Showing posts from 2015

Only vow

This year I vow to rebuild my poetry collection.
Off the top of my head, I lost:
Seamus Heaney Marianne Moore Louise Glück Gwendolyn Brooks Edna St Vincent Millay E.E. Cummings Don Paterson Elizabeth Bishop Alice Fulton
Lucie Brock-Broido
David St John
Anne Carson
Cherrie Moraga
So maybe I'll start with them.
I can't believe I'd be this hurt to remember a line, a word, a turn of phrase, and not be able to find the pages where it came from. That I'd only find nine poetry books on my shelf. Material things, yes, but mortality is material and I'll cling to what I can so long as I can.
Been struggling with the thought of letting go of what's gone, allowing space. But they weren't gone. They're in my head, in a printing press and in a bookshop, somewhere.

No girl power, only power

It must be my limited purview. When I gained consciousness, the nation was ruled by a housewife. Now, in my lifetime, I’ve seen two women presidents — and it might be three if we all survived this coming elections.

I grew up watching Ally McBeal and Charmed, both of which had female leads, the former in position of power (she’s a lawyer) and the latter, gifted with supernatural powers (they’re witches). In school, the deans, department heads, and the brightest, most opinionated students I had shared classrooms with were female. When I got out of school, I entered companies and publications where I worked with girl bosses and editors. In my own circle of friends, the ladies stick to their passions, make a living out of them, seek romance, nurture a family and look good doing it.

The concept of “girl power” was lost on me: there was only power, available in varying degrees to all members of the human race. I never thought that those people I mentioned had something others of the same se…

That moment Beethoven invaded my video game

An indication that someone is famous and influential? When their name is known to those uninterested, even ignorant of their area of expertise. Ask a non-classical music listener which classical artist they know, chances are they’ll say Beethoven.

Anyone who took piano lessons practised every day to perfect Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Für Elise, and the more ambitious ones take on the entire Moonlight Sonata. To the rest of us who can only try, thank goodness for the CDs and concerts that allow us to appreciate the glorious sounds, whether digitally in our living room or live in music halls.

Imagine though the delight of coming across his compositions in an unusual setting, say, a video game. There was a time in the ‘90s when “Earthworm Jim” became popular, and to its credit it was a weird, fun, not to mention addictive game. What made purchasing the next instalment, “Earthworm Jim 2” worth it was hearing the Moonlight Sonata, particularly its third movement on the last level. Jim was runn…

Anton Juan leaves the secret garden to the imagination

An elaborate piece of work can either test or arrest one’s attention. Such is the case with Repertory Philippines’ adaptation of Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s The Secret Garden, a musical based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel of the same title. In it are symbolic set pieces, ghosts walking — and singing — among the living, flashbacks, and quite a large cast of characters with a chorus.

The year is 1906, the place is England. Young Mary Lennox, after being orphaned, lives with her widowed uncle Archibald Craven. In her new home she discovers locked up in one of the rooms her sick cousin, Colin, who is about the same age as her and is convinced that he’ll die at any moment. She also learns of and is lured by a secret garden, which, as is later on revealed, is emblematic of the characters’ lives. It is dead because their spirits are down, and it blooms when they begin to open up.

The audience doesn’t get a peek at this wondrous garden. Even the house that contains the complicated f…

The test of travel

(A chunk of my interview with host Janet Hsieh regarding her Fun Taiwan wedding special. It's quite an eye-opening chat for someone like me who obsesses about privacy. Full article on GIST.PH.)


Has it always been the plan — get married in Antarctica and shoot the wedding for Fun Taiwan?

JANET HSIEH: (George and I were) talking about the dream destination and Antarctica was it. I started inviting my friends, family, and my producer — he loves adventure and we thought, “We should film it, it’ll be fun.” Then I told George, “Hey your parents are gonna be there and my parents are gonna be there.” And he made a joke: “Why don’t we just get married,” and I was like, “That’s a good idea.”

Traveling with your partner and getting married are very intimate affairs. How does it feel to have a camera and a crew following you around every step of the way?

For me it’s quite natural because for the past ten years, working with TLC, every time I travel somewhere, I have the camera with me. Yes you…

Stuck in a room with wasted kids

There’s nothing funny about drugs, robbery, and running away. At least not if you had engaged in all these and are now looking at your transgressions from a comfortable distance. Kenneth Lonergan’s This is Our Youth seems to be that retrospective narrative of a time long gone and one could no longer imagine returning to, except to laugh at it.

Twenty-something Dennis Ziegler is lounging about in his Manhattan apartment (which is paid for by his parents) when his almost-twenty friend Warren Straub drops by with his backpack and suitcase. Warren ran away after a fight with his dad, and before leaving had stolen $15,000 from him. Together the two friends face a huge problem: how to spend the money.

