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31 July 2011 @ 03:44 pm
On A Rainy Sunday in Cubao, Listening to Johnny Cash

On a rainy Sunday in Cubao, listening to Johnny Cash
add a heavy tread to Gordon Lightfoot, voice cracking through
earbuds, silicone turning into gravel, regret crumbling down
a spine untested by the ravages of time

If you could read my mind, love,
what tales would my thoughts tell?

Current Music: Johnny Cash - If You Could Read My Mind
04 April 2011 @ 09:40 pm

He was perplexed. He was staring at the steadily blinking cursor as it ticked away the hours he had already spent writing nothing down. In his mind, he had done everything right. He had disconnected his computer from the Internet, brewed a good pot of tea, schlepped to the quietest part of the house, and really set his mind to writing a new story. It was a process that had worked for him years before, back when he was more prolific.


Perhaps, he thought, he was wired differently now. The same stimuli just weren’t doing it for him anymore, the synapses staunchly refusing to fire as he searched deep inside for the strange stuff that made words flow before.


He had promised her that he would write her a new story. It was what she wanted for her birthday, she said. She had always liked his stories, even when he chased down the silliest of threads. But it’s been years since he last explored the possibilities of fiction, and now those threads seemed far more slippery than before.


He looked at the clock. There were still a few hours to go before her birthday ended. He stretched, and then cracked his knuckles. He didn’t want to let her down.


He placed his fingers tentatively on the keys. He felt a dull ache in his left wrist, the early signs of carpal tunnel, perhaps. He typed a couple of words, neither one have anything to do with the other. But now words were on the page, and that was a start.


He stared at those two words while listening to the silence in the room. The words were “hedgehog” and “tea.” He poured himself another cup of tea and watched the steam rise slowly off his mug. The mug had a tropical design on it, blue and green leaves cutting across a background of bright yellow. He couldn’t remember where he got it, or where it came from. He tried thinking up a story about how he got the mug, but all he got was an image of himself buying a mug from SM.


He remembered that she liked stories that featured talking animals. Her favorite story of all time was Haruki Murakami’s Super Frog Saves Tokyo. He started thinking that he might try to write a sequel to that, when he heard a voice boom behind him.


“I know what you’re thinking,” the voice said. “And it’s stupid.”


He turned around to see an eight-foot tall brown bear standing behind him. His first instinct was to panic, but he realized quickly that the voice must have come from the bear. It is unlikely that a talking bear would mean anyone harm.


“Hello,” he said instead. “You are a bear.”


The bear nodded solemnly. “This is correct.”


“Who are you?”


“Isn’t it obvious?” the bear said. “I am the great bear of stories, come to help you in your time of need.”


He considered what the bear just said, parsing it all out in his head. First, the bear thinks that it should be obvious to anyone that he is the great bear of stories. Also, there is apparently such a thing as a great bear of stories. And finally, it seems that it know that he is struggling, and has arrived to assist him. This was a lot of information to handle all at one point, and so he stared blankly at the bear for a whole minute.


“You are having trouble with a story?” the bear finally said.


“Yes I am. I promised my girlfriend I would write a story for her birthday, and I’m drawing a blank.”


The bear laughed heartily. Its laugh was halfway between a dog’s bark and an old man’s guffaw. It struck him that it must not be easy for bears to laugh.


“I will help you write a story, young man.” The great bear of stories dug into his thick brown fur and pulled out a large notebook and a pen. He held the pen between two of his claws, and started scribbling furiously into his book.


“Now I understand that she likes stories about talking animals,” he said. “But your idea of writing a sequel to that Murakami story is not a good one.”


“What’s wrong with that idea?”


“Well for one thing, you’re no Murakami, buddy.”


He considered objecting, but realized quickly that the statement was factual.


“I visit Murakami all that time. That guy has work ethic. You’re trying to cobble a story together at the last minute. As usual.”


He could only nod meekly in agreement.


“But the real point here,” the bear continued, “is that story wouldn’t really be something that came from you. You’d end up just mimicking what Murakami did, and no matter how hard you work at that, it just won’t turn out very well.”


“So what do you suggest?”


“Write what you know.”


He blinked. The bear stared at him solemnly.


