Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

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The joy of teaching 0

Posted on March 18, 2018 by jimparedes

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

What hasn’t changed from a teacher’s point of view is the presence of students who have a great passion and an insatiable desire to learn. Every generation has them and they inspire us to go the extra mile to be better teachers.
The last year I was a student at the Ateneo was in 1973. That was the year I finished college. I have been teaching at ADMU for about 14 years now on and off since 2001. I have taught three different subjects under the communications department.

I have been on both sides of the classroom. I have stood near the blackboard as an instructor, and I have also been a student. I have had many students since I became a teacher. More often than not, my classes are full. Sometimes I accept beyond the quota of 25 students per class. You can say I love to teach.

I notice that students during my time and the students of today are quite different. I guess that is to be expected. After all, it has been 45 years, and times have changed so much. Technology alone has made many things easier for students today but at the same time, it has made certain things harder. Most importantly, it has altered the ways students and teachers relate and interact.

During the ‘70s, the only access students had to their teachers were during class hours, and a few scheduled appointments during the week. If you were absent in class, your only recourse was to ask classmates what happened and ask what the homework was.

These days, technology has made a lot of things more convenient. Lectures can be videoed. Assignments can be submitted via email. Classes can have their own Facebook pages where students can share ideas, or catch up with assignments they missed out on because they were absent. Once in a while, teachers (if they wish) can continue an extended discussion of a topic that was not taken up thoroughly in the classroom on Facebook.

Two weeks ago, I had to leave for the US to attend to a family matter. While I was there, I still continued with my songwriting class in ADMU using Apple’s FaceTime app. My students talked to me in real time with my moving image flashed on a big screen. They could ask questions and I could answer them as if I was physically present. It was amazing.

As a student in a very analogue world then in the ‘70s, we actually held books, opened pages and read them. Yes, we read entire books. There were rarely summaries of books available that you could read quickly. There was no Wikipedia then. Also, copy/paste had not been invented. No computers. You actually had to write down things on paper before transferring them to a typewriter. Typing was tedious. Erasing was a hassle. And papers had to be submitted in physical form. The digital world did not exist yet. No email. One might say we gave more time and effort in doing our assignments.

It was also a less permissive and enlightened time then, and a bit more formal when it came to how students showed up in class. There was a stricter dress code. And teachers then were not advised or warned by their department if certain students were going through certain psychological problems.

These days, students show up in shorts and slippers. I have LGBT students who even cross-dress. I am also informed by the department and sometimes by the students themselves when they are going through depression, some personal crises, etc.

I also notice that the knowledge base of today’s students do not go as far back in time as compared to what we were aware of then. We knew a lot about history and social movements of the past. For example, many do not even know, or lack a familiarity with the Beatles, and other music that transpired beyond 30 or 40 years ago. When I ask my songwriting class to listen to songs of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘60s, they are amazed at how vibrant the music was then.

In many ways, I would say that the students of today have it far easier than we did during our time. I know many teachers who give high grades too easily. Sometimes I can be one of them. I guess it is because I am of the baby boomer generation, and we tend to over-encourage and readily reward them just like we did with our own children.

One thing has not changed. Just like the students before, the women generally seem to get higher grades and do better than the men. They try harder. Why? Maybe it is because girls in our society are raised to be “ate(s)” and are expected to take charge and care for everyone, or at least act more responsibly.

I always make myself available to my students for individual consultation. I also always make sure that everyone is on stream with the syllabus. If I have to repeat or return to a subject already discussed because it was not well understood by my students, I do so.

What hasn’t changed from a teacher’s point of view is the presence of students have a great passion and an insatiable desire to learn. Every generation has them. They are the ones that inspire teachers to go the extra mile to be better teachers.

I have had students who wrote me letters of appreciation and thanked me personally for the semester they had with me. It took me a while to do the same with my old teachers. After graduation, my generation embarked on our own lives which took us to many directions. It was only the invention of email, Facebook, Viber, and the traditional class reunions that made it possible to find some and personally thank them.

