Angsty


I know the seasons are changing when I feel the itch to rearrange my closet and change the kind of sheets I have on my bed. (I live in a studio so closet space comes as a scarce commodity.) My scarves and sweaters have been pushed deeper into the shelves and my shorts and short-sleeved shirts have become more visible again. My wash is tumbling in the basement dryer right now and, soon, my dykey flannel will give in to sleek cotton satin – and why shouldn’t they be?! For the first time in a week of record-breaking rainfall, I woke up to clear skies and welcome sunlight. My windows are pulled open and the blinds are drawn up; the sun subsuming my studio in its warm yellow . There are runners outside, with shades on and some wearing visors, off to cross the Brooklyn Bridge in tanktops and shorts. Belinda Carlisle is blaring in my IDock in the background as I write this in boxers. (I use 80s music to transit into summer, when it’s either 90s – high school – angst or the Beach Boys. Maybe Joni Mitchell singing California too.) Spring officially started a few weeks ago but this weekend feels like its first real blast.

I could have never expected this week to end on a bright spot considering it started very grimly. I found it really hard to work Monday with news of the Virginia shootings. It was really depressing watching the death count rise through the afternoon with every refresh of the NYT web page. Coming home that night and continuing on with my daily evening routine of take-out dinner (since I don’t cook) in front of CNN was particularly difficult. As the victims were identified slowly on tv (and, more exhaustively, in NYT yearbook-type portraits the day after), I found myself heartbroken and close to tears. (This brought me back to a similar, but even more cutting, weeknight 6 years ago when, after walking home covered in dust and soot, I ended up bawling in front of the tv, muted, as the indescribable carnage was recounted all over again in screen images.) I guess anguish is the mechanism with which to deal with a senseless loss. I didn’t even know these dead and yet I felt compassion with those they left behind. I was inevitably drawn to suffer with their loved ones. Tuesday left me inundated with a barrage of news and articles analyzing the killer and his psychosocial profile. (It was made even more awful by this unwarranted comment from a co-worker who, obviously triggered by the killer’s Korean background, said, “Look at [referring to me], he looks like he could kill us.” I know it was in jest since I believe I’ve reached that level of comfort with him. But I’ve since given up on the effort at trying to explain that not all Asians look alike – there are marked differentiations – so I just shrugged my shoulders and humored the comment off.) Everything was sickeningly overwhelming that day that I had to shut down my routine web newspages and just leave my Bloomberg up, reassuring in its white text on a black background, unfeelingly delivering hard news surrounded by stark, emotionless ticker symbols and mundane statistic. I realize that trying to understand what happened is aiming to redeem the situation by knowing how to prevent it from happening again. But how do you explain something so senseless as a killing spree?! Wednesday brought the NBC video packet bombshell with the killer exposing a festering anger at the environment around him, borne from a deep sense of inescapable alienation. Does this anger make this killing any less senseless?! Does his twisted sense of martyrdom, alluding (blasphemously) to the cross, somehow alllow him an ounce of justification? Does his ranting, now obviosuly heard, marked with poses of defiance redeem him from his (self-dug) pit of alienation? Absolutely not. The means can never justify the end. If a person has a rage against the consumerist and alienating enivronment around him, then expose the critique and write a book or something. Don’t go around gunshopping then shooting people. I can’t even find words to describe how sick that option is and how what happened Monday sickens me to the core.

Thursday is the unofficial start of my weekend and the night brought a welcome distraction. I saw Terrence McNally’s new play, Some Men, with my friend. Henry. (I wrote about him in A Sichuan Dinner from July ’06.) I luvd his Love! Valour! Compassion! after watching the film and seeing the play in a North Chelsea (?!) theater space production. I thought SM was staged really well – luvd the lighting design – but he must have been swept by the play and scriptwriting zeitgeist since this play unfolded in what has become the increasingly predictable storytelling manner of choice in recent time (since Pulp Fiction), the non-linear narrative of seemingly disparate yet ultimately concurrent stories. I thought watching the separate scenes were illuminating and fun by themselves, but I was underwhelmed by the tie-in in Act II (which this form of telling exacts more need for.) I even found one scene hanging – why was the solider guy in the wedding party?! Despite these letdowns, I still enjoyed watching it. (I always enjoy watching anything gay anyway. I mean, I should’ve canceled my Here! subcsription a long time ago but I still submit to its mindnumbing offerings that highlight a new cultural low every time I watch it. Case in point: Dante’s Cove.) I’ve found new actor crushes – Kelly Aucoin and Romain Fruge. (I’ve even seen Michael Kors – again –since he was just 2 seats away from me in my row.) I’ve seen almost-naked men acting out relevant themes in my life in a gay play that doesn’t suffocatingly focus on this guy dying of AIDS but, instead, consciously chooses to tell more nuanced stories that both reflect on the intergenerational lifestyles and celebrate the lives of those it reflects upon.

