Friday, August 30, 2019

What I Learned through the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory

I decided to check out the SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Conservatory. For $45, members can access all sorts of workshops on acting, casting, self-care, technology, and more! I was surprised at the variety of classes offered.  I've made several sessions thus far.  Here are some of my takeaways.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

When Moments Come Together

Recently, Skylight Books, where I've hosted for 18 years, had a staff showcase.  It's an opportunity for Skylight staff to show off their talents.  I showed a painting (pictured), while my colleague Arlo sang.  I like how our talents meet in the above picture: the guy singing in a hat is being admired by a painting of guy in a hat. Arlo confessed that he saw my painting earlier in the day, and he may have subconsciously wore his hat because of my painting.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


I haven't had acting headshots in nearly 15 years.  If I'm going to start acting again, I decided to finally get them.  The photographer is the amazing Alexis Rhone Fancher.

I was fourteen when I got my very first headshots. I got my first agent at 16 and got into the unions by 17.  I got my BFA in acting. I thought I would be acting forever. However, the roles were few and far between, and the roles pretty much sucked.

I did my own performance work, which I loved, but found my creative urges could be quenched through writing.  Leaving acting to write was one of the best decision I made.

Now, I feel the urge to go back to my first love of acting.  We'll see what happens.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Story Read in Hi-Fi

This is the first time that I'd been fully recorded reading a short story. If you're not into reading and would rather be read to, here's a video for you.

I'm reading from my short story Music Heard in Hi-Fi, which was published in Sunday Salon. It was a joy reading at Sunday Jump, a monthly open mic in Historic Filipinotown.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Los Angeles is Burning

Over 25 years ago, I saw a documentary Paris is Burning, capturing the very queer ball scene of New York. I was blown away of these stories of queer people of color living their very best lives, finding families when their own biological families may have shunned them.

The ball scene made famous "Vogueing" which Madonna brought to the mainstream. 

The ball scene continues today. It is performance, it is fierceness, it is church. With shows like Ru Paul's Drag Race, one can see how competitive and fabulous drag queens and trans people can be.  

Recently, I went to the Proud Festival in Downtown Los Angeles.  There was an impromptu Vogueing competition, very much like the kind seen in Paris is Burning.  But it wasn't New York is was smack down in downtown Los Angeles.

I'm sure many of these dancers weren't even born when Paris is Burning was made in the early 1990s. This tradition of mostly black and brown queers is wonderful.  In these videos, you can hear me screaming, Yaaaas!

What makes this more incredible is that the ball scene was usually hidden away, kept in secret ball rooms.  But here we are in downtown LA, all are welcome to witness. In the above video, I love how there's an Asian couple watching.

Being there, among free queer people, there was a sense of the divine--that God or God-like forces were present.  It was truly uplifting.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Meditating on Death in Paris

On a recent trip to Paris, I had the pleasure of visiting the Catacombs, where six millions Parisians are buried.

I thought it would be ghoulish, but it was rather reverential. The skeletons were placed there when the graveyards ran full. Priests blessed the bones and they were laid to rest. The bones were placed ever so delicately on top of each other, creating a restful pile.  

Walking through the catacombs felt like the Buddhist tradition of sitting in charnel houses. Aspiring monastics sat with dead bodies to meditate on impermanence. They watched bodies disintegrate as a spiritual practice.

The whole experience felt otherworldly. I couldn't help but wonder who they were and how they may feel about their bones.  Then again, would they even care?

I don't think meditating on death is maudlin.  On the contrary, it's life affirming.  We shouldn't be taking our lives for granted.  We're all moving to being a pile of bones. Before becoming lifeless skeletons, are we leading the best lives possible?

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ritual in Literary Spaces

When news broke that Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison passed away, I slipped into pastor mode. I took a class in divinity school on rituals.  Rituals are an important part of life.  Marriage, graduation, birthdays are all forms of rituals.  Rituals mark transition.  Rituals are important.

I felt Toni Morrison's passing required some kind of ritual.  On my Facebook feed, I saw people lamenting her death.  The literary community that I circle in was truly mourning.  So, I organized a tribute, asking some awesome writers to participate (photo above, starting with back row: Jervey Tervalon, Gary Philips, Nina Revoyr, Lisa Teasley, Michael Datcher, Terry Wolverton, Lynell George; front row: me, Dana Johnson, Natasha Deon).

