October 2006

I used to read a lot of the Dragonlance books growing up. (I was then a huge Dungeons&Dragons fan and this anthology was its further indulgence.) There was this one book in the Chronicles trilogy titled Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I was more enamored back then with the image of dragons than with the picture painted by autumn twilight. The former was clearly etched in my imagination (honed by hours of fantasy role-playing); the latter was a mere abstraction. Manila was, after all, the land of endless summer.

Today, here in NYC, as I headed home tonight, I realize that I bore witness to what was written. The trees shaken by the wind blew what was left of their wilting green. Leaves littered on the sidewalk crunched upon my hurried shoestep. The many stoops once filled with noisy kids and their nannies were now empty. People tugging at their coats were rushing to get back to the hearth as the light in the horizon continued to fade, quickly and not faintly as if it were a blast of purple fire bouncing from building to brownstone. The apartment was already dark when I got in. I dropped my bag on the floor to a hollow thud, an eerie echo through this shut space as it contained the steam heat cranked by the boiler in the basement. I knew the sun was just on the wane outside but it might as well have been night from where I stood. I turned my blinds to open them and was met with the onset of evening. I flicked a switch and was swathed in the glare of incandescence. I turned the tv on to mute the silence and slumped on the chair as I ate my dinner alone.

Late afternoons in October offer their own slices at fantasy. There are no more dragons though. Only one’s own ghosts, nonetheless very real, remain.


Who the Fuck Am I?

(In darkness. Spoken or prerecorded.)

I am Chinese. (I am part of the Chinese diaspora.)/ I am gay. (At any point in my life, I always seem to be in love with a man that I’m not sure is in love with me.)/ I am a writer. (Once, after a reading, a man came up to me and said, “I didn’t understand a word you said, but your reading was very powerful.”)/ I have an accent./ I shave my head./ I have tattoos./ I am damaged./ I am a Joni Mitchell fan./ I hate my body./ I love my feet./ I am a cat owner./ I have allergies./ I am from what is known as the Third World./ I feel invisible./ I feel powerless./ I feel unattractive./ I am bitter./ I feel normal./ I belong to what they call GENERATION X./ I feel alienated./ I feel like ASIAN AMERICA’S bastard retard child./ I am in pain./ I have more closets than I care to imagine./ I have bad clothes sense./ I like fucking./ I like being fucked./ I like sucking dick./ I like swallowing cum./ I like red meat./ I am nearsighted./ I am uncircumcised./ I am vaccinated./ I don’t know my HIV status anymore./ I hate a lot of people./ I hate fruit desserts./ I like rough sex./ I have insomnia./ Sometimes, I think I might fall in love with Linda Rondstadt./ I want to know for sure./ I want to be loved./ I hate anyone who loves me./ I am drowning./ I am the day of openess./ I am a plague of locusts./ I am crucified./ I am bones and paper./ I am nothing but dust./ I am a work in progress./ I am abandoned./ I am fucked up./ I am totally fucked up./ I am a freak./ I am between worlds./ I am drawing a line in my skull./ I am sick./ I am recovering./ I am in recovery./ I am a fucking shit./ I am fucking shit out of someone’s asshole./ I am grim./ I am brain-dead./ I am a chink./ I am a fag./ I am ticklish./ I am violent when provoked./ I am soft-spoken./ I am nervous./ I am a butterfly./ I am a whore./ I am a virgin./ I am nothing./ I am mad./ I am a dog./ I am repentant./ I am baptised./ I am saved./ I am going to go straight to hell./ I am going to visit heaven just to say hello./ I am in need of something good./ I am the premature ejaculate of a cheap trick./ I am short./ I should know better./ I am a rat./ I smell bad./ I am not who I want to be./ I am regret./ I am remorse./ I am happy./ I am delirious./ I am cruel./ I am fate./ I am poison./ I need poison./ I need to be abused./ I want to scream./ I want to cry./ I am floating./ I am a boring fuck./ I am a vegetable./ I am a child./ I was curious yellow./ I am a burden./ I am repulsive./ I am the splendid parsnips./ I am the form of a mouth./ I am a dinner of lilies./ I am subterranean./ I lie like mad./ I am in agony./ I am spiteful./ I am baited with ambition./ I am baited with lust./ I am naked./ I am a black sleeve./ I am a cut sleeve./ I am the secret life./ I am the lines of pleasure./ I am mud and honey./ I am choking on honey./ I am drooling./ I am noise./ I am not a pipe./ I am the last one to be picked./ I am broken./ I am shame./ I am a blade./ I am sad./ I am empowered./ I am not angry anymore./ I am numb./ I am everything I shouldn’t be./ I am everything I want to be.

