22 December 2019

Christmas wish

On the car ride home, my niece asked her mom, "Can I sit behind (she meant 'beside') Aunt Razel?" The answer was no, as I was in the passenger seat and the vehicle was already deep in the highway.

At that moment I felt between us a distance, widening as we cruised. I thought I loved her, yet I never imagined that we could still be so much closer.


Wishing you all a merry Christmas with your nearest and dearest, and, if practicable, the candor to ask, "Can I sit with you?"

11 December 2019

Notes on 'Lam-Ang'

Why do we tell stories? Perhaps because reality happens only when witnessed. And it's never enough to speak once; repetition matters — over and over, louder and clearer — otherwise the story ends for good. Either it dies in silence or is silenced by another narrative.

There's no hiding Tanghalang Pilipino's drive to educate and foster nationalism by re-presenting Philippine history and literature in its productions. What they've done well in Lam-Ang is champion the local epic tradition while resisting any temptation to please an impatient audience. It exudes gravitas even as it infuses humor and playfulness here and there. The musical is careful not to succumb to gimmickry or oversimplification, challenging theatergoers to listen from start to finish.

At face value, the show seems to be geared towards students fulfilling a course requirement, that any hope of reaching a wider market rests on its lead star, JC Santos. But anyone who appreciates a thoughtful production is in for a surprise.

Lam-Ang: An ethno-epic musical. Tanghalang Pilipino; book: Eljay Castro Deldoc; music and lyrics: Jen Darlene Torres; direction: Fitz Edward Torres Bitana and Marco Viaña. (CCP Little Theater, 6 December 2019)

Lam-Ang is visually stunning. There's something worthwhile to behold wherever your eyes land. Each detail (in costume, prop, dance and movement) has a purpose. Musically, Lam-Ang offers hair-raising chants and tribal beats as a welcome trade-off for pop-inspired tunes that dominate modern musicals. (You may not have an ear-worm when you get home, but you'll remember how moved you were by the sounds.)

While Santos's singing voice leaves a lot to be desired, there's no doubt that he can command the stage and elicit sympathy. Opposite him as Kannoyan is Anna Luna, who, like her character, is a force to be reckoned with, proving that she's more than her reputation. She comes out and we're enchanted. Another powerful female character is Tex Ordoñez-De Leon's Baglan (shaman), who serves as a sort of omniscient narrator and rightfully, with Ordoñez-De Leon's rich vocal tone, the entire musical's anchor.

In Lam-Ang, one bears witness to an ancient narrative, so far in time that it's almost foreign. Yet it's told in a way that feels fresh and familiar. The word "brave" is nowadays appended to anything with a bit of an edge, but I would say that this production deserves the tag. From where I sit I see a creative team that has taken liberty in crafting a Lam-Ang that Filipinos can rally behind; and has so much faith in his story to believe that it will find its audience. After all, how many would go out of their way to watch a play, let alone an adaptation of an ethno-epic poem?

29 November 2019

Serious play: Notes on 'Cats'

Cats. Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber; poetry: TS Eliot; choreography: Gillian Lynne. (The Theatre at Solaire, 28 November 2019)

I would say I'm eleven again but no, I'm a functioning adult having the time of her life watching humans pretend to be cats pretend to be mice pretend to do human things.

When people talk about Cats being a spectacle, they talk about the body as an instrument of speech; and the mind and its capacity for play — to rhyme and (un)reason, build a world so distinct yet continuous with the one we inhabit.

The musical is older than, and perhaps will outlive me. Since I saw it in 2010 (after seeing it a million times on DVD), nothing much has changed, because nothing really should. My only complaint is the absence of Growltiger's Last Stand. What makes me book a seat is the chance to hear the live orchestra. Last night, however, I was moved by the dance (my brother was the first to point out its brilliance to me) and found a new appreciation for make-up artists and costume designers.

Though touted as a mega-musical — and I'd wager that musicians, poets, and choreographers would attest to the level of its craftsmanship — Cats doesn't act big or clever. It doesn't think that it's better than you. The show starts and you're part of the Jellicle universe.

It's as serious as serious play goes. It's that feeling of losing yourself, free of any sense of meaning or utility, and other such things that weigh us down.

Jellicle Cats messing up with the audience during intermission.


1) Joanna Ampil's Grizabella gave me something I rarely experience: goose bumps.

2) Speaking of Grizabella, I realize that she's chosen to cross the Heaviside Layer because among the Jellicle Cats, who all performed superbly, she's the one who produced a commercial hit. I kid.

3) Skimbleshanks untied my shoelace and I got to caress another kitten's paw (Jemima, I believe).

4) If I had the resources, I'd be there every night.

5) This is beautiful: "After (the naming of cats where) we explained to the audience what we feel about being a cat, we then let the audience see something that they shouldn't be seeing, which is a beautiful young cat dancing sensuously for herself." —Gillian Lynne during a rehearsal with Finola Hughes (Victoria)

06 November 2019


I have never made bread before but I know how it tastes. A little research and willingness to fail go a long way. So I follow a simple recipe. Everything's going well until it isn't. Until I'm not sure if dough should be this sticky. Yet I knead on.

Then by accident or instinct, I smell my hands. It smells of bread. From hereon I know that I'm in the right direction. At this point the journey and the destination are one and the same.

Thing I made

A year ago I felt a desire to cook with a freedom akin to swimming (I would often tell friends how learning to swim changed my life). It's still a mystery what pushes me to finally act. I always wanted to bake but keep thinking about my lack of space and tools. Apparently, I have more than enough. My 10 X 14 chopping board is the perfect surface. My tiny oven toaster holds the heat. My hands.

I have everything I ever needed. This I learn soon after deciding to begin.

Since July I've made popovers, copied Gennaro Contaldo's Tuscan chicken, wielded a spurtle, proved my perfect sunny-side up is no fluke, owned my first cast iron.

The year's theme is 'kindle', because I am missing a hunger for poetry and I am hungrier for company. Well I can say that I read more and better now. As for friends, old and new ones have entered my world soon after I decided to open the door wide.

Cooking, however, that's a surprise. Like I said, I can compare it to swimming, reading, writing, and playing the piano. It fills me.