Spent the night in Dennis Ziegler's room. #RedTurnipTheater #ThisIsOurYouth #theater A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on Nov 7, 2015 at 3:00pm PST

If the premise sounds exaggerated, like a springboard for a wild adventure, it isn’t. Dennis and Warren are no ordinary kids looking …

Laughter and danger

Remember playing in the kitchen when you were young? No, not experimenting with food but making a mess. And making musical instruments out of pots, pans, and ladles, only what came out wasn’t music but noise. Or maybe you still do it now that you’re all grown up. You sauté mushrooms while wiggling to techno beats. You tap the spoon on a glass while waiting for the oven ding!

What you do spontaneously at home, a group of Korean artists has turned into an hour and a half of performance art. Cookin’ Nanta, as presented at the start of the show, is a top tourist attraction in Korea and has toured around the world since its 1997 premiere. In Manila, the show continues its first and limited run until Nov. 15 (Sun.) at The Theatre, Solaire.

There’s barely any cooking in Cookin’ Nanta. It’s essentially a percussion show mixed with comedy and circus acts. That there’s a story — no matter how flimsy — holding the performances together, makes the five people onstage more endearing than they alr…

On that ugly word, ‘staycation’

I first heard the word “staycation” in 2011 when I wrote for a travel magazine. What came to mind was, during long weekends, holidays and summer breaks, instead of going out, one would simply stay at home and indulge in things like baking, movie marathons, hot baths, or engaging in the high art of doing nothing. Not until I read ads and articles about staycation deals and “Things to Do on a Staycation.” They obviously talked about leaving the house.

So what is a staycation?

In a 2008 article, Salon described the term as an “economy-based euphemism.” Times were (still are?) tough in the US economy-wise and people were “too broke to go anywhere.” The online magazine cited earlier use of the word, but underscored that it only became a buzzword that year. Another site, Skift, noted how staycation was picked up as an effective marketing idiom.

So what does one do on a staycation?

If you browse through “Staycation Ideas” listicles, a staycation may involve activities such as visiting a muse…

Not for nostalgia but knowledge

One thing that undersecretary Manolo Quezon III reiterated during his lecture on the opening day of “Defining Quirino,” a commemorative exhibit at the Ayala Museum, was: “Today began yesterday.” These words he borrowed from writer Leon Maria Guerrero.

Part of the Philippines’ yesterday included Quirino, whose legacy the nation enjoys today — minimum wage, eight-hour work laws, the social security system, and standardization of teachers’ salaries. The unfortunate fact is not many are aware of who Quirino is beyond being a former president of the republic, a reason that the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation, Inc. came up with the exhibit.

Quezon presented to the audience a Quirino who is at his core a broken human being just like you and me. We heard his voice and saw him in his trunks, about to dive into a pool. We saw photos of him soon after he was informed of then president Manuel Roxas’ death. Quirino was a vision of a leader in control of the situation. Not until the next photo…

Rooting for Rafa

It is a sports storyline that turns casual spectators into invested fans. New tennis talent comes in to shock everyone by winning a grand slam on his first attempt at age 19, then proves the feat is no fluke by bagging the title for four consecutive years. This is of course Spain’s Rafael Nadal, who practically owns the French Open and is hailed “King of Clay” for being almost unbeatable in the court.

But a sports superstar shines brightest against a rival. And every sporting event yearns for a rivalry. On grass court, the most prestigious one among them no less, Switzerland’s Roger Federer rules. His skills and discipline are somehow overshadowed by his poetic grace: Federer is not the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.) — he is a god.

When the two clashed at the Wimbledon Gentlemen’s Singles Finals in 2008, they wrote a tale that bears repeating. Nadal pushed the reigning champion into five sets, into tie-breaks, into over four hours of playing before finally taking match point and the …

To those who won’t pay for Gary Mullen tickets because he’s no Freddie Mercury

Maybe it was the cushioned chairs, maybe it was the low temperature. Or maybe it was not knowing what to make of this guy who looked, acted and sounded like Freddie Mercury — were we amazed, amused, or disappointed?

The band played Another One Bites the Dust and still the audience appeared as if they were watching a Shakespeare tragedy. Except for a boy on the third row, who stood up and allowed his tiny frame be taken over by the music.

The guy holding the microphone, sweating like a pig as he did his best Freddie Mercury impression, took notice: “Are your bottoms glued to the seat?” he asked the crowd, then gave a shout out to the boy who knew how to rock and roll. When the band performed I Want To Break Free, the same boy jumped up and down to the beat, his arms raised to form a V throughout song.

Queen frontman and songwriter Freddie Mercury passed away in 1991, way before that kid was born. And to that young concert-goer, as well as to those who sat comfortably at Solaire Theater…

500 days of solitude on Mars

In Ridley Scott’s The Martian, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) woke up on Mars alone. After a storm hit them, his team of space travellers mistook him for dead and continued with their mission without him.

