As a creative, I have often asked myself the question: “How does one stage a dream?” What I mean is, how do you make it happen? Via convergence — that is, using the full range of your facilities to move from page to stage? Masturbation — that is, indulging the senses to create something that is at least sensible to one and a few colleagues? At least there will be something to talk about, regardless of how others might perceive it. Or smoke and mirrors — a form of projection or covering up one’s inability with artifice? After all, we live in a society that is disturbingly tolerant of mediocrity these days.
Theater director Bartlett Sher fights against this notion by saying that one must search for the “deep genre,” or moving past the artifice in search of what something is really trying to say. For playwright August Strindberg, it’s about going deep into a person’s subconscious, searching, and then waking with steely resolve to funnel one’s dreams into a measurable meter of reality. It’s about creating dramatic action reflecting one’s own passions, going with it, and occasionally allowing for an epiphany in a life constantly in-the-making. Call it #winning, which is what most of my peers are good at. For them, I have utter respect. On the flipside is #notwinning (or shall we call it #dwindling?), my forte and the story of my twenty-something life.
“It’s about creating dramatic action reflecting one’s own passions, going with it, and occasionally allowing for an epiphany in a life constantly in-the-making.”
In the precipice of fear and deep abandon, I seem to have misplaced the one thing that humans cling to when all else is lost: the life force that animates us above being robots, living within the monotony, monstrosity, and machinery of life. It’s the ray of light. The idealized “return” as immortalized in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” The Phoenix through all her iterations. What is known to many, from victims of tragedy to harbingers of important change, as, quite simply, hope.
For people such as myself, it starts with a dream, one that no amount of naysaying can topple. You work tirelessly to realize it, despite setbacks. You wake into that dream, and sleep out of it, perchance to see it more vividly in REM form. When that dream is debilitated, challenged beyond the everyman’s perception, however, you end up with a dark shroud that is impregnable and quite impossible to shake off. That’s probably how much that dream meant to you in the first place, and that’s how much, for no reasons other than the uncertainty of any considerable undertaking, it set you up for failure. Go big, or go home, right?
These days, I wake and my dreams aren’t as clear as when I first stared out into the horizon, in the past. The transition in and out of this sightline was something only a certain brand of bravura, borderline insanity could access. I eyed Canaan, embarked on my exodus from modern-day captivity but found myself moving farther and farther away from my milk and honey-laden destination. The only milk I could muster was an everyday bottle of Momofoku for $6. And that was only in Midtown. They say that on a clear day, you can see forever; that on the clearest day, you can make out the contours and crevices of a tinsel-clad being called the Supreme (not Jessica Lange). These days I can’t even see past the blinds on my own window. I wonder: Has a change in prescription or “old age” made me that nearsighted? #TitasOfManila #NotSoFab
It’s funny how there seem to be cracks in the universe that I have seemingly squeezed myself into in the hopes of waxing messianic. I thought that there was something that needed fixing (no, I am not Olivia Pope but I do love Fitz) and that my fortitude would be the connective tissue that would tie it all together. I thought that there was a secret that only I knew. And that it would manifest as some form of deus ex machina that would spark a revolution, in places I thought they were badly needed. I learned the hard way that maybe, for some or rather most people, a revolution was unnecessary. Brecht: “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.” Me: “Unhappy the land that thinks it doesn’t need heroes.” It seems most people are really content to be cavemen in Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” Like I said, mediocrity. Sure, there’s Jobs, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Maggie Thatcher after she rallied, post-Cold War. But there is also Joan of Arc, Major Barbra, and Don Quixote. A lost cause.
I recently went on a sabbatical to find answers to questions that have been plaguing me ever since a sickness threatened to diminish my capacity to function. In a modernist world where you are what you accomplish, this sickness could have very well eradicated my use, my intrinsic value.
In the film Hugo, it’s said that everything has a purpose — even machines. Clocks tell time and trains take you places. Which is why broken machines made the protagonist sad because they could no longer do what they were “meant” to do. Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken. If purpose was my currency for living, then I am definitely a Dead Man Walking, having reneged or fallen short of it. I wonder: Do I, or do I not persist in a world that I feel doesn’t need me? The “gent” in agent provocateur. In that I have become “machinal,” in the words of Sophie Treadwell, have I become broken in the humanist sense? In pursuit of a dream, have I lost myself to the machine?
In a world that has grown increasingly epistemological rather than ontological, knowledge and fact-based rather than relishing the simple fact of existing, I found that affliction gave me a free pass when life threw me lemons. It was like the perfect scapegoat. Reverse placebo, I was told by some friends at a bar. I had convinced myself of the disability so well that my body, and more importantly my soul, believed my own lie and my own story. And therefore, I had singlehandedly destroyed my own destiny which was bigger than my body. Cue John Mayer.
I came and went and found out that, well, I didn’t have said affliction after all. But it’s not to erase the disillusionment that happened prior to that moment. You would think I’d have been ecstatic, or at least that the good news would nullify the bad. What I found was that, like Stockholm Syndrome, I had become attached to my captor, this menace called affliction. I found that I savored a perverse joy in justifying my shortcomings, or the heady distance between where I was and where I wanted to be as endemic of my condition. I was a masochist, yes, but in realizing this new endgame, I had become sadist as well, wanting to inflict as well as experience the depravity of my own doing.
I’ve probably never worked harder in my life as when I set out to prove myself and others wrong, and that a dream, no matter how farfetched, is definitely valid. Good on you, Lupita. But when expectations and reality don’t meet at the proverbial footbridge, I end up retreating into a shell. For, really, what is privilege but a crutch to fall back on when the tough gets going? F*ck.
Was it sickness? Travesty? Or was it that, after much dissertation, the thing that goes bump in the night wasn’t really a thing after all. The boogieman was no more than a shadow cast by my own doubt. I was a modern-day paraplegic sitting on the detritus of my own doing. But when facts would simply not corroborate my claim anymore, and I didn’t have that to fall back on lest I become the Boy Who Cried Wolf, I found myself utterly discombobulated. I was someone who could neither see nor experience the fire of my own dream because I had become all of a sudden averse to the one thing that had kept it and myself company as an artist all these years: doubt.
THAT THING CALLED…
Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character in Doubt said that doubt was as powerful and sustaining as the very concept of certainty itself. While I found myself pursuing my dream with the latter, a form of energy that was hallucinatory, addictive as it was sexy, I had grown suddenly averse to its “double,” without which the very concept of certainty or sexiness couldn’t exist altogether. The Magneto to Professor X.
If doubt be the greatest empowerment of an artist, shares theater director Peter Sellars, I had forgotten that the key to my artistic identity was the nature of my doubt. For really, what is certainty but stagnation, and uncertainty, the very thing that makes us all human and therefore capable of staging our own dreams, our own destiny?
I never really knew what I was doing back then but somehow I kept on. Heck, I still don’t know I’m doing now. But a dream is in essence a story I tell myself to make sense of who I am. We need stories. They are integral to our survival. If it’s anything my forebears used through various ups and downs in their careers, it’s stories. The alcoholism and profundity of Tennessee Williams. The achievements and missteps of Julie Taymor. The box office flops and virtuosity of Stephen Sondheim. In a way, their stories have given me permission to have the one thing that is often forgotten by the modern man in light of precedence. And in Manila, public perception — that is, permission to fail, perchance to shoot again for greatness. They give me permission. I realized I have yet to stage my Glass Menagerie, though I wasn’t quite happy with a recent attempt. My Lion King. My Sweeney Todd. Probably what it is is this: it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And for a doubt-ridden start of 2015, I think I can live with that.