What's next, it seems, is to cook for. I love working with my hands and I would love to be a source of fullness.

09 October 2019

(Dreaming is) As good as it gets: Notes on 'Katsuri'

It takes a single exchange of words between George (Marco Viaña) and Toto (Jonathan Tadioan) for us to care deeply about the two laborers, who, after a hitch in their last job in Tarlac, have come back home to Negros Occidental to re-try their luck. Right off the bat, they create chemistry and a warmth among everyone in the freezing studio theater. In the same scene, we know that things won't end well for them.

We know because we've read the John Steinbeck novella, or because we're diligent readers of the playbill. Either way, it doesn't matter. Either way, we pay attention.

Even those with little knowledge of the story (like me) will see the darkness coming from afar. Katsuri (loosely "shrew") behaves like an expert guide, providing the necessary signposts to prepare its audience for danger. No action by any character is befuddling.

This by no means imply that the local adaptation of Of Mice and Men is a spoon-feeding drama. Rather, it is a story told with clarity and a sense of symmetry, that spectators can appreciate references within and outside the play.

One of the most poignant examples is Tatang (Nanding Josef) and his beloved dog, which is, with his permission, killed due to the inconveniences it brings to the barn. A similar fate meets George and Toto, where the former's kindest gesture towards the latter is also the most violent.

In the beginning we find Toto flat on his belly, happily drinking water by the river, animated by a thirst for a better life with his best friend. In the end we find him once again lying face down — dead, yet still happy in his final breath, glimpsing a bit of heaven.

The mirroring events form part of a greater loop. From a cynical perspective (mine), it's as if there is no getting out of this hellhole. What happens in the past happens in the present happens in this country and that country and so on.

As abject as that may sound, such a feeling is exactly what I hope for in theater. Because when you're made numb, art should punch you in the gut.

Marco Viaña and Jonathan Tadioan are George and Toto, respectively in Katsuri, a Bibeth Orteza adaptation of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. The show, directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyna runs until 27th October at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute in CCP, Pasay City.

While operating under a farm workers clinging onto their dreams narrative, Katsuri touches on various themes sans the heavy hand. Loneliness and isolation stand out. I'd go as far as saying that each of the characters is an outcast in their own way. No one seems to bother to understand the person next to them. There is also the bittersweet thought that though we may not live our dreams, at least the dreaming sustains our spirit.

That's the play's big achievement: it is complex without being complicated.

Katsuri wants you to actively engage in reality and be entertained. What I love most about the play is its respect for storytelling, for plot and character. Like any good story, we crave hearing it over and over. It shows that art is not so much about having a point as it is about having a clear point-of-view from where the audience may experience their truth anew.

30 September 2019

Thankful for translations: On 'Drive your plow over the bones of the dead'

Tokarczuk, Olga. Drive your plow over the bones of the dead. Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Riverhead Books, 2018.

My relationship with books — even now that I've embraced digital technology — has always been physical. Paper texture, typography, width and weight, marginalia. Walking library aisles, visiting bookshops taking my sweet time looking at each spine until I find the tome that makes my heart skip a beat.

The hunts and hauls have recently diminished as my personal library is filled with enough paperback to last years of reading. And I've grown to be practical and decisive. Nowadays, when I enter a bookshop, I know exactly which title I would want to leave with.

Not on my last trip, though. With the titles I was seeking unavailable, I combed the shelves hoping for a surprise. The result, long story short: Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

I was examining this and her other novel, Flights, both of which I couldn't resist; but my budget wouldn't allow such indulgence. So I settled with the one that involves death and astrology. So right up my alley.
How wonderful—to translate from one language to another, and by so doing to bring people closer to one another—what a beautiful idea. (p 229)
The publication notes on my copy indicates translation copyright in 2018. Only a year ago. But the novel was originally published (in Polish) in 2009. I am grateful. It's not a case anymore of too little time too much to read for me; but of too little literature with too few of intrigue. We need more translated works.

If you're wondering whether or not I liked Drive your plow... Let me say that the next time I enter a book store, I'll be sure to leave with a copy of Flights in my bag. Olga rocks. Enjoy this passage:
"You know what, sometimes it seems to me we're living in a world that we fabricate for ourselves. We decide what's good and what isn't, we draw maps of meaning for ourselves...And then we spend our whole lives struggling with what we have invented for  ourselves. The problem is that each of us has our own version of it, so people find it hard to understand each other."

. . . .

I spent ages pondering what the Gray Lady had said. And I think it tallies with one of my Theories—my belief that the human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth. To prevent us from catching sight of the mechanism. The psyche is our defense system—it makes sure we'll never undrestand what's going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even though the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering. (pp 224 – 225)

22 September 2019

Highlights from 'What Belongs to You'

Greenwell, Garth. What Belongs to You. Picador, 2016.

A personal background

Garth Greenwell slipped into my radar fairly recently. My excitement rose when I read this interview where he talks about his upcoming second book, Cleanness, which is connected to his debut novel, What Belongs to You by way of having the same narrator.

He had me at, "I had the goal of writing a scene that was, at once, one hundred percent pornographic and one hundred percent high art." I've been wanting to consume something like this in literature and film. If the interview is any indication, maybe Greenwell will deliver.

The book will be out in January 2020. In the interim, I sought What Belongs to You, got myself acquainted and updated, and properly hyped.

Some underlined bits
...when I looked at his face, which was twisted in disgust, it was as if I saw his true face, his authentic face, not the learned face of fatherhood. He covered himself quickly and left the room, saying nothing, but his look entered me and settled there and has never left, it rooted beneath memory and became my understanding of myself, my understanding and expectation. (p 72)

I introduced him to my solitude and he deepened it without disturbance. (p 77)

That's all care is, I thought, it's just looking at a thing long enough, why should it be a question of scale? This seemed like a hopeful thought at first, but then it's hard to look at things, or to look at them truly, and we can't look at many at once, and it's so easy to look away. ( 139)

Making poems was a way of loving things, I had always thought, of preserving them, of living moments twice; or more than that, it was a way of living more fully, of bestowing on experience a richer meaning. But that wasn't what it felt like when I looked back at the boy, wanting a last glimpse of him; it felt like a loss. Whatever I could make of him would diminish him, and I wondered whether I wasn't really turning my back on things in making them into poems, whether instead of preserving the world I was taking refuge from it. (p 170 – 171)

22 August 2019

And sometimes it's perfect

Thing I made

I've always cooked for myself since I moved to my flat. Bought a non-stick fry pan, a sauce pan, then, came Christmas Season of that year, asked my Office Secret Santa for a rice cooker. Pretty much every home-made meal were made with those plus an induction cooktop and toaster oven, which I took from our old house.