Friday, somehow, was the unofficial start of my summer. I took a summer share out in Fire Island this year. This is my second since I dauntingly submitted to one 2 years ago (and what a fun summer that was) and took a break last year. But, after realizing how expensive it is to just go out there on a random weekend, I thought that it was wiser to just do a share. I met my housemates last night in a Chelsea bar during happy hour for a meet-and-greet sort of event. I’m basically a cheap date so I was swirling after 2 cocktails immeditately after work. We talked about swigging alcohol during the train ride on the opening weekend (which is the second week of May.) We planned a 9-day cleansing and purging diet before it. (I’m sure I can’t do it ‘cause they claimed coffee was on top of the what-not-to-take list and I simply cannot go through a day without caffeine.) We spoke of just opening cans of tuna for meals and laboring through elaborate dinners; making Mudslides and playing beach volleyball; furnishing the house with either Ikea or West Elm. We spoke of guests through the weekend and “guests” for the night. Ah, yes, my gay NY summer seems to have already begun.

Now, I’m reveling in this bright Saturday morning, doing laundry and looking ahead at going with Eric, my friend, and his dachshund (along with his sister and mom) to Washington Square Park for the annual weiner dog festival.

Looking back at this long week leaves me with a divided impression of my self — heartbroken and compassionate vs hedonistically homo. I blame my Catholic past (and all my Jewish ex’s) when I start feeling guilt over (even a) mere indulgence in selfish pleasure (especially in light of ongoing tragedy.) (I guess that also easily comes as a component of liberal middle-class sympathy.) But should I continue to feel strapped down with sorrow? I’m sure not. I think the only way to deal with senselessness is to meet life head on (after a meaningful pause) and find renewed meaning in its usual groove. To remain mired in one’s interior grief and refuse to reconnect with what and who is around us is to validate the killer’s harsh indictment of society and his foolish submission to a final senseless option. To continue to move in it and to engage it is to take a stand for life and its being an undrying well of meaning.

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I was raised a good Catholic boy. I was taught the sign of the cross along with my ABCs and the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears along with that account about sin with Adam and Eve and the evil snake. I went to good Catholic schools and piously attended Sunday service. I took confession and received communion. I thought I made my parents and their god proud for a long time. Then, I moved to NYC and, suddenly, found myself reinventing the wheel that countless other people have turned for me since I was born. I suddenly found myself in a land of limitless possibility where, far away from the adoring eye of my parents and the watchful gaze of both loving peers and strict society, I was able to experiment with my newfound freedom. I reclaimed my Sundays and stopped going to church. I reinvented my moral code and moved away from the absolutes of sin and into the ethics of consensus. I did away with all kinds of bread and went on a no-carb diet and, yet, drank all the good wine I can. I now only knelt when I was giving good head to someone (wherein I wasn’t the one giving thanks to but being thanked for). I began to cast every tenet of my Catholicism against a shadow of doubt and, inversely, grew in believing in my power of self to actualize evey option that was available and desirable. I was both doubter and believer. This dueling of modes, or this paradox in duality, is a strong leitmotif in my life and I relished this specific one.

It was particularly heavy today as I found myself sitting on a church pew in Xavier, the Jesuit parish on 16th/6th. Today is Palm Sunday and I found myself in church.

