Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Detached Episode

(McVie’s note: My apologies to those who have previously read this. Part of the joy of writing is not knowing when inspiration will strike. After I posted the episode below, I left for home. Actually I went to the bathhouse, had sex a couple of times, and then went home. It was on the drive back home that I realized there was a missing “portion” in The Detached Episode. Now I’ve included it here. To those who have previously read this episode, please do plod through it again. And to those who are reading this for the first time, lucky you.)

* * * * *

I think it was during grade seven that I watched Sa Kaharian Ng Araw (In the Kingdom of the Sun), a play written in the 70s by Mr. Onofre Pagsanghan and several of his students at that time. The Dulaang Sibol production made a huge impact on me at that time because of its story and its staging.

Kaharian is about two friends, Ponce and Paulo, who journey through different kingdoms on their way to the Kingdom of the Sun. The two friends have different reasons for embarking on the journey: Ponce for fame and fortune, Paolo for his friend. To go through the kingdoms of Rain, Wind and Darkness/Night, the two have to make sacrifices and give things up. The sacrifices become more difficult as they get closer to their goal. Paulo, the loyal and supportive friend, is forced to give up an item closest to his heart, his guitar. At the Kingdom of Darkness/Night, Paulo is forced to make the supreme sacrifice; he stays behind so that Ponce can reach his goal. When Ponce arrives at the Kingdom of the Sun, he is shocked to find it empty; the only occupant is the lone Sun King who’s been dying to pass on his crown and his empty kingdom to the rightful heir—the one who reaches the Kingdom by sacrificing everything and everyone in the process. The last line uttered in the play is by Ponce who screams, “Hungkag!” (“Empty!”) as he falls to the ground.

Sibol is a high school theater group with a limited budget but with unlimited creativity. The whole production ingeniously used existing materials to fashion costumes and sets that were not realistic but rather evocative. Thus long strips of blue cloth became a river, thin black cloth became curtains of darkness, while strips of long white cloth were stretched and shaken to evoke the power of the wind.

When I was in third year high school, Mr. Pagsi decided to restage Kaharian. From a wide-eyed spectator who fell in love with the play, I was now part of it. I was in the koro with the rest of the undergraduates; the major roles were given to the seniors as per Sibol tradition. But I was happy to just be able to sing the songs and be part of creating that magic onstage that moved the audience.

* * * * *

I consider myself a man of modest ambitions.

I’ve always wanted to act onstage; I’ve done that several times, even surpassing my modest expectations. Heck, I never aimed to perform on the CCP stage and upstage the great comedian Lou Veloso in one hilarious scene, but I did (it helped a lot that Lou was playing a corpse, hahaha). I never thought I’d be cast in a lead role, but Lito Casaje took a chance and my name was top-billed in a Dramatis Personae production staged at the Goethe Institute (unfortunately I only consider one performance of mine to be great; the rest were so-so passable). And I never thought I could cry onstage, but under my friend Ron Capinding’s direction I was able to do just that in a TA production.

I wanted to be a film director; that has not yet materialized. But never in my wildest dreams did I consider directing a play, and I ended up directing Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for TA. While adult critics weren’t exactly enamored by my irreverent take on the Bard’s classic comedy (the enchanted forest became Forest Disco, the fairies became sequin-studded clubbers, and The Fairy King Oberon and Fairy Queen Titania were dressed as Elvis and Diana Ross respectively), the student audiences lapped it up.

I never saw myself as a writer. I always thought I’d end up in the performing arts. Even as an adman my imagination, creative ideas and presentation/persuasive skills are more valuable than the ability to write copy. Writing copy is minimum expectation. In advertising a good writer is someone who can cram three or more selling points in one 30-seconder. A good writer is someone who can submit 50 name studies in 30 minutes. A good writer is someone who can coin phrases like, “juicy-licious” and “bilog ang mundo” and “chikletin mo baby!” But here I am, blogging away. It’s not that I needed an outlet for the frustrations of being a copywriter; nope, the default outlet for us advertising folks is a drink, preferably with an alcoholic content of 5% or higher.

When I was in high school, if I were asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I’d say, “I want to be an actor.” In college that answer became, “I want to be a director.” After college it became, “I want to be happy.” Around two years ago my friend Leigh said, “You cannot make ‘happiness’ your goal in life. Happiness is a by-product of achieving your goal.”

So now if someone asks me what my ambition in life is, I’m at a loss for a quick and easy answer. It’s not that I don’t have goals I want to achieve, it’s just that I’m not that compelled to achieve them. It’s not that I lack drive; I’ve proven time and again to myself that if I latch on to a goal, I often achieve or even surpass my expectations. It’s not that something or someone is holding me back either.

I think it’s more of a case of detachment.

Part of me thinks that achieving my goals is well and good. Failure is always a possibility; if I fail, then I get up and try again. But another part of me knows that the moment I reach my Kaharian ng Araw, I will find it bare and empty. Or at the very least, the victory is only for the moment. Give it a few more minutes and then you’d realize that in the larger scheme of things, it’s just a small victory—for you alone.

Sure, one can try and prolong the inevitable obscurity. But Beowulf’s writer is now known as “Unknown,” and given a few more centuries maybe even the great manuscript itself will join its author.