Anyone who knows me knows that I take my time at the table. A friend once remarked that in our group I eat the slowest but consume the most.

For more than three years, however, cooking has turned into another chore. But something's changed this year. Maybe it's discovering Judy Ann's Kitchen, seeing someone who makes a lot of mistakes in front of the stove — and who speaks my language; maybe it's finally getting to that one Gordon Ramsay dish, which ingredients are ridiculously easy to find and is unbelievably easy to do that you have no excuse not to try it; maybe it's having to replace your silicone turner after manhandling it and then figuring might as well get rid of your knackered cheap pan.

So I bought a new turner, skimmer, and fry pan — all stainless steel. And for some reason I'm inspired. For the first time since I started cooking, I actively search for recipes. And experiment.

They say the more you do something, the more you become confident. When it comes to playing the piano and learning a language, you get a high from understanding patterns and how they combine to make a meaningful whole. Like what goes on in a sentence structure or a musical phrase.

When it comes to cooking, the pleasure comes in knowing that you've made small good decisions along the way. Like when to put the protein at what temperature, which seasoning goes better with what, lid on or lid off.

This week I'm very happy because I made the perfect egg, sunny-side up. This is only the beginning.

21 August 2019

Notes on 'Mabining Mandirigma'

Mabining Mandirigma adopts the most superficial element of steampunk, that is Victorian-futurism aesthetic, as seen in the costumes, set design and props. I have to point this out, considering the show is billed as "a steampunk musical".

It shouldn't be unreasonable then to expect science fiction onstage. Specifically, a speculative universe where Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo, the congress and their cohorts have access to new technology. How will they, for example, take advantage of social media to advance their causes, both collectively and as individuals? In a hilarious dinner party scene, Aguinaldo whips out a selfie stick for a souvenir snap, but that's about it. Overall, Mabining Mandirigma remains very much a faithful historical narrative — a crowd-pleasing history lesson at best.

And its hero, in my opinion, is composer Joed Balsamo, whose music is a mix of modern and traditional sounds, succeeding whether it intends to be playful or profound.

Mabini (Monique Wilson) and Aguinaldo (Arman Ferrer) have long, lyrical exchanges, where they tiptoe the line between singing and speaking. Lacking in any conspicuous rhythm or melodic pattern, their words are surprisingly clear and pleasurable to listen to. This is a testament to the score's complexity, not to mention ambition. Of course, credits are also due to librettist Nicanor Tiongson and the two leads (Ferrer's voice will probably soar the highest in any stage he'll grace).

Monique Wilson is Apolinario Mabini in Mabining Mandirigma: A Steampunk Musical. The show runs until 1st September at the CCP Little Theater. (Press photo)

One of the problems of our political discourse is an impatience to make oneself understood. There is a tendency to dismiss anyone who fails to grasp our message as mere (foolish) dissenters. The theater isn't any less guilty of this.

Putting the matter of genre aside, Mabining Mandirigma sings to an audience that already agrees with it. We hear the same platitudes all over again, especially towards the end, when we're repeatedly told, "Love your country". Yes, sure, but every plundering, mass-murdering leader professes a love for country. Is there a single way, a righter way to love?

So let me go back to that speculative universe. Before curtain call, the cast talks about what Mabini might think of present-day national issues. That's a story I would like to watch unfold. Under a climate of hopelessness, I would like to hear true revolutionary ideas.

Maybe it's not a question anymore of how we can drive people to the theater, but of how we can engage theatergoers — those who are ready to participate — in a meaningful, if uncomfortable dialogue. The theater cannot be just another echo chamber.

08 August 2019

Highlights from 'All That Is'

Salter, James. All That Is. Vintage International, 2014.

A personal background

There are novels I call atmospheric. Where instead of following a story from motivation to motivation, I am enwrapped in a feeling that grows in intensity, fluctuates, becomes unidentifiable. This definition may be different from how others use the word to describe their reading experience. And in my case, authors of such books are, more often than not, one-offs.

After reading Norwegian Wood, I haven't touched another Haruki Murakami. Same goes with Anne Michaels and her Fugitive Pieces, as well as John Knowles with the lovely A Separate Peace. I thoroughly enjoyed them, but finishing their last pages didn't cause any lingering excitement.

James Salter belongs in the pool of exceptions. All That Is, along with its resigned mood, has provided enough plot and intriguing characters for me to bite into, and therefore a craving for a bit more.

Some underlined bits
His mother so liked talking to him, she could have talked to him every day. It was only with difficulty she resisted the impulse to hug and kiss him. She had brought him up from the day he was born and now, when he was the most beautiful, she could only smooth his hair. Even that could be awkward. The love she had given he would pass on to someone else.
...the many nights that now seemed a single night... (p 30)

"What has your life been like?"
"What are the things that have mattered?" (p 176)

It fit his character, the daring lover, something he knew he was not. (p 217)

He was in the middle of life and just beginning.
His cock was hard, smooth as a scar. (p 225)

If you know how to dance you can be happy. (p 321)

Wells had married again sure of even less. He had seen a woman's leg and talked to her in the neighboring yard. They had run off together and his wife had formed her life around his. Perhaps it was a question of that, arranging a life. (p 346)

it's my blog's anniversary month and as coincidence would have it, here's a fitting epigraph from James Salter's All That Is:

12 July 2019

Netsuke, pockets, pretty little things and things I don't mind losing

Packing is always a test of what you can live without. And I'm not talking about distant, prolonged travels; I'm thinking mundane trips to the grocery.

If I had it my way, I'd like to be like men: have both hands free, and the torso unencumbered by straps and excess weight when outside. All they need are keys, cash, phone. All of which could fit in their trouser pockets. There'd still be probably room for a hanky and cigarettes. See, I could manage with only those items as well! Except there's a huge difference between men's and women's bottom wear, eloquently put in this tweet:

There're the rub. So until women's clothing is designed with "meaningful pockets", I would have to resort to wristlets, sling bags and the like.