I used to disavow my Catholicism. But, I have since gone back to calling myself a lapse, if not holiday, Catholic. I would go to all the big holiday services and sleep in on the ordinary Sundays. I particularly loved the Triduum (which is that axis of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve Vigil services) and have religiously attended them for a few years now. I was drawn to this period because it struck at the heart of my skepticism . Here was a church founded on a god who was born as man only to die in man’s hands and resurrect himself all over again as god. (I mean, this statement could easily have been read as any other Hindu legend if not for the Christian context. But, yes, I was raised Catholic and was brainwashed to be Christocentric.) There were themes of love and denial; despair and redemption; hurt and forgiveness. Hollywood cinema is built on these and, being a cinephile, I am helplessly moved by what is billed as the greatest story ever told.

The irony is that I moved to another Christian land (and not to a Buddhist or any other one) and, yet, I find it even harder to believe. (The motivation is also at issue here – do I genuinely want to or am I merely responding to ingrained habit?!) Unlike in Manila wherein you would think that Christ was Divine Providence to the deprived, here in the East Coast, you would think that he was raised in Kansas. Every hard-line Christian, oftentimes represented in the media by a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, spews hate in the name of the love of god. I am angered and confused and saddened and, yes, enobled by some of these mindless attacks who aim to strike at how I love and who I am. The god of boundless compassion, silent and unseen, is suddenly replaced by the god of abominable hellfire, as seen and heard through his ruthless and rabid demagogues.

I went to Xavier today to make more sense of this tension ( as well as somehow give better purpose to my 4-day workweek. The market is closed on Good Friday but not because of any religious reasons; it is in commemoration of the Big Crash in the 20s that led to the Great Depression.) I know I will come back on Thursday for the Washing of the Feet and Friday to hear the Last Words and on Saturday to hold Vigil. I return every year at this same time because I seek answers. Why will I want to believe in a god whom people claim says that how I love is evil?

Today, I sat and witnessed a line of initiates into the faith, adults who have chosen to be Catholics and who await baptism on Easter Sunday. They have chosen to believe. I looked around and saw people moved by both song and story. I, myself, am moved by this church where Matthew Shepard is a saint; where men with AIDS are given a haven for spiritual directoin in the Gonzaga Group (which is billed as an “ecumenical HIV Spiritual Support Group”); where gay and lesbians find shelter for their desires and solace for their brokenness. How am I to respond to this outpuring of faith both from priest and present and future laity?

Fr, Joe, the Jesuit priest who gave the homily, talked about how we are all victim and victimizer (in reference to the people who condemned Jesus to the cross and yet also wept for him upon seeing him bear it up Mount Calvary.) I have been both victim of my past borne of a textbook faith as well as victimized by my revisionist present. The challenge is in hashing out what is most genuine from what has been blindly held on to and responding to this newfind thoughtfully and faithfully. That is what I believe in right now and where my hope for answers in the future is built upon.

Spring is supposed to turn this week. Yet, I look out and I still see snowdrifts on the sidewalk. The weather is still freezing, my scarf , just worn, is slung visibly on a chair and my boots, still wet on the soles, are drying on the rug. I know it’s still winter and these conditions are not supposed to be unusual but the chilly weather and the snow have been more like the exceptions than the rule this season. The noreaster 2 days ago that dumped over 4 inches of snow on the city served as some sort of wintry interlude; a seasonal spell that cast a break from the rut of springlike weather coming too soon.

It seems that the recent weather has been sympathizing with my life, or vice-versa. It’s been exactly a week to the day (and a few days shy of the big noreaster) that I had my own winter interlude. What began as quite a spell has ended to be more like a curse.

