Bianca Mori, has her characters Mags and Luke from Chasing Waves. Mags and her son were in La Union when lockdown was announced, suddenly making her relationship with Luke go from office romance to LDR. Spending quarantine in a sunny beach resort and being in an industry where working remotely is a standard, Mags gets to experience the lockdown in relative comfort and she and Luke are still employed, but that doesn’t mean they’re unaware of the world crumbling for others who aren’t as lucky.
Episode 10 is “Reconnected,” by Angeli E. Dumatol with her characters Alexa and Theo from her YA book Heartstruck. In this episode Alexa and Theo are trying to study together for online class, through internet connection troubles, and talking about the prom they likely won’t get to have.
Episode 11 is “Hugs You Can Hear” by Fay Sebastian, featuring her characters Liam and Erika from her story All About That Bass. Liam’s affected by the lockdown more than he thought he would be, and he’s worried about family members too. Art—and love—helps him cope, and in this episode he and girlfriend Erika bond over composing a song that may help others too.
Episode 12 “That Damn Mouth” by Katt Briones, stars Vinnie and Cholo from Chasing Mr. Prefect. Vinnie as a character has always been parts fire and privilege, and we get to see it in action during lockdown as she tells her boyfriend Cholo how her rage (and her grandmother’s name) helped disadvantaged people against an inept local government—and how messed up and dangerous it is that this is even necessary. But there’s also a birthday cupcake, and the promise of HEA.
This was all created and produced in a few short months. Our rage and sadness and hope captured pretty much in the moment, supported by friends (every expense was covered through crowdfunding) and supporting friends (actors and artists and authors showing up). I’m always proud of #RomanceClass but maybe this is a project that I’ll treasure a little more than others, and still I can’t wait for this to just be “that thing we did in 2020 that’s no longer relevant” because we’re in a better time.
Still, there may be things we can’t unsee or undo now. I do feel this rage and need for accountability will always show up in some way in what I write, and maybe that’s okay. At least now we know that we can write kilig even amidst all this, even as we acknowledge the anger and grief. This is power. And hope. That’s still my lane, our lane.
Apart from the authors who wrote the episodes, Hello, Ever After’s creative team: Tania Arpa, Mina V. Esguerra, Tara Frejas, Miles Tan, Ana Tejano, Layla Tanjutco, Jef Flores, Carla de Guzman. Actors: Raphael Robes, Rachel Coates, Jade Albert, Jef Flores, Gio Gahol, Samantha Aquino, Fred Lo, Gab Pangilinan, Carlos de Guzman, Nikki Bengzon, Davy Narciso, Jam Binay, Migs Almendras, Sofia Santelices.