Friday, June 23, 2017

The Hand We're Dealt

It’s been three and half years since I came to terms; three and a half humbling and amazing years of catching up with myself, in ways both positive and negative, but important and necessary just the same. Everyone’s story is different. And some stories, unfortunately, may never be told, thanks to a great many people in this country (and world) who will never understand that they don’t get to govern the lives of others or persecute them for their philosophies, genetics or upbringing. We know some of these close-minded people personally and some unfortunately hold high positions of power.  I fear that this dangerous aspect of free thought will always be at play in our global society.
Pride is about something different for everyone: it’s about celebrating the fact that it can be. It is NOT only about sexual preference. It is about acceptance and tolerance. It is about unconditional love. It's about identity and really knowing ourselves, but equally important and often forgotten, understanding one another.
It’s about the very freedom in our humanity.
It’s about a great many other things that don’t come up for me, because elsewhere, someone is celebrating in other ways for other things I couldn't fathom because I wasn't dealt their hand in life. That rainbow flag is hoisted as a reminder that we’ll “keep fighting for a world that fears and hates us.” And for the rest of the world already enlightened enough to understand that there are bigger things to worry about and deserve our attention than who you get to love, thank you for your support and rare emotional intelligence.
Happy Pride Month everyone, Happy Pride Weekend San Francisco, and please be safe!
Love to all.

Earth-Shattering Revelation #35: Abandon the comforts of trying to be who you want to be, and embrace the danger in risking becoming who you really are.

Current Music: Hozier - "Like Real People Do"

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dance, Like No One's Watching

Nearly a decade since the founding members of Parangal Dance Company assembled to establish the mission of inspiring the preservation of Philippine culture in the Bay Area, our family of artists has significantly broadened its reach and resources to continue that mission along. We have set a standard for presentation, research methodology and dissemination of the cultural artifacts of music, attire, dance, and ritual practices. Our endeavors are encouraging audiences to hear the echo of the archipelago's past and heed its present struggle to remain relevant and unhindered by global forces that threaten the health of its multitude of sub-cultures. We strive to honor what has been and is already there, setting aside unnecessary and extraneous invention that comes easily to creatives in efforts at true preservation.

I still feel so new to it all even now, often reminiscing the day I first witnessed the company's performance under the dome in City Hall, excitedly emailing an inquiry regarding my eligibility to join almost immediately afterwards, too nervous to ask in person. I recall the palpable anxiety of standing in the back of a packed workshop on my first night, not knowing a single soul. We were thrown immediately into the sequence of moves (we all now recognize as the Maguindanao Kuntaw choreography), with me fully cognizant of the long decade between that moment and the last time I stood barefoot on a cultural performance floor, during my time with the Penn State Filipino Association. I remember the warmth and passion of the leaders that commanded that room. I remember the welcome that resonated with the members who stepped forward and made themselves available. I shuddered in fear of my inevitable debut performance at Pistahan (I had to carry the flags). But mostly, I recall the relief and elation that there was this home-base, this available source, for the practice of Filipino dance and music by a committed group of talented and experienced individuals who may or may not have ever known what the absence of that in the life of a Filipino-American like myself can do to our sense of identity, lost in the great melting pot.

I really only craved a new social scene and a place for consistent exercise when I signed on.

But that's just not how the company operates. The family aspect demolishes any pretense or misconception that this endeavor can be just simply 'something to do.' Little did I know that my involvement would then pervade other departments of my life that I didn't know needed bolstering: artistry and creative license, time management, social engagement, community activism, and the honoring of our heritage. Inspiration flowed freely from an adopted commitment to artistic excellence. Education about our culture came, not only from the company's repertoire, but from its involvement in the greater global dialogue, especially with the indigenous communities from which Eric derives and adapts our vocabulary and choreography. Preservation results from the continued passion and integrity of our leaders and artists, in practice and performance. Discovery is felt even in the moments right before we hit any stage; the revelation that we can echo the voices of those far away who are ignored or forgotten, to create and be a part of something greater than ourselves.

