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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for the ‘Humming in my universe’


An artist by profession Comments Off on An artist by profession

Posted on May 25, 2013 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 26, 2013 – 12:00am

Artist.”

That’s what’s written inside my passport as my occupation. That’s what I put down on every application form or questionnaire I need to fill out to describe what I do.

I have been doing this for some 40 plus years now. The word “artist” describes me quite aptly, I think, even if I do not know exactly how I do it.

An artist creates something out of nothing. That’s what I do when I write a song. I make things up by picking things out of thin air — beats, words, melodic lines, feelings, moods, memories — and try to create something with them. Many times, I don’t know how it happens but I just suddenly find myself in the middle of creating. I am holding a guitar, or sitting on a piano and then it just starts to happen. Sometimes it happens even if I am not even holding a musical instrument. I am in the car or doing something entirely outside of music, and there it goes! A lyrical or musical phrase, or both of them suddenly materialize asking me to make them fly. All I can do is oblige. I just go where it wants to take me. I don’t argue with it. I don’t try to correct it.

Instead, I try to get cozy and intimate with it. I cajole it, entice it, seduce it like a woman so that she tells me all her secrets and shows me her entire being down to raw nakedness. When it gets down to this, I know the artist in me means business and wants to do bold magical things with her.

To make these bold magical things, one must abandon the thinking mind and take creative half-court shots of pure fancy. Just go with the whim, the feeling, the urge, the emotion and just unravel. It is an out-of-mind experience. Logic has no place here.

And yet, despite the creative process being unexplainable and maybe even illogical, you get the feeling that many if not all great creations were/are probably done this way. It’s like sorcery. It is inspired and created by magic. The mind and all its rules are only allowed into the room when the potion is already mixed, brewed to potency and ready. All the mind can do is tweak a few things.

I started writing this column with nothing in mind. When I saw the blank page on my laptop, I saw the potential for creation. There is nothing like a blank nothing to make you want to do something with it. The urge to fill up space, to sprinkle missing musical notes amidst silence, to type absent words to make an essay, or to add colors and lines in a painting, or give way to a shape that wants to be animated in sculpture. All this is irresistible. These urges must be listened to and obeyed.

But I know from experience that these urges are not always there. When they come, they are like very special visitors that must be entertained. They must be recognized, treated properly and lavishly like royalty, for if they are not, they may throw a tantrum and stop calling or visiting. They may even disappear for a long time. It depends on them. And when they disappear, I lose the gift of magic that makes meaning out of my own plain existence.

I am an artist.

I make songs. I write articles and books. I conceptualize performances. I spin images of dark and light from a camera. I make sense of things differently. And while doing all that, I allow myself to be pulled by the magnet of truth and inspiration. And these two things can be quite beautiful but dangerous at the same time. They can make you feel euphoric. But they can also take you to edgy, dark places that can challenge what you know to be true and replace it with a much bigger truth you did not think existed.

I notice that I cannot write songs one moment and immediately write a column the next. Both are different domains that want and need to be separate. The musical works are mostly written in an informal castle where the guards are lax and pretty much allow me to wander about. The Queen Muse that rules there allows me to do what I want. She’s a cool Queen. And whatever I come up with is pleasing to her. Long ago, she and I learned how to get along. She learned that I can actually create good songs when I have no one to answer to — not even to her. It’s a silent, unspoken agreement we have and it works well.

In the other domain, where I do my writing, sometimes it is also easy and non-stressful. But there are times when it is scary and intimidating. The Queen Muse can throw a temper tantrum. Almost on a whim, I am condemned, cursed, and forced to write in the dungeon. And I must come up with something or else. Like Rumpelstiltskin, I must spin gold overnight and have it ready by morning, or be punished.

In the first domain, I have learned not to think too much but to intuit what I wish to express. In this second domain, I must think first, and then learn to stop thinking before I get things done. I think to gather topical material and when I have it, I then intuit and bring something to existence.

I still have not figured out how to understand this Queen Muse completely, much less get along with her. She has too many rules and can show no mercy at times. I am learning to imbibe her many rules thoroughly so that I am no longer stuck in them and can do the work an artist must do. Hopefully, I am getting there.

When I write songs or columns, or take photos, I have a continuing dialogue going on with myself. I am engaged with a deep part of me that is quite peaceful and beautiful. It knows the truth about myself and is calm with it. But while that deep part of me seems serene and pure, it is not content just simply staying there. It asks that it be let out and confess the truth it knows to the world. It wants me to be its spokesman. It is scary because I have seen a few times that truth, when introduced to the mundane world, can shake its foundations. It is often anything but calm and peaceful. But that is what it demands — to see itself play out in the real world.

I am an artist. And often, that sounds glamorous, hip and exciting. But at other times, it is hard, scary work. It is hard because the truth inside often asks me to do crazy things that can subvert everything that makes being an artist easy.

I am an artist. And no matter how long I have been one, bringing out what’s inside me into the outside world is still a mystery. Sometimes it’s a breeze, sometimes a struggle. It’s still a struggle to fight the fear of being vulnerable even if it makes me feel alive doing so. But I would rather struggle and feel alive and glimpse at beauty once in a while than be safe but turn away from creating. I want to feel the life I am living.

In defense of the unnatural 3

Posted on November 22, 2009 by jimparedes

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Most everyone I know, without even thinking about it, is in praise of anything natural. What is perceived to be “natural” is good and “as it should be.” As consumers, we go out of our way to buy natural foods versus processed ones, the natural versus the synthetic. We talk about acting “naturally” as opposed to being contrived. We are in awe when we see “natural” talent. We appreciate human and nature’s processes that we see as natural, and therefore wholesome and good for us.

And often, the criteria for what is natural is anything that has not been touched, changed, altered by man and science.

I take a slightly opposite view. I am in awe of many things that are contrived, “abnormal,” unnatural or contrary to the processes of nature and life as we think we know them. I therefore write in praise of what has been touched, altered, improved or shaped by the artistic, logical, rational and scientific mind. These “unnatural acts” have made life easier for all of us.

Throughout history and even as I write this, there have been many “unnatural” interventions, discoveries, actions that have, in fact, been good for mankind and have helped us evolve as a species.

Let’s be simple and talk about the control of our bodily functions. There is no argument that it is natural for anyone to sweat, urinate, defecate, along with other human urges. But it is a great blessing that we learned to control when and where and how we must give in to these urges, even if only for sanitation purposes, not to mention the attendant and important social benefits that we enjoy when we rein them in. It is true also for our urges that are sexual in nature. There is indeed virtue in taming these natural urges.