I was hanging out with my good (gay) friend, Eric, the writer(who is not to be confused with my other friend, bi Eric), last Saturday night at Barrage, this bar in Hell’s Kitchen. We had just finished watching Talk Radio, Eric Bogosian’s play reincarnated on Broadway and topbilled by Live Schreiber (who gave a solid performance), and were catching up on each other’s lives when we bumped into Conrad, a 35-year-old software programmer, who was also there with a friend. Conrad is an Irish-German boy who grew up in Connecticut, went to Northwestern and now lives in Astoria. Eric and I were talking about getting glasses and there was Conrad, geekchic in his own (and recommending his optometrist). We ended up exchanging numbers and hanging out the following night. I had spent the whole day shopping for my chair and ottoman with Tim, and dinner with my aunts at a Chinese restaurant in Queens, when Conrad and I decided to catch the last showing at Angelika of The Namesake, Mira Nair’s faithful adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel. Tim and I had discussed about how we were not yet ready for monogamy but were content enough with each other to admit to not even look to date with anyone else anymore and, yet, that night, I found myself handholding with Conrad throughout the whole movie. We went to Mr. Black for a nightcap and, at 2 am, both headed back home to my apartment for what turned out to be a sleepless night. (We were in pjs and shirts when we lay in bed; we were both naked when we woke up.) I lent him my copy of The Namesake, then, walked him to his train back to Queens at 7 AM while I clung to my transit reading, Rupert Everett’s autobiography, as I boarded mine to work. I grappled with undefined relationship dilemmas (in between yield analysis reports and client conference calls) through the haze of caffeine, Catholic guilt and a cloud of sleeplessness all throughout Monday. If I knew then what I know now, then I would have simply spared myself the terrible hassle of having to deal with the unnamed conflicts. It turns out I didn’t even need to. I called Conrad on Wednesday to discuss my issues. It is now Sunday and he still hasn’t called back. After a whirlwind of a weekend, it turned out to be like any other no-strings-attached Manhunt hook-up; but with a movie and a sleep-over (and promises of watching a Puccini opera at the Met in April coupled with the loss of my Lahiri novel.)

It was so bizaare, like a dumping of snow last Friday after the temperature hit 69 degrees on Thursday. Totally unexpected and yet, the snow blanketing the city in white as if in a dreamy Christmas wonderland, welcome as it was happening. Now, there are only pools of melted snow clogging the streetcorners, murky and dirty. Snow has turned to slush which has turned to muck.

I don’t even know why these things happen. What I am left to see and hold (and maybe even try to begin to understand) is what had indeed happened and what lies in its aftermath. One thing I do know though is that sense of relief in realizing that time turning on its wheel will be moving me past this bleak winter episode and onto the bright clarity of spring shining in the foreground.

I’m drinking coffee right now while I nurse a sore throat. (My colleague came back from a vacation in Mexico sharing lots of trip stories as well as the virus he picked up while down there.) I realize I should be drinking OJ instead of more caffeine but I’m really excited about my replacement carafe that I just can’t get enough of home-brewed coffee right now (since I broke my pot dishwashing it and had to wait 2 weeks before some obsucre SF kitchen supplies firm delivered this pot from a discontinued Krups line onto my doorstep). Besides, after an unseasonably-warm springlike day yesterday, the weather has again turned to freezing today (since, after all, there still is a month left to winter) and lazing in with this warm cup o’joe against overcast snowstorm skies through my window seems the best way to go.

I actually haven’t been lazy all day. Tim and I had brunch at Café Luluc, our fave French bistro on Cobble Hill, that, to my opinion. serves the best eggs benedict this side of town (along with fresh greens and their yummy seasoned fries.) We then went strolling in Chelsea to look for a new chair and ottoman (or recliner, or chaise depending on my mood), for my apartment. I fell in love with an $1800 chair and footstool combo from BoConcept on 18th/7th. It really was twice than what I had wanted to spend (especially since the Ikea combo it means to replace is only roughly a 10th of its retail cost.) But its sleek, mod outline and hip, retro chrome base tugged strongly at my imagination. Tim persuaded me to defer the purchase and pursue further (albeit less expensive) options. But, now that I am home, I realize that I will end up going back to that store and buying that damn chair and stool. I know myself well enough to realize that when something grips at my imagination that strongly, then it is worth pursuing through.

Take in case this NYT article in its Sunday Styles section. Tim was still in bed at 9 AM (owing to his late night OffBway show) when I started going through the Times with my 1st cup of coffee for the day. I was on my second cup when I got through Mireya Navarro’s article, “Trying to Crack the Hot 100,” that basically posited the question, “where is the Asian-American Justin Timberlake?” It lists several Asian-American singers including Harlemm Lee, the Filipino-Chinese male from Detroit (who apparently won the NBC reality series, Fame, in 2004) and Phil Chen, the leader of an all-Chinese band based in SF, 8PAST, who all echo the same sentiment when posed with the issue of a dearth of Asian-American artists in the Billboard charts: what ultimately hinders their success starting from being signed on at the outset to being able to sell records afterwards is “the Asian thing.” Now, nothing tugs at my imagination more than “the Asian thing.” In fact, I don’t need a jolt of fantasy to induce the issue; I don’t need an outstanding object to grip at my imagination to spark it; I only need to stop and look at my life. I deal with the reality of “the Asian thing” on a daily basis.

I look at myself and see dark hair, slanted eyes and brown skin on a slim, lanky frame. I realize that race is a minute slice of the human genetic make-up and, yet, it seems to dictate so much in the greater socio-political arena. Desirability and power seem rooted in this basic physicality. I, for one and as an example, encounter an initial, if not absolute, resistance to a possible mutual attraction based merely on this overt trait. I know so many homos who don’t desire Asian males at all as well as have met those who generally don’t go for them and, yet, do allow for the possibility making my (if not another Asian’s) efforts doubly difficult. In fact, I saw Eric, a friend I hooked-up with after a party a few months back, online at Manhunt and confronted him when his profile listed that he was into “guys 21-35, generally thin to average in weight, caucasian and professional.” I remarked that I certainly didn’t fit that description. He said that I just had a lot of “charisma” at that moment we met enough for him to make an exception. I laughed off his response, (again falling back on humor as my ego’s way of self-defense), and yet, I knew that this was the exception that proved the rule: “the asian thing” really isn’t conventionally attractive. Also, this observation certainly isn’t homo-specific. I know more than enough ex-fratboys from my old firm who would go to an Asian masseuse for a “happy ending” and, yet, affirmed that they generally wouldn’t date an Asian chick they met off a bar.

Of course, there is the inverse to this equation. There are the rice queens who only go for Asian ‘mos. But I believe this is where the problem rises from. The fetishization of the Far East is exactly what fuels this otherness and its subsequent form of ostracization. The exotic Oriental beauty seems to always be that other; mysterious and beguiling. And for as long as “the Asian thing” is strictly orientalized, then Asians will continue to be an object of otherness rather than as a subject of shared standards. This perception seems so pervasive that it permeates even Asian-Americans themselves; issues of self-doubt and self-hatred stemming from internalized racial hatred pervade one’s consciousness. I admittedly went through this stage when I questioned my attraction to my own race. I have since moved beyond this issue but still know a lot of Asian men who don’t date their own kind. (I don’t mean to attach a value judgment to one’s basis for attraction since who you choose to have sex with or find desirable certainly isn’t a moral issue; but I do want to understand where one’s basis for excluding certain traits as benchmarks for beauty come from.)

Tim and I were talking about this article over brunch at the bistro. We both agreed that “this Asian thing” spills off the image of Asians as Orientals; the “others” who are submissive and speak broken English (and predominantly bottoms if they were gay) relative to the bearer of standard, the caucasians, who are dominant and articulate (and such virile tops. This last stereotype is highly-debatable.) Undeniably, every person of color live against the shadow of a socio-cultural stereotype. But blacks and Latinos have made significant inroads into the marketplace that Asians have yet to replicate. Understandably, entrenchment in history and a population majority factor into this conclusion. Diana Ross and J.Lo certainly stand in stark contrast to William Hung. Tim made an illuminating point when he recounted a theory that the American popular market sold itself on sex and danger. Hip-hop arists were perceived as dangerous and Latina booty-shakers sold out well as sex symbols. Asian-Americans, sadly, were viewed as neither threatening nor sexy. Until the current Asian population rate of 4% increases to something more substantial that allows for greater visibility with enough numbers to effect a radical shift in public perception that will yield a view that Asians are strong and beautiful, then Harlemm Lee will have to continue to toil with his day job as a secretary.

The article’s author though writes about a recording producer’s suggestion, that Asian-Americans should try to leverage aspects in their culture to make economic inroads instead of going through the mainstream route. I read that to mean that 8PAST should ethnicize their music (since their look already certainly is) instead of sounding more like Linkin Park (which incidentally has an Asian-American bandmember.) (Of course, it is different if you consciously subscribe to a niche market like my crush-fave, Jake Shimabukuro, who has a solid following in the Hawaiian ukulele segment.) I think this suggestion that reinforces “that Asian thing” will remain to be counterproductive in the ultimate goal of effortless (market) assimiliation. I don’t think they would suggest that Beyonce sing Negro spirituals. But, of course, Beyonce doesn’t need to. Diana Ross has opened the path for her over 3 decades ago. I can’t imagine William Hung to do the same for the next big Asian-American artist 3 decades from now.

