I never thought I’d ask this, but, what’s the point of keeping this WordPress? I post sporadically now that I’ve begun using my Tumblr as my “personal” blog site. The intention for this WordPress site has always been to publish short articles, op-eds, and essays, as well as “field notes” on my work–whether as a private detective or a writer or whatever else I do.

However, I haven’t had time to work on those article drafts. Yes, drafts, meaning I haven’t even begun writing the drafts yet.

I just want less web footprints. As a private detective, I shouldn’t be this visible in the public in terms of my identity and thoughts. WordPress has the best SEO of any blog platform, which is why professionals, businesses and superstar bloggers/personalities use it as a host. I don’t need or care for that kind of traffic. I could care less if anyone ever reads my crap.

But it has become extra luggage. I don’t need multiple fragments of my web self to be dispersed so widely. One blog, one mind. Blogging has always been a part of my life since I was a teenager, since I first created a Xanga account in 2003. So I will never stop blogging. However, I just need one centralized place to unload my notes, thoughts, marketing (for upcoming books/projects), etc.

I choose you, Pikachu!

Err…I meant, I choose Tumblr.

So yeah, this is my way of saying: I’m moving.

This is also my way of saying: We’re out of milk. Don’t you dare eat that box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch like chips. Don’t be a barbarian.

www.ra-qim.tumblr.com

No Church in the Wild

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I found an old abandoned African American church in North Carolina that’s been on the market for a while now. A state preservation organization is the current keeper.

I did my research and found out that a group of white teenagers and young adults vandalized the church in 2003. They even etched or tagged racial slurs inside.

I want to buy it, renovate it, and then establish a relationship with an African American congregation in the area and donate it to them.

If the surrounding land, which is all woodland, is also for sale, I’ll buy as many acres as I can. I want to develop tech parks in the area–whilst still maintaining and incorporating the natural environment–and encourage black tech entrepreneurs to set up shop there. I want to create a Silicon Valley of the South that not only encourages minorities to create tech start-ups, but educate (free coding schools) and incubate (venture capital) as well.

If it’s successful, I’ll employ the same thing in Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta and Cleveland. Who knows, the next tech/business revolution could be born in that humble battered church in the woods.

Film Notes: Violette (2013)

Violette (2013), a beautifully shot biopic on French novelist and memoirist, Violette Leduc.

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The writer’s life.

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Violette Field

Emmanuelle Devos was great playing Leduc in this movie. She portrayed Leduc’s neurotic/histrionic tendencies with realism. Devos is someone I’d tell acting students to study when working on facial expressions. I can mute the movie and cover the subtitles, and still know what’s going on in the scenes just by watching the emotions (or lack thereof) in her face.

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I thought this overhead shot of her and her mother is a great example of using subtle symbolism in film. Leduc’s mother had always been an integral part of her writing and this film shows their complex relationship. They clearly love each other and her mom is depicted as sweet and (for the most part) supportive. However, there is tension between them from time to time, mostly stemming from Leduc.

In this scene her mom comes over her apartment and she’s sleeping in Leduc’s bed. It’s a simple, common gesture to let your visiting parents (and the elderly in general) to sleep in your bed whilst you opt for the floor, but I feel like it shows Leduc’s tenderness towards her mother despite their occasional friction.

The side by side view shows that they’re inseparable, both in person and in the pages of her books. I also like the fact that Leduc is sleeping in a fetal position, symbolizing that she will always be her mother’s child no matter how hard she may try to distance herself.

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This scene reminded me of when I was writing a draft for a novel on a water-damaged notebook in the White Mountains (New Hampshire). Writing outdoors is actually great–granted there aren’t mosquitoes fucking you up–because the fresh oxygen and sunlight boosts your mental processing. Being in solitude and away from the maddening crowd helps as well.

Violette - I was in love with Sandrine Kiberlain, who played Simone de Beauvoir, throughout this movie

I was in love with Sandrine Kiberlain, who played Simone de Beauvoir, throughout this movie.

Violette - Yves Cape does a great job here turning a beautiful but cliche and dull shot into something interesting - the snow covered car resembles a phatom floating up the screen

Yves Cape does a great job here turning a beautiful but cliche and dull shot into something interesting. The snow covered car resembles a phantom floating up the screen.

Violette - Yves Cape a cinematographer who did Holy Motors and Humanite

Yves Cape is a bit underrated as a cinematographer. He also did Holy Motors and Humanite. Observe where the actors are in the frame. As a photographer, that is my idea of a perfect composition.