When we watch children play, we are in awe of their natural state. But we react with annoyance when we see them doing other natural things such as having a tantrum, crying uncontrollably, being insolent and behaving in a spoiled manner. This is where the intervention of good parenting is needed and desired. In this case, leaving children in their “natural” state, without the benefit of discipline, will make them sorry adults later.

People tend to douse cold water on those who have lofty aims, goals and ambitions that strive for a higher experience, by pointing out that what is being attempted

goes against the grain of how things are, or even how God intended them to be. They imply that by doing what has not been done we are going against nature.

“If God wanted man to fly, he would have given him wings.” This was the argument long ago against flying, and it remains the spirit that ties the hands of many would-be innovators to this day. And the intended mention of “God” is supposed to lend an authoritative, dogmatic tone to the argument.

The scientific mind constantly challenges things as they are. Technology, one may argue, is man’s attempt to alter or intervene in what appears to be the natural state or order of things in order to get a different experience. But in fact, when we look at it closely, what the scientific mind is up to is trying to understand on a higher level the same natural laws of science that may not be obvious without microscopes and other scientific instruments. These are the not-too-obvious laws and processes of nature which, when understood and manipulated, bring us new inventions and life-altering experiences. So, in this sense, one might say that there is nothing “unnatural” about science since it operates within the laws of nature.

And because of this, many things that were considered “unnatural” or impossible in the past are not only possible today but are now taken for granted as natural. The ideas of the Age of Enlightenment have affected our concepts of governance, laws, formal education and other social engineering endeavors. Then there’s central heating, automobiles, refrigeration, cooking, eyeglasses, anesthesia, watching TV, hearing aids, calculators, vitamins, fashion — I could go on and on — which are, thanks to science, now part of how we live our lives. We hardly even question them as being “unnatural” interventions that may be bad for us.

It should be of no surprise that the spheres of religion and science, which have collided many times in the past, are again, and will continue to be, at odds. It is because the two spheres on the surface can seem like a battle between God (natural) and science (contrived rationality). While centuries ago, religion may have basked in its victories with the persecution of Galileo and other men of science, it has had to eat its words and apologize belatedly five centuries later.

I suspect that the more the Church lives in an increasingly secular scientific world, the more it will have to get more enlightened as an institution. And it will have to make many more apologies sooner or later concerning its stand on many other issues.

Some of the big debates of our time involving issues of sexuality, such as gay marriage and human reproduction, come to mind. Both science and religion appear to be confident and headstrong in addressing these issues with both sides insisting theirs is the correct view. Science (through history, humanities, social research and even religious tradition) points out that depriving gays of their full human rights is akin to how certain races were delegated to slavery and regarded as less human. It is discriminatory, plain and simple, and harkens back to medieval ignorance.

The Church, on the other hand, argues that homosexuality is an unnatural state, an aberration, and therefore a sin; it is immoral and must be suppressed.

The rest of us who are not scientists, nor religious leaders or scholars are left sifting through the arguments, and in the end, we will have to come to our own conclusions.

I think the difficulty lies in fundamentalism and dogmatism, in both science and religion.

Science can be a big bully when it insists that only what can be empirically observed, tested, validated and revalidated is real. In this view, faith, poetry, mystical experiences and the world of the unseen, though humanly experienced and felt, is gobbledygook. But this dismissive attitude does not explain the perennial experience of transcendence, the mystical experience of consciousness, or the spiritual that has been around since the beginning of time. Are those things unreal, or are some things simply immeasurable? Science cannot see what is not in its domain.

Religion, on the other hand, can be exasperating too when it proclaims as dogma ideas that have been debunked by rationality. The world is round and it revolves around the sun and no interpretation of any verse in the Holy Book can change that. Condoms do prevent AIDS, contrary to what Pope Benedict insists.

Joseph Campbell points out that the major mistake many religious believers commit is to treat holy text as scientific text. To do so would not only leave it open to debunking but demean its true power, which lies within the deeply symbolic and the holy spheres.

As a modern person, I do see the importance of science but I know its limitations. I also see the limits of religion and so I am drawn to the wider arena of mysticism and spirituality. I have long ago decided to embark on a path of knowing God and life not just exclusively through an established religion but in such a way that God is not reduced to a cookie-cutter deity and experienced as a franchise. And life is certainly more than a beaten path already trodden by others for me to simply walk on.

I choose a worldview that understands life from the unique natural instincts and intelligence I was born with, which are creativity, expansiveness, openness and reason.

I do not automatically accept what others insist to be true. I want to see, discover or awaken to it myself with full consciousness. From actual experience, I hope to find my truth.

Heroes are everywhere 4

Posted on October 17, 2009 by jimparedes

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“Where I’m from, everyone’s a hero.” So reads a sign put up by someone on Facebook to describe the outpouring of help from Filipinos here at home and all over the world to the victims of the twin tragedies that have befallen Luzon. Not since the EDSA revolution have we felt so good about ourselves as a people.

I am moved by the efforts of the many good people who have responded to the call for help in the wake of the devastating floods. I catch myself choking on my tears when I hear or read about the great suffering of many and the compassionate heroic work being done by our fellow Filipinos to alleviate the pain of others. It is truly awesome and inspiring.

There are many tales of selflessness in the midst of all the hardship. And this seems to be happening more often since President Cory Aquino passed away. As a people, we seem to have reacted differently to these present tragedies and disappointments compared to before. It’s as if our greatness has been awakened and we are surprising even ourselves.

Many people seem to just naturally come to the conclusion that there are a lot of things that need to be done but, unlike before, they are not about to pass on the job to someone else. They are taking over the situation by volunteering in relief centers, setting up soup kitchens, countering the sense of helplessness they have often felt in the face of tragedy.

There are encouraging signs that we are in a “oneness” mode. Everyone seems to be generously pitching in their time and resources to help all who are suffering get through the next meal or the next day, and rebuild their lives. The word that comes to mind is “heroic.”

Author Rob Riley wrote, “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the hero within us is revealed.”

These past weeks, I have been thinking about what heroes are like. What constitutes an act of heroism? How does one become a hero? As a people, we have met at least two of them in the past 30 years: Ninoy and Cory Aquino. There are many others who are unsung, but bona fide heroes nonetheless. At the very least they are, one might say, the people who have kept us from failing entirely in our search for the path to our greatness. By their examples, we have been inspired to continue our wandering in the desert despite periods of national aimlessness and spiritual and moral dysfunction.

Heroic acts come in many sizes and dimensions. I know of schoolchildren who have been giving their baon or allowances to the victims of the typhoons. Some others have opted to give their time working in relief centers packing food, or being part of the human chain delivering survival kits from warehouses to waiting trucks. Some have braved the floods, mud and stench to help in food distribution.

And yet, heroism is not always about what one has done; sometimes it is about what one has opted not to do that makes one a hero. Someone once wrote that a boy doesn’t have to go to war to be a hero. “He can say he doesn’t like pie when he sees there isn’t enough to go around.”