So I do good deeds. And I do selfish acts. I even allow myself an evil deed now and again—okay, okay, more often than just now and again. But I do them with a clear-eyed view that in the larger scheme of things, these acts really matter only to a few others and me. In fifty years most would have forgotten about it. After a century no one who actually remembers me will be alive. I, just like the rest of humanity, will be forgotten.

Detachment doesn’t mean being uninvolved and staying at a safe distance. Ironically it also means living in the now, because only then can one experience the happiness that reveals itself when one lives in the now. One must engage in life before one can actually detach oneself from it.

It means one appreciates the huge picture, and is willing to do things just because. It means embracing the fact that obscurity is inevitable—and be at peace with it. It means recognizing that we have the right to be part of the universe, but also acknowledging our place in the billions and billions of stars.

Maybe that’s why I am so drawn into the performing arts, especially theater. Live performance is the most ephemeral of the arts. The moment it is done, it resides only in the imperfect memories of those who witnessed it. (Yes, some shows are video taped for documentary purposes, but that’s not the point.) The moment the last of those witnesses die, even the most magnificent of performances—even those that out-Olivier Olivier—will vanish forevermore. And yet, I have never felt more alive than when I’m actually “in the zone” during a performance, when my whole being is totally concentrated on just being “in the moment” onstage. No wonder theater continues to thrive today despite all the odds stacked up against it.

So: ask me what my ambition in life is in the here and now, and I might say, “To stop figuring out what my ambition is and just live, love and laugh.”

* * * * *

And leave. Because everyone leaves, eventually. So I leave you with Max Ehrmann’s classic “Desiderata”:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.


josh said...

you met prof. Pagsi? wow! there is dis one jesuit song i like to sing during offertory which he made "Pahahandog" (mtv with noel cabangon, cookie chua & ds soprana) w/ d lyrics "Ang himig mo,ang awit ko, lahat ng ito'y nagmula sa iyo...." D song moves my spirit...

roseee said...

“To stop figuring out what my ambition is and just live, love and laugh.” --> me sooo loves this line. wanna borrow it... =)

ponch said...

ganda ng poem! pahiram din po...lagay ko lang sa blog ko.

Anonymous said...

i love this entry. i could totally relate. (wow, feeling mature eh noh. haha!)

but really. i don't know. maybe this is where we're different.. because right now i'm not sure what my goals or ambitions are. i'm here stupidly trying to juggle 3 part time jobs, and still looking for a permanent one. i'm really loving my part-time jobs, but i hate how in the end, it's money that matters the most to me. my family's financial situation at the moment makes things worse.

i don't actually have a point. i just really love this entry. it made me see the things i'm struggling with clearer. :)

-- Pia

joelmcvie said...

PIA: I really think the "struggle" is part of it all. I'm not saying you should "enjoy" the struggle (mahirap yata yun, hahaha!) but acknowledge it. Besides, I think the days of choosing just one job and sticking to it until retirement is slowly disappearing. Be grateful that you're talented, resourceful, and skilled enough to be handling 3 jobs! I read a quote in Reader's Digest that says people are meant to be multi-skilled; specialization is for insects.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Earning money ROCKS! Hahahahaha! Seriously. Hate ko yung hindi ako mababayaran. Kelangan natin ng pera, noh! Unless we get transported to an alternative universe where money doesn't exist, we have to face the fact that "money makes the world go round." Just put money in its proper place as it is relevant to your current situation (again, perspective), and you'll be okay. We hope. :-)

Nadriamez said...

Hi Mcvie, its been ages since I last visited your blog. I don't know but I can relate to this latest entry of yours. It's quite frustrating for individuals like us who likes to do a lot of things. Though at times we think that being flexible is a good thing, to others and to the harsh realities, its not. So much to do for happiness.

Weird. I love theatre, but I'm a med person. I finally watched the last run of ZZZ. It was euphoric.

Since then I have this series of "moments" in the office, thinking about "what if's".. what if I decided to be in the arts? and so on..

"alalahanin, sariwain.." - Sinta

Q The Conqueror said...

Hanggang ngayon ata, andun pa rin si sir pagsi. I still hear his name eh. :D Sibol ka pala ha.

joelmcvie said...

Q: Yup! ACT in grade school, DS in high school, TA in college and beyond. :-)

jedd said...

I loooooved "Pangarap". I loved the way you weaved pop culture, music, and Shakespeare. It was the first play that I saw and felt that didn't just leap out of the box, but tear it into pieces! hehe It was my own Kaharian ng Araw experience.

I remember you bewailing that the reviews said Pangarap was fun to watch, "Fun, fun, lagi na lang fun! Wala na bang iba?!" But then you retracted yourself saying that you never meant for Pangarap to be anything anyway but plain, pure, unadulterated fun.

I feel this blog entry is making a similar kind of 'bewailderment'. But then later, you'll actually remember to just.. have... fun. ;)

joelmcvie said...

JEDD: Spot on, Jedd, spot on! Yes, I'm like that. After brooding and grappling over some thing, I remember to step back--or other duties in my life force me to--and then I remember to relax, watch a movie.

So you loooooved "Pangarap" eh? Sana ikaw yung isa sa mga umulit sa panonood--na nagbayad each time, hahaha! :-)