‘Past, Present, Perfect?’ made me feel understood as a writer with big dreams

‘Past, Present, Perfect?’ made me feel understood as a writer with big dreams

“‘Yun na ba talaga? Hindi ka yayaman sa pagsusulat.” It wasn’t the only time our high school Filipino teacher Ms. Maricar* told me that with her pressing eyes and signature grin, her right mole hanging under her nose. I didn’t exactly know what that was. A warning? An encouragement? Or some kind of dare?

It wasn’t the only time Ms. Maricar asked us about our dreams, only to find herself staring down at mine longer than the others’ yet again, as if she’s waiting for me to change my mind. But it was the only time I responded with anything other than a dismissive, shy smile before sitting down. “Okay lang po. ‘Doon po ako sasaya.”

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I heard almost the same thing while watching an episode from an iWant original series Past, Present, Perfect?. A struggling adult who’s been facing gigantic obstacles towards her published-author dreams, Shantal (Shaina Magdayao) dives into deeper pain as she receives a staggering comment from someone whom she expected to support her through it all: “Poetry won’t pay the bills.” The door slams. The engine stops. And she’s ready to face the world again.

What Shantal needs is fixing. And fixing is different, and way harder, than facing.

I started watching Past, Present, Perfect? a couple of months ago, after my friend Christine recommended it one sunny day in UP Diliman. It was around the afternoon we attended a scriptwriting workshop. During this time of dreaming, I wished to ace my job as a journalist, but I also wanted to write about a social issues-focused coming of age film, a romance-mystery novel, and maybe win the most coveted Palanca someday.

Past, Present, Perfect? became an unapologetic, stripped-down mirror with a hand, actively pointing at me—a writer who feels too small for her dreams.

Past, Present, Perfect? became an unapologetic, stripped-down mirror with a hand, actively pointing at me—a writer who feels too small for her dreams.

Maybe it’s because of how Past, Present, Perfect? alternates two timelines, cleverly laying out how growth really happens. If anything, it’s not linear.

Shantal of 2003 (Loisa Andalio) didn’t know she wanted to become a writer until her literature teacher, Sir Daniel (Vin Abrenica), lends her an Allan Popa poetry book. She gets a taste of writing success as she pursues writing in college, but it doesn’t end there. 2018 adult Shantal is now a writer, but not exactly the kind she wanted—she translates textbooks, does subtitles for porn, and writes a follow-up to her “successful” pocketbook, a kind of “milestone” she deeply despises.

The show brings us back to our youth—with our wide-eyed souls and enthusiastic bodies—and the honest reality that dreams come from unusual places. Aside from igniting her interest in writing because of Sir Daniel, we see young Shantal’s gift for words grow every time she trades after-school hangouts for reading sessions at home, and writes her friends’ love letters. Dreams come and grow from the most unusual places, and I guess that also means we can’t run out of them.

Maybe it’s because of how it doesn’t shy away from the ugliness that comes with taking the first step of a huge, scary dream. With her part-time writing stints, Shantal can’t even pay her apartment rental bills nor afford a better lunch than cup noodles.

One of the scenes even felt undeniably relatable: Last year after my graduation, when hunting for a decent writing job was tougher than we all imagined, I was advised to try working in a bank first. What if I get a better future there sooner or later, they said. Banks pay well anyway, they said. And just like Shantal who was offered the same idea, I shrugged it off, like writing was the only thing that could keep me alive. 

Maybe it’s because of how the show tells us that our relationship with our passion can also go awry, that sometimes we can make mistakes in handling it, so it won’t always be perfect. 

One of the most painful parts of the show was adult Shantal coming to terms with her own Pandora’s box, digging a part of her past that keeps her from moving forward in the present. It was the fixing she needed. “Para kanino ka ba nagsusulat?” Shantal was reminded, along with every possible writer watching the show. Years ago, my passion for writing was fueled by one certain thing; thinking that it was the only thing I know. Thankfully, Past, Present, Perfect? reminds me that my world has always been bigger than that. I can write for strangers, for subways, for stars I can’t see, for the masses, and for myself.

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Maybe it’s because of how the show not only embodies the struggles of wannabe writers, but all creatives, and everyone else who won’t stop for their dreams. The show’s director, Dwein Baltazar, says it herself: Pakiramdam ko para ito sa lahat ng naliligaw at pasuko na sa life. I think more people should watch it, yes, for kilig, for nostalgia, para ma-entertain pero also, para ma-re center sila, para may bumatok, para may humawak sa kamay nila at marinig na, ‘hello, it’s gonna be okay!’” 

Moreover, just like how I treated it, Dwein saw the show as her own revelation unfolding in front of her eyes. “This I only realized after watching the whole series. Ako pala si Shantal. At may Sir Daniel din ako, pero walang romantic or crush angle, ha. May isa akong teacher na babae na naniwala sa ‘kin na kaya ko magsulat. Kaya totoo ‘yun, totoong kailangan mo lang ng isang taong naniniwala sa ‘yo para magpatuloy. Gaya ni Shantal at gaya ko, kumapit ako do’n at patuloy na kumakapit kapag naiisip kong sumuko. I go back to Miss Renalyn, my Filipino teacher ‘nung sinabi niyang magaling ako magsulat, kaya ko maging writer! ‘Tas magsusulat na ako ulit. Gano’n ka-personal ang series na ito sa ‘kin.”

“Kaya totoo ‘yun, totoong kailangan mo lang ng isang taong naniniwala sa ‘yo para magpatuloy.”

I also asked Elijah Canlas, who plays the young Marius crushing on Shantal, on what this show means to him as a young dreamer. “Dreams never die. It’s hard to achieve your dreams no matter how good you are. And even if you give up at some point in your life—that dream will keep haunting you no matter what. So in short, don’t give up on your dreams (laughs).” 

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Aside from being a gift to its viewers, Past, Present, Perfect? has become a real coming of age experience to those who made it. “The first ever scene I shot was that bike scene wherein Marius gives a letter to Shantal. I met Loisa right then and there yet we were both open to each other like we’ve known each other for a while. Then Awra, Angellie, and Amy followed and they were all the same. The chemistry the audience sees from the cast is authentic and real.”

“Dreams never die. It’s hard to achieve your dreams no matter how good you are. And even if you give up at some point in your life—that dream will keep haunting you no matter what.”

All of these and more make the show a worthy watch. “It’s simple but also unique with its premise. It subtly manages to squeeze in these nuances that make the audience feel like the characters could be them too,” Elijah added.

Almost four years after answering, “Okay lang po. ‘Doon po ako sasaya,” to Ms. Maricar, I received a message from her, inviting me to be a one-day writing speaker for students of my high school. She invited me again two years later, for a much bigger crowd. So I guess what she said back then was a warning, encouragement, and a dare all at once. Some honest-to-goodness truth.

Maybe she knew the path I was going for required a lot of grit as much as it required a lot of heart.

Maybe she knew the path I was going for required a lot of grit as much as it required a lot of heart. And I should be prepared for it, even today. Maybe just like Past, Present, Perfect?, Ms. Maricar is meant to shake up my soul to pursue the big and the scary. Because just like what Shantal’s father said, we, the big dreamers, are also the bravest ones. The whole world is a challenge. And we want all of it.

Past, Present, Perfect? is having its TV premiere on Aug. 18 in ABS-CBN. See the trailer here. Watch out for its second season coming soon.

Photography by Neil Daza, courtesy of Dwein Baltazar

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Jelou Galang
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