Justin Chin
from Attack of the Man-Eating Lotus Blossoms

I did something on a Friday night that my mother would be extremely proud of. I actually went to church. No, I am not (again) at a particularly churchy period in my life. I was drawn there knowing that the Jesuit priests from my old school were going to be performing their hymns that night. (I went to a Jesuit school in Manila and, back then, was enamored with liturgical music — don’t ask me why — of whom the Filipino Jesuits were at the forefront.) Also, the venue being St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit parish in Union Square, was inviting enough. I believe that this domed space is testament to God’s big tent on earth, where the faithful, both pious and sinful, come to meet. Xavier, after all, has always been refuge to Gay Catholics in NYC (as it is home to Dignity, the homo Catholic group) and includes in its apostolate a lesbian prayer group and an HIV spiritual support group. (In light of a Black Southern Church issuing a statement on the gay rights issue relative to the civil rights struggle to not compare the sin [of homosexuality] to the [color of their] skin, this church is most comforting.)

I arrived and sat myself on a pew, observing the many others who took their places. Here was a veritable crosssection of the transpacific parable — the jeans and t-shirt folk sitting together with the corporate crowd. I have always found it remarkable how this tropical people have adapted to this land of autumn and winter. I found Filipinos flapping their coats as they sat a sight to behold — Burberry’s dark tartan comingling with the nondescript black of Canal Street knock-offs. (I had come from work and my coat, Metropolitan View, Bloomie’s house label, sat indistinct on my lap.) Filipinos have always been a tribal people and here they were, on this brisk fall night, coming from all walks to gather as one throng, supporting their own.

So many were instantly moved by the music, flailing their heads and clapping incessantly. I sat fidgeting with my programme (and trying so hard not to be irked by the lady whose coat was brushing against me intrusively) and listening quite impatiently. Had the music lost its movement in me? I remember vividly how I was so captivated by it in Manila. Now, I sat listenting to it with my thoughts splitting into the recently-uploaded Scissor Sisters songs in my IPod. Maybe it was because the singing really wasn’t that exceptional (except for the two religious women from the Cenacle who were quite divine.) But this was already expected as issued from the disclaimer noted by one of the priests (who I realized used to be my spiritual director — yes, I used to go for spiritual direction) at the start when he said that they were not professional singers but simply people who wanted to share their music across the Pacific. Then, again, I wasn’t paying $113.25 to see A Chorus Line (which I did see last week and was so moved by that I had to buy both soundtracks – the original and the new cast recording — where I realized that everything else was sung better at the original except for Natalie Cortez who did a way better Diana than Priscilla Lopez. I had never seen ACL on stage before and am now a new convert to the Michael Bennett fan club. But I digress.) I was only donating $20 to a worthwhile cause (which I realized was over a tenth of a tenth of the cost to build a house in the Philippines as shown through a video showing the work of a charitable organization who was going to be one of the concert’s beneficiaries.)

