Part of the Process

I was thinking of changing the music of my upcoming choreography for the UMa Dance Showcase, because it was so big and overwhelming and I didn’t know if I could challenge my dancers enough to embrace it. Song in question is the Infernal Dance of the King Kaschei from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird. Yikes, right?

While looking for new possible replacements, I stumbled onto a demo of a song Mikah was writing in 2009. The song was at the time called “Telex.” It was just keys and drums, in a very somber drum n’ bass way. I listened to it over and over the next two days, became somewhat enamoured with the thought of finally “working together,” and thought, let’s see how this goes.

So, I had a rehearsal with one of my dancers tonight and though we changed the counting, the steps actually fit the music. I was also able to elaborate on some of the sequences. I think one of the problems with Firebird was the music was so demanding and I had to fill it up somehow, as if someone was rushing me. Without that pressure, I was able to clarify things, improve things. It felt good.

Interestingly, though, while thinking of a “next step,” Sim, my dancer, said why was I so tense? What? I asked, because I actually felt so relaxed. He said I shouldn’t worry so much, just be happy, because dancing makes us happy. I laughed at that, partly because he said it to make me laugh but also partly because, um, this dance is about anger, and how it is perfectly okay to be angry. I think Sim missed the briefing.

But that made me think. Was it the music? That was written by a boy I loved with all my heart, who is now in the ether, and cannot advise me about my choreographic choices? Was the aura heavy because of that?

Watching back the video I took of our last run, while pleased that I had generated so much material, there was just something off. The feel of the work was heavy, yes, but I wasn’t achieving the part about being okay with your anger. I decided, ehh. Stop being such a coward and rise to the challenge that is Igor Stravinsky.

But thank you, Bliebie, for the clarity, for allowing me to breathe while I compose this dance. And maybe I will use “Telex” someday. Maybe when the dance is not about losing you.


To his son, Mikah

Day 6 of #500HappyMikahDays

Not a day from my memories, but a lifetime of someone else’s memories. Because it is Fathers Day today.


I loved this photo of him because he is surrounded by bulols and a ballerina. He used to have a tiny bulul hanging from his rearview mirror, then one day it just disappeared. So I bought him a slightly bigger one and another for myself. He was so excited to show me this pic. “Look at the company I keep!” he said. This was from a photo shoot for his band, Helen. – Joelle

[MIKAH AZURIN is the brilliant drummer who co-founded and wrote original music for the metal band Brimstone in Fire, the jazz band Quail Quartet, and the drum-and-bass band Helen. He also wrote elegant software and was a top IT solutions architect for a major telecoms firm. He passed away unexpectedly on April 30, 2014.]


There, where you are, the music never dies

By René Azurin
Philippine Daily Inquirer
5:48 am | Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Dearest Mikah,

I can relate, in a way I couldn’t before, to the song lyric, “the day the music died”. Though written about the passing of another musician, it was what happened to us the morning of your sudden, totally unexpected, departure. The music literally died in our home that terrible day. Gone are the sounds of you beating out unique and innovative rhythms on your drums. Gone now too are even the pop oldies your mother would play on the stereo to keep the house infused with song. There is only quiet now. It is the silence of utter sadness.

We – your mother, your sister Sarah, and I – are absolutely devastated. Your going has sucked out not only the music but also the laughter that we as a very close family privately shared. The pain is indescribable. With horror, we contemplate the void now gawking in the very center of our lives. You gave us such joy, Mikah. Your mother doted on you. Your sister adored you. I, oh wow, I was in awe of you. With the way you combined genius mind and compassionate heart, it was impossible not to be.

From the day of your birth when you looked up at us from your isolette with already seeing eyes that seemed to say, ‘I know stuff’, we instinctively felt that we had been privileged to be visited by an old, wise, and innately beautiful soul. We did our best as parents to deserve that precious gift but, if we disappointed in any way, you ought to know that it was never from lack of love or priority. Maybe 39 years of that privilege was really more than we deserved. But, now, facing the fact that we will have to go the rest of our ways without our beloved pride and joy is profoundly unsettling.

You have now moved on to other planes, other dimensions of existence; we understand that, but we cannot yet cope with it. I honestly don’t know if we will really ever be able to.

So, these interminable numbing days that bleed indistinguishably into each other, we wander the house in a trance-like state, sitting in the places where you used to sit with your laptop, caressing the pillow where you lay your head, smelling your towel and shirts, touching the things you touched, sliding our fingers over the skins of your drums and holding out your drumsticks as if entreating you to, please, take them and tap out a rhythm. For long periods, we stare at your pictures in the frames we have around the sala and terrace.

There is a picture of you as a baby hunched over a book. Just 5 months old and your mother and I would catch you sitting up in your crib at 3 AM, looking intently at the pages of whatever picture book we had placed beside you. You started then and never stopped your voracious reading. I remember preparing to go on a trip when you were about 11 and you handing me a list of books that you wanted me to bring home – about 50 of them. Much of that trip was spent scouring San Francisco book shops to fill that order.

I stand before your bookshelves now and take in the breadth and depth of your fabulous intellect. Science by Einstein and Hawking. Classic fiction by Melville, Orwell, Murakami, and Lessing. Poetry by Rilke and Neruda. The ruminations of Borges. Assorted history and philosphy. Classic science-fiction by Clarke and Asimov. Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain. Sam Harris’s The End of Faith. Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape. Zecharia Sitchin’s Stairway to Heaven. And, of course, your favorites: the modern science-fiction/fantasies of Gene Wolfe, Iain Banks, Stephen Donaldson, and Neil Gaiman. Perhaps the strange worlds those writers imagined mirrored the ‘stuff’ you knew about the way the universe actually is.

A conversation with you was always something to look forward to. Talking to you about anything – from how to use a bass trap to improve the acoustics in a room, to how to choose hay for your rabbits and what treats not to give your dog Oscar, to ice ages and the 10 dimensions of string theory – invariably left one stimulated and enlightened. From whom else could one get such perceptiveness and insight on chaos theory or the action of superheated gases or the sociological origins of human behavior or the basis of morality and questions of good and evil? We mused, you and I, on the silliness of organized religion and raged about the anomalous character of our politics.

In any event, it seemed obvious that you had developed – and were evolving – an understanding of the underlying structure of the cosmos and that you were already seeing more than others, certainly more than I ever could. With a brilliantly creative mind and an education in applied physics, you, I suspect, had begun to catch glimpses of the nature of the multiple dimensions beyond this puny material world that we humans inhabit. I wish there had been more time to have discussed your ideas and speculations with you.

I wish I had let you teach me to play the drums.

Music was your passion but I.T. was your profession. One of your office colleagues remarked that the legacy you would leave them was “an aspiration to excellence”. Yes, that’s so you. Your sister Sarah recalls how you taught her how to write computer programs. She recalls how you handed her a complex piece of software and told her to find all the bugs in it; after she had done so and presented these to you, you then said, “Now fix it.” Later, you patiently took her through all those long lines of code and showed her the difference between code that merely worked and code that was “elegant”. You were that: the epitome of “elegance”. Years after, when you expressed pride in Sarah’s programming prowess to some I.T. industry professionals, you would omit telling them who the programming guru was from whom she learned to code elegantly.

Here’s something you’d find interesting, Mikah. Recent academic research – as reported by writer Jordan Taylor Sloan –has demonstrated that “drummers’ brains are actually different from everybody else’s”. Researchers have apparently discovered a clear link “between intelligence, good timing, and the part of the brain used for problem-solving”. Scientists now say that not only do good drummers “have a rare, innate ability to problem-solve” but that they also can “transfer that natural intelligence to others” through, it seems, “the effects of rhythms on brains”.

Sloan reports, “Researchers at Harvard found that drummers harness a different sort of internal clock that moves in waves, rather than linearly as a real clock does. They match an innate rhythm that has been found in human brainwaves, heart rates during sleep and even the auditory nerve firings in cats. When a human drummer plays, he or she finds a human rhythm.” Maybe, Sloan suggests, drummers “are people tapped into a fundamental undercurrent of what it means to be human, people around whom bands and communities form.” Intriguing stuff ha?

In your musical journey, you wrote and played the music of your metal band Brimstone in Fire, your jazz band Quail Quartet, and your drum-and-bass band Helen. Unfortunately, now, all that’s left to us are some videos of these on youtube. I watch these now and regret what I missed from missing your gigs in recent years. The talent, prodigious skill, and the creativeness. From the lyrics you wrote, Mikah, I am drawn now to this piece of poetry:

Tear up the maps and walk past the edges 
Out to the zones where monsters will be 
They’re waiting to teach you the wisdom you’re needing 
So sit at their feet and learn how to see.

You always wrote beautifully, Mikah. Hmmm, sonny, what magical things are you seeing and learning now?

In the Bhagavad Gita, it is written: “For that which is born, death is certain, and for that which is dead, birth is certain; therefore, grieve not over that which is unavoidable.” Sadly, there is – for your mother, for your sister Sarah, and for me – no way for us not to grieve intensely. But, if those ancient lines can offer any comfort, it is that they mean that nothing is ever final. There are no final goodbyes.

This, at least, your mother and I will not have to regret: that we hugged you every time we saw you and that we said ‘I love you Mikah’ every time we said good night, whether in person or via text. We will love you forever, Mikah. And, wherever you might fly, we will see you again. That’s a promise. What a thing to look forward to: you pounding away on the drum skins of the universe and imparting an elegant human rhythm to the vibrating strings of the cosmos. There where you are, the music never dies.

All our love always,
(The author, René Azurin, is a management consultant, professor, and writer.)

Shortened version here:

Pictures of me

Day 5 of #500HappyMikahDays

Mikah loves taking pictures of me, and we would joke that his real dream was to become a fashion photographer – not that he really wanted to be one, but when he took photos of me, he would harass me into posing. And I hate posing. He would  point out pictures of other people who were posing, and say, “Why can’t you do that?”

This email he sent was a photo he took of me while waiting for our food in Wingman, in Makati. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you can tell which photo this is; it has been my profile pic on more than one occasion. The exchange after he sent this never fails to make me smile.

wingman email

Is the #100HappyDays meme supposed to be everyday? I don’t think I can commit to every day, I have too many things to do. But I’ll try to post up a day as often as I can.

The point of this is for me to remember Mikah fondly and to stop being so angry at him, to stop feeling so lost about the pointlessness of his death. I know I will meet somebody I will love maybe as much, but I will not be using that person to replace who Mikah was in my life. I will love that person differently, as he deserves. These 500 days will remind me of my capacity to give and receive love and remind me to know when it’s real and when somebody’s just blowing smoke up my ass. My happy memories of Mikah will help me move on with my life, and to stop regretting all the would have, should have, could have beens.

I know what Mikah and I had is over. But I still want to remember him, the good he brought out in me, the good I brought out in him. Thank you for letting me share this.


Day 4 of #500HappyMikahDays

We don’t have an anniversary. When people ask him when our anniversary was, he says, “In the early morning.”

I celebrate the day we met – in person, not online – which is September 10, 2004. I just send him a message that says, “We’ve known each other X years!” and he responds with, “Let’s celebrate!” And while celebrating, he or I would say to the other, “Happy X years.”

But we weren’t really a couple from the start, because he was in the process of breaking up with Annette, with whom he had a long distance relationship. I suppose I was there to make him feel better about the situation. We kept our burgeoning involvement a secret for a while, even after they had broken up. (Which is why I knew he could do that to me, but that’s never going on any of the #500HappyMikahDays, sorry).

He wasn’t a complete asshole to either of us and I liked that he told me that he needed to mourn Annette for a while. I told him I hung out with him not because I expected anything of him (augh, famous last words, right) but because hanging out with him made me happy. That could have been when he fell in love with me. Most probably.

When he finally broke up with Annette, he called me up and asked if he could hang out in my house, because there were two gigs he was expected at, not to play but just for hanging out, but he couldn’t deal with seeing all Annette’s friends at that moment. I said it might not be a good idea, my house wasn’t a very good venue for mourning Annette. And then he said please. We spent the evening lying together in my living room couch, my arms around him, giving comfort.

I asked him, “Why are you here?”

He said, “Because you make me happy.”

digital angel

Day 3 of #500HappyMikahDays

My birthday is coming up. For the first time in a long time, Mikah failed to ask me what I wanted for my birthday. He usually starts asking around March, but between the madness of  my moving and his passing away, he didn’t have a chance to.