And now, the company is enjoying an inevitable phase of growth through its series of tours that have crossed numerous borders, both physically and figuratively, establishing a profile in the global scene as a formidable source of cultural education. We have to recognize, in the shock of stepping foot on major and prestigious stages the world over, that it doesn't only call for our continuation of that mission, but also signals us that the mission is, in fact, working.

And so is laid the foundation for the sophomore decade of Parangal we are preparing for. It will be an investigation into the generations that will follow strong footsteps, a true reflection on the longevity and perseverance of this important mission, and a rewarding effort to continue being an important and resounding voice, in a world filled with noise. Happy 9th Anniversary to The Parangal Dance Company, and a special thanks to Eric Solano, the founding members and the executive board for giving us an avenue for our creativity and the space through which we can explore our people's rich heritage and share equally in their struggles and celebrations.

Earth Shattering Revelation #35: Get lost in your heritage.

Current Music: Lupa Sug

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

I Was Here

All creative work is inherently autobiographical. One of the most profound lessons I learned about engaging in artistic endeavors was my ultimate paradox: to at once not be married to the creation's artificiality, discouraged by its deconstruction, or obsessed with its inevitable destruction, all the while acknowledging it as a particularly important and unique lens for a willing audience through which to experience 'you.'
It's strange to think that as eternal as we might like to regard our souls or whatever essence we perceive ourselves to be made up of, some of the only evidence of the greatest creative geniuses out there are these material objects we hang in halls and galleries, or indefinitely hidden away in dark dry rooms (perhaps never to be seen again, ironically), created from the very materials we rightfully attribute as 'temporary.' I'd like to think that maybe someday generations from now someone will pull up a painting of mine and say, "maybe this guy was onto something." The dream.
It's self-indulgent, I know, but I reckon, a universal desire: 
To know that, at some point in this messy existence we shared for a brief time with all the other lucky ones, we had contributed wholly, fully and desperately, in some meaningful way.

Earth-Shattering Revelation #34: Change is the only constant.

Current Music: JJ Grey & Mofro's "The Sun is Shining Down"

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Quiet, Not Silent

I don't usually take the time to comb through the words I've written;  I guess I operate under an assumption that once they leave my headspace, they have no business cramming themselves back in.  But in the solace of a soothing cup of jasmine and honey tea and with the sound of LaMontagne's myriad heartbreaks offering a backdrop to my journey down memory lane, I open up my journal and my heart, preparing to revisit the ghosts of my past.

I find three truths.  One, I was an angsty, confused, sad, angry, happy and curious... child.  Two, I will always be this.  And three, things will be ok, if not now, then in time.  Always.

I offer three gifts.  One, prayers for the losses as of late, as I feel too many souls have left the Earth in the very recent past.  Two, more words written and much more often, to tell of things I experience, as I feel that knowing other's stories are important to the human condition and the development of a broader sensibility.  And three, to call home more.

I set three goals.  One, to find my faith in things again.  Two, under-promise and over-deliver.  And three, to tell you 'I love you,' and to accept that expecting it in return is something I have earned and am entitled to.

The crisp San Francisco evening offers a quiet ambience to write these words, as the pugs snore in unison upon the bed, beckoning me to join.  I think I will, because there is nothing better in the world than to sleep in a pile of pugs after saying hello to your past.

Earth-Shattering Revelation #33: Too many things live in our head, all the time.  And this is the way thing have always been.

Current Music: JT's "Mirrors" & Rihanna's "Stay

Friday, June 14, 2013

Finally, Peace

"I have to remind myself that some birds aren't meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice...but still, the place you live is that much more drab and empty that they're gone."
-Red, The Shawshank Redemption

The Saturday summer sun bathed us in the dining room as the sounds of "the young and the restless" quietly stirred in the background.  School had let out and our summer guest of honor was in State College to visit for the next couple of months.  From the kitchen, I heard the clammer of plates and the faint aroma of sweet pork and shrimp hung in the air.