I asked myself why I had come as I sat quite frustrated during the seemingly endless intermission. (It was already 8:30 and I haven’t even had dinner yet.) I realized that I had been so pampered by Broadway theater that I now sit through every performance wanting to be entertained to an excellent standard. Sound and structure were critical forms if they came on a stage. Here was a bare altar with 3 microphones and 10 spirited singers. They had come to do more than entertain, to be more than a spectacle; they had come to affect on a visceral level. I grappled with what it meant for me to come to the concert as I realized that the music had lost its grip on me. I don’t think it was because I was any less spiritual. (To the contrary, I think I have remained sane in this most mundane city because I have continued to make sense of my daily struggles beyond the lens of the material and the superficial. There is always a greater mystery that I continue to grapple with.) I figured it was because I was less of a believer, more of a skeptic, much of a cynic. I am much more guarded these days, and rightfully so. To trudge on in this urban jungle with blind trust is foolish, if not deadly. Everything, even liturgical music, is cast in a shade of doubt. This blanket of melodies sits with an agenda and I listen to it with cautious ears. I know it sounds scarily like borderline paranoia but that is how I do with who I am where I am — amateur critic and relentless cynic.

But I am not such a basketcase. There was this one song towards the end that battered at my ego barriers. I used to sing it back in school when I was part of a choir (among other things in that streak.) As the priests sang it, I was brought back to noontime masses in an airy chapel; classes in philosophy and theology in humid rooms; Saturday afternoons in the decrepit slums of Manila as a teacher; a year atop the mountains of Palawan, a Southern island, as a volunteer social worker. For a very short while, the memories that had already been so distant became fresh. The Jesuit Provincial of the Philippine Province (who is incidentally in NYC and came to the concert) summed it quite succinctly at the end when he said that the hope for the concert last night was to bring Filipinos back to a sense of home of which he painted 2 pictues: one of a country so deeply mired in corruption that has led to its people’s own sense of doom wherein salvation solely lay outside the country, and one still breeding hope in the faces of its young visionaries who strive to make the country better in the midst of so many insurmountable obstacles. I find myself having been on both sides of the picture.

I took the F train back home. But I knew that I had already been there for a few moments in that church at Xavier.

It seems so much of my life right now is engrossed in love. Or, at least, the media that I expose myself to discusses it. (Then, I really do have life outside work since this statement certainly is exclusive of the over 60 hours I spend in the office. There is no love in that cubicle on Madison Avenue; only a striving towards indifference in the midst of haplessness and ambivalent bitterness.)

I feel like I’ve been on the Love Boat these past few weeks. The cruise began on the week of the NY Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) where I saw Josh Walden’s dance review All is Love and Darius de Haas in his one-man show The Man in My Head. Josh Walden, a prolific choreographer, presents his comment on love through the eyes of three bright-eyed women who come to New York City for the first time. Imagine three Millies, one ending up more thoroughly modern than the other, each distinguished by her own primary color as seen on her outfit — yellow girl, green girl and red girl, in one show each pursuing a different story. The choreography is exquisite with its magic woven into the picture of the group’s movement as a whole (such as the portrayal of the city waking up to its eventual hustle and bustle in the beginning) as well as into each dancer’s individual image painting its unique own with the haunting original music (such as each of the girl’s sequences of infatuation). Throughout the show, the big city remains to be Babylon and the women encounter its cruelty in different forms from different men — the sexually unfulfilling scholar, the closet homosexual, the hunk-turned-rapist — leading into that one substantive heartbreak. But love, and not heartbreak, has the final say. The 3 women reunite in the end and find comfort in their friendship as the cycle of love and loss goes on with them continuing on to new relationships and new women coming into the city to replace them where they have left off. Finding romantic love and forging the relationships needed for it, especially in a big city, is most complex and in the event that one gets entangled in its intricate web of misery, there is always that most reliable love, friendship, to fall back upon and rise from. One is never without love as one is never without a friend. I wish Darius’ show was just as satisfying. I have always been a fan of his lush and smooth voice which scales all ranges (ever since I saw him perform in Rosie’s cruise last year). But his one-man show, which tells the tale of a young boy from Indiana who moves to NY, comes out to himself and to everyone around him, simply doesn’t have enough of the music to sustain a growing momentum throughout the show. The R&B rhythm seems monotonous after a while and, as is the danger in every one-person performance, the show falls into a pit of tedium. But Darius is a consummate performer and he gives into his (many) role(s) so much more than is written into them. I come out of the show relieved knowing that it’s over and that my story is shared with so many others. Now, if only I can have my grandmother turn out to be as accepting as the character’s granny from Indianapolis.

