Empire State of Mind

My soul was on fire. Photos with Laura and Corey. A conversation with her high school theatre teacher. A friend to live it all through, someone for the ages.

We walked out of the Jacobs all ready to leave. Still in awe, the crisp New York air filled my lungs as I stepped out. We walked side by side, just thankful to even be here amidst the towering buildings, a coordinate within the city’s grid system. Opposite, Dear Evan Hansen and Great Comet; down the street, Waitress and along 7th, Times.

Mesmerized by the on-stage love of Julia and Danny, I walked… just thankful.

The security laid out the metal barricades and across the street I could hear shouts of “Josh! Josh!!” and “Ben!”. Who knew I’d meet Ben just days later? A reminder for patience, I would failed to heed over and over again. E noticed fans gathering at the barricades and we both just knew what we had to do. Fans I may have known from a Tumblr click or two, just metres away from me. And then there they were.

We wandered the streets, a million directions it seemed like we could head toward, blocks and blocks we could walk. Pizza for a dollar, Auntie Anne’s banter. NBA Conference Finals only a coast away, yet the east was all that seemed to matter. Didn’t seem to feel like I was there for a wedding, and that was the first time I wished I wasn’t. The feeling of want for time was back following me

The CityPasses we had were due to expire and there seemed like there was no better a night to go visit the Empire. And indeed there wasn’t. Around us, night crept deeper but the cacophony seemed to never settle: sounds, lights, people.

As we rode up the escalator to the top, my heart nagged at me, wondering why this moment couldn’t last. Looking down at the city later, washed in a glow of enigma that would fascinate me till this day, matched only by a cousin up North, I knew that there was something missing but I wasn’t simply going to find it just like there. I had to keep searching but also had to learn to be happy just being.

Things would change quick soon after I took that United 1 flight back but something clicked: the life I wanted to see could take root back home. And I owe it to the people here to make that a reality. I’d like to think I’m an Arrow of sorts, doing something for his city; but this city deserves better, everyone in this city deserves so much more.

I would forget this again until, by the grace of God, I would find myself in Logan. I live and breathe this now, and won’t stop till I get there.

But back to that night at the observation deck, as the magic filled our lungs, I just smiled. Not everything was about the bright lights and big city, but boy how good it feels when everything aligns right.

Boy how good it feels when you feel so big even when you’re so small.

Boy how good it feels when that rush of fire takes over.

Boy how good it feels when you just let it be.

this might make no sense but it is what it is – a stream of consciousness. << i’ve made mistakes but i’m coming home and i hope to make you proud. >>


Catharsis (once and for all?)

I replay the 3 minute video and find myself transported back to the same night and the same moment over and over. I wish it turned out differently then but maybe it was for the best.

I hurt but I learnt and though it took us a while, we came full circle back to where we started. Things weren’t the same but they got better, and for that I am thankful. For that, and so much more, I am thankful.

Last August, 45 min: you, just the way I remembered, sitting in the lobby’s couch, bringing a dose of honesty in conversation that I’d daily soon long to have.

At that moment, I wondered yet again what could have been been had I been different – had I known better.

But I stopped myself in my tracks and deep down I knew, this was how it was always meant to be. And so I simply enjoyed the company with you.

That was all that mattered.

Thoughts for the night/weekend:

  • Things always pay off in the long run, even if you don’t see it at first
  • Control and conquer
  • Rise, rise, rise (be better, for whoever, always)

“And the Academy Award for Best Picture goes to…”

I stare down at the sea of people in front of me and am at a loss for words. Many years ago, this was all just a pipe dream. I took a distant shot at it, knowing that if I did fail, at least I had the courage to try. By the grace of God, the film got made and the rest was, as they say, history.

Winning an Oscar was always a joke, a dream that made for a good sleep but was never the intention in any way. The goal was to make a film that people could see parts of themselves in, an authentic and genuine story about life – something that acknowledges the struggle and the fight. Something that would make them feel hope.

I look out and see Amy Adams and I smile. She smiles back. Suddenly, I know where to begin.

“Amy, ever since I first saw you in The Fighter, I knew I just had to work with you and I’m deeply grateful for the chance to. Thank you for giving a script from a first timer a shot and pouring your soul into this. To the rest of the ensemble led by Amy, you guys are the heart of this film – without all of you, none of this would be possible. To the cast and crew who poured in time and sweat into making my sprawling dream a reality, for keeping me in check and inspiring me to dream a little bigger still, thank you.”

“To my parents, who taught me to dream and the importance of being grounded and having a strong foundation, thank you. When I was young we would always have debates on dreams vs pragmatism… these long interminable debates at times…. But over the course of my life, I’ve come to learn that for all of us, it’s a little bit of both. To my sister who can’t be here because she’s opening her last show on Broadway tomorrow, (all the best girl!) thank you for giving me the courage to give this a chance.”