Ryan Seacrest has been gaying it up on the E pre-Oscar red carpet show. I’ve been junking on this trash tv channel for the past few hours now and I think my IQ has dipped quite a few points. (There’s only so much that my brain can take from this idiot box and I think it’s reached the threshold with Ryan’s quips on dogs as pets with Jessica Biel. Who writes this crap?!) If I were not such an Oscar convert and a fan of good fashion, then all this bad writing would really be unbearable. David Carr in the NYT writes about the red carpet as being a conceptual as well as a physical space. Ryan’s interviews would prove this untrue if his dreadful Q&As were not such abstract concepts. (I’m not even getting to his cohorts – Mr. Fake Tan and Ms. Whiny Hiney.) Thank god for the green light at the end of this tunnel – Ellen de Generes on at 830 pm.

But, as much as cable tv brings me all this transient bad junk, its family in new media also allows me diversionary (if not sanity-saving) options. (I’ve just muted the tv – Ryan Seacrest is interviewing Celine Dion. I still shudder every time I remember her oversinging the Titanic theme song.) I have the web to keep me preoccupied. I’ve been exchanging IMs with Eric, my friend who lives in NJ.

I’ve known Eric for quite some time now. I hooked up with him a few months back after meeting him at a party in Park Slope. A nice Jewish boy in his early 30s, he’s going through finalizing a divorce after being married for many years. I’ve taken quite a liking to him, beyond the fleeting fancy of a fun trick, since I see in him myself from soo many years back. (Of course, he is also a cute Jewboy which really is right up my flavor alley.) No, I didn’t come out against the backdrop of a fraudulent marriage with a woman. But I do relate to his feelings of confusion and tense aggression at what is a new life realization. I listen to him talk and I hear the onslaught of life unraveling before his very breath. He talks about his separation from his wife and his splurge on a new pair of jeans. He chats about being bisexual and finding his new roommate who, apparently, also is. He speaks of being bothered by an unreturned phone call from this new boy he went out on a date with. Ah, yes, these are the first few rejections that will lead to that first substantive heartbreak. I can still recall my own memories of these experiences as if they had just happened yesterday,

Eric and myself go through our own red carpets every day. Gays (and the gay bi man) have to live up to this social expectation of good fashion. (I’ve known more than one homo who goes into debt for a good pair of shoes.) It gets even more amped up on the dating trail, where walking down 8th Ave in a good outfit is just as important as talking smart about the latest hip movie over candlelit dinner. I do feel though that the daily homo red carpet is better than the awards show ones. Homos can be tart but they are also often smart (as one is saved from E tv’s bad writing.) From the bitchy judgments that fly to the subtle stares of approval that are observed, the content in the correspondence is satisfactorily fleshy if not satisfyingly sensual. As the red carpet has its barriers in the edges of the mats as well as the velvet ropes that keep out the non-celebrities, the homo red carpet also portrays its own barriers. Some homos are more admired than others; other homos are sidelined to be on the outside admiring in. The Chelsea bar of well-defined muscles, a good home address and a trophy profession still hold strong. Eric is still working his way through this tension – having walked a few steps and fumbling at his pace, still adjusting to his new set of heels. (He is already working on bulking up and at purchasing a pied-a-terre in Manhattan; he is already a successful marketing professional.) I have happily seated myself from outside the ropes; content at viewing from the distance, with my bf, Tim, at my side.

I guess such is the key to the red carpet. It is never the end in itself but only a means to get to the real show. The goal is not to walk it but to get to its end, which in this case, is to win the approval of the target audience as one sits down for whatever show is in sight. (Yes, the date, or the bf, is also the treat that comes with the ticket.) The tragedy is to indulge in the illusion of superificiality and to keep on walking on it, dazed and lost.

Until Thursday, I can’t remember the last time I cried while watching a movie in a theater. I remember the first time I cried though — watching What’s Eating Gilbert Grape at a tender age and witnessing the death of the obese mother unfold. It must have struck a sensitive chord in me at that time (since I, until now, am certainly not the crying type) but which one, I don’t recall. (Maybe it was ominous of my struggle with my own mild [?!] case of body dysmorphia.) I saw The Queen two nights ago and found myself helplessly tearing up towards the movie’s end. It was during that scene when Queen Elizabeth II begins her humbled effort at acknowledging Diana’s death publicly starting with her viewing of the flowers on Balmoral Castle’s gate (where she holed the royal family in France for a week into Diana’s death, insisting on a private mourning as opposed to the British public’s clamor for a public one.) Alarmed yet grateful, I felt the tears stream down my cheeks as I watched her duplicate the effort, on a grander scale, outside Buckingham Palace, especially when she is astounded by a young girl who offers her a bouquet of flowers, thinking that they were not for her but for Diana.

I had been meaning to see this movie for a long time (since I’ve always been a sucker for any movie that the NYTimes critics pick and this was one of them.) Somehow though, my hectic and erratic schedule always gets in the way. But now that it’s Oscar season, I am more vigorously pursuing my movie sched. (Carter, my ex, got me into the habit of being a cinephile and an Oscar junkie. We would watch docus and foreign films at Film Forum and the old classics at Moving Image; then, we would always resolve to watch all the films nominated for an Oscar during the two years we were together which we never got around to accomplishing. I know feeling the sting in this kind of failure seems petty but, in hindsight, it really was another marker in the death of us, a big part of which were being [pretentious] amateur film critics and cinema junkies, together.) Tim, my bf, shares in my desire to actually finish watching all the films nominated this year.

I hardly knew anything about this movie beyond it being about Elizabeth II and now, an Oscar nominee for Best Film. (I’m sure I read the NYTimes review but since it came out a long time ago, the details escape me.) I spent my childhood in Asia and am more familiar with the preoccupations of Japanese royalty than with those of the English. (Do the Marcoses, the Philippines’ pseudo-royals, also count?!) A movie about Elizabeth II seems to tug at my heart just as much as a movie about another forgettable European royal. What I didn’t realize though was that this movie was about the Queen dealing with the death of Diana which was, practically a universal event. (I recall, still in Manila, coming home on a Saturday night with my brother, in front of CNN, telling me that Diana died in a car accident. I vividly remember being helplessly drawn to sit by my brother and watch the news unfold on tv.) It was a most interesting frame.

A friend has already dismissed the film as a vehicle for the monarchists and Stephen Frears, the director, and Peter Morgan, the writer, among their apologists. (Frost/Nixon, the play coming into Bway, is written by Morgan. I am certainly going to see it.) I really didn’t care for this angle. I cared for the portrayal of the human face that holds the crown. I cared for the woman who was cringing in her nightgown as she watched footage about her estranged daughter-in-law on nightly news. I cared for her in a hunter’s parka and boots driving a truck and getting stranded on a shallow river, allowing her time to gaze at a 14-antlered deer. I cared for her leisurely walking her colties in her summer home — okay, so it was a castle — in the French countryside. What I found most striking about this otherwise ordinary woman was the level of commitment she as a Queen is pushed into giving. She has committed her whole life, and her commitment is lifelong. The tension between her private beliefs (insisting on the funeral issue being a private one for the Spencers since Diana, after her separation from Charles and her subsequent estrangement from the Royal Family, was no longer a royal) and her public trust (which is to listen to her people who are clamoring for a public manifest of grief for their princess) was most palpable. Needless to say, Helen Mirren was the anchor in this exposition. (To say that she delivered an Oscar-worthy and winning performance is somehow still understating her phenomenal acting in this film.) In the end, her decision was most inspiring and, yes, quite moving.

Maybe I cried because I was still dealing with the death of my aunt and this movie allowed me a visceral outlet for it. Maybe it was because I was touched by the power of generational imagery — a young girl giving flowers to an older woman is heartwarming in its raw innocence. Maybe it was due to being witness to the unwavering hope for radical change in even the most stoic and most traditional of people. Maybe it was because of my own envy for someone like Elizabeth II who seems to have had an easier journey at finding her lifelong commitment; it was already an option that she was born into(, and yet, that she still had to accept.) Maybe I cried because of all these.

What is my lifelong commitment? I don’t know yet. At the cusp of a new job and almost a year with my bf, I am consoled knowing where my current ones are.

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.

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