At Skylight Books, we discussed the work of Toni Morrison and what she meant to us, then we read passages from her novels.  It was an awesome turnout.  I was thrilled that Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress) showed up.

At the end of the reading, I did feel a sense of closure. I don't know about anyone else, but I felt this literary ritual was an important one to have.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Black and Brown in Technicolor

I went to two exhibitions recently. Soul of Nation at the Broad and Liberacion at the Village. What struck me was the dazzling colors in the shows.  I was quite touched by it.  Why?

Soul of a Nation
I think it's because the black and brown narrative is often seen through a narrow lens--one usually of struggle and oppression.  However, these paintings offer a different story.  These artists see a multi-narrative.  Black and brown lives are far more complex, literally more colorful than others may give credit for.

I'm a brown man in the world.  In this country, all sorts of stories are thrown at darker skinned people. I found relief in these paintings. The brightness of these paintings reminded me of the brightness this brown man can encounter in his life.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Reading as Activism

There was a time when I was out at every march, every protest.  I stayed out in the early morning hours educating people about HIV/AIDS. I knocked on doors to talk to people about protecting the environment. I collected food for the homeless on Martin Luther King's birthday.   I loved it and glad that I could contribute in any way I could.

I'm still up for a good protest, but I'm a little older. I have to choose what my stamina allows.  That's why when I was asked to be a reader for the live Mueller Report in West Hollywood, I said YES.

It was a great form of activism, yet I wasn't utterly exhausted afterward.  As I age, I I need to balance my passion for doing good work and self-care.

Friday, August 09, 2019

The 20th Anniversary of the Killing of Joseph lleto

On August 10, 1999 Buford Furrow, a white supremacist, killed Filipino mail carrier Joseph Ileto. Furrow said he was specifically looking for an Asian or Latino man to kill. Earlier that day, Furrow had sprayed a Jewish daycare center with bullets, wounding five.

The death of Joseph Ileto inspired my second novel Talking to the Moon.  I suppose I wrote the novel to try and make sense of what happened. I was inspired by the Ileto family who went onto to discuss the effects of hate crimes and ways to prevent it.

That was probably one of the most moving experiences I'd witnessed in the Filipino American community in Los Angeles. Joseph's brother, Ismael, stepped up to bring awareness to the situation.

I wonder how many of us would have the strength to do this kind of advocacy work.  Would you?

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Artists Resist! Join me this Sunday at 2pm.

US-politics-investigation-RussiaUS-politics-investigation-RussiaI think artists and those of us with a spiritual backbone should try to do the right thing.  I've protested and created art with a political or social statement.  I'm doing that again.  I'm going to use my expensive BFA in acting and try to create magic from dryness.  Hope to see you there.
More Information:
The City of West Hollywood joins Hollywood NOW and community partners to co-host a two-part event: The Mueller Report: A Live Reading. Community members are invited to read, to join the audience, or to tune-in to the broadcast.
The Mueller Report, officially titled Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, is the official report documenting the findings and conclusions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election, allegations of conspiracy or coordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, and allegations of obstruction of justice.

The event will take place over two days on Saturday, August 10, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday, August 11, 2019 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the City of West Hollywood’s Council Chambers/Public Meeting Room at West Hollywood Library, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard. The event is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Beloved Toni Morrison

I read Beloved, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby and Sula within two years. There was something about her voice that inspired me.  There was a rhythm and a style in her work that transported me. Her dedication to exploring African American life was a model for how I would explore various communities that I identified with.  

In 1993, when I first started studying writing, my writing teacher Ayofemi Folayan was ecstatic.  

"Toni Morrision won the Nobel Prize!" she said.

"Cool," I said, but I was hiding the fact that I was unfamiliar with her and her work.  If she won the Nobel Prize, I guess I should know who she is.  I started with her master piece Beloved, the tale of a black woman who kills her children rather than have them become slaves. 

I didn't know such story telling could exist.  I became a different person, a better writer because of her. Thank you.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Recycled Paradise

One of the most spiritual experiences I had in Italy was witnessing art at the Venice Biennale. In particular, I was moved by Federico Uribe's Plastic Reef, made from recycled materials.

We know trash fills ours oceans, but here Uribe creates on ocean made from trash.

He makes a political and environmental statement through creativity, yet the experience for me was spiritual. I felt like I was immersed in something otherworldly. I was generally moved by what he was saying and doing.

The colors were fantastic and the attention to detail was superb.

See more in the video...