01 December 2010

Applause for the clowns

We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment – the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that it is done to the sound of music – can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance.

—In an article in the English magazine, Belgravia, at a time when Waltz was becoming popular

And the characters in Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music are introduced to us dancing the Waltz, exchanging partners, with weariness and hesitation in some of the exchanges, yet with a smile in the others.

We are presented with men and women intertwined in one graceful, shameful and truthful dance, and the link is love, or whatever sensitivity it is that goes between any two people in a romantic relationship. One character is after another character who is after another. Each one is a point in a series of connected triangles. In play are love’s realities and therefore its complexities.

A Little Night Music poster

16 November 2010

Discussion: The Maguindanao Massacre — Is it writable?

Once on my way home from work, I passed by a stray dog—furless skin and bones, fresh wounds and scabs all over. I quickly turned, it was difficult to look.

What caught my attention was something I couldn’t stand seeing. Yet oddly enough I felt the need to document the instance. As with anything striking, I wanted to commit it to memory, believing I could someday retrieve it to make sense of it, or use it in making sense of the things around it.

Writing is documenting and making sense. Is something as gruesome as a massacre writable? Yes, but only after you get the courage to look at it straight in the face, and long after the fact.

Read the rest on Interlineal.net

21 October 2010

Our dreams of Xanadu

Put up a roller disco, love someone and create art—said in one breath, you’ll dismiss the thought as silly; but who has not, at least once in their life, taken a silly thought seriously?

Artist Sonny Malone, extremely dissatisfied with his chalk mural in Los Angeles, decides to commit suicide. Upon seeing him, the Greek muse Clio talks her sisters into helping Sonny out of his artistic depression. It is against Zeus’s rules for demigods to reveal who they are to mortals, so Clio descends to Earth and blends in with the humans by naming herself Kira, sporting an Australian accent and going about in roller skates.

Clio successfully turns Sonny’s disposition around and Sonny is now determined to pursue his greatest dream: combine all the arts and add something athletic. He will build a roller disco. They find Xanadu, an abandoned theater owned by Danny Maguire who is a former musician and now a grumpy tycoon who can’t be convinced to sell the building for the arts.

Clio then aids Sonny in acquiring the theater and fulfilling his dream. In the process, the demigod falls in love with the mortal—another transgression against the laws of Zeus.

If the foregoing plot points seem a bit out-there, it’s probably because they are. At the heart of the musical Xanadu (book by Douglas Carter Beane, music and lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar) is the disillusioned artist who trades his life and art for death—whether by suicide or by submission to the more useful pursuit. The theme is so trite that one way to deal with it is by making fun of it, which is what the musical does. It pokes fun at the movie musical flop of the same title starring Olivia Newton-John and the time’s cultural faults (“The muses are in retreat. Creativity shall remain stymied for decades. The theater? They’ll just take some stinkeroo movie or some songwriter’s catalog, throw it on stage and call it a show”). It pokes fun at love (“Oh there are many reasons why mortals fall in love. For some, it is lust. For others, it is companionship. For a few in the San Fernando Valley, it is simply because the other one has air conditioning. But we shall make them fall in love in the most lethal way. We shall make them complete one another”). It also pokes fun at itself (“This is like children’s theater for 40-year-old gay people!”).

26 September 2010


Locks and keys without their match

The beautiful love letters written to the wrong person


Half-used notebooks, notebooks barely used; unread books, books that will never be read


I am very messy now.

This will never end.

22 September 2010

‘Cats’: On screen, on stage, in Manila

That a cat is not a dog* is not the moral of the musical, Cats. It has no moral, neither does it have a compelling, let alone cohesive plot. Why then has it been running for almost thirty years in different countries and, just recently, found its way in Manila? Because it’s clear about its intention and executes it very well: dazzle.

I bought the Cats DVD in 2008 knowing nothing about it except that it was one of the longest-running musicals on Broadway and in the West End. And this is what I learned after watching: It was T.S. Eliot’s already lilting verses in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats set to sublime music and exhilarating choreography. A treat to lovers of song, dance and well, cats, it became my bedtime musical for around three months. Doubtful that it’ll ever be staged here in the Philippines, I vowed to see it live when I go abroad. So when news came out that it’ll be staged in Manila by a team that involves The Really Useful Group (the outfit behind the original London production), I bought tickets as soon as they were available.

I watched the show twice in its Manila run last August; first on August 3 (in its second week) and then on August 29 (the last performance). When people would ask, “Is it good?” —or upon learning I saw it twice, “Is it that good?”, I would give a very calculated response, knowing how friends and colleagues, while at one point are interested in theater, may be too busy or too short of cash to go out of their way to watch a musical extravaganza. If I said, “Go watch it”, the thing must be worth their nonreturnable time and money. Otherwise, I could give them the option to borrow my DVD.