There are the people who decided not to hold the long-planned lavish birthday party, or gave up the vacation abroad and instead contributed what they would have spent to help the homeless. I include in this list those who opted not to criticize for now the pitifully inadequate efforts done by the government to make sure that there is no further buildup of anger and frustration, and to encourage everyone to focus on the task at hand.

Then there is also the hero who not only shows up ready to help when a crisis happens, but is willing to stay, fix the mess and clean up. They commit to the long haul. These are people who go beyond the initial oceanic feeling of compassion that one feels in the presence of suffering, and are willing to do whatever is needed, committing to whatever it takes to alleviate it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson put it aptly when he wrote, “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

A hero is one who can go beyond the “feel good” moment one experiences when giving and go a farther distance even when the night continues to be dark and the light seems far from appearing. This is even more dramatically true when it is clear that the light at the end of the tunnel could be an onrushing train. With more suffering ahead and no relief in sight, he stares down the hopelessness and resists the temptation to throw in the towel with the often-valid excuse that he has “done enough.”

Emerson was right in describing the hero as an “ordinary man.” After all, everyone feels fear, doubt and hesitation. We all vacillate from time to time. But a hero, while feeling all these things, goes ahead and does what needs to be done.

Like Oskar Schindler, the man who saved many Jews from the Holocaust, the brave Filipinos who risked their lives swimming in the flood to save others must have felt the weight of the challenge to do the right thing as being too heavy for their feet of clay. Even Jesus, by all accounts, doubted the wisdom of His Father and questioned His own mission orders. But what made them heroes is that they went ahead and did it, despite the fear.

But however we define a hero, one thing is clear. A hero is someone who already had something percolating inside him or her. When things get stirred up, something happens to the arrangement of his or her priorities, values and station in life.

They see themselves torn between staying within the confines of the known, the comfortable and the convenient, and setting out in the open sea where one could lose sight of one’s origins with no clear destination appearing just yet. In the end, the choice either way is painfully personal.

“A hero shows you how to solve the problem — yourself,” Jet Li, the director of hero movies, said.

The hero is called to commit to the unknown while clinging to a notion that things may get better. In the end, the hero is one who commits to something bigger than himself. It may demand that he commit the rest of his life, or even lose it.

Right now, many Filipinos are undertaking the heroic task of helping as many people as we can to recover from these calamities and move on. Some will be there for a while. Some may be touched more and stay for far longer.

An English proverb describes a hero as “a man who is afraid to run away.” May we be afraid to run away and do the job until it is finished.

There is every reason to believe that the tragedies that have befallen our people, horrible as they are, have their upside because so many of us have been forced to think outside of ourselves and do something for others. I pray that this rude awakening will inspire us to the collective action necessary to finally get us back on the road to recovering the spirit of EDSA I, the event that, 23 years ago, made us all feel like the heroes we can all become.

Mon David: Coming true in LA 5

Posted on October 11, 2009 by jimparedes

Mon David: Coming true in LA
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated October 11, 2009 12:00 AM

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Mon David is on a roll these days. He recently released a jazz album in the US titled “Coming True” and is starting to really get noticed.

We scheduled our flight to Los Angeles to make sure that we would catch a concert and album launch at the Catalina Bar in Hollywood on Oct. 4 where our good friend Mon David was to perform. In spite of the two-hour delay leaving Manila, I was happy that we made it.

Mon David is on a roll these days. He recently released a jazz album in the US titled “Coming True” and is starting to really get noticed. He is starting to be played on radio stations across America and critics have raved about his recordings and live shows.

Danny, Boboy and I have witnessed the evolution of Mon David from band singer, drummer, vocal coach and arranger, to recording artist and soloist, and into the compleat musician that he has become. It was Mon David who trained the APO and taught us a great deal of what we know about singing.

His struggles were the same as what all serious musicians worth their salt anywhere in the world go through. In this business, everyone pays his or her dues, and the truth is, the dues are never completely paid. You start off as an unknown, and until the end, whether you make it or not, you will always be proving who you are, even if only to yourself. You put your reputation on the line and earn the respect of your audience with every performance. And no matter how solid your career seems to be, it can go crazy if you don’t develop the right character and mindset to keep you grounded.

We have toured, recorded, performed and rehearsed with Mon many, many times. Our relationship spans decades. As a drummer, he was cool and steady, studious and reliable. He always worked well with the team even if I knew that, although he played our music with gusto, he was swinging to the beat of a different tune.

In truth, Mon simply loves jazz. And he has worked hard to be a jazz artist. Even as he immersed himself in all musical styles and genres, his heart was beating to the syncopated charm of the jazz music he was intoxicated with. I remember him during APO tours hanging around jazz clubs where he would spend his hard-earned money to watch his favorite artists perform.

In 2006, we all wished him well when he joined a worldwide jazz singing contest held in Britain. To everyone’s great joy, Mon won the top prize against some of the best performers in the world, people he listened to and learned from while cutting his teeth in the genre. He beat some of his own mentors and idols.

Soon after, he moved to the US with his family and tried his luck there. It has been a tough three years, singing in tiny clubs and Filipino community functions, audiences who hardly care about jazz. But slowly and surely, he has created a niche for himself. And soon he began to get the recognition that he deserves, not only from Pinoys but from the jazz audience.

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There is something romantically artistic about what Mon has done. His is a redemption story that a lot of people, especially artists, can relate to. At over 50, he moves to America and goes for his dream. Three years later, he is beginning to taste success. And the best thing is, he continues to be as curious and creative as ever. It is no surprise that he is growing and blooming in his artistry.

That night at the Catalina bar, Mon David showered his audience with fine, elegant, eclectic and playful jazz. His scatting has always been amazing and that night was no exception. He sang classic pieces in the unique style he has developed through the years — marinated in classic American jazz as delivered by the likes of Kurt Ellig and Tony Bennett with a generous dose of Joe Henderson et al.

He also threw in a lot of Pinoy pride, generously mixing his songs with Tagalog and Kapampangan words amid the doo-wops and the skidadidababebweyas. As comfortable as he was doing an edgy Moonlight Serenade, he just as easily whipped off a Charlie Parker piece with Tagalog lyrics and sang it like it was originally written that way. Mon is simply, as they say in the jazz club world, “The Dopeness”!

The audience sighed, clapped, whistled and shouted “Bravo!” His musicians — Tateng Katindig, bassist Dominic Thiroux and Abe Lagrimas on the drums — were fabulously brilliant. His numbers with Bituin Escalante, Charmaine Clamor and Columbian saxophonist Justo Almario were so magical, the audience cheered loudly.