Those were Wednesday and Thursday nights 2 weeks ago. Tim came over Saturday night after his show. We woke up to Sunday brunch in bed of pancakes and maple sausage. We were deciding on a movie — The Blossomming of Maximo Oliveros was showing in the East Village but we felt like it was too much of a schlep to head out there from Brooklyn Heights — so we just stayed home and watched Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit as well as the last 2 episodes of Sex and the City which were on HBO on Demand. SATC has assumed the role of shrink (ever since I stopped going to one after Carter and I broke up.) (Okay, sometimes but very rarely, well-made and most entertaining animated films also fit the role if only as fantastic escape.) I feel like watching its reruns on Demand gives me reassuring insights every time I fall into a hole. I know it sounds pathetic that I turn to a TV series for therapy but I really love the show. It’s funny how I felt like I used to be Carrie who was always anguished by her own wonderful emotionality but now, I feel like I’ve grown to be Miranda, the no-nonsense pragmatist and career-driven cynic. (Okay, I do have to admit that I am Samantha too only in so far as she’s a slut. But I’ve also sought a relationship and am not limited by that one hunt for only sex.) I remember this line that Carrie drops when she breaks up with Aleksandr in their suite in Paris, how she is looking for that “all-consuming, inconvenient, I can’t-live-without-you” kind of love which the Russian wasn’t giving her as he lay wrapped in his own exclusive commitments. That must be the one line I love the most in the whole series. I love it because that has always been my fantasy — to experience, to receive as well as to give that all-consuming love. I don’t think I can say that line right now but the hope is that I eventually can and will. Tim was right beside me when Carrie said the line. I just ran my hand down the length of his back and he gently squeezed my leg. What cannot be said can at least be expressed in approximation.

The culmination of this cruising/rumination on love hit itself on Wednesday night when Tim and I saw Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell’s new movie, as it opened in Chelsea. I just loved the movie. The film was released unrated (and, since watching the docu The Film is Not Yet Rated at the IFC, understandably so. This was art most admirably superceding commerce since the only plausible rating of an R for a wider, more commercial and profitable release would have compromised so much of the integrity of the film.) I have never seen so much dick,ass and pussy as well as blowjobs, 3ways and vaginal penetration on the big screen until this movie came along. (The opening sequences were like the Kama Sutra!) What began as seemingly porn suddenly but never abruptly evolved into an exposition on sex which, ultimately, is love (whether you fuck either a vagina or an ass.) It tells of 2 couples’ search — one hetero and one homo — for love in each of their relationships and how these journeys find all four of them in Shortbus, a DUMBO salon/sexclub for everyone who needs and wants it. (Apparently, Shortbus is an allusion to the shorter school buses for the special children with special needs as opposed to the bigger buses for the “regular” kids.) I thought the movie hit its mark when it showed how urbane relationships have become so overly sexualized that sex, being the be-all and end-all of an encounter, leaves no if little room for anything more on the level of emotion. Interrelation has been reduced to sheer fucking devoid of the connection integral to ecstasy. The couples knowingly but unexpressedly drift away from each other as the emotional chasm that they have built between themselves grows. The challenge is in rekindling the connection if it was lost or finding it if it was never there and the breakthrough lay in the realization that it is absent or lacking or gone and should be found. Desire is the spark of ecstasy. Everything else that comes after it (whether a therapist or a sexclub or a 3way partner or a dominatrix) is cinderblock.

It was an early night for Tim and I. He had early rehearsal Thursday and I had a long day capped off by a Leukemia Walk I had committed myself to. (What began as an office engagement became a genuine commitment for me.) As I saw him off the subway, I found myself smiling. It may not be an all-consuming L-bomb relationship yet, but I am not rushing. I am more than happy knowing that I simply want to be with him.