I was in the middle of juggling a million different things and my head was crackling with all the static that tends to roost and make noise when you’re juggling a million different things. But the lure of the Cebu International Documentary Film Festival (CIDFF) was irresistible, being a mash-up of two of my favorite things to do: leave Manila and go to a festival. Sitting inside an air-conditioned theater for hours on end watching films may not be everybody’s idea of a good time but it’s certainly mine and I’d take it over going to the beach or going to a gig any day. Which is to say it was a blast. And oddly therapeutic, too, as all the static in my head receded to a puny hum. By the second day, Manila was all but forgotten and my three days of jury duty have become, without bullshit, three of 2014’s best. Thanks to April Dequito and the rest of the CIDFF board for treating me like a King, and for wreaking havoc on my diet. Thanks, too, to my fellow jurors (from left-right) Ramon Tort, Gingging Dumdum, Janice Villarosa and Tom Davia. The time was too short, and hope we see each other again. Thanks, too, to all the people who said hello. I promise to write more, if only to remind people I’m still alive. Special props to the University of San Carlos. I saw the banner for their film screenings for the year. Badass programming. Always good to see film students moving on from Akira Kurosawa and Chalie Chaplin. All told, we saw some pretty good films, some I want to see again (Hiver Nomade, One Minute for Conductors, Racing With Legends). I found a spanking-new Lydia Davis collection at the National Book Store near the hotel. And not only did I break my decades-old embargo on pork twice, I also lived to tell the tale. I may have thought it was the worst time to leave Manila but turns out it was the best. I honestly didn’t want to go back. Good times. Daghang salamat, CIDFF. Daghang salamat, Cebu. Sa uulitin.
A few months after the bang that started 2014, two bits of news, possibly unrelated unless you’re the sort who believes in cosmic designs, conspired to pull me in two diametrically-opposed directions. One into fear and paranoia and confrontations with mortality and stock-taking. The other into art and industry and adrenaline and exhilaration and joy. This was not some fork in the road. These were two matters I had to see through at the same time, on top of the usual hair-pulling and torch-carrying and heart-breaking. And the emotional push and pull of the past six months since then has been ambivalent, to say the least. One does tend to feed into the other, and chances are this synergy is for the good of both.But I am still in the whirl of it all, as things have barely begun. And there’s a catch in the throat with every whoop of delight that I have no choice but to regard, with not a little hope, as a blessing in hiding. Suffice to say that this could well be the Worst year of my life as much as it’s shaping up to be the Best. Take my hand, then, and let’s dance this mess around.
In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed.
Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart.
Be the inferior of no man, or of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.
In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it."
Bell Bottomed Tear, The Beautiful South
I love you, Briana Corrigan.
Stretch Out And Wait, Morrissey
I went to the desert to help shoot a film I co-wrote. That was two Januarys ago. Time passed and life went on, and on and on and on, an ambush of life, really. The film, A Brief History of Forgetting, is shaping up pretty well in post. The shoot itself, though, has become one of my many fixed points in time, accruing layers of nuance it didn’t previously have and which may eventually outstrip its actual meanings.
Those ten sweltering days in Ilocos felt as if I was on a super-vitamin cocktail, enthusiasm coursed through me like a current. We all came home worn-out but terribly sated, happy even. And whatever that energy was, I had enough overstock to somehow leverage it into a positivity I never thought I was capable of, seeing how, as a default, I have little acumen for it. For weeks on end after that, I had this confident grasp of the future, and I raced towards it with a forward motion that was motored by unbridled faith and swagger and optimism and fervor. I felt, in a word, invincible, physically and mentally and maybe even emotionally. And in many ways, I was. Months later, the malaise set in.
There is a litany of downfalls that map the coordinates from ground zero, which was the failed attempt to write a second film right after coming back from the desert, this time for me to direct, and the subsequent disappointment when it all came to pieces as the rampant industry in which I thought I was going to spend the rest of my year slowed down into a meander of confusion. Even before the soul-crushing pang that came as a result of disappointing myself had subsided, the first of many friends and family who would die young at an alarming, profuse rate died, just as my own game-changing health issues came to the fore, the first, and least, of which was the sports injury. Then, as if i didn’t have enough to worry about, I fell into the same emotional trap I always set for myself. You know what I mean. And here we are, in this swirl.
A few months after Ilocos, on the same week as the sudden death of my cousin, who was like a brother to me and was merely a few years older, I stumbled on the piece about Ikaira and the momentary lift I felt reading it in the thick of my grief, felt like a hit of clarity. I used to think, perhaps naively and foolishly, that the cosmos spoke to me in code, carrying a conversation through fragments of data it would embed in the folds of the everyday: comic book dialogue, bubble gum wrappers, news headlines, random snatches of conversation. I have since dismissed it as reckless iterations of apophenia and paranoia and projection and talking to myself.
But we do have a tendency to shape the pockets of incident that transpire in our lives into narratives, and hold it up to the same standards of story logic and coherence as we do narratives in general. And I was, at that time, pursuing one in the hope that it would make sense of the malaise, of the terrifying and complicated confrontations with mortality and with feelings I was so sure of but beginning to suspect I shouldn’t have. Ikaira, or at least the idea of Ikaira, was the Hollywood ending that enriched it: a third act in a kind of Eden where life was slow and death was even slower and the land itself would rejuvenate ailing bodies into wellness, and there was copious amounts of wine and weed and sex and love, all with the right company, and by the right company, I had only one in mind. That was a year ago, give or take. Nothing has changed. People are not dying slower, my new normal has become maintenance meds and fitness regimens, the healing has not begun quite yet, the feeling still burns and the malaise is even more pronounced in its confusion and its hurt. Looking at a cut of Brief History the other night, though, made me remember how the Ilocos shoot was the last significant event before everything took a turn and also how my body and my health and my faith and my resolve and my heart were all still robust and unbroken back then. It took almost two years for the film to find its shape, which has been both frustrating and inspiring. The personal narrative that spun out of if is every bit as slippery a monkey on my back, as neither here nor there. But in the spirit of cracking the film, I am not abandoning it. Rather, I’m letting it tell itself and waiting to see if it does, even if all it finishes up as is an epistle to the follies we indulge when we stake claims to things, making up stories in our head and foolishly believing they were true outside of it.