Watching Mon David weave his music that night, I remembered the moments we had spent together doing APO’s music, and all the times I have watched him sing solo doing his own stuff. He is the artist I have long admired, the artist I want to be, for his dedication, perseverance and great artistry.

That night, Mon showed everyone the mark of a great artist, and that is fearlessness. He was bold and daring, taking off with every song into unknown adlib territory and marvelously landing it all back on terra firma.

The best thing about Mon is that he has not changed. He is still the same guy I’ve know and worked with all these years. While he emanates a constant passion for excellence and high standards in performance, he is never one to belittle or show impatience towards anyone who does not deliver at the same level that he does.

I am happy to know that in his gigs in the US, his Kapampangan and Tagalog songs sometimes get more applause for their uniqueness and freshness than the more recognizable jazz standards. To an idiom as American as apple pie, Mon has managed to inject his own heritage and make it seem so natural. He is an artist who knows how to flow, and that is, after all, what jazz music is all about.

As his album title says so well, Mon David is “coming true.” And the world is listening and applauding.

Mabuhay ka Mon!

New rules for candidates 10

Posted on September 05, 2009 by jimparedes

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The 2010 train is moving forward. Before we know it, it will be here and we have to make important decisions about where we want it to go. So this early, let us start the process of selecting our candidates well, and imagining how and where we want a presumably new set of leaders to take us.

I am proposing these rules — half-serious “new rules,” rants actually — for candidates to observe during the elections so that we can be sure we get the leaders we deserve. Here goes:

1. Anyone who wants to run for president must, on top of the qualifications stated in the Constitution, not be a female below five feet tall. She must not have a mole on her face, an overweight husband with a high–pitched voice and sons who are congressmen.

2. Every candidate must clearly state his or her stand on an issue that divides our nation’s sense of culture, its sense of socio-political correctness, its definition of honor, dignity, compassion, good taste and etiquette, and more importantly, its moral fiber. I am not talking about the National Artist awards, the RH bill or the MTRCB. I refer to something more pervasive in our national life and conversation that has set the tone and direction of our children’s values: Willie Revillame and Wowowee!

3. Every presidential candidate must promise to be creative in handling coups, tragedies and other calamities and refrain themselves, their spokespeople and their underlings from using the following overused phrases in their media statements: “We are monitoring the situation,” “We are on top of the situation,” “Everything is under control” and “We will punish them accordingly.”

Seriously, it is time to speak a different language and come up with intelligent solutions to our country’s problems.

4. Every candidate running for public office must promise not to purposely talk stupidly, or espouse dumb ideas because he thinks that by doing so, he is connecting to the greater number of our people. In truth, it only shows how much he actually despises the public when he assumes they are stupid. If you talk stupidly, at least be honestly stupid about it.

Sad to say, our people have learned to expect this behavior from politicians, the media and even the Church who have been dumbing down to us for decades when they evade real issues because it takes an extra creative effort to simplify them and discuss them with the masses. They do this when they presume that the Filipino is stupid and cannot appreciate complex concepts and ideas that can liberate them. They do this when they fear that people are not smart enough to make their own choices and so they must be kept ignorant and easier to dictate upon.

The worst part is, we have learned not just to live with this indignity, we are no longer even bothered by it. Imagine someone like Senator Villar, who instead of expressing his aversion when asked about Willie Revillame’s supposed vice-presidential aspirations, chooses to answer perfunctorily that “he has every right to do so as a Filipino citizen,” and gets away with it

Jeez! It’s the safe but insincere answer, a reactionary response that can be called idiotic politeness. It comes from the mindset of one who will wheel and deal and bend to please everyone.

We want our elected officials to be intelligent and honest and walk the talk no matter how tough the temptation is to play “dumb” in order to “connect.” And we, the electorate, should let politicians, the media and the Church know that dumbing down is unacceptable.

If we want to move ahead as a nation, we must challenge not only our leaders but also ourselves to dream higher and embrace a greater understanding and appreciation of the issues that affect us.

Knowledge, wisdom, leadership are elite qualities. Decisions, therefore, should be made by an elite group of elected officials, and by that I mean people who know what they’re talking about, in consultation with their constituents.

Would you be comfortable if someone outside of his competence — like, say, Manny Pacquiao — performed brain surgery on you? So why does the administration want him to run as a lawmaker?

5. A caveat to all candidates declared and undeclared: please avoid stunts like suddenly becoming visible with ads that promote you even before the campaign period has started. And when called down for premature campaigning, please do not say that it is “friends” who are paying for them. People have learned to see through your evasiveness. Where there is smoke, people know there is a fog machine somewhere helping create an illusion.

While we’re at it, here are some rules for officials to consider after they are elected:

A. Every public building and all public property therein, all government cars and assets must be marked clearly with stickers that read: “This is owned by the Filipino People. Use of this by the President and other government officials is a privilege. He/she must not in anyway think, act or use this like they own it.”

Remember the story of Cory’s grandson who asked her if he could eat the candy on her desk, or if it belonged to the Filipino people? That’s how conscientious officials and their family members should be. It should not be farfetched to imagine the President staying up 10 minutes longer at night grappling with his conscience, not just on how he tackled the big issues but also whether he was too extravagant using paper clips, Kleenex, or the air conditioner.

B. Once a month, public officials must set a day to state unequivocally and in public any mistake they may have committed that may have harmed the public interest, no matter how small. It would be great to hear Speaker Nograles say, “My fellow Filipinos, I’ve been such an insensitive idiot for insisting on Charter change, and through con-ass at that! My bad!” Or Senator Miriam Santiago could come clean with: “Okay. I admit I love to hear the sound of my own voice and my self- perceived brilliance. I’m sorry if I took up so much senate time which cost the taxpayers millions.” Or Senator Lito Lapid might candidly say, “I still don’t know what I am doing here. I’m sorry.”

We must find a place in our culture for public apology. It will force our officials to remain humble and may even change our nation in a big way. Imagine plunderers, coup plotters, thieves, and other baddies admitting their crimes in special courts, asking the people for forgiveness and volunteering some form of retribution like going on self-exile, returning the loot, or offering to commit suicide. (Okay, forget the suicide.) In truth, it may take as little as genuine contrition to heal our divisions. In Rwanda, people who committed atrocities during the civil war came forward and asked for forgiveness sincerely. And guess what? In most cases, that was enough.

6. Opening sessions of the legislature, executive meetings, and all caucuses, including the SONA, must start with a five-minute talk by a non-public official. In Russia, such a privilege is given to poets, writers and other artists. In our case, we can give the pulpit to humble citizens like market vendors, public school teachers and farmers. While there is a risk that this can turn into a circus, at best, our officials will be reminded at every turn who they are supposed to serve.