Character 1

Posted on March 10, 2018 by jimparedes

Not on PhilStar

By Jim Paredes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counter-intuitive advice 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

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

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

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

Here are some of them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I started a joke 0

Posted on February 11, 2018 by jimparedes

It was an experience I will forever remember with a smile.

It was the last day of an artists’ conference in Shimane, Japan some 20 years ago. Seventy-nine artists from all over the world had gathered together to discuss how artists through their art can help save the environment.

In the previous two days, we had attended many discussions and talks. Speakers from all over the world had shared their expertise and knowledge on the environment with the hope of inspiring us.

Every night after the talks, artists of all types — dancers, singers, actors, poets, writers — took center stage and made each night special. Actually, it was not just special — it was magical.
I remembered a dancer from Indonesia who did an impromptu performance while holding a tree branch. One by one, he slowly took off the leaves… and eventually his clothes followed. Music was played by a koto player from Japan who attacked the strings of her instrument in a fierce manner. I had never heard the koto played like that before. Their synergy was amazing. The music intensified while the dancer’s movements got bolder and faster. Or maybe it was the other way around. They were so in sync with each other that everyone was in awe watching the performance with tears in their eyes. To me, it was a bold statement about allowing oneself to be vulnerable.

There were other performances in the first two days that were also very exciting. Singers who sang ethnic songs. Poets who read their poems in their native languages. There were painters who showed their paintings to the crowd.

On the last night, when all the talks and the scheduled activities were done, some artists called for a “comedy night” in which each participant would share no more than two jokes with everyone. It was to be an impromptu contest as to who could tell the funniest jokes.

Most were excited. We noticed some participants seemed baffled. But they were game enough to be there.

It was quite funny to watch the participants deliver jokes. Some had great timing. Some flubbed their punchlines. Regardless, people laughed. They were happy and in a good mood and supportive of every participant’s efforts.

The Americans and Europeans were mostly predictable, at least in my view. Being exposed to western culture, I knew half the jokes that they were sharing. I had heard them before or read them in joke books.

The Koreans did a performance which involved cutting a pencil in two with a crisp dollar bill. It was not funny but it was entertaining to watch. Many of us smiled in amusement and knew something must have gotten lost in translation when we were explaining what the contest was about.

There were some who did gymnastics, others did card tricks, a few jokes were told that were mostly more entertaining than funny. But we all laughed at the effort. We were having great cultural camaraderie.

A delegate from Bhutan was called upon to recite his joke. He was among the baffled ones I mentioned earlier. He looked at us and said that they did not have jokes in Bhutan. People were astonished at first, and then laughed. They refused to accept what he said. Surely, the Bhutanese people laughed at SOMETHING, they said! They egged him on. The young man thought for awhile and then started to tell a story. It was a long-winded story that lasted three to four minutes. After the last sentence, he laughed very hard. We all looked at each other. None of us got the “joke,” if there indeed was one. But we all laughed at how odd it was that he laughed so hard!

More people shared jokes. There were a few big laughs. Some were funny because they were not exactly funny in the way we were used to. Some were ridiculously funny.

Soon it was down to just two countries: Estonia and the Philippines. I had become close to the Estonians, Tom and Tarmo, who were famous and known as the Urb Brothers in their own country. Their first joke was political. It was about Gorbachev trying to pick up a woman by pretending he was Frank Sinatra. It was a little funny. It was a bit of an impersonation. The other joke was funnier but I can’t remember it now.

It was my turn. The first joke I told was about a supposed contest that was held in the biggest arena in the Philippines. It was a contest between contestants from the US, India and the Philippines on who had the most children.

So during the final judging on the most children, an announcer’s voice came booming from the large speakers in the venue,. “From the United States, please welcome Tom Harrison with… ONE HUNDRED FIFTY-TWO CHILDREN!” The audience roared and applauded as the American triumphantly walked around the stage and took a bow.

The announcer then called out the next contestant. “Next candidate is Aadesh Ghandi from India with… FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY-SEVEN CHILDREN!” Thunderous applause broke out and people rose in a standing ovation. The Indian bowed a “namaste” to every direction of the crowd and took his place onstage beside the American.

