We shall overcome

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 29, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (2) View comments

There is a toxic attitude or mindset among us Filipinos that surfaces every time we face a major challenge or crisis as a nation. It is the belief in the worst in us as a people accompanied by a self-righteous gloating, finger pointing and blaming when bad things happen.

We delight in Filipino–bashing, a kind of self-flagellation that seems to come from an unwarranted pessimism about the Filipino’s capabilities, or lack of them. And we take a prideful “I-told-you-so” stance as if to explain why things are as bad as they are. We seem happy and affirmed about our being so negative about the Filipino when things go wrong. In a way, one might say it is a distorted self-esteem in motion manifesting as meanness of spirit.

I call this “Philippine Exceptionalism.”

I borrowed the term from an opposite but similar view in the US called “American Exceptionalism.” The American brand of exceptionalism is a concept and phenomenon that dates back to its immigrant roots where its citizens felt the United States was a unique country because of its diversity, and therefore believed it had a special perch among the community of nations. Later, this morphed into something even bigger in its expression, especially when the country began to have colonial ambitions. The US started to believe that it was “above” or an exception to the law, specifically the Law of Nations.

Among the Republican right, American Exceptionalism is the creed by which America has tended to deal with the rest of the world.

In the words of conservative presidential bet Mike Huckabee, “To deny American Exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation.” The belief in “Manifest Destiny” is part of this peculiar self-expression and part of the US justification for annexing the Philippines as a colony.

To some Americans, this explains their sense of pride about who they are as a people and justifies their place in the world. For better or for worse, the rest of the world has seen this national pride play out in different arenas of human activity everywhere. It is debatable, of course, whether what is good for the US is always good for the rest of mankind.

While some Americans may argue that American Exceptionalism is a celebration of the American spirit, Filipino Exceptionalism is the absolute derogation or downgrading of the Filipino spirit. It explains why its adherents see nothing right about Filipinos and the Philippines. What they see is proof positive of why we are such pathetic failures who will never rise up and become anything great.

This negative exceptionalism manifests itself in many ways, from the benign and the subtle — like when we make self-deprecatingly funny or amusing comments about our own uniqueness and inadequacies — to out-and-out expressions of disgust and contempt of ourselves as a nation.

There are many examples of this in Filipino humor. One example is the expression “Only in da Pilipins” to explain in a shallow way our inexplicability to others. There is also the joke setup where there are three nationalities involved and they are tasked to do something, and it is the Pinoy who carries the punch line because he is the one who breaks the “rules.” And the Pinoy always wins the game because he avoids the rules through some sort of “palusot.” This palusot is usually a ridiculous, exaggerated response to the situation that is, in reality, a “failed” but funny response.

However, these jokes do not bother me as much as the toxic expressions of disgust and hopelessness that we declare about ourselves when things go awry. We Filipinos are — you guessed it — the most rabid Filipino Exceptionalists.

While watching the tragic blunder of media, the police and government during the hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand on TV last Monday, both my Facebook and Twitter accounts were overrun with comments from all over. Many condemned the actions of media, the police and the violence that could have been prevented. That was expected and understandable. But what really bothered me were the comments that implied that such a tragedy, such incompetence and insensitivity could only have come from Filipinos. The failure, in their view, was caused by our very nationality.

During my travels, I have actually met such extremists (yes, they are extremists!) who actually believe that we should kill a whole generation of our countrymen “to start anew” if we are to have a chance to progress as a nation. Unbelievable!

I have always subscribed to what the late historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ wrote that no people have a monopoly of good and bad traits and characteristics. And these characteristics, whatever they are, are not permanently theirs. Societies change, and they do, sometimes, drastically.

It is interesting how many of us take personal shame in what happened last Monday. That includes me. I actually feel that I should personally apologize to the victims who came here to enjoy our country and instead ended up traumatized or even dead. I believe it has something to do with the genuine hospitality we feel towards foreigners. How can something that so defines us go so wrong for our visitors?

But I am immediately sobered by the fact that aberrations like this happen in every society. Every nation has its fringe elements. It just so happens that sometimes they play out big-time, to the shock of its own citizens and the world.

I am not sure if Rolando Mendoza had real reasons for doing what he did. Was he suffering from insanity? Was he a victim of injustice? I do not know. What I know though is it is not justified to take anyone hostage. And in his situation, it was foolhardy. It was just not the way to resolve his grievances. Another thing I know is that Rolando Mendoza and his actions are exceptions to the rule. We are a peace-loving, friendly people and we are generally welcoming towards visitors. And we do condemn his act and the incompetent and crass handling of it by the media and the authorities.