The tide is changing. A fresh wind is blowing. I am willing to bet that in next year’s election, genuine dignity — similar to that by which Cory Aquino carried herself during her campaign, throughout her presidency and the rest of her life — will have a better chance of winning than cheesy gimmickry.

Close encounters with National Artists 5

Posted on August 16, 2009 by jimparedes

Close encounters with National Artists
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 16, 2009 12:00 AM

Ohoto by RayVi Sunico

Ohoto by RayVi Sunico

I am lucky to have met and worked with four National Artists as teachers, mentors and collaborators. Of course they were not National Artists then. They were simply brilliant people I looked up to because they were very good at what they did.

Three of them were my teachers at the Ateneo de Manila — Rolando Tinio, Bienvenido Lumbera and Virgilio Almario. The other one is Salvador Bernal, “Badong” to those who have worked with him as a set designer and costume-maker.

Virgilio Almario, or Rio Alma as he is known in the literary world, was a gentle teacher who taught me Pilipino poetry. I remember that he looked so young and clean-cut, not at all like the mental picture I had of what a poet would look like. Instead of the long, shaggy haired, beatnik weirdo that I imagined him to be, Rio Alma was quite the opposite. He was so neat, and would sometimes even wear a Barong Tagalog to class.

He was so good in Pilipino and I was impressed not just with his fluidity in the language but also that he used words I had never even heard of. I was a hopeless inglisero then, having been schooled all my life under the Jesuits who at that time discouraged the use of anything except American English.

I imagined that Rio must have been frustrated at his Atenista students, many of who had no real appreciation for poetry, much less the Pilipino variety. But he got me personally interested in his own work and that of E. San Juan and Amado V. Hernandez (another National Artist!) whose books I bought at the Erehwon Bookstore on Katipunan with my hard-saved baon.

It was from Rio Alma that I first began really appreciating Tagalog and the possibility of even writing in the vernacular. And my one subject with him served me well when I actually began writing songs in the ‘70s when we started OPM.

It was from Amado Hernandez’ Ibong Mandaragit that I picked up the word “tigang” which I used in my song Nakapagtataka to rhyme with “maramdaman.”

The late Rolando Tinio was a fun teacher. I enrolled in two of his subjects: English Literature and a Pilipino subject, the name of which I can no longer recall. Rolando was loud, challenging, outlandish, funny, and often went for the jugular when he felt he needed to jolt us to a bigger consciousness. He did so by raising his voice, arguing with us, in his theatrical manner with fingers flying all over, to make his point. He could be ridiculously funny and entertaining in a very witty way. His putdowns and his comments were always quotable.

I remember one classmate (who now holds a prominent place in the GMA administration) who raised a point that was too long and winding. Rolando looked him straight in the eye and asked him seriously if he had a headache, which got the class giggling. When my classmate replied in the negative and asked why, Rolando answered, “Because you’ve been sitting on your brains for too long.” We roared with laughter!

And yes, he did awaken many of us. At a time when 90 percent of what we knew and aspired for in the world was largely American, Rolando introduced us to literature from different countries. He awakened our sensibilities to the seriousness and relevance of theater (his passion), the issue of language, and discernment in all things during those days when the political atmosphere was polarized. He was just brilliant.

During Martial Law, the APO was invited to sing for the political detainees at the YRC in Fort Bonifacio, a detention center for political dissidents. It was there that I ran into a former teacher at the Ateneo, Bienvenido Lumbera. It was a pleasant reunion under difficult circumstances.

A few years after his release from detention, I called Bien to ask it he would be interested in collaborating on a musical I had in mind. He was about to leave for Hawaii then on a grant, but he was excited to collaborate with this upstart songwriter who had these crazy ideas about what would have happened, like if Rizal and Bonifacio had actually met, or how Josephine Bracken and Maria Clara would have wooed the national hero.

It is amazing that we got the work done through exchanges of snail mail. He worked on the libretto of Bayani in Hawaii and I wrote the music in Manila. To me, writing the music came so naturally, it seemed to come out of my sleeve. And Bien’s lyrics were brilliant! We were not only on the same wavelength, we were on a roll.

The entire production, from the songs to the direction, production design, staging, execution, was pure magic. Bayani was very well received. But sadly, Bien was away and he never got to see the musical. He had to content himself with the reviews.

I worked with Badong Bernal in Bayani where he went wild and wonderful with the sets and costumes. For those who saw the musical, it was quite impressive to see bridges appear and disappear, and the walls of Intramuros move about the stage when the scenes changed.
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The APO also worked with Badong in some shows before and after the People Power Revolution. He did set and production designs for Kuh Ledesma — we were her favorite guests then — and he designed some of our costumes. One of our favorite performance costumes made by Badong, which people remember to this day, was a unique shirt that allowed us to change its look by simply snapping on various built-in designs. It was so creative.

Common to all these National Artists I have met and worked with is their passion and effort to achieve excellence in whatever they did and continue to do. And they were so good, they could not help but rub off some of their talent on the people they worked with.

Last August 8 at the CCP where artists of all kinds of disciplines gathered to mourn the “Death of the National Artists Awards” in protest against this year’s shoddy list, I saw Bien, Badong and Rio. My Pilipino poetry teacher had gained weight, I thought, and with his hat he came across a bit like Pablo Neruda. Badong and Bien had aged, but they still had that glint in their eyes that suggested they could still wow their countrymen if they wanted to. I was thrilled to see other National Artists there like BenCab, Napoleon Abueva, Arturo Luz and F. Sionil Jose who left me in awe when he called me over to say that he reads my Sunday column.

I am so privileged to have worked with some of the best people in their fields, and I am thankful to have been exposed to their genius. They have inspired my work ethic and creativity no end.

It’s time to be our own heroes 13

Posted on August 08, 2009 by jimparedes

Sunday Life

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 09, 2009 12:00 AM
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Cory Aquino after Ninoy’s death at Times Street, 1983.

The first time I saw Cory Aquino was on TV. She had just arrived from the United States and looked every bit like the grieving widow. On TV, she expressed her grief over her husband’s death, put the responsibility of Ninoy’s assassination on the Marcos regime and demanded the release of all political prisoners.

The last point particularly impressed me since my mother and stepfather were political prisoners in Bicutan at that time. I just had a feeling then that there was more to the soft monotone and the non-political body language that spelled “housewife” more than “politician.”

I saw her once in Bicutan when I was visiting my parents. She came bearing rubber slippers for the detainees and to talk with and console them. At the time, the detainees were composed of two factions, the social democrats and the national democrats who were constantly trying to discredit each other. Cory reached out to both, perhaps realizing that they were all in jail because they loved their country, and she could certainly identify with that.

