Post from Olongapo

My father and his wife have arrived, and we travel east and south to Subic Bay, site of an American naval base that was evacuated in the early 90's.

Watching your father in the context where he was born does much to explain who you are, inevitably. We buy matching barongs in the public market and drink halo-halo and gin together. We swim in the warm, clear water of the Bay, against a backdrop of rolling hills and swaying palms, and bancas and catamarans plying the gentle tide.

Dad tells of making suits for black sailors in the early 70's, while my 4-yr. old cousin sleeps on my lap. We pass war monuments festooned with chicken coops, massive piers built for aircraft carriers now waiting for cruise liners, glittering groups of local fashionables playing in the water. Everyone stares at my father's wife, the only white woman this side of Manila.

I carry my 4-yr. old cousin D. on my shoulders as we walk through the hot sand and the quiet streets of the abandoned base, now a magnet for upscale shopping and a tide of tourists expected any year now. We eat American pizza and listen to Bobby Darin beyond the sea, and I miss home.

We come back to Remedios in Lubao, to the same throng of family and relatives still paying court to my frail Grandma. Tommorrow is the town fiesta, and hogs are squealing in the slaughter-yards.

It's so very overwhelming. I grasp my cousin D.'s hand just as tightly as she grasps mine.



Post from Lubao II

The impossible green of rice shoots and lilypads. The slow, watchful stare of carabou cooling themselves in dirty water up to their heads. The corruption of rotting things on the baked dirt, the pressing of flesh, the unspoken desperation, unspoken reprehension. Fat matrons opining on hollow morals. Painfully gaunt men and women, watery eyes, glassy eyes, eyes like milk, eyes like mahogany, eyes shot with red and anguished, eyes open to a world teeming with growth and decay, everything all at once, stirring and simmering in its juices.

Hurrying up and waiting. Peeling paint in the hospital rooms, broken air conditioners, constrictive, claustrophobic traffic of people and growling motors. Gaudy colors of jeepneys decked in stick-on splendor, custom-built stainless steel shining under bare feet. A parade of poses, masks of respectability, masks of competence, masks of naivete, masks of gregarious cheer, masks of prosperity. Favors to be dispensed, promises to be kept, largesse showered, appearances maintained.

Through it all, the low, meandering path of packed earth curving through fields of rice shoots, shaded by palms, populated with tiny frogs and gap-toothed old men. An abandoned church at the end of the path, in a grove of palms bowing obeisance to the noonday heat. Hammocks made of old fishing nets and rice sack burlap, dusty twice-used sandals, open coconut shells and empty soda bottles. Prostitutes in their unmade beds, children playing in the dusty shade, men from the West on their international sex tours, and watching them, the dry smiles of men who migrate to work in another desert a world away, where water is twice the cost of oil.

I have been ruined here, where the heat has seeped into my bones.



Post from Lubao I

We touched down at Ninoy Aquino International Airport at about midnight. Immediately I could feel the cold prickle of air-conditioned humidity on my skin.

We step out of the plane and into a glazed concourse of nations, everything covered in a sheen of sweat, the cold sodium light bringing a bright film to everyone's vivid faces. The heat is palpable, like a thick blanket that muffles sight and sound as well as touch, and even your very thoughts perspire with the numb confusion of languages.

Even in the middle of the night, this airport is thronging with vast numbers, and not even the shrill whistles and the immaculate gloves of the traffic police can order the teeming, dusty torrent of combustion engines and humans vying for each other.

Traffic is a state of being here. Jeepneys and motorcycle buggies jostle with taxis and battered SUVs, and mountains of all kinds of luggage--furniture, boxes packed with goods, entire households packed and shipped from one time zone into a distant other, all passing through these worn curbs.

The nine of us are met with cousins of uncles or something--in other words, more smiling, eager family. We gather our own small mountain of luggage and we tumble into the stifling night, through a city very much awake and alive, sharp smiles everywhere--smiles that cut like knives, smiles that melt and wound, smiles that freak the shit out of you, smiles that open your heart like a ripe mango. There is a whole language here that I can only dimly begin to see.

It is as though all the emotions of human interaction are heightened by the desperate struggle to subsist. Trash heaps toppling into open drainage ditches banked with crumbling concrete rubble lend a stark backdrop to the embraces of kin who haven't seen each other for an entire generation. Babies are gaunt, strong little things with bottomless eyes and grasping fingers, alarmingly thin and dark like coffee, playful and mischievous and ravenous.

And then the sun comes up, and everything changes.

I miss the familiar with the same fierce warmth. My own emotions have been stirred and heightened by the same cold burn of the sodium lights. Holding my Grandma's hand and holding my sleeping baby cousin in my arms have both transfixed my heart already breaking in the burning dust. They wear rags and live in corrugated-cinderblock-shacks from meal to meal, and they bring us heaps of steaming food, because we are family and we have traveled a far distance to see them, and because this is what you do for family. To all of this I can only smile.

Much more soon, as time and the opportunity permits. Much love,




In transit here at Tokyo-Narita. Potato chips all taste weird here. The barbecue chips have a hint of wasabe--a spicy kick that catches you off guard, if you're not careful.

Nine hour flight from Portland, and we still haven't lost any of the babies. I can't find a plug in out here, which bodes ill, indeed.

I'm a mess. In so many ways. But it turns out, that I'm kind of good at this whole shepherding-Grandma thing. We'll see how things go once we touch down in Manila.

Molded plastic, oceans of dark almond eyes, portable airplane fixtures, strange passports, curious enigmatic expressions on everyone's faces. Slack jaws, throw blankets, stale fruit. Sunlight glancing off jet engine rims, they look so inert through the thick portholes. Glimpses of limitless blue thirty thousand feet below. Loveliness, loveliness everywhere.

More soon, I promise you.




My, what a busy night

Splendid Isolation begins again. Hurts like a sonofabitch.

Must keep moving. New walls to rebuild. And now that I've said all this, let's not speak of this again, yes?

It seems appropriate to quote my favorite poet again.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
--Elizabeth Bishop



Ongoing Deliberations on Standards

In the middle of this "I'm flying to another country" madness, it oddly strikes me that there is still ample cause for further discussion of this, in light of the tail-end of my last post. When it strikes, it strikes, there's not much for it but to talk about it.

I've taken some punches, pulled some punches, but always (eventually) punched back consistently on grounds of having standards in what I do, in this case, theatre. In my view, having standards is what distinguishes one's serious work, worthy of respect, from idle interest or dilletantism, irregardless of talent (yes, Squeakers, I DID JUST WRITE 'IRREGARDLESS' and there's NOTHING you can do about it). When I say "Standards", I'm referring to a panoply of values like integrity, honesty, transparency of authority and organization, clarity of intentions, discretion of responsibilities, maturity, the usual grown-up suspects. My own personal value system is a spicy mix of Roman stoicism, Filipino hiya, Western tolerance, Diversity and oh, I dunno, something about how C is for Cookies and Cookies are for Me. It goes without saying that this mix deeply informs my Standards in my work.

I will say immediately that just about every theatre I've worked with (because I've been at this for so long, my young apprentices, why I was pounding the boards when you were a wee little nubbin in your Mommy's tummy) has gobs and gobs of talent, more passion than Moses, more daring than Darius. But every theatre has its own standards, and this is natural and fitting, as every organization and every artist must evolve their own identities, and claim their own context by which their work will stand or fall.

I've noticed that conflict, complication or confusion ensues when my standards evolve as a result of cumulative experience, whereas others' standards evolve in other directions as a result of their cumulative experiences, creating expectations (or a lack thereof) which become that much more difficult to communicate all around.

And we're talking about Theatre People here. By nature diffuse, crazy-mad, lost in hyperbole, ambitious, hypochondriac, petty, enigmatical--and that's just me.

I do not regret or resent the admittedly traumatising--oftentimes physically so--experiences which I'm thinking of, which informs this Deliberation. In my view I am the sum of all of these things, and I am as proud of what I have done as I am cognizant of the (in hindsight) laughable folly of what I'm willing to do for the sake of my work. You could say it's because I'm tired of laughing so bitterly at myself that I continue to strive for higher personal standards.

It's never personal when, say, I write here about the latest collision between my evolving standards and some other booming and bellowing arts organization. Let me rephrase that: it's always personal because this is my blog, but ultimately I mean no malignant hostility. Self-righteous indignation? Okay, sure, maybe a little bit.

The masses and masses of you discerning polyformites out there herein have an opportunity to witness these things, because that's what this blog is for, because I say so. Ultimately, I believe a forum like this is an ideal component of the development of my standards, indispensable, really. Keeps me honest, or something.

That's all, everyone. Get back to work, all of you.

The Story Thus Far...

Following is a redaction from an e-mail I sent explaining Why Our Hero Is Going East. Useful for those viewers just now joining us. Names and details have been changed to implicate others.

It's my Grandma's Farewell Tour '05. She's going back for what will probably be the last time in her life. It's going to be all about parading the family (nine of us on my flight alone) (because there are so many of us, and because Grandma is in a wheelchair just for safety's sake and because there are two babies numbered among us, we get to jump ahead of the lines and live it up like rockstars in Economy Class, boo-yah). She'll be tying up loose ends, squaring away old debts, that sort of thing. I'm coming along to make sure she doesn't break her hip or something.

Then, roundabout Christmas time (it's the season, you know), my aunts on my Mom's side of the family were freaking out about old abandoned properties back home that aren't being properly supervised, because everyone on Mom's side of the family is DEAD or ILLEGITIMATE, and there are backtaxes and corrupt officials and illegal squatters that all need to be appeased.

So naturally, since I'm already going In Country, I've been briefed and commissioned to straighten things out and see what's going on on the ground for the surviving ex-pat Jimenez sisters. It's a delicate situation, because on the one hand I'm a prop and an element of my father's family's prosperity, and on the other hand I'm an agent and a trusted advocate of my Mom's family in their desperation. The natural thing to do is to somehow bridge the prosperity to the desperation, but this is not a simple proposition given the complicated nature of my sundered dual family dynamics (it's like twice the fun without the emotional support!).

And to top it all off, I just moved to a new place, on 32nd and Hawthorne.

And I'm dating a painter.

And I've just been told that I'm on the ______ ______ cast, whereas last time I checked no one formally offered me a part, and I haven't had a chance to check with my calendars or anything like that. I mean, I was in the staged reading, and I was in a workshop back in late december or early january, and everyone was acting like I was part of the cast. But when I talked to the People In Charge about this they said that sorry, but they were still in re-writes and they couldn't formally offer me a part until they knew which characters were doing what, to which I said, okay, that's cool. Let me know as soon as possible so I could make decisions accordingly, because here I am flying hither and yon with painfully laughable sums in my checking account, and I'm by no means prepared to fecklessly sign on to something else, especially if it means more time away from my day job, which I keep forgetting I have because I seem to be doing everything but earning a living these days. But I digress.

Will the Puissant Paulmonster Survive this Phrightfully Phantastical Philippines Adventure? Stay tuned, o reader.





You know how when suddenly everything feels like one massive clusterfuck and you're doing shit-all to keep it all together? When there's fifty-seven thousand things to be done and there ain't no one home but you? When Visigoths, Alemanni, Vandals, Neo-cons and the Living Dead all want to take your ass through the nine infernal circles of pain, Right Now? It just gets hard to keep floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee, is all I'm saying.

Next post from the Thrilla in Manila.


Elizabeth Bishop.

The following is my favorite of Bishop's poems. This is for the Lioness, who is in need of it.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, to rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.



Et in Arcadia Ego

I'm sitting in my new kitchen, a sunlit room with windows everywhere, like an observatory. There is a birdfeeder that may only be supplied by precariously climbing behind the fridge and onto the roof outside. There are chipmunks and cats climbing fences and wizened trees and eclectic yards and a dormant volcano in view. There are lots of plants, inherited from my predecessor here or under the care of my new roommate. Of my new neighbors, I know little, save that a string quartet practices regularly next door on the one hand, and a family with adorable small children may be glimpsed through the windows next door on the other. Bucolic, indeed. Et in Arcadia ego.

The evacuation of the bunker-apartment has been achieved without any undue difficulty. To my knowledge, the only Paul-article left behind is my 12" wok, which I intend to retrieve immediately.

I have received the flight tickets for the upcoming Philippines Odyssey, to begin in less than six days. I mentioned to one of my aunts that I will be intending to visit my mother's family in San Fernando, and they looked at me like I was intending to visit the far side of Mars. Oh, this will be fun.




I'm still packing

It's Elizabeth Bishop's birthday, arguably my favorite poet ever. It's also an achingly gorgeous day here in Portland.

My bunker-apartment is an empty shell, dusty and barren-white, without the customary clippings, colors and maps all over the walls. Most of my books and papers are out, and all but a handful of clothes. My kitchen, however, is still largely intact, the last portion of this apartment to be evacuated. Also, my ominous plywood/cinderblock desk has yet to be dismantled. It's glowering at me.

I want to spend the day making up personages for my own Writer's Almanac, where everyone whose birthdays I'm observing aren't real.

"It's the birthday of St. Aloysius of Rennes, the patron saint of hiccups. It is said that when he was carried off to be martyred by Vikings, St. Aloysius was so nervous that he began hiccupping. His hiccups were so persistently infectious that the entire longship of Vikings, and the rest of their captives, all began hiccupping during the voyage to Norway. When they finally decided to turn the ship around, everyone's hiccups miraculously stopped. The captain of the ship, St. Sven of Ulf, converted to Christianity on the spot. The entire ship was then swallowed by an exceptionally large narwhal, the Holy Leviathan of Sts Aloysius and Sven.

St. Aloysius who wrote,

'Preserve us, O Lord, from sore throats, itchy burlap and exceptionally large, hungry narwhals.'"



Okay, everyone, I was kidding. I am NOT moving to Baker St--as far as I know, there is no Baker St. in Portland. I thought more people would catch all the Sherlock Holmes references I made, but apparently my quirky, I've-been-packing-five-thousand-boxes-of-books-for-the-last-72-hours sense of humor eludes us all.

(To be truthful, when I read my post from early, early this morning, not even I could rightly understand it.)

I'm moving to a pleasant suite of rooms on the upper floor of a house over in the Hawthorne area. My roommate is a kickass fellow theatre-type who travels nearly as much as I do. No, she is not an amateur detective.

And for convenience' sake, the Woman Responsible for the End of My Splendid Isolation lives just up the street. so it's all good.

So thank you, everyone, for your cheerful, touching concern that I might in fact be moving in with a crack addict.

sic itur ad astra

I'm leaving my bunker-apartment, for a suite of rooms overlooking Baker Street. The landlady is a nice old widow named Mrs. Hudson, who bakes a mean shepherd's pie. Her tea tastes like boiled cauliflower, however.
Luckily for me, a roommate has materialized quite miraculously, out of the thinning fog, as it were. He's a strange sort of fellow, addicted to crack cocaine, partial to deerhunter caps. I don't really know what he does for a living, but he seems nice enough. Ta for now,

T-10 Days to Philippines Expedition


Notes from Last Midnight

Thick, cold fog drapes heavily across overpasses, low-hanging eaves, the arch of streetlamps. Windshields and windows are frosted blank, glowing like ghosts. It's a different kind of stillness, than twilight or snowfall. Shapes dissolve in mist, or resolve like dew in front of your eyes. You notice more clearly the warmth of reddened cheeks and of searching eyes.



Being Sorted

The Sort Center is the furious beating heart of the Library, where all books go to be sorted for their respective home branches, or delivered to other branches where waiting patrons snatch them up like Saturn prizing away scrumptious babies from his titaness wife. Every hour, at least sixty crates' worth of books are unloaded, sorted and reloaded from incoming to outgoing platforms, whole truckloads of books and tapes and cds and videos, the lifeblood and mother's milk of literacy in our fair city.

In my itinerant Library workschedule, I spend occasional hours here in the heart of the beast, earning my bread by speeding books on their way to their eager readers in parts unknown. I imagine cold, lonely nights in the wilderness, when the courage of the stalwart homesteader fails, and all they have to hope for, in the growing din of famished, howling wolves, is the mild caress of civilization locked away in the leaves of a tattered Library book, now speeding its way through wind and sleet and barbarian hordes and teenage skater-punks wreaking havoc on the delivery lines, only now set in motion by my humble, calloused hands.

But more likely, the books placed on hold are typically such rare incunabula as the latest Sue Grafton thriller or Martha Stewart's incarcerated lifestyle screeds. Ocassionally one comes across treasures like live recordings of James Brown at the Apollo or Supreme Court caselaw texts, but these are rare pearls in the sludge of Idiot's Guides and chick-lit.

I'm being disparaging, yes, forgive me, o reader.

These late evenings I've spent poring over the imposing file of documents my Aunt has sent me, in preparation for this coming Philippines trip. It's a maze of certifications and notarizations, passport and citizenship photocopies. I dream of papers and crates and teetering towers of books, while I stand in the knee-deep muck of a rice field. I bury my face in her neck and she holds me.

T-16 Days to the Philippines Expedition. Woe betide the unready.



How to Be

I wish I was old, with long, dry riverbeds of much older tears
delineating my face, so that I would look like the trunk
of a wizened and broad-leafed tree stooping in the noonday sun
to shade the familiar dust of men,
the men of dust
who once walked freely and planted axes in my face that now are rusting
and I would be wise with long days and nights plentifully done,
tidy and prosperous with all my memories,
these memories like a rich bouquet of dried flowers, furred with dust and sentiment,

knowing the tale of myself,
knowing the tale of these long, fierce years
then I would smile smugly at the end of the day
because I would know how this one's going to end.


Lift the covers
and roll out from under,
to lose that dragging
darkness clinging from your dreams.
Brush your teeth slowly,
in time with the sonorous new day.
don't stop yourself
from looking at the deep pock marks,
the budding stubble.
It's all you have to remind yourself
of the many days you've already survived.