This has been gnawing at me since the very beginning of the lockdown. I have friends who have gone out there doing donation drives, making PPEs, doing art tutorials live, et cetera, while I struggled with my own monstrous anxieties magnified by the quarantine. And then it hit me yesterday: all I could really do is use whatever talent I have to try to help people.
I have two:
 I write, and  my Facebook has always been a kind of community bulletin board for Dumaguete.
So that's what I'm going to do. I will write stories, and I will write down my observations about what's happening in the community. [This is thanks to the suggestion of former Silliman University President Ben S. Malayang III.] And I will highlight the efforts of people I know who are doing what they can to foster a bayanihan spirit in these times. It will be my small contribution to our ravaged, beautiful world.
I needed to walk. My apartment is the definition of "smallness" in a bachelor's pad and there is no yard to speak of to do a bit of exercise, just the teeming wildness of Aldecoa Drive immediately beyond what makes up for a gate in my part of the Quiamco/Rosales compound where I live in Tubod.
I am the very definition, too, of social distancing quarantine: I live alone, and in the past two days or so, the days and the hours have all mixed up together in a kind of space-time goo, a heaviness in the air you could feel with the tiniest brush of skin. I don't truly mind the solitariness -- my introversion revels in this. What I minded was the suffocation to movement. I needed to walk, to stretch my legs which were now slowly giving way to entropy.
And so I did, with some inchoate plan to buy bread downtown. [The shrews in my apartment hijacked my last batch.] The walk along Hibbard Avenue was unremarkable, just the occasional sight of motorcycles and tricycles -- the drivers all wearing masks -- which made up a traffic devoid of the usual Dumaguetnon carefreeness. I saw a couple brisk-walking. Silliman campus was quiet, slowly drowning in acacia leaves.
The beginning of downtown at the juncture of Perdices Street and Silliman Avenue pulsed with the barest signatures of life, and this was only 5:30 in the afternoon. I cannot use the term "ghost town" however: it didn't feel that way, no deadness or ghostliness, more like a town in stark hibernation, or a convalescing patient sleeping away a fever.
I supposed that only the shops deemed "essential" were open. The 7-11 at Portal East was curiously in darkness -- wasn't that essential? The Gold Label Bakery was open, essential. Jollibee and Chowking were open -- essential, I guess -- and so was Dunkin Donuts, but not the downtown McDonald's. Lee Super Plaza's grocery, where I had planned to buy bread, was already close, but not Robinson's. There were too many people inside, and so I pushed on, sampling along the way the shuttered shops and the growing darkness of the early evening, and here and there the surprising clusters of light and activity.
There were so many fruit stands, almost in every corner. And Unitop was curiously alive.
I pushed on, finding myself in the middle of the tiled plaza of Quezon Park, drinking in the waning light of the summer afternoon, all in a whirlpool of melancholy.
I pushed on, finding myself finally in an old haunt I have not seen in weeks. Qyosko was still open, although deserted. I went in, happy at the familiar faces, happy with the lights. I had no appetite, but I ordered buttered garlic chicken to go -- just for the sake of old times. I ordered my usual calamansi juice, too, and my taste buds perked up at the familiar but now strange taste.
I stayed awhile, my laptop on, perhaps to lure myself into the illusion that everything was all right in the world, that I was here just like the good old days.
But curfew soon beckoned. And I am back home again, in the quarantine that has become the norm, knowing that that walk will be a rarity to cherish, knowing there is no going back to normal after all these.
We have all been changed by the coronavirus, I think -- our old sustaining comforts depleted, our beliefs in the resoluteness of authority shattered, our reckoning that things we once considered important somehow no longer cast the same gravity. Some day I'll take this walk again when there will be better days, but I don't think I will see everything again in the old way. The new way will be scarred with melancholy -- that all things we love can so easily be taken away in the blink of an eye. But perhaps that's the only way to live from now on.