“That’s it? Write what you know? That’s the advice of the great bear of stories?”


The bear stared at him as if he had just talked the salmon out of swimming upstream.


He quickly shrunk beneath that stare. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just frustrated, and I’ve heard that saying all my life, and it’s never worked for me. What I know is pretty lame. It’s just a lot of sitting around, reading and watching crap. It’s just not the sort of thing that you’d find inspiring.”


The bear touched its nose as he pondered this. He looked back at his computer, and found the same two words staring back at him.


“You know,” the bear finally said. “That’s not all you know.”


The great bear of stories placed a heavy paw on his shoulder.


“You know the reason you’re writing this story.”


 He was still staring at the two words as the bear said this, and he quickly realized how the two were actually related. He remembered when he gave her three little plush hedgehogs for her birthday a couple of years back. He remembered the very first day that they had met, and the tea that they had at that coffee place that isn’t there anymore. He remembered every day that had led to this one, every weird conversation that they had over lunches and dinners, and on lazy days spent in bed watching television. He remembered how he’d tell her all his silly ideas for stories, and how she’d laugh and play along. And she’d tell him that he ought to be writing stories again, because she really liked his stories.


On the screen, two words became a phrase, and a phrase became a sentence. Soon it became a paragraph, and the rest came along with ease. The great bear of stories watched intently as the ideas formed on the page, tutting occasionally when he ran into an awkward turn of phrase. A couple of times the bear coughed loudly, but he didn’t quite know what that meant.


When the last word was written, the bear picked him up and gave him a big hug.


“You’ve done well, young man. It’s a little rough, but I can see that you put your heart into it.”


He struggled to get his words out in between the bear’s massive arms. “Thanks,” he managed. The bear noticed his squirming and put him down.


He looked at the story now on his screen, amazed that it had come so quickly. He looked back at the bear. “I couldn’t have done this without you,” he said. “How can I ever repay you?”


“The great bear of stories takes ham in payment,” the bear replied. “I have already taken the liberty of going through your fridge. You will have to do shopping tomorrow.”


Before he could say anything, the bear boomed, “My work is done here! Inspiration waits for no man!” The bear disappeared in a poof of smoke that smelled vaguely like pineapple glaze.


He sat back down and went through his story. He was proud of what he had written, even though it wasn’t very refined. He knew that it was the story that he wanted to tell.


He was about to send it to her when he heard another voice behind him.


“You don’t really think you’re finished, do you?”


He took a sip from his mug. His tea had gone cold. He braced himself for what he knew was coming next.


“I am the great moose of editing! I have come to you in your time of need!”



Current Mood: calmcalm
12 July 2010 @ 09:24 am
I wrote this essay for the Free Press a year ago. A year later, it still seems pertinent.

The general wisdom is that the local film industry is dying, if not already dead. The studios inundate news outlets with word of their successes, of the millions of pesos they’re receiving from masses hungry for their latest star pairing, but they cannot hide the fact that they’re making far fewer movies than before. Worse, they’re making the same four or five movies over and over again, with shrinking budgets and a growing resistance to anything new or exciting.

If not dead, the local industry is comatose; a veritable cinematic vegetable. There are various machines set up to keep it breathing, but there’s just no brain activity left. It is content to stay the way it is, coughing out an occasional sign of life, but never opening its eyes. It’s a comfortable darkness, at least.

And so, while local cinema lovers will still visit the hospital room now and then, they’re all very much resigned to the idea that they’ve lost the local industry. They’re on the final stage of grief, and are looking to move on.

Enter Cinemalaya. Now in its fifth year, the festival has produced forty-six full-length features, a quantity that easily matches the output of any of the major studios. To many, this little festival at the CCP has been a shining beacon of hope for local film, the place to find new quality pictures that do justice to our country’s long and colorful cinematic tradition. And to an extent, that’s true, but Cinemalaya has problems of its own, and five years in, it might be time to reassess the festival’s path.

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Current Mood: awake
Current Music: The Gaslight Anthem - Bring It On | Powered by Last.fm
10 May 2010 @ 05:45 am
Righteous Destiny

In the brief moments when he found himself alone, he liked to draw pictures in crayon. Things had gotten pretty complicated, and he liked being reminded of the simpler days of his childhood, when dreams were nothing more than colorful squiggles on reams of white paper. He imagined himself a superhero, perhaps able to prevent the tragedies that got him to where he is now, on the precipice of another dream.

