reaping the cost of solitude

Sunday, July 05, 2020

My daughter hugged me with all her might

Two days ago, I was dealing with a problem with my father and mother so I was constantly on the phone with my siblings trying to figure out our next steps. I was visibly troubled and my wife and daughter noticed.

Out of the blue one night, my daughter (5 yr old) came to me and with a worried look said "Papa, let me hug you." And she just hugged me real tight. She was literally squeezing me and trembling as she used all her strength as if doing so will drive the problem away. 

"Everything will be alright, papa." That was the first time she ever comforted me and the first time she hugged me like that. It's a memory I will cherish forever. Later I found out my wife told her to hug me.

Hug someone tight today. It works.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Living in the Dust Bowl of "Average" When I Could Truly Be Extraordinary

I feel like if I list all my faults on paper I might overestimate them. Writing has always been an experience in hyperbole for me, never settling for "average", but "great" and "grand". Everything has to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum. It has to be either "the worst" or "the greatest" thing ever.

The above paragraph is an example of me overestimating. Which goes to show just how much I fear being perceived as average. Everything has to be grandiose, and everyone has to pay attention to what I have to say because I do not deal with "average". Whenever something evokes a feeling deep inside me, it has to matter. I am not impressionable enough to think mundane things are great.

But the truth is, I am an average person. Some people who know me through work or my social circles might think I'm a jack of all trades. I can sing. I can dance if I really want to. I can draw. I can write. I can play the guitar. I can play the drums. But I could not do any of those things at an exceptional level. For every talent I have, there's an invisible self-built barrier that forbids me from further improving in those fields. When I set out to learn something, I start with figuring out the basics. Once I do, I create something at least passable to me - and it's over. I am no longer interested in pursuing the next level because I found that at a certain point of learning something, you begin to encounter a steep slope to get to the next level. I never climb that slope. I meander.

I have climbed a few of those steep slopes in the past, but when I get to the next level I feel as if it wasn't worth the effort. When I start to really specialize in something, I have to dedicate all my time on improving those skills, but at the same time I have to abandon the joy of doing all those other things. It's a bargain I'm not excited about. I frown upon the idea of having to give up something just to be a little bit better at doing another thing. It does not sit well with me. So I stop and regress. I crawl back to being the self-satisfied jack of all trades inhabiting the dust bowl of "casual" and "average"- not bothering to muster up enough effort to climb out of it and be extraordinary. I do wish I could be extraordinary someday, but not today I suppose.

Black Panther: Despite Strong Performances it Suffers from Horrible CGI

I just got back from seeing Black Panther, feeling underwhelmed and a bit disappointed. It's a good movie with great characters, but suffered from poor visual effects, poor lighting, and an over-abundance of scenes using green screen.

My biggest problem with the movie is why Marvel didn't just shell out enough cash to film it on location in Africa. I found myself being pulled out of suspended disbelief numerous times when the clearly fake landscape of Wakanda is shown on screen. It was blatantly obvious this was filmed in a studio adorned with blue and green screens and I found myself glancing at other people in the theater wondering if anyone bought it. Wakanda itself is a confusing mess and not fully realized. My wife pointed out how it's shown as a metropolis at the start, but when battle breaks out, there's suddenly a vast expanse of desert with no skyscrapers to be found.

Anyway, the movie starts out really safe and felt generic at times but picks up once Killmonger sets foot in Wakanda and challenges T'Challa for the throne. What follows is the best scene in the movie. For the first time, there was real risk and the stakes were high. The one-on-one battle to the death between T-Challa and Killmonger was reminiscent of Achilles and Hector's fight in the movie "Troy".

The female supporting cast was great as well, especially Danai Gurira who played the ever-loyal-to-the-throne general. But this movie would not have been anywhere near as good if not for Michael B. Jordan- who played Killmonger with feverish intensity and charisma, even eclipsing Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa. 