4:07 AM |
Terrence McNally and the Artistic Struggle
I've always wondered, morbidly, which among the major [or minor] celebrities that I know would succumb to COVID-19. It turned out to be a writer and theatre artist, the Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally [1938-2020]. I first discovered his work [like most people, I think] via the film version of Love! Valour! Compassion!, which centered around a group of New York friends, all gay, as they occasionally spend weekends together in the country -- which allowed for deep excavations of friendship, fidelity, AIDS, and dancing Swan Lake. I loved that film [and play]. It was one of those titles that my brother Rey sent me all the way from the U.S. in the late 1990s that proved foundational in my then growing education in queer cinema. The play was funny and sad in equal measure, and allowed me to distinguish all the kinds of queerness that it offered. [Also, that kitchen scene at midnight looking for milk will always leave me breathless.] I also loved Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune and Master Class, which we staged at the Luce starring the great Cherie Gil as Maria Callas. And although he will always be notorious for writing Corpus Christi -- which I won't even bother to talk about -- he will always be for me as the playwright who grappled with artistic obsolescence [choreography in Love! Valour! Compassion! and opera singing in Master Class] but gave the struggle wit, beauty, and humanity. Thank you, Mr. McNally. And here's wishing COVID-19 will stop its ravaging before it takes more of the people we admire and love
4:14 PM |
The Islands in the Storm of Kenny Rogers
The legendary country singer Kenny Rogers [1938-2020] died today. I will always associate him with childhood in Bayawan, because growing up in the southern Negros quiet of its poblacion in the late 1970s to the early 1980s -- this was right before my family moved for good to Dumaguete -- Rogers' voice was what filled the radio waves in my hometown for some reason. Perhaps it was one or two of my cousins living in the other houses near us being the ultimate fan -- but "Lady" became entrenched as the unlikely theme of my childhood years in Bayawan. That's how I knew about "knights in shining armors," that's how I knew about "I love you's." Much later, there was "Through the Years," which became an anthem to friendship come what may. And then there was "We've Got Tonight," which became a paean to love in the now because "there [was] no tomorrow." And then there was "You and I," which told me, "Don't believe the world, [because] the world can't give us paradise, [because] we are islands in the storm." That was his favorite theme, that we are all "islands in the stream," connected only by love. What heady things to learn as a child. I guess I became dramatic because of Kenny Rogers.
I thought of it as social media “people power,” and granted it's not a black and white issue, and granted it can be viewed as a kind of undemocratic cyber bullying. [This is a nuance about democracy that a lot of strongmen actually manipulate. Also ironic: cyber bullying the person who has the patent on cyber bullying?] But I also thought back to some of my own questions about instances in history when fascism took root, and we asked, “Why didn't the people do something?” Well, as of Friday night, we did one thing at least. To quote Karl Popper: “In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.”
What did you expect from the emperor of this kakistocracy? He will run after the people who actually do their jobs well, for fear of being revealed for the ugly truth he knows: he can parade all he want to inexplicable adulation, but the emperor has truly been proven to be wearing no clothes at all.
Ige Ramos reminds us that "a 16-year old girl from Sweden asked the world to slow down and take care of the planet; nobody listened to her. Now an invisible nano-sized bug has ensured we stop, not just slow down." Actually, we did not just NOT listen, a lot of us called her a brat. [Didn't you?]
Which brings me to this New York Times article from 2012, where Jim Robbins writes: "Disease, it turns out, is largely an environmental issue. Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic — they originate in animals. And more than two-thirds of those originate in wildlife. / Teams of veterinarians and conservation biologists are in the midst of a global effort with medical doctors and epidemiologists to understand the 'ecology of disease' ... And they are studying ways of managing forests, wildlife, and livestock to prevent diseases from leaving the woods and becoming the next pandemic." [Read the rest here.]
It was a bittersweet farewell for many Silliman University graduates this March, simply because they never got to say any, nor did they even get a graduation ceremony. Their goodbyes were hurried, vastly incomplete, or absent -- all forced to take immediate leave because of a pending lockdown. Imagine the culmination of four years of college, and you didn't even get to feel the fabric of a toga. It was the same for the undergraduates, too. They never even saw Finals Week happen. This is what makes John Martin Ferraris' farewell video at once nostalgic and melancholy. He takes the musical cue of a popular heartbreaking tune, and transposes it on images of an empty campus. Listen with headphones, and prepare for your heart to wallow.
Decided to finally troop to the grocery at Lee Super Plaza to stock up, just in case. Didn’t hoard either, just bought what I think I’d need, just in case. I haven’t done grocery shopping in years, to be honest. Everything inside was calm though, no panic — although you could feel a palpable apprehension in the air. And while I waited at the coffee shop for Renz and his mother to finish their own shopping, I casually observed the security guard on duty waving his thermal scanner so near the faces of every single people entering the grocery. Intimately near. Face after face after face after face, and just one device. And then the morbid thought: isn’t that a surefire way of spreading contagion? I really don’t know, just my paranoia talking.
I am amused at the calls on Twitter to “reset” 2020. If you think about it though, the coronavirus IS the reset button. Excepting the tragedy of people succumbing to it, the coronavirus has actually allowed Earth to “breathe” again, has made people rethink politics, and has also shown us the vapid limits of autocrats here and China. And we have been made to still ourselves from the dervishes of our lives. To quote Dessa Quesada-Palm, “I am actually enjoying the slowing down of life in general.”
A photo-illustration of me from the pages of the art notebooks of the one and only Wilfredo Pascual, fantastic writer and artist. This was in Dogpatch in San Francisco, CA in 2010, and we were going around looking for art. I love this day. It was memorable. Thank you, Willi!
Embrace the cancellations. I had to do a thorough soul-searching through my profound disappointments when cancellations started dropping in early February. It took me a while to understand this: “Embrace the cancellations, some things are beyond our control, but let it be a womb for further creativity.”
I've been staring at this photo of the actor Max Von Sydow [1929-2020] for the past three hours, and didn't know what to say. Where to begin a tribute to this great artist? There's just no encompassing all that legend in one go. What a singular filmmography -- and what a face! He had a face that suited the art and the emotion of cinema. It wasn't exactly handsome, but it was as if he was sculpted to fit all manner of pathos. Any shot of Von Sydow's face is like a calm surface of ocean rippling with surges of drama underneath. Ingmar Bergman, who directed him in many classics, once said that film is all about the human face -- and the master certainly did well in choosing as his exemplar this man. I first encountered him, long ago, as the titular priest battling the demon in The Exorcist, and while I did know yet know of his legend, I remembered his brooding face, as if he had the balance of heaven and hell on his shoulders -- but limning it, there was a sharp intelligence, as well as a compassionate humanity that leavened that face of quiet suffering. I'd encounter that face again when he played the older artist desperate for love in Hannah and Her Sisters. He was always the elderly sort in all the films I saw him in, and so it was a shock to see him in The Emigrants, so young and so vibrant, and yet already sporting the beginnings of that look that would define him. Can you believe he has never won an Oscar? He was nominated only twice, for his lead role in Pelle the Conqueror  and for his supporting turn in Extremely Loud and incredibly Close . His body of work is a rebuke to this gross oversight, and for all his muscular work in cinema, he will be missed by every ardent cinephile.
I'm reading this article in Variety where has-been actor Antonio Sabato Jr. vents about how supporting Donald Trump in 2016 "ended his acting career." While that may seem "unfair" on face value, I'm also thinking this: one's choice of politics is an endorsement of personal values. Who would want to work with someone clearly on the side or racism, misogyny, and corruption?
Truth to tell, I made a similar choice of passive resistance about two weeks ago. It was a moral quandary: can I continue to work with someone who is clearly supportive of a murderous regime? I happen to love this someone as a friend very, very much, and I've turned a blind eye to his politics since 2016 because we've always worked well together. But there comes a point in one's moral life where you have to make a choice. The photos came two weeks ago, and my heart sank and it never resurfaced. I still love this guy, but I think we need to talk.
If you're in Manila this Saturday, March 7, catch Onna Rhea Quizo perform Dessa Quesada-Palm's RAPE BUZZ for the Fetival of Plays by Women at the Cultural Center of the Philippines! Glad to help out YATTA with this poster design.
Making life changes starting March 1st, much of which will involve me saying a conscientious “no,” even to myself. Getting older makes you realize there’s only so much time you have to do everything you want, or have been asked to.