Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Great songwriting takes practice — and accidents 0

Posted on February 11, 2017 by jimparedes

Great songwriting takes practice — and accidents
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 12, 2017 – 12:00am

I am teaching songwriting this semester at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Communications Department, for the second year in a row.

I require certain conditions of the students who wish to join my class. I require that enrollees play at least one instrument. I also want a small class of no more than 15 students, although this semester, I ended up with 18. I gave way after I read the emails of some applicants who missed the deadline. I sensed that they really wanted to be in the class.

My approach to this subject is very hands-on. I ask the students to bring their guitars. There is a keyboard available in the classroom. I require them to write at least one song a week. It is quite a challenge but I really feel that you can’t learn songwriting without writing as many songs as you can. Writing continuously makes one write better. While there are theories and structures to learn, songwriting is not a subject that involves much intellectual pursuit.

One’s approach to songwriting is usually 90 percent intuitive and 10 percent intellectual. The only way to learn is to have an intimate knowledge, a passion and a feel, for music. And one must play it. If you approach this as a regular subject, you will not learn much. You must “love” it and feel it. Only then will you learn.

Of course, I teach chords and their relationships to one another. I also show how and why certain songs are great and some are not. I give them formulas to follow and play with. This gives the lessons some kind of structure. I always tell them that they must master the rules and only when they know them well can they break them like artists do.

I encourage my students to pay attention to one or two songwriters they like and to emulate them. Learn and play every song they have ever recorded. Know their style. Copy if you wish. And when you think you’ve learned a lot from them, can you explore on their own.

I encourage them to listen to the Beatles, who were the biggest influence in my songwriting. They taught me how to write simply and to be bold in my approach. I have a few students who love the Beatles, but sadly, the majority of kids today do not know their music.

In every class, I pass on practical tips that the students can adapt immediately. When I was learning to play the guitar, I would watch anyone who played it live or on TV. I paid attention to chords, beats, lyrics, genres, styles, etc.

As a young man, music was my life. The guitar saw me through teenage angst, heartaches, shyness, insecurity — all the feelings trapped inside me that were blocked by my inarticulateness. Music was a parallel language that I used to express myself. What I could not articulate, I could sing out loud. The melodies and lyrics were like conversations, while the chords were the context.

I learned music on my own. I never went to music school. I do not know how to read notes, but I know my chords, bars, measures. I can work with professional musicians and talk about flats, sharps, etc. I can follow music charts. I learned everything from experience and by being intensely interested. I try to pass on to my students this wonder and fascination I have for music and how to write their own songs.

I believe that their interest, if it is keen enough, will teach them what they need to know. My job as teacher is to guide and encourage them, accelerate the speed of knowledge, and nurture their passion.

In my last class, I taught my students a series of chords to increase their songwriting vocabulary. I could hear them sigh when they heard certain progressions I played. I remember being a young man rushing home because I had a song in my head and I wanted to play it on guitar for affirmation. It was such a great feeling.

I try to approach each student individually since they are not all starting from the same place. Some are newbies at guitar while a few have been at it for years. Some have written a few songs; others are literally just starting. I expect the more skilled ones to pull up the rest of the class.

I tell my students that they will write a lot of bad songs before they write a good one. At this point, quantity is more important than quality. A good song is almost always accidentally made. In my years of songwriting, I know that to be true. I have had many hits and most of them, I can honestly say, were accidental. If I knew the formula for writing hits, then every song I have written should have become hits.

And so I encourage quantity and prolific output. This also applies to every kind of artistic pursuit. The more you do, the better you get at your craft. And the better you get, the more chances for that happy accident to happen.

In the end, the aim is to become “accident-prone” and coming up with consistently excellent work.

I still believe 0

Posted on February 05, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 5, 2017 – 12:00am

Every once in a while, we hear of a taxi driver who returns money or luggage left by a passenger and we feel good about it. And well we should. The newspapers and television make a story of it and we are delighted, pleased and inspired to know that, in this evil world, there are people who choose to do the right thing.

I do not know whether the majority of the people in the world are good or bad but it is safe to assume that there are good and bad people everywhere. I have changed my opinion about mankind quite often, but mostly I tend to believe that there are more people who are decent, conscientious, helpful and honest than we give mankind credit for.