I am confident that we will rise above this national tragedy. While we have a lot of things to learn and internalize, let us not forget that every country screws up at one time or another. In recent history, China had those melamine deaths and Tiananmen, Germany had its Munich Olympics, not to mention the Holocaust, The US has had its school shootings and other massacres that the police could neither predict nor prevent. Individuals in every society can and do act up. We are not an exception.

Let’s not beat ourselves up so much that we lose hope. The thing to do is to make sure it does not happen again. We have many things going for us as a people. We will learn from this and we will move on to achieve greater things that will restore our collective sense of national pride.

Like other peoples in the world who have undergone such crises, we shall overcome.

* * *

I will be holding three workshops. Two are in Cebu and on is at The Fort:

1) “Creative for Life Workshop” (one-day run) is a cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity. It will be held this Sept. 17 (Friday) 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Convention Center of Cebu. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks and lunch.

2) “Basic Photography Workshop (The Second Run)” on Sept. 18 (Saturday) From 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Mountain View Nature Park. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks, shuttle back and forth from JY Square. Call (032) 415-8056 or cell no. 0909-1112111. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for reservations or queries.

3) “Creative For Life workshop” at the Fort (six session run). Sept 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27 at 7 to 9 p.m. Venue is at Meridian International College, 1030 Campus ave., 2F CIP Bldg, Mckinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio. Call 223-6468/ 426-5375. Also 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for inquiries.

Bridging the gap

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 22, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

I was talking with a teacher-friend and she remarked about the great gap between the values she teaches in her classroom and what kids have to contend with outside the school. She has been a teacher both in the US and in Manila.

As a parent and a teacher, I have often wondered how to handle the gaping divide between what I want the kids to know, what values I believe they should embrace, versus the stark reality of how things are run in the real world.

No one who is born into this world and lives long enough is spared from this big contradiction. We all have to deal with the chasm between what is, or how things are, and what should be.

There are those who surrender their ideals and values readily because it is inconvenient to go against the ways of the world. One can call them many things, but they like to think of themselves as “pragmatists.” They fancy themselves as realists. I often wonder how readily they can let go of whatever they profess to stand for in the name of practicality.

Many of us adults try to resolve this disconnect between what we teach and how we live by telling our kids to “do as I say, not as I do.” And it is quite foolish of us to believe that our children will be blind to the contradiction and follow our advice.

Even at my age, I find that it is not easy to just give up some of my long-held values. Sure, I have changed some of my attitudes, often quite radically, and I have even abandoned some of my beliefs through the years, but there are values that I hold dear and I will probably not change as I get older. In fact, through the years, I have seen their value grow more and more.

One of the things I’ve noticed as a teacher who works with young people, is that there seems to be a hunger for real values as modeled by adults in real life. Many students have told me quite indirectly during candid moments that their parents have failed them and so they look outside the home or even to media icons for role models.

If I could teach just a few values to my kids that I hope they imbibe and hold on to for the rest of their lives, these would be some of them:

1) The value of education. I am not just talking about finishing formal education, but pursuing learning for the rest of one’s life. I believe that an inquisitive, open mind can constantly adapt to new things and will continue to grow at any age. I am in awe of people past 50 years old who enroll in school to learn something new, or those who discover and indulge in new passions that give them a sense of purpose even in the last quarter of their lives.

It has everything to do with keeping the mind fresh, adaptable and capable of understanding complexity. I’ve always judged the age of people not by the wrinkles on their faces but by how fixed or unbending their minds are. The cantankerous and the old are those who have become didactic and absolutist in thinking.

I am not even talking about the need to be trendy or modern, but about being objective and intellectually disciplined enough to look at the pros and cons of an issue dispassionately. As Aristotle said, ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

2) The value of honesty and accountability. One of the ways I appraise a person is how he relates to money. It’s not so much about how he spends money but how accurately and honestly he can account for it. When my kids were growing up, I would drill into them the importance of giving back exact change and being totally trustworthy when handling money. There is no room for suspicion in this department.

As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between stealing one peso and one million pesos. A thief is a thief. Many relationships between friends, relatives and business partners have gone sour because of money and how it is handled.

3) The value of compassion. Love for one’s fellowman is probably the highest value and compassion is its most active expression. It is not difficult to see that the minimum of love is justice, and the full flowering of it is compassion. I have no problem accepting the value of justice. In fact, living in the Philippines, we have been so deprived of it, we probably will not complain if we have more than enough of it. What I have been trying to work on is being able to love and show compassion for people in general, especially those I am not emotionally connected with.

