Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for March, 2018

Character 0

Posted on March 10, 2018 by jimparedes

Not on PhilStar

By Jim Paredes

I know this is a Sunday column. I want to give my readers a good read that can entertain, or inspire. The truth is, I find it hard to write that kind of column right now. I am too upset about the goings on in the world and in my own country. I don’t want this column to be a rant although it will be a little of that. But I will ask uncomfortable questions in the hope that we may open ourselves to answers and solutions to why the world seems to be going crazy.

Many beliefs we grew up with and have taken for granted are now being aggressively challenged. I am talking of the freedoms we fought for, the constitution that has guided this nation, due process, decency, and what I see as the rapid decline in morality of leaders and many of their followers all over the world.

It seems that the landmark battles we won in the past that installed democracy, strengthened human rights over the decades are suddenly being threatened.

Misogyny, racism, fascism, fake news are on a big comeback and they are threatening to lord themselves over everyone. Configuring signs of a dangerous new world order are appearing.

Everyday, as I peruse the news I ask myself many questions that bother me.

Why do some women laugh at anti-women jokes? What kind of people are they who laugh when the President says he should have been given first choice to rape a missionary? Why do they laugh when the President says the armed forces should shoot women rebels in the vagina? What kind of women and men find these funny?

And why is it that there is little outrage over the injustice of Leila DeLima being in jail on trumped up charges? Why is our congress illegally defying the Ombudsman’s orders to fire a proven thief within its ranks? Why is Supreme Court Justice Sereno being illegally and forcibly taken out? Is a fascist state looming 32 years after EDSA?

And why is it that our officials seem to be siding more with China on issues involving our islands in the West Philippine Sea? Cayetano and Roque sound like they are lawyering for China. Why do our technocrats not speak out against the onerous terms that the Chinese are imposing on loans when Japan’s offer is so much cheaper? Do they want us to pay more taxes to China? Or is it because Japan has conditions that make sure that the money is spent for what it is intended for?

And what is wrong with the constitution and why are they rushing to change it? And why can’t I believe that these people behind the haste are doing it with the best intentions in mind for the country?

I also ask why a country like the US refuses to see that easy access to guns are the cause of the many killings that have been occurring for decades now. The figures are clear. Why does government decide in favor of those who believe that anyone can possess guns and that they should be able to carry them at all times? Bob Dylan once asked, ‘How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?’ So far, the answer is still blowing in the wind.

And what is this resurgent racism and fascism all about? How did this resurrection happen? And where did their supporters come from?

Fake news has become an epidemic. When I see people believing in fake news, I feel sorry that they are degrading themselves by not thinking, and not discerning properly. By refusing to think things through, they are dehumanizing themselves. And those who spread them are worse. They are outright liars, deceivers, and deniers of the light.

History called the people who fought on the side of the democratic forces during World War 2 as the greatest generation that ever lived. I know I am simplifying things a bit but the sides were quite clear. When you got down to it, it t was democracy over fascism.

These days, those two sides are staring at each other and are heading for a rumble. Yet, not too many people are alarmed. Why don’t more people see the situation with urgency? What has made us stop discerning properly? Facebook? The internet? Gadgets and distractions of modern life? Apathy? Wealth? Moral decay?

I often ask myself: Are people all over the world suffering from a lack of character? As a child, I went through rough times when I had to live without getting what I wanted or sometimes, what I needed. The consolation I got from my mother was that at least, suffering built character.

It built patience, understanding, discernment, discipline, leadership, compassion, and strength to overcome hardship. One would think that deprivation would make people subservient and lose the capacity to dream. In my case, it challenged me to strive for a better life. It also taught me that there are times when passivity is the right response, and when actively challenging the status quo and outrage were necessary and useful.

In times of great turmoil, character is everything. Character determines how things will turn out. As writer F. Fitzgerald said, ‘character is plot’.

Are there enough people with character who will stand up for what is right? I frame this conflict as the battle between good and evil. It goes beyond political questions I do not think I am exaggerating it. Too many people are turning their backs on logic, reason, compassion and kindness, and abandoning their moral compass. Many have clearly chosen to side with evil and are going out of their way to intimidate, threaten and discourage good people.