Cory was a calming presence. She could sit with hardcore communists and hardnosed politicians and melt their intransigence by simply knowing how to listen to them. She was almost non-threatening with her soft voice and kind demeanor, which were assets during those highly polarized times. And yet behind it was a woman of steel who must have decided earlier on, during Ninoy’s incarceration, that the way to peace was not more of the macho posturing that invariably brought violence but through a commitment to listen in a healing way.

The death of Ninoy had a profound effect on me. It forced me to confront my artistic identity and authenticity. Sure, I knew the craft of a songwriter-performer, but was I a true artist who dared express myself freely? If so, why was I reluctant to express my outrage at what was happening? From small tentative steps APO taken after Ninoy’s death, we became emboldened artists who took up the cause of ending the dictatorship and promoting democracy in the way we knew best — though songs and humor. One might say, we walked on the edge and even jumped a few times. Lucky for us, the net always appeared.

I remember listening to a lot of speeches, reading a lot of opposition materials, attending countless rallies and even as I did a lot of the latter, I must admit I often wrestled with my own fears of the martial law forces. But I did it anyway because each time I saw Cory Aquino stand on a makeshift podium and confront the regime head on, it inspired me to do my share in the struggle for democracy.

There was something riveting about an unlikely candidate, a widowed housewife standing up to a dictator who held all the cards. Her courage was simply contagious. It was like seeing the story of David versus Goliath playing out in real life.

Cory’s term as president was tumultuous, largely because of the disloyalty and lust for power shown by elements of the armed forces and her former defense chief Juan Ponce Enrile. It was beset with endless coups and natural calamities.

I bristled at the fact that the soldiers always got away scot-free only to stage the next destabilization effort, even if they failed miserably each time. And yet, I wonder now if a less forgiving, more “macho” leader would have succeeded in preserving the democracy that we fought hard for in EDSA. We could have easily gone back to another dictatorship, given the temptation to use a strong hand to deal with the many crises. Perhaps we did need the kind, maternal symbol that was Cory Aquino to help heal the rifts among her fighting children.

In truth, there were very few moments that I was in Cory’s presence where we actually talked. I blush when I remember how speechless I always became in her presence. But each time we did meet, she made sure I felt her appreciation for my participation in the cause.

In the last few years of her life, there were times when Cory’s magic seemed like a spent force. The rallies she called people to attend were miniscule compared to the magnificence of the People Power shows of force of earlier days. People seemed to have lost interest in her singular message of preserving the legacy of Ninoy and his belief that the Filipino is worth dying for. But she plodded on. It did not seem to matter to her how many showed up. It was always about the message.

And yet, the news of her death, though expected, came as a shock. It was like a pall of gloom had suddenly descended on us all. We realized that we were orphaned. We had lost an icon, a mother, a leader, a friend, a decent human being. She was a benign shining spirit whom we presumed would always be there. Especially in these days of quiet desperation, her maternal mien was a comfort zone. At the wake, not a few people asked in all sincerity, “Who will be the symbol of democracy now that she is gone?” Indeed.

Cory’s death has surfaced a lot of feelings aside from grief. Some of it is probably plain nostalgia for those who walked with her in the journey to EDSA, but I suspect there is a lot more to it. People know integrity when they see it and respond accordingly.

It was heartwarming to see throngs of people in avenues break into wild applause as her casket passed by. It was an affirmation of the good she had done, a recognition of her decency and integrity as a person and her untiring efforts in expressing tangibly her love for our country.

To me, the people’s spontaneous reaction is proof that we are rediscovering what it’s like not to be cynical. The tears shed, the huge crowds, the compassion and intense interest manifested everywhere has rekindled for some the candle of idealism which everyone thought had long melted away.

Even aging EDSA warriors like myself were starting to believe that the ideals of EDSA belonged to a bright but short era that had already passed. But what is shaping up seems to suggest that reports about the death of EDSA 1’s meaning may have been premature and exaggerated.

Even if I have a good feeling about it, I prefer to be cautious and say that it remains to be seen if indeed the spirit of EDSA has been rekindled. The coming days will tell us for sure. But speaking for myself, Cory’s death has reawakened my idealism. I want to help get this country back on the road to fulfilling its manifest destiny of greatness.

Joseph Campbell once said that doors closed to others will open to you when you respond to the call of your life’s mission. Cory was “just a housewife,” as Marcos once sneered. And he was right. But what he did not count on was this housewife’s admirable courage that brought him to his knees. The stars aligned for her because she did not flinch once she decided to take up the challenges of her time.

When I visited President Cory’s remains in La Salle Greenhills, I saw old friends and fellow street warriors weeping. Since I was one of the first in line, I had the privilege of blessing her remains with holy water. As I bade farewell to my leader, my muse and my inspiration, I tried to hold back my tears but I was unsuccessful.

Death can make a person larger than when he/she was alive. The symbolic is always more potent than the literal. It’s probably because symbols have a built-in open-endedness that grows more and more as people engage them and imbue them with powers greater than what they had in life.

And so Cory and Ninoy’s heroic tale will be counted among the noble stories that will continue to inspire us as a people for generations to come.

Ninoy’s funeral was the way it was largely because of the way he died. Cory’s was the way it was because of how she lived.

Today we are again at a crossroads as a people. We either awaken and resume our march to the Promised Land or continue adrift wandering aimlessly in the desert. EDSA 1’s work remains unfinished business. Just as Ninoy passed the torch to the reluctant Cory, she has now passed the torch to us. Like Cory, we only need to say “yes” to rise to the occasion and rekindle the candle of idealism that was lit in ESDA 1.

It’s time to be our own heroes.

Me and my shadow 1

Posted on July 18, 2009 by jimparedes

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Illustration by Rey Rivera

This is not going to be another Michael Jackson article. I just thought I’d put that caveat since I think a lot of people are already suffering from an overload of information, analysis and sentimentality.

I find the treatment by media of controversial people who die suddenly quite perplexing. While they were alive, people like Michael Jackson and Princess Diana may have been praised but they were also pilloried and vilified, sometimes with great cruelty. And yet, the moment they die, they suddenly become “beatified” to a certain degree. Their “sins,” or whatever it was that they were pilloried for, are not only forgiven, they are almost always forgotten.

I think what made these famous people bigger than life was because they played out their virtues and vices in really grand ways for all the world to see and go gaga over. When they were good, they were extremely wonderful. But when they were bad, they were shockingly scandalous.

It was Carl Jung who proposed the idea that everyone has a shadow side and, like a statue in late afternoon, the greater the man, the greater the shadow. And this best explains the phenomenon of the lives of the famous and infamous.

On the other hand, I sometimes look at so-called “bad” people and wonder about their good qualities. Surely, there must have been something good about Hitler and Stalin, aside from their being methodical, calculating and well dressed. At some point in their lives, they must have performed acts of kindness, some form of goodness or exhibited virtues; but perhaps the shadow side was just so strong that it took over completely.

Even institutions, countries, races have shadow dramas that play out. Deepak Chopra, in the documentary by Debbie Ford called The Shadow Effect, proposes that the Catholic Church’s shadow side involves pedophilia and the way it dealt with it historically, which was by denying it and protecting its erring priests by transferring them to different parishes where they continued to inflict damage. Germany’s shadow side is the Holocaust. Western civilization justified slavery and the subjugation of cultures in the name of God.

There is much to lament about the history of the world because shadow urges have to be played out. And surely, they will continue to do so.

From a religious point of view, especially if one is a Christian, it is quite important to believe that life’s struggle is all about eradicating the shadowy aspects that lie within us which, in the Christian view, are the source of sin. Thus, there is the need to be saved from this place of darkness and come fully into the light of the Lord. Some extreme sects, for example, even believe in exorcising gays to make them acceptable to God. But it is tempting to ask if extreme scrupulosity is itself a shadow manifestation as well.

I suppose, in its extreme forms, shadows are our neuroses. And they imply something pathological, which leads to dysfunctions and even danger. They need to be addressed, but even so, it seems hard to imagine what it would be like if a person had no shadow whatsoever.

That person would be what people derisively call a “goody two-shoes.” They would be excessively or annoyingly virtuous persons, which implies that they are shallow and insincere. Who was the pundit who said that it is easier to have the devil as your roommate than a saint?

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had an interesting remark about people who are overzealous about trying to be perfect. He said, “Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you.”

Joseph Campbell, commenting on that statement by Nietzsche, said that what is left of a person who is in deep analysis with his shrink is one who acts “as though they have been filleted. There’s no bone there, there’s no stuff!” They have been deprived of the very spirit that used to animate them.

In the light of this, one might ask what people like Van Gogh, Michael Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe — neurotics, drunks and addicts that they were — might have become if they had gone into rehab or hardcore counseling to drive out their demons. Would Van Gogh have retained the capacity to see the colors of life in hyper vividness? Would Edgar Allan Poe have lost his mesmerizing poetic fascination with sadness, terror and loneliness? Would Michael Jackson have smoothed out the edges of his music and made it less interesting? What about Picasso? Would his creative prana have come to a halt if he had zipped up his libido?

How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick,” Joseph Campbell advised. It requires not just the taming of the shadow. It means that one must also know intimately one’s dark side and befriend it. Popular speaker Debbie Ford recalled that in one workshop, a woman had called her a “bitch.” And while it upset her to be called that, the woman pointed out, “Wasn’t it great to be a bitch when you had to be insistent and have your way for the right reasons?”

An intimacy with and acceptance of the unsavory aspects of our personalities can allow us to access its power over us and use it to our advantage. And it works for us when we bring it to the light.

In practical terms, this means confronting our fears instead of hiding in them. It also means being brutally honest with ourselves about our own vices, reasons and motivations. Marcus Aurelius said, “Know thyself.” Debbie Ford says, “Got a bunch of jerks in your life? Then, embrace your own jerkiness. Guaranteed you’ll stop attracting them. No one to love you? Love yourself first and others love you, too.”

Embracing everything about oneself and all your good and bad aspects is a start. When your life leads to greater authenticity instead of fake virtuousness, the universe will seem kinder, gentler and even more generous with the joy it delivers in our lives. The energy investments we use to cover up our shadows are pulled out and reinvested in being present to one’s aliveness, and life itself, exactly as it is.

* * *

“Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” is two weeks away. Join me on August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 at 7 to 9 p.m. and discover the joy and aliveness of the creative life. I will awaken in you the life force that will make you creative and joyful.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions or reservations. You can also visit http://www.tappingthe creativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it. Do not miss out. Definitely the last one this year.

A day with Ananda 0

Posted on July 12, 2009 by jimparedes

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Yesterday I took my grand-daughter Ananda to the city of Sydney to visit the Sydney Aquarium. This was a moment she had been waiting for since I brought her to Australia a month ago. Her anticipation of it was so great that for the past few days, I successfully used this trip to the aquarium as leverage for her to do what I wanted her to, like finishing her meals, brushing her teeth and picking up her toys.

She finally got her wish yesterday when my daughter Ala and I took her on a train ride to the city to fulfill my promise.

From the time I woke her up until the end of the day, I observed her and made mental notes on how differently a child like Ananda actually enjoys an experience as opposed to Ala and myself. Of course, I know there are differences between adults and children, and some of them are quite obvious. But I have often wondered who has a greater appreciation of things and can get more out of the experience.

For Ananda, every moment spent with her Ninang Ala and me on this little excursion seemed to be so important that she wouldn’t allow anything to pass without commenting. She talked constantly, engaging us, asking about this and that.

“Can I press the button of the elevator?” “Can I put the ticket in the turnstile?” “Why is the train color yellow?” “Can we play the animal game while we sit on the train?” These were just four of perhaps more than a hundred questions she asked in a period of about seven hours. And every few moments of the 45-minute train ride, she asked, “Are we almost there yet?”

To this adult, it could get exasperating to have to answer every question she asked. Sometimes I just answered with “Because…”, hoping it would keep her quiet, but to no avail. I constantly had to remind myself as I mustered all of my grandfatherly patience, that there is nothing wrong with her being inquisitive. In fact, I should be thankful that she is, instead of being dull, silent and not inquiring at all.

The mind of a child is wired in a way that it has an appetite to know everything and make immediate sense of what it sees. In the case of Ananda, she has a great appetite that is never sated, not even by the endless smorgasbord of new things that she encounters in the world around her. She is constantly fascinated by things, people, objects and has a great desire to know and “own” them.

Before we left the house, her grandma gamely gave her a dollar to put in her pocket, which made her feel “rich.” With her one dollar, she wanted to buy everything that struck her fancy — little toys, chocolate bars, candies, knick-knacks, train tickets, etc.

One thing I noticed is, I do not have as strong a desire anymore — as Ananda does — to open the door wide to life and let in all sorts of people and things. Past experiences have jaded me to many of life’s aspects, and certain types of people. And this, I am quite sure, has made me miss out on a lot. It is refreshing to see in Ananda a blank slate and an unlimited capacity and drive to absorb everything that comes her way.

When I am with Ananda, I feel that she is pulling her toy box from under the bed for the first time while I have put my toys back in a box, locked it and put it away.

While Ananda sees her Lolo as a fountain of knowledge, security, love, material blessings and a fun companion (more or less), I see in her boundless enthusiasm, total freshness, unbridled rawness, a lack of decorum or political correctness that awakens in me a sense of what I have lost. It is a loss that I see only when I am patient enough to let go of my “adultness.”