Finally it was the Philippines’ turn. The announcer bellowed, “From the Philippines, please welcome Isagani de los Santos…” and before the announcer could mention the number of children the Filipino had sired, the whole coliseum erupted in bedlam with most in the audience screaming, “Daddy!”
“Daddy!” “Daddy!” “Daddy!”

The joke went over very well. I could hear everyone laughing and clapping. I had a big smile. I then followed up with my last piece.

I started by explaining that in the Philippines, a great majority of males undergo circumcision during childhood.

“In my hometown, there is a famous doctor who has been circumcising Filipino children for decades. What he does is he actually collects the foreskin of his patients and stitches them together to make unique wallets.”

Then the punchline: “When you rub the wallet, it transforms into a duffel bag.”

The room went wild. People were laughing their heads off. My Estonian friends knelt and bowed in mock praise. Then every person in the room rose and clapped for everyone who participated. Many gave me a thumbs-up. They agreed the Philippines had won, hands down. It was a crazy, exhilarating evening.

There is no question that art is effective and can be a great driving force that can inspire everyone. But there is something about humor. It can shake a room with laughter and make people feel better instantly. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

As I packed my clothes that evening for the trip home the next day, I smiled and shook my head. “What a night!” I told myself.

And what a unique way to end a conference.

The culture quest 1

Posted on February 04, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I’ve always been curious about culture and languages. When I visit a country, I try to learn a few words and understand why people think and act the way they do. Each country has its own way of doing things. Each one has its own unique traits.

I look at individual cultures as a particular way a people have defined the world and how they must live in it. Culture is a set of myths, beliefs, values, ideals, rituals, rules, signposts expressed and embedded in its language and customs. Each peoples’ shared history and the symbols they have created guide them and shape them into a community where they find belongingness and purpose. Culture is like a road map that tells people where to go, how to live their lives in a manner that gives them some sort of assurance that their lives have meaning and value. It gives people a sense of the universal order and their place in it.

I look at cultures and try to understand how they have handled life’s great questions, imponderables and mysteries like death, the afterlife, the future, God, love, the meaning of being human, sex, eternity, art, politics, ethics, etc. I am also curious about how they relate to the weather, their attitude towards foreigners, and their own fellowmen.

I want to think that each culture has made attempts to make sense and understand and define all those topics I mentioned above. After all, how can a community exist without having notions, ideas, explanations, opinions or some kind of philosophy about what existence means?

Take sex, for example. Have you ever wondered why some cultures are quite comfortable with it and why some have many hangups about it? How is it that there are cultures that celebrate sexual intercourse, sex organs, nudity and sensual pleasures while there are some that suppress all these? In Japan and Nepal, statues and images of phallic symbols are quite common. India produced the Kama Sutra. All throughout Europe, nude statues abound. Meanwhile, in many other cultures, there seems to be some palpable fear about sex which, in practice, has resulted in the subjugation and slavery of women.

Have you ever wondered why some cultures subscribe to just one deity? There is the claim of the one true Christian God who came to save mankind. But there are also cultures with many gods and goddesses who rule their own domains that affect the lives of humans. D.T. Suzuki, a Zen teacher, once expressed his bafflement about some Western religions in this way: “God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion!”

There are cultures that are more comfortable with science and abstract concepts, while others make sense of the world through concrete and personal experiences. For example, some express distance not through meters or miles, but by how long certain human activities last while traveling certain distances. A place could be “two cigarettes” away.

Language carries within itself a defined reality, and as bilingual Filipinos, we experience two different “realities,” so to speak. For example, we can have an English Christmas or a Filipino one. We also switch languages depending on who we are talking to, and what the topic is. We can even switch in mid-sentence.

