One of my favorite books is When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza Holthe. Set in the middle of World War II, it featured supernatural forces with human drama. However, for me one of the more disturbing moments was when I read about the advice of an old crone to one of the female characters who was raped. The woman said, "You need to let this go. You need to let go of the pain and the suffering. You need to move on." Several years ago when I read this, I wondered how anyone could go on after having been raped. How do you deal with the pain, the humiliation, and the violation? I concluded that the advice of the woman was folly. It was wrong, dead wrong. In situations like these, it was excusable for the person to obsess and become bitter and be like that forever.
Fast forward to this weekend's POMO event held by KulArts. In the afternoon of April 1, 2006, a poetry reading was held at Yerba Buena Gardens. The readers were Marianne Villanueva, Jason Bayani, Barbara Reyes, Jason Reyes, and Joel Tan. There were several striking moments at the reading. What follows are my comments.
1. An excellent question asked by an audience member was why did Joel Tan use frank sexuality in his pieces. Joel replied that in anything, you have to put something out. The most basic of all things is one's own body. So, in his writings, he wants to show everyone who he is. One way to do that is to speak about his sexuality.
2. When Marianne Villanueva introduced her writing, she mentioned something odd. She said that in her writing, nothing ever happens. Nothing is ever resolved. I thought, "Then what is the point of your writing?" And after listening to the short story "Silence", Marianne was absolutely telling the truth when she said that nothing ever gets resolved. The two characters end up standing facing each other in silence.
3. Now an audience member who is an academic from Spain but was born in the Philippines (I did not get her name) later on stated a wonderful explanation for why the two writers above write the way they do. Joel and Marianne are creating a discourse between their writing and the previous literary writings of one genre. For Joel, it would be the gay literature. And for Marianne, it would be feminist writing. This explained a lot to me and my slow brain. You write this way because you are not in a vacuum. You are placing yourself in genres.
4. Jason Perez won the most amusing and most original doughnut prize. He wrote about the experience of a 12th grader in high school dealing with the inanities of life. But, the beauty of the writing was in the way in which Jason named the characters / groups in the story. It wasn't just the gang "Satanas;" it was the gang "Pinoy Sons of Satan." Watch out for this writer. He's funny.
5. After the reading, questions and comments were asked from the audience. I was struck by a statement from the audience. A student thanked the speakers for being beacons of light in a world of darkness. It was fantastic to see Filipinos as models of the community. The student went on to lament that he did not have an avenue to express himself at his school. When asked what school he came from, he said "UC Berkeley." This of course piqued my interest because a Pin@y in Berkeley is in short supply. What type of trouble is this kid in?
The readers however were very helpful and pointed out that there are avenues of things to try. There is Maganda magazine on the campus. And here, our hero-student said that "I am trying to break the he-he-hegemonic nature of Berkeley where everyone is white.
Now, having gone to graduate school where there were very few minorities, I was extremely sensitive to this issue. I myself have had some panic attacks when I thought I was not as intelligent as the other students who came from the Ivy League schools. But after much analysis, I realized that those students can be as stupid and dumb as anyone from Berkeley.
But back to our student who could not prounce white hegemony. I was intrigued by this perspicacious youth. After all, to use hegemony, let alone to pronounce it is a painful mission. But lo and behold my surprise when I finally see that the Pin@y student looked white. The thing that instantly popped into my head was "What the hell is his problem? He looks white. If I were him, I would use that to my advantage." Later on, someone also opined that the student could pass as a Caucasian. Let me be clear about this folks, the student is not meztizo looking. I mean he can really be a whiteboy from Georgia.
6. While the SO and I were eating at Naan & Curry, I happened to try and apply what I learned from Tuhan Joe Arriola. Tuhan said that one must stop reacting to things because reaction is a very basic function. What one needs is to be creative when confronted with complex situations. Tuhan was teaching about money matters. But I decided to apply that to life.
In the case of the Berkeley student, I categorize his statements as reaction. He tries out for parts in a play. He is given the bit parts. He wants the main acting part. The central character. But he does not want to be part of the support cast.
As the Spanish academic put it…"One, are you any good? Two, you need to be the best bit part actor. You can't start as the CEO of a company." I translated that to mean…Instead of complaining about the white hegemonic structure of a King Lear play, you should probably play the non-speaking role of the page first.
7. In the evening, the second part of the POMO / KulArts weekend began with a piece by Janet Stickman. In her piece, Janet discussed the child-abuse by a priest. I don't know if it is autobiographical. But, I would say that it is a great example of giving an audience what it wants. Drama about a pertinent topic currently going on in American society. The piece follows a basic business rule. To make money, give the people what they want.
However, at that point, the voice of Tuhan clicked on in my head. His words were "Those beginning their life's journey ask "What do I want?" Those who decide to go into business have figured out that to be successful in business, one needs to give people what they want. But in reality, to help the community and to help people, what is critical is to give people not only what they want, but also what they need.
And I have this wonderful revelation in my head. The readings and performances tonight were on the whole wonderful moments of giving people what they want. But also, to a certain extent, the readings and performances fail because they did not give people what they needed.
At this point, I would like to contrast the ending for Janet Stickman's story / piece and that of Tess Uriza Holthe. Janet's character obtains vengeance against Father Jimmy by naming him to everyone. In revealing his identity as that of a rapist and a molester, she has obtained vengeance for her eight years of silence and non-writing. The character injects Father Jimmy with the same pain and suffering as the character felt. And that is as far as the story goes.
But in Tess' story, the old crone advises the character who was raped to let the pain and suffering go. To let it be washed away by love. Or her fate will be that of the old crone, a bitter life dotted with envy of everyone else's life.
I look at the above paragraphs and realize that Tess' story gives people what they need while Janet's gives people what they want. In a certain way, Tess' story is the more successful story because there is a practical advice at the end of a very painful event.
8. I mention above how examined in one light, one can say that the performances fail in giving people what they need. But how can a person practically give people the things that they need?
One has to be creative. One has to create joy and laughter in the middle of the pain and misery. It shows people that the pain and the misery can pass. One can retell the stories of one's life to others who might be seeking others with whom they can commiserate. And one can break grounds such that white people begin laughing at one's very distinctive Pin@y joke of the barrel man.
One person who did it was Reggie Cabico. Energetic with a philosopher's mind. Poetic in the descriptions of his love affairs. Manic in his impersonations. Utmost misery in dealing with his mother's insecurities. Absolute joy in being a man who loves other men.
Reggie Cabico needs an HBO show. In one scene, he brings out the chocolates. He asked the audience their astrological signs. "Who is Pisces?" Then, he describes that particular love affair. "Pisces. You were the one who introduced me to your mother as your "friend" visiting from the islands. I was the flavor of the month. You left me on the JFK tarmac." [Note: I made the last line up to give you a flavor of his schtick. I was laughing so hard that I forgot what his love stories were.] I did remember that at the end, he asked, "Who's a slut? ….You, the slut do not get candy because you are a one night stand."
9. In this world in which everyone is taught that they are special and that they will do something special in the world, the hardest fall is when you realize just like everyone else that you are only okay. You are average. You will never be stage actor like Sidney Poitier. You will never be the singer like Barbara Streisand. You will never be the hookster who comes back from the dead ala Donald Trump.
The greatest challenge in life is what do you do when you realize that you have to work, earn a living, do things you despise in order to live. Your dreams in childhood dissolve into the ether. If lucky, you are left with education. If unlucky, you are unmarried with a child and a mother to support.
The average everyday people need a change in paradigm. A change in the way they think. A change in their opinions. A change in their decision to lead life. In short measure, what they need from poets, singers, actors and writers is the inspiration to change their life. Average everyday people want the emotion, the drama and the constant pain and suffering. This allows them to tell everyone else that they are special because they are undergoing this process.
But really, is grieving over your relative's death that special? Sooner or later, everyone does it. Everyone's reactions will differ. Some will be guilty that they were not good daughters. Some will be relieved that they are no longer responsible. Some will forever miss the bond. These are the only things that differ. Each person's reaction.
And it is in this that I say that the artist's job is to inspire change in an everyday person's life.
10. I was speaking with a friend of mine about the Maguindanao Masters touring the Unites States. She privately confessed to me her frustration about the lack of support from the Filipino community in bringing the fabulous musicians to the local area. Considering the fact that there is a high number of Filipinos in Los Angeles, San Diego, and God only knows where else in the East Coast, it is still very difficult for the Filipinos to come together and get our shit together.
In my mind, I had to ask the question, "Are the peole organizing these events in other areas born in the Philippines or the US?" The answer inevitably is that they are born in the Philippines. And that for me makes all the difference. To a colonized Filipino from the Philippines, the Moros from the South are not worth a damn. I can speak like this because I used to be one of the colonized Filipinos from Luzon. Simply put, the way that we are exposed to Moros is the way the Church colonized the minds of Pinoys.
But my friend said she disagreed with me. She mentioned that she thought that Pinoys can not get their shit together because they are not hosting "The Bayanihan Dance Troupe." If it were Bayanihan, you bet your ass the Pinoys would come out to support. Mainly because Bayanihan can compare with the choreography and the stage production of the Western theaters. The Maguindanao Masters exhibit true Mindanao culture of community music-making and celebration. The audience is part of the show. There is no separation between artists and audience. This makes for a very non-traditional show.
And to that I will agree. I will also agree that most first generation Filipinos from the Philippines do not have the money to spend to go to a show. To a great extent, it is their loss because they will not understand what Filipino culture is about.
To those wondering "what is Filipino culture?", I would answer it by telling them to go and see the Maguindanao Master on April 2, 2006 at Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco. Because to one extent, just because you or I fail to describe Filipino culture does not mean that it does not exist.