One rule that applies to the world and everything is the law of entropy. Things rot, wither and die. The tendency of everything is to disintegrate and eventually get destroyed. Perhaps the reason why the world is still alive is that there are still good people holding the sky up and preventing mankind from destroying the world and each other.

I imagine these good people that stare down the law of entropy are those with character.

As the crises unfolds, many things will be revealed about ourselves. True character will out. I just hope there are more who are of good character who will come to the rescue and win this epic moral battle that is playing out everywhere.

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I knew songs could move crowds to sing out loud and dance. At one point an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug

I left the Philippines on Feb. 23, 2018 to go to the US. The past four days I have been in a hospital in California visiting a relative who has been sick and confined there. I wanted to cheer her up so I made sure I brought something she has always enjoyed. I brought a guitar. She was one of those people who really encouraged me to get into music when I young.

I wanted to sing to her and make sure she had had a great time. I and my sisters Meiling and Babsy were there for her.

She had slowed down quite a bit since the last time saw her. She can barely get out of bed, much less stand and walk by herself. She also gets tired easily so we are lucky to have more than four hours with her in a day.

I made sure she remembered the old times when we all shared happy moments We talked about childhood friends, relatives, happy times. I retold old jokes, and reminisced on crazy experiences. I chose songs that reminded her of home, family, love and friends. Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing and just enjoy herself.

She remembered all the lyrics to the songs. For three afternoons, we settled ourselves near the nurses’ station and I just played my guitar and sang. Patients would pass by. Some made requests. Some would linger around for about four songs. A few stayed around the whole time we sang. One day, we sang for almost three hours.

In between songs they would talk to us about how great it was to listen to our singing that were part of their childhood and teenage years. Some would quietly cry. Everyone thanked us profusely.

There was a woman who first caught our attention by shouting, “I am so stupid. I want to die,” over and over the morning we arrived. She was a tough one. But every afternoon, she would hang around with us and tell us how much she loved the songs we dished out. She listened attentively and even sang along.

There was this long-haired guy who had a guitar in his room. He sat on his wheelchair as he paid attention to every chord I played. At times, he would borrow the guitar. He missed playing. His fingers had lost their muscle memory to play with conviction. He loved the Beatles.

A well-groomed man in his early ‘60s grooved with every song. During a break, he expressed that he had been living with constant pain all over his upper body for years. He said it was the first time he felt pain-free just by being there and enjoying the music.

It was no surprise that most of the staff in the hospital were Filipinos. All over the world, Filipino nurses have earned their good reputation. The nurses, the office people, the utility men always serve their patients with that love and respect we give to elders back home. There is always more than the usual amount of laughter you hear in hospitals run by Filipinos. They are friendly and like to joke with the patients and always give encouraging words.

On my last day, the staff arranged for me and my sisters to play at the big cafeteria so more people could watch us. As I stood on stage, I smiled and introduced myself and my sisters and told them that we would be singing a few songs. I sang two English songs, one a medley of Paul Anka’s version of ‘90s songs, the other was When I Met You, a hit song I had written some 30 years ago. They went quite well. The next two were Ewan and Panalangin, which I dedicated to the Filipino staff. I then played a couple of Everly Brothers songs on the piano and ended the gig with Hey Jude. The response was enthusiastic. They sang along aloud. We, performers and audience felt wonderful.

It was the most unusual gig I have ever done. It was impromptu. The technicals were not great. It was a simple audio setup. No fancy lighting. No band. I was not in a performance outfit. I did not charge a fee. But we sang with all our hearts and played to a crowd that was dying to be reached out to — and loved. At one point while I was singing, an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug. I hugged her back.

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I know songs could move crowds to sing out loud, and dance and clap their hands. But this was one moment when I saw the power of music heal broken spirits and lift them enough to add a smile on their faces, a spring to their step, and joy and love in their hearts, even just for a moment.

Counter-intuitive advice 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 18, 2018 – 12:00am

You live and learn. You live to learn. That’s a constant in a life. It is instinctive. We learn from the day we are born to the day we die, unless we willfully refuse to learn.

When I think about it, some of the best lessons I have learned were those that seemed to initially go against the grain of things. In many ways, some even seemed counter-intuitive at first. I know some of them will not make sense to a lot of people. They may even shun these lessons. But to me, they opened my eyes to a bigger life. They were not always pleasant but they turned out to be valuable.

Here are some of them:

1) It is better to be sorry than safe.
Okay. I know. The opposite of the statement has always been one of the most important lessons we’ve ever heard from our parents, guardians and teachers. I will be the first to admit that this has saved me from many potentially harmful or unpleasant predicaments.
At the same time, trying to stay on the safe side is not always a great place to be. Staying safe and silent can become a copout, preventing you from practicing what you believe in. Sometimes, as a conscious, concerned human being, you must speak out and go against the madness that rules the world. You will face resistance. You will be cursed and condemned. It will hurt. But you have to do it if you wish to stay true to yourself.

As an artist, I subscribe to this a lot, too. You will never break ground unless you are willing to risk failing. You have to try something new, create something novel, not something derivative. You must go against the tide if you want to be heard.

In the event that you end up sorry, at least you know you learned something. Too often, being safe means being boring and conformist. When you go out and explore beyond what you are sure of, you could end up feeling triumphant, or you could end up regretting. Mistakes can teach you a lot about yourself. At the very least, you experience and discover something new.

2) Don’t ask “Why me?” Ask “What’s next?”
I learned this from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
In life, we will face disappointments. A big one can stop you in your tracks forever. It could kill your soul. What will decide whether you die or rise from disappointment is your attitude towards it. Instead of asking the world the usual “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”, ask the simpler question, “What’s next?” If you linger too long in victim mode, your heart will become leaden and you will permanently give up on what you wanted to do. You will lose self-confidence and dream smaller.

So at the onset of disappointment and failure, immediately pick yourself up and ask, “What’s next?” In short, if you bump against a door that won’t open, try the next one. And the next, until you get to the right one.

3) “You take care of quantity. God will take of quality.”
This is another lesson I learned from Julia Cameron. Many times, repetition is what you need to do anything well. An athlete who keeps running the same track daily will one day realize that he has just beaten his own personal best record. And soon after, he breaks the school record, then the national record, etc.

My Zen teacher used to urge us to sit daily in meditation. Enlightenment is not something to seek, he would say. It will happen when it happens. It will happen maybe on your 46th sit, or your 98th or maybe 500th sit. Who knows? One thing is sure, though. It won’t happen if you do not do your sits. And when it happens, it will be an accident.

As a songwriter, I know that not every song I write will be good. I have to write a lot to accidentally make a few good ones. It’s as simple and crazy as that.

So if you want to be “accident prone” to perfection, enlightenment, or anything of value, you must keep repeating your process and go for quantity.

4) “If you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” — Master Linj, founder of Rinzai sect
Clearly this is metaphorical. And like most koans from Zen, there are many ways to understand this. I have a few takes on this. For this article, I wish to share one of them and it goes something like this.

We were born to live and learn. We must be ready to constantly learn ever new things, lessons and realizations. We must be ready to outgrow and surpass our teachers, idols and authorities, especially in our understanding of life. There are no final goals and ideals to achieve and rest upon. Every time we reach a certain level, we must go past its gate. There are no end goals. We must surpass everything, including ourselves. When we have become the Buddha, we must also kill ourselves. (This is metaphorical, of course.)

In short, live and learn. Live to learn. And keep learning while you live.

5) Lastly, be the first to forgive.
It goes against the grain of how ego wants you to live. The truth is, this kind of pride can be toxic. Don’t let negativity stick. Let it slide. It does you no good. Extend the hand of forgiveness!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/02/18/1788771/counter-intuitive-advice#OAHvMscytd8rTIj1.99

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