I have been lost in foreign cities and I have been helped by strangers who went out of their way to put me on the right train, taxi or bus to get back to my hotel. A lady in Japan brought me to the right platform which was several floors up in a train station in Tokyo, waited for seven minutes to make sure I got on the right train, and reminded me in broken English to get off at the fourth stop. I can still picture her waving goodbye as the train left.

Here are more examples of innate goodness I have experienced.

Some years back, Lydia and I were in Rajasthan in India. Lydia went to a store looking for cheap earrings. When she found a pair, she took off the diamonds she was wearing and put on the ones she liked. She paid for it, and left the store. Some time later, she remembered that she had left her diamond earrings on the counter. We called the store, and the saleslady confirmed that the earrings were there. She said her son would meet us in Delhi in two days to give it to us. She said it was better to hand it to us personally since the postal system was unreliable and corrupt and the diamonds could get stolen.

But the next day, her son had a change of plans and said he could not deliver the diamond earrings. Lydia told the saleslady to just keep the earrings. Maybe someday, we would be back in India and we could pick it up.

We left it at that.

The following year, a friend of ours visited Rajasthan and went to the same store. She talked to a woman there and mentioned a pair of diamond earrings left by a Filipina a year ago. The woman smiled, and after asking a few questions, gave Lydia’s earrings to our friend. Lydia got them back!

I find this quite inspiring. It speaks well of Indians and the way they treat strangers.

Here’s another.

My son Mio left his wallet on a bus in Sydney during his first day of school there over 10 years ago. When he got home, he was distressed and upset about losing it. I told him to call the bus company to inquire if they saw it. He was pessimistic. He was sure the wallet was gone. But when he finally called, lo and behold, it was there at the bus depot. A passenger had seen it, picked it up and gave it to the bus driver who submitted it as lost property.Another time, my daughter Erica left her bag at a food court in a mall in Sydney. It had her passport and hundreds of US dollars. It was some four hours later when she realized she didn’t have her bag and she went back to the food court in a desperate rush. She saw the cleaning woman and asked if she had seen the bag she left behind. The woman asked my daughter what color her bag was. When she said it was brown, the woman went to the cleaning room and gave Erica her missing bag.

Lydia also once lost her wallet with lots of cash and credit cards but found it intact at the lost and found department of a shopping center.Here in the Philippines, Erica left her Mac laptop in a cab. To her surprise, the Uber driver called to tell her she forgot her laptop. He drove over to where he dropped her off, and returned her gear promptly. Erica offered a reward but the driver would have none of it. He said it was company policy to return items left in Uber cars.

Stories like these buoy up my spirits, and restore my hope and trust in mankind.

Have you ever had the opportunity to save the situation for another person? Once there was a big flood that engulfed a depressed area occupied by undocumented settlers near our neighborhood. In the confusion that ensued as the floodwaters rose, a child was found wandering alone. Someone brought her to our house for safekeeping. We had no idea who she was. We took her in, fed her, gave her dry clothes, and made her comfortable. Several hours later, her mother came to pick her up. When she saw her daughter, her face broke into a wonderful smile of relief.

During Ondoy, we took in 14 strangers who needed a place to be dry and safe. They stayed for two nights. I was glad we had the resources to do it. Giving and sharing are acts of kindness that the world should have more of.While evil does exist in the world, and this may inhibit many of us from doing right, I still believe there are more people who give us reason to trust each other.

Lesson learned from two beauty queens 0

Posted on January 30, 2017 by jimparedes

We heard from Pia Wurztback and Ms France who won Ms Universe today. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

I wrote a song about this in my new album. Sharing! Pls share too.

Conversations with God 0

Posted on January 22, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 22, 2017 – 12:00am

A few days ago, Lydia and I were walking around our neighborhood as part of our exercise when we met an old friend who was walking on her way to our parish church. After the usual greetings, she told us she was going to join other people in praying the rosary at the church. This was her daily routine, she said. When we asked her what she was praying for, she looked at us seriously and said she was praying for the state of the world, which needs a lot of fixing. I can understand that, I told myself. We talked some more until she bid us goodbye.

I remembered my mother who was quite a prayerful woman. At the height of the Cold War, she prayed for the collapse of communism, the godless evil of her generation. My siblings and I would roll our eyes when she included the conversion of Russia as a special intention during our nightly rosary.

It just seemed so impossible then. The USSR was a strong, mighty fortress that dominated a big part of the world and geopolitics. It had a military that was ready to fight the most powerful nation in the world, the USA.