Watney figured how to survive on the red planet one day at a time, by sciencing the shit out of it. He rationed available food, managed to grow potatoes, and found means to communicate with NASA. Rummaging through the abandoned spacecraft for whatever tools he may use, he dug up his commander’s music collection, entirely composed of disco classics. Sucks to be him. “No, I will not turn the beat around,” Watney vented.

Music inspires, no question about it, but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Consider this playlist a 21st century version of “What CD will you bring when you get stuck on an island?” You are on your own. On Mars. Help — if it ever comes — may arrive 900 days later, more or less. What songs will keep you alive?

A little bit of everything, don’t you think…

Curing a mild case of city envy

If you switch back to the rear-facing camera, step backwards, a bit more, you might catch in the frame something as pretty, sprightly, and maybe wiser than you are — the city. Those skyscrapers you pass by every day, they have stood there long before you were born. They have learned to dance with earthquakes and confuse the winds.

“I feel it is important to document the best designs and architecture in each city because they can change its entire landscape,” said Herschel Supply co-founder Lyndon Cormack, who acted more like the avid traveler and photographer at heart that he is during the Herschel #CityLimitless campaign launch on Oct. 22 at A_Space, Makati. “Design is everywhere. City Limitless and photography allow us to capture special moments and the details that show the heartbeat of a city.”

The Instagram hashtag, which began making noise earlier this year, now has close to a hundred thousand posts. It’s a quick way to travel around the world, see the city through the eyes of s…

What’s hiding in your playlist?

A friend once ranted that his Spotify account was set to public by default. Meaning for the longest time, the songs he listened and were listening to were for up for everyone’s perusal without him knowing. “So?” I said in all honest confusion. “It’s just music.”

Only later on have I realized that it isn’t just music. It’s life and it’s personal. What you listen to, after all, betrays a piece of you — what you find sublime and beautiful or at the very least agreeable and tolerable. Some have also pointed out the subtle workings of mixtapes and playlists. In a specific moment in your life, you curate songs that convey something you don’t have words for; that if some alien life form discovered it years after, it might be able to decode who you were and your conditions in that instant.

Last month, I, along with a group of writers, had the opportunity to have dinner with Spotify director of label relations Chee Meng Tan, who also happens to be a big music geek. He shared with us that the u…

Pregnant with fear

This would’ve been a piece I’d written for Mother’s Day, if only because it’s inspired by love between mother and child. But, cloaked in darkness, worm-infested, and teeming with sharp objects, this story is better reserved for Hallows’ Eve.

On the day Samuel was born, his father died. Growing up, his interest turns to magic, watching illusionists on TV and practicing tricks wearing his own shiny little cape. He also has a knack for building contraptions to kill The Babadook, a monster that haunts him and his widowed mother, Amelia.

The Babadook is black. Visible even in daylight, in plain sight, it is everywhere. Its long, tapered fingers are the bare branches of trees, and its garment, the shadow of the dead. The more you deny it, the stronger it gets.

Running a household on her own, without anyone to confide in, Amelia grows restless by the day, tired of Samuel and of life. Until unknowingly she lets The Babadook in, becomes it and goes after her own son. By this time — or perhaps …


You're not brave until you're brave for someone or something else.

Keeping up with David Mack

(My favorite bits of the David Mack AsiaPOP Comicon and Batman Day interviews I did for GIST.PH. I'm combining them here as one story.)


The best way I could describe my first impression of David Mack’s Kabuki was: Dreamy in a way that poetry is mixed with art mixed with cinema, it wasn’t my idea of how comic books should look and read like. Yet unlike dreams, there was an actual story to bite into. I was blown away, to say the least. That was over a decade ago, when, in an attempt to explore the world of graphic novels, I asked the most trusted bookworm in our class to lend me a copy of Neil Gaiman’s works. The next day he handed me a paper bag which contains all volumes of Kabuki: “Read this. It’s better than Sandman,” he said.

“This was pre-Internet, maybe 1992. I was very young, a college student, and so I just found addresses of publishers in comic stores and sent things in the mail to them. And then I called up the publisher in Caliber and said, ‘Hey I sent a package in a ma…


Scenario 1: You couldn’t care less about Matchbox 20, except you find Rob Thomas kind of cute and his Ever the Same — a hit from his solo album — equally worthy of attention. So one downtime at the office, you share the song to a colleague in the next cubicle: “Listen, isn’t this nice?” To which she responds, “I’m not a fan of that beat. It’s repetitive and predictable and has no depth.” Her facial expression adding the subtext: You’ve just taken precious minutes off my life. Get away from me, I have better things to do.