Mamang Sulay was teaching me how to make her famous lumpiang shanghai today.

Moments into her practice, my fingers raced to mimic her movements, her tired and weary eyes fixed in a trance-like gaze upon her epic task at hand, to ultimately feed us one perfect egg roll at a time.  Each egg roll meant the world to her.  Her efforts, care and focus were invested into each equal spoonful of homemade filling, every dallop of egg and seasoning, every carefully cut square of wrapper, every lumpia placed on the stack...  She would roll them with that quiet smirk on her face, as if she was always remembering some inside joke she would tell herself to pass the time.

As she would guide me in learning her craft, I would feel the graze of her warm hand upon my own, guiding it with thoughtful and skilled precision; "so old already," she would say as I would run my finger along the back of her hand, upon the wrinkles that laid across it, each telling its own story. "but that's ok." she would then reassure, "that's how god intended."  As she would finish, "like that" she would say, as her fingers follow the automatic, familiar movements mapped in her head with grace and nuance, fostered by her practiced ritual.....And then she would giggle to herself as she observed me in my inadequacy, and correcting my own work.   And instead of cheapening the experience for me of learning the tradition, she always unraveled her perfect egg roll and insisted that I finish and redo it myself.  And in this practice she found solace and meditation, and stayed there all afternoon as if an eternity would be spent doing it if it took an eternity to finish and finish right.  She rolled each one as if they transported her to a world unfettered by the troubles of this one.  And that was her approach to important things.  She understood that they took time and though perfection could not always be the result, it certainly was a worthy expectation.

Though one of the strongest women I've ever met, she had a knack for creating the illusion of her own youth.  On those summers she would visit, she would have me help her give her hair a renewed color, hiding the years she had earned.  Hardly cosmetic, this was mostly to show the world that she was still relevant, when the world already knew that, insisting we acknowledge her still-capable hands through her heavy heart.  She always insisted on embroiling herself in family politics, even when they no longer concerned her; to see her family ever in turmoil was unacceptable to her.   Even in her age, she carried the burden life would unfortunately lay upon those more readily and easily able to carry it....

She was a true daughter of Claveria.  She had simple and pure sensibilities in a big, busy world.  And as small as she kept her scope, her dreams were always grand; to have all her childrena nd children's children happy, healthy and able to look back and respect all that came before.  To our Mamang, Ursula Llapitan Aguda, a restless and selfless spirit who lived her life never knowing when to be done raising her children and being present in the lives of those she loved and cared dearly for. The champion of mah jong, speeches that needed no occasion, daytime soap operas on lazy summer afternoons and the neverending fried-fish-for-breakfast, before she sends you off to elementary school. She left a vast legacy with her children, grand children, great grandchildren, closely guarded friends and her countless students all over the world.

Mamang passed away, in the company of her children, knowing the love of and remembered by the generations of family she leaves behind, and finally allowed the peaceful rest she has rightfully earned. Heaven is lucky to have her.  its easy today to focus on how she died....but let's not forget that we each were witness to how she really lived.

Mamang, someday, we'll all see you again, and you can sing to us your sweet sweet song.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Home At the End of the World

Twenty years is an extremely long time for anyone and for anything; the things that really matter, however, need time.  The best of us know this.  I guess I needed to take until the eve of the Mayan Apocalypse to come forward with the darkest, deepest I had; maybe I like drama, or perhaps the just the simple poetry of it all, but I certainly didn't plan it that way, no.  