There was a certain child-like quality in the way Mom practiced her religion that I used to scoff at, kind of. Maybe it was a generational thing. I thought she was too dependent on faith, whatever faith was. I was a haughty young man. But on the day the Berlin Wall fell, I felt humbled that my mother’s seemingly useless and unrealistic attempts at reshaping the world had become real and had manifested.

Since then, I began to take prayers seriously, especially the prayers of the elderly. They certainly know more about this than I do. Their faith is strong and they never give up. Thank you, Mom, for this valuable lesson. I have learned that to engage in prayer involves the summoning of very strong forces to change how things are.

As I have gotten older, I notice I am turning more and more to prayer. I don’t know if this is a natural tendency as people age. I just know that I do and with good reason: I have prayed many times and my intentions have been granted many times.

I do not care to analyze the science, or the absence of it, behind prayers. I just know that it is a powerful force that does good for the one who prays and the intended beneficiary.

I also look at prayer as something that refines me in some ways. It clears my mind as I focus on my true intentions. I get to know my own fine print.

Sometimes, I pray for something specific to happen until I realize that what I really want is for everything to just be all right. And that means that what I specifically pray for to make things all right does not have to tie God’s hands to the “how” it must happen. I have to surrender to the ways of the Higher Power. Maybe I am actually praying to God to make me accept whatever happens. Maybe that’s what it means for everything to be “all right.”

The other Sunday, I saw a woman in her 30s and her father enter the church and walk to their pew. I noticed that she walked very slowly, assisted by her father. Her right hand was clutched in a fist and placed close to her stomach and her movements were very slow. Her strength was coming from the left side of her body, which was dragging the right side. She must have suffered a stroke at her young age.

All throughout the Mass, I kept looking toward her, checking to see if she was all right. I prayed for her. After Mass, I told Lydia and my granddaughter Ananda that I had this urge to go and talk to her. I went up to her and struck up a conversation.

I simply expressed to her the empathy I felt at that moment. I told her and her dad that I wanted to pray that she be healed. I apologized for intruding too much by expressing myself in a straightforward manner. She was crying but I could feel her joy seeing that a stranger cared about her condition. I promised to pray often that she recovers completely.

I have observed that one characteristic of the prayerful is humility. I am still learning that. One must accept that we have very little control over things. This is where my prayers of gratitude originate. I often pray not to ask for anything but only express joy and gratitude for just being alive and being where I am right now. I give thanks for the person I have become and living in the time and place that I am in, surrounded by people I love and who love me.

I also do Zen meditation, which is a form of prayer. Zen is a letting go of concerns, a distancing from the world and one’s ego to meet the bigger Self that embraces and includes all sentient beings. A few days ago, I imagined during meditation that God was actively healing the woman I met in church. I also often imagine spreading love to friends, loved ones and even strangers.

Many times in the day, I find that I am talking to myself. When I notice this, I consciously decide and make my inner dialogue a conversation with God, or what others may want to think as their higher selves. You may want to ask: Am I really talking to God? Often, I think I am. Do I get answers? Yes. One answer He gave was that He would heal that woman. I believe that.

Sometimes, I ask if I am just talking with myself. It’s a real possibility.

And then I hear God say, Does it matter?

The dictator called life 0

Posted on January 14, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 15, 2017

Life is a dictator. It is cruel, impersonal, and does not care for anyone. You must live by its rules. There are immutable laws that one must comply with if we must live a life. You must obey them, or suffer more than you should.

First and foremost, there is gravity that we must immediately recognize. In the early parts of life, it seems like we can accommodate it easily. Sure, you trip, you fall when you are learning to deal with it. You can break your bones, too. As a young person with a flexible, strong body, you can jump, dance, run and play with it, and it may even seem like you can defy it. But as you get older, gravity gets stronger as your body gets progressively weaker until your relationship with gravity is pure subservience to it. You can’t jump as high, you tire easily, and the chores you do daily become generally more difficult.

Like a dictator, life insists on its own rules. All we can do is comply. Sometimes we think we can defy the rules, but we wake up and realize we are just fooling ourselves.

Here are some of the life rules that may take us forever to learn, yet we must.

1) You can’t deny life. It is alive and “on” every moment, whether you notice it or not. You may take mood-altering substances to make it seem like it does not exist. You may consciously ignore life’s demands and imperatives. But reality will always rear its ugly head and, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it.