While this movie had fake visuals, the performances clearly saved it from mediocrity. But even the otherwise good performances suffered from the poor lighting and CG graphics. There were scenes where actors seemed plastered on a static blurred-out background. For anyone to really enjoy this, you'd have to be okay with the abundance of fake vistas and backdrops.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Saddest Jollibee Meal in the World

We arrived in Ormoc, Leyte at 1pm and were immediately ferried to the hospital. There he waited. My dear grandfather, 94 years of age, lying unconscious on the hospital bed, only kept alive by an oxygen tank. His upper body swerved with every labored breath. The large nerves on his neck shifted with every desperate pump of blood from his weak heart. He was holding onto dear life one shallow breath after another as if only to wait for his grandchildren and relatives to arrive and bid him farewell. His eyes were open, but could no longer see. He certainly did not see my waving hand as we arrived in the room. We hoped at least he heard us when we told him how much we loved him and how it was okay to let go.

6:45pm. We were waiting for our food to arrive when his wife (my grandmother) noticed his breaths were getting fainter. She began to panic. She knew death was imminent. She frantically kept glancing at his body for a few moments then finally broke down in tears on my sister's shoulder. The people in the room began praying, and my grandmother managed to compose herself and joined in. A nurse came in and checked his heartbeat with a stethoscope and went out without uttering a word. We understood and continued praying. Another nurse came in to check on him. A few moments later, there was another knock on the door. "Jollibee delivery". Our dinner had arrived and we quickly paid the bill. We sat for a moment, defeated, and - as if to preserve any normalcy in that completely abnormal moment - we began eating what was possibly the saddest Jollibee meal in the world - right next to our dead grandfather. His eyes were still open but began to dry up and become opaque, his mouth agape. The nerves on his neck had finally stopped twitching. He lay completely still and motionless.

There were no formalities in death. There was no ceremonial 'closing of the eyes' like you see in movies, no climactic hug as life slipped away from his body, no music to accompany the somber atmosphere - at least not at the exact moment (Patti Page's "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie" was playing non-stop earlier). But in that quiet and strangely serene moment, there was his daughter, my mother, broken and tired, singing him sweet melodies as his life slowly left his empty husk that bore the scars that come with age; in a world physically cruel to people who overstay. He finally let go.

Ultimately we humans are miserable at death. But my grandfather lived a full life in 94 years. It was a blessed life he shared with his family, his wife, daughters and their families, and he continues to live on through them. He lives on through me and all fond memories of him will remain.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

I understand the simpleton mindset of Trump

In the wake of what happened in Charlottesville, Trump issues several statements condemning violence from 'all sides'. I was initially enraged and utterly confused how a president could equate racists and human rights advocates on the same level. But after watching this video, I now understand the simpleton mindset of Trump.

I think he tries to mean well to call violence as he sees it on 'both sides'. He probably thinks he is being fair and impartial for doing so. But his immense ignorance of racism, and what the KKK and Nazis stand for is just disturbing for a US president. These groups hold hate rallies against other races and are basically trying to revive the appalling ideologies of their racist predecessors: to discriminate, enslave, and exterminate Jews, Blacks, and other 'inferior' races. To be clear, there is absolutely no such thing as a 'peaceful hate rally'. When you wish slavery, violence, and death upon your fellow human beings, you are going to be met with resistance and ultimately, violence. People need to remember that we fought a world war because of this. Freedom of speech stops when you infringe on the rights of others.

This vast ignorance in Trump's part has emboldened racists across America. They feel represented in the White House when Trump appointed white supremacists to his staff (eg. Steve Bannon, et al); they feel empowered when the White House subsequently tried to legislate laws that imposed discrimination against muslims and other minorities; they have found their voice because the US president has, at this point, effectively vouched and enabled them to assemble and incite hatred and violence, free from intervention from people advocating human rights- or the 'equally violent alt-left' as he ineloquently put it.

In Trump's simple mind, what happened in Charlottesville was just a 'peaceful' rally of the KKK and Nazis protesting the taking down of a confederate statue- a rally that was suddenly and illegally met with condemnation from counter-protesters, with the ensuing chaos resulting to violence 'from all sides'. That is absolutely not what happened. Trump, being the ignorant simpleton that he is, could not comprehend the staggering significance of taking action against bigotry, racism, and hate during that day, and for that he is clearly unfit to lead any country, let alone the United States. It cannot be stressed enough: when anyone uses and claims 'free speech' to infringe on the rights of others, they have forfeit it.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Pop Music is actually getting better

Let me be as objective as possible. Pop music is actually slowly becoming better. You should take a look at 90s and early 2000s pop music, right at the very edge before the MTV generation went under. The industry still had so much money they could mass market worthless acts into any top ten countdown. Remember boy bands? They literally had factories producing these groups that could barely sing as long as they can look cute on MTV (Blue, A1, Code Red, Boyzone, O-Town, Boyz in da Hood, Westlife.... *cringe*).

