(One) Tunnel Vision

Attempting to see the right side.

2015

This year I performed in 4 plays, directed one, sold plants at a bazaar, learned that plants have feelings, took up knitting, i don’t know why, wrote a new pilot about a virgin taking on multiple lovers, then acted in an indie film as a puritanical nun. I finished the script for my next film, trashed it, started outlining a book, loving it. I wrote 7 poems, signed up for the first time at an open mic organized by students–chickened out last minute–pitched a series to international producers and used the word pussy, was told that was the best thing they’ve heard that day.

So when I gave a talk on how to pitch I told students to watch their language in front of executives, except when they’re foreigners in which case go to fucking town.

I started fires, put out some, held a friend’s hand through darkness and got held back in return.

I did a short film, produced a music video and cautiously returned to my tribe, one tiny step at a time. I had my last two eye surgeries and George and Mary are getting along well.

I got hold of some truths,

got inspired,

got built,

got blindsided,

got destroyed,

got up,

got back in the game.

2015, you were quietly magnificent. In your joy, your grief, your regret, your insight and your hard-won, unsteady peace. Thank you for moving me. Let’s keep moving. Cheers to 2016. Salute. ❤️

Some Hours

Some hours of the day are harder than others. Five To Six AM, for example, is a strange, particular beast. She puts her arm around you as you wait for the world to wake up. She doesn’t say anything and she doesn’t need to, because even as she smiles you already feel the knife she’s slowly pressing at your back. Your spine softens, warmed by her hand, and then the blade goes in, smoothly.

Five To Six likes to draw the first blood. She knows you can’t fight, not yet. Not when your defenses against your demons are still being rebuilt from the siege of the night before, and your soldiers are still recovering from protecting you from the memories that assault you even in sleep.

She tucks a wayward strand of hair behind your ear and looks into your eyes. She winces slightly, as if to apologize for something she needs to do, before twisting the knife further, deeper, lodging it in its familiar place. You accept the apology, welcome the pain. You begin to bleed out. And she starts to sing with the sun.

Then your first friend, Eight AM, crashes through your door. He is laden with gifts like deadlines and morning shows and traffic jams and budget cuts and fussy clients and deranged co-workers and unfinished briefs and bills and visas and your friend’s problems. Like a bitty boss, Eight AM pulls you up and starts kicking your senses to life, stronger than the overpriced sweet coffee-thing you just bought, despite not needing coffee in the morning because you’ve always been a little weird. Eight AM and his gang, Nine To Eleven, barks at you like a General: Get up! Get moving, get moving, get moving!

Then a lull walks–no–saunters in. Twelve Noon is here. She’s a bitch of a chick, smoking her Marlboro reds while she looks at you with the arrogant, relaxed air of someone who knows you’re about to get hit. Again. She presses a button and the work machine begins to slow down, levelling off over the sound of your brain screamming for it to keep going. It stops, and time is rammed down your throat, forcing you to catch your breath.

Twelve Noon snickers as she walks closer, and she blows smoke in your face. She touches her lips to your ear and whispers: Go ahead, think of it. Rewind every miserable minute, indulge your pity, your petty, your rage, your sadness. Do you fancy a lurk? How about a little stalk? Yes, sulk and wallow, she says in a deep, gravelly voice that’s as ugly as it’s strangely mesmerizing. She keeps blowing that smoke, your eyes glaze over and like an automaton you do her bidding, allowing the break to be felt again.

Twelve Noon tells you the truth and your part in your destruction. She takes a drag on her cigarette, and laughs with you bitterly, agreeing with your worst suspicions, tells you everything has always been a lie, and affirming the sheer stupidity of you hoping for a better outcome, another solution, or an ending that at least doesn’t tear you to shreds with its cruelty.

Twelve Noon takes you through denial, anger, guilt, then back to denial, anger and guilt. It’s a bracelet on her wrist with a name tag that says Broken and she wears it proudly, in your fucking face. Twelve Noon is the Mean Girl who bullies One to Five PM.  Their squad rules, all the way to sundown, powered by cloudporn and depressing orange sunsets that only remind you of your foolishness, yet again.

Then darkness sets in and you get a reprieve. Six PM is here and she has your first breath. She is a superhero who, in one fell swoop, vanquishes The Five Hour Posse that’s got you by the throat. She carries you, she has your back, she’s the friend who picks you up, buys you a drink, distracts you with her own shitty problems so you can feel superior or at least comforted, for a short while.

The one who drives you to the ends of the earth to do stupid things safely, the one who reminds you that there is nothing to regret, praises you for your courage and assures you that in time, the sharp pain will ease into a sting until it is nothing more than a scar you can proudly show off, even possibly entertain people with. And Twelve Noon may have had a posse, but Six PM comes with an army.

Six PM has Seven to Sleep firmly in her pocket. And when finally the day is done and 24 is spent, she tucks you in bed and kisses your brow, promising that tomorrow will be a little bit better. And if it isn’t, it will be. Meantime there’s wine to be had and more recklessness to be enjoyed.

And you wake up again.

Father’s Day

While he lived, the best trick my dad pulled was making the world feel smaller. With him in it, the world was safer, easier to understand and conquerable. 

When he passed, the world suddenly expanded to include this “new” space, which was not really new, just … now vacant. 

Emptied of his presence and demanding to be charted, I navigate this vastness with care and a tiny bit of fear from the knowledge that in this world, I am a little smaller than I used to be.  

Most days, in my busy and bigger life, I don’t realize he isn’t there. Then at odd moments I remember without warning. And I am gripped with an incredible sadness, and that space threatens to overwhelm me.

Then I remember that I am precisely strong enough to do this because of him. I am my father’s strength. The space contracts and the feeling of being overwhelmed passes quickly. The sadness, not so quickly. And I sing Elvis in my head. 

Minority Feels aka In Defense of the President

The way we received Pope Francis already surpassed every red carpet protocol we have given a visiting Head of State and that’s fine, he is the spiritual leader of a great majority of the country’s population. That much of this country has gone crazy over his visit is already painfully obvious.

Yet no one is publicly talking about the issues that plague this nation that are directly related to its relationship with the Church. So something that would throw a pebble in the alternate stream is meaningful and refreshing.

No one is contesting the truth about the President’s statements, much of the flak revolves around how inappropriate, and embarrassing it is to say critical things about the Church in front of the Pope and how self-serving because of the references to what the Aquinos went through during Marcos’ time.

But no one is contesting that everything PNoy said in the speech is true.

This Pope, is very political. His agenda on eradicating poverty, ridding the Church of corruption from within  and extolling the virtues of simplicity for other priests to emulate make it wholly appropriate to inform him that here, where your last Asian bastion stands, your church benefitted from a corrupt government and used the pulpit to not just influence public policy but to ridicule government leadership when it dared go against its wishes.

Why should we be embarrassed? Should we simply ignore the reality that the Philippines and the Church do not have a smooth relationship? Why not recognize that? Why not remind all parties present of that?

“I believe that you are a kindred spirit, one who sees things as they are, and is unafraid of asking, “Why not?” Some of your statements might have been shocking or offensive to some peers. But Your Holiness is meant to be the instrument through which the Kingdom of God is allowed to flourish. In your example, we see the wisdom of continuing to ask, “Why not?” “

– Excerpt from the Ptesident’s speech to Pope Francis in Malacanang

I’m not usually a PNoy fan and his elocution skills need a ton of work but the speech he gave was not disappointing, it was relevant. It meant something to me, who may be in the minority but still a citizen, to see my government’s often missing spine. That someone, and fittingly the leader of this country, is not awed into mindlessness by the power of the institution he is in front of. It was appropriately delivered in Malacanang, a house of governance, not worship. PNoy spoke as one Head of State to another, whose representatives enjoy immense power in MY country sufficient to affect MY life even if I don’t care for it.

Without being explicit, it in fact gracefully and  rightly puts into context the political power the Church holds in the Philippines. As for the self-promotion part, he can’t help the fact that he’s the son of Ninoy and Cory. That is the only reason he is in office. He can’t help the fact that his family WAS at the center of the regime’s downfall and it would be stupid to skip around it to appear “properly humble and unpolitical” because he also can’t help the fact that the Church WAS instrumental in the events that led to People Power. It is a legitimate event from which to make a point, that the Church- governed by the other Head of State in the room- has been both a spiritual AND political presence in the country, for better or for worse.

Here, where separation of Church and State is still just ink on paper, where the CBCP uses excommunication as a political sword to hold lawmakers hostage, where it is normal for politicians to quote scripture when explaining their position on a bill, I felt good that PNoy showed some teeth and spoke for all, including the minority who do NOT look upon the Vatican for moral guidance.

The fact is, in a time when much of the world is evolving to embrace the idea that you can’t discriminate because of gender, race and sexual orientation, the Catholic church remains unmoving in its position that same sex couples do not make a family and that women should not have access to artificial contraception or that marriage is a union only IT can dissolve. Here I say nay to a Church clinging to its last stronghold in this region, and here I say nay to his flock already gone into overdriven stupor and here I say yay to the President for remembering that the nays are just as important as the yays.

Bubbles Bubbles

Hindi ko sasabihing ideal ang proseso ng paglikha ng kuwento for soaps sa Pilipinas. I’ve been a headwriter 3x and a creative manager (someone on top of a headwriter) twice. 12 years na rin akong on and off sa tv bilang isang creative person.

Inside the flawed system that facilitates the creation of a soap, maraming boses, maraming sumasali, maraming experts (real and self-proclaimed) sa kung ano ang maganda at tatangkilikin ng manonood. Higit sa lahat, maraming givens na sinusunod, commercially (what rates) and artistically (what will make your show GOOD). Katulad nang sa kahit na anong genre, gumagalaw ka sa loob ng isang kahon. Nasa galing na ngayon ng nagsusulat kung gaano sila kahusay sa paglikha sa loob ng isang kahon.

Pero hindi dahil may kahon, walang craft, walang art at walang puso ang mga taong gumagawa sa loob nito. I still remember Ricky Lee’s words to a group of young, would-be soap writers undergoing a workshop years ago. “Mas mahirap lumikha nang hindi malaya.” This multi-awarded and internationally celebrated filmmaker, who has served as one of the creative pillars of ABS TV for more than a decade, meant it as a challenge. It is a truth any creator working in ANY industry where art and commerce try to fuck each other senseless, must embrace.

May givens, here and around the world, para kumita o panoorin ka. But we don’t blanketly say all outcomes are trash. You have gems and you have garbage. Sometimes you luck out on the creative team, the actors, the director and sometimes you don’t. I’ve been on the receiving end of “it’s too smart” comments from the top suits myself. But really, sometimes, “it’s too smart” is actually “it’s just boring.”

Filipinos who love soaps would rather be emotionally engaged than mentally engaged, that’s true. At dahil ALIW ang pinag-uusapan, sino ba nagsabing mas mainam ang isang engagement over another? Let me tell you, it takes the same amount of skill to create a show that is as emotionally gripping as it is smart. A show will die if all it stands on is intellect. A show, no matter how terrible, will survive when fueled by pathos. And even if you don’t agree, who are you to prescribe your engagement preference or declare it superior?

Kaya siya soap opera, it is meant to be emotionally stimulating more than intellectually complex. (Be that as it may, do you know how hard it is to graph a character’s journey from grief to joy in a span of three gaps in a soap episode? Hard.) A soap opera is just a form, neither superior or inferior to any other form. Yung uri ng kwento na angkop sa soap ay emotional, externalized and narratively “simple.” Yes, it is exaggerated, inflated, excessive, overstated stories about amnesia, mistaken identity, rags to riches, family clan wars, affairs, love, tragedy, love, murder, love, revenge, love and more love. So is almost all of Shakespeare’s work. Talk about excess. Haluan mo pa ng incest, fairies at mga hayop na nagsasalita.

There is beauty to be found in any form when it is done well. Sa soap, the objective of every show is to own the emotions of its audience and sweep it along. Does enjoying that experience make a person stupid? No. Is a person who watches HBO or Showtime series more intelligent than a person who watches soaps? No. Are makers of one better than the makers of the other? No. Is one genre better than another? No. Why? All they do is serve preferences for entertainment, they don’t determine your character or your abilities. Hindi mo masusukat ang lalim, talino at kakayahan ng taong maging mahusay na tao sa pinapanood niya sa TV. Kung yun lang ang batayan…talo lahat ng adik sa TV, ke soap opera ang pinapanood mo o mga show sa US tungkol sa mga duktor, abugado, detectives at police. (I mean how many shows about lawyers, doctors and cops can one country make? Oh yes. One for each of the 50 states.)

You can’t critique a genre you don’t fully understand nor patronize.

Do you want to critique local soaps?

Talk about the structural narrative differences of a weekly, daily and mini series. Talk about the relationship of local tv with their audience, which behave uniquely from that of other countries because…uh….they’re from other countries.

Talk about cultural idiosyncracies, talk about whether or not the stories of our soaps are effective in capturing what the majority of Filipinos want to watch or the values they cherish-then discuss why and if there is room to elevate anything- and should we even be so arrogant as to assume that task and then ask again, why. Dissect a soap’s failure or ability to connect with its audience, care about the characters and again ask, why.

You want to be taken seriously in your rants against local tv content?

You must first show an active interest in the lives of people outside your miniscule circle in social media. You know, beyond those who love Sherlock, Suits, Scandal, Downton Abbey, OITNB, Breaking Bad and the like. Beyond those who go for the more obscure shows like that soap opera on heroin and steroids combined, Game of Thrones or beyond the ones who still love the “classics” like…Grey’s Anatomy (still airing?), House and CSI.

Because I promise you, hindi tinuturing aspiration o gold standard ng local TV teleserye makers ang Hollywood. And why on earth would they.

Ang ganda kaya ng Pangako Sa’Yo, Mulawin, Angelito at AnnafrickingLuna y’all! And Mara Clara (the original) was as addictive as Penny Dreadful (na naging interesting lang after 4 episodes). There are a lot more obviously. The examples are somewhat ancient. The point is maraming basura sa tv, dito at sa ibang bansa. Marami ring maganda, malikhain, no-excuses-for-prod-budget-groundbreaking shows na rin ang ginawa na ng abs, gma at tv5, yung iba pinanood, yung iba hindi nag rate kaya nawala agad.

Do you even know what Filipinos aspire for? At the core of their being, what they dream about? Do you even know who it is that watch local tv? Would it suprise you to know that actually, they are NOT stupid? Oh that’s right you don’t believe they are, you just believe they don’t think about what they want to watch on TV,they are mindless drones who can be so easily controlled by soulless creators. Right?

Let me gather all those notions in a bus set to detonate AND fall into a cliff. Let me kneel on a mountain of garbage exactly like Smokey Mountain, cry unto the heavens as TORRENTIAL RAIN falls down on me, on cue and shout (sa camera na naka mount sa crane:)

MGA HAMBOOG! WALA KAYONG ALAAM! TIKMAN NINYO ANG BATAS NG ALIPIIN!!

If only that were true. Ang sarap siguro ng buhay ng mga taga TV kung totoo yun. Get this straight. The Filipino audience is not stupid. Stop thinking they are. They know what they want and you can’t fool them with glossy production designs, breathtaking locations and big name actors. They love soaps, they know what makes a good soap good and addictive. Sure the networks try, as they must, but everyone involved knows it is not a guarantee. And one thing research has consistently shown is, it is always the story and the way it is told, that captivates an audience.

It’s a drug but isn’t all entertainment? If you can’t deliver the high, they will leave you for better goods. At hindi bagong impormasyon yun sa mga gumagawa ng ganitong show. Soap creators have data given to them telling them WHAT that audience is looking for. That is in and of itself a different discussion but I will invite you to join only if you can participate intelligently in a conversation about escapist entertainment and dealing with an economy-driven sensibility.

Not interested? Thought so.
Doesn’t matter.

I say this to enlighten you on one thing. Soaps do not feed audiences. It is the other way around. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and try to realize what that means.

TALK smartly along those lines and let’s engage in a real discussion about the business and process of creating soap content on local tv.

But don’t come at the soap makers with Hollywood comparisons because that’s not going to get you anywhere, you will be rightly dismissed as an infant or a fool not worthy of a second look.