2) Everything has consequences, whether you act on them or not.

3) Whether or not you see yourself as a good person, you will hurt someone.

4) The person you love the most will be the person you will probably hurt the most.

5) Life will pull you every which way and this will bring you great pleasure, pain, confusion, fear, love. Whatever happens, you must strive for balance at all times. This is paramount.

6) You will age. Your body will surrender. You will die. That’s for sure.

7) The weather will affect not just your moods but also your health and disposition. Global warming will be a big factor in choosing where and how you will live.

8) You will have to meet, face, deal with and accept yourself whoever, whatever and however you are, if you wish to have peace and happiness. This may take quite a while to achieve. But you must do it.

9) The earlier you realize the you are not entitled to anything, and accept this dictatorial edict of life, the sooner you will be happy and peaceful.

10) You are a unique being living in a particular time and space. You cannot live the life of another human being, no matter how much you try. You are forced to be you. You alone must decide and define who you are and what your purpose is in this world.

11) No matter how physically beautiful you are, or how together you seem to be, or how highly you regard yourself, there is an ugly side to you that you must come to terms with.

12) You will affect people and people will affect you, for better or for worse.

13) If you don’t show up for your own life, no one will. The more you show up, the better your chances are at living it.

14) Life is not always fair. You deal with what is put on your plate.

15) The only way to free yourself from misery is to accept the ugly, miserable dictatorship of life. Only then does it become bearable and beautiful.

16) But all is not gloomy. Lastly, despite the dictatorship, happiness, peace, love, fulfillment and meaning can be achieved.

Going against the world 0

Posted on January 08, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 8, 2017 – 12:00am

I am six and a half decades old. I have learned a lot of things. Yes, a lot! But I have not learned everything I need to navigate through life without pain and hardship.

I don’t think I am even close to knowing half of what I should know to be true, and be sure of by now. Life is simply too big to master. ?Joseph Campbell likened life to entering a movie house in the middle of the movie and leaving before it ends.

What you saw is what life is to you. From there, you draw your own conclusions. It is a good metaphor, but I am guessing it is even more complicated than that. Not all of us may have even watched the same movie.?

One of the most difficult lessons to learn is how to be a good or outstanding human being. It is not easy because all our mistakes and weaknesses come from our being human.

But so do our strengths and blessings. It’s a double-edged sword. You live with who you are and what you are given, learn to accept it and thrive on how your cards are dealt in this life. And hopefully you come out of it okay.?

As I get older, I realize more and more that to be an outstanding human being, one must go against the ways of the world. One must take the uncharted path, and walk and march against the tide, the wind, and the forces of the world.?

The ways of the world are what many see as “the practical way.” Don’t question. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t create trouble. And don’t challenge the order.

Many people can live like this. I find that I cannot.?The rewards of the world — if you follow its ways and value systems — are wealth, fame, respectability, privilege, entitlement, power, authority, comfort and pleasure, and sometimes all these are given in doses way beyond what you can imagine. It must be great to have it all. This must be how it appears to both the rich and those who have barely enough to live on.

?And yet, we hear of people who have most or all of these things but are still unhappy. Something must be wrong with the setup.?What I have learned in life so far is that all these rewards are great when you know how to handle them.

They are wonderful gifts until you obsess over them. Then they become a hunger that can’t be filled, a desire that can’t be quenched, an addiction that can’t be sated.?A person can look at his last P50 and feel rich when he can share it with someone. A man with P50 million may feel impoverished if he just lost P200 million. The thing is to have no attachment.

It is easy to say but it takes some difficulty to actually be comfortable with this attitude.?In my life, I have experienced a modicum of fame, wealth, reputation, authority, comforts and pleasures of life. I have seen my fame rise and fall many times. For all my modest achievements, there will come a day when all my songs will be forgotten.

My youthful looks in my 20s, my energy and health, have dissipated over time. There will come a day when no one will even remember me. ?I have no problem with that. This is one of the ways of the world I have accepted to be true. Nothing is permanent.?

I do have a problem when I look at the world and see how lost we are in our own noise and conflicting visions. We want peace, security and happiness but we are intolerant of others who are different from us. We want a world of abundance yet we wantonly destroy the environment. ?We have given so much value to speed, connectivity, physical beauty, ego, wealth, modernity, convenience, comfort and instant gratification but we have lost our ability to pay attention. We have also lost the wisdom that tells us that true human connections like love, friendship, relationships take time and patience, and that everything we have that is of value took effort and time to make it that way.