Back in the Edo period, the pocketless kimono is accessorized with a netsuke, described by Tadashi Tanada as "a non-slip toggle used with sagemono — small personal items such as a money pouch or tobacco container". The sagemono and netsuke are on opposite ends of a cord that is secured onto the obi (sash worn with the kimono).

Of course you're curious about etymology, and Tadashi offers two possible origins: ne (root) + tsuketa (attached) and tsuketa (attached) + nemoto (to the bottom).

Fast-forward to the present, the netsuke has become a novelty to foreigners and even among the Japanese themselves (I asked a couple of my Japanese trainees about it and was met with silence). But japonisme along with netsuke carvers and enthusiasts have kept it alive as an art form.

Zanmai Onosato, A Tengu's Nose. Tengus are long-nosed goblins said to lead human beings astray.

At first sight, you'll take them as miniature sculptures. Masanori Watanabe breaks down the netsuke's distinctive features:
  1. Each netsuke must have two holes where a cord can pass, moreover, it must be designed to face the right direction when attached beneath the obi. Now that netsuke are almost never put to practical use, the holes may be nominal in size, but unless a cord can be passed through them, the sculpture is not a netsuke.
  2. It must not damage and get caught on the kimono or obi. A functional netsuke will have few projecting parts and an overall rounded form.
  3. Unlike ornamental sculptures meant for display, every surface of the netsuke is visible and appreciated while it is slowly rotated in the palm of the hand.
In celebration of the Philippine-Japan friendship month, The Japan Foundation brings its Contemporary Wood-Carved Netsuke traveling exhibition to Makati. Sixty-five pieces by netsuke artists are available for viewing — and touching — at Greenbelt 5 until the 21st of July.

My imagination was sparked, so during my visit I asked the maximum weight an average netsuke could handle, to which the answer is 50 grams. To be honest I may have misheard and I don't exactly know what 50 grams means. Half a mobile phone? Anyway, I saw a couple of keys tied to a netsuke in the exhibit, and in another, a rather wide but slim pouch.

How netsukes are traditionally used.


Can I navigate the concrete jungle with the merest 50 grams suspended from my clothes? (Aside, images of old ladies hiding cash in their bras now flash in my mind.)

When I was in college, on the way to the mall to meet high school friends, my wallet was stolen. Definitely, I couldn't go to the meet-up anymore, worse, I had no clue how I'd return home. After composing myself, I approached a policeman and explained my situation. Someone gave me transportation money in the end.

As for losing keys and gadgets, those happened to me, too, and somehow — as with the other small losses — I found a way to survive.

I'm not trying to force out a lesson on divestment from the netsuke (though I really wanted to). Rather, I'm urging you to go view the ongoing exhibit, and if anyone in the clothing industry is reading this, please: Women's clothes with functional pockets!


Source of quotes and netsuke information: Contemporary Wood-Carved Netsuke. Edited by Daisuke Harada and Keiko Okawa, The Japan Foundation, 2017.

11 July 2019

Notes on 'The Remains of the Day'

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Vintage International, 1988.

Now and then a companion catches me in a sudden shift of mood, after which they take it as their responsibility to turn things around. I hate when this happens. One, I don't like my emotions expressing themselves without my permission; two, I don't like bothering anyone with my trivial emotions; three, I just want to be happy.

Stevens may have the same betrayal of the body that late afternoon on a pier at Weymouth. He has spent all his life in total control — of the Darlington Hall, of his career as a butler, of his feelings — only to cry in front of a total stranger as he reflects:
I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now — well — I find I do not have a great deal more left to give.

Since my new employer Mr Farraday arrived, I've tried very hard, very hard indeed, to provide the sort of service I would like him to have. I tried and tried but whatever I do I find I am far from reaching the standards I once set myself. More and more errors are appearing in my work.

Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man. He wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really — one has to ask oneself — what dignity is there in that? (pp 242 – 243)
But is it regret, I wonder, that pushes his tears? Has he really lost opportunities when his pleasure is to be of service, and his pride, to serve well a worthy man? This internal climax of self-discovery (or disruption) unfolds at the very last pages of The Remains of the Day. And the book's physical weight has never enhanced my reading experience like before.

Like an object dropped to the ground, the story moves in accelerating speed. It starts off with Stevens taking a holiday trip to meet a Miss Kenton. A reunion in the immediate future has been suspended for two hundred pages. As he nears his destination, his mind goes back to the height of his profession. Also, he revisits his thoughts on dignity, which is tightly intertwined with memories of his father.

Only in the final chapter do Stevens and Miss Kenton come face-to-face in the present; though we have already learned of their characters and intimate history through Stevens' recollections. Like the efficient domestic servants that they are, they close a door left open far too long. When they finally do, we have enough backstory to cry with them, despite how little they've told each other.

22 June 2019

Never before I had

Good morning. I always drink on a Friday night, whether alone or with a friend or two, though most of the time it's alone, whether at home or outside, though most of the time it's at home.

The act is like any other weekend-unwinding, mine with an emphasis on the minor celebration of not having to wake up at 4AM the following day. Because despite my part-timer status, I choose to take the early-early morning shift.

Fridays are also graced with music releases, so my routine would include checking out new tracks, whether from artists I like or those whom I haven't heard before.

Last night I listened to Cassius's "Dreems". My listening experience agitated by the news of Philippe "Zdar" Cerboneschi's death the night before. It came to my attention via 2manydjs's tribute on social media. Their famed vinyl wall filled with records in which Zdar has worked his magic.

A post shared by 2manydjs (@2manydjs) on

From this wall I also learned that he had a hand in Phoenix's "United", and the band even credited him for saving their debut album. If you ask me which song I love dancing to the most, it has to be Too Young. No idea why. All I know is there's a sweetly honest, unpolished quality to it that is difficult to ignore.

Dancing in parties, concerts or festivals is often associated with joy and freedom. These days I'm learning that it can also be an expression of sadness. Or that it's never really just one emotion we're feeling at a certain moment. Regardless, it's okay to be in public, sad.