The Cats crew already flew from the Philippines to Taiwan for their next round of performances. This roundup will come belatedly to Filipino patrons who saw Cats for the first time, but to fellows who wish to watch it soon but are unsure of what to expect, allow me to share my response to the question, “Is it good?”.

Read the rest on Interlineal.net

31 March 2010


is my favorite meal of the day.

Because I love mornings and I love eating and


Dawn and dusk are times for thinking and clearing the mind of thought. Sometimes I feel like I can solve the world's problems while seeing the sky goldened by the sun. (Sometimes I want my mind shut tight by night.)


When it's a good day,

Cafe Mary Grace

Reading the newspaper won't drag the day down. So there is tragedy in your country, so there are opinions you disagree with—dawn lends a clarity and calmness in reading through the news. I am reminded that where there are problems, there are possibilities. And you toy with the possibilities of the day: Whom will I bump into? What passage in the book will agitate me? Will someone call to tell me what I've always longed to hear? Where do I go next? What will I do differently?


Because the two-hour meal gives me the chance to delve into the pleasures of food and a dialogue with my self; of mapping out the day and recollecting last night's dreams; the pleasure of witnessing the sunrays rend the overcast.

15 February 2010

The difficulty in How are you?

1. You are to report on the asker's expectations of you.
2. You have higher standards for yourself, you cannot simply be okay and fine.
3. You take the question seriously, because you take the asker seriously.

Other than the problem of being true to yourself, there is the anxiety about not knowing who you are. But there is still this one: changing.

The best of friends are those who, without a word, tell you that it is okay to be happy doing what they did not think you would do, and that your worst self is their friend, too.

14 February 2010

On growing old

The newest member of our department is 21 years old. I'll turn 27 next month. What makes me feel old is the fact that I have yet to accomplish what I vowed to do before my silver anniversary. I'm two years late for my targets.

Maybe it is a common feeling among those in their 20s. There is not a need, but a burden to conquer, if not save the world.

Actress Irma Adlawan says good breaks and recognition only came to her now (now that she's in her 40s). It makes me not afraid to get older. In fact I'm never afraid of it, I'm indifferent to it. Until I met someone who's 21 years old and realized there is always something better out there.

But I have to name it.

When friends in my age group tell me about not knowing what they want, or worry about the direction their life is heading to, I think surely it must be okay to not know, for only then will you be permitted the freedom to try out any thing without risking anything. The lost discovers the wild and wonderful, finds a fellow traveller. That's what youth is for, I half-believe. I have that at the back of my mind but at the same time do my best to figure out what I want twice as fast and steer my ship in that direction.

Now is exciting. Tomorrow—I know I can look forward to that calmness and wisdom I see in people in their 50s, in their real prime. For inspiration, I turn to people like Irma Adlawan and remember these words from writer Dana Goia:
Poets serious about making careers in institutions understand that the criteria for success are primarily quantivative. They must publish as much as possible as quickly as possible. The slow maturation of genuine creativity looks like laziness to a committee. Wallace Stevens was forty-three when his first book appeared. Robert Frost was thirty-nine. Today these sluggards would be unemployable.

25 January 2010

The ideal lover: the denominator?

Seeing through you and with what he sees acts around and treats you accordingly.

A passion to build, but a passion tempered by discipline, intelligence and practical wisdom.

23 January 2010

Ideal date

It was my idea. I haven't seen an opera before and I really wanted to wear a gown.

It was unbelievably boring. Poor Dennis, but poorer me for feeling boredom and guilt for three hours.

Caught up with familiar faces after the show. The night kept getting worse. The fake talk and laughter lasted until two in the morning. They wouldn't let go of us. We were naturally charming.

The drive home was quiet, but inside I felt robbed of a good time with Den. And really, I was hungry.

'Let's stop over the gas station.' Without question he turned the car and parked in front of the convenience store. He was drained of wit, acting by command. Poor Dennis.

I grabbed a hotdog sandwich, potato chips and coffee. Dennis took two hotdog sandwiches and two bags of potato chips. After putting his food on our table, he walked away, then came back holding with both hands the biggest glass of iced tea I had seen in my life.

I'm sorry, I said. He laughed then shook his head. (I love it when I make men laugh.) We talked—not about ourselves—not about the opera for sure. We rambled about TV shows we've seen, movies, senators, codes of conduct, ways of preparing a hotdog sandwich.

The drive from the gas station to my home was peaceful.

I sat on the bed and for the last time told him I'm sorry.

'I kept looking at your cleavage during the show. All I could think of was biting those breasts.' I laughed then shook my head. He came near me then kissed my chest, but went no further. We were too tired.

Top Shelf