How many still see the value of reading the old classics? History? Read our newspapers. How many of us see the importance of changing society? How many are willing to question our leaders about their policies or their integrity? How many really want to understand and have compassion for people who live with less? Or would we rather just be quiet, not question or rock the boat and just accept things as they are since changing things for the better is just too hard??

Apply the same rigor that we use to judge the world to ourselves. How many are willing to get deep down and real below the noise level of the world and question their own motives??

Civilization has moved from savagery to moments of great civility because people have defied laziness, fear, hate, ignorance and cynicism. We have defied physical and moral entropy. We have to do more to keep moving forward. We can easily slide backwards if we don’t watch out.

Entropy, the rule of physics that governs the built-in tendency of things to rot and be destroyed by time and gravity, is way too compelling.?This is where the call to paradox must be followed to. To save the world and ourselves, one must, to some extent, reject its ways. To live a life of meaning, one must be willing to give up a lot, or even lose it. To be a good human being, one must be able to deny oneself, especially one’s ego.

To see hope in a disappointing world, one must be instilled with the capacity for gratitude and faith in humanity.?When you think about it, this is how man has managed to survive through the eons. A few have dared to challenge the ways of the world. It has not always been a forward march. Sometimes, humanity slacked. Let us not forget this especially at this time. Let us keep going against the world.

My big, crazy family greets you a Happy 2017! 0

Posted on January 02, 2017 by jimparedes

My fearless forecasts for 2017 0

Posted on January 01, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 1, 2017 – 12:00am

I feel the spirit of past eons shaking my body, urging me to act. I hear Nostradamus whispering in my ear, begging me to be his voice in this uncaring modern world.
Yes, it is again that time of the year to foretell what lies ahead in 2017. Once again, I boldly make predictions on what to expect in the new year. To carry out this mission, I meditated for days to cleanse my spirit. I prayed for guidance that I might think clearly. Lastly, I took a small dose of Fentanyl. This last act excuses me from any liability since I am clearly not of sound mind as I write this.
Here goes:

1) The Death Penalty bill and the bill lowering the criminal age to nine years old will not be passed. Because of world opinion, both bills will take a crazy twist and suddenly become an “Abortion law” which will have far more acceptance in the world. Here’s how: the legislators will redefine the definition of a fetus to that of “life up to 70 years old.” Upon passage, the law will stipulate that people who commit death-penalty-worthy crimes will simply be “aborted.”

2) To soften his image and reputation, Duterte’s spokespersons, using “creative interpretation,” will reveal that the President loves Sanrio and Pikachu, and that he actually has an extensive collection of these cute creatures. He will also silence his critics by manufacturing and distributing “Tickle Me Rody” dolls to children of EJK victims.

3) The burning issue of Marcos’ burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani will finally be settled with a brilliant compromise. There will be no digging to transfer the corpse elsewhere, or a change in the name of the hallowed ground where our heroes are buried. The perimeter fence will simply be moved so that the area where the dictator is currently buried will no longer be part of LNMB.

4) Many experts have predicted that the BPO business will slow down because of Duterte’s anti-American policies. What will take their place will be Troll Centers to serve not only the interest of Philippine government officials but anyone in the world who needs to threaten, insult or curse others. Everyone will be amazed at how good Filipinos have become at name-calling, slut-shaming and misogynist speech. These Troll Centers will bring in a lot of foreign currency and will be the new bright star of our economy.

5) Between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the US and Russia will become one nation. It is still being decided whether Russia will be a state of the US, or the US will be one of Russia’s republics.

6) Donald Trump’s inaugural will proceed without a hitch. The performers who have agreed to participate are the Bolshoi Ballet, the Moscow Circus, and the Ku Klux Klan’s Children’s Choir.

7) The charges against Senator Leila de Lima will be thrown out by the courts. To get back at her, Congress will pass a law making illegal parking punishable by death. The very hour after the bill becomes law, they will block De Lima’s parking space in the Senate and all parking spaces wherever she goes.

8) Brexit has happened. The prediction is Francexit will follow soon. More EU countries will go the same route. After a few years, a new movement will emerge in these countries that will lead them back to the EU. It will be called Fixit!