It began with a question, "How much do you love me?" I asked, as the red wine swirled in my father's hands and their eyes slowly made their way over to me, expressions on their faces illegible through the veil of tears that easily formed.  It continued with a letter my mother took from me as I stretched my hand out to offer it, relinquishing that I wouldn't be able to make it through the whole thing if I had attempted to read it to them.  As I had her read it, my father sat still, contemplative, quiet.  The letter was an understated culmination of the collected thoughts, prayers, concerns, observations and confessions I had amassed all this time about this little aspect of me.  It held my very soul in its words and I hoped it came across that way, because in this singularly most difficult moment of my life thus far, and with every fiber of my being and ounce of energy I had left keeping myself together, I needed to stand by the words therein.  And it ended in quiet relief, disappointment, reflection, confusion, and finally acceptance and understanding.  I don't know if I had ever smiled that wide or breathed that deep in my life, but coming out to my parents gave me a second chance at not finally becoming what I wanted to be, but rather eventually becoming who i've always been.  The sadness they expressed in my confession to them was for the years I spent alone in this state of veiled darkness, carefully reminding me that they were still amazing parents, seeking to protect their child from a frightening, unpredictable world.  And though they admitted that the timing was perfect and that they may not have been ready for this in my youth, "nothing will ever change in our love for you," was their ultimate declaration, carefully setting the tone of my renewed relationship with my parents.

The world didn't end, and i stand here as the dust of my twenty-year long smokescreen settles and lays before me doors I'd never contemplated opening, and for the first time in a long time, I find myself having to be ok with not having a set plan; the calculating and thinking and guilt and constant worry finally found its end.  I didn't have to worry about the next step, and the step after that, and unfortunately for the longest time, steps even thereafter, for every minute, every moment.  I found out, after all the hype, questions, and lip service, and waiting through the moments that led to it, the world, in fact, didn't end.  When the time came, there was only peace.  Inevitable, unbelievable...peace.   Oh, and I guess that whole Mayan calendar thing was a washout too...

As the tears dry, I then ask myself, "what next?"  And I'm ok with not knowing.  And it has been so very lonely for a very long time being me.  I'm not lonely anymore, and I don't think I ever will be again.  And Charlie, I finally understand now how it is to feel infinite.  

Merry Christmas dear reader (if I in fact have any) and I hope for a moment this year, and for all the years, you've found some peace too.

Current Music: Adele - I Found A Boy
Earth-Shattering Revelation #32:  Know your worth and don't dare fall short of it in achievement or expectation. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Don't Fade Away

It's been a long time since I've written (it's been a year apparently), but don't think I haven't been thinking.  Because that would be wrong, quite wrong.  A dear friend started writing again and that got me to start thinking about it too.  It would seem that I only do silly things like write or go to church or take walks or any of these simple wonderful things when life is tumultously spiraling downward.  And that would be true, I guess, and I really need to do something about that.

When I went to church, it felt like home and it had been a long time since I've done that too.  I don't know why, but I've felt like I didn't belong in such a place for a while.  And that is all I will say about that.  There's a dog that has been staying with us.  She belongs to this family from the studio I teach at, and she reminds me a lot of Baxter, who I miss every day.  She is the same mixed breed, same in characteristics, same in behaviors, same deep, beady, wise, thoughtful eyes.  I miss that kind of understanding.  She goes home today, and I am more sad about that than I should be.  I've been reading the Perks of Being a Wallflower again.  I guess I've been seeking the company of another person who's discovering the world again too.  I imagine I'll read it one more time after this.

My brother and his wife came to visit this past weekend, and it felt like the first time I've really been with them wholeheartedly, completely open and honest.  I'm really glad they came.  We were at the wharf last night and we stood in line to wait for the cable car and I sang a song quietly to myself, as I always have.  The kind of song you sing when you don't think anyone's listening, you know what I mean?  Well, it turns out the woman in front of me was listening the whole time.  She turned around, gave me a glance and smiled.  I think she liked my song, even though it wasn't meant for an audience, and that was really important to me.

