Puerto Princesa Underground River

One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, this attraction is worth visiting for its historical significance.

San Agustin Church

The picturesque church sits inside the walled city of Intramuros, across the famous Manila Cathedral.

Day-Asan Fishing Village

Snapshots of daily life in a poor fishing town in the CARAGA region.

Mt. Ampacao, Sagada

The highest point offers an overview of Sagada. Normal trekking tours only reach the ranch and not the actual summit.

En route to Mt. Pinatubo

The lahar dunes on the way to Mt. Pinatubo is a literal dusty flatscape.

22 January 2017

It's Only January!


I could not get myself to stop staring at this photograph. I'm pathetic, I know. Especially since its not even true to begin with. This was a joke from the crew while we're shooting this project. The fact is this: I'm not directing this material--I was actually hired as a producer. But we don't have a director, only a cinematographer, animators, and a couple of other producers (writers, storytellers). Seeing my name affixed with Alfred's, who's a legit DOP, in this clapper, scene after scene, take after take... I can't help but be mesmerised. I am really pathetic.

But then again, if this is a premonition of sorts, I'd gladly embrace it. I believe in signs, after all.

--

Its been two months since I started working as a creative producer. The assignments have been laid out last December and my calendar is swarming with script deadlines, contact lists, auditions, prod shoots, and previews. Its a different ballgame altogether--I used to only write scripts. I've never been too involved before, now, I should. My six years in television have cultivated a certain level of detachment: I let go of my scripts once its with my headwriter, I don't attend prod shoots, and I definitely do not sit down during editing sessions. I write, wait for feedback, revise, then wait for the material to air only to get disappointed that the director or the actors didn't maximise the material. Its a never-ending cycle of inspiration and disappointments. If you're too attached, you lose.

With my new job, I'm present in all areas of production. Its definitely a step-up and its an improvement I imagined myself doing countless times. When dreams are in your head, they don't take forms... But when they take shape, the feeling is beyond surreal--dreams cease to be limited in the romanticised realms of my head, they become tangible objects I can grab and contain.

I am definitely in a better place.

The exodus did me good. The new environment opened my senses to the bigger picture. I feel like I am free to create again, with no formula, no tradition, no rules hanging over my head like a curse. Of course, in time, this freedom will morph into another cage. For now, while I'm still new to the experience, I'm enjoying the space.

--

My boss is a visionary who accomplished feats in the industry. She produced the movies I've grown up with, the few brilliant ones in the mainstream industry. She's a perfectionist and a seasoned storyteller. She's traditional the way the mainstream world is traditional. But she knows how to combine art and formula. She knows how to make art work. A wide range of filmography has proven that she's made it work.

Last week, she asked the group to do a vision board for the year. It doesn't have to be extensive, only five items will suffice. In mine, I've listed:

1) Go to London
2) Stage my first play
3) Get into an international screenwriting workshop
4) Direct my first short film
5) Finish the murals in my condo

As if. Dream on. Crossing fingers. Good luck. Start now. The list is mad crazy impossible. But I love mad crazy impossible. So if I throw it out there... maybe, just maybe, it will be thrown back.

--

Then we go back to the clapper.

Aside from my regular creative producer responsibilities, I've also taken in some more on the side. The production shoot earlier this week is one of those. Its for an animated material that will be launched online next month. I accepted the raket without batting an eyelash. Nica just had to say one thing: Animation. Its not a secret that I love animation, that I love Japanese animation, that I love the surreal (the more French, the better). So when this project landed on my lap, I just thanked the universe.

Aside from this, I'll be working on a drama series for free television. Its not the most enticing proposition but I accepted because I need the training (and the money, of course). Headwriting a show is different from writing a show. I need to walk the talk, see if my theory is correct: that the masa audience can appreciate a different form of storytelling, that the powers-that-be shouldn't relegate their productions to what worked in the past, that we should always push the envelope.

You can't stay in the past if you want to be a revolutionary. (I learned that much from Lala Land.) Young writers can do either one of two things: 1) Reinforce the established norms of storytelling or 2) To continuously challenge the traditional forms and create contemporary and experimental ways to tell a story. I'm done with the first. I'm doing the latter.

When I'm questioning the path because its riddled with rules, I always go back to my favourite novelists: Kafka had a day job and hailed the writing devil at night, Mann worked in an insurance company, Le Carré was a spy, and Woolf was homeschooled. They never had creative writing degrees. Their crafts stemmed from their passion to tell stories. They are trailblazers. They helped shape what gets studied in class.

There are formulas to make a story sellable, but there is no formula to write beautiful stories. - 1/22/2017

06 January 2017

We Are All Storytellers

Last month, my ex-favourite person (it became so after this video) sent me a video on why I shouldn't call myself a storyteller. The bottomline is this: Don't call yourself a storyteller if what you make is bullshit; and that "real storytellers" (i.e. limited to those who write novels and make feature films) never call themselves as such. The message that struck me most is that identifying yourself as a storyteller is so common nowadays that it has lost its "prestige".

