Monday, January 11, 2016

Death on Twitter

Elsewhere, a mourning contest.

Death as an aside.

Thin line between eulogy and clickbait.

Thursday, December 31, 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

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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

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 sex were devoid/deprived of. As it turns out, their “normal” was the world’s “extraordinary.”

Sure I witness discrimination. One time I rode a cab that almost bumped into the car in front. The male cabbie sighed, “Tsk. Babae kasi ang driver.” He obviously didn’t notice that his passenger was a girl. But I don’t file instances like this under “misogyny” and cry foul on behalf of womenkind. I chalk it up to sheer impropriety. We’re all walking stereotypes and we see people as types, whether deliberately or subconsciously. You are measured in more ways than one: by your clothes, school, job, Twitter followers, literary preference, accent. Girlhood is a minor inconvenience.

To be honest, what’s distressing is this relentless invitation to fit the image of the modern woman: daring, outspoken, uncompromising, can-do-it-all and -do-it-better. It’s another suffocating box.

—Full story on GIST.PH

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

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 family and its ghosts is only hinted at. On the stage is what seems like a huge stone roughly chiseled to form ladders and platforms, barely resembling a dwelling. “When we look at rocks or crumpled surfaces, figures and faces surge out of them. I wanted the house to be that of a rock from which memories would come out of,” explains director Anton Juan.

“The garden and the house must be completed in the imagination of the audience. Hence I wanted (the color) white and steps leading as if to nowhere. Once, I was in Hagonoy directing a traditional play for Babaylan, and I saw a madwoman, once rich, climb the only remnant of her once-mansion — a flight of steps. She would climb it and descend, then disappear into a shack behind it,” he continues.

With all the build-up to the garden, the detailed costumes, playful lighting, and unique imagining of the Cravens’ house, it’s natural to expect an equally creative set design for the titular garden. But the audience will soon realize that the production is leaving it entirely to their minds, where most of the magic happens anyway.

“The audience is the garden — the wick inside of us that Dickon sings about to Mary,” shares Juan. “This is also the colonized self inside us, the culture and history in us oppressed by dominant cultures, empires, order, technology and ‘science’ mis-used. The millennials (the silent generation) must see this. The wick awaits to grow and blossom, awaits freedom of expression.”

The question is, can the show be enjoyed without knowing the intent behind it? It certainly requires undivided attention. The actors’ affected accents can get in the way of following the dialogues, and the music — save for the Final Storm, which incorporates a haunting version of nursery rhyme Mary, Mary Quite Contrary — is missing the melodic hooks that are crucial in sustaining one’s interest in a musical. It helps that there’s a committed cast onstage. Standouts are Lorenz Martinez (as Archibald), who makes the songs soar; Daniel Drilon, who steals scenes as the stubborn, distrustful, yet charming Colin — he makes you root for him; and Red Concepcion (as Dickon), who’s always been a reliable thespian.

Aside from the cast, especially the child actors, whom Juan selected for their “talent and truth,” Juan takes pride in collaborating on a show with his former students. “I am working with a dream team of artistic collaborators who were my students: Dexter Santos, Ohm David, John Ilao Batalla, Bonzai… And this time it is they who are there, helping me shape what I want for us to articulate, and expect: excellence,” he says. “Surmounting the difficulties of the stage used by two plays all at once [the musical runs alongside another Repertory production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], and the humble fees they receive, the dream team has collaborated on The Secret Garden and makes it mean (something) truthful and profound in these days of great violence.”

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Monday, November 30, 2015

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’re mixing your private life with work, but I love it. When we decided to do the wedding thing, obviously I needed to talk to George, who was a little bit more reserved.

We weren’t going to have a wedding at first. But after we started filming — in Texas for ten days, then Argentina for another 10 days, and finally to Antarctica — by that time that it just became routine, so normal, to have a camera there. Plus, the advantage of having a production is that you’re focusing on planning the trip. You’re not thinking about the wedding so much. For us the idea of planning a wedding is very stressful. But planning a trip is okay! So that took off a lot of the normal wedding anxiety that you would have.

What was it like to revisit your hometown with your significant other?

That was fun. I grew up in Texas but left when I was 17. So to go back as an adult and relive all the things that we used to do — kayaking, horseback riding, eating streak — and be able to share it with George is completely different. I felt like I kind of went back to being a kid again. We were in the rodeo and I was so excited, but then George was there so sometimes it became a competition, I wanted to be the better horseback rider. Sometimes I kind of wanted to guide him, and sometimes it was just us two experiencing things for the first time together. So it was very nice, and to see George’s reaction to everything was always hilarious.

What are the major differences — maybe advantages or disadvantages — of traveling alone, with a group, and with your partner?

Travelling alone, you’ll meet so many people. Because humans are naturally social creatures, when you travel by yourself, you’re always looking to meet people. Even if it’s just one-day friends, you’ll always meet that person, and sometimes you end up traveling together for a bit of time.

