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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

entry arrow11:44 PM | This is Me.

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entry arrow4:56 PM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: Adamo

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

There is finally a restaurant in Dumaguete that has become KRI’s equal, at least in its clearly-wrought striving for fantastic ambience and culinary invention, and it is Adamo. (The thing about Dumaguete food is that for the most part almost every restaurant offers mere variants of the same tired dishes, which may be due to the fact that the cycle of kitchen-staff piracy in the city has become a kind of tradition. Enter some of our name restaurants and you could taste, with every bite you take, the inevitable conclusion that a dish you’re eating has not been made by a culinary artist, but by some highly-effective craftsperson. Truly, if I have to see another lackluster chicken cordon bleu on the menu again, I’d…) It is then with such a relief that we welcome Chef Edison Monte de Ramos Manuel to the local food scene. He has transformed what used to be a carwash at the once sleepy corner of Tindalo and Molave Streets in Daro [such an unlikely venue!] into a restaurant whose aesthetic seems to suggest makeshift industrial space with hip minimalism — the grey concrete box of its interiors softened by carefully placed wooden finish here and there. The result is a shabby lived-in feel that works: it is an austerity that invites concentration on the food. And the food truly is a magnificent surprise. The efficient wait staff wasted no time in giving us the restaurant’s idea of breadsticks, a waferish thing that came complete with a tuna/sesame seed dip. And as we marvelled over the one-sheet menu, she informed us — with such a pleasant authority that’s usually absent in many local wait crew — that the chef plans to change the menu every two weeks or so, and that what we have was actually the dinner menu, and there was in fact a separate lunch menu. The prices, much to our pleased surprise, were not eye-gouging, and we were told that the market they’re targeting are students and young professionals, hence a relative affordability to their selections. There were enough of us in the table to enable us to go for a good sampling of the entire menu, and we were asked if we wanted to have our dishes brought to us by courses. (Another delight! Because when was the last time you were ever asked that question in a Dumaguete restaurant? Most have a tendency to give you your appetiser after the main course has been served, and most serve a large party in a piece-meal manner, so that no one ever truly eats together: one eats his dessert while another one is still waiting for his main course to arrive.) For our starters, we ordered the fish and pork (P125), which was basically smoked fish aioli with shredded adobo, cherry tomatoes, pickled onions, and arugula set on sliced French bread; the goat cheese and grilled apple salad (P150), with candied walnuts, salad greens, and caper raisin dressing; and the coconut and prawn pasta (P150) in crème de tête and with gremulata, which was superb. For the main course, we had the pork belly (P180), the tuna belly (P190), and the braised beef (P260) — the last one absolutely perfection, the fullness of the marrow an enticing buttery goodness that instantly reminded everyone that mealtimes with good friends are always a kind of celebration. Good food does that. The desserts — we had blueberries and cream, and a slice of fudge brownie — left a little to be desired, but it was overall a surprisingly elegant meal, and its preparation almost a performance. The kitchen is open, and it is separated from the main dining room only by a sheet of glass that also served as a board for instruction to the kitchen crew over the intricacies of the meals for the day: you could see the chef and his cooks slave over painstakingly over every dish they were concocting for all the diners. It was a fantastic meal, the best we’ve had in Dumaguete for the longest time. We asked what Adamo meant, and apparently it’s Italian for “to fall in love with, to conceive desire for, to desire eagerly.” An appropriate name. I can’t wait to go back. They serve lunch from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM and close for the rest of the afternoon. They open for dinner at 5:30 PM and close at 9:30 PM. We ordered at 7:30 PM. Order received at 7:45 PM.


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entry arrow3:26 PM | Food Roundup Dumaguete 2016: Healthy Bar by Chef Twine

I am an accidental foodie: I used to write a food column for a local paper and have written extensively about the Dumaguete food scene for national magazines and newspapers -- until I decided to discontinue the enterprise about four years ago. Still, people I know who visit Dumaguete keep asking me about the best places to go to eat, and I've found I no longer quite know the scene. A lot can change in half a decade. So I've decided to try a new approach this year and go about sampling the local food culture once more and document everything online in the course of twelve months. The city has grown and expanded enough in the years since 2011, and a significant part of what's happening food-wise has become unfamiliar to me. Consider this a personal adventure.

A friend of mine has one rule when it comes to choosing a restaurant, especially in another city: “Never ever go inside an establishment that’s practically empty, especially during the peak hours. There must be a reason why nobody’s there.” There you go: a distrust of empty places as functional food criticism. Sometimes, arriving in a foreign city, I do find myself following my friend’s advise — although one can easily make an argument about why a place could be empty: it could be new, and no one has heard of it yet; it could be too experimental, or too exotic, which is not reason enough to stay away. Most of the time though, that distrust is pure instinct that’s right on the mark. When we entered Healthy Bar by Chef Twine right at the height of lunchtime, the cafe right along Aldecoa Drive seemed spectacularly empty, and the resounding chirp of greeting by its lone waitress — “Good morning!” — almost overplayed its cheer: it smelled of relief, and it made me think, “Are we their first customers of the day?” But we’ve been looking for a good alternative for Lokal Organic Cafe, which had closed so abruptly and has yet to make true its promise to resurrect itself in a better venue. We wanted a healthy option for mealtimes; we wanted vegetables! Our first impression was that Healthy Bar has none of the lovely kitsch of Lokal Organic: it reminds you in fact of a dental clinic — all done in immaculate white and dashes of brown and vegetable green — and all with an agricultural theme. It has posters and cut-outs featuring earnest quotes, some of them Biblical, about the virtues of organic farming. The tables are elegant if a bit uncomfortable, and on every tabletop is a plastic jar with greens sprouting from it, a goldfish swimming about in the clear containers. The menu, when it comes, is a sad-looking plastic binder, the kind you use for bureaucratic purposes — but it is filled with all things this “healthy bar” wants to be known for: they have oat meal flavoured with everything from carrot to chocolate to Oreo (ranging from P65 to P70), they have “on-the-go” salad (P75-79), they have organic coffee (native robusta), they have a wheat grass blend (P110), they have mango wine (P69 per glass/P200 per bottle). We asked for their lunch menu — this was, after all, a cafe that bills itself as having a chef — and we are shown a page in the menu that enumerates all manner of “logs,” from tocilog to tapsilog, but with a healthy twist: each dish is served with deep purple rice. And that’s it. I said, “I had no idea you needed a chef to think up a ‘log’ dish.” We chose the chicsilog (supposedly ginger organic chicken) and vegelog (which turned out to be three slices each of tomato and cucumber), and at P75, the dishes were fair for their price, if ultimately unfulfilling. (The eggs however were done just right.) For drinks, we had lember “infused water” (P60), which was basically flavoured water without the guilt of sugar. The slice of green tea cake (P55) we had for dessert was tiny — but thank God for that, because it was hard and tasted like cardboard. It wasn’t altogether a happy meal — but we gave its signature offering a chance to give us back our good mood. The twinebocker halo-halo (P65), a concoction without sugar or ice and just plain fruit, milk, and herbs, was our salvation, truly a delight — and this saved us from pronouncing this meal a small disaster. So, go for the halo-halo, but don’t expect much from everything else. Ordered at 11:30 AM. Order received at 11:55 AM.