Some things I feel like I need to do are take pictures again, find time to be with the people in my life (whatever that means) and listen to more Ray LaMontagne, because he knows things most people in this world don't.

I am broke.  Broken.  But Happy.

Current Music: Ray LaMontagne - Burn
Earth-Shattering Revelation #31: "We accept the love we think we deserve."

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Brightest Star in the Heavens

The morning was bright, as bright as any morning ever was. The growing Los Angeles sun blasted through the large windows of the resounding airport rotunda as the turning of wheels and whispers filled the air and whisked any hope of a stolen nap far far away. The weekend with friends, carefree and filled with the feelings long since last felt should have been a worthy omen that things would take a different turn and soon. But as the universe so often dictates, surprises are more interesting, more affecting, more human than the mundane monotony of eventlessness.

Though my cellphone was on vibrate, it shook with disturbing fervor not once, twice but three times that morning during my trek through security lines and check-in protocols, and as per usual, I ignored it, subconsciously avoiding any responsibility over bad news, lectures and misplaced anguish. But as the third ring began to fade into futility, I picked up, more hopeful to stop the disturbance than to pay any mind as to the purpose of the call.

“I’m here at the vet’s Don,” Dad apprehensively declared, his voice sullen, surrendered and tired. “Baxter won’t be coming home anymore.” And I stopped listening and went back a few moments… back to the beginning…

* * *

As we passed through the threshold, the sickly rotting smell of cavelike moisture washed over us, reminding us full well of the inhabitants of the place: desperate and jailed canine and feline inmates seeking families to take them home and give them new lives filled with warmth, laughter, compassion, far away from this cold dead place. The floor beneath my feet, blanketed with an unkown residue, kept my walk labored as I struggled to remain unstuck, and from a quick scan of the place, too many animals had filled it clearly beyond maximum capacity at times, and in others reduced to an empty, quiet vacancy. The sad feeling of responsibility of selection creeped over me knowing full well that I would take only one and leave the rest behind and only possibly, but I couldn’t help but volunteer my rescue, as that was the purpose to this surprise visit to the SPCA. Our surroundings didn’t help Mom’s uneasy acceptance that we may come home with a new member to the family, much to her dismay and with the help of friend Joyce Labor, who stood close to her side, seemingly to catch her in her disappointment if I was ‘lucky’ enough to find … someone to take home.

My fingers leafed the bars that lined the far wall as I walked past, some with cold wet noses pressed maniacally against them, others held beyond them pacing animals, jaded by the failed premise of rescue, possibly already aware of their inevitable demise. My hopes were fading, as I neared the end of line of kennels, my fingers already slowing to a stop at the last few sets of bars. The barking was now resounding, back behind me tufts of fur pressed desparately against the bars hoping I would return and reconsider but something called me to the quiet, peaceful other end of the cages. Past the blur of noise, past the pacing desperation and the clawing clamor was a kennel that held within a ball of pale gold fur, two beady eyes poking through, almost completely covered in the shadow of these large, triangular floppy ears. I peered in, and he peered right back at me, quiet, reserved, curious. He didn’t seem disturbed by the din of the place, but rather slinked back into his world, his golden quiet world, in exhaustive and quiet waiting. And as I beckoned for him to come to me, my heart began to break; I wanted to scoop him up just then and there, but he wouldn’t come, quite possibly exhausted by the countless potentials who’ve come and gone to peer into those beady brown eyes that haven’t been open for very long on this earth (11 weeks that day the little paper said, neatly fastened to the bars). And as I pressed my fingers against the bars of his cell one more time in begging hope that he would come to me, I let go, and began to retreat, resolved that I didn’t want to take a dog home that didn’t want me to.

Only a few steps back I took, before he quietly came upon the bars, and quietly stuck his little beagle nose out to finally meet me. I returned to him, and held my face so close to his as his little beagle nose did its thing again and I could see the drying tears in his beautiful brown eyes. And he pawed the bars, finally, hopefully, desperately, longingly with furry paws that were still much too big for his body. The little gold beagle-lab puppy with the white blaze on his forehead began to communicate.