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This scene reminded me of The Others, when the daughter was playing in the wedding dress, and she transforms into the blind psychic – that’s another film with haunting (pun intended) cinematography.

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This scene reminded me of when Hurricane Ike swept through Houston, and we were out of power for about a week. I sat in the dining room with just one candle, writing essays and poems.

Violette - the set and costume designers did an amazing job by the way - also, shout-out to the location scout team

The set and costume designers did an amazing job. Also, shout-out to the location scouts. Perfect choices.

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One Waist, Two Guns

I miss the Philippines. I really do. However, I need to do a lot of things here before I go back. I want to help out my community here before I can even launch my revolutionary projects over there. I need to link arms with my fellow Americans and say to them, “We’re in this together.” They’re “my people” as much as Filipinos.  I try to look out for them the way they’ve always looked out for me.

Whether it’s rebuilding the Detroit economy, preventing an escalation of violence in Chicago, or creating tech hubs in economically-depressed cities along the Rust Belt and in the Deep South, I hope to contribute any way that I can to this country that I love so much (despite my long track record of quarreling with 2 Democrat and 2 Republican presidential administrations for almost two decades–yeah, I’ve been pissed since I was young).

People might wonder what it’s like to not just be bilingual, but “bi-cultural,” in America. It’s simple. The analogy I often use is it’s like having divorced parents. You love your mom and dad equally. You call both houses your home. You spend the weekdays here and the weekends there. You feel comfortable sleeping on either mattress. It’s the same relationship I have with the United States of America and the Republic of the Philippines.

I was made in the Philippines, but I was developed in the USA. I think that allows me to become a “man with no country” of sorts. Not in the sense that I reject both countries, but in the sense that I am a kid who doesn’t have to identify with one particular culture, and so I’m free to just be me.

Listen, for much of my life I never thought about my identity in nationalistic terms. I never really saw myself as either American or Filipino. I think of myself as just a dude, a human being among billions of other human beings trying to survive on planet Earth, in the Milky Way galaxy, in this universe.

But later on, I came to appreciate my Eastern and Western Hemisphere roots. I do have a fondness for Americans and Filipinos. I realized this when I began to travel abroad more often. How I end up high-fiving Americans and sparking small talk about NFL games or current affairs that are important to us, and other general things that non-Americans can’t relate with.

Even the way I communicate is different. The slang, aphorisms, regional terms, and references we use are different from the English I use in another country. For instance, someone who isn’t familiar with American terms might have trouble deciphering this sentence: “We were shooting shit when this random motherfucker passing by said, ‘Put yer Dukes up!’ So we fucked him up and ran him outta Dodge. When we saw him again, he was Monday morning quarterbacking. What a pussy.”

If you’re an English nobleman from York, you might be thinking, “Shooting shite? Dukes? Is he talking about me? Dodge…the car? Is Monday morning quarterbacking intercourse before morning tea??”

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of non-Americans nowadays talk the way we do due to the American English-centric internet and TV shows and movies, but there are certain language and cultural nuances that you pick up growing up in the United States which bilingual people abroad don’t understand.

In the Philippines, I struggled to articulate my humor which comes out naturally when I’m speaking English. But my rapid fire delivery of a quip is blocked by my slow translation processing. By the time it reaches my lips, I feel that my translated thoughts sound awkward and fall short. However, when I met another American dude in Tokyo, we talked for an hour like we’ve been best friends since kindergarten. That familiarity–something that’s the norm when we’re here in the U.S.–is like an ice-cold glass of Lone Star beer when you’re abroad.

Likewise, when I see a Filipino person here in the U.S., I immediately talk to them in Tagalog (even though they might not even be Tagalog, but Visayan or Ilocano) and we’d reminisce about home.

It’s human nature to love your tribe(s), but that doesn’t mean I despise all others. You can put me in Kazakhstan or Norway or Ecuador or Tanzania, and I will make them “my people” too.

What I’m trying to say is…how the FUCK did Miss France win Miss Universe? Come on, Miss Haiti was perfect!

 

Tales from the Crypt

I’m working on an encryption algorithm for an accounting firm that’s based on something I used during a stint in [undisclosed country] a while back. I never thought I would end up recycling it. This happened at a time when I was careless about personal security–never wearing issued ballistics vests and Kevlar helmets, or taking safety precautions with my electronic communications–because I was a bit of renegade (a.k.a. idiot).

I was forced to write my own encryption algorithm when I had an issue with a fixer–the life-saving people journalists work with–during one particular assignment. Fixers are translators, drivers, liaisons and, sometimes, bodyguards as well (the guy I worked with drove around with an AK-47 precariously wedged between the center console and my seat), all rolled in one.

Well, I had two fixers on this particular assignment: one I’ve worked with before and became a good friend, and another who was brand new on the team. The latter passed a basic background check that, in hindsight, should’ve been more thorough.

Well, my newspaper’s security chief did a second check, and it turned out the fixer was affiliated with a local mafia, and that those mobsters were supplying arms to a terrorist group. Now, this group is Minor League and they weren’t really successful at anything for much of their existence except assassinating a local army general back in the 90s. However, they were fond of kidnapping foreigners, particularly journalists, for ransom. That was their bread & butter.

So I suggested creating our own encryption package and using that to communicate vital sensitive information with “the inner-circle.” All the while, I kept my communications with the shady fixer at a basic level (e.g. where and when to pick me up for an interview). We didn’t want to fire him then and there, because the local police got involved and wanted to capture him and any accomplices in the act of conspiracy. So I fed him information on my whereabouts to see if anyone else would follow us to those locations.

It turned out some fishies went after our bait and confirmed our suspicions. At one point, I was doing surveillance on my elusive, interview-shy subjects (for the actual investigative article I was working on) while a couple of suspicious dudes in an old tinted up Toyota van were doing surveillance on me, and the police was doing surveillance on them. We looked like a chain of stalkers.

Eventually, nothing happened. We didn’t get any hard evidence of conspiracies to kidnap my dumb ass. I got my story. I flew back to the States and that was that. However, from that day forward, I became more active in creating my own encryption algorithms and even experimented with my own VPN, which I now do on the side for generous amounts of $$$.

The morals of the story are:

1. It’s good to be paranoid sometimes.

2. Don’t discard old ideas. Save them. You never know when you might use them for a totally different purpose.

3. Learn programming and the fundamentals of software engineering. Enroll in coding bootcamps. There are a lot of them that offer flexible online courses, but I recommend finding one in your area so that you can get hands-on classroom experience.

4. Learn as many different things as your brain can handle. Always expand your knowledge library.

China Faktory No. 382

I pass for Mexican 80% of the time and you can’t see my Chinese lineage, but I did get my business sense from them. One day, I will run for mayor in this humble town of mine. I don’t have an economics or finance degree. I have never worked as a Wall Street bankster (thankfully) or local CPA, but I have a decade worth of experience in entrepreneurship. Some of my businesses failed, some succeeded quietly. In any case, I’ve been in the game for a while now and my hunger to innovate, help people, and push the boundaries of business has not waned.

So when my future-opponent questions my ability to boost the local economy, I want to be able to show some kind of evidence that I’m more than capable of running a town intelligently. I will create businesses and raise the GDP. I will provide jobs for thousands of people through my own businesses and even through the businesses of my friendly competitors. I want to show people that I’ve been helping the town’s economy way before I even entered politics.

They know me here. I’m the hometown kid with a shitload of tattoos who can chill with the homies in the slums; converse with the shop owners and retirees sitting on the porch; host dinners for the Bishop and other Catholic elite. These are not “my” people. I am part of the people.

My sole discomfort with business before was that it went against my anarchist, wannabe-revolutionary beliefs as a teenager. I told myself that I’m an artist; business is a different planet. I told myself to stick to my lane. But then I grew up and became realistic (without letting the dreamer in me die), and realized that if business and politics can help me help others, then that’s the road I should be on.

Le Coup au Coeur

I got a tattoo based on Magritte’s painting,”Le Coup au Coeur (The Blow to the Heart)”. It’s about the dangers of falling in love with a beautiful woman, and was about Magritte’s troubled marriage.

I replaced the dagger with a balisong (butterfly knife) because it symbolized the toughness and work ethic of Filipino people. In the rural areas of Batangas where the balisong originated from, farmers carried balisongs as a utility knife and weapon. Despite the stereotypes, the balisong is not just used for fighting. It also symbolizes our heritage as an agrarian working society.

Another cool thing about the tattoo is that the leaves on the rose was based on the leaves that grow in front of my house, so I always have a piece of home wherever I go. The artist, Kuya Raige (Monster Artists Collective – Lucena City, Philippines), is so talented that he freestyled the whole tattoo using a 25-cent Bic pen I bought at a dollar store in Houston; no stencil necessary.

American Poet

Yesterday I asked the front desk associate at my local library, which I’ve been going to since I was 10 years old, for a copy of all the books I’ve checked out in the last two years. She printed out 28 pages worth of titles, ranging from Orson Scott Card’s classic sci-fi novel Ender’s Game to The Sopranos Family Cookbook: As Compiled by Artie Bucco.

I immediately felt a pang of guilt for wasting so many sheets and convinced myself that the library was responsible enough to use recycled paper. I scanned through the list and noticed one title that frequently made an appearance: Transfigurations: collected poems by Jay Wright. I’ve checked out that particular book a total of eleven times; more than any other titles in the past couple of years.

I went back to the library and checked it out one more time, drove home, and immediately plunged headfirst into the familiar vivid, hypnotic verse of Jay Wright, trying to come up with a logical explanation for my infatuation. The first poem in the entire collection is called Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, which contains memorable lines that mix humor with accurate portraits of youth:

Outside, the pagan kids

scramble in the darkness,

kissing each other with a sly humility,

or urinating boldly against the trees.

Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting reveals Jay Wright’s delicate balancing act between spiritual pursuit, in which he’s the participant, and his observations on the humanity behind such pursuits of personal growth. But he also affirms his role as a poet who takes it all in, like a kind of photosynthesis, and then redistributing what he has absorbed in the form of verse.

That poem was from one of his earliest collections, The Homecoming Singer (1971), which illustrated Jay Wright’s talent at melting religious symbolism, sociopolitical reportage, and cultural studies. In his eyes, all three of these were interconnected on a deep level.

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I flipped through the pages and landed on another poem, titled Reflections Before the Charity Hospital, which starts out with these economical but razor-sharp lines:

I live almost within this hospital.

All day someone grumbles

through the speaker system.

Whey-faced doctors give consultations

to the poor, outside the doors.

Few are ever admitted.

This is the power of Jay Wright’s poetry. His ability to observe and empathize with people of different backgrounds can be traced back to his roots. The African-American poet grew up in a multicultural environment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was exposed to Mexican and Native American cultures. This conglomeration of different cultural values, along with his own, clearly shows in his writings.

His poetry is distinctively American: a melting pot of different perspectives. Though he’s not as widely read as some of his contemporaries, he is a literary gem in the American cultural landscape, and it’s about time we celebrate his legacy.

Portfolio Website Evaluation

It’s time for my quarterly website evaluation. No, not this WordPress site, but my actual “official” website: http://www.michaelmira.com

I haven’t updated it in months. As of now, I’m going to keep the top header. It’s simple, minimal and a bit quirky.

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As you scroll down, the ghost emoji floats up into the heavens.

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I used to have a sleek but generic/cliche grid image gallery that linked to my individual projects, but I decided to go with a literary theme instead. The problem is my analytics data shows that visitors aren’t clicking the titles. They probably assume those are just non-linked texts. I should change the style for links–like an underline or a bright color or both–even if it means it’ll make the page look ugly.

Functionality says, “Tell Aesthetics it can suck my dick.”

Well, okay then. Moving on.

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The font might be too light and small. It adds to the mystery but also strains the eyes. I’m keeping the background image though. I’ll pat myself on the back for that design choice.

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That’s a creepy baby doll. Fake plastic baby and plastic flowers. It’s a fake life, which is probably why I used it as a header image for my publications page. Because, you know, I’m a fake writer/photographer.

Michael Raqim Mira does not exist. It’s all in my mind. It’s all in my mind. It’s all in my mind. It’s all in my mind. It’s all in my mind. It’s all in my mind. It’s all in my mind.

Anyway, I digress. Most writers link their published work to the webpage in which it appears. I don’t do that for the simple fact that some of the online journals that published my work no longer exist, and I hate dead links. So to make up for it, I’ve created individual pages for each poem/short story/essay using a blog template provided by the host. It looks more uniform and cleaner than an outdated indie poetry magazine’s webpage.

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My freelance work page is probably unnecessary. This page is a constant reminder that I do too many things in life. One of the many problems with being multi-talented is that you will always be labeled as a jack-of-all-trades. I don’t give a fuck what they think because my eclectic arsenal of talents is why I can work in various industries and get hired easily.

However, is it really necessary to have this page on what is essentially an “artist/writer” portfolio? It brings up a more important question: what is the purpose of my website?

Initially, the whole purpose of the website was to centralize and coalesce my various social media profiles: Instagram (which I never even bothered to have), Tumblr/WordPress, Twitter, Vimeo, and LinkedIn.

This page was essentially meant to replace my LinkedIn account. This is where I can brag about my many skills and experiences, but now it just makes me look like an aimless teenager with ADD.

I need to come up with a system to organize my experiences for potential employers.

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The actual cover page for my website (the first thing you see before you enter the mess) is far scarier. Why? Because it reminds me that I’m borderline insane.

Explanation:

There’s a choice of “Me” and “Him” on the page. If you click Me, it will take you to my normal portfolio website (the screen shots above). Right now, there is no link directing you to the website for Him. I’m still working on it.

Now, this is where it gets kind of weird. “Him” will direct you to a portfolio website that will only feature my curriculum vitae and everything else not associated with the imaginary Michael Raqim Mira. This is the second career I’m pursuing ON TOP of my creative works.

It’s a dual-life.

“Him” is the regular me, in which I use my full legal/birth name, the academician and prospective human rights lawyer.

“Me” is Michael Raqim Mira, the (con) artist and self-described writer.

Every time I look at that cover page, I’m reminded that I’m crazy like Dr. Henry Jekyll living doubly as Mr. Hyde.

Is it possible to keep this up? Will I burn out and go full insane? How can someone as ordinary (but strange) as me be successful in multiple fields?

The good thing is I have a nuclear button: press it to destroy it all. I can easily walk away from the writing, the art, the academics, the revolutionary dreams, the research work, the ambitions–but it’s much more difficult to keep myself from coming back.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, I’ve “retired” from writing many times and yet I keep entering the ring for another fight.

My website is a reminder of this sickness.

The Backpack

For my very first Field Notes post, I think it’s fitting to talk about packing up for my trip to the Philippines. This will be no ordinary vacation because I’ll be roving through all three main islands to conduct an investigative reportage project on corruption, human rights violations, as well as illegal mining, logging and land grabbing.

Due to the nature of my project and the type of terrain I will be traversing, my gear list might look a lot different compared to yours.

Equipment

  • Slim high-quality backpack
  • Smartphone
  • 20000 mAh Power Bank

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  • 12-inch 256GB Macbook (because it’s lighter than my favored VAIO laptop)
  • iPad Pro (easier to handle when taking multimedia notes out on the field)
  • Foreign cash (ATM withdrawals abroad is a pain in the ass due to fees; cash is king. Just be sure that you don’t go over $10,000 USD when going through TSA. Bank of America makes it easy for you to order foreign currency so that you don’t have to deal with exchange fees abroad. Mine shipped from Los Angeles and got it the next day. Be sure to keep the invoice it came with in case authorities question you on where you got the money from because you’ll look like a drug dealer, well-financed terrorist or CIA clandestine operative).

 

Moolah
That’s Philippine Pesos, Singapore Dollars and Russian Rubles. The PHP wins because it looks like Monopoly money.
  • First Aid kit
  • Pens and notepads
  • Nikon D7200 DSLR
  • Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder
  • Satellite phone

Inmarsat_IsatPhone_2_Satellite_Phone_Front__74703.1394063997.315.315

  • Multitool and pocket knife (check your destination country’s laws on the maximum length you’re legally allowed to carry)
  • Maps and compass (because you can’t depend on GPS that could die on you in the middle of nowhere)
  • Specially encrypted Blackberry Bold with remote swipe (for secured calls and texting highly-sensitive information)
  • Light hiking boots (Adidas makes some great ones. This will allow you to comfortably go through different environments, from trekking down a mountain to dodging police tear gas in an urban riot).

 

Software 

  • Tor Browser
  • VSCO + Lightroom (get the Adobe Cloud package to save a lot of money)
  • Final Cut Pro X
  • TunnelBear VPN
  • WhatsApp + Skype (so you can make international voice and video calls back to the U.S. without charges. The U.S. Embassy in Manila has a Skype ID).

 

Although it seems like a lot, my gear set is actually quite light and is tech-centric. In fact, I might not even use my DSLR and Zoom recorder that much since the new iPhone 7 Plus will have a dual lens camera and has a pretty decent audio recorder app. So I will test it out in the field and see if my mobile solo-journalism methods are good enough to get the job done.

Also, being a dual American-Philippine citizen, I only use and take out my U.S. passport when I’m going to countries that benefit Americans, such as more relaxed tourism visa requirements (or lack thereof). However, I use my Philippine passport when going to countries and territories that are hostile towards Americans.

Well, folks, that’s about it for now. I might update my gear list later on, but that’s pretty much a good peek inside my backpack.

This WordPress blog will be my home for a while since I’ll be posting field notes, features, photo essays, and snippets of my project(s) throughout my stay in Asia. ‘Til next time.