Tonight he draws himself a future. He whimpers slightly as he opens his box of crayons, and realizes that one color is missing.


He didn't make his choice until the very last minute, his pen trembling as it hovered over the blank ovals, so full of possibility.

None of them matched his politics, so his choice could only be a moral one. Records of accomplishments flashed before his eyes. The whispers of both scandal and praise rang in his ears. Months of paying attention had led up to this: trying to find someone to believe in, someone who might deserve a little faith.

As the ink dried on his choice, he felt unsure, but hopeful. Perhaps he never found his messiah, but whether he admits it or not, he believes in tomorrow, and the possibility it brings.
Current Mood: hopefulhopeful
Current Music: The New Pornographers - My Rights Versus Yours
13 January 2010 @ 02:11 pm

Image taken from here
Current Mood: determined
Current Music: Chromeo - Momma's Boy
31 December 2009 @ 06:44 pm

10 Mos Def - The Ecstatic
"Ecstatic" is right. You can almost hear Mos Def smiling through the speakers as he staggers out rhymes in Casa Bey, and the joy is infectious. There's tons to be said about the amazing production on the record, and the slew of influences he employs in his tracks, but it's the happiness that gets me every time. It's a feel-good rap album!

09 Pasta Groove - The Distinktive Sounds of Pasta Groove
The opening track, Give Bearth, is practically enough reason to get this album. But amazingly, there is a whole lot more to follow, with Pasta Groove easily blending the old and the new, the East and the West, melody and percussion as he takes us on a journey through his own, very distinkt musical landscape.

08 Dinosaur Jr - Farm
Dinosaur Jr proves that you can go home again. Twice. In many ways, the reunited Dinosaur Jr is better than they've ever been, filling their tracks with a steady confidence that can only come with age. Alternative rock all grown up, and they didn't get softer. One can only hope the Pixies reunion will be as fruitful as this one.

07 The Flaming Lips - Embryonic
For a while there, The Flaming Lips were dangerously close to becoming a novelty act. They were still good of course, but it didn't feel quite the same. And then Embryonic comes along and yells at everyone. "Hey FUCK YOU! We're still THE FLAMING FUCKING LIPS! We're not a GODDAMNED NOVELTY ACT" This album then punched me in the face and left me bleeding on the floor. Like any great album should.

06 Japandroids - Post-Nothing
When I hear what the kids are listening to these days, it confuses me. Where's the angry loudness? The distortion? The we're-all-just-in-the-garage-playing-our-hearts-out stuff-and-fuck-it-we're-young-let's-burn-the-world-down stuff? This is why Japandroids is important. Listen to Young Hearts Spark Fire and go kick the last year in the balls. I don't wanna worry about dying.

05 Neko Case - Middle Cyclone
Neko Case has one of the most amazing voices in music today, the kind of voice that can lure you in while knocking you out. In Middle Cyclone she imagines herself as a tornado, an animal, a man eater, and her voice convinces us of every transformation. Because with every note and syllable, Neko Case tells a complete story.

04 A.C. Newman - Get Guilty
Carl Newman writes the kind of lyrics that change and grow right along with you, a slate of poetry both obscure and universal, backed up by a beautiful wall of pop music. In the first track, the refrain repeatedly asks us to "make of that what you will," as Newman tries to teach us maybe ten of twelve things that he's learned over the years. And he always seems to be learning right along with us, his stories gaining depth with every listen.

03 Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle
"Eid ma clack shaw, zuproven del ba." Many songs pretend to hold the answers to the questions of love. Callahan's heartbroken persona wants to pretend, too, but all he's got to offer is some gibberish he wrote down in a notebook while he was still half-asleep. He's also got the occasional fable, but mostly, he's just as confused as everyone else is. And that's the beauty of it.

02 Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix has been making beautiful music for years. It is only now that the larger world has discovered them, with an album that just can't be denied. The world was a better place when Lisztomania hit airwaves. It became a world with a lot more dancing.

