A.G. De Mesa, nearly 26, is a photographer, writer, and one-half of Third World Linux, a podcast that has recently made it to iTunes’ New and Noteworthy list. I refer to him as sempai, a honorific nickname whose origins I’m still unsure of (like a lot of things, I think it just happened), and true to form, A.G. has often proved an impromptu mentor in matters of cellphone camera hacks, grassroots light-meter creation, photo composition, acting, and, now, life.
We meet in Dunkin Donuts. I have a standing promise to buy him donuts–a promise that, like his nickname, I can’t remember the reasons for–but in the end all he asks for is a bottled water. Seated, he seems shorter than I remember; the A.G. I recall was always a lanky giant, like those shoujo manga sketches of men. For a split-second, I wonder if he thinks I’m trying to ask him on a date, then I dismiss the thought: all my interactions with him can do nothing but reinforce the image of a hyperactive, clueless, vaguely-awkward younger sister. As we talk, his long fingers deftly tinker with his analog camera, cleaning the lenses and occasionally snapping a photo (I try my hardest not to pose.)
I ask him what he’s been up to. He tells me, with a wry half-smile, that two of his zines are headed to Singapore for the Photo Book Festival, “Pero ‘di ako kasama.” He takes the proofs of one of them out of a Fujifilm envelope and spreads them gradually on the counter, frame-by-frame telling a photo story. It’s been a long time since I’ve handled actual prints made from film–there are even tiny timestamps, glowing red, in the corner–and I’ve never been good at reading pictures so I ask him questions and hope not to look stupid. From there, the conversation shifts to his podcast projects. From there, the rest of the conversation just…happens.
A.G. is never one to mince words, so when we dive into what has turned out to be the topic at hand–what he’s doing, and what it’s like to be “grown up”–he tells me up front that “It’ll start making sense when you turn twenty-six.” I tell him I’m not really sure I want to. Eyes on the table, fidgeting with my cardigan and conscious that what I’m saying sounds like spoiled post-millenial hipster BS, I reel off an abbreviation of the spiel that’s been playing like a broken record in my mind for the past few days: “I don’t want to grow up because I’m afraid I’ll have to give up on my dreams. Growing up means being miserable. The world will always be out to get me. I can’t even have my dreams to comfort me. I have to work. I have to earn money. I have to die.”
Considering my dramatic statements, A.G.’s reaction is pleasantly neutral–neither overly concerned nor irritably apathetic. I’m a little surprised at that fact–A.G. is a member of a barkada-slash-creative commune known as Bodega, all of whom are (in)famous for their dislike of aforementioned ‘spoiled, post-millenial hipster BS.’ I expect to be castigated. Instead, he talks about his life and how he figured out how to ‘get his sh*t together,’ pausing every so often to allow me to voice my own concerns.
His life philosophy, he explains, has now boiled down to three statements: “The world doesn’t suck. Don’t hate people. Keep doing.” He openly cites his source–something every Dragon U student is trained to do–as the Bible, specifically Jesus’ condensing of the ten commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Of the three, the one he mentions to me the most is to keep doing–to follow whatever feels most important for you to do in the here and now. For him, it’s taking photographs and writing about them; his “new and noteworthy” podcast is a blissful accident, a direct result of this avowed policy to just dive into the things he wants to do. When I try to run some ideas that I’ve been thinking about past him, he cuts me short with “Don’t think about it. Just do.”
At first glance, what he says sounds familiar in a Thought Catalog-ish sort of way (he would wince at the comparison)–“Don’t worry about the money; do what you love.” The difference, though, is that A.G. ditches “what you love” for “what you genuinely need to do,” and instead of the usual “follow your bliss” fare he acknowledges that ‘what you genuinely need to do’ changes over time–a fact that I’ve been trying to deny. While to me, giving up artistic aspirations in favor of a steady independence, wanting to raise a family, feel like nothing short of dream-killing, to A.G., it’s all part of the life process, all part of priorities shifting with age and not a symptom of “giving up” on what you love doing. He may one day–one far off day–want stability, he says, but reiterates that even then he will still keep doing: “…keep taking photos, keep writing–it doesn’t earn a lot of money, but it’s something I will be remembered by.”
I tell him I don’t think what I need to do will change much, “I need to tell stories.” Then I ask him if it’s okay that I want to do so in a lot of different ways–my usual “Jack of all trades” ADD-brain. Earlier that day, blogger Laureen Uy, speaking at an Entrepreneurship Summit at my school, cited this as a potential pitfall, instead urging the audience to “find the one thing you’re passionate about.” I have never been passionate about just one thing, and my incapacity to really zoom in on a single geek has been a long-running concern. A.G. reduces it to a non-issue, “You’ll just have many different ways of doing the one thing you love doing. And when you can’t do something, you can always write about it.”
Back when I’d first met him, A.G. was all passionate, nervous energy: an angsty urban warrior who called people out on their crap in between puffs of a cigarette or snaps of a camera. Today, he is significantly mellower, more comfortable. In ragged plaid shirt and skinny jeans, he doesn’t look twenty-six, but he acts like it, a sense of maturity underscoring his statements even if, language-wise, he still sounds like the sempai I used to talk to. When he finally calls me out on my negativism, it feels like a scolding, but not in the same way that it would had it been my father. There’s a sense of having been there and done that and “Don’t be stupid, kid” lacing the words, and I can respect and even accept his opinion even as we differ on points of view.
We close the conversation with Game of Thrones: I mention that my Project Management class sometimes feels like a crash-course in Westeros 101. “Since you mentioned Game of Thrones,” he says by way of parting shot, “What house are you?” “Tully,” I say immediately. He mulls it over. “You’re being taken over,” he says, “It looks like you’re going down, at least on the show.” “I know. I chose my house on the words, not the power. Family, duty, honor–they fit. Besides,” I shrug, “I think there’s still hope for us.”
A.G. takes a moment, then nods.
Special thanks to A.G. De Mesa for his time. To view his work, visit www.agdemesaphoto.com.