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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

entry arrow12:35 AM | The Architect of Happiness

Come over to the Philippines! It's where thrilling fiction comes alive! Here you can be Tessie Hutchinson from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," and you have just received the black mark. You can be the chosen child from Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas," and you're about to enter the room without windows. Or you can be the baby in this passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov: "Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature -- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance -- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?" Welcome to our happy, happy land. Happy reading.

[Image swiped from Shakira Sison, who has this rejoinder: "Can we make it a rule that if you feel this way, you should be willing to offer your child as sacrifice?"]

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

entry arrow3:46 PM | The Kill List Chronicles

I’ve decided to create a new literary blog/e-zine over at Medium that aims to collect and archive new literary pieces by Filipino writers — poems, short stories, essays, short comics, maybe even short plays — that are being written to protest the “new normal” of impunity under the new administration. I’m calling it The Kill List Chronicles, and I’ve written a short essay [The New Protest Literature, below] about it to kind of put it in the light of the long tradition of protest literature here in the Philippines. So far, we have Krip Yuson’s “Civil Service” [poem], Floy Quintos’ “Untitled” [poem], Niccolo Vitug’s “Lines Tracing Em-J” [poem], Joel Pablo Salud’s “When Darkness Knocks at Your Door” [essay], Carljoe Javier’s “Cardboard Villanelle” [poem], Gabriela Lee's Shaping a Death [poem], and Teddy Espela’s “Isang Biyernes sa EDSA” [poem], but I’m sure more will be coming as writers become angrier by the day. You can PM me if you want to submit something, or you can email me at kill.list.chronicles[at]gmail.com.

The New Protest Literature in the Time of Duterte

On 23 July 2016 at 12:08 AM, the preeminent fictionist Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., author of such novels as Killing Time in a Warm Place and Soledad’s Sister, tweeted a link to a photo, and captioned it: “Here’s what they did to our dear Lauren, another innocent casualty. Pinoy lives matter! Stop the killings!” Lauren, the girlfriend of Dalisay’s nephew, was an ordinary young woman, certainly not a criminal, and on the day she died, she was just another commuter aboard a Makati jeepney — only to meet the grisliest end: shot by some random individual for some random reason, another casualty, people say, from the “culture of impunity” that is currently gripping the Philippines under the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte’s “war on drugs,” a month after his inauguration, seems to have spilled into darker territories, where innocent people have become “collateral damage” in a battle that wades in the murky shallows of the illicit.

At that time, I wrote in Facebook: “Butch Dalisay just tweeted the dead body of Lauren, his nephew’s girlfriend, another innocent victim in this growing culture of murders. Can’t share it. It’s horrible. Her blood is on our hands. Did she think this could happen to her? I don’t think so. It could happen to us. It could happen to someone you love. Perhaps only then will you realise: ‘This wasn’t an abstract thing after all. This isn’t just some stupid argument in Facebook. This shit is real.’” I was moved to despair by the starkness of Dalisay’s missive: here were the briefest of lines from someone who has written a lot, someone who had in fact chronicled extensively what life was like enduring the darkness of Marcos’s Martial Rule. But it was clearly a tweet full of rage, and full of unbelieving incredulity over the increasing impunity we have suddenly come face to face with in a Philippines under the Duterte presidency. Fact: his is an administration that had recently won a massive mandate to rid the country of the corrupt and the corrupted — drug abusers and addicts included — and it had promised to do so using extra legal means. Many people have taken to criticizing the culture of permissivenness open to violence, smelling that campaigns like this have never yielded the best kinds of results. For these people, a country, ostensibly a democratic one, without due process is a monster in the making.

Many Filipino writers, aside from Butch Dalisay, have slowly come out of the shadows of overwhelming public approval of the ongoing purge, to register dissent, to call for a process of justice that also respects human life and dignity, to strive for a country that recognizes that indeed crime must pay but this must be done in the only way that makes our democracy a functioning one. Anything else is a form of fascism.

This sentiment has become, of late, a very unpopular one, considered by Duterte supporters (numbering in the millions) as being personally critical of the President. But activist-artists have never been one to settle for popular opinion, especially if what’s at stake is something greater and bigger than what the popular can see. The popular is often blind, and its reckoning is deeper and mostly unseen and uncomprehended, and will bite only at the tail end in the long run of things.

Literary artists, when they choose to engage their dissenting views, produce what is sometimes called “protest literature.” And the Philippines has a long tradition of this.

In the later decades of Spanish colonial rule, local writers — Katipuneros, most of them — first wrote poems and essays and ditties (and novels!) to register hopes for reform for colonial Philippines (Jose Rizal, Pedro Paterno, and Marcelo H. del Pilar among them). And when reform by the Spaniards (particularly the friars) didn’t quite happen, local writers took up the pen to fan, with exquisite rage, the flames of revolution (Andres Bonifacio, Apolinario Mabini, and Emilio Jacinto among them).

When the Americans arrived and began to colonise us, much to our surprise, our dramatists were among the first to register dissent in plays that were subversive and poisonous in their depictions of Americans as greedy colonisers. Juan Abad wrote Tanikalang Guinto in 1902, Juan Matapang Cruz wrote Hindi Aco Patay in 1903, among others — and their plays dramatised such vehement protests that American authorities took quick notice and jailed many of them for the provocation. The game of protest literature is always that of provocation in the name of dissent, and the poets at that time were also no slouches in writing verses that condemned the colonisation of the Philippines by the Americans. One such poet, Cecilio Apostol, wrote a Spanish poem titled “Al Yankee” that minced no words about what Filipinos exactly thought of Americans right at the very beginning of the Filipino-American War:

Never, when might,
joined with treason and injustice
to crush the laws and rights
the sacred rights of a race,

When the sons of the infamous Judas
sell the faith that has been sworn,
when the whimper of weak peoples
they answer with animal laughter;

When holy right is battered
in the banquet of human ambition,
as when the Yankees
toast a nation to the sound of cannon.