01 The Antlers - Hospice
The first time I heard Bear, I was tearing up by the time it hit the refrain. It starts out as if it were a lullaby, the melody hidden in the chimes of a music box. "There's a bear inside your stomach," he sings a little too preciously, before describing how they plan to silence it, how they're too young, how they want to just get it done and move on with their young lives. Then it explodes into the guitars and horns of the refrain. "We're too old...we're not old at all. Just too old." Devastating. The rest of the album is just as devastating, yet strangely hopeful by the end. Hospice is 51 minutes of painful catharsis, and in a year like 2009, it's exactly what I needed.
Current Mood: optimisticoptimistic
Current Music: Girls - God Damned
27 November 2009 @ 01:30 am
Wanted: Border and the Slow March Towards Entropy

2009 was a year of violence. Perhaps, with enough distance and perspective, we'll come to view as no bloodier than any other year, this country (and the world in general) endlessly bursting with the potential for human harm. But right now, especially in the light of the recent Ampatuan Massacre (people should refer to it by name) in Maguindanao, one cannot escape the nagging feeling that 2009 was a year where man's monstrous tendency to do evil won over his supposed capacity for doing good.

This concept is at the cold black heart of Ray Gibraltar's Wanted: Border, which is now showing at Robinson's Indiesine. There is a month left to consider, but as of right now, it is my favorite film of the year, because in just a little over ninety minutes, Gibraltar provides the painful release necessary to flush out that demons that lay in the terror of this year.

The movie takes its title from a misspelled sign the director would see on his way home to his apartment. The mistake provides a strange insight into the human condition; that as much as we value freedom, there's a lot to be said about the need for boundaries within ourselves. The movie centers on a group of people whose decisions are governed solely by their Ids. They gorge themselves with food, watch endless hours of pornography, take copious amounts of drugs, and constantly give in to whatever temptation is laid in front of them.

At the core of all this is Rosanna Roces, who plays Mama Saleng, the owner of a boarding house-slash-eatery that secretly serves up human flesh in its bowls of soup. We see her in four phases, the first with her as a child, being teased by other kids, called an aswang and accused of eating humans. In her second phase, she is the girlfriend of a brutal government agent rooting out communist agents for the dictator. It is in this part of her life that she comes to fulfill the prophecy laid at her feet through the cruelty of children, cooking up the victims of her lover in a vicious broth.

In the third phase, she is the mother figure, taking in lost souls at her boarding house, providing sustenance through her eatery. It is here where she truly becomes a monster, internalizing her evil as a calling from God, her way to helping clear the streets of people unworthy of God's good grace. In her fourth phase we see her in a discussion with what appears to be God himself, who not only condones her butchery, but asks to be part of it.

These phases are shown fragmented and out of order, but her path towards monstrosity is deadly clear. She emerges from a culture of violence, beginning life questioning her own humanity. Call someone a monster often enough, and they might just turn out to be one. In the same vein, if someone is told often enough that they're untouchable, they might just come to believe it. These examples come at two extremes, one from oppression, the other from power, but it is at these extremes where the boundaries of humanity are most easily taken away.

It begins with a small act of corruption that goes unanswered, a debt to civilized society that is never collected. In the movie, a horny stepfather begins his inevitable abuse with a cautious inspection of his stepdaughter's room. A whiff of her clothes. An odd caress here. An extended touch there. The satisfaction isn't from the act itself, but in getting away with the transgression. In our country it started decades ago, the fragmented nature of the nation giving rise of feudal lords who would fight over territory and curry favor with politicians by promising the support of their serfs, by hook or by crook. Usually by crook. And maybe it began with the beating of a member of a rival clan that went unnoticed by the authorities.

The abuse is inevitable. Should we have been surprised? Upset. Disturbed. Horrified. Angry. Yes. Surprised? Sadly, depressingly, no. The saddest part is in realizing how we let it happen. How we always knew about it, but did nothing about it. The film leaves its deepest bit of despair for the mother of the abused girl, who lived under the same roof, and saw signs of her husband's perversions, but did nothing to save her daughter from a very foreseeable fate.

The entire universe leans towards chaos, the very boundaries of space giving way as the cosmos expands beyond everything we can ever imagine. All matter, even man, follows the universe into entropy.