To experience culture, you must adopt its mindset. The Western experience of death means showing a lot of restraint in expressing emotions. Death is looked at with finality. The dead are gone forever. In the Philippines, dealing with death is anything but restrained. We ask those left behind to give a blow-by-blow account of how the departed passed on. During wakes, we eat, play mahjong, drink, laugh, cry and we never leave the departed alone. And after he/she is buried, we have nine days of prayer that follow and we mark the 40th day as special. And every year we take notice of the death anniversary. It is common to believe that when a butterfly is fluttering about, we see it as the dead visiting us. The soul is in a parallel universe. The loved ones may be physically gone but they are still somehow with us.

There are some things visible to one culture but invisible to another. As an example, Filipinos are more attuned to the presence of spirits and ghosts than Westerners are. We have more words for rice. We have words that are untranslatable. Language also determines what we hear. A cock crows a “cocka-doodle-do” to the American ear. To the Dutch, it sounds like “kukeleku.” To the French it is “cocorico.” To the Filipino it is “kukutaok.” As another example, Westerners admire and extoll individuality. We, on the other hand, see more value in belonging.

When I look at countries that were never colonized, I notice with admiration how they seem to have so much character. But when you read their history, you will notice that they also learned much from other cultures through trading and migration. Mahatma Ghandi once said, “No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive.” Despite my nationalistic sentiments, I concur. No culture is static. It must continuously grow.

In this modern age, cultures will brush upon each other with ever-greater frequency and intensity. No culture can remain uninfluenced and untouched. If it insists on being “pure,” it may eventually perish.

In the end, the embracing of cultures everywhere can only expand us as human beings. As Jawaharlal Nehru put it, “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”

Three troll tales 0

Posted on January 28, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 28, 2018 – 12:00am

We have all had our own troll experiences and I know that they are almost always unpleasant and disturbing. No one relishes being insulted, called names, and threatened.

Everyone I know has tried to answer trolls by being civil, rational and reasonable. They initially show patience and even try to elevate the discussion. Very rarely has anyone been successful.

Trolls are the most despicable people in cyberspace. Often, they use fake names, fake accounts, post fake pictures of themselves and use the most foul language you have ever heard in your life. They also abuse you with threats of rape and murder of your family.

Basically, they try to push your buttons to make you angry or to silence you into submission. They want you to be afraid and watch your back, and protect yourself from further troll attack by not expressing views against the Duterte administration. They bully you into silence.

I have experienced being the favorite of trolls a few times. I would wake up and find my timeline and inbox teeming with hate comments because I posted my thoughts on issues that put Duterte in a bad light.

I have analyzed troll behavior for sometime. They often come in waves, always with the same message and some even using the exact same words. They are not spontaneously sent or expressed by ordinary people. These are concentrated efforts from troll farms calibrated to intentionally intimidate and to silence. It has been proven again and again that these types of trolls are paid to do this.

But I have also encountered “sincere” haters who take the time to harass people and get satisfaction from doing so.

One such person sent me a threatening letter. Amid the usual expletives, he said he would be happy to see me die. I answered him by asking him to apologize or else I would write to the company he worked for and tell them that he had threatened me. I noticed that he had listed two companies that he worked for on his page. He answered in a cocky manner challenging me to do it. I sent both companies an FB message with a copy of his threatening message to me. I suggested that their companies deserved better people to work for them.

Company no. 1 immediately answered and said they would look into it within the day. The other replied that the person was not connected with their company anymore, but his wife still was and that they would talk to her about it.

Within a few hours, company no.1 answered me to say that they had a meeting with the troll employee and decided to terminate him. I thanked them for the quick response but suggested a way for the troll to keep his job by asking if they would consider a change of mind in the event that he would apologize and promise not to do it again. They answered that they had already decided and it was the best thing to do considering that they were a service company.

From company no. 2, I got a message saying they had talked to the troll’s wife, and she wanted me to know she was very apologetic about what her husband did.

The next morning, I got another threatening letter from a young man who worked overseas. I told him that his message was uncalled for and I told him the same thing: that I would write to his boss and show the letter he sent. I also noticed that the company he worked for had its headquarters in the US. I told him I would send the same letter to the US headquarters to make sure that proper action would be taken to address what he did. US companies take these things very seriously.