10) The Philippines will change the design of its flag. It will be red with one big star on the left and on the star’s right will be by four stars arching around it. Red, the color of blood, will supposedly signify how much the President “loves this country.” The big star will stand for unity and the four smaller stars for Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and the Spratlys.

The government will brush off criticism that it looks very similar to the Chinese flag.

11) China, Russia and the Philippines will proceed with the alliance that Duterte has proposed. As an acronym, it will be known as CRAP!

12) Science will discover that evolution has completely stopped and, in fact, has begun its reversal. Data will show that the rate of “reverse evolution” is accelerating at an enormous pace. What used to take decades and centuries is now happening within weeks and months — but in reverse! Their studies are based on behavioral patterns of the electorate in both the Philippines and the US in 2016.

13) To everyone’s surprise, there will suddenly be a big debate about the name of the planet Uranus. The debate will not be among astronomers but among linguists. Some will argue that the current spelling of the planet is “too millennial” and that the grammatically correct spelling should be YOUR ANUS (with space in between).

The debate will last for years.

14) As the Monkey exits on Jan. 27, 2017, the Chicken/Rooster enters. It will be a great year for congressmen, senators, judges and local officials who are afraid to speak out against the President.

15) The Big Bang theory will be almost debunked by Buddhist scientists. They will spark a discussion when they present a scientific paper that tries to answer the question: “If the Big Bang happened and obviously there was no one there to hear it at the moment it supposedly did, did it actually create a sound?”

16) The Mayan calendar will make a comeback and it will predict that the new end of the world will be on Dec 24, 2017. This will cause havoc during Christmas shopping since people will postpone buying presents until Christmas day itself. If it ever comes!

17) The UN Secretary-General will suddenly resign and the replacement will come from Asia. The contenders will be Kevin Rudd (ex-Prime Minister of Australia), Junichiro Koizumi (ex-Prime Minister of Japan), and Mocha Uson (muse of the Metro Manila Film Festival). The winner will be Mocha Uson. The immediate effect? It will convince Duterte to speak more politely towards the United Nations and stop threatening to burn down the UN building in New York.

19) My final prediction for 2017 is this, and you can bank on it:

The sun will come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there’ll be sun! Tomorrow is only a day away.

What Christmas means to me right now 0

Posted on December 25, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 25, 2016 – 12:00am

If you have lived long enough, you will know that as you get older, things, people and events can change their meaning, relevance and connection to you.

They assume different values at various stages in your life.You may have believed that a character named Santa was giving you your gifts as a child only to find out later that it wasn’t true.

That’s the way things are. We awaken to new truths all the time.In my own life, Christmas has had many meanings and I have gone through different moods and feelings about it.

Today, I would like to share what Christmas 2016 feels like for me right now.It is certainly not a celebration of materialism.

I have hardly bought gifts. I just don’t feel it is what I need to do right now. Another material acquisition will not save us from the hell we are in at the moment.

While I attended parties, I looked forward to talking to people and sharing stories more than the drinking and the eating. Reaching out and getting to know people more intimately is far more enriching than the usual shared drunkenness and stupor.

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Amid the dreary and dreadful goings-on in the world right now, Christmas to me feels like a happy and safe place. It seems like the only real thing I can believe in. The world is in a mess. There is no doubt about that. If you look through the lens of history, it seems that the world is headed for some big cataclysm and tragedy.

This celebration of an event that occurred more than 2,000 years ago seems to be our only hope to console our tired and weary spirits and re-imagine a different, more humane future.

This year, I have contemplated more on the spiritual aspect of Christmas. Sure, it is great being with family, receiving gifts and being greeted with good cheer wherever I go.

But I have delved into Christmas’ deeper dimensions and mysteries more than at any time in my life. And the things I have realized are quite unfathomable.The birth of Jesus with its attendant narratives and meanings has actually riveted and inspired mankind for two millennia.

It has shaped a big part of civilization as we know it, and yet its fruition or goal has not been achieved. We are far from experiencing the peace on earth that was promised and we have not been sharing enough goodwill to all mankind.

This year, I pondered more than ever the paradoxes of Christmas: how a child born without any means was tasked to save all of mankind.

And that the spirit of Bethlehem is meant to be a continuing force that opens us to more than what the world has to offer, and that, in a sense, it tells us to reject the values the material world lives by. I also realized the profound irony of how much God wanted to be man and how much man has always dreamed of being God.

