345: Moana

My Emily and I just came from the last show Moana. What can I say? The movie was just…perfect in every way. The character design was refreshing, the animation was fluid, the effects were outstanding, and most of all, the story was really strong and really coherent. This is the new high water mark for Disney movies.

What Emily really liked about the film was that there was zero romantic interest between the two lead characters, Moana and Maui. That would have been a fait accompli in the traditional Disney princess film. Instead, what we have is an arc that spans from antagonism to mentorship to respect and finally to friendship.

Also unlike traditional Disney princess films, this had a strong family component. Parents of Disney princesses are usually remote figures, dysfunctional, or outright absent. Not so with Moana, where there is a strong and present father and mother — and a grandmother — and who also have their own story arcs. They are not simply there to be foils for Moana.

And finally: here is a film that resonates strongly on the topic of vocation. All too often our lead characters are “The Chosen One” and once they realize this destiny, all the dangers and obstacles are simply external. Moana even lampshades this by having Maui sarcastically call Moana as such. But where the difference lies is that, while she may have been chosen, Moana still has to accept this calling.

Prior to the movie, we had dinner with some friends. One of them let on that she already had the movie on her cellphone. For a moment, I experienced a twinge of regret. Why did I spend P350 for two tickets when I could have gotten the bootleg? But after watching the film, I came to realize it was one that had to be seen on the big screen to be truly appreciated.

343: Stars

An attempt to return to fiction…

It was the night that the stars returned and the first person to see them was Oskar Abebi. From his vantage point on the pavement, back flat against the concrete of Yoruba Street, he recognized the constellation. “The Hunter…” he whispered to no one in particular. The name escaped his bloodied lips as by compulsion. The giveaway was the line of three stars that made up the Hunter’s belt. From there he could trace the stars that hinted at the legs, then the outstretched arm and the club.

It was a Friday night, just a little after dinner, the traffic of shoppers and passersby on Temple Market was starting to pick up. Oskar desperately wished one of them would stop by to help him up so he could share his discovery. But they all avoided him — and each other — studiously. They walked around him as they went in all directions, one or two stepped over his legs when they couldn’t help it.

Oskar wobbled to his feet. All the while his gaze remained up, his jaw going slack as more pinpoints of light appeared in the sky. Over there: the Hero. And over there: the Twins. And over there: the Bear. And over there: the Lover. Despite himself, despite his cracked skull, Oskar laughed.

“Do you see? Do you see?” He pointed a crooked finger up at the sky. When no one paid him any heed, he broke taboo and grabbed the nearest passerby the sleeve of her coat. She yelped, then hissed and glared at him. “Look!” he insisted, jabbing his finger upwards. “Stars!”

The last time he had seen stars he was a boy. How long ago was that? Forty years? Fifty? It was on Ye-Ye’s farm, where they had electric lights only three hours each night and so there was nothing to do but look up at the sky and tell stories. Then came the city, and the stars were drowned in neon, glass, and steel, all stabbing at the heavens in defiance.

“Stars!” he repeated to the woman. His insistence finally made her look up. A few others, puzzled by the commotion Oskar was making, broke from their enforced solitude and did the same.

The stars were growing brighter by the minute. They broke through the haze of artificial light of the city. More and more constellations became apparent. Oskar laughed giddily. “The Bull!” “The Lion!” “The Maiden!” “Look! Don’t you see?” “There! The Sisters!”

Those who paused followed his finger as he pointed, trying to make out the shapes. Then one of them, a young man with a respirator, broke the spell when he shrugged and disappeared into the crowd flowing into Yoruba East. The others followed suit, one by one at first, then in groups, until the bustle was as it was before.

The woman wrenched her arm free and called Oskar a rude name as she walked hurriedly away.

“Stars…” the old man said again, but weakly. They were very bright now, so bright, you could almost feel their heat. The soup of humanity that gathered around Temple Market on Friday evening continued to thicken, and now people were jostling each other at the elbows and occasionally stepping on someone’s toes.

“Stars…” the old man said, one last time. Then he too disappeared into the market.

342: Groupthink

World War Z was a phenomenal book, covering many different angles that traditional zombie narratives do not. I especially liked how it hypothesized the macro political repercussions of how governments would respond to an outbreak. There was much to think about in the issues that it raised.

One of the scenes that made a lasting impact on me was the doctrine of the 10th Man. In essence, it goes: “Whenever nine people looking at the same information come to the same conclusion, it is the tenth’s duty to disagree and actively look for evidence to the contrary.” The name may be fictional, but the principle is solid.

The takeaway here is the peril of groupthink. If everyone agrees, if everyone thinks the same, it diminishes the ability to look at alternative avenues. It’s intellectual inbreeding, and its result is an organizational culture that is weak and stunted, prone to succumb to viruses. Another less charitable way to call it is “circlejerk.”

Today I’ve had to face the result of such a culture. You might think this concerns this government, but no, it’s another organization. I’m simply not at liberty to say which. The decision-making process was prideful and the end result was wasteful and just plain wrong. But that’s the culture that’s been ingrained by the man on top, and no one thinks to disagree, or at least disagree openly. Over the past six years, dissent in this organization has been slowly whittled away, through a system of reward and ridicule. I was afraid it would come to this, though I hoped it wouldn’t.

Ah, well, at least the only casualty of this experience is my respect for the organization.

Disappointed, that’s what I am

340: A Little Less Kind

These days I confess I find myself a little less kind. I don’t smile as often and, despite the season, I am less inclined to exercise charity to begging hands. And for this, I have to say — I am sorry — I am affected by the prevailing mood of the country. It is a truism that the leader the country chooses is who the country wishes to be, and I am not happy with the choice. Recent events have shown that my gut feelings have been right all along.

And so I am a little less kind because I now view most people with suspicion and resentment. When I see those stickers with the stupid fist symbol, I am positively incensed. This is the kind of stupidity and surrender of judgment that is plunging us headlong into disaster. Don’t expect me to look askance, to put on a merry smile. This has gone beyond simple politics, it is now in the domain of morality. I cannot be friends with people who shrug at extrajudicial killing as inevitable necessity, and so much more who support it outright. I cannot be friends with people who accept the message to “move on.” I cannot be friends with people who jeer at a woman for her infidelities yet cheer a man for his.

And I am a little less kind, too, because I am beginning to question the whole question of goodness. Yes, I know, the sun shines on the good and the evil, and let the weeds grow with the grain and we shall separate them at the harvest, and yet, deep down, I am angry and I am discontented. It offends my sense of justice. I am looking for a sign.

If you’re on the other side of this cultural divide, we can be civil with each other for so long as you don’t talk about your politics with me. On my part, I have learned to be discreet to whom I open up with. But make no mistake: if you are on the other side of this cultural divide, I cannot be your friend.

339: Launch

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A placeholder will have to do for now, until such time I steal some decent pictures of my stint with the Davao Writers Workshop 2016 yesterday and for the book launch of The Best of Dagmay 2 this afternoon. Suffice to say, it was quite a satisfying weekend. I gave a presentation on Writing Fantasy Fiction, drawing on what I know best. I sat in the panel for a punishing five prose fiction discussions throughout the day. And, of course, the book launch.

My talk on Writing Fantasy Fiction marks my, what, umpteenth craft lecture spread out over the Davao Writers Workshop, the Ateneo Writers Workshop, and various other venues to which I’ve been invited to. I am happy to say I have not repeated any of my talks, each one being new. Though thematically related, they have looked at fiction, particularly fantasy and science fiction, at various angles. At some point I will have to put all this into a collection.

This time around, I took a swing at worldbuilding. With the success of franchises like Game of Thrones, the Potterworld, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s a lot of focus on worldbuilding, a la JRR Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. While this may be both the pursuit and the reward for many writers, I think it’s ultimately a fruitless exercise. Worldbuilding should be at the service of the story, and for this reason, I prefer a leaner approach, one where you only describe the world inasmuch as it affects your characters and your plot. Anyway, that’s just me.

With the book launch of Best of Dagmay 2, we finally have the climax to a two-year-plus project. I didn’t do a lot of heavy lifting this time around. God knows, I’ve done enough, with the eight or so books under my belt. This time around, the younger members of the guild did most of the work. I do get my name on the cover as editor, though, because I chose the nonfiction bits.

While I’m happy with the outcome, I couldn’t help but note that, for me, the satisfaction was in the completion of the project rather than the excitement of the actual book. At some point, it became…work. Satisfying, yes, but…work.

The weekend closes on a somewhat sour note, though. Looks like there’s more political skulduggery afoot. I keep hoping for God’s Justice, because that seems to be the only thing that I can hope for. But when will it come? Will it even come? Or is God asleep, or indifferent?