He laughed and and said “sure,” as if to challenge me more and show he wasn’t afraid. So I sent the letter to his company’s email address.

I then asked him where his hostility was coming from and why he was threatening me. He said he was angry because I was always criticizing the President.

We then had an exchange about freedom of expression and I said that civility was important if we did not want our country to descend into chaos. I pointed out that we were both coming from a place of genuine concern for our country’s future.

When I sensed that he had simmered down a bit, I asked him if he thought his letter reflected the values that his parents had taught him while he was growing up. I said I was a father with a son his age. By this time, we had been chatting for about 15 min.

I noticed he had a sudden change of tone. He suddenly apologized. He said he had noticed that I had been talking to him all this time without using any expletives despite his lack of civility. He said he had been wrong about the impression he had of me. I acknowledged his feelings and said that politics can sometimes bring out the worst in anyone. We continued talking for about 20 min. I asked him if he wanted me to withdraw the letter I sent. He said it was alright and he would talk to his boss himself. He apologized again profusely. I readily accepted his apology with no fuss. Strangely, I was humbled by it. I said that this exchange was a teachable moment for me as much as it was for him. I learned that if we allow it, our humanity can shine through and destroy walls. I said I was ready to let the issue go. As a final gesture, he asked me if we could be Facebook friends. I gladly obliged and thanked him for his friendship.

Two days, later I received hate mail from an elderly gentleman who was connected with the Padre Pio Foundation. He cursed me and wished me ill will. I answered him and said that I was a believer of Padre Pio and that the Saint had affected me in many good ways. I told him his letter left me wondering why Padre Pio’s influence seemed to have affected him in a negative manner. I suggested to him that I would share his message on Facebook and open a discussion on how Padre Pio had affected people. I said I would be interested in hearing from anyone who may be able to explain how Padre Pio’s miraculous powers had gone awry with him.

After a few minutes, he wrote back and apologized. That was the end of that.

I am not sure if my proposition to have the conversation go public was the factor that made him change his mind. Probably not. I would give the credit to Padre Pio who most likely intervened and converted him.

What are you willing to die for? 0

Posted on January 21, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated January 21, 2018 – 12:00am

No one is exempted. We will ALL die.

Everyone should be thinking and talking about death even before it happens. For one, it will make us feel more comfortable about it when it finally happens to someone close to us. And it surely will. Even if we die first, we will have prepared our friends and loved ones better for our death.

We will not know how we will die. No one knows unless you are on your deathbed. There are infinite possible ways to die. That is not so much my concern. We can’t help it anyway. It is not our choice.

I am writing this article to ask a specific question about death. Answering it may give us clearer direction in our lives. It may even make life more meaningful and purposeful.

The question I am asking is this: if you had to, what are you wiling to die for? Are you willing to die for something?

This thought has been on my mind for the past months. I keep wondering why some people choose to voluntarily risk life and limb for causes, for other people, for principles. I think of soldiers, patriots, missionaries, first responders, workers and doctors in refugee camps, teachers and humanitarians in war-torn places, etc.

Why do they do it?

Almost nobody wants to face death even if it is inevitable. But to walk towards death voluntarily for causes bigger than oneself is admirably and defiantly heroic.

Many people say that the first law of life is self-preservation. But Joseph Campbell, one of my favorite writers, says that is only the second law. The first law is that all life is One.

Ironically, life goes on because there is death. Death, though involuntary, is a necessity. Creatures must die for other creatures to live. When Jesus voluntarily chose death and willingly sacrificed his own life, He was doing it for very important reasons. He was willing to die to save mankind. One might say He saw a collective Self that was bigger than his own self! A hero always dies for something greater than himself.

When I ask myself what I am willing to die for, I think of people, things and values that are important for the world and for mankind to continue to evolve. If human life needs to be sacrificed to save these, then so be it. Some of my reasons are very personal. Others may seem too ideal for some of you readers. To me, they are not.