“Damien, it’s been about 25 years since I watched you step on to this very stage for La La Land but what you said that night echoes deeply till today. At its core, this too is a film about love. I haven’t been lucky enough to find that but life has, and continues to show, that love manifests in a myriad of ways. To the lady that inspired this me, thank you for having been a part of my life.”

“And above all, to my son and daughter here tonight who look like they’re most interested in the food than me (I’ve had my place stolen by food countless time, this is nothing new), thank you for being my guiding light every single day. You are why I do what I do and I hope I have, and continue to make you proud.”

“Thank you very much.”


He stared up at the dynamic display, in awe, not at all fazed by the basic Calibri fonts, lack of alignment in graphics and by the occasional informational overload on the screen. Novena, Newton, Somerset. If all critics were kids, maybe the world would be a kinder place. If all critics were kids, maybe we would never make progress at all.

“Look dad, look at that, its changing!!!” The glint in his eye as bright as the display.

“Orh orh ya that’s nice”, he says, barely glancing at the display, or at his son.

How could he for his eyes were transfixed downward on his phone, one earphone out for good measure. I mean, at least the Staris display was a 2x 10″ display, why would you look at your phone?

The boy persists for a couple of moments, giving up on trying to get his dad’s attention eventually. He quietens.

He looks up at the screen still amazed, or maybe just feigning wonder to hide his hurt. Kids learn to use tablets as fast as they grow up.

How dreams take flight, or die.


For these guys I’d run down from the other end of the country, literally, if they ever needed me. These were the only guys I ever knew (and maybe who I’d ever know) who would put everything on the line for the people they gave a damn about and even those who they never knew.

I sat across K at the KFC located as always in the basement of shopping centers here. We were intrigued by the froyo that would eventually become a relative mainstay on KFC’s menus but decided against giving it a shot. The F stood for fried not froyo after all. The things corporations would do to stay relevant. Maybe it did taste good after all, on hindsight.

“That’s a lot of money for one night.”

“Not every night is going to be tonight though.”

“That’s true.”

Ever the smarter one, K knew when I didn’t. But above that, he was a dedicated friend, and his sense of brotherhood knew no bounds even when it fell outside the sense of logic.

He trusted me to pay him back the money. I did have the cash on hand, with whatever meager sum that I was earning while serving. When you have shelter, food and water, there is a tendency to splurge on anything else that you could afford with the limited freedom you had. I just didn’t have the card, which he did.

It was only one night but I was going to make it count. She would be gone in the morning of the new month and I hoped to make the evening a memorable one for her. I was naive, and didn’t know better and couldn’t see the signs that the wheels on this friendship was coming off. It was my fault but when you’re blindsided by a reckless hope, these things lose their significance.

“Okay I selected the limo type ah but they don’t let me see which model it’ll be. I hope it turns out alright.”

“Should be okay ba! Let me key in the card number for you.”

An Uber today would have cost me half of what he paid and what I signed off on, but we were in technological primacy, by today’s standards. One thing that hasn’t changed though is how easy it is for someone to take your money away – a few clicks of a button, an OTP and voila.

But it was going to be money well spent. I was sure of it.

Oh how the wheels fell that night even before that black SUV strolled into that foyer. For a moment I thought Samuel L Jackson was waiting on the inside. I really wished to be an Avenger.

“Life moves…

… pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

“When do you leave?”

“10.30 in the morning.”

*shuffles back to his room slowly*

*and shuffles back to mine*

“And when do you come back?”

“I’ll be back on Wednesday, I’ll go to school for a couple of days and get back that night.”

“Ohhh? Ahh.” he says with a confounded look worn on his face. He closes his eyes just a little bit as if to say a prayer, which was what he was probably doing. His memory may be failing him, but his penchant to say a prayer never faded.

“Alright then, good night…” he says almost in a whisper, palm raised to say bye as we always do. Just a few years ago he would chastise me for raising my hand to say good night, admonishing that it was akin to saying get out. I never did quite understand the logic behind that but it didn’t matter in the end for he warmed to what must be a modern idea to him. Or maybe he just forgot.

As his door shut close, I felt the same familiar heartache that I do every week on a Sunday night. A heartache I used to feel even more keenly while I made my way with a heavy backpack down to the west end. Though I always wished it was the West End instead – no heartache there except the ones from the dialogues and that which the heavy step out into the cold London air filled you with.

Now I carry a laptop a fraction of the weight I once used to. I didn’t have time then to ruminate for too long, 8pm, admin kit, fast march or kiss the ground. And neither do I have the time now, javac, Grumbrecht, schedule schedule or reschedule.

But deep down I know: back then I didn’t have a choice, I do now.

Back then I didn’t have a choice, I do now.

I close the laptop lid, another day slipping into a minuscule but visible oblivion, deciding I’d leave at 8.30 instead.

Can’t be two lectures back.