In the privacy of my room I played "Dreems". When the title track came, I lost it, and also found myself lifted by the poignant refrain — You make me want to dream. How can so much melancholy exist in an upbeat tune? Never before I had someone like you right by my side. Simple prose has never sounded so heartbreaking.

I thought it was the alcohol kicking in. But I'm completely sober now and as I type this, Dreems is still playing on repeat. I'm still bleeding.

20 June 2019

Highlights from 'Black Dogs'

McEwan, Ian. Black Dogs. Anchor Books, 1992.

A personal background

May had not been an inspiring month, literary-speaking. Couldn't finish a single novel. I have this habit of buying new books and from, say, ten titles, I'd only commit to one or two. Then make an impractical purchase again, and so the cycle goes. This isn't unique to me, so thank you if you share the same burden.

There's also no need to mention that money isn't easy to come by. My shelf's filled with unopened paperbacks, giving me no reason to complain about a lack of reading material. More so, no reason to keep buying, but.

My frustration led me to a pile of unread Ian McEwan, bought sometime in 2007 for P20 each. He hasn't let me down so far. Regardless of our history, I proceeded with caution and plucked the slimmest volume, Black Dogs, in case I lose stamina.

I plan to make 2020 a year of re-reading. Go back to stories I enjoyed or at least remember enjoying. A piece of good writing offers — to borrow Clare Cavanagh's stunning phrase, because nothing else will do — unplumbable abundance.

Some underlined bits
The truth is we love each other, we've never stopped, we're obsessed. And we failed to do a thing with it. We couldn't make a life.... Whenever I'm complaining about some latest social breakdown in the newspapers, I have to remind myself—why should I expect millions of strangers with conflicting interests to get along when I couldn't make a simple society with the father of my children, the man I've loved and remained married to? (pp 29-30)

A crowd is a slow, stupid creature, far less intelligent than any one of its members. (p 65)

As they drank from their water bottles, he was struck by the recently concluded war not as a historical, geopolitical fact but as a multiplicity, a near infinity of private sorrows, as a boundless grief minutely subdivided without diminishment among individuals who covered the continent like dust [...] For the first time he sensed the scale of the catastrophe in terms of feeling— [...] What possible good could come of a Europe covered in this dust, these spores, when forgetting would be inhuman and dangerous, and remembering a constant torture? (p 140)

Surely this was what existence strained to be, and so rarely had the chance: to savor itself fully in the present, this moment in all its simplicity— (p 144)

Highlights from 'Every day is for the thief'

Cole, Teju. Every day is for the thief. Random House, 2014.

A personal background

One of my closest friends and I have recently built a birthday tradition. It's just that we find time to have a nice dinner together. What makes the event special is we're both Pisces, so there's some exclusivity to it. Now this post has nothing to do with that useless fact. This has everything to do with this other useless fact: me forgetting to prepare a gift.

I take pride in giving gifts (as recorded here and here), so I was horrified when I received a Teju Cole book from him and couldn't reciprocate the gesture. My memory lapse shall be rectified. After reading, I'll be thinking of a great, belated birthday book.

Some underlined bits
Much like these Pacific Islanders, Nigerians do not always have the philosophical equipment to deal with the material goods they are so eager to consume. We fly planes but we do not manufacture aircraft, much less engage in aeronautical research. We use cellphones but we do not make them. But, more important, we do not foster the ways of thinking that lead to the development of telephones or jet engines. Part of that philosophical equipment is an attention to details: a rejection of only the broad outlines of a system, a commitment to precision, an engagement with the creative and scientific spirit behind what one uses. (p 139)

Religion, corruption, happiness. Why, if so religious, so little concern for the ethical life or human rights? Why, if so happy, such weariness and stifled suffering? [...] "Shuffering and Shmiling" was about how, in Nigeria, there is tremendous cultural pressure to claim that one is happy, even when one is not. Especially when one is not. Unhappy people, such as grieving mothers at a protest march, are swept aside. It is wrong to be unhappy. But it is not necessary to get bogged down in details when all we need is the general idea. (p 142)

It is entirely possible to put on a happy face, but what no one can really do is relax. (p 145)

Highlights from 'Fever Pitch'

Hornby, Nick. Fever Pitch. Riverheard Books, 1992.

A personal background

My freshman year in college, I was oblivious to how much DLSU cared about — and dominated — men's basketball at the UAAP. That same year we won the championship, which I found out when I went to the campus ready to take my classes only to be sent back home because apparently, it was a holiday. What bullshit celebration, I said to myself using maybe another set of PG-13 words.

There was no escaping it. Everyone's watching and discussing the sport, so I ended up curious, catching some of the games, all of which bored me to death. We were always winning. I was always rooting for the other team, just for a glimmer of drama. Almost my entire college life was punctuated with a Men's Basketball Championship Holiday. Hurray.

Until we lost the title to ADMU in my senior year. (There's really something off about that Never shall we fail slogan.) It's not as if I wasn't aware of the rivalry, but I was made hyper-aware since that finals match. The insults — again, I had heard them before — came in relentless machine-gun speed. Everyone, from within and outside the institution, hated our players, hated our coaches, hated ourselves. And I felt personally attacked for something I didn't do, by mere association. Hey, I wasn't the one who missed the shot; why are you crucifying me!!!

Then I, goodness gracious, started to care.

But I do love sports in general. Or not. Stressful, emotionally draining stuff. What I know for certain is you can't be a sports fan if you don't have the heart to lose.

When I bought Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch over a decade ago, it was in hopes that it'll give me the wisdom and sense of humor to get through each UAAP and Tennis season. A few pages in, I realized that it was a football diary and I had zero knowledge and interest in football. Last March I picked it up again, despite my unimproved football IQ, confident that I'm a better, if more conscientious reader now. Well, the book brought me pleasure with a teeny ounce of pain.

Some underlined bits
Entertainment as pain was an idea entirely new to me, and it seemed to be something I'd been waiting for. (p 13)

I simply asked [my father], in an assumed spirit of idle curiosity, who he thought would win the game, and he said he thought Arsenal would, three or four nothing, the same as everyone else did, and so I got the reassurance I was looking for; but I was scared for life anyway. Like my mother's exclamation mark, my father's blithe confidence later seemed like a betrayal. (p 18)

I had discovered after the Swindon game that loyalty, at least in football terms, was not a moral choice like bravery or kindness; it was more like a wart or a hump, something you were stuck with. (p 27)

I have learned the value of investing time and emotion in things I cannot control, and of belonging to a community whose aspirations I share completely and uncritically. (p 62)

I like the thought of people remembering [emphasis mine] me on a regular basis. (p 186)

Sport and life, especially the arty life, are not exactly analogous. One of the great things about sport is its cruel clarity: there is no such thing, for example, as a bad one-hundred-metre runner, or a hopeless centre-half who got lucky; in sport, you get found out... There are, however, plenty of bad actors or musicians or writers making a decent living, people who happened to be in the right place at the right time, or knew the right people, or whose talents have been misunderstood or overestimated. (p 201)

16 May 2019

Notes on 'The Dresser'

In answering a question about leaving relationships in the aftermath of betrayal, psychotherapist Esther Perel quotes Who Can You Trust author Rachel Botsman: "Trust is the active, responsible engagement with the unknown." Perel stresses that if we have to know for sure that our partners will never be unfaithful again, then we will never trust.

It isn't betrayal but abandonment and love without certainty, which tastes cling strongly in my mouth after watching Ronald Harwood's The Dresser, staged by Repertory Philippines on May the third.

Set in 1940s Britain, the drama sees a theater ensemble push through its promised performance, air raids be damned. Theater's promptness and clockwork make for a sharp contrast to Death's spontaneity. As in reality, what we plan can be cancelled by nature; what we produce with passion, proven meaningless. So what's the point?

Teroy Guzman and Audie Gemora are Sir and Norman in Repertory Philippines' production of The Dresser by Ronald Harwood. The show runs until May 26 at Onstage, Greenbelt. (Press photo)

At the center of this story is Norman (Audie Gemora), the titular theatrical dresser, who's a devoted companion-aide to noted Shakespearean actor, 'Sir' (Teroy Guzman). In spite of his declining health, Sir continues to perform onstage, causing trouble to everyone around him. He is difficult, stubborn, temperamental. Yet Norman stays beside him, even through his final breath.

Imagine then Norman's displeasure at the glaring absence of his name in the dedications page of Sir's autobiography. And the pain in realizing that he is alone now, left with a memory of his only friend, who may not have regarded him as a friend after all.

Gemora and Guzman disappear into their roles; while Tami Monsod as Madge, the stage manager who also harbours deep affections for Sir, provides unforgettable, if gut-wrenching scenes. Sometimes the play feels like it's coasting by, losing intensity where it matters. Though overall the show firmly stands on Harwood's evocative, in parts funny script and takes off with the leads' dramatic deftness.

Joining Guzman and Gemora is Tami Monsod, who plays stage manager, Madge. (Press photo)

Any piece of art that reflects on its nature inevitably asks, however tangential, if being a good artist equates to being a good person; and touch on mortality, or our vain attempts to live past our due date (if we were certain of a beautiful future, I don't think that we would have an impulse for art).

The Dresser engages with these themes, but ultimately speaks of our plain need to be held precious in a world of uncertainty. Both actor and dresser, craftsman and attendant offer invaluable services to humanity in their own ways; and in their own ways await their reward — which may or may not come. Call it inherent selfishness or enlightened self-interest, if we're being generous. Whether we admit it or not, we crave some form of recognition for our actions. The costume, the makeup, the act we put on each time we step out of the door is a cry for love.

02 May 2019

Rhythm and big queer energy

Troye Sivan wrote my pre-deflowering song, Bloom, the title track of his latest album and name of the ongoing tour, of which I had been — and I say this with a plum-lip smile — an active audience.

I'll dive into mystic waters here. There are those who are present in the moment, and those who make you feel present in their moment. My impulse soon after watching Troye's debut concert in Manila is to gush over his capacity for the latter; but honesty is tricky. Who knows if the artist is genuinely at home with a crowd he has just met or simply doing his job, producing a stellar imitation of the real thing (of connection and inclusivity). Alas, what I know is what I feel, and last night was pure celebration of being there, together.

Even he couldn't put his finger on it, ascribing all the fun to maybe the "big queer energy" in the room.

Troye Sivan The Bloom Tour – Manila leg (1 May 2019, Mall of Asia Arena)

When Dance To This came out in 2018, I was sold on the opening slur. Then in the second verse got thrown off by Ariana Grande's powerful vocals, her soft delivery notwithstanding. It was for me a disruption from the track's insouciant groove. Most of Troye's music have that quality of restraint — incongruous perhaps to the liberal spirit that animates his brand, but a sure testament to his artistry. He doesn't go for killer hooks or flashy production; rather, he banks on rhythm you can loop for days on end plus simple, singsong melodies that match his light baritone. The voice, because clear, becomes louder. Anyone can sing along.

That's why I bought a ticket. To get my fill of communal singing. And dancing. Though without me noticing it, he may have taught me to listen to slow songs again. This I realized during the show's excursion into sad ballads.

Reliving the event, my friends and I have found the same things — the pop star's mighty sashay, our Baddest Bitch ON switch. I am thoroughly charmed. Seeing Troye Sivan live for the first time is one of those first-times I can only wish to repeat.

24 April 2019

Notes on 'Silence'

Endō, Shūsaku. Silence. Translated by William Johnston, Picador Modern Classics, 2016.

1. There are several reasons I picked this book (I have to share because normally I go by gut feel plus the cover — this copy has a terrible movie tie-in cover): one, it's highly recommended by a Japanese trainee; two, it's been adapted for the big screen by Martin Scorsese; three, I'm extremely curious about Shūsaku Endō; and four, Christian faith baffles me.

2. The most compelling reason: the story is set in seventeenth-century Japan, where Christians and priests were hunted and executed by burning, drowning and other inhumane ordeals. A part of me may have expected torture porn.

3. Kidding. But seriously, I want to get in the mind of the faithful. What drives missionaries to spread the word — and here I realize the actual legwork the job entails. They travel places to preach, like pop stars on tour.

4. Jesuit priest Sebastian Rodrigues is the novel's hero. I hate him. Such an arrogant fellow. He encapsulates everything I find deplorable about the religion. On top of the list is the viewpoint that suffering is glamorous:
And this sense of suffering shared softly eased his mind and heart more than the sweetest water. (106)

The more conscious he became of being watched by the Christians from behind the more he went on making himself a hero. (118)

A man had died. Yet the outside world went on as if nothing happened... On the day of my death, too, will the world go relentlessly on its way, indifferent just as now? After I am murdered, will the cicadas sing and the flies whirl their wings inducing sleep? Do I want to be as heroic as that? And yet, am I looking for the true, hidden martyrdom or just for a glorious death? Is it that I want to be honored, to be prayed to, to be called a saint? (128)

...he had tried to avoid any thought of people who were stronger than himself, people who had heroically endured torture [emphasis mine] and the pit. (163)
5. An exhibit of the aforementioned arrogance:
Yet one priest remaining in this country has the same significance as a single candle burning in the catacombs. So Garrpe and I vowed to one another that after our separation we should strive might and main to stay alive.

Anyhow, if my report now comes to an abrupt end (for all I know you may not even to date have received it), do not think we are necessarily dead. It is just that in this barren land we must leave one small spade to till the ground.... (64)
6. The entire chapter 7 had me on a fit. My marginalia read: The chapter where I so want the priest to suffer. Such arrogant man... God complex — God does nothing. He simply bathes in his vanity. I lost it in the latter part; I'm not sure now what I meant by the last couple of sentences about God, but I do know I was livid.

7. If all that sounded like I didn't enjoy the book, I had you fooled. Endō's writing is simple and straightforward. I may not have gained the philosophical insights I was hoping for, but I did feel the silence Rodrigues felt from his God.

12 April 2019

Today in beautiful things

1. "La Pleureuse" by Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne

A trainee mentioned her family's upcoming trip to Hakone for Japan's Golden Week. I haven't heard of the place and my search led me to this image. It's rare that I'm moved by a painting, sculpture or piece of architecture — only a human face can do it for me, it seems — but this one, this one is special.

Pool of Tears

2. "No Geography" by The Chemical Brothers

I do note album releases on my calendar. The day has arrived for this masterpiece and I am beyond satisfied.

01 April 2019

Father's Day after-show thoughts

There's little I can tolerate when it comes to housemates. Reason that I completely share Henry Willows' pleasure in having the house to himself on a quiet winter night.

A backgrounder on why he's alone: he's a divorcé, whose children are now in the care of his ex-wife, Sue and her new partner. In a parallel universe, he may be spending the evening with his family instead of a tumbler of whisky.

Henry's son, Matthew has not yet given up on that happily-ever-after dream; and thus makes an unannounced visit, his possibly pregnant girlfriend, Christine in tow.

So begins the story.

Miguel Faustmann and Andres Borromeo play father and son in Repertory Philippines' staging of Father's Day by Eric Chappell.

Repertory Philippines presents Father's Day by Eric Chappell. The show, based on the playwright's hit sitcom, Home to Roost, is directed by Baby Barredo and runs until 14th April at Onstage, Greenbelt – Makati.

If there's anything that bugs me about the play, it's the thought that I might be crankier than Henry (Miguel Faustmann) — a high bar — and more old-fashioned than I dare admit.

Matthew (Andres Borromeo) is driven by good intentions. Pulling off a parent trap is sweet, agreed. But steal money and fiddle with private property? Not cute. And his ploy seems to be working as Henry and Sue (Liesl Batucan) get cozy, to understate. Love is in the nippy air, and so is infidelity.

Maybe I've forgotten to bring my sense of humor or maybe I'm just a grinch. What's certain is Chappell can write cutting put-downs. The repartees are laugh-out-loud funny when done well, though in some moments lacking the bite we've come to expect from a British comedy.

Becca Coates and Liesl Batucan complete the cast of four.

All four actors are dealt with flawed characters, with quirks that can annoy the hell out of you (Sue's shrill retorts, Matthew's wing-it attitude, Christine's constipated look). Among them, Faustmann has been the most successful at earning sympathy, making his sour Henry likeable.

Confession: I connect deeply with Christine (Becca Coates). Not because of her gender and punk proclivities, but because she doesn't speak much and runs away from her problems. We are difficult to live with. No exceptions. Deciding to carry on living with someone somehow means learning to quarrel productively.

At curtain call I overhear an audience member tell his companion, "Simple lang" and I could hear a smile, an evidence of fondness for the light-hearted performance. This is why we bother with theater. To escape reality, yes, but also to manage our sorrows. However briefly, holding a family together is simple.

29 March 2019

Looking for Umbrella Jack

An old man holding a decrepit umbrella slowly walks away — no, towards? us. That's as vivid an image as I can remember, and that's all it takes to keep my spirit disturbed for years.

The first and last time I saw Umbrella Jack was in grade school. Since then I've forgotten the story, never mind any scene. I can't even recall if it's a TV special or a movie, or if I have ever seen the whole thing.

Thankfully the title is stuck in my head. So when the image creeps back into my consciousness, as it regularly does, I do a quick online search. Nada. But the Internet always delivers, doesn't it? If not sooner, much, much later.

Again, I don't know what triggered the memory but I looked for Umbrella Jack. And found him.

Like an itch scratched, a mystery solved. But better. To watch it the second time and from this vantage point — I'm having a most satisfying cry. Now I notice something I haven't before, a pertinent detail that escapes my imagination whenever I conjure the old man's figure: he walks in the sun.

25 March 2019

Beauty sans terror: Notes on 'Angels in America – Part 1'

Angels in America is big. The two-part play comprises eight acts, gathering a host of personal and political themes enlaced with phantasmagoria. Part One: Millennium Approaches has recently seen its Manila premiere and among all the things I find fascinating about it, what surprises me most is how the show feels rather small.

Granted, the first installment is taut by design, and director Bobby Garcia has translated Tony Kushner's narrative as clearly as possible. Too clinical in my opinion that the magic has taken a backseat.

Unfamiliar references in the script aren't necessarily stumbling blocks to my viewing experience, thanks to the actors who provide a strong sense of what they want from their audience and fellow actors. You don't need to understand the punchline, so to speak; they'll tell you when it's time to laugh.