Compassion is probably the most universal of values found in Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and other religions. I believe that it is the single element that could be the game changer in creating happiness in our individual and collective lives. Compassion breaks barriers and creates space for a more human experience.

There will always be a “disconnect” between our values and those of the outside world, and it is important to try and bridge this gap. The coming together of the opposing edges has been the general direction of man’s historical struggle in the past thousand years. Sometimes, man pulls closer to idealism, while at other times, he is pulled towards practicality.

Our effort to shape the world to our values is probably what spiritual practice should be all about. Forgive me for quoting the atheist Karl Marx, but he did make a lot of sense when he said, “Philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”

That is what it means to bridge the gap.

* * *

I will be holding three workshops. Two are in Cebu:

1) “Creative for Life Workshop” (one day run) is a cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity. It will be held this Sept. 17 (Friday) 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Convention Center of Cebu. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks and lunch.

2) “Basic Photography Workshop (The Second Run)” on Sept. 18 (Saturday) From 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Mountain View Nature Park. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks, shuttle back and forth from JY Square. Call (032) 415-8056 or cell no. 0909-1112111. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for reservations or queries.

3) “Creative For Life workshop” at the Fort (six session run). Sept 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27 at 7 to 9 p.m. Venue is at Meridian International College, 1030 Campus ave., 2F CIP Bldg, Mckinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio. Call 223-6468/ 426-5375. Also 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for inquiries.

Out here on my own

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 15, 2010 12:00 AM

I have always been a team player. Being part of a family of 10 siblings and a few cousins who lived with us, I learned early on how to fit in, survive, and even thrive in most setups. Because of the number of people staying with us at home at any given time, I learned to live in a system that was not necessarily tailor-made for me (or for any of my siblings for that matter), and which did not bend backwards to fawn over or pamper any individual.

It was one treatment for all of us. Everyone was given the same food, cafeteria-style (without the line), and each one managed to meet their individual needs by sharing equally the same meager resources. No one got special treatment unless he or she got sick or was having a birthday. We were a big family living under one roof, and so we had to give in to the collective rules and duties.

Then there was my singing group. My entire career with APO spanned 41 years. It started in high school in 1969 where, at one time, we were a group of 12 — and ended last May 29 as a trio. Again, as part of a group, I naturally shared everything with the members, including our collective career planning and execution. The whole challenge for us was creating a group identity and making it pay off. Luckily, we did quite well.

When young performers ask me what is the secret of APO’s longevity, I have two answers: a funny one and a serious answer. The funny one says the reason for our long and successful association was that we never had sex with each other. The serious one is about how we were able to dissolve our individual egos in favor of a bigger collective one.

It meant we were first and foremost APO before we projected our individual identities. It was the only way we could make it work. I cannot recall ever having encountered an APO fan who said something like: “I really like the song Jim wrote which Danny sang solo while Boboy did second voice.” We were one unit even if there were three different persons in this group each contributing unique gifts. The collective always ruled. Every good and bad thing was an APO effort first before anything else and we jointly shared in the glory and the occasional criticism.

Now, after so many years, I suddenly find myself working alone since APO ended last May. And while I remember how, years ago, I feared that this day would someday come, now that it’s here, I am finding that I enjoy going it alone.

Even before APO retired, I was already doing many things without my two friends. I did workshops and taught in college, and now continue doing these more regularly. These were diversions then; now they’ve become the norm.

Contrary to how I initially imagined it would be, I am surprised to find not just great comfort but amazing discoveries in going solo! For me, it is a chance to tap fully aspects of myself that used to take a back seat. Now I am expressing more and more not my team spirit but my individuality. No collective effort needed. No holding back. No waiting for others. There are only my own thoughts, concerns and passions to consider and fuel my work. It is an entirely new landscape.

Currently, I am doing an album — something I wanted to do for a long time with APO but was unable to. During our last years, I found it more and more difficult to convince my two friends to do new music. There were our individual interests and ventures; golf took up a lot of their time, which I could not possibly compete with.

These days, I find it weird and exhilarating that I am by myself alone in the studio doing all the work getting an album started and finished. I am writing all the songs, working with my arranger Ernie Baladjay, and deciding on the song treatments without having to consult anyone. I alone do all the vocal parts and interpretations, and I am not altering the lyrics or digressing from my creative vision to accommodate anyone else’s inputs the way I used to.

