I’m about to sleep this time, and just as I am about to retire and ready myself for the tumultuous day tomorrow, I suddenly feel this urge to workout my fingers a bit and type in some paragraphs or two (in the hopes of gaining some musculature below my radio-ulnar area, or I’m kidding (though I am aware most of my attempts at humor almost always end up flopping)), which I am not quite sure will amount to anything that is worth your time, but you cannot fault me for being an irresponsible blogger or writer (as bloggers (at least most of them) profess that what they do is writing in its strictest sense) because postmodernism (or some ideas, more likely, by-products of modern society’s unabated theorizing) and/or some call it ‘God’ (also a by-product of unbridled philosophizing and/or faith) give/s them enough leg room to spew out as much rubbish as cyberspace allows them (me including) to churn, and considering the apparent infinity of this space, which is as huge if not more huge than the expanse of the physical universe, the production of garbage then is infinite, so is garbage itself, or rubbish as most English have more preference to call it such.
I watched my first live musical last night at the RCBC auditorium with a friend I met more than a year ago when I was still struggling in Manila (not that I struggle less now, of course I do, but at least for different reasons). I received the invitation from Gibbs Cadiz several days before to watch Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. I gave myself days to decide whether to watch something that might bore me comatose and end up wasting my time, or give it a try and see for myself if a Filipino production’s take on a Scandinavian playwright’s adaptation of a 1950s Ingmar Bergman’s flick, Smiles of a Summer Night, would work and not end up becoming a shoddy version of the original Broadway production.
And I believe it worked.
I am the least capable of reviewing this production, so I’m leaving it to the experts to do what has to be done. I got nothing to compare it to except for some live video recordings of popular musicals such as Rent, My Fair Lady, and splices of Jesus Christ Superstar. And a live performance is definitely not on the same plane as the limited perspective of a recording.
Furthermore, I would describe my taste on theater art ignorant if not downright crass, and on musical illiterate. I can count using my fingers the number of plays I have watch in my entire lifetime, so I thought giving a little of my time watching the beautiful Dawn Zulueta sing (to my knowledge) for the first time, with a man whose reviews on theatrical presentations in the metro are highly regarded, would not be a waste of time. So off I went to Ayala on a rainy Saturday evening.
And I am glad I went because the show didn’t fail to dazzle and nearly sent me to tears (if only for this part, I’d say it was an excellent production) when Dawn sang the lachrymose Send in the Clown.
The direction by Bobby Garcia was seamless, and the cast almost perfect (although I can mention some few miscast such as the character of Henrik Egerman (Felix Rivera) who sounded a bit too gay and confused to me and Frederika Armfeldt (Crystal Baranda-Paras) who lacked any semblance (the appearance, that is) to her mother, played by Dawn). And I am glad I went because of the conversations I had with the writer Gibbs Cadiz before and after the show that were as animating as the articles he has written on theater.
Upon entering the venue, I noticed that I was ridiculously dressed down, wearing my usual garb of unwashed (two weeks and counting) jeans with a huge rip in the left knee and a simple black shirt while the rest were in their semi-formal or decent casual. I was out-of-place. I looked like I was attending a matinee show at the UP Film Center. I got so much more to learn and work on in conducting myself in events like this one.
And I need to buy a pair of black leather shoes.
I was on a jeepney that was waiting for passengers in front of Miriam College when this woman and her beautiful, though a bit pensive, daughter climbed up the rusty and rickety jeep going to UP. I secretly took their picture together. The baby and her pretty locks reminded me of Heidi who is running about her Swiss Alps, hair fluttering and all.
Sometimes, the beauty in something strange lies on the fact that it defies comprehension, shameful as it is on my part as a moviegoer to accept, but I failed to fully understand the film despite its stark simplicity. The paradox is, the closer an idea or a thought approaches simplicity, the more profound it becomes, the more it evades understanding.
A week after watching the movie, I still could not understand it, still could not encapsulate the theme inside a convenient, boldly-outlined thought bubble. And that’s after a careful reflection! The aesthetics of the film La Teta Asustada (English title is The Milk of Sorrow, but literally “The Frightened Teat”) is an ‘allegorical’ one as it was referred to in the brochure released by Instituto Cervantes in Manila during its 9th Pelicola (Spanish Film Festival).
And to compound matters, I only have Wikipedia to help me situate the film in its context. This Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture nominated film in 2009 by the Peruvian director Claudia Llosa, which has a period feel in it, probably caused by the sepia filter or the general mood and its nuanced sadness, begins with a melodious song sung by an old woman. Eventually, the audience is confronted with a disturbing lyrics and bitterness of a dying woman’s heart who has been raped in front of her husband and was forced by her rapists to eat her dead husband’s penis.
This is a beautiful film that tackles the result of the atrocities of the 12-year war in Peru on the individual–especially women as well as their children who were caught between the warring government and the rebel Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). The film at first seems distended, unrelated vignettes of Peruvian society but these parts eventually form into its cohesive one-ness that center on Fausta (Magaly Solier).