When travelling with a group, obviously you have the dynamics of the group. So if it’s your friends, you really start to see things about them that you don’t normally see in day-to-day life. So that could make or break relationships. It really could. But it’s also fun. When you’re away from the stress of work and all that, a lot of times you become closer. Even if you have hard times, say, something terrible happens like bad weather and you can’t do the things you wanted to do, you’re cuddled together in one space that you end up becoming really close. That’s the advantage.

Travelling with a partner — I always say, if you really want to know your partner, travel with them. (Plan everything together) down to where you book your hotel and what kind of food you’ll eat. If you come across any problems — or just even with the shopping, how (they) interact with the shopkeepers — you’ll really see what this person is like. For me, traveling can be a deal breaker. If I don’t travel well with this person then I know I won’t have good life with them.

Friday, November 27, 2015

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.

A photo posted by Razel Estrella (@fishpeep) on

If the premise sounds exaggerated, like a springboard for a wild adventure, it isn’t. Dennis and Warren are no ordinary kids looking for excitement, they are privileged kids who have so much that they don’t know what to do with it.

Red Turnip Theater’s staging of Lonergan’s critically acclaimed play is a breather from the nostalgia- and pop culture-obsessed productions we’ve been seeing for a while. The play, though set in the ’80s and in parts driven by music, banks on neither nostalgia nor pop culture references to draw easy laughs and build connection with the audience.

Instead, it presents painfully familiar pot-smoking characters. Dennis (Jef Flores) is the short-fused, self-assured guy, who has an opinion on everything and is convinced of their accuracy. On the other hand, Warren (Nicco Manalo), though smart enough, always second-guesses himself and looks to Dennis for guidance. A third character is Warren’s object of desire, Jessica (Cindy Lopez), who is also sharp but fragile.

Red Turnip shuts the audience up in a room with these three. And by room we mean an 80-seater A Space Gallery in Makati, where people watch the play sitting on bean bags, close enough to see the nerves on Dennis’ neck whenever he screams (which is often), the twitching of Warren’s fingers, and the eyes of Jessica welling with tears.

It’s like being a fourth character, only invisible and mute. You feel helpless when Dennis and Warren get in a row and throw things in the apartment. And when Dennis bangs the rotary phone down, you want to shout, “Spare the poor phone!” In this set up, director Topper Fabregas succeeds in bringing the audience not back in time but in the moment with the characters.

And the source of their conflicts? Nothing earth-shaking: fighting with their parents, getting laid, figuring whether or not they’re in a relationship, running out of pot, finding better pot. It’s so trivial it’s funny — but not to them, not at that age where every movement is felt with intensity and every thought is taken seriously.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Friday, November 20, 2015

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 museum, going to an amusement park, watching a play, dining at a themed restaurant, reading a book, having a massage, and attending a festival. Pretty much anything you can do on any regular weekend — or weekday if you play hookey.

So what makes a staycation special?

There has to be an element of novelty, something you can’t do at home, or, if you choose to stay at home, something you don’t normally do there. Also, you have to do things at your leisure (I’m making up rules here, just so we’re clear). Of course, you shouldn’t spend a lot and where you’re having your staycation must be nearby (no need to board a plane would be a good standard).

A few weeks ago I was told I had a staycation. I stayed (hah, stayed) at InterContinental Manila and checked out the developments in Circuit Makati. The hotel, which is closing by the end of 2015, offers a holiday staycation package, so why not pamper myself within its walls one last time?

I’ve always been sold on the idea of checking in a hotel over the weekend as a form of vacation. The next person who can afford an overnight stay at the InterCon may find it pointless — all you’ll enjoy is a nice bed, a pool, bathtub and buffet breakfast. The money can be better spent elsewhere. But I like the thought of not cleaning up after yourself. Not having to wash the dishes, do the laundry, fold bedsheets. It’s a nice way to be spoiled.

The silence, cleanliness, and safety inside the executive room already relaxed me. The afternoon was spent appreciating the crisp linen, carpeted floor, warm lighting, and the carefully arranged water bottles, tea bags, glasses and coffee cups. It’s a nice way to live, however briefly, in your fantasy home.

At sundown, I saw some action and tried new stuff. Because I don’t have a car, I satisfied my driving appetite at City Kart Racing in Circuit Makati. There I realized I’m such a defensive driver that I let everyone else go ahead of me. But, surprise, I still managed to rank second to the last.

Other cravings satiated afterwards were gustatory and intellectual. I had dinner at Backyard Kitchen + Brew (my culinary vocabulary is limited, so you have to trust me when I say the food was delicious) before watching the entertaining No Filter 2.0 at Power Mac Center Spotlight, a black box theater.

I don’t know about you but coming home from an adventure is as exciting as the adventure itself. I was shuttled back to the hotel, where the rest of the night was spent downing a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates. The best part? There was more to do — and not do — the next day.

See, staycation is a beautiful thing with an ugly name. From an economic and introverted standpoint, staycations should allow you to recharge, soul-search, and have fun without going to Italy, India or Indonesia and going broke. With that definition, it deserves a better name. Like its relatives. Just hear the elegance of “travel,” the cool ruggedness of “trek,” the gallantry of “voyage,” the wisdom of “retreat.”

So yeah, what should we call it?

—Originally published on GIST.PH