The Thrills and Necessary Throes of an Engagement

On this day last year, the love of my life said yes to marrying me.

With only a few weeks left before our wedding day, here are some of the things I learned in our yearlong engagement.

  1. Wedding-planning is the opportunity to have a big, shared project. From the beginning, Kath and I thought of our wedding as a sort of baby we have to plan, take care of, and of course cherish. The task of planning, organizing, documenting, and meeting suppliers tested our mettle, but it also gave us joy to see the event start to become tangible (e.g. souvenirs and invitations). I suppose wedding-prepping is the trial run of our life together as dreamers and doers of big, beautiful things.
  2. Getting engaged is knowing yourself more, and deeply. In the past twelve months, I discovered many things about myself, things which I could not have imagined without the context of ‘forever in marriage’. Sometimes the exercise of self-knowing flew to the theological: I realized that the wedding ceremony has an eschatological dimension. No wonder weddings bring us happy tears : they are the earthly equivalent of meeting God in heaven; every person’s deepest, sometimes-unrecognized desire.
  3. The period of engagement is the most intense time to know your beloved — like, *really* know her! Since we got engaged, Kath and I became keener in spotting our quirks, virtues, and errors. Thus this was also the time for us to exercise forgiveness and correction with greater finesse — an act like counting the strands of a feather — an art and duty that’ll do us well for the rest of our lives together.
  4. Talking to God about your beloved — and talking to Him *with* her — makes the relationship stronger. Adopting a particular “Prayer for Marriage” was our best decision since getting engaged. It’s a prayer we say daily at the same time wherever each of us was. It’s a prayer that reminds us about our decision to get married in the first place: to be gifts to each other and to glorify God. With that prayer and our usual acts of piety, we gain a peace and direction that simplifies our life.

But the greatest lesson for me, of course, is how lucky a man I am. My vanities and frivolities lay in ruin at the unassuming simplicity, wisdom, affection, strength, virtue, and beauty of one Katharine Sta Maria, my future bride.

Double Trouble

There’s a question that’s often called to mind when facing dilemmas: “What would your best self do?”

Indeed what would Best Daryl do when facing problems? (Or when he’s not facing any?) Surely Best Daryl is going to do everything well. Great, actually. Perfect.

And he’ll be perfectly annoying.

His greatness is going to crawl under my skin, because, heck, he’s me and I don’t have his confidence and intelligence and overall awesomeness and biceps.

That is the predicament which Netflix’s Paul Rudd-starrer, Living with Your Self, explores. Miles Elliot (Rudd) is an advertising agent who is stuck in a rut, probably depressed. Until his star-employee colleague tips him about a spa that can turn anyone into their “best self”.

Miles goes to the spa, incredulous but miserable. After a short chitchat with the therapists, he falls asleep on the operating chair and wakes up gasping for breath — in a shallow grave in the woods.

Disoriented, he limps home for hours…only to find his best self talking to his wife, Kate (Aisling Bea), upstairs.

The ensuing tussle between the two Miles — through a fast-paced eight-episode run — is both hilarious and thought provoking. Which is probably why it is addicting. The characters are — hard to admit — relatable. Who has never “bickered” with themselves? Who has not been ashamed of their past wrongdoings, their past selves? Who has never seen themselves in a mirror and said, “Ugh.”

Not me. When I learned the word “should”, I became aware of a constant battle between Actual Daryl and Ideal Daryl. (Bear with me.) Sometimes, it’s exhausting, that inner war. Especially when Actual fails and Ideal seems to gloat. And especially if you live in a culture that fetishizes “constant improvement”, “self-help”, and “positive psychology”.

But the two, fortunately, end up reconciling at some point, thank God. This is when you admit you’re wrong and resolve to be better next time. That’s always the sweetest moment between Actual and Ideal.

And all this, Living with Yourself plays out dramatically well.

Lea Salonga Shines in Sweeney Todd

Born to and raised by parents who worshiped Tony laureate Lea Salonga, I obviously had high expectations of the Manila staging of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Topbilled by Salonga (as Mrs. Lovett) alongside Jett Pangan (former lead vocalist of rock band The Dawn as the eponymous character), the musical was long awaited.

It did not disappoint.

Especially Salonga’s performance. In several ways, I love her interpretation of Mrs. Lovett more than Helena Bonham-Carter’s. Compared to the latter’s, hers is a louder, more comical, lovesick woman. It was my first time to watch Salonga perform live, and the experience shattered my previous image of her as the almost-always wholesome artist. The lady can do comedy — the dark kind, even the one laden with innuendos.

The most memorable part for me — more than The Worst Pies in London — is her rendition of By the Sea. Hilarious. Letting out a seagull’s GAAWK and slithering on Sweeney Todd’s lap (seducing him in vain), she proves to be a more versatile artist than you’ve probably known her.

Sweeney Todd is staged at Solaire until October 27.

The Crazy Crains


The Haunting of Hill House is your binge-worthy Halloween treat

The Haunting of Hill House, at 10 episodes, does not feel long. It’s the story of a family of seven easing their lives into an old house and of what happens to them many years later.

“Ease into the house”, of course, isn’t exactly what they did. The house sucks them in to a whirlwind of paranormal events, ending with the mom, Olivia Crain’s (Carla Gugino), mysterious death.

The Crain family moves out of the house, but their lives are changed forever. Steve (Michiel Huisman), the eldest kid, becomes an author of paranormal stories. He publishes a book about the haunting at Hill House — a bestseller — at the cost of wrinkling his relationship with his sister, Shirley (Elizabeth Reaser), who has become a professional embalmer. Shirley considers Steve’s earnings blood money. Theo (Kate Siegel), meanwhile, secretly accepted Steve’s money to finish her PhD in psychology; aloof since childhood, she struggles with what seems to be the middle-child syndrome. Luke (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) turns into a heroin addict and is at rehab. All but Nellie (Victoria Pedretti) thinks he can still change. But Nell is now a young widow suffering from sleep paralysis and the refreshed haunting of the Bent-Neck Lady from Hill House. Only Hugh Crain (Timothy Hutton), the patriarch, seems to be of clear mind, placid and wise from years of grief. And then Nellie kills herself. And the family gathers under one roof again. But the story is only just beginning.

The Haunting of Hill House transcends the horror genre into the genuinely dramatic. It tackles parenthood, sibling dynamics, and ultimately, love. It describes how people can sometimes have a twisted, deadly view of love. A love that confines. Fortunately, as the series shows, there is always the sane, serene, forgiving kind of love. The love that is freeing. The love that can vanquish all ghosts of fear and guilt and sin. The Haunting of Hill House beautifully unravels this towards the end.

Technique-wise, The Haunting of Hill House is a marvel. Episode 6 is especially remarkable for a long single-take/single-camera scene, when all the Crains gather for Nellie’s wake. It captures what one is sure to feel at excruciating events, when one painful moment just flows into the next equally stabbing one — no cuts. Anyway the series’ editing is superb throughout, actually. Even with its characteristic zooming back and forth in time, the series maintains a compelling story; it reminds me of Christopher Nolan’s time experiments. I just have trouble with some parts of the script — I mean, does Theo really need that long monologue on Episode 9?

But this baby is a 9/10. It’s beautiful, it’ll haunt you.