Amazingly, as bleak as the film is, it offers a glimmer of broken, twisted hope. In this world, evil can mostly go unpunished, but entropy also means a tendency towards self-destruction. These untethered beings most capable of doing harm to others cannot go on forever, their unbridled Ids leading them towards their own downfalls. There will be an evil too big to ignore that whatever decency remains in humanity cannot stomach it. In Wanted: Border, Mama Saleng leads herself towards crucifixion. In the real world, the same thing pretty much happened. It is a horrifying thing that we must go through this at all, but it is better to know the evil in this world than to close our eyes and pray it goes away.

I do not know if I have made much of a case for the film. I'm told people go to the movies to escape. But I would urge people to see this film to face down the year that was, and tell it that we're going to fucking survive.
Current Mood: enthralled
Current Music: Stars - This Charming Man
19 November 2009 @ 02:08 pm
Common sense isn't too common in a country that identifies itself as Christian. You might have, for example, an electoral body deciding that a group meant to represent the interests of homosexual Filipinos is ineligible for the party list on the grounds of immorality. Or the more brilliant reasoning that since there are already several gay representatives in congress, gays don't need their own party list. Or it might result in a Baptist pastor, also a congressman, blocking legislation designed to prevent discrimination against gays in a committee meant to be upholding human rights. It might lead to a purported journalistic protector of the weak to say things like gays and lesbians should be happy to simply be tolerated.

What hurts is that despite all of this being outrageously discriminatory and hateful, none of it is surprising. It is predictably stupid, the kind of idiotic nonsense that sprouts up any time some form of social progress threatens to change something in the increasingly myopic worldview of grumpy old men.

The good news is that the old men always lose, and society will lean towards the most common sense conclusion: we're all created equal. Until then, we'll just have to sit through a whole lot of garbage flowing from the mouths of old men who cling to their crosses while ignoring the words of the man who got nailed to it.

Love one another, you douchebags.
Current Mood: angryangry
Current Music: Pasta Groove - Give Bearth
05 October 2009 @ 11:02 pm

Schedules to be announced. Rest assured, it's in good hands.
Current Mood: tiredtired
Current Music: Sufjan Stevens - Chicago
08 September 2009 @ 11:09 pm
The Worst Reality Show Contestant

She wouldn't stop looking at her hands. The AD kept telling her to keep her chin up when giving her confessionals, but she'd never do it for more than a second. She would keep going back to her hands, fidgety and tense, empty but for each other.

"How do you feel about the challenge later?" The AD finally asked.

Without looking up, she replied, "I didn't come here to win, actually."

"I came here to make friends," she said, almost a whisper.


She literally glowed after sex. Her skin would emit a soft green light, a little dimmer than your average glowstick, just seconds after she reached orgasm. It lasted about an hour, the light fading as her pleasures became more distant.

She could never fake an orgasm once she'd had a real one with a partner, her partners always looking for a visual cue of their prowess as they licked and tweaked and pushed and thrust, their machinations growing more arcane and desperate as they fumbled for the right switches to turn the light on. And she would lie there in the darkness, looking for a spark.

And when it finally came (if it came), she would illuminate her tired partner's face, the soft green glow making their satisfaction cast shadows on their love.


"You've been chosen," the angel said.

John adjusted the buttons on his right sleeve. They'd been bothering him for most of his drive to work, and now that the angel had frozen time and space to deliver his message, he thought it would be as good a time as any to fix it.

"For what?" he asked while twisting the second button of his sleeve into its proper hole.

The angel stared a hole through him, his wings collapsing slowly around his frame.

"You know what?" the angel said. "Never mind."

Interesting Times

He was yelling through the megaphone, even though the device was specifically designed so he wouldn't have to yell. "This is the moment," he double yelled, "that we decide the fate of our nation." His words were met with applause and a couple of the movement's slogans.

"We are at a pivotal point in our history," he continued. The knuckles on his right hand had gone white from the grip on the megaphone. He raised his left fist, revealing a small hole in the armpit seam of his bright yellow t-shirt. "Today, we have the power to change everything."

And he had watched this video several times already, and he could still never get over the hole in his shirt, and how young he looked, and how yelling into the megaphone had only muddled his words.
Current Mood: geekygeeky
Current Music: The Dodos - The Season