For example, I catch myself constantly reminding her to lower her naturally loud voice when we are in public, or to stop asking too many questions. But just as soon as I do, I stop myself and just allow her to be as natural as she can be.

It is fascinating to see the power a child naturally possesses. When children are upset and cry, their parents are beside themselves doing everything they can to stop them from crying. Often, when a child shows off this power, adults put them in their place, scolding and threatening in the name of discipline, passing on to the child the message that having power is “wrong,” when what we should be teaching them is how to use it wisely and when.

“A child seldom needs a good talking to as a good listening to,” observed writer Robert Brault. Having grown up in an age when children were seen but not heard, I chose to bring up my children differently. As a young parent many years ago, I decided I wanted my kids to grow up expressing themselves freely. I am quite happy with the decision, because at least I more or less know where they are at emotionally, psychologically, etc. and that is valuable when you are raising them and helping them stay out of trouble.

I watched Ananda hop, skip and jump as we moved through the city, and I recalled the magical moments in my own childhood (and some in my adulthood) when there was no moment that music was not playing, or where there was nothing but beauty and fascination everywhere. I smiled and said “thank you” to the life prana that animates her and awakens my own.

To a child like Ananda, time is not a measured landscape with a beginning and an end but a magical dimension in which she is totally engrossed. In it, she is like an athlete in “the zone,” totally one with what she is doing, until an adult says “Time’s up.”

To a child, life is all play and joy until adults come and take that away, slowly but surely. It seems the opposite is true for us grownups where life is mostly about work and being responsible, with only occasional moments of play and joy. I believe that the few times we adults have these moments are sacred epiphanies that make life worth living.

The difference between us adults and kids is that they do these things naturally, without thinking about it or trying too hard while we have to make the conscious decision to allow or create such experiences. One might say then that while a child is naturally happy, with adults, being happy is a deliberate choice.

Last night, before going to bed, Ananda gave me a big hug and thanked me for the great day she had. Before she closed her eyes, she whispered, “I love you, Lolo.”

This kid can always melt my heart. In turn, I hugged her for being the naturally wonderful person she is. I guess, with Ananda, I am like a kid since I love her without having to decide or to try at all.

* * *

I am happy to announce the 47th run of “Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU) Workshop,” an experience of creative, joyful awakening. This will run from August 3 to 7 and finish August 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. The cost per participant is P5,000.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for questions or reservations. You can also visit http://www.tappingthecreativeuniverse.com for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it.

No more excuses 1

Posted on June 27, 2009 by jimparedes

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Almost every Filipino has his own take on what is wrong with the country today and has a prescription of solutions on how to solve them. Many are on the sane side of things while there are some who are closer to the fringe of extreme solutions. As an example, I have met more than a dozen people who believe that we must kill the old generation so that the new generation can have a fresh start at things. Views such as this, which adhere closely to the Pol Pot solution for curing a nation, show a dire lack of compassion, understanding of history and human nature. But it does highlight the extreme frustration many Filipinos feel about the state of our affairs as a nation.

For this article, I thought I’d write about a few of the explanations, excuses and analyses that try to explain why we are what we are. I will also explain why a lot of them are bunk and why it’s time to move out of this paradigm of victimhood that has stunted us. Here are some:

1. We are messed up because we were colonized for 400 years by Spain, 50 years by the Americans and four years by the Japanese.

The point being made here is that the colonial experience has left us confused, lacking in national self-esteem and character. I used to subscribe to this and even wore this excuse of colonial mentality on my sleeve. I realized soon enough that it was my sorry, futile attempt to feel good about feeling bad. It is so convenient to blame someone outside for our troubles. You don’t feel the need to be responsible. It is somebody’s fault and it is their duty to fix this. Meanwhile, we stupidly wallow in our victimhood.

When you look at other countries that were enslaved and colonized, many of them far worse than us, it is clear that by and large, practically all of them have gotten over their horrible colonial experience and have claimed back their future as independent, sovereign nations. The Koreans, Jews, Vietnamese, Chinese, Poles, etc. have stopped crying over spilled milk and have taken it upon themselves to get out of the psychological mire of being victimized and have moved forward. Many have become or are about to become economic giants and world players. Meanwhile, we use the excuse of being weak as to why we cannot get anything done for the national interest.

2. We should choose the leader who is the lesser evil.

Everyone is corrupt to some degree, and so we just have to choose the least corrupt. This kind of thinking exposes to me a very faulty criterion for choosing a leader. This kind of explains why and how we get people like GMA and Erap elected.

This kind of poverty thinking has kept us trapped in the situation we have been in for decades. For one thing, I believe that during the past elections, we have actually had candidates who ran for the office who were not corrupt. The problem is when we do see them, we believe that they do not have a chance at winning and so we lower our standards. The truth is, they are not winnable only because we do not consider them as viable candidates.

Now more than ever, we should get out of this kind of paradigm and put our efforts and resources into getting the best and most qualified, not the lesser evil, elected.

3. Change will not happen in my lifetime.

In the ‘60s, the IMF-WB came to the sad conclusion that Korea was hopelessly corrupt and had practically written off this nation as a failed state. But look at Korea now!

In the meantime, we have not only remained stuck but have actually slid further down the slippery slope. We are still refusing to see how our apathy, cynicism and wrong thinking have made us believe we are helpless against corruption and the oppressive socio-political structures that govern us. Like before, between change and the impossibility of it, we seem to continue to bet on the latter.

The truth is, we want progress, justice, and peace, but do not want it enough to sacrifice to get them. We expect the government to deliver it to us in exchange for the vote we cast. It will take more than just voting to get what we want.

The problem is we can’t seem to get out of personal interests and see that we have a greater duty to society to act and do what must be done. The politicians are always betting that we will not abandon our inertia and move out of our comfort zones and show up in rallies, or write letters, or disturb in any way our regular lives to express our disgust at the shenanigans they do.

But everything is really up to us. M. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, liked to say that the greatest sin in the world is laziness. We all know what the problems are but are too lazy to do the work of analyzing and doing the work needed to solve them. It’s just too much trouble.

We are at a crossroads now.

We are supposed to have presidential elections in 2010. Who knows as of today whether the Gloria government will let that happen or not? But as a people, we know we want it. Simply put, we have to do the work of shaking this country and government and asserting our will to get what we want.

Of the candidates, it’s good to ask ourselves who has the real vision to get us out of this rut we are in and take us where we want to go as a nation. The even bigger question is, are we as a people really serious about recognizing and supporting real change when it presents itself? If we want change yet continue to think the same way that makes change impossible, aren’t we shooting ourselves in the head?

Will change happen in our lifetime then? Whether the answer is yes or no, it is entirely up to us.

No more excuses.


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