I am now on solo flight. No co-pilots, crew or passengers. I am not even working with a record company. And really, it is a great feeling! It is wonderful to be 100 percent in charge, answerable and responsible for my artistic creation. In the past, I hardly felt this much responsibility since I shared the time and effort doing albums with Danny and Boboy.

Now it is my vision through and through. It’s not that I was ever not responsible for our collective output before, (nor was I ever an “unserious” artist). But the difference between then and now is, in the group setup, one could always pass on any weakness or vulnerability to the collective rather than own it completely. In a solo flight, one goes it alone, one signs the flight logbook and navigates the endeavor alone. I could crash. But then, it is my crash! I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but to me it is an exhilarating thought.

I have written four books and countless columns in this newspaper and another publication in Sydney. I know what it is to express individual thoughts publicly and subject myself to public scrutiny. I know what it feels like to go out on a limb expressing one’s opinions and attracting detractors, and even answering them. In truth, those things were quite easy for me because I’ve always felt that I am a musician first and a writer second, and so the occasional heat that my writing attracts does not matter as much.

But with music, it has always been different. Music is something I have been doing for the greater part of my life. And even if there were periods that I was hardly as engrossed or passionate about music as I should have been, I have always felt that my output matters not only to the followers of APO, but most importantly to myself. Music is my primary expression, my first art, my irreplaceable love.

I am midway into the album work, and like every musical project, it has its challenges. There are some songs that seem to be so easy to do while some are taking me through twists and turns before they begin to show their charm. But from experience, I know that when I pay attention and work on them, they eventually transform as if they had limbs coming to life and wings taking them to flight.

Working on an album always has its surprises and delights. Many times in the past, I was willing to bet my fortune on certain songs which I thought would easily make it big in the market, only to be disappointed later, while other songs intended to be mere album fillers took off gloriously with little effort. That’s really just how it is in this crazy business. Creations are living things and can behave so independently.

But whatever and however this solo project turns out, I am in an inspired mode. Even without the security blanket of APO’s synergy to pull things off, I am feeling good doing this alone. It is a deliberate act of pure joy.

This time, I see no one looking over my shoulder, from my left or right. I am not giving away lines or apportioning lyrics or waiting for my verse to play before I sing my part. I am not asking anyone what they think. I am going by my instincts. I am claiming full paternity for this batch of new musical offspring.

I am out here on my own. And loving it!

* * *

1) Last call for “Basic Photography Workshop” on Aug. 21, from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Please call 426-5375, (03)0916-8554303 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for reservations or queries.

2) I will be holding two workshops in Cebu in September:

“Creative for Life Workshop” is a cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity. It will be held this Sept. 17 (Friday) 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Convention Center of Cebu. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks and lunch.

“Basic Photography Workshop (The Second Run)” on Sept. 18 (Saturday) From 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Mountain View Nature Park. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks, shuttle back and forth from JY Square. Call (032) 415-8056 or cell no. 0909-1112111. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for reservations or queries.

Lolos and Apos

Humming in my universe Philippine Star August 8, 2010

Jim Paredes

I am spending a lot of time these days with my grand child. Let me tell you, that’s like saying I am trying to co-exist as best as I can with a phenomenon like a typhoon or an oil spill, or something that demands total attention or up-to-date info, response and reaction.

There is nothing low key about Ananda. She is like New York (the city that doesn’t sleep), or Shinjuku district in Tokyo which is perennially teeming with activity. She is always up to something.

She can bombard you with questions which I normally do not mind answering except when I am writing. Right now she is asking me why an Ipad is expensive and why she can’t have one yet while I am trying to finish this article. And she won’t accept a simple not-so-well-thought-out answer by a careless, impatient adult like me who merely wants to shut her up for now.

In fact, I already decided to drop the previous topic I was supposed to write about since she has once again totally taken over my attention span with her questions. Before all this, she was asking a million other questions which when I don’t reply can get her to be even more incessant in asking, demanding for answers.

Ananda can be tiring during moments like this. It is difficult to finish anything if one is constantly disturbed or bothered with things especially when they are off-topic. I am writing about her. That’s half the problem solved. I know I have no choice but to make her my subject since she is too large and too loud to ignore.

I cannot recall when I was growing up to ever being as curious as she is. Or maybe I was but it was an age when we pretty much answered our own questions. I can’t recall any adult I could comfortably badger 24/7 with questions and comments quite the way Ananda can do it to me or any of her Paredes relatives.