1) If I have to, I am willing to give up my life to save any member of my immediate family. When my children were still babies, I was understandably very protective of them. During those times, I would constantly make sure they were safe and I would imagine what I would do if they were suddenly in great physical danger. What would I be ready to give up? I knew that I would gladly give up a limb without question to save them. I would even give my own life if the need arose.

I still feel that way except that I know they can take care of themselves now that they are already fully grown. But if a situation came up that required me to give up an organ, or even my life to save theirs, I would still do it.

2) In 1986, many of us who were at EDSA were more than willing to face tanks, soldiers and, yes, even death to fight for what we believed in. I remember those moments. Before leaving the house with Lydia to go to rally, we would hug and kiss our kids with the thought that we may never see them again. Politically, push had come to shove. The line had been drawn and crossed. We all heard THE CALL, and we responded. Thoughts of personal safety were set aside. We knew that we were needed in the fight. It was our defining moment. We were willing to die for our country.

Would I be willing to die for this country again? Now that we are moving closer to another dictatorship, I ask this every day.

I am very bothered about a lot of things happening these days since the new regime took over. I was never the type to just stand by the sidelines and just watch as things go to pot. I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal democrat. I believe in respecting human rights, democracy, justice and truth, and value them enough to fight for them. Maybe my weakness is I often care too much and so I take it upon myself to do something.

Sometimes, I feel like copping out. It is so convenient to say that I am too old for this. I can also say that I have already done my part in the past. The duty to fight for this nation is now in the hands of the millennials. It seems like a sound rationale and a good excuse. Except that it is not true for me.

As a Filipino, I can’t find real excuses or any rationale that says I am excused from fighting the evil that confronts us today. I am a Filipino, an artist and expressing myself is a huge part of what I do. My nature to speak out will always defy any force that stifles or limits my self-expression.

3) I believe that art is worth dying for.

I admire people who live their lives in pursuit of their art especially during times of persecution. Art can save you from losing your authenticity during such times. As Joseph Campbell put it, “Art is the set of wings that will carry you out of entanglement.”

I admire people like Rizal, Picasso, Charlie Chaplin and many Brazilian and Latin American artists who were exiled because they spoke their truth. They were poets, singers, painters, writers. Through their art, they challenged the existing order at a time when their governments were highly intolerant.

I also watched a movie on the plane (I can’t remember the title) about a prominent and well-admired European painter who stood his ground against the Communist takeover of his country decades ago. The Reds were forcing all artists to abandon their own views and embrace socialist art “in the service of the people.” He refused. As a result he was stripped of his prestige, privileges, and even his livelihood. He struggled on until he eventually died sick and starving. His art was his life’s work. It was his vehicle to express his truth and he never wanted to give up. In the end, his lonely stand was validated by history.

I know I have never faced anything as hard as this. The closest thing to this I have experienced was in 1985. We were banned from radio and TV, and were not allowed to use government owned venues for concerts.

Before the ban, there were also attempts to win the APO over to the Marcos side through lucrative sponsorships and endorsements from crony establishments. The dictatorial regime was desperately trying to win the propaganda war around the time before the elections. We were young and famous. We were also building our own homes and securing our future. We thought about the generous offers. They were tempting. We discussed and even argued among ourselves. It would have been a big boost to us financially if we had accepted it.

In the end, we said no. Our music and career and personal lives at that time were closely linked to the struggle against the dictatorship. We were fighting on the side of the Filipino people to regain our freedoms. And we weren’t going to sell out.

We live in brutal times once again. I feel events will eventually lead us to some sort of showdown between forces of tyranny versus the forces of freedom and democracy. I know this time around, people on opposite sides may not be as polite as the players were in EDSA. There may be real danger of violence.

And so I ask you: Are you willing to make great sacrifices and maybe even die for this country?

As or me, I will be honest. I do not know the answer until I am literally faced with the situation. I ask you to open yourself to the question as I continue to find my own answer.

I love World Music 0

Posted on January 14, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 14, 2018 – 12:00am

I am a big fan of music. Everyone knows that. Through the years, I have listened, enjoyed, grooved on, examined and analyzed all types of music. I never went to music school but my intense interest taught me a lot about music and how to write songs and understand what makes songs tick. I have also learned to appreciate musical patterns in chords, themes, motifs, styles, etc. I can sit down with schooled musicians and not get lost in the conversation.

During the past years, I have grown a bit tired and weary of Western pop music. By this, I refer to music mostly from the US and England. In the past two decades or so, I feel it’s lost much of its rawness and vitality. There are so few artists now who can speak with authenticity and still manage to shine despite the given dictates and demands of commercialism.

Because of this, I have opened myself to other music from different parts of the world. I am always trying to look for “organic” stuff. By this I mean music that is original and new. In the ’70s. I could find “organic” artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Santana, Steely Dan, etc., who made you wonder where they came from and what music they listened to.

They all seemed unique. They were very original. They were like prophets who said important things. Their songs hit us on a gut level. They were mostly writing not to please anyone but to express themselves. They did not cater to an audience. The people bought into them.

There are very few artists these days who can make music like the great ones did. For me, a lot of it had to do with the emergence of music videos. All of a sudden, the world and music business changed. Overnight, gloss was suddenly more important and started to lord it over substance. Bad music could now look “good,” and good music could look “bad.”

Discovering music from Brazil was one of the best things that ever happened to me, musically. Often we discover foreign sounds only when they hit the US charts. That’s how I discovered Jobim and Sergio Mendez. In 1992, I went to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Earth Summit. I discovered more artists and completely fell in love with Brazilian music. I felt I was at the very source of it. Music was everywhere. I saw one guy playing his guitar at Copacabana Beach. In a few minutes, some people had joined in and started playing percussion with cans and bottles while dozens danced and sang with them. I saw so many brilliant artists. Some of them I even met. Many of them I “met” because I bought their records.

It was like discovering a new planet, listening to artists like Joyce (Moreno), Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, Chico Buarque, Maria Bethânia, Jorge Ben, Milton Nascimento, etc. Their beats were new, their chords complex. The sounds were varied and the percussion was simply out of this world. Yes, they sang in their native tongue (Portuguese), which made their songs sound more authentic to me. They seemed immune to Western pop conventions. They were reveling in their own music and culture. It was refreshing, wonderful and inspiring.

Since 1981, I have bought 13 more albums by Joyce, and a few more of Caetano Veloso and other Brazilian artists.

For almost two decades, I almost stopped following and keeping track of the US Top 40. I liked just a few new artists but continued to follow my old favorites. I did not buy any Top 40 CDs for years. Instead I began exploring music from other countries and continents. From Africa, I liked Fela Kuti, Olatunji, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. From Mongolia I learned about throat singing and bought an album by the group Huun-Huur-Tu called “60 Horses is My Herd.”

When I would go to record bars abroad like Tower records (before the company closed down), I would ask shoppers in the World Music section what countries they were from and which artists from their own countries they could recommend for me to buy. It was the best way to discover new artists.

I bought more music from Latin artists from Cuba, Mexico, Argentina. I also listened to some old and new Indian music, from Ravi Shankar to Bollywood artists. From Russia, I had an album called “Time Machine” given to me by artist Andre Makarevich whom I met at a conference. It was at the time Gorbachev was still promoting Perestroika and Glasnost. The USSR was on the verge of disintegrating. The title of one of Andre’s songs was I Want to Defect. I also bought an album by a Russian pop group called Karnak. From Estonia, I met the Urb brothers who were former political prisoners, and we exchanged albums. There was so much to discover.

Listening to pop songs in another language really gets me excited. Although one can detect Western influence in a majority of them, their cultural identity remains strongly intact.

During the last five years, I have made songs with strong Latin influences. I also wrote songs that were directly inspired by Caetano Veloso and Joyce. I still want to write a song similar to the Urb Brothers’ Moonsong, which I like a lot.

I feel liberated, being freed from the dominant influence of US and British pop music. I do not care to listen to the newest, nor the latest songs on the radio, like I used to. I have avoided being influenced by music everyone else listens to. I have become a snob, in a good way.

