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.