It is fascinating and mysterious why the infinite wants to experience what it is like to be finite, while the temporal wants a shot at eternity. I went whole hog in anticipation of Christmas this year. I set up the Belen, went to Mass as often as I could, restarted meditating and looked for the guiding star to guide me through this crazy time. I fought cynicism and hopelessness and I embraced the promise of peace and love.

I know there will always be suffering in the world. But it is our choice if we want a meaningful suffering that liberates, or a senseless, needless one that leaves us bitter and cold.

In the days heading to Christmas, I purposely went out of my way to do good as I saw it, and even gave up a few things to help others. To me it was less of “suffering” and more of a preparation for a greater experience of the spiritual implications of Christ’s birth.

Now, how could someone like me who has actually been ranting against Christmas for the past several years suddenly become such a big fan? Simple. I went back to basics.

I remembered how a classmate, during a discussion about religion, told me that when things got too complicated, he often went back to the catechism he learned in prep school.

He applies these lessons in his life with the same innocence with which he understood them then. From my family to yours, may you have a Merry Christmas.

My Christmas wish list 0

Posted on December 18, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 18, 2016

When my kids were young, they made their Christmas wish lists hoping that Lydia and I, their ninongs and ninangs, uncles and aunts and everyone who gave them presents would get them what they wished for. It is so simple and joyful to be a kid at Christmas.

As a child, I never made a wish list because when I was growing up, we were not rich enough to get what we truly wished for. In a middle class family of 10 siblings, everything is planned, rationed and apportioned. We were thankful for anything we got.

Even if I never made a Christmas wish list, more than ever, I want to make this Christmas wish list now. I will not ask for small items such as gadgets, clothes, shoes and other material things. I don’t need anything for myself. My wish list is actually not only for myself, but for the world and all of humanity.

I am addressing this to God and to every human being. We are co-creators every moment that we are alive on this earth. It’s time we act more lovingly towards each other and the world. Here goes:

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1) I wish for peace and solace for the people of Aleppo and all other places where war is being waged. What has been going on there is hell on earth, or as a UN representative described it, “a meltdown of humanity.” Both the perpetrators and victims of wars have lost a big portion of their humanity. May God restore their spirit to live their lives in peace, abundance and dignity.

2) I wish we would stop spreading lies and falsehood. It does not serve anyone when we post made-up articles on social media to support or defend our opinions. I wish we could all be heralds of the truth.

3) I wish for us to awaken our consciences and innate goodness, to be able to determine right and wrong. Very often, we ignore our conscience to protect our egos and the choices we made. It is time to ask ourselves: Did we believe in extrajudicial killings, cruelty, cursing, demeaning women, lying and violence before we cast our votes in the May election? Can we admit that we made a mistake? Or have we chosen to ignore the inner voice that tells us when something has gone very wrong? We need to stop denying what our conscience tells us.

4) I wish for us to have courage and face our fears. We cannot retreat into our cocoons and ignore the evil forces that are shaping our world according to their own twisted ends. We cannot be complacent. We need to be committed and steadfast in fighting for what we think is true and right for our nation and the world. We must take the lead in protecting our world and not leave it to those who would, in their lust for power and greed, destroy what is good in it.

5) I wish for us to have the will and the stamina to address the environmental concerns plaguing the world. Scientists say that the earth will deteriorate drastically in the next 20 years. The seas will definitely rise a few meters and this will be disastrous to humankind. We are already seeing the weather patterns changing, to the detriment of masses of humanity. We had three Category 5 storms in the vicinity of our country this year. It is time to end our non-sustainable way of living. We must reawaken our respect for nature which we have set aside in our quest for material progress.

6) Lastly, I wish for everyone the peace that comes with humility, discernment, acceptance, hope, and the resolve to bring our world towards a higher evolutionary direction. It is my wish that we can inspire one another to transform ourselves so that we can transform the world.

Some people may find me too optimistic, a resident of La La Land, a certified Pollyanna. I know real change is difficult, but it must be pursued. We either succumb to inertia and fall backwards or push against it. During defining moments in history, it was the dreamers and doers who insisted on the direction where humanity must go. And most of the time, they were right.

The first Christmas happened at a time when the world was fraught with danger. Children were being killed en masse by an earthly king who feared the birth of the messiah whom the people awaited.

Christmas is a time to wish, to hope and work for a newer, kinder world to be born. Mankind has been celebrating Christmas for over 2,000 years. It’s time we took its message seriously.


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