My opinion: A perspective of a bourgeois traditionalist.

And coming from someone I admire and liked at some point, I was aghast. Was I offended? Of course I was. When I watched it, I got angry. I still do. One, an artist seldom identifies him/herself as a storyteller in these parts. Its not common. Two, what is bullshit? Should I measure my works based on a few people who revel in binaries? Who can only say my art is bullshit because of comparison? Three, it plays the "exclusive" card that mutes and discourages passionate people from continuing what they're doing--that the world can only have one artist, one designer, one painter, one scriptwriter, one storyteller, who can hit the high marks in one go. And that to be granted the right to  label yourself as such, you need to adhere to standards that the powers-that-be imposed. That's crap.

Aren't we all storytellers? So what if we're all storytellers? The world is changing and it will continue to evolve. If you cannot ride the waves, you become a Luddite.

On a non-rhetorical and more personal perspective, I'll go with this... I've written essays (and won a lot of competition back in the days), news and feature articles, online branded content, hundreds of narrative scripts for television, and now, I'm producing narratives for the local cable. I paint, I do pottery, I take photographs (and has even published some). What should I identify myself with given the range of formats that I've written and can write in, in both fiction and nonfiction? Given the various media that I can produce? Isn't it appropriate that I cluster them altogether into one word? As a storyteller?

Because in its simplest form, that is what I do: I tell stories.

So, immature me blocked my ex-favourite person in social media, for good. He had it coming. My point is: If you can't respect people as individuals, then respect them as artists. If you can't respect them as artists because "artist" is too high-brow and exclusive for you, then at least respect them as creators. - 1/16/2017

31 December 2016

Remembering Remembering

The year 2016 will close in a few hours and my Facebook feed gets bombarded with how horrible the current year had been with its share of shocking international events and high-profile deaths. Its the worst year, they say. Given how my world turned upside down this year, I might also say the same.

But I remember 2009 as my most difficult year yet I don't remember what transpired during that time. 2016 was difficult, yes, but it strengthened my foundations. Maybe, in the long run, I will not look back with anger but with gratitude for the year that started my future.

In January, I relearned passion. A month away from home recharged my creative juices. The new environment did me well and I remember this month as full of drive and determination. I remember looking out the window and seeing a world that awaits conquering.

In February, I pushed my boundaries. I applied for the international job I've wanted and submitted my first-ever one-act play for a local theatre festival. I realised I define my boundaries and push them when I can, when I think I should. And I should always feel that I should push the envelope. As Princess Tarhata said: "The world belongs to the bold."

In March, I found my ground through flight. A talk with Cyril made me realise my nature: I am not a flower that waits to bloom, I am a bird. I am at my best when I am free. And that despite the adventures, I still need a nest to return to.

In April, I moved to my new home. my bat cave is small but well-lit. And the space fits my need for freedom. Staying in my balcony made me feel like belonging to the world. I and my art do not live in a vacuum. I am a vessel of the world and my art is my permutation of the world.

In May, I relearned that money is only necessary for paying the bills--it could enrich my skills, but not my talents. Edith Piaf said "they cannot print enough money to pay for our talents" and she was correct. I write because I love to write, not because I'm going to earn from it.

In June, I learned to face reality. I let go of travelling for pleasure. If I cannot find myself at home then it is impossible to find myself anywhere else. Travelling to find oneself is pretentious; I am not an escapist. Real clarity can be found despite the noise, not without it.

In July, I fell in love. It breezed through me like air. Unnoticed, fleeting, unwanted yet necessary. I will always wonder why it came at a time when I wasn't looking for anyone to be with.

In August, I chose to stay. The rush came and left too quickly. He decided to be practical while I relished the intensity. In the end, my feelings burned me but I will never regret choosing to stay. When given a chance between walking away and loving, I will always choose to love.

In September, I left my job of six years. The departure enabled me to identify the people who had my best interests at heart. He was uncaring about my whole predicament.

In October, I learned compassion. We want what we want. We love what we love. People do what gives them happiness, even if it means hurting someone else. On my end, I can always choose to forgive and keep my distance. Happiness is a choice.

In November, I learned to give up. There's nothing wrong with having standards and choosing to be with people who embodies those standards. I've built them through the years, by experience, by surviving pain. I lost people, feelings, hope and happiness, but in the end, I felt like a winner. If given a choice between happiness and peace of mind, I should always choose peace of mind.