I often try and put myself in her place just to be able to muster some patience when she is on a roll and wanting to engage everyone. I remind myself that I was a kid once and how one can only imagine what an interesting place the world is in a child’s eyes and how novel everything can seem. It is a world of endless stimulation, awe and wonder that makes her curious and curiouser about everything. I must seem like an old, boring man to her when I cannot match her fascination about everything. I always have to remind myself to be more tuned in or more understanding, and involved in her world to be able to shape her into a human being who likes to inquire about life and everything it offers, instead of constantly reigning her in and killing her drive to understand things.

She is a fast learner. And that is an understatement. Her language skills are far way advanced, and now that she has learned to read better, we can’t even spell out words anymore when we want to talk but keep her in the dark about certain subjects we do not wish for her to understand. She is also quite physically active. She is constantly traipsing, dancing, or just moving about the house and never seems to get tired. While I am happy about her state of health and the fact that she is an active child, I have gone past being amused when she expects me to respond in the same light, active way when she pulls me into her world. My 58 year old body is much slower than her 6 year old one is now. And I know the gap will only get worse! Right now, I can still carry her to bed, and manage when she wants to ride my back. In a few years, this will be impossible. Thus, I am enjoying it now while I still can.

Lydia, my wife is quite happy and relieved that despite the fact that our grandchild lives in an age of television, DVDs, internet, gadgets, and instant gratification, the kid likes going with us to mass. She likes being in the adoration chapel, and also enjoys the majestic, joyous singing that the choirs in the Church of Gesu at the Ateneo deliver. She likes the communal activities, people kneeling all at the same time and responding together in prayer. We also have a small altar in the house, and to my surprise one evening, she suddenly insisted we all pray, and that has become an almost nightly ritual before she sleeps. She likes the whole idea of the lighting of candles, reciting pre-set prayers, and then blowing candles after.

Ananda can really work me up both as an adult and as a kid. An unknown writer once described grandparents as just being antique little boys and girls, and nothing can be truer. With Ananda, I can often break out of my grown-up patterns of thought and my physical routines and engage her at her level. She especially enjoys banter—smart ones—where for example, she insists we talk in rhyme or avoid certain letters when we use words to talk. Or sometimes, it is a game of imaginary, invisible gifts we bring to a table and gift each other with, or a game of hide and seek.

At times, she can ask the most serious things like ‘what do you mean when you say, ‘that’s life?’, that can leave me dumbfounded and speechless.

As a grown up, we sometimes think we have the monopoly of knowledge and experience compared to people as young as Ananda. Thus we can get impatient, and even treat them in a trivial manner. But a Welsh saying which goes that ‘perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild’ can make us want to look at how we really relate to them. A child is quite a compelling creature. Why? because he/she is so powerful. When they cry, we are forced to drop everything and check to see what’s wrong. When they gift us with something they made such as an awkward drawing, a clay figure, or anything at all, they can melt our hearts. When they get sick, we are beside ourselves with worry and ready to negotiate with heaven and give everything we possess just to assure they get well.

Perhaps I should relax more when it comes to Ananda so we both can enjoy each other more. After all, she has a mother who is already responsible for her. ‘Being grandparents sufficiently removes us from the responsibilities so that we can be friends, ‘ said writer Allan Frome. I always carry that sweet thought in my head when I see how excited she can get when I come home. She likes to wait behind the door to scare me with a big ‘boo’. And as her grandfather, I look at my feigned surprised reaction as one of the duties I must happily perform.

In every human community, grandparents have a special place in the rearing of generations, and vice-versa. ‘Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being’, observed sociologist Margaret Mead. As I live out the afternoon of my life while Ananda’s bright and early morning is unraveling, I imagine we are a perfect match. We are fulfilling a mission, a sacred pact to make us both have a greater experience of being human.

And what a great time we are having doing it!

# # #

I have two workshops coming up. One is a Songwriting Workshop: A lot of people through the years have asked me about writing songs since I have written so many, including hits, over four decades. I have long wanted to conduct a workshop on it. The workshop will be held on Aug. 14-15 from 1 to 6 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The workshop fee is P5,000. It is a requirement that participant in the workshop must know how to play an instrument — guitar or piano.

The other is a Basic Photography Workshop will be held on Aug. 21, 1 to 7 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. Seminar fee is P3,500 * * * Please write to emailjimp@gmail.com to reserve a slot for any or all workshops. Or call 426-5375/ 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie.