A national conversation

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star)

The widespread public interest in and fervor about the Reproductive Health Bill, with most people taking sides and expressing their views, is proof that we are having a national conversation. Whether you tune in to what everyone is talking about through newspapers, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or even your local barbershop or beauty parlor, you can’t help but conclude that RH is the hottest topic these days.

We have had many national conversations — mostly about the love lives of public people, scandals, hot news about corruption, or abominable crimes that get us agitated for a while. This ongoing RH conversation is a notch higher than these, for two reasons: one, it has been a simmering brew for some time now, for much longer than the usual topics that hold the public’s attention; and two, everyone who has an opinion says that he or she is only thinking of the greater good and is concerned about the effects of RH on the nation’s future.

More than the pros and cons of the reproductive health bill, what I want to point out is that we are all talking about what we want for the country. It is significant that we are actually conversing as a people. A friend pointed this out, adding that more important than agreeing or disagreeing is the fact that we are thinking things through and expressing ourselves on this issue.

Can you remember what it was like before social media came in? We could get some kind of consensus only when people actually voted and our votes were properly counted, when enough people expressed their voices in the streets or wrote letters to the editor. It could not even be measured if these votes and voices really represented the majority. Often, we made that conclusion based on anecdotal impressions. And the consensus building was much too slow.

While the RH debate on GMA-7 was going on last Sunday night, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, who argued against the RH bill, was trending on Twitter and Facebook worldwide, though not in a way he would have wanted. People in real time from everywhere expressed mostly negative opinions, and the whole world witnessed it happening.

This is the way democracy seems to be playing out. In a world where established opinion makers have to compete with totally unknown entities who have access to new media and social networking, there is a more vibrant exchange of ideas and points of view. Twice, I actually preempted the big networks in announcing news on Twitter, simply because I had friends in the right places who texted me the scoop. I find this amazing and empowering.

All this makes me wonder: How many of our leaders are actually attuned to new media? I know some people who still base their take on the world solely on newspapers. If I were a leader of national prominence, I would be looking at what people are saying and maybe even having exchanges with them to help me shape policy. Also, paying attention to the voices in cyberspace would help me realize what issues we should be having national conversations about.

With so many things to fix in our part of the world, I am hoping that we can get as fired up as we have been recently with the RH bill (and the Merci and Willie issues) and the other even more crucial ones that we will be confronted with.

I recently listened to a talk by a US diplomat who reminded his Filipino audience that the Philippines is still a young nation and that we should not compare ourselves to the United States. He noted that 70 years after the US became a republic, they had a bloody civil war that killed more Americans than all the wars the US has engaged in to date. Considering the many differences that divide us, I am thankful that we have not had strife of such magnitude that has torn us apart as a nation. Sometimes I wonder how many civil disturbances and wars could have been prevented if people had just had more access to new media and their leaders took their opinions seriously.

Of course there is the danger of social media becoming an electronic mob where the sheer numbers of unthinking, uninformed users express themselves and are unappeased by leaders with populist intentions but guided by wrong policies. Populism is a very tempting position to take since it can make a leader look good in the short term. That has happened before and will happen again. This is why it is crucial that intelligent, informed leaders and opinion makers make sure they lead the conversation and steer it to a higher level of consensus-building, instead of being shut out by the mob.

Some people will point out that this smacks of elitism. Not necessarily. In a world where more people are poor, powerless and misinformed, allow me to ask: Is the common good better served if more are dragged downward to that level or raised toward more enlightened and empowered positions and paradigms?

There are hard issues we need to be talking about. For example: Is it all right to give up our natural resources for jobs, as in the case of mining? Should human rights be subservient to economic interests? What kind of a future do we really want for our children? Are we paying too high a social price when millions of Filipino kids grow up without one or both parents who are OFWs?

There are so many important issues and it would be cool if we could talk about them in full-blown national conversations. Whether or not we resolve issues is secondary. The immediate advantage would be a much higher public comprehension of issues, a higher level of debate, and hopefully, more intelligent, more nuanced responses from our leaders.

If we do not exercise our freedom of expression and leave all the decision-making to our leaders, there will be a price to pay — it will eventually limit democratic space. The late US Senator Hubert Humphrey put it succinctly: “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate.”

This is exactly what we are doing now as we freely discuss and debate the RH bill. This can only be good for us as a nation since it subjects our paradigms and arguments to the test of rationality, truth and freedom.

Even if, at this point, the national conversation on the RH bill sounds too loud, with not too many people willing to listen to the arguments of either side, it is important that we are using words to make our point. This is far healthier than what is happening in some countries where wars have broken out because free conversations are not possible.

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1) Basic Photography Class in QC on June 4. Call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for all workshop inquiries. P5,000. Or write me at mailto:emailjimp@gmail.com. Check http://jimparedes-workshops.com for details on all workshops.

2) Songwriting Workshop in QC on June 11. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. P5,000. Call same numbers above.

The (imaginary) CBCP Manual for condom use

Reprinted from http://jimparedes.tumblr.com

Contrary to what many people think, bishops are NOT against ALL condom use. There are admittedly situations when people may use condoms. Here are the following instances where condom use has been considered moral and allowable.

1) It is morally acceptable to use condoms if you cut the tip or puncture holes on the condom. This way, there will be no barrier that will stand in the way of conception.

Layman Question: But… but.. isn’t that a gamble? I mean, there can still be a possibility that conception may or may not happen, although admittedly, it makes the condom much more unsafe now.

CBCP Answer: Yes. That’s OK because gambling is a lesser sin than wearing condoms. Besides, it has the chilling effect that can prevent user from wantonly enjoying sex without fear of conception. There is nothing like a leaking condom that can instill the fear of getting his partner pregnant. The point is to have fear when you indulge in sex! It is good to suffer. Believe us, we suffer a lot by not having sex! And we are good people.

2) For fashion purposes, but only if the tip is cut or punctured with holes. But remember, fashion is vanity— a sin as well. But at least vanity is still better and less sinful than condom use.

3) For the ribbed effect (but take note that tip must be cut, or punctured with holes). Enjoying sex is a no-no. But at least it is a lesser sin than putting one’s sword in a scabbard during action.

3) One may use luminous condoms for easier navigation in the dark. (It is advisable to have the lights closed so one is not tempted upon seeing a naked body. It is already enough that you have sex. You don’t have to be animalistic about it and enjoy it.)

But one must still

a) cut the tip before penetration, or

b) completely take it off when the target proximity is already identified.

WARNING: These rules only apply if partners are

a) a man and a woman,

b) married in the Catholic Church,

c) and only if the morally sanctioned orifice (vagina) is the ‘receiver’.

It is not in any way sanctioned if people who use these evil condoms do so in solitary activity, or are of the same sex, or of worse, of different species EVEN IF THE TIP IS CUT OFF.

Laro: The artist at play

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated May 22, 2011

Mea culpa.

If this article reads like a shameless plug for the new album I have recently released, it is because I can’t help writing about it. I am excited, thrilled, proud and giddy about the product of my latest passion.

It is called “Laro” and the songs on it are all mine. Almost all the songs I had ever done in my close to 40 years as a recording artist have been part of an APO album. “Laro” is a solo undertaking.

It’s not the first time I’ve done something like this. In 1996, while APO was hosting a noontime show, I did a solo album called “Ako Lang,” for obvious reasons. It was a strange experience recording without my two friends, expressing all that music and emotion all by my lonesome. But it was a very personal album that I had to do alone. I was mid-lifing then and faced many personal issues involving family, my mom who had passed away, my newly awakened spirituality, my worldly possessions, discontent, lust, etc.

“Laro” is quite different. It is a motley collection of songs with different themes. I also got a few songs from “Ako Lang” and included them on this album. Some of the new songs date back to the ’80s when I made them and had put away in a baul in my head. I never presented some of them to APO or anyone else because I felt they were not ready to be heard. Some songs were written for APO but never saw the light of day. In our last few years together, Danny and Boboy had pretty much lost interest in making records so I kept these songs somewhere and promised myself I would record them someday.

After APO split up in May last year, I made an effort to inventory all the unrecorded songs in my mental baul. There were many half-songs — incomplete musical pieces that were waiting to be finished. I revisited some and reconnected with the original emotional and musical vision I had for them.

It was a wonderful experience going back to these half-creations and completing them finally. It was like returning to a familiar place that you could not previously stay too long in but promised yourself you would return to. I also wrote new songs in the months after the split that I hoped to record someday.

As part of my strategy to keep busy and not fall into a creative rut after APO’s last shows, I plunged into writing, giving workshops, photography, teaching and getting involved in the last presidential campaign with a passion so intense I surprised even myself. But I knew that one involvement I had to get back to was recording.

I’ve always loved being in the studio working with musicians and technicians and creating sounds, verses, phrases clothed in notes that magically turn into full songs. It feels very powerful to create something beautiful and coherent and connects to other people emotionally. It’s the ultimate creative high making something magical and wonderful out of nothing.

I worked with APO’s pianist and arranger Ernie Baladjay. We had worked well together on albums in the past and doing “Laro” was no different. But what was new was our attitude while we were making the album. We made sure we were not paying attention to what was currently popular. We did not even ask ourselves what was selling these days. We did not want to be straitjacketed into conformity by bringing in the “Is it commercial?” question that can turn a decent piece of work into something awfully compromised. We had no crowd in mind to play to. We just wanted to play, doing music that we enjoyed and liked.

If some of my themes are outrageous, it is because I was out to have fun tackling topics and themes that OPM has not explored.

“Laro” is my gift primarily to myself. I have worked really hard all these years to please audiences through and with APO. I wanted to do something to surprise and delight myself. Besides, I feel that not recording my songs that have something to say is tantamount to creative abortion and sooner or later, I will suffer the psychological trauma of not having believed enough in the integrity of my own work.

My purpose with this album is to bring forth into the world my creative offspring. Like real kids, some are modern and hip, some are old-fashioned, some like to experiment, some are moody and some are the cuddly types who enjoy making me feel good and mushy. Whatever, however they are, they pointed the way to how best they should be treated. In all my years of recording, I have always wanted to rap, and I did on “Laro.” I thought it would establish the fact that this is laro and I am “playing.”

I asked my daughter Ala to design the album cover and I am more than happy with the outcome. Financed the entire project. I did not seek the blessing of people who know the market while doing it, so I may or may not get my investment back. But who cares? I acted in the simplest way I know. I felt I had something to say and I said it as I wanted to.

A writer writes. A creator creates. It is as simple as the sun is meant to rise and the day is meant to end. At some point in ones’ life, one must express love and passion simply and with as few conditions as possible. “Laro”was my attempt at doing that.

If you get to listen to this album, I hope you enjoy it.

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1) Now, finally in Alabang! Songwriting on May 27. Call 850-3568 to 70 or 0917-8080627. Venue is at Pixie Forest Amusement Center, Level 3 Festival Supermall, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang. Call for reservations.

2) Basic Photography in QC on June 4. Call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for all workshop inquiries. Or write me at mailto:emailjimp@gmail.com. Check jimparedes-workshops.com for details on all workshops.

Everything in moderation

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated May 15, 2011 12:00 AM

More than any other time in history, there are today many spiritual pathways and practices that are open and available to everyone looking for something to put one’s passion into. Aside from the major religions, there are spiritual practices like meditation, yoga, tai-chi, journal writing, and a host of even more esoteric ones.

At the outset, allow me to suggest that spirituality is an experience of the holy and the sacred that may be or may not be sanctioned or approved by established religions. While one might consider religion as an established, formal, dogmatic way to having a specific, defined “God moment,” spirituality can be less formal and less constricting, more inclusive in its approach to experiencing a whiff of the holy.

If we could compare it to something mundane as hamburgers, religion would be a franchise defining what, where and how to experience what a good burger is. There are approved ways of preparation and processes to guarantee that the burger is “genuine.” Anything outside the franchised burger’s formula is suspect or lacking. Spirituality believes that God is accessible to everyone who yearns for a God experience, with or without religion. In other words, spirituality is the big set and religion is a subset. Spirituality opens many more paths for individuals to traverse than the exclusivity of religions.

I am not denigrating religion in any way. To be sure, religion is helpful to many people. I merely wish to point out that one can access directly the self-evident nature of the Holy without having to subscribe to a religion.