The storytelling devices used in the movie are odd, sometimes approaching to scandalous hilarity, but there is nothing laughable about the film. The potato Fausta inserts in her vagina because of her fear of sex, and consequently, the fear she has of men, and the difficulties she has to go through just to bury her mummified mother, all these are reflections of her solitude and unexpressed sadness caused by the fear ingrained in her by her mother through her breast milk (but more through her disquieting, angry songs) while she was growing up.
While Fausta silently confronts the shadows that lurk in her psyche, the setting, the Peruvian capital Lima and its outskirts seem to have moved on, fully recovered, and free from any signs of the a painful past. This contradiction, the contrast between the bleak landscape and the beautiful Fausta, the happy people and the deeply but quietly fearful Fausta all created a film that haunts, that leaves a bitter aftertaste, but that gives its audience a better understanding of unknown realities hard to understand, much less confront.
Llosa kept herself from going into the realm of hard-core psychologizing by giving the audience only the surface to rub, but by so doing penetrating the depth of Fausta’s fears and the mysterious terrains of her mind.
I may not have fully understood the film until now, which I shamefully admit, but that’s where I think the reason why I find this film beautiful and poetic.
Not that I expected it to end in a different way, but my first semester teaching at the Ateneo de Manila ended yesterday as garb-less as I have always wanted it. I gave my students their final writing activity before their final paper, and off I left, in a hurry as usual.
I was wearing my orange shirt, a collared plaid. It’s been a while since I wore a cotton long-sleeved shirt, a radical departure from the simple tees and well-worn pairs of Levi’s and Converse that I donned during regular class meetings this semester. But since yesterday was my last day of lectures, I thought of enduring the discomfort of wearing the orange long-sleeved top on a crammed train coach and doing a little bit extra (like how how marketing experts refer to it) by appearing quite presentable for my students.
My transfer from UP to Ateneo was a major career move I didn’t have enough time to ponder upon as I needed to come up with a good decision by the last week of summer of this year. Not long after, I already found myself teaching (a bit jittery at first) in a university I did not even consider going to when I was still a baffled high school senior. Firstly, I knew then it was an expensive school to study in; secondly, Manila was too far; and thirdly, my options were limited then.
Being a responsible young adult now and not wanting to anymore rely on my parents for food and rent, the choice for me were only between working and going hungry. The latter was very attractive and admittedly tempting, but my better judgment told me that to the former I must go.
I felt I did not give myself enough time to adjust to the new environment, the schedule, the people, and most especially the culture of Ateneo. But whoever was given the luxury of adjusting? I mustered all courage to transition as fast as I could during the past awkward five months. I saw myself clumsily climbing the platform every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, delivering lectures, moderating discussions, and hinting on the superiority of several schools of thoughts I passionately believe in. In my sometimes rapid speeches but most often constrained bombast, I would often catch my mind introspecting and throwing, up until now, unanswered questions of whether I was doing enough, whether this really is the job I want to be doing until I would be too old to think it shameful to consider changing careers, or whether I am good enough for this job.
I remember a German friend of mine who at 27 started teaching at a university in Germany. She told me how she sometimes felt unsure of herself and unsure her students understood the things she said in class. Teaching at a university halfway around the world, I didn’t know young teachers like us could share similar experience and opinions of ourselves and our job.
We both have very little experience in teaching, but we can only be better teachers through experience, but how do we gain experience? We teach. I guess, this is the dilemma of young people who chose to, or by circumstance, do teaching as a profession.
One of my very inquisitive students asked me several meetings ago why I require them to have all their activities so far written by hand. My reply was pragmatic: writing by hand minimizes the tendency of succumbing to the temptation of plagiarism, conscious or not. I kept myself from telling them that my reason is more romantic than practical. Two, three years from now, when they graduate and leave school, hardly will they have a chance to write with their hand using a pen. If only I could let them hold on to that beautiful feeling of holding a pen, immortalizing their thoughts on a piece of paper, and one day unearthing those pieces of paper from college stored in a forgotten box and rediscovering something they have long lost.
If it is a consolation, I truly love what I am doing. I remain a happy, young man.
In November, a new semester will commence. I shall continue teaching at the Ateneo while taking graduate degree in Journalism at UP. The idea scares me as I have two other jobs now aside from this one in Ateneo. And as it is, I barely am able to maintain all three of them in a state of homeostasis. But I’ll give it a try. I’ll get sick. I’ll be downtrodden. I’ll refuse believing and start doubting myself along the way. But people in their twenties find these things, these thoughts exciting. They love wallowing in their fears and endless self-doubt. I am a man in my twenties, and I find nothing wrong with these. I am living a full life.
I know I have not maxed out my potentials yet. I want to know where the limits lie.
The semester is coming to an end but this means not a carefree vacation by the beach or spending three weeks in my hometown with my doting parents. There are stacks of student papers to check and grades to solve, not to mention my two other jobs that do not place any premium on vacations (at least they make me financially comfortable, to say the obvious).
A vacation is an illusion I’d rather not give much heed to or I’ll only end up having heartaches and bitter feelings.
Probably, a weekend escape to the north or to a deserted island in the south will not hurt much. Meanwhile, my only hope is to have my classes in the university be over and done with.