Even when we broke up in 2010, he asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I said, I want you to stop being an idiot and let’s get back together. I didn’t get what I wanted that year. I think I got shoes. Which is another HappyMikahDay.

He also asks me what I want for Christmas as early as July. Obviously, he gives me awesome gifts. I always give him really stupid ones. No, not always, but usually.

Anyway, back to Day 3. I wore this t-shirt today, and decided it will be today’s happy Mikah memory, especially since my birthday is coming up.

Digital angel #reflectionselfie #career

A post shared by Joelle Jacinto (@joellebjacinto) on

This is the first birthday gift he ever gave me. On the front, it says, Digital Angel. On the back is a pair of wings made out of the inside of a computer. When we first met online, I had told him I was obsessed with angel wings, that I wanted angel wings tattooed down my back, and I had written a short story where an odd couple (artist boy, marketing girl) make peace with their differences, well, because the artist boy, whose name was Angel, painted wings down the girl’s back and said, “See, we’re the same.” I have that story around here somewhere, I may post it. Or email it to you if you want to read it.


When Mikah and I first met offline, when we first saw each other IRL for the first time, it was so that he could lend me Neil Gaiman, which I confessed had never read. He lent me 2 books: Neverwhere and Murder Mysteries, which was a graphic novel full of naked men with large wings down their backs. Although he claims it was not his intention, you could tell he was a man after my base desires, err, I mean, my own heart.

You know that scene in Love Actually, where Emma Thompson thought she was getting a gold necklace for Christmas, and instead got a Joni Mitchell CD? Then, she disappeared into her room and wept while listening to “Both Sides Now” because getting the CD was proof that Alan Rickman was cheating on her? What made me sad even more was Alan Rickman did love her, because that CD symbolised how much he knew her and knew what it meant to her. Except for the part about him cheating on her with his secretary, I thought if I were Emma Thompson, I would rather the CD of my favourite singer than a stupid gold necklace.

The t-shirt isn’t very flattering on me, in fact, it makes me look bloated. Plus, it’s very uncomfortable in hot weather. But I absolutely love it anyway, I wear it all the time. I’ve worn it so much that the shoulders have started to fade. I wore it on a beach trip organised by my former office, and RJ chuckled at my t-shirt, saying, “That’s so you.”

Because I am a digital angel, and he was my robot. And now, most likely, a digital angel in the ether somewhere, high in the stratosphere.

My word was "Us." He said he got it right away. ❤

A post shared by Joelle Jacinto (@joellebjacinto) on


Back in my youth, I was unable to eat spicy food. People don’t know me to be a fussy eater, but I wasn’t always so adventurous as I am now. Even so, I’m still quite decided on the food I will and will not eat. But I’ve taken a liking to spicy Indian food, and I have Mikah to thank.

When I think back on our relationship, Mikah was pretty good at making me try things I didn’t like/like to do, sometimes, even making me like them. Spicy Indian food. Snorkeling. Holding rabbits. Choosing a place to eat (but that’s another story, another day).

Mikah knew I had a weakness for cheese. So the first thing we ordered in New Bombay, back when it was a tiny canteen on Salcedo, was mutter paneer. And he ordered it medium spicy and made sure there was a lot of rice and water. And, of course, I was hooked. Even when he leveled up to Spicy, I was quite ready. I can still see the pride on his face when I first said, “Spicy,” without prompting when the girl at Swagat asked if we preferred mild or medium.

We became regulars in Swagat and all the different branches of New Bombay, and were allowed to order Aloo Mutter even if it wasn’t on the menu. He was friends with the uncle and auntie who ran the original New Bombay, from his constant eating there, and how generally friendly he is.

(That’s another thing about Mikah and me. I look like the friendly one and he looks like the scary, arrogant one, but actually I’m quite aloof and antisocial and he makes friends with you if he likes your cooking).

In this way, he prepared me for life in Malaysia. I must say, he prepared me well.

My feel good meal after this super long day. Everything is fixed by cheese.

A post shared by Joelle Jacinto (@joellebjacinto) on

This photo of Mutter Paneer was not eaten with Mikah, I was on my home from work with a Makati stopover, but soon as I snapped a pic of it, I emailed it to him and said, “Thinking of you…”

Day 2 of #500HappyMikahDays