In December, I learned to let go. Despite how I want what was, I cannot return to the past. People leave and people stay. Sometimes, in my immaturity, I pushed some away. I am keeping the ones who stayed. Because they are worth it. - 12/31/2016

08 November 2016

The End


I believe in signs. It's not because they're romantic but because noticing them means one thing: awareness. When I get preoccupied with nagging thoughts and my feelings are in overdrive, I take a long walk around my neighbourhood to take in the world: the building traffic in Reliance, the convoy of tricycles and trucks, the salary people rushing to the train, the stray cats by the fishball vendor... I ask myself questions and through the process of asking, I find my answers.

The vagueness of a street, the high walls, the darkening sky. The people, the noise, the dust, the emptiness of everything fills me. And in those moments of being there, being present in that state, I remember. The answers come.

The storyline forms itself and my character begins to speak. The practicalities of my current situation floats for my attention, so do the options I can take. The ambiguity of my lover becomes glaring red lights. I find my answers by simply being there.

I've read somewhere that the present is the safest place for a troubled soul. And I agree. Yesterday, my job ended. Tomorrow, I might find out the lover belongs to another. But today, I am walking, relishing the stability of the pavement, feeling my toes, letting the city wind brush through my cheeks.

Sometimes, things just end.

A song from my favorite local artist says endings are also beginnings and speaks of the wariness of a future in an undefined present. But I don't necessarily have to think of the future when I can focus on today. Right here, right now. I love endings--I had too many endings I should know how to deal with it. I love the bittersweet taste of completion. The culmination of a phase is both exciting and terrifying. Everything is headed for an inevitable decline so why not enjoy the ride? The best I can do is carry the good things and walk on. - 11/8/2016

06 November 2016

Sunday

8:03 a.m.

I am on the verge of a creative breakdown.

I've been ruminating on a feature film concept since June but my muse hasn't been cooperative. The story idea came from Purple who, when asked what propels her to wake up everyday, told me about this community who managed to rebuild their livelihood after Yolanda. She has accommodated all my queries and has emailed tons of readings, articles and reports. I'm even in the loop for the on-site training and am ready to book a flight once they finalise the dates.

But I remain unfeeling and uninspired.

And a tad insecure too. Have I lost the magic after leaving television? I have not written a decent script in more than a year now. I've always believed that a writer who is not writing is not a writer. That I am only as good as my last work. One year of doing nothing had this glaring after-effect. This dry spell is the worst I've had in years. I am suddenly devoid of anything. I must be depressed again.

No wonder I harboured this deplorable antagonism for them. And why I cannot lower my pride to reach out and make amends, to at least salvage a portion of the burned bridge. They wasted my time, exhausted my patience, and repaid my loyalty with mediocrity.

Ah, pathetic thoughts, of pathetic people, of pathetic me.

10:54 a.m.

Its been two months already. It ended after almost a year of vicious bargaining and more than a year of frustration and restlessness and outright hostility. Despite wanting this freedom for so long, I feel a bit down. Blame that blasted dinner.

Tin's now an editor for Bloomberg, Jay's moving to an Australian risk assessment company, Rey's swinging it at the BOC, Purple's an established environment activist, Ziel's almost done with law school, and Thea's a litigation lawyer for a top firm. And me? Current status: jobless. With an unfinished masters degree, a pile of incomplete first drafts, and a motivation that's close to none.

12:02 p.m.

"You can finish it in two weeks."
"I can't."
"We have the training."
"I lack the discipline."
"You're a mess."
"Yeah."

2:40 p.m.

I burned this week's daylight by watching Japanese animated movies and reading shonen manga. Stupid hero learns how to use the tools with a 'never give up' attitude. In the end, hero mastered the craft and the prize: recognition from colleagues who now regards him as a genius. I love these stories the most, for some weird reason.

Last weekend, I watched that notable Shinkai movie and replayed Hosada's adapted film of the same theme. These dropped a realisation: I used to create stories of this nature, with a simplicity that snowballs into poignant complications that lack mainstream storytelling's 'bigness'. I'm not a found story writer but I'm also not a mainstream storyteller. My sensibility has always been nestled in-between.

More than half a decade in the industry and television ate my soul, limiting my thought process to the capacities of the idiot box. And maybe that's the problem: I continue to think like a soap opera writer. Maybe I cannot nail down my feature film story because I still have that boxed and outdated mentality.

My argument with Jules sort of confirmed this. My snobbish responses to his criticism (not of me but of an article I shared) riled me up. But after a few responses, I realised I was getting gungho on a non-issue. Why do I still defend journalism when I'm no longer a journalist? Why do I try to explain social science research when I'm no longer a social science researcher?

Now, I swing that question to my current predicament: Why do I still think like a soap writer when I'm done writing soap operas? - 11/6/2016

14 September 2016

Daylight's wasting


28 August 2016

Saturday Night

They don’t put bubbles in the milktea anymore. They omitted the Thai version and retained this one, a brown concoction with more milk than tea. I barely remembered how the old one tasted and as I stirred the tall glass, I realized I do miss the bubbles. Nica arrived with the twilight to find me in my favorite balcony table, my mind swimming in smoke.

“I was with Kim at the art fair earlier.”
“How was it?”
“Good. Tempting as shit.” I killed my stick. “Kim’s into this health networking thing. She attended a conference in Bangkok last July and came back a different person. Do you know what she said when her dad asked her about the whole experience?”
“What?”
“I saw my future.”
“Wow.”
“She stood in that conference hall with 18,000 people and saw her future.”
“That’s great!”
I lit another stick. “Have you ever felt that way? I mean, being in this place and knowing that you belong? That this is where you see yourself for the next so and so years? Doing this?”
“Yes of course! I felt it once… no, twice. The first was when Tatlong Piso was shown at CCP.”
“I was sitting beside you—you felt that exhilarated?”
“Yes! Seeing people’s reaction, hearing them laugh… I sat there and realized: This is my future. Making films. You?”
“Never.”
“Ever?”
“Ever.”

+++

My chopsticks pierced another chunk of Japanese rice while Nica narrated the plot twist of her week. I had the same, though it had been hanging over for the last six months it’s no longer a plot twist but an overused device. I had Japanese for lunch, and another yesterday. This was my third katsudon in a row. The air reeked of pepper and grilled meat.

He said I’m stubborn. That I don’t know how to stop… I only did because I was right.”
“That’s the Leo in you!”
“But I’m not stubborn. When did I ever go against him? Them? I’m at the fucking bottom of the food chain here.” I stuffed another ball of rice into my mouth. It tasted like sandpaper.
“Well… you rocked the boat. And they’re handling it immaturely.” Nica was almost done with her plate.
Silence.
“I’m not really affected by all the politics… and the rumours.”
“But you’re gloomy. You’re in snail mode today… treading carefully, slowly. I think that’s a good pace.”
“I felt... betrayed.”
“I can understand why you feel that way for him because he’s your mentor. But what about her?”
“I dropped my guard the first day we met. I thought maybe if it’s with her, I can try one last time. Trust one last time.”
“That is sad.”
“I choose to be vulnerable with the wrong people lately.”

+++

The last stop: a frozen yogurt shop where my old flavor got phased out a few months ago. Times were changing. I scooped a pink twirl and rolled it over my taste buds. Strawberries. We have just finished brainstorming for Nica’s short film and agreed to exchange creative calendars. Just to check on each other’s progress.

“Feeling good? Feeling good?”
“Very.” This flavour was better than the pomegranate.
“It’s a new season for us.”
“Yeah… I love freefalling.” My cup was almost empty. “I’m on my toes all the time.”
“I know, right. When was the last time you felt this way?”
“More than five years ago.” At least I can answer that. “When I left journalism for television.”
“And we have only one place to go now.”
I smiled. Of course.

12 August 2016

Stalemate

Raindrops hit my ankles as I breeze through the cobblestones. Looming around are ancestral houses painted new, in a street littered with kitschy bags and magnets and chic restaurants, where your words hung like the strong aroma of drenched earth. Fleeting, leaving to come again. As the wind whip my summer dress, I lose my thoughts to the heady month of our connection, the blissful haze of words and stares and everything in-between. I breathe out. And inhale. The earth fills me.
__

The cobblestones end across the church and everything begins to look like the present. Cars abound and turn in the roundabout alongside horses. Rizal welcomes guests to the famous dancing fountain and the plaza. Yellow bells bloom in shades of magenta and light pink, bathing in the mist. I whisper a wish. The skies remain cloudy.
__

They stand like military men under thinning acacia trees, beside each other, backs tied to a wooden carriage. They have the same color, the same stance, the same shape, even the same eye patch. The hair, shaved. The skin, thin coarse graying wet. A hind leg trembles. A front leg takes a step back. Release. 

Horses should be wild and free and beautiful. 
__

Often, I ask myself if this is the endgame, that for all the efforts and risks we are given this cul-de-sac. We stop, you and I, and I wonder if we had sights set on testing each other’s patience, abusing this almost impossible connection, shrugging shoulders over an impasse we see coming but did not evade. Maybe we willed, wanted this all along.
__

I feel the cobblestones again. I am back in time. And I realize, the past should be forgotten, buried in the abyss of receding memories. There is a reason structures deteriorate and history fades and civilizations disappear. Habits live and habits die. Like our words, slowly losing its meaning. 
__

I pick up a broken terracotta stone from the side of the road, its edges dirtied with gravel. I take it from its siblings and roll it over my fingers like a prized mineral. Cold and rough, I realize, and drenched, this stone I stole. And as I palm its edges, relief trickles into my body and pulls me back to where I am: in a land that retains the past for piece meals, walking with myself, under the crying sky.

Can we take a pause and then try again?