As: Unique

The love I have for music could bring me to my knees. So, when the chance revealed itself, I became highly interested in the opportunity. Unique and I are of a different generation, so before I met him, I was pretty unfamiliar.

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My friends brought us together for the purpose of exploring our creativity. Then, something sparked.

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The creative spark was insane.

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When we work together, there is a trinity. A trinity of respect, trust and creativity to begin with.

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We respected each others’ talents and gained trust in each other to soar creatively.

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Most of you who are likely to read this probably know more about the drama that happened around Unique in social media. But let me share with you an insight: Tita Coco (his “Ma”) can so easily be painted as a villain because of her strong ways. One time, I pointed this out to them after Tita Coco said something I would not usually hear. It was really funny! I hope this society of “DRAMANILA” eventually subsides. Tao lang po lahat tayo. I can go on a rampage about all the drama that happens in Manila, but let’s not go there.

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Back to Unique. Where was I?

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It is my composing belief that life is made out of trinities.

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Witnessing the forces that work around, through and over me leaves me in a stupefied state sometimes. Everything that I have witnessed in my life lead me to undeniably believe that THERE IS A GOD. We all have our own processes and connect the dots differently. So, once again – respect nalang.

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There is just some force, that orchestrates some things that no matter what obstacle is set your way, the destination is inevitable.

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In the middle of a highly energized narration of my life during a conversation, a respected cardiologist (Dr. A), once told me,

“What you are doing is creating.”
I thought, “Yeah! Exactly!”
Then as I listened, he continued to say,,, “And creation is the activity of the gods.”

I was super M I N D B L O W N , you hear me!?
M-i-n-d-b-l-o-w-n.

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Grabe eh, as I write this listening to Unique, this line suddenly comes out of my speaker: “Sa labas man, o simbahan, kayang-kaya pag silbihan,,,” SO META!!! I just learned that term now, “meta.”

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I can gush over his talent, but give his album a listen and create your own judgement. GRANDMA (link opens to Spotify) is his first album. He is talented differently and I admire how he has embraced what he can do at such an early age – but with an old soul.

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Kwento ko lang, dahil sa kanya, I discovered the magic in the music of The Beatles. Fan boy rin kasi yan! Haha… Lahat tayo may tinitingalang mga tao, but remember to look beyond the person and deeper into the inspiration of the matter.

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AS Patrick Starrr

I must live under a rock of some sort, because when I was told Patrick Starrr would be on Preview Magazine’s last print cover, I had no clue about him. I’m saying this in the spirit of total honesty.  But walking into the Summit Studio this time, I sensed it was more special than the usual cover shoot.

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First of all, we had more space to work with, the clothes were nicely hung apart from each other and each piece was a statement – would expect nothing less from Marc Jacobs.

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It was the usual Preview staff.

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Patrick’s co-star for the cover was Alex Gonzaga.

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Took a portrait of Maui during the down time because I liked her statement gold eyeliner. Mind you, I usually come into these shoots bare-faced because I’m lazy like that. But I do appreciate the art of make up.

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Then when I walked in the pantry, there was a whole spread of food on the table, different from the usual. I thought, “What’s going on here?”

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Then Patrick’s team arrives first wearing MAC sponsored jackets with his name! At that point I was just to curious to see the person behind the Starrr.

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When I started shooting, I inserted myself in a few frames because I wanted a photo with him, I’m just not the type to ask frequently. I did however introduce myself as a photographer. I will not forget what he said, “Honey, make me look good – okay?” and I responded, “I’ve got your back.”

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Just being around his presence was so fun! I was having the time of my life until Maui whispered to me that Isha, the EIC, wanted to speak with me. I was shocked because I’m usually left doing my own thing and then I thought, did I do anything wrong? Because they really don’t usually call me, specially while I was having such fun documenting Patrick do his own make up! It honestly was super mesmerizing to watch. Anyway, so I went with Maui to the dressing room where Isha and the rest of the staff were.

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When I walked in, they were looking at me and Isha first apologizes and then asks “Would it be okay if you stood in as a model for Patrick?” I couldn’t quite get what she was asking. Let’s get real here.

People our size are greatly overlooked by M-A-N-Y or undervalued. I cannot even shop at a regular store without a “PLUS” line. I can go on a lengthy rant about this, but that’s not the focus here. I’m just saying, I’ve never felt the luxury of clothing before because of my size nor have had the chance to truly express my truth through my clothes, because the options are just so limited – specially in Manila. Patrick, if you ever read this, please consider starting your own clothing brand! Haha, why not?

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Anyway, back to me being a model. I was able to try on all the Marc Jacobs pieces Patrick wore during the cover shoot. But he – wore it with confidence. I was learning from a master.

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That pink coat was my favorite. I wanted to take it home with me.

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BJ shot a few frames then Alex came in with a bubbly disposition.

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It was a show to watch, because very few times in my existence have I witnessed a gay, plus-sized, Filipino outshine a pretty lady. I say this without offense to anyone, okay?

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Patrick moved like a supermodel! Like, super super model.

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Closest I’ve seen on video, but have yet to experience, that moves like that is Coco Rocha. “This Starrr!” I thought.

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Just look at him go. He gave attention to all the cameras in the room, and that’s not an easy task.

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At one point, he walked by my side of the studio to change shoes. I whispered to him, “Patrick you are absolutely inspiring.” Like, seriously. He said, “Thanks honey, what’s your name again?” I smiled and with a handshake, I replied, “Ritz.”

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A MAC representative from the New York office was part of his team. We got to talk, and she told me Patrick’s story. FYI, he has one of the biggest collaborations with MAC Cosmetics – second to Rhianna. What?! That’s amazing, I thought.

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He started as a make up artist for one of the MAC Cosmetics store in the US.

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Look at that SMIZE! Tyra would be proud.

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And unlike many other stars’ his spirit was that of inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

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They were an amazing duo. Alex is really really funny.

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That shoot was so fun, I’m glad some ladies encouraged me to write this story. I’m remembering everything through these photos, the feeling and all. It was good vibes all around.

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Team Starrr brings so much to the table. Just when I didn’t think I could be any more surprised by this individual, he transforms some more! Like Madonna.

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Grabe, ang inspiring niya talaga. I’m glad I got to tell him that in person.

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BOOM, right?

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SUPER SUPER MODEL – I tell you!

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Shot for Preview Magzine, photos by Ritz Marie.

As Ara

Ara and I have known each other for a few years now, but we only got the chance to have a session recently. I always thought photographing her would yield interesting results, and wow – was I correct to assume that! The beauty in this pinay is untapped. Just look at her. Grabe.

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Before the session started, she slightly hinted on what angles she was conscious about. I listened and took those into consideration. But when we started shooting, her being transformed infront of the camera. I began to love all her angles, so diverse.

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There is so much rawness in her beauty that the world has yet to see.

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Let me tell you, this pinay has not even started yet.

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I absolutely adore the beauty mark on her cheek. Beforehand, she told me she was conscious of her nose (that it had certain angles, etc.) and I just found that absurd because her nose is amazing, from my perspective at least. You see, in the Philippines, having a sharp nose is considered a beauty standard. It’s been so ingrained in our media that to have a sharp nose is beautiful that many, Ara included, question the beauty of this one part of their body.

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As the music changed, so did our moods.

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We exchanged stories and got to know each other more.

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She grew more beautiful as she revealed herself.

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The light transformed her angles as the sun set on our conversations.

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As in GRABE.

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Filipina beauty at its finest.

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As the day gave way to night, we continued to just be us – together.

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We exchanged marvels about this beauty of life.

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As we got deeper in the session, I saw how beautiful the blood of a Filipina is, and even I began to appreciate my own heritage beauty.

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“Ang ganda ng Pinay.” I thought to myself.

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More than the beauty of her physicality, the beauty of this being’s soul is awe-inspiring.

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As the night went on, I decided to share with her my journal.

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In her hands is the Journal of Lucid Dreaming. My journal. Me.

An interesting realization just happened. I realized that once I share this journal, I do not know what will happen. Pardon me as I ponder and type. You see, I poured so much of myself in that notebook and I’ve kept it private for a long time. It came to a sharing-point when I realized that the story is beautiful. I decided to self-publish my journal because I wanted to have full creative control of my actions. Felt good to finish the first edition of this project. More about my journal later on.

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Going back to Ara, she is such a stunning vision.

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In darkness and light, her beauty remains.

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Ariella Arida. What a name.

Ariella, sounds synonymous to the grace of water (in my own imagined vocabulary).

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Whatta muse. Grabe, ganda mo madam. Yun lang, the end.

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Model: Ara
Photographer: Ritz Marie

As Vanessa

As the music played and she moved, sitting in my mama’s wheelchair, I could feel my eyes water. For the first time in my life, in the middle of shooting, I found my self moved to tears. She was unafraid to be so raw.

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Unedited. Untouched like the first photo in this story, I will aim to write about this session with all realness, just to give justice to the moments that brought me where I am at present.

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She came in bare-faced, loaded with energy. We immediately got talking and I shared with her my vision for the shoot. A concept that goes along the lines of “imprisoned but free” – this thought just brought to mind a book I read for my philosophy class in university, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. Good read.

Vanessa and I found common ground in parallel feelings, we laughed about dark times and enjoyed ourselves in the present. Then I said something that surprised me, I directed her by saying, “Just be me.” I let her in my little world, and we captured it. This post could also be aptly named, “As Vanessa, As Ritz” because… Well, just read and watch the story unfold.

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There’s an old saying that goes something like the body is the prison of the soul. But I choose to see it from a different perspective, that the body is a shell for our soul. Have you ever marveled at the beauty of a simple shell? If you haven’t, try it out and just marvel at the flawless design of nature.

There were just those times when I felt like I was behind bars. Sometimes imagined, and sometimes real. But no matter where these pockets of prison were, the element that saved me was my imagination.

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Dreaming would soothe my spirit. I knew that the reality I faced, harsh as it may have been, was merely temporary. Though I had no idea how to get myself out of the situation, I trusted the universe to bring me to a much better place. Some may call these concepts, faith and hope.

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No matter what darkness I found (or lost) myself in, I would always hope for a better tomorrow. No matter what.

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When I would try to curve for a smile between my lips, I would feel my tear ducts swell. It was like my body was giving the world the honesty I could not accept.

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“Are you okay?” They asked.
I would stay silent and think, “Do you really care?”
Then they would look at me like I had a disability.

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It got to a point where I became exhausted just trying to explain myself. So for a few months, I became a hermit trying to find peace in my little shell of the world.

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As the winds of change swept through my existence, my self evolved.

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I felt a strange surge of strength. However, I questioned my ability to sustain that power. Then, I realized that the strongest people were once the most broken. I scrambled to find silver linings in the situations I found myself faced with.

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Time brought a certain sense of healing.

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Until one day, I found myself able to hear the beauty of sound again. I chose to embrace this profound experience of pain and listen patiently to the message it was trying to relay.

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Music became my sanctuary. Space, my guide.

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Though darkness still enveloped the horizon, I remained still.

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For it is only a matter of time when night gives way to the day.

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“Remain still.”
I constantly reminded myself.

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I remained in my little corner of the world.

With songs on repeat, I paused time and let me be me.

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Like a lunatic, I stared at the moon.

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Some may call it madness, while some may call it genius. I’d like to see it as a process. I just did what I know I had to in order for my joy to awakened.

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I set forth to create.

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Create a reality worth living.

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In my silence, I screamed.

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In speaking, I was silent.

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In destruction, I felt life.

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In darkness, I found light.

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In chaos, I found peace.

Then, I realized that everything led to me remembering my self. In so few words, let’s just say I found who I am in myself.

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I am different.

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In a place where everyone wants to be seemingly normal, it’s a challenge to be something else.

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But sometimes one just has to fuck with normalcy (pardon my well-used profanity) and embrace who they are, as they are.

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I embraced my trinity.

Model: Vanessa (Elite Manila)
Photographer: Ritz Marie

As The Ionitas

March 2016. Birthday month.
When the Jedi Brothers came to visit.
Introducing, Alex and Stefan.

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What I am trying to express in this post is my gratitude for love and life. The time these moments happened, I was in a place inexplicable. Life was scattered and intimidating. But as the universe would have it, these two souls were sent to rescue me from drowning. They served as my lifeguards, my life jackets and as I slowly sank into an abyss, they lit my way and held my soul closely to theirs.

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Alex (in green), I’ve known for quite a while. Stefan (in stripes), I met during that trip. The Ionita’s will hold a piece of my heart wherever life takes me. I think it’s the first time I’m truly reflecting and writing about this time in my life, and honestly, it’s already getting me teary-eyed. And I’ve barely started writing!

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Photo by Alex Ionita

Life felt so harsh before their arrival. Total drama in Manila = DRAMANILA. Certain issues with family came to life and questions swirled through my head like a whirlpool. It was a time where I sensed that no one in my immediate vicinity could understand what I was going through. When I tried to communicate it with them, they would literally stare and look at me like I was deluded. So I just kept to myself. It was a challenge just being, you know? Existence can be tiring at times. Just being who you are with company who accepts you for all your are was an alien feeling for me. I know it was something I’ve already experienced before, but I forgot the feeling of being free to be just me. Everyone around me that time, and I mean everyone, wanted me to be someone else. My family wanted me to make more money, so much pressure was put on me to lose weight, work was sullen and I was just a mess. I felt battered just being in the presence of these people. I even ran away. Because I just could not anymore.

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But thankfully, there were still those very few souls who, though questioned their belief in me, still supported me to become. Those few saw something in me that I failed to see in myself. A few months back, I thanked Alex for “dealing” me while I was a mess. He aptly stated, “You were not a mess, you just lost your compass.” I thought about it, and he was right in stating that. So I told him, “Thank you, for serving as my true north during those times.”

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Alex and I met while we were both studying at York University in Toronto. Time and space led us to lose touch for a while, but as destiny would have it, we were brought back together in each others’ lives. One of the many things I really appreciate him doing was when he remained in constant communication with me when my mama had a stroke and was in the hospital for seven weeks (that’s another potent story). He consistently kept me company even from far away. While I would look after mama in the ICU, alone, his messages of encouragements would come in and those would lift me up greatly.

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Alex was also going through some battles of his own, on his own. But even if he was busy fighting whatever forces, he remained there for me. Hopefully he realizes that if there is any war he needs help in fighting, I will be his ally. Always, always.

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At present, all I know is that he will be forever a darling in my heart and a companion of my soul. I clearly remember crying my soul to him one night at the beach. He remained still. He listened to what I had to say, but more than that, he remained. I relentlessly bared my soul to Alex and Stefan and they seemed to understand what it was saying. Even if I couldn’t quite figure it out myself yet.

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Cried. That’s what I did, when we first saw each other in person after almost a decade. I cried not out of sadness, but out of the fact that I was able to breathe again with them. How could I be sad when I knew great people like them flew all the way to the Philippines to spend time? If anything, I did not feel worthy of the love that was being showered to me. I kept on questioning myself. In hind sight, it’s actually hilarious.

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I remember getting out of the car, seeing his back turned from the window – he was seated in the courtyard and I thought to myself, “He’s actually here. He’s right there.” I walked towards him and my knees went weak when he hugged me. He caught me though. I felt strengthened in the sense that I did not have to hide who I am anymore. Because in a sense, my soul knew that his soul knows who I really am.

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In the mornings, I would wake him up so early (while he’s on vacation) to go watch the sunrise. We would go on the boat, talk about existence, purpose and life. I felt love’s presence all around. The light enveloped the surroundings so beautiful and with majesty. Before, my body clock was always that of a vampire. But things change, I’ve learned to appreciate the mornings more. Funnily enough, the Ionitas, before moving to Canada, were from Romania. So I guess, we were in like-blooded company. (Ha!) Pardon the digression to humor, for my eyes need a break from crying while writing this post. The question I’ll have later is if I’m even going to share this. It’s one of the most (if not THE most) personal piece I’ve written here. Actually feels liberating.

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As the sun rose to our delight, we would have moments of silence.

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We would just soak in the surroundings and the present happening. Beauty remained faithful and ever-present.

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Nature is unquestionably perfect, and so it was. We basked in the infinite wellness of the present moment by being in each other’s presence.

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Even if I just personally met Stefan during that trip, I felt that I’ve known him before. There was this one night, we were laying down on the sand and looking up to the universe when we started talking about the movie, The Truman Show. How life really seemed to be that way many, many times. Then a star seemed to move, Stefan caught it and said it was a satellite. I shouted (to NASA) “Please take a photo of and email it to me!” We all had a laugh and continued to marvel at the universe.

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The Ionita’s did more than just to come as they are, they brought out the “as I am” in me. Because they had no expectations of me being any other, I greatly sensed that they accepted me for who I was, who I am and who I want to become. There was no pressure to be anyone else other than myself. And that in itself is quite exhilarating.

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I felt special. Moments like these are beyond the concept of kilig.

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In essence, they breathed life back into my soul and love into my life. Something everyone so desperately craves for but few are brave enough to admit.

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We shared, laughed, dined, sunbathed in the middle of the ocean. There would be moments of peace and quiet, and I would just ponder on all the events that had to happen just to bring us together. I’m fairly certain there’s a mathematical formula to compute the chances of events like this transpiring, somewhere out there. But at the tail end of pondering upon these moments, I just let things be, and enjoyed their presence. Ok, I mean, IMAGINE. I grew up in the Philippines, they grew up in Romania, we met in Canada. Can you even?!

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The magnitude of the moments would make my heart tear with joy.

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The days were a vision of true clarity.

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The sun, our playmate, was cool enough to give us great visions of light.

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As the waves washed all troubles away, my soul was soothed and mind was refreshed.

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They are gentlemen of muse.

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Our time under the sun will forever be a cherished part of me.

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Though not in the photos, I’d like to share that during my birthday (we spent on the boat), dolphins showed up beside us, dancing through existence. It was a wonderful surprise from the forces unseen.

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As the days came to pass and the night revealed itself, we basked in a different light.

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Stars filled our vision of the sky.

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There was not a cloud in the sky. It was spotless and filled with majesty.

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I was enthralled.

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The photos pale weak in comparison to the actual beauty of the moment.

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As the moon gave way for the stars to shine brighter that night, my being was energized. With the Ionita’s, I experienced being part of shared beauty. Grabe. And in a sense, I felt beautiful too around them.

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We could see the Milky Way clearly that time. I’m telling you, not a cloud in the sky.

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The first night we spent together, we were at the beach and fireflies revealed themselves. While sitting by the shore, I thought I saw a shooting star so close to us, but it revealed itself to be light in a different form. A single firefly. Then as we walked back to the resort, we were led to a bush, a seemingly ordinary bush (you could see all its thorns in the light of day). All of a sudden, the plant lit up like a Christmas tree would! Then, we found ourselves in the middle of fireflies – just lighting up our world. It was such a treat! That occurrence on the first night we spent together solidified my belief that life is in deed, beautiful and that there is literally light in every living creature.

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As we played connect-the-dots with destiny, I marveled at the beautiful drawing life was creating and is continuing to do so.

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I am blessed to have had the opportunity to experience moments like these. SO BLESSED. That, I am aware of – and I am grateful to have the capacity to share moments like these.

End so I guess that answers my question whether to post and share this story or not.

Photography: Ritz Marie
Models: Alex and Stefan Ionita
Location: Mindoro, Puerto Galera, Philippines
Special thanks to Marco Vincent Dive Resort

As Mica

Uncertain where to begin with this story, because there is just so much history – let me start by telling you that she is my sister (by choice, literally my “soul sister”). We’ve known each other since we were awkward teenagers.

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But for like (let me count) twelve years, we missed seeing each other.

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I moved to study in Toronto, and she moved to pursue acting in Los Angeles.

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Funny story, during my 18th birthday (my “debut”), she spearheaded in creating one of the most memorable gifts I’ve received, like, ever. Her and other friends made a surprise video for me and the concept was that I was a celebrated photographer. And they were interviewing my other friends who spoke in the mindset of my future character.

Note to self: Find a copy of that video.

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Our lives went on different directions down the same path.

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How ever life went for us, we chose to challenge the distance.

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Thanks to the mighty internet, we kept in touch. Constantly updating each other with our lives. So, after more than ten years of not seeing each other, you know what we did? We took a nap. It was glorious. Before, we had this thing where we’d pretend sleep. For no reason, just to take a pause – maybe.

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Sis has this theory that we were both starstruck with each other.

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And I am inclined to agree with her, because though she paused her passion for acting – she’s still a star in my eyes, and always will be.

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Model: Michaela Froilan
Photographer: Ritz Marie

 

As Ivan

His name has a special nook in my heart, a great friend of mine is named Ivan. So the expectations for the person under this name is pretty great. Anyway, this Ivan arrived at around 10am and what I first noticed was the sincerity of his smile and then the light in his eyes.

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I asked to have a conversation with him before the shoot happened, but in the middle of the conversation, I felt we already became comfortable enough with each other for the session.

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His mother tongue is Russian and he is just in the process of being fluent in the English language. He shared with me that one of his dreams is to eloquently communicate in English, and that it was great for him to be in Manila because everyone knows the language and he could practice his skills.

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Our conversation started out pretty casually, until we both showed great depths. I felt a certain sense of comfort speaking to him. And I guess, him with me.

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When I asked about his mustache tattoo, I learned that he is also a hair dresser. He expressed that when he cuts hair, he does it with his soul – and I found that beautiful. It was that day too he learned the word “soul” (thanks to Google Translate). I was honored to be in the vicinity.

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It’s a rarity when someone tries to communicate their soul with you.

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As we got deeper into our conversation, the following photos were taken. Notice the potency of something in his eyes. The potency of his soul, he shared with me – and I am honored.

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The sitting was so relaxed yet highly intense.

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Then we both had to just relax.

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Before he left, he told me, “This shoot is memorable.” And on that I agree with him wholeheartedly.

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Model: Ivan (Elite Manila)
Photographer: Ritz Marie

As The Cips

Kean. Chynna. Stellar. I first called them “The Cips” after their wedding and it stuck. You will see, this blog post is different from the rest because here, there is history and an ongoing relationship with the subjects. Treat this as a walk down memory lane.

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In the order of my life, first, there was Lara (Chynna as others know her). We’ve been through a lot together. Through the different phases in our lives, we experienced each other’s realities and truths.

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We splashed scattered thoughts on the walls and captured them together. Lara’s work was actually was a huge inspiration when it came to starting my writings.

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Without judgement or ego, we conversed. Together, we could just be. Then after a while, came someone named Kean.

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I am in no position to divulge their whole love story to the public, but let me just say that I feel honored to bear witness to the growth of their love, and family. Seeing their love from my perspective made me stronger.

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Love survives tears of stormy rain and gives one reason to smile the weather away.

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Ever since we were in school, I relentlessly captured memories. As my one friend aptly described before, “Bibili lang ng siomai, may dala pa siyang camera.” So, I shared what I had of Lara with Kean. Our shared memories captured through a lens aka our high school album.

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Remember that joy is greater sincerely shared.

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Then came Pea (Stellar)!!! And I became a her godmother.

The day these photos were taken, I was so happy I had playmates! Naturally, I whipped out my camera and had an instant photoshoot.

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No make up, no intended styling. Just with the Cips, as they are.

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Goofing around, and just being the best kind of friends – with authenticity and sincerity.

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And most importantly, true to form regarding who they really are.

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Sometimes, I wonder about Peanut. What’s in store for this child who has such talented parents. I know not what is in store for her, but certainly something bewilderingly beautiful.

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