I immediately nodded to the careless attendant who was clearly annoyed of our undeclared visit that took him away from his afternoon duties of cleaning up the frightful room out back. He opened the cage and scooped up the little guy, carefully placing him in the pen with the others as we watched and held a discussion that I barely heard as my attention and focus and heart were dedicated to him on the cold wet floor, struggling to play in the crowded little playpen. Mom said many things then, “no” was one, “why” was another, all declaring clear indications that she had no intention to pay more mind to the pup, and as her decision became more and more clear, I did the only thing I could do in my desperation and I picked him up and put him in her arms. His huge ears masked his face and his paws struggled to gain footing in her uneasy hold, but as he felt her warmth, a warmth he hadn’t known in so long, he quickly ceased his struggle and nested against her, welcoming the rest of sound sleep he’s probably never experienced. As he fell into deep slumber in her arms pressed against the steady heartbeat akin to that of his absent mother, I watched her heart sink by her expression. Important moments went by and I felt it in the air that this little guy was going to go home with us. With stolen hearts, $25.00 and restless determination, we rescued the little pup who indeed came home with us that fateful day and filled the next 11 years with undeniably indescribable joy.

* * *

He had always been the strongest of all of us. On his unsuspectedly final night, according to mom's testimony, instead of submitting to the pain of rest his body wouldn't relieve him of, baxter stood vigilantly on guard in his corner of my parent's bedroom as on any other night, almost to honor his self-imposed duty of watching them fall asleep. He spent his last night willing away the dull cold hours of moonlight, as if to bid farewell to his station as he knew his time was short. I’d like to think he grew deeply worried, not about his own fate but that of his family: he was almost done on this earth and in his stead, who will take care of them?
I came back to the phone-call. It was Mom now, recovering from a bout of manic crying, repeating her desperate pleas for reaffirmation of their uneasy decision to not take him home, like the beckoning of mad men recounting regrets of possible mistaken decisions. my only regret is that he couldn't in his final hour fall asleep once again in mom's arms as he did the day we all fell in love with him, so to properly give closure the only way i would have known how to give it. I don't think his or my mom's, or anyone's good heart for that matter, can take that kind of breaking. To feel his life slowly slip away in such a tight unyielding embrace. And with a strong sense of resolve, he allowed mom and dad to throw their arms around him one more time and give him a sweet kiss of all kisses before they lay him down. He took his final labored breaths that cold morning as they finally found the strength to leave him in his long-deserved peace.

Death is the kind of loss that suffers a complete detachment from reality … we harbor an all-consuming curiosity about whats’ beyond and whats left behind. We sit in empty rooms and walk empty halls attempting the unsolvable equation of someone being there one day and absent the next and asking ourselves important questions about the next thing and the fate of things. But nestled in these big questions are the smaller, more important realities. I lost my best friend, the only being in the universe who has listened to me and all of my secrets and fears without judgement or disdain. The only one who has never hurt me, completely trusted me and was always happy to see me happy. I feel alone in the world again…

Dear Baxter, You stole my heart and I'm afraid you'll never give it back you silly beagle poopy puppyface.

Earth-Shattering Revelation #30: Sometimes, theres just no closure.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Other Side

Flew in for the Baltimore Comiccon to promote Conquest Tactics after it officially launched. With the ConTact team, we spent the weekend signing cards, meeting new fans, being a part of something bigger than ourselves……finally, once and maybe the last time, on the other side of that table.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Big Bro’s Big Day

I tip my hat to those of us out there who are out in the world still lost, trying to find what it is we're looking for, and celebrate those of us who have finally found it. My brother and the love of his life were married today…

…and the world was right.

Current Music: Ben Rector - White Dress

Earth-Shattering Revelation #29: "To each, their own" in all things, and always.