Silence is impossible: the oppressed nation
shall protest indignantly
and bury the dagger of vengeance
in the enemy’s breast.

This unredeemed people
may perhaps succumb in the struggle,
but only its corpse
can be yoked by alien tyranny.

Yankee! If you defeat us
with the powerful weight of weapons,
you will not live happily, because
you are hated
even by the air of my native land.

Yankee! If my verses
survive me, their words
will echo in the centuries to come
the eternal hate of the eternal outcast

(Translated by Nicanor G. Tiongson)

Protest literature again reared its head when Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, his reason basically that for consolidating power disallowed by the Constitution. Much of the protest literature of the time, especially at the height of the regime’s power, was clandestine journalism which was wittily called the “mosquito press” — because these were news bulletins written and produced in secret, and their impact were very much like the sting of mosquitoes.

The censorship of literature was so profoundly felt that poets like Jose F. Lacaba had to resort to trickery to have his protest poem, “Prometheus Unbound,” published in a mainstream publication, its anti-Marcos message coming across only when you realise that the poem — ostensibly about a Greek mythological figure — is actually an acrostic poem that spelled out a hidden message: “Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta.” That he was soon found out, and then jailed, is testament to the regime’s power, to its cunning intelligence, and to the veracity of its iron grip on literary artists. Many of the best writers of that time — some of them even victims of Martial Law themselves — soon found themselves ironically doing propaganda work for Marcos under the direction of Adrian Cristobal. Others, like Kerima Polotan and Jose Tuvera, were closely identified with the regime. But others still took to the pen to register their disgust for the violent excesses of Martial Law, Nick Joaquin among them, as well as directors like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal who carefully composed their film dramas (Bernal’s Manila By Night and Brocka’s Jaguar) to be critical of the Marcoses and their agenda, done in the Filipino version of subtlety.

Most of the poetry, the novels, the essays, the dramas, and the short stories critical of Marcos would come in only much later, especially when the dictator began relaxing his hold in the early 1980s, finally “officially” ending Martial Law in 1982. But once Marcos was booted out in 1986, two anthologies were immediately rushed for publication to compile the protest literature of the last two decades — Versus: Philippine Protest Poetry, 1983–1986 edited by Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, and Kamao: Panitikan ng Protesta 1970–1986, edited by Salangga, Lilia Quindoza-Santigao, Reuel Molina Aguilar, and Herminio S. Beltran Jr.

Protest literature from the Marcos period ranged from themes of inner journeys as rebels in the mountains (Emmanuel Lacaba’s “Letter to Filipino Artists”) to the musings of ordinary people being harshly reminded of a contemporary evil (Merlie Alunan’s “The Bells Count in Our Blood” and Lualhati Bautista’s Dekada ‘70); from understanding the chaos of the Pinoy culture and politics of the time (Ninotchka Rosca’s State of War, Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, and Arlene J. Chai’s Eating Fire and Drinking Water) to a matter-of-fact historical accounting of Martial Law’s unfolding (Dalisay’s Killing Time in a Warm Place and Azucena Grajo Uranza’s Bamboo in the Wind); from the whimsical (Cesar Ruiz Aquino’s “A Tale of Two Diaries”) to the horrific (Mila Aguilar’s Why Cage Pigeons?).

Filipino writers are still in fact trying to come to terms with the horrors of Martial Law — it is an enduring subject matter — and there are still literary works being produced at the moment that are trying to understand its uncommon evil, from Katrina Tuvera’s novel The Jupiter Effect to Augie Rivera’s children’s book Si Jhun-Jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara ang Batas Militar, from Menchu Aquino Sarmiento’s short story “Good Intentions 101: SY ‘72-‘73” to Mike Alcarazen’s satirical essay “The Millennial’s Guide to Martial Law,” from Russell Molina and Kajo Baldisimo’s comic book 12:01 to Kanakan Balintagos’ one-act play Loyalist.

And it’s not all about Marcos in contemporary protest literature. The fall from grace of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, especially regarding the charge of plunder levelled against her, elicited considerable literary ferment, one of which is Gemino Abad’s poem “My Country’s Imp (After EDSA 3)”:

And we are nowhere still, hostile to process
And living mostly on the surface of things,
Captive to our Imp’s “metaphysics” of happiness —
A spate of all the world’s amber mornings.

For we blink the sad, dark faces of things,
The razz and dazzle of our Imp’s humor — 
Flux of all the world’s electric mornings — 
Blank time’s malice to rouse our spirit’s ichor.

O razz and sparkle of our Imp’s humor,
Such gristle as shatters the tyrant’s laws,
Voids history’s ills, and fires our spirit’s liquor
Where coups vaporize in politics without clews!

What Imp’s grit to scatter the despot’s laws!
And because our fathers loved us, their sins fade
Where ventures choke in scams without clews.
Brief triumph! hubbub and rabble of barricade.

And because our kin are loved, their follies fade
Where shanties barnacle our suffocated creeks.
Fleet glory! and baffle and babble retrograde,
Our Imp still rules, and our laughter leaks.

Where our shacks totter over poisoned creeks,
The thief’s our saint who had faith and was saved.
The Imp enthralls yet where our carnival leaks;
But here is no country still, our honchos depraved.

The thief goes scot-free, by a helicopter saved,
The Imp outwits our writ of habeas loot.
No logic avails, no country where lawyers rave,
Everything is soon forgot, all heroics for naught.

Yet our wit is wound with wounds that wail,
Captive to our Imp’s “metaphysics” of happiness.
We bear our father’s sins ever without bail,
And we are nowhere still, hostile to process.

The rise of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency, and his unorthodox methods of dealing with some of the country’s problems has currently inspired — if that is the right word at all — a few of our writers to take to the literary to express their grief and their horror, all in all registering a dissent that is still forming, that has yet to be studied. Some of the works take their cue from the bloody reports from television news and broadsheets. Some from the unexpected deaths — the new “collateral damage” — of friends and people they know. Some have began their project long before Duterte’s election to the presidency, most notably Davao-based fictionist John Bengan’s series of stories that tried to limn the evils of the extrajudicial killings that consumed Davao under the rule of Duterte and his relatives.

This blog is an attempt to archive the new literature of protest that is now beginning to be written. Only the future can tell how this literature, as a prospective tool for change, can impact what is going on at present. Protest literature are almost always considered only in the aftermath; perhaps this project can change that, and can demonstrate, once and for all, the power of literature as a social tool.

Art by Jb Casacop

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

entry arrow5:39 PM | The Second Dumaguete Pride Parade

We did this before, once, in 2012 -- and although that was a fun and very historical event, we never really thought we'd be "allowed" to do it again here in Dumaguete. Thing was, the first one was organized by the City Health Office, and they invited us to make their Health Month Parade an LGBT Parade in support of HIV Awareness. But to actually mount one on our own? We never thought that could happen. (Ten years ago, this was a concrete impossibility in Dumaguete.)

But iSpec happened.

The LGBT/straight alliance in Silliman University was only founded very recently -- and this year, it decided to flex some more of its ambitions as an organization, especially in the aftermath of the Orlando massacres: first, they did a poetry reading early this month, which was a huge success. And second, they wanted to do a Pride parade.

If you must ask, a parade is important.

A parade means visibility. A parade means an actual commitment by people to give support to a cause by actually walking down the streets under the heat of the sun, to be witnessed by the rest of the city, their very presence saying: "I am with this cause. See me walk. And hear me shout." A parade means solidarity. A parade means a celebration, this one of difference. A Pride parade for gay people means a "coming out" that's close to spectacle. A Pride parade for straight allies means a recognition of the need for equality, a gesture of support where traditionally there has been none.

This year, for our first official Pride parade after its "introduction" in 2012, we start small. (We didn't even have a band! All we had was a loud speaker playing dance music!) But I love the turn-out. It was certainly more than we could hope for in an event that's still quite new for many, and something that's fraught with a taste for discrimination. I loved how there were more straight people -- even church people -- joining it than gay ones, which is indeed something.

Hopefully, in the years to come -- next year! -- we become bigger, so much bigger that our voice will not only be heard, it will be reckoned with. Congratulations to all the organizations and individuals who joined in! Congratulations to iSpec! Next time, let's have drag queens, and let's invite the beauty parlor gays!

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

entry arrow2:18 AM | The Not-so-New Male Rage

“There are always men enraged by women’s autonomy, whether women are starring in a comedy reboot or Thelma & Louise; playing rock or video games; demanding their reproductive rights; running for president; or, you know, doing anything that some men don’t want them to do. The depths of this rage betray a deep fear about a loss of male power that’s been central to the cultural, social and political landscape for decades.” 

~ The New York Times' Manohla Dargis on the male rage for the Ghostbusters remake

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entry arrow12:04 AM | Garry Marshall (1934-2016)

Two film directors I not-so-secretly loved -- Emile Ardolino and Garry Marshall -- gave us films that were the very epitome of guilty pleasure. They embraced the unabashedly commercial but infused their stories with a measure of intelligence that made their saccharine nature perfectly fine, perfectly bearable. Ardolino, who gave us Dirty Dancing and Sister Act, died many, many years ago from complications from AIDS. And Marshall, who gave us Pretty Woman and Beaches and The Princess Diaries, died today. Their best films captured a rare mood, a fantastic lightheartedness you don't see often in Hollywood films. Their colleagues in spirit, Nora Ephron and John Hughes, both of whom I adore, are also gone. (Only Ron Howard remains of their ilk. And let's not talk about Chris Columbus, shall we?) We will probably never see those kinds of films again. Commercial filmmaking today has become a different behemoth -- it has become the world of superheroes and fast cars and James Wan, and almost nothing else. So thank you, Mr. Marshall, for the laughter and the tears, while it lasted. (And thank you for casting Hector Elizondo in everything.)

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

entry arrow11:50 PM | Bangbangin and the Mango of Heartbreak

Here's Bangbangin and the very mailbog and mahiwagang manga!

I love this mango -- I even made it the cover image of Heartbreak and Magic (Anvil, 2012). I honestly thought I'd never live to see this story come to life in some other form -- but here we are, all thanks to Alexandra May Cardoso who skilfully adapted it for the Virgin Labfest stage, and Charles Yee who directed it with such imagination. [That's Paul Cedric Juan as Bangbangin in the photo.] I remember giggling a lot while writing "The Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak" in 2007, but also struggling how to exactly get the tone right and the mythology outlandish but also believable. (At one point, I had to ask myself: "How do I get the heavens to rain, and yet still make the ground dry and sizzling from immense heat -- and still make it sound plausible?" Because Epefania's heartbreak demanded it.) Rosario Cruz Lucero inspired its writing, but I wrote this for Dean Francis Alfar, and Ma'am Jing Hidalgo later included it in her anthology of Filipino fantasy. Here's to stories and the enchanted well they come from!

[Photo by Alvin I. Dacanay]

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Friday, July 15, 2016

entry arrow7:48 PM | The New Normal of Quiet Despair

It is easy, even tempting, to dismiss the dread—a thick, growing mucus of it—as symptomatic of paranoia. Human nature is wonderful, but also perfectly naïve, that way. In Greek mythology, Cassandra refused Apollo’s gift of prophecy, which he was giving her in a bid for seduction. Scorned, the god spat into Cassandra’s mouth, inflicting her with a curse that nobody would ever believe any of what she prophesied. She did foresee the destruction of Troy, and warned its citizens about the Greeks hiding inside the Trojan Horse. And she saw the tragedies befalling everyone else around her.

But no one believed her.

History is ripe with Cassandras. The same fervent disbelief has churned in various permutations over the decades: “Hitler will not dare invade Poland.” “Senator McCarthy is just looking out for us because there are communists everywhere.” “Oh, come on, the science is not decisive about the link between cancer and smoking.” “Marcos could not possibly suspend the writ of habeas corpus.” “Climate change is not real.” And so on and so forth. Confronted with prophecies of darkness, the human tendency is to dismiss the warning, and to embrace the comforts of denial. The warnings, they’d say, are just a little too much on the paranoid side. But then again, to quote Joseph Heller in Catch-22: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

In one of the panels at the International Conference of Philippine Studies held in Dumaguete last week, the scholar Oscar Campomanes made this remark that struck me as stark in its truthfulness: “History is the only discipline that matters.” He was right. An educated consciousness of what came before—and the learning that must stem from that—is the only way we could better inform the actions we take. George Santayana, of course, has given a version of this line, which has since passed into cliché: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Alas it is a cliché that has never quite gotten into our skull thickened by denial.

When the bodies started piling up a few days ago in what appeared to be a growing rage for vigilantism, emboldened by a strongman’s battle cry for a war on drugs, the manner of the deaths and the manner of the disposal horrified me—as they should any right-minded human being. The anonymity of the hits. The crude fact of packaging tape sometimes covering the corpses, mummifying them in despairing positions. The cardboard signs that declare the dead a criminal—“Pusher, ‘wag tularan,” “Snatcher, ‘wag tularan,” etc.—justifying the murder. Inside, I scream: “What happened to due process?” These days those two words—bedrocks of a functioning democracy—are being laughed at. And I could not understand how people could shrug off the sinister implications.

There has been a quiet acceptance by almost everyone of these things happening. And also waves of violent mocking by a mob if you issue dissent.

It is not an entirely new thing. A sense of history would attest that these things have happened before, in exactly the same manner, give or take a culturally specific difference. I am going to use right now the most frightful of historical correlations. Because now I totally get what life was like for ordinary Germans in Nazi Germany, especially in the contentious pre-war decade. You see, seeing and reading about the horrors of World War II—in particular, the unbelievable death machine of the Holocaust—I used to ask myself: How come nobody did anything? Why were ordinary Germans so quiet, so passively (or aggressively) supportive of the programs of Hitler’s regime? Couldn’t a civilized people recognize a evil in their midst?

Actually, psychology has an answer: human beings are hard-wired to accept (and even participate in) evil, and be obedient—as long as there is an authority figure giving us a blanket permission to go ahead. The Milgram Experiment in 1963 proved that. The Stanford Prison Experiment in 1971 proved that.

We are the new Milgram experiment. We are the new Stanford Prison experiment. And for those who resist, you soon become aware that while you kind of know “what’s happening,” you feel a helpless about it. What is often worse in your discovery of the new normal is that the friend you thought you knew is actually a member of the Black Shirts, those ordinary people in 1930s Germany who supported Hitler’ s ascent by bullying everyone else around them. (They wore black shirts in their operations of intimidation, hence the name.) Today, any dissent you offer is met with very vocal violence, especially online. I have dissenting friends threatened with rape. I have received malicious emails, too. Most often I’m just told to shut up. “O.A. ka,” they’d say.

Hitler started with the “undesirables,” too—people he thought had no place in polite society he just systematically eliminated. And everyone cheered him on.

I’m beginning to feel there is only a slight difference with Germany’s 1933 and our 2016. At least I could still write this article in the name of freedom of expression, and have some assurance there will be no knock on my door come midnight. But I wonder for how long? The media is now just beginning to be discredited, with pronouncements like “there are many media people who are connected with the drug trade.” It’s a subtle charge with deeper repercussions. There are calls for the “impeachment” of Senator De Lima, a dissenter—even though any person who knows the operations of government know a senator cannot be impeached. My fear is that soon, any dissenter—even those without drug connection—could just be anonymously picked up, killed, wrapped in tape, with a cardboard to proclaim the corpse: “Pusher ‘to.” And nobody can do anything about it. Is this paranoia? Or just the Cassandra warnings coming in with a sense of history?

The ironic thing is that I do know the President means well. This is my dilemma, and the extension of my human need to feel “everything is all right.” (The poet and activist Mila D. Aguilar told m: “I agree with everything you said except that ironic thing, Ian.” To which I replied: “I’m still hopeful kasi.” Mila replied in return: “Oh well. We can always hope against hope. Maybe I always see the worst so I won’t be disappointed.”) I’m not exactly sure though if our President knows how this framework he has created—given the history and the psychology that we know—could easily escalate into something monstrous and uncontrollable. History is rife with the bloody reminders of mob rule. Why are we not learning from it?

A friend, the filmmaker Jason Paul Laxamana—he directed Magkakabaung (2014), Babagwa (2013) and Astro Mayabang (2010)—told me: “I’d make a prophecy: there will be no fascism in the next six years.” (God, I hope so.) To this, another friend, Prof. Philip Van Peel, added: “I think you’re right. Fascism requires two things: first, a clear cut ideology based on national identity, and second, iron discipline from the obedient followers. I don’t see any of these two emerging here.” But I do see an emergence. Marcos, for example, used to call his dictatorial regime as “martial rule with a smile.” The thing is, Filipinos tend to make “softer”—but nevertheless still harsh—versions of iron rule, so I’d wager this: there is a possibility of the next six years being “fascism with fiestas.” And that it will be predicated by two things: first, a resurgent nationalism about “a common good”—already present with these extrajudicial killings (“Para sa kabutihan ng bayan!”); and second, a mob rule that believes the leader can do no wrong and any dissenter is either “bobo” or soon to be another corpse wrapped in tape with a cardboard attached to him. But there will be fiestas, sans fireworks.

Prof. Van Peel replied: “The future will tell, but I think it won’t be like you say…. I don’t see Duterte as a nationalist. Quite the opposite, he is very inclusive. A nationalist would always blame the ‘Other’—foreigners, ethnic or religious minorities, etc.”

Another friend, the lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, told me: “This is an inappropriate comparison. The killings in Nazi Germany were unquestionably state-sponsored. There is no evidence yet that the alleged spate of killings is pursuant to a policy directive of the government. Right now, all we can assume is that these are murders. Who executed them? We don’t know yet. Sige, compare pa more.”

I told Trixie that that is not entirely true. He has been captured by television giving statements that basically encourage people to do extrajudicial killings. There was that infamous quote, for example, about the expected bump in funeral services. True, there is no “policy.” He’s wiser than that. He’s all public bluster, but no written rule—which makes it more dangerous. But he symbolizes the state (hence he is the authority), and words do come out of his mouth. For many people, that’s enough. That’s the Milgram experiment for you.

Trixie replid: “Yes but we know that it is not. You want liability, then prove it. Where is the government policy? Why do we presume there is no investigation when this is SOP for all homicides involving law enforcement? If we demand the presumption of innocence then it applies to all, including government agents.” In reply, I sent her a news item from GMA News about the new Solicitor General Jose Calida telling the Philippine National Police about not being afraid of possible congressional hearings on the recent spate of deaths in the currently raging “war against drugs.” I do know Trixie to be a fantastic lawyer—she’s a legal celebrity in the Philippines—and I know her replies spring from a knowledge of the rigorous demands of the law especially regarding allegations and evidence: the law requires evidence, the law needs a paper trail to convict. But I’m thinking: what if the perpetrator is a lawyer, is very smart and cunning, and knows how exactly not leave a paper trail, like written policies?

Of course, sooner or later, these things, no matter how hidden, do get found out with dogged investigation, but that takes years. We’re still finding out things about Marcos, for example. And Richard Nixon’s “smoking gun” White House tapes after the Watergate scandal erupted have several minutes suspiciously deleted from them. And to go back to Nazi Germany, the papers of the Wannsee Conference—the notorious high-level conference that determined the Final Solution for the Jews of Europe—were destroyed, except for some stray copies that were later accidentally discovered. The paper trail—great and damning evidence that it is—is also easy to hide, to tamper with, to destroy. And right now, my best “paper trail” is the President’s mouth and the things that come out of it, and then to consider the resulting body count that is happening. Aren’t words enough for us anymore?

Trixie replied: “Awwww Ian, you know me. I don’t like to lump cases together and make conclusions. Each one is driven by different motives or causes. This is not to say I don’t share your worries. I do. But I also don’t want the discourse to be based on emotion. Particularly when they involve very solid rights.” I tell her that as of the moment, given the quickness of what has been happening, I’ve been trying to balance emotion and evidence, as well as history and psychology. I tell her this combination is the best dissent available for me as of the moment. Because so many people these days are just too quiet, and too quick to say, “Okay lang ‘yan.” It’s almost like I’m seeing unthinking zombies. I have been asking questions like: what happened to my friends? why are they not alarmed?

“Because we link causes to personalities,” Trixie said.” “That is yellow. That is red. That is Marcos. Just my opinion, but divorce these from the possibility that they will damage the polar personalities and we may get better discourse. That’s just my guess. But it could be anything.”

And this is true. I do hope, however, that the mob believes that though. I’ve found it difficult to do “discourse” with most of them. Somebody just called me O.A. in a Facebook comment—just one dismissive word bereft of knowledge of history.

“Consider it a badge of honor,” Trixie said. “You out yourself out there, you’ll get some stones thrown. But you, at least, are out there. But here’s what I’m can promise you. I’ll be more stringent with the cops. They do bear the burden of public trust.”

But it dawned me hours after my dialogue with Trixie that I was perhaps wasting my time fighting people’s politics, and their earnest hopes that all these are “for the betterment of the country.” It made me feel utterly helpless—but also strangely liberated.

I have a favorite quote from Jean Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu [The Rules of the Game] (1939) that for me explains everything about people, and which has once more made me philosophical about things: “The awful thing about life is this: Everybody has their reasons.”

With that, I’m signing off from the debate.

Let history be our arbiter.

Let the blood that has been spilled so far mean something.

And God bless us all.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

entry arrow11:02 PM | Music and Memories

I forgot how my soundtrack for 2009-2010 meant so much to me. Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor, and "Jump," the album's anthem for risk and dream-making. The Broadway cast recording of Spring Awakening. Late Night Alumni's Empty Streets, and its EDM-drenched sweet melancholy. Keane's Hopes and Fears and Under the Iron Sea, which got under my skin they almost felt like autobiography. These albums got me through so many emotional black holes, but they were also the soundtrack of many happy moments. I accidentally listened to "Empty Streets" a few hours ago -- and the rush of memories was almost unbearable. That surprised me. They cascaded in synesthetic euphoria, it felt like old shadows suddenly, briefly, coming back to life. For a moment there, I was back in 2009 and I was at the Boulevard searching for signs of dawn and looking at the horizon and looking at the horizon which was slowly turning from blackness to mauve, and my heart was in tatters -- but how I felt so alive then, so much alive the lights from the fading stars were dancing in my eyes.

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entry arrow1:06 PM | A Quiet Despair

Now I totally get what life was like for ordinary Germans in Nazi Germany. You kinda know what's happening, but you feel so helpless about it. And worse, the friend you thought you knew is a member of the Black Shirts. And any dissent you offer is met with very vocal violence. Hitler started with the "undesirables," too -- people he thought had no place in polite society he just systematically eliminated, and everyone cheered him on. There is only a slight difference with their 1933 and our 2016. I could still post this in the name of freedom of expression. But for how long? The media is now just beginning to be discredited, with pronouncements like "there are many media people who are connected with the drug trade." It's a subtle charge with deeper repercussions. Soon, any dissenter -- even those without drug connection -- could just be anonymously picked up, killed, wrapped in tape, with a cardboard to proclaim the corpse: "Pusher 'to." And nobody can do anything about it. What's next? The ironic thing is that I know the President means well. But I'm not sure he knows how this framework he has created could easily escalate into something monstrous and uncontrollable. History is rife with the bloody reminders of mob rule. Why are we not learning from it?

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Monday, July 11, 2016

entry arrow12:05 AM | Generationally Eternal (and Porous)

I love Patrick Hipp's generational rant over at Medium! So apparently, looking at the charts, I am "Generation X, Generation Y, and nearly a Millennial." The article goes to the heart of what I've always thought made my generation, well, pretty special. I've always thought it made a specific impact on us that we were born just on the cusp of digital living, and knew what it meant not to live lives dictated by cellphones and social media. And YET we are still very much digital natives anyway, because we were the first to embrace the Internet, and we rode its EVERY freakin' permutation, from mIRC to ICQ to Yahoo Messenger to Facebook chat to WhatsApp to Snapchat. (We know nuances, baby.)

And culture-wise, we were born just at the right time to be able to consume most of the culture (film, music, books, etc.) that came before 1975 without any of it taking on too much of an antique sheen, or without any of it taking on a gargantuan task for sheer volume. And YET we are still around and be young enough to consume what has been coming out of the contemporary. For example, I don't have the twentysomething fear of being confronted by even the idea of a black-and-white film ("Eww, so old AF," I can hear a typical 18-year-old say now), and we can appreciate and marvel at the photorealism of movies like Avatar and yet still feel, in our hearts of hearts, that the stop motion visual effects of Ray Harryhausen in movies like 1981's Clash of the Titans still felt more real and involved even in their obvious fakeness. I can cha-cha and jive to disco and bop feel to the bass of an EDM rave without missing a beat. And in my head, Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, the Eraserheads, and Ed Sheeran swim in the same musical pool that transcends for the most part generational taste.

If society changed irrevocably with the late industrial period, and if we mark its full flowering in 1900 (at the beginning of the 20th century), then being born between 1975 to 1990 makes you someone born right in the thick of things, and born in a generation formed in young adulthood right at the very beginning of the transformational age of the digital.

Patrick Hipp writes: "For those born between 1975 and 1990 ... our formative years looked nothing like those of the Millennials. Our television came in largely via antenna, our movies were on VHS, our music was on cassettes. The internet wasn’t around, and by the time it was in any way that meant something, you could be disconnected by someone picking up a phone somewhere else in the house. We look like digital natives, but only because we grew up in tandem with the internet, as if technology was designed like the progressive grades in elementary and high school. Sure, some of us invented Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, but some of us invented Napster and more of us lost jobs during the Great Internet Massacre of 2001 and 2002. We started with GeoCities and Tripod, moved on to LiveJournal and .edu sites, and still only half of us can get by without resorting to SquareSpace today... We collected CDs assiduously, only to replace them ten or fifteen years later with limitless discographies we could toss in our pockets... I probably will not bother to explain film cameras and one-hour photo developing. It’s all hazy now anyway, like an old Polaroid where the chemicals are starting to break down. We were fully formed adults by the time we got our first cellphones."

Yes, we were! Which allows me not to be hostaged by it, yet at the same not be confounded by its uses either. I love my age. We are generationally eternal and porous.

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Saturday, July 09, 2016

entry arrow10:00 AM | Three Days of Brain Food

Coming off the last panel of the 10th International Conference on Philippine Studies or ICOPHIL that I attended, last Friday—something delightful on “The Filipino Woman in Philippine Travel Writing, Poetry, Romance Novels, and Film” with Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Ma. Ailil Alvarez, Dawn Marie Nicole Marfil, and Joyce Arriola—and while hanging around, post-panel, in the corridors of the Mary Marquis Smith Hall in Silliman University with novelist Clarissa Militante, University of Sto. Tomas Publishing House director and essayist Jack Wigley, and environmental literature advocate Rina Garcia Chua, it dawned on me that conferences like this are really an oasis for starving minds. We are bombarded with the mundane, and often the inane, in our every day worlds, and so a gathering that really celebrates scholarship—this one on almost everything that has something to do with the Philippines—becomes a welcome rarity.

Dawn’s research in particular, on the frankly sexual texts of recent Filipino romance novels, really piqued my interest because I have a forthcoming book that deals squarely on the literary and the sexual—something I call “literary smut”—and I just got a bit of good news from my publisher about the book, and so listening to Dawn demonstrate what she has uncovered so far, given her framework, was exciting and provocative. And it felt like I had formed a mental kinship with someone, somebody who’s actually interested in investigating what I find also interesting, at least for the moment, in our own backyard of cultural production.

The thing is, I’m not sure if anyone in Dumaguete knew this, but almost every possible expert on any field related to the Philippines—literature, film, biology, archeology, psychology, visual arts, chemistry, history, cultural studies, everything—were here for three straight days for the 10th iteration of the ICOPHIL. These people—from Nicanor Tiongson to Lilia Quindoza Santiago—are the celebrities of the academic world, the humanities in particular: these are the people you read about in books, or are the people who wrote the books you’re reading, if you are at least a college student. Last Wednesday to Friday were made for fine intellectual fix, and people I knew who wanted it—and there were quite a few—went regularly to Guy Hall and the other venues to listen, to understand, to learn, to ask questions, to have their minds blown.

I had no idea, for example, that we had our version of the drag ball in Tondo called the “wagwagan.” I told a friend who was seated beside me: “This is sooooo Paris is Burning.” “Yes!” he said. “Manila is Burning!” Oh, the things you learn at the ICOPHIL.

The ICOPHIL is presented only once every four years, and they usually do it outside of the country. For the first time in a long time, it’s being held in the Philippines, and it was here in Dumaguete. It was a chance I couldn’t pass up. Plus, so many people I know and/or read about—from Leloy Claudio to Martin Manalansan IV, from Rolando Tolentino to Nerissa Balce, from Oscar Tantoco Serquiña to Neferti Tadiar, from Oscar V. Campomanes to Karina Africa Bolasco, from Resil Mojares to Patricio N. Abinales, from Em Mendez, Gen to Asenjo, from Ferdinand Lopez to Angel Shaw, from Jing Hidalgo to Von Totanes, etc. etc. etc.—were here in Dumaguete. I never usually get this kind of heightened intellectual stimulation here at all (when my brilliant friends gather sometimes for dinner, all we do is rant about being here, hahaha), so it was something to look forward to.

And Dumaguete is pretty small. And I swear, for several days and nights, I could smell the elevated smartness in the air. It’s like you walk five steps, and someone says, “That guy pioneered queer theory in the Philippines.” You walk five more steps, and someone says, "That guy's legal expertise formulated the marine laws of the country.” And so on and so forth. I totally fanboyed when I met and got introduced to Neferti Tadiar and Martin Manalansan, for example. Sometimes, the names of the papers you read for your research remain just names in ink—and you get totally astounded when they are finally in front of you, in the flesh, talking to you. “I just quoted you last week in the research paper I was writing!” I told Martin. He laughed.

Plus I really am liking the refurbishing of the Guy Hall, all done for the purpose of hosting the ICOPHIL. I love the restoration of old corridors (which were transformed over the decades to office spaces), and the restoration of the old terrace facing the sea (also transformed over the decades to office spaces). Who knew it felt this grand, this airy, this light? Bureaucracy made it stuffy and cramped, and old. So, hail the resurgence of old Guy Hall!

And congratulations to Dr. Bernardita Churchill and all the ICOPHIL organizers, and Dr. Earl Jude Cleope, Dr. Ben S. Malayang III, and Dr. Betsy Joy Tan, and all the rest from Silliman for a job well done. We enjoyed the cerebral fiesta.

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Monday, July 04, 2016

entry arrow12:46 PM | Thirteen Ways of Looking at America

It's the Fourth of July! And since the day invites us to look America, I am reminded that one of my favourite poems about America is by the fantastic Irish poet, my friend Michael McKimm, whom I dearly miss. Here's his "Thirteen Ways of Looking at America":

From a car, through a world that’s turned to corn, red barns,
    huge machinery, and a church that says, “Read the Bible, it will
    scare the hell out of you!”