Scenario 2: A big fan of Aegis, April Boy Regino, Sarah Geronimo and Charice Pempengco, you’ve created the ultimate OPM playlist featuring the four artists and, proud of your hard work, shared it on Facebook. Five slices of pizza, two diet Cokes and a Big Bang Theory rerun later, you return to the computer to find your FB notifications exploding with likes and shares — and the occasional but hostile “what a hipster” and its variation “what a know-it-all, tastemaker wan…

Short + sweet + oh so worth it

Nothing sparks creativity so much than constraint. Take the Japanese haiku, where in 17 syllables and only three lines, an evocative picture is painted. Or the epitaph (pardon the gloomy example), in which a human being’s lifetime is commemorated in a slab of rock. For something more modern, there’s this online thing called Twitter, whose 140-character limit brings out the aphorist in us.

In the domain of performing arts, we have Short + Sweet, a global festival featuring 10-minute plays. Its vision, to put it shortly and sweetly, is: “A more creative world ten minutes at a time.” Founded in Sydney, Australia over a decade ago, Short + Sweet serves as a platform for emerging and established artists — from actors to writers and directors — to test, showcase and develop their skills and materials.

Performances of selected entries during the festival run are judged by a panel of experts along with the theater audience. Winners are rewarded with cash and industry prizes on the Gala and Fi…

Meeting the under-celebrated Marivi Soliven

Literary figures have an air of mystique about them, perhaps brought by the many worlds and lives they’ve lived — besides their own — through the stories they’ve read and written. Marivi Soliven arrived at the Writers Bar at Raffles Makati with that very air, looking every bit of a dignified author out to pen the next visceral novel. One couldn’t help but peg her as someone minding an important business. Because she was. That day Soliven stopped by two TV networks to talk about her new book before going to Raffles Hotel for one-on-one interviews with the press.

Soliven’s The Mango Bride follows Amparo Guerrero and Beverly Obejas, Filipinas who left Manila for Oakland in search of greener grass. Strangers to each other in the beginning, the two crossed paths and in the course of their encounter shared a life-changing secret. The novel in English earned the Palanca Award before it was published in 2013 by Penguin Books. It was then translated in Spanish in 2014 and this year in Filipino…

For the rest of his life

That Syrian child on the beach. I don't mind the image. He looks in peace.


Regret is funny. How can you feel bad about something that didn't happen. Things could've gone in so many ways other than what you imagine.

Medium of interrogation

“I grew up not being able to ask a lot of questions. The camera was the first tool in which I was allowed to explore, to ask the questions that I wanted to ask,” shares National Geographic Young Explorer and documentary and travel photographer Hannah Reyes. “It’s a good tool to immerse yourself in something and make you get out of your shell.”

The fun and prestige of photography is not lost on anyone who has ever tried pressing the DSLR shutter button or even a digicam’s and begin to feel a new sense of wonder evoked by seeing what they have just captured. It’s no surprise that bulky cameras aren’t only carried by men and women in tourists spots and popular events — they seem to be everywhere, every time. In fact the device has become as commonplace as a hat or a pen that it has found its way to arguably one of our top daily necessities: the mobile phone.

Shutterbugs have a new toy in their smartphones. While conservative photographers can’t be bothered to take snapshots with their ph…

Light and verve


“I don’t think I’m gonna be making electronic music forever, so enjoy it now,” Zedd (Anton Zaslavski) told the press prior to his August 8 Manila gig. It wasn’t a threat but a recognition of the natural course of things. Zedd is a classically trained pianist, whom at age 11 became a drummer in a metal band then later on went to test the EDM waters. He eventually released “Clarity,” a dance album that produced club staples, chart toppers and a Grammy award-winning record.

In his second outing, “True Colors,” Zedd makes a statement on his artistry, showcasing his musical depth. The tracks are even more melodious and diverse that you can take them as pop songs with a touch of electronica rather than melodic EDM, which is characteristic of his previous works.

We still get hints of “Clarity” with the opening tracks Addicted to Memory, I Want You to Know and Beautiful Now, though it goes in completely different directions from there on. Standouts are the rock-infused Transmission, folksy…

What's cool?

When a young, talented, not to mention good-looking band that flies around the world to perform in front of adoring fans have their vocalist sing, “I wish that I could be like the cool kids,” it’s quite difficult to be convinced.

American band Echosmith — a play on words echo (sound) and smith (maker) — is composed of the Sierota siblings, namely Sydney, Noah, Graham and Jamie. Hard as it may be to conceive, they have been around for almost a decade, but only recently broke into commercial success with the smash hit Cool Kids from their 2013 debut album “Talking Dreams.”

Sydney shared that the group wrote Cool Kids to express that universal desire to fit in. “There are times when I’m hanging out with a crowd and think, ‘Man, I don’t look like these people; I don’t act like them or talk like them,’” she said and further noted that the song is all about self-acceptance, which to her is essentially what makes any person cool.

She continued by confessing that they still feel pangs of inse…