World Music is one of the topics I touch on when I teach at ADMU. I introduce my students to music beyond what they are used to. Their first reaction is mostly shock, which immediately turns into surprise and delight. I see them get really interested. Some of them actually expand their musical tastes and follow some artists I expose them to.

The world is so rich. It is a pity that most of us appreciate music that only comes from the usual sources, through the usual channels. Commercial music, to me, often means something already preselected for us by the big, greedy establishment and pushed down our throats.

I like discovering new sounds and artists from all over the world. Their music can touch us in a way that can be a real life-altering experience. Someday, I hope more Filipino music can be heard and liked by people from other parts of the world. But for that to happen, like the rest of the world, we must speak authentically about our own experiences, sing our own songs and dance to our own tunes.

World Music is a big party. There is no dress code. We must learn to come as we are.

Read more at http://beta.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/01/14/1777674/i-love-world-music#lFlbOVw6u95rq6Fj.99

As the world turns: Predictions for 2018 0

Posted on January 07, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – January 7, 2018 – 12:00am

I thought that I would be freed from this task of making my yearly projections for 2018. But, just like every year since five years ago, Nostradamus, the master of predictions, has once again forcibly entered my dream state and whispered to me what to expect for 2018.

I can’t help it. His spirit has overtaken me. I have become a humble vessel of good tidings and bad omens which, in the end, may or may not be nothing. To warn you, the accuracy of my predictions yearly has been dismally low at best. Therefore, please tread cautiously. In an era when alternate facts, and fake news rules, read this at your own peril.

1) Every single person on earth who is still breathing will be one year older by the end of 2018.

2) Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will be outed and exposed as extraterrestrial beings. Scientists will confirm that they are ETs from a planet with a superior civilization. Surprisingly, Rody Duterte will almost make this list. But in the end, he will fall short. But they will all agree that he is someone who is “out of this world.”

3) North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, in a act of defiance, will suddenly and finally quit the United Nations. The headlines will be read, “Un quits UN.”

4) A new Mayan calendar will be unearthed that will predict the end of the old Mayan calendar.

5) Astronomers will discover two small moons very near Uranus. They will be called “Urscrotum.”

6) After race, skin color, sexual preference, social status, educational level, the next big discrimination will be about blood types, zip codes, types of phones and Zodiac signs.

7) WiFi companies will create technology that can be attached to humans so people can be used as data access points. They plan to attach these to celebrities, which will increase their following more than 10,000 times. The simplicity of this invention is truly amazing. When you need to reset the WiFi, simply insult the celebrity access point so he/she “turns off.” After a minute, flatter him/her so he/she “turns on” again.

8) Filipinos will hardly show any shock when China occupies 20 more islands and shoals in 2018. It will hardly be news. Life will go on as usual in the new People’s Republic of the Philippines.

9) Internet trolls will form a union and ask for a raise from their financiers. They will be turned down. As morale sinks, they will stop their strategy of threatening people with rape and murder, and will withhold saying mean insults. In place they will be very mild and say things like, “I hope you have a bad day,” “I will unfollow you,” “Wow… Labo mo.” And when they really want to be mean, they will say things like “I fart in your general direction,” and “Your mother is old.”

10) As people become immune to fake news, someone will register the name “FAKE NEWS” to make outright lies and false stories appear somewhat “official” in the hopes that blatant lies become “respectable” and more credible.

11) Bato will retire early in 2018. He will be placed by Papel or Gunting!

12) Polong Duterte, the vice mayor of Davao, will completely resign from politics. He will have a career change and will become an actor. His first movie will be a remake of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon.

13) Filipino psychics will make their usual predictions about the usual tragedies, the deaths of unnamed but famous persons, and the marriage of unnamed personalities. All will claim 100 percent accuracy at the end of 2018.

14) Archeologists will be astonished to discover Neanderthals still living on earth in great numbers. By looking at the results of surveys, and reading Facebook accounts, they will realize that there are actually close to 16 million Neanderthals living in the Philippines alone.

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