27 April 2013

Letter No. 20

I have a striped green, black, and white dress with pockets that I like to wear only occasionally, when it's a particularly special day, when I want a little confidence boost, or when I have a meeting with a client on whom I want to make certain impressions: "I'm professional enough to dress well, but young enough to avoid anything resembling your suit."

I don't have a lot of clothes, so maybe that makes it easy for me to remember which shirt or dress I wore on a particularly memorable day. For instance, I can remember that the shirt I wore yesterday is also the shirt I was wearing when Cris first asked me out. It's also the shirt I was wearing two years ago, when my former boss told me that she was leaving, and I was going to take over (like I said, I don't have a lot of clothes).

I wore my striped dress the other day, on one of the longest working days I've had in a while. Something bad happened at work, it was nobody's fault*, but because I was the one who had to make the required emergency request, I felt burnt down. While heading out to meet Cris and smother my fatigue with Chickenjoy, I remembered that it was also the dress I wore on the day I described in this blog entry, which sounds like whining about Makati rush hour but really came from the middle of being burned down by everything at once.

I wondered idly if my dress could be cursed. But, I quickly remembered that I also wore this dress on my birthday last year, on one of the most magical days I've ever had.

Last year, after the last big fire, I also reacted differently. I wanted to leave my job and possibly even leave the country. This year, I just wanted to get some fried chicken and gravy and then go home.

Maybe it's because I was actually near home, and sitting in my office instead of slogging through torrential rain like last year. But for better or for worse, I've learned to care less.

There is only so much you can do when you're trying to do your job, and only so much you can control when, while you're a boss of some sort, you're not the boss of the unpredictable, unreliable factors and non-coworkers on which your team's final output depends. I've learned to set my jaw and just make sure no one can say we're not doing our job, even as everything around us is, well, on fire. And sure, I've made a few mistakes here and there, but nothing so disastrous as to merit punishment other than the mental beating I give myself. Nobody's perfect, and when you're juggling all kinds of demands, you're bound to drop something.

Maybe it sounds careless, but it's a result of having learned to care less. At some point, getting worked up about what's gone wrong is just beating a dead horse. There's a handy little diagram that I saw floating around the Internet a long time ago, and I printed it out and stuck it on our office door, right under a souvenir from a former colleague:

Over time, I've taken this to heart. You do what you can do about a problem, and then you don't worry about it anymore. It's kept me from losing my shit completely, especially on days like yesterday, which was even worse than the day before.

The people we couldn't blame* kept us at the office, fighting fires, till around 10 at night. I hung around waiting for Cris outside. For the first time, I was the last person on the newspaper staff to leave the building. Even the senior editors had gone home hours before our team did. The guard turned the lights out after I went outside. The wind blew cold and hard, and I played games on my phone. Then, Cris arrived, we got KFC drive-thru, and he drove me home.

It's no use letting some bad juju ruin a favorite shirt, or a perfectly good dress.

* It really was somebody's fault, but they got to wear the immunity necklace and could not be voted off the island.

22 April 2013

thing-a-week 16: tunnel book

This is my first attempt at a tunnel book. It was my original plan for part of an anniversary gift, but I went with something else instead. :) I'm not going to share photos of that, though, so you get this tunnel book.

The top-view photo is actually older; you can see in the front-view photo that the flaps in the back have been cut off.

Tunnel books can be flattened for storage. Some of them have cover flaps — which I guess is why they're called "books", but I opted to leave this open. You can read more about tunnel books on Wikipedia.

The scene, for those of you who may not be familiar with the place, is inspired by the Kalsangi golf course and its view of Mt. Matutum.

18 April 2013

Leavings 041813

These are just some things I've been thinking about; you can read through the whole thing or just skip to the parts you're interested in.

1. Through the Deep, Dark Valley, by The Oh Hello's

Annoying apostrophe aside, The Oh Hello's show promise on this debut album. I chanced upon it on NoiseTrade, a pay-what-you-what website, but it's also available on the band's own website.

The bible geek in me got a really big kick out of all the references in the lyrics — there's some Psalm 23 and post-Exodus Hebrew frustration, some Adam and Eve angst, and a prodigal son narrative in there, for instance — but it's nothing like any contemporary Christian music I've heard. I haven't seen any interview or post in which the band makes some statement of faith, anyway. The only obvious clue is "I Was Wrong," whose first line is, "I was born at the hands of the potter." But these songs about love, wandering, and forgiveness could apply to any other relationship, not just one's relationship with their God.

The best songs are open to interpretation. For instance, my favorite, "Like the Dawn," could very well be about Adam's discovery of Eve, but it could also be about a relationship that may or may not be doomed. In "In Memoriam", the mention of God, which the band capitalizes on its website, could tell you that the song is addressed to God, but it could also just be a passing mention in a song to a faithful lover or friend.

Foreign critics say that the US is having a folk music revival, so I guess The Oh Hello's hope to be part of that. Listeners might thus be quick to dismiss the band as copycats of the Kings of Leon or Mumford & Sons, especially on the songs with male vocalist Taylor in the lead. However, I hope you stay for the stronger songs, the ones where female vocalist Maggie is the star. It's not just because I'm female myself or because her voice has a lovely drawl, but also because those songs happen to be lyrically stronger.

I think the album could have done without "I Have Made Mistakes" entirely; it seems redundant right after "I Was Wrong." One exception to my Maggie-songs-are-better kick, though, is "The Lament of Eustace Scrubb"; Taylor's subdued voice conveys the plight of this Narnia character very effectively, while the lyrics don't give the whole story away.

2. "The Carrie Diaries" and wish fulfillment

I've never seen "The Sex and the City", but I like its prequel series, "The Carrie Diaries", whose first season just finished. I think many of the characters' actions and reactions in recent episodes are wish fulfillment, but I don't care. If young girls get their ideas about sex and relationships from the culture they consume, then I hope they're consuming this, because the lessons from this show could save teenage girls from a lot of pain.

a. Don't put up with shitty double standards for males and females.
b. If you think a relationship is getting in the way of getting good grades and/or being true to yourself, maybe it's time to revalue that relationship.
c. Great boyfriends don't pressure you into doing anything you don't feel ready for.
d. Overthinking things can ruin friendships and relationships.
e. When you screw up, don't make excuses or create unnecessary drama; just apologize.
f. Sex is not love, but if you're not one of those people who can detach themselves so thoroughly, it's better for you to do it with someone you love.
g. Parents are people, too — but they shouldn't dump their drama on you or use you as a go-between when their relationships are on the rocks.

3. Diverse casting

Another thing I like about "The Carrie Diaries" is its diverse casting: Ellen Wong (Jill "Mouse" Chen) is Chinese, Katie Findlay (Maggie) is part-Chinese, RJ Brown (Thomas West) is African-American, and Freema Agyeman (Larissa Loughlin) has Iranian and Ghanaian parents. Also, Chloe Bridges (Donna LaDonna) may have Hispanic roots; her real surname is Suazo, and she played a lot of Hispanic characters before playing Donna LaDonna. (I read a lot of Wikipedia, okay?) I think they just need to even up the number of POC males/boyfriends; there's only one, and he's with Mouse, the only other teenage character clearly identified as a POC.

Diverse casting and representation is something I've taken an interest in since the racebending debacle that was "The Last Airbender". It's nice when casting directors recognize that POCs don't have to play stereotypical roles, when they don't whitewash POC characters in the source material so they can cast the current hot young white actor, and when writers realize that characters can be changed to accommodate more POCs in a dominantly white cast. For instance, Mouse in the "Carrie Diaries" source novel isn't actually Asian, but casting Ellen Wong shows that you can have POC characters who are just as capable and valuable.

It's also nice when they incorporate a POC/biracial actor's roots into the story. Larissa Loughlin could just have been a fabulous black British lady, but her back story includes escaping an oppressive adolescence in Ghana. Kristin Kreuk, another part-Asian actress, commonly plays white characters, but in her current series, "Beauty in the Beast", her character Catherine is biracial, with an also biracial younger sister (played by part-Filipino Nicole Anderson) and a clearly Asian mother.

Actually, "Beauty and the Beast" also has a laudably diverse cast. Not only is the lead biracial, but the police chief is black, Catherine's partner Tess is Hispanic, and the new assistant district attorney is South Asian. It's nice to see POCs written as complete human beings instead of stereotypes, and it's even nicer to see POCs in positions of authority and power.

It's also nice when American shows recognize that POCs are Americans, too, not outsiders just trying to blend in. So, while movies like the "Red Dawn" remake and "Olympus Has Fallen" show whites as the heroes and POCs as inferior and/or untrustworthy — if not as the antagonists, plain and simple — "Beauty and the Beast" shows that POCs can be good citizens who live to protect the innocent and uphold the law of their [new] homeland. Catherine's mother appears only in a few flashback scenes, but it's important to note that she's portrayed as a good-hearted military scientist who wants to defend her country.

The best part is that nobody's view of the characters is obscured by their racial or ethnic backgrounds; the audience doesn't see an all-caps look-at-this BLACK police chief, but a capable, solid police chief who just happens to be black. The only time someone notices a character's race is when some jerk refers to Tess as "Diversity Barbie", but it never happens again and is clearly taken as offensive.

I'm just sad that "Beauty and the Beast" has pretty mediocre writing; I want the show to succeed if only for what it achieves through its cast.

I'm not the one to break down all the good things about diverse casting, though; a lot of this stuff I came to appreciate by reading Racebending.com. I can only add that while casting in American media doesn't seem relevant to Filipino pop culture, I'd still like to see the day when teleseryes don't use blackface, when brown or dark actors and actresses can play leads (who are not oppressed yayas or ignorant indigenous people), when Chinese Filipinos on the screen don't all have thick accents and care only about who will inherit the family business, when characters from Visayas and Mindanao don't just serve as comic relief with "funny" accents, and when casting in general favors other Filipino actors as much it does half-white actors. Throw in some good, original writing, and hey, maybe I'll start watching local TV, too.

12 April 2013

thing-a-week 15: Eush and Vikki's birthday cards

There sure have been a lot of birthdays around here.

These amateurish thaumatropes were my cards for former co-workers Eush and Vikki. I was supposed to see them Monday for a reunion/birthday dinner, but work kept me late at the office. Oh, well.

I will probably redo Vikki's, because thaumatropes are supposed to have the same background on both sides.

08 April 2013

Letter No. 19: Moonscapes and Postcards

My camera's pictures tend to look foggy or gray, no matter how I fiddle with the settings, so I usually fix the colors on a computer before uploading.

While working on my photos from the Easter weekend, I found myself pushing the saturation sliders farther than l usually do. Yes, it's a simple trick; similar effects are so used in apps like instagram that it can be cooler to scoff at them than to even think of using them. But when you like something, you like something.

So I like how a little desaturation can make descending through the clouds look a little lonelier, & a lot can make a swimming pool disappear, or a tree seem it's on the moon.

Oversaturation, on the other hand, can set quiet grass on fire.

And of course, there's the vintage effect, where desaturation makes a photo look older and overSaturation recalls the travel posters of the early 20th century.

Technology is a big help, of course; it gives me the benefits of techniques that older photographers had to learn with film cameras and darkrooms. But while software, whether smartphone app or desktop program, has been this big equalizer, it's also given me better appreciation for both amateur and professional photographers who choose unique subjects and angles.

Online photo essay feeds such as the excellent TIME Lightbox also gift me with access to photographers and photos I might never have seen otherwise. And when these lensmen and women are quoted about their work, I understand it a little better and, in turn, start to ask myself what I'm looking for within the frame of my own humble point-and-shoot.

Returning to saturation, I've also come to appreciate black-and-white better. Silence replaces fussing over correct hues when they are gone altogether, leaving only the subject as it was and how you decided to look at, frame, and remember it that day. By removing color, you see light, movement, & texture better and thus experience the image — interact with the subject — more intimately.

Perhaps because black-and-white is associated with age, it brings temporality to the fore of a photo. The lack of color makes me see the way my father's skin rests on his cheekbones; what that means can't be far behind.

In black-and-white, landscapes are starker but also more alien, more removed from you in time as well as space. Without color or caption, this SebastiĆ£o Salgado photo might as well be of something on Mars, and there's no real telling when it might have been taken.

It's an obvious conclusion, and others have arrived at it before: photos are images of past people and places; postcards to yourself from a previous point in time. The moment after you take a photo of a hillside, the hillside is already different; blades of grass, the branches, and the farmer have all moved on, into the future. How much more different will it be if you get to go back a year, five years, decades from now?

I don't always get to go back. In my case, desaturating, de-coloring my photos heightens the sadness I feel over leaving; it drives in deeper the idea that the images and their contents are forever behind me. I will never see the sea, the sky, these trees, or my brothers this way again.

It's a mood thing. My usual pre-upload process actually includes increasing the saturation of my photos, making them brighter and more alive, filling in the gap between fog and inaccurate white balance on one side and memory and reality on the other. I miss my family.

06 April 2013

things-a-week 13 and 14: Easter eggs and April's birthday card

I almost didn't get to work on something crafty last week, as I went home for the Easter break. But, on Saturday night, my mom asked Cris, my cousins, and me to prepare some eggs for the church egg hunt the next morning.

Mine are the island egg, the zigzags-and-dots egg, and the egg with the flower in the bottom left corner of this photo. Cris did the globe and some others (sorry, Cris; the globe's the one I remember best), and my cousins Paolo and Trixi did the rest.

As for this past week, it was April's birthday, so I made another birthday card.

02 April 2013

Letter No. 18

Somewhere near B Street.

I'm looking for home in the trees of another town. I'm looking at the sky above and through the leaves and wondering if it's as blue, or if, like the trees, it's just a shade of what I've just left behind for the hundredth time.

It's supposed to have gotten easier. But there are always corners of home I didn't spend enough time in, people I didn't spend enough time with, and things I didn't get to do, or do enough.

You'd think it would be easier to have your loved ones in one place, but over four short days, I've realized that it can just make your choices clearer and thus more difficult. You want to keep your boyfriend company on the bank rocks, but that means not playing with your younger cousins down-river. You want to hang out with your brothers in the living room, but that means not chatting to your lola as she putters around in her bedroom. You want to check in on your childhood haunts and remind yourself that the past really happened, but that means not being present with everyone else who stayed indoors.

Meanwhile, the future and the city are just three days, two days, one day, and then one plane ride nap away. And if you take even just one moment to stop and change your mind about one of your choices, or even if you don't, you will always wonder if you're making the good ones.

In the city, I look for home in shorter, thinner trees. I tell myself that good or bad, the choices were made, and mine. Cris says, "Hey," kisses my hand, makes me laugh, and brings me into the present. The sun is shining. Traffic is light. The sky, despite everything else, is blue.

Cris squeezes my hand, and I know that at least one of my choices has been a good one.