For the less spiritual, there are the many social movements that one can join. Environmentalism, feminism, political reform, pro- or anti-reproductive health, and child rights advocacy, are just some of the many issues one can devote one’s time and passion on.

More and more, people seem to be showing some real concern for the state of things and of the world and many are turning to either intense social activism, militant religiosity, or deep spirituality. Sometimes people embrace two or all of the above.

Is it a good thing? To be honest, I am not always sure. I have seen many examples of this kind of zeal turning into a good thing. But I have also seen how something is not quite right with the picture.

Religion and politics can be all-consuming. A Jesuit once advised me to take religion like one would take salt — in moderation. I guess this goes for politics as well. The following are some indications that a person who has suddenly experienced a religious or spiritual conversion, or has wholeheartedly embraced a cause, may be walking on thin ice:

1. They disdain or look down on people who have contrary views or are of different persuasions vis-à-vis their beliefs or discoveries. Because of the intensity of the emotions that go with the conversion, some people become too pushy, or overly intolerant or impatient toward others, and self-righteous about their causes. Many people I know have shied away from long- time friends who use every opportunity to convert them to their newfound religion. What were once comfortable gatherings of friends have become awkward situations.

2. They have lost interest in practically everything else and their conversation has been reduced to only one thing — their new faith or advocacy. While I recognize the power of causes and religions and their effect on people, I believe that when it is shared too aggressively, especially if it is not solicited, it can be alienating and counter- productive. It is definitely a turn off. If people show interest, then it is OK to pursue it. But generally, it is good to keep in mind that there are infinitely more interesting things that other people are interested in that than one’s burning passion.

3. They have lost lightness of spirit. In its place is a grim determination manifested in a creepy seriousness that was not previously there, and now seems to have become an almost permanent fixture. Writer Ken Wilber observed this among many spiritual seekers he has met: “In other words, they lack lightness, they lack a distance from themselves, a distance from the ego and its grim game of forcing others to conform to its contours.” Not surprisingly, I have met many fanatically religious people and political activists who have no sense of humor.

4. More than compassion, there is a greater condemnation of those who do not agree with them.

On the other hand, the following are indications that a new advocacy or new conversion is doing people a world of good:

1. They seem genuinely happy and motivated as they do their work. One also observes a growth spurt, intellectually and emotionally.

2. They possess clear experiential understanding and calm. And while there is a readiness to share when they are asked, there is none of that annoying pushy stance that seeks to convert you to their side, whether you like it or not. They can take a ‘no’ gracefully.

3. They have not lost their sense of humor. On the contrary, they have gained the capacity to see humor and lightness even in the holy, or in their social passions. Together with a sense of mission, there is the great feeling of peace, of being alive and joyful at who they have become and what they have embraced.

4. They have respect for opposing, contrary views and do not feel the need to demonize the other side to be validated. In fact, they may be open to the possibility that they could be wrong and the other side could be right.

5. They feel genuine compassion for everyone, especially those who do not agree with them.

I have embraced a lot of causes in my life and I know I have fallen into some of the negative traps I have listed here. I am lucky though to have friends who have pointed this out on occasion. I have also learned to listen to my inner voice that warns me against excessive pontificating. I also know that often, time tempers unbridled enthusiasm into more productive commitment with the accompanying wisdom to carry it out.

Am I cautioning against spiritual, religious or social activism? No. The world needs movers and shakers. And we do need to embrace these to have a sense of purpose and nourish our spirit. But as the Swiss jurist John Selden pointed out years ago, “’Tis not the eating, nor ‘tis not the drinking that is to be blamed, but the excess.” Generally, that is a good thing to know even if the world needs exceptions from time to time.As it is with food and drink, so it is with religion, social activism and spirituality. Consume moderately!

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Now, finally in Alabang! Basic Photography on May 18; Creative for Life on May 22; Songwriting on May 27. Call 850-3568 to 70 or 0917-8080627. Venue is at Pixie Forest Amusement Center, Level 3 Festival Supermall, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang. Call for reservations.

Basic Photography in QC on June 4. Call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for all workshop inquiries. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com. Check jimparedes-workshops.com