And it is through the cast in vulnerable, angered moments that we're engulfed in grandeur — whether it's Art Acuña (Roy Cohn) performing verbal gymnastics as he rejects a "homosexual disease"; or Angeli Agbayani (Harper Amaty Pitt) drawing a confession from her husband and fabricating a secret of her own to even the playing field; or Nelsito Gomez (Louis Ironson) begging his partner to simply not die.

In Act 3 the comedy is deliberately raised, somewhat curtailing the dread brought on by the characters' circumstances and which culminates with the entrance of the Angel. We gaze at a divine creature floating; but we're more in awe of her dress than terrified by her presence.

That said, Atlantis Productions cracks a profoundly engaging story wide open. It's a shame if they wouldn't stage Part 2: Perestroika in the near future and let audiences in this run of Millennium Approaches receive the full reward of their patience.


Performance details: Angels in America by Tony Kushner. Atlantis Productions; director: Bobby Garcia. (Carlos P Romulo Auditorium, 22 March 2019)

Read notes on the book here.

19 March 2019

Notes on 'Every Brilliant Thing'

Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan. The Sandbox Collective; director: Jenny Jamora. (Maybank Performing Arts Theater, 15 March 2019)

"If you get through your entire life without ever once feeling crushingly depressed, then you probably haven't been paying attention," says Angela in Every Brilliant Thing. Quickly comes to mind Phillip Lopate's assertion in the stunning essay, Against Joie De Vivre: "To be happy, one must pay attention, but to be unhappy one must have also paid attention."

The brighter side of the paradox is toned up in Duncan Macmillan's interactive play, recently staged by The Sandbox Collective. In an attempt to bring hope to her suicidal mother, Angela (Teresa Herrera) creates for her a long list of brilliant things.

List-making is a rather brilliant thing in itself. So commonplace a practice, we forget that our every day is a struggle at stitching together fragments — of ideas, moments and images — to form something that resembles a life. The same goes for the play, which great success is in hiding the machinery of ice-breaking under the guise of a story.

It moves in centripetal motion, talking about suicide without talking about it. There's no character exposition here. No diving deep into a depressive's psyche. To us, Angela is a protagonist, but to the playwright, she simply is NARRATOR, someone who could be played by any actor of any gender, age, or ethnicity. Macmillan even requests that the word not be mentioned in souvenir programs or production materials.

And the ruse works. A generic character allows viewers to easily inhabit her mental space; and continue the threads of thought she has started. Her name is in fact a product of the improv variables the night I watched — and it might as well be anyone's name: mine, yours, a friend's.

Teresa Herrera stars in the the one-woman show.

Herrera takes on a more serious, melancholic approach to the Narrator. Which doesn't mean that she has sucked out the fun from the script. Rather, she justifies its improvisational design by being vulnerable, thereby highlighting trust (to the audience and what they represent in the unfolding narrative).

When we find ourselves in a shaky situation, what do we do? Seek help, the show seems to recommend. It goes both ways. Whom should we ask? How should we respond to difficult questions — whether it's a straightforward, "Why did mom kill herself?" or a vague yet loaded, "How are you?"

Every Brilliant Thing has no pretensions of solving mental health issues. What it does effectively is discuss the matter in the terms it prescribes, first of all by putting a spotlight on the taboo. As a theater experience, director Jenny Jamora has managed to provide a feel-good, resonant performance that is neither gimmicky nor dismissively platitudinous.

We can misconstrue the show's fixation with the positives as an unproductive act of shunning the negatives. For me, it's an acknowledgement of our minds' impenetrability. Who knows what really goes on in there? If and when we decide to speak to another, will words ever be a reliable translator of our innermost selves?

11 March 2019

My Rita Ora diary

From my 2018 IG stories archive

This had long been sitting pretty on top of my wish list, and I take it as the Universe's personal response to my prayers when Rita Ora scheduled the Philippine leg of her Phoenix Tour on my birthday.


Songs I was happy she sang:

1. Doing It — A magical, youthful bop, which I hoped she'd perform but didn't bet on, considering the single's not entirely hers.
2. Lonely Together — The dance arrangement didn't erase the melancholy brought by the lyrics, not to mention Avicii's absence.
3. Hot Right Now — Where I realized that (1) I should've bought a VIP Standing ticket and (2) my hair isn't amenable to head-banging. Should remedy the latter, stat.
4. RIP — Any "old" Rita was welcome, even this grower.
5. Keep Talking — My favorite unreleased track from "Phoenix".


Songs I was bummed she didn't sing:

1. How We Do — Would've brought the house down. WTH, Rita?!
2. RADIOACTIVE! — THE song that made me a fangirl.
3. Body On Me — Would've had the time of my life gyrating while belting, Ah-yay-yayay-yay yay-yay yay yay-yay. Heh.


Pop music, I understand, makes storybook characters out of its stars. We spend resources on artists whom we can relate with or aspire to be like, bad music notwithstanding. I'm not above this machinery, as I earlier shared: I'm an Ora admirer because she's a fun yet mature, drama-free girlfriend.

It's the consistency of hits, however, that continues to draw me in. The criticism regarding interchangeability has merits. Anywhere and Lonely Together sound alike. So do Let You Love Me and I Only Want You. But I'm willing to overlook these given the many wonderful musical decisions she's made thus far. One of which is writing more ballads that showcase her voice.


I knew she would be amazing live, but her band was something else. They rocked and reminded me of Rita's rock-and-roll spirit.


Hands were up. So glad to be among those who really wanted to be there. Those who'd lose a little breath with you upon recognizing the song a few notes were leading to.

In my section, specifically my row, everyone was responding to the moment. Last night I saw proof against claims that we simply watch live shows through our phone screens nowadays. There were the occasional documentation, of course (as in this blog). Occasional being the operative word.

We all lost it in I Will Never Let You Down. Perhaps it was the timing — all of us had already warmed up to each other. So when Rita commanded, "On your feet," on our feet we were! Even the reticent was eventually swayed by the energy.


Rita, like most foreign celebrities or visitors coming here, had learned to say, Mahal kita. I've got a new word for the singer-songwriter: Her debut concert in Manila was bitin. She couldn't come back any sooner.

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