From the banks of the Iowa River, where a snake comes out
    of the grass like a belt, testing the air with its buckle-tongue

From the Mark Twain Diner with a Mark Twain Burger
    and a Mark Twain cup of tea

From another car, Chicago’s stickleback in the rearview and
    the Lake’s blue lung swollen with fishing boats

From space, as in the installation by Aaron Koblin in the Museum
    of Modern Art that shows air traffic over the United States as
    colored lights, a slow firework spraying in and out during the day,
    careful and beautiful

From a tour boat in Chicago, where the not-half-decent docent
    tells us that this building has one hundred and ninety-eight
    floors, including parking, and was designed by, you guessed it,
    Merrill, Owings and Skidmore

From the booth of a bar with a sign that says, “I’m Irish, what’s
    your excuse?”

In a nightclub, where you happen upon the Iowa State Drag
    Queen championships, arms outstretched with dollar bills. This
    you did not expect

America is standing in a room with Pocahontas, Worzel Gummidge,
    a bedbug, and at least three Chilean miners. Halloween,
    in New York City at least, is no longer about darkness and all about
    just having fun. Something about this disturbs you

I love the way in America the planes fly so low you can really see
    the fall colors and the cities cut like circuit boards

I love the mechanics and labor of your hand-towel dispensing units.
    That lever does for me again and again

I love that even in the cold the sky is blue, the sun is out, the air is
    crisp and clear

O, my America, my new found land! Where the poems are as long
    as the highways, and there is no such thing as a short story

Michael was the winner of an Eric Gregory Award in 2007, and his collection Still This Need was published in 2009.

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Sunday, July 03, 2016

entry arrow2:15 PM | What Exactly is Wrong and Disturbing About #HeterosexualPrideDay

When #HeterosexualPrideDay started trending on Facebook and Twitter, I was both flabbergasted and amused. Amused, because the people behind the hashtag clearly knew no better -- and there is no worse thing and nothing more comical about ignorant people who strut around thinking they know everything. But also flabbergasted because "pride" for gay men and women is a call to fight an overwhelming history of hate, pride as antidote to hate and hiding in the closet.

So here's an exercise of awareness I'm swiping from Equality House​, apparently cobbled together by Mat Auryn: "In honor of [#HeterosexualPrideDay], here's a map to raise awareness. In green are all the countries where heterosexuals are given less rights than homosexuals. In blue are all the countries where it is illegal to be heterosexual. In red are all the countries where you'll be sentenced to death for being heterosexual or suspicion of heterosexuality. In orange are all the countries where it's still legal to be kidnapped and tortured with 'reparative therapy' for being heterosexual. Heartbreaking. Shameful. Disturbing." Indeed! Why do straight people need Heterosexual Pride Day? Every day is Heterosexual Pride Day, and all of our culture enforces it.

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Friday, July 01, 2016

entry arrow9:54 PM | Friday Traffic to the Music of "Hotel California"

This afternoon, right after lunch, I was on my way to class when I got caught in Dumaguete traffic -- nothing horrendous like the Manila example; but for a small city, getting stuck for a stretch of even three minutes is "traffic." The tricycle I was in had its own portable music player, and I counted the minutes I was stuck on the road by the songs that blared around me: Rod Stewart singing "Sometimes When We Touch," the Bee Gees singing "You Should Be Dancing," and then for some reason three repetitions of the Eagles' "Hotel California." The music was loud and properly drowned out the drone of the rest of the other vehicles on the road. And I figured: "Heck, I am already late for school. I could walk the rest of the way, but the slight drizzle is not inviting. The world's insane, and the only thing to do is to flow with it -- and the soundtrack for doing that is 'Hotel California'." So I hummed along, the tricycle driver hummed along, the boy beside me in the tricycle hummed along, the entire traffic along Katada Street hummed along. For me, the day I realised I could just hum along to unforeseen obstacles, like Dumaguete traffic, was kind of like a most important day of my life. But for the rest of the world, it was Friday.


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entry arrow9:19 PM | Cracking the Zeitgeist Wide Open

I was just reading Isaac Butler and Dan Kois' "Angels in America: The Complete Oral History," a comprehensive compendium of voices to explain how Tony Kushner’s play became the defining work of American art of the past 25 years over at Slate. (Link here.)

Which made me wonder what it must be like to be the one who writes an Angels in America, a Hamilton, a Rent, a Spring Awakening. A play that's initially very difficult to comprehend as a stage spectacle ("What? A play about angels, Mormons, Roy Cohn, and AIDS?" "What? A musical about the first Secretary of the Treasury, in hiphop?" "What? A musical about bohemians in New York who can't pay rent, plus AIDS?" ... "What? A play about hormonal teenagers in Germany?" Okay fine, that last one is easy to comprehend) -- but then becomes a cultural tornado, a fantastic revealer of the zeitgeist. But Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tony Kushner and Jonathan Larson (and I'm sure also Duncan Sheik) perhaps never even imagined the future juggernauts their creations became: they were just small passion projects that were difficult to write, and were supremely difficult to finally stage. And then, against all odds, they became big.

One thing I love about the city I live in is its theatre scene, which is now producing a significant number of originals. But what I don't quite like about the same scene is how everything is rushed. An idea for a play gets hatched. The writing happens. But then there's no real rewriting afterwards, no earnest dramaturging, no workshops, no tryouts... And so, often the finished product comes out tepid or sayang. And then I read the behind-the-scenes revelations, like the Slate article, and you come across testimonials of months and years being spent on the shaping of a material, the emotional compromises, the lightning quick changes, etc., and they make you think: This is how it should be done, in a herculean process that demands your very soul. And I think that's why these plays crack the zeitgeist wide open, because they're developed slowly, and have time for the very times itself to seep in and marinate. And when they finally open, they make cultural revolutions -- and people line up just to see the latest miracle that manages to get to the quick of how we live now.

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entry arrow6:19 PM | Gearing Up for Maximum Volume 2!

From Sarge Lacuesta: "I believe that the Filipino short story has come into its own: you only need to read it to hear its confident tenderness in Ian Rosales Casocot's 'Fly-Over Country', to witness its powers of observation in Mara Coson's 'Godjira', to feel its intoxicating hold on you in Sasha Martinez's 'The Auroras'. And you only need to sit with all the other stories in this second Volume to understand why the short story is not a novel-in-waiting, or a student’s exercise, or an experiment in form, or the kind of half-formed, half-committed embryonic creature many paint it out to be. Coming super soon: Maximum Volume: Best New Philippine Fiction 2, edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Angelo R. Lacuesta, with an incredible cover art by Rommel Joson."

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