Sure the mainstream was much more diverse back then, and some really good acts were in the limelight, but they did not outweigh the pop garbage that was continually spewed by record labels during that era. Once piracy started killing off pop platforms like MTV, it slowly disenchanted brainwashed kids into normalcy. Money quickly became scarce, and the music industry suddenly became nonlucrative. Pop music eventually thinned out, weaned into a select few pop artists as the remaining record labels carefully select their artists with much more stringent criteria. For one, pop artists these days can arguably and demonstrably sing! In fact, I'm actually having a hard time naming a current pop artist who can't sing. Oh, Chainsmokers, but they're producers first and foremost at least. But Britney? Madonna? Jessica or Ashlee Simpson?

*This was an impulsive reaction upon finding the video below, without actually watching it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Ransom Collective + Gab & John of Urbandub and the creative process

Yesterday I watched an episode of the Coke Studio series featuring the indie-folk group The Ransom Collective together with Gabby Alipe and John Dinopol of the now defunct hard rock outfit Urbandub. The series is basically about putting two completely different acts together, locking them up in a room, and forcing them to collaborate to create a new, original song. Both bands are also given a chance to choose a song from each other's catalog and do their own renditions. Overseeing the project is Raimund and Buddy from Eraserheads.

The Ransom Collective (TRC) is somewhat still a 'new' band despite having released several songs a few years back. The guys of Urbandub, being the seniors of the bunch, quickly acknowledged this, calling TRC the 'new breed' and stressing the need to scale back and take a back seat in an attempt not to ball-hog the creative process. However, this only seemed to put tremendous pressure on the guys in TRC - specifically the singer because as a result, he's unintentionally pushed to the limelight to become the head writer by default. There's nothing more terrifying than to write music and immediately have it subjected to scrutiny by your newfound peers. Thankfully, the Urbandub guys, while being supportive throughout, stepped up and went into a much more hands-on approach midway, and both bands managed to create a slightly awkward, TRC-ish track with distorted guitars.

The Ransom Collective, Gabby Alipe and John Dinopol of Urbandub and producers Buddy Zabala and Raimund Marasigan.

The creative process, in general and not just in music, is both scary and amusing. It's hard enough to express your ideas to your own band mates, but to have this strange band - these outsiders - tag along and actually see you go through the motions as you create something from scratch is daunting. No one can speak for TRC's singer, but most writers are hard enough on themselves. You're constantly looking for honest feedback while frightened to ask for it, and you're always questioning yourself. Am I doing it right? Should I do this instead? You present an idea and begin reading the people in the room. How are they reacting? Their body language? The worst thing that could happen is to receive condescending pseudo-compliments like "it's nice". You know, the kind that doesn't go overboard with praise but also not say "it's average" so your feelings won't get hurt. It's one thing to hear your closest friend say "it sucks", but to have strangers say it is another.

It's nice. In the worst case scenario, it means "your work sucks but I don't want to be a douche so let's just get this over with."

As for the covers, TRC did "First of Summer" while Cables and Space, er, Urbandub did "Fools". TRC's version of "First of Summer" was cute. It was adorned with the usual TRC embellishments like violins, xylophones, and vocal harmonizing that could make Lalay proud (former Urbandub bassist, back-up vocalist).

Urbandub's take on "Fools" was a highlight though. They managed to capture the dreamy aesthetic and the spirit of the original song while adding a new layer of hard rock to it. The original song itself was already remarkable, so it turned out to be quick work for Gab, John, and the rest of Cables and Space. Raimund and Buddy couldn't contain their excitement while witnessing the Urbandub alums at work, and harped praise over how "Cebuano musicians work". (Though I doubt the renowned work ethic from Urbandub and its ilk is still thriving in their hometown, since the alternative rock scene in Cebu is pretty much dead - along with its live bars. In its place - VisPop. But a rant for a different time.)

Overall, this series is fun to watch. On paper, it's a chance for listeners to hear their favorite musicians collaborate, but really - it's practically a reality show of sorts for writing musicians. Art, in general, is a delicate process. It's deeply personal, and it's hard to come out and share something personal to the world. While you're still in the writing process, it's sacrilege to show strangers your unfinished work, and you only ever show your drafts to people you trust. In this show though, musicians are forced to do the opposite. Regardless if you're working alone or with a new group of people, you will need lots of encouragement, honesty, and just an overall supportive environment to keep you pushing forward. Naysayers have no place in the room. Literally.

Catch the entire episode here:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What If / The F Word (Review)

What If - I've watched this several times now and I still can't see the connection between the title and the story. I heard it was previously named "The F Word", which I think made more sense, but it was later changed probably for marketing reasons - not that there's still any taboo in the obvious nod to the infamous cuss word used as euphemism for "friends". Which is ironic because if anything, this movie is devoid of sex, except maybe for some hard smooching from its side characters.

This is the first movie I've ever watched of Zoe Kazan (haven't watched any of her past films at that point) and of Daniel Radcliffe post-Harry Potter. Daniel did a pretty good job as the romantically jaded Wallace, a guy who's still reeling from a messy break-up a year earlier, spending most of his time grieving alone on the rooftop of his sister's house listening to past voice calls from his ex. For the first few minutes of the movie, I could still see Daniel as Harry Potter in a different movie, but the illusion quickly vanished as it went on, especially when he meets and begins his friendly banter with Chantry (played by the wonderful Zoe Kazan).

I'm actually surprised to find out that Daniel has comedic chops, not so much for his rapid-fire delivery of the witty script, but more so his comic timing at certain scenes- like the one where he's irked at being called an "asshole" by Chantry whilst completely naked and shivering at the beach in a cold night, or in the climactic moment where he was rejected by an angry Chantry after confessing his feelings for her, claiming "it's not like you caught me bathing in orphan blood or masturbating in your kitchen!". Those really had me in stitches.

While this movie has its laughs, it's actually quite pragmatic and grounded. There is no villainous boyfriend out to spoil our hero's advances. The conflict mostly arises within Chantry, the other protagonist in this movie. In all honesty, a case can be made that this movie revolves around and is actually about her - how she deals with this budding new relationship with Wallace, and how she balances this new relationship alongside her long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Ben, all while having a strong sense of morality while trying to be socially happy. That said, Zoe Kazan is a delight in this role.

Like Wallace, Chantry is sort of a loner, but while Wallace is quite transparent to the audience, Chantry is not. She's complicated and layered, even secretive. While Wallace has his best friend (Alan) to share his misery and anguish for being friend-zoned, Chantry has no one, not even her sister (who's busy with her own agenda with Wallace). Chantry is seemingly imprisoned by her relationship with Ben. She is left alone to her thoughts - and the film expresses her loneliness through symbolism, aptly intertwined with her profession as an animator. We see a flying winged caricature of herself throughout the film, always a direct reflection of her feelings and state of mind.

In all situations she takes the moral high ground, always remembering that she has a boyfriend and she and Wallace are just friends. This all comes crumbling down on that night on the beach. In her mind, she thought she could get away with a 'friendly' naked night swim with Wallace if she played her cards right. This immediately backfired when their friends caught on, stole their clothes, left them with nothing but a sleeping bag for the night, exposing the fact that she and Wallace are being egged on as a potential couple, and exposing her - despite the careful steps she took with Wallace - that they knew she could no longer deny her feelings for him. She was angry at the situation, at their friends, at Wallace - calling him an asshole as previously noted - but she was angrier at herself. She had clearly crossed the line and her own boundaries as a girl in an existing relationship. This scene was brilliant and also exposes the difference between the mindsets of the two leads. Wallace remained playful, but failed to empathize with Chantry at that moment. Conflict ensues. She goes home devastated, with a look on her face only Zoe Kazan could pull off, and flies to Dublin to be with Ben.

It's a delight to dissect Chantry. And yes, I could see other actors taking on the role. After all, this film is at its core a light-hearted rom-com, but I doubt they'd be as affective as Zoe Kazan. I've since watched more of her movies (most notably Ruby Sparks) and I think she's an incredible actress. This film also proved to me that Daniel Radcliffe could play other characters besides Potter. What once was an uneasy feeling when I see him in a leading role that isn't a Harry Potter movie now feels natural. And it helps that he's adventurous enough to take on more challenging and diverse roles (most recently Swiss Army Man). All in all, this film is enjoyable as a light-hearted comedy, but goes deep if you want it to.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Edge of Seventeen (Review)

Whoa. This looks like another teen movie, but actually is one of the best coming-of-age movies I've ever seen. This literally starts with the main character asking her teacher for help or she'll kill herself. I scoffed and muttered "not another whiny teen angst movie" but then a few minutes further you quickly realize the many layers of rhetoric this movie utilizes that in hindsight, her uttering the words "kill myself" felt more interesting than annoying. It kind of reminded me of Juno - if that movie didn't painstakingly try to be witty. I have to laud the script of this film. It felt really minimalist - not really using big words or speeches but instead relying on really simple dialogue you hear every day and I found it immensely interesting to see those words being used in the oftentimes awkward and silly repartee between the characters.

The 'family resolution' right at the end felt abrupt I must say, and is one of the weakest parts of the movie. I never wanted the momentum from the first half of the film to end, I just wanted it to go on and on - particularly the exchanges between Woody Harrelson and Hailee Steinfeld's characters (first time seeing her but I thought she was phenomenal in this). Woody's lines in particular had me in stitches. Oftentimes, you feel the momentum of the film go in one direction, but abruptly pulls you out of your expectations and throws you a curve ball. The irony in most of Woody's and Hailee's scenes is there's actual wisdom in the not-so wise words exchanged between them. This movie doesn't even seem to try to be wise.

Overall, I felt this deserved more than the 1 hr 40 minutes allotted time it had to come to a better resolution between our troubled main character and her family. I could probably watch a TV series based on these characters. Other than that, this movie aced it when it came to the script. Silly, hilarious, authentic. 9/10

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

How Pinoy Teleseryes Are Underestimating The Power of Music

I must say one of my biggest frustrations in teleseryes, in primetime or otherwise, is the way they completely underestimate the power of music. The producers only think of music as "branding" - you could even make a case that it's a blatant attempt to brainwash its audience by repeatedly playing the same track over and over until such time whenever people hear the song it immediately registers in their preconditioned minds: "oh, it's TIMY time." Even the title of the series is the title of the song! It's the complete opposite of art. It's advertising.

Personally, I think its an insult to use music in such a sleazy way, and such a waste of the potential music could play in the overall quality of a TV series. In OTWOL for example, it pains me to hear "say you'll never gooooo" for the umpteenth time when a more effective song could have been easily selected for the scene. And I know the producers, including the actors themselves, could have easily suggested the perfect song for a specific scene... but it never happens.

That said, I have to bring up Forevermore. While it suffers the same problems with OTWOL with regards to its soundtrack, I have to commend it for particularly using music to great effect in one pivotal scene in its finale episode, using "Sana'y Muli" by Pepe Herrera:

Obviously it would be costly to acquire permission to use a song like "Sparks" by Coldplay in a scene where the hero longs for his love, but why import when we have home-grown talent? Indie music is particularly effective for rom-coms and the indie music scene in the Philippines is a gold mine! Assuming the artists aren't uptight about using their own songs on a primetime TV show (which by the way is a direct side effect of the way these teleseryes have been reducing music to mere commercial clips for the show), the music supervisor could easily pitch and tap songs from Pinoy artists like Johnoy Danao, Clara Benin, or Reese Lansangan among others to add several layers and vivid colors to a scene - and most importantly only play them ONCE. The possibilities are endless. Not only will they be improving the overall quality of the series, but it would also give deserving Pinoy musicians much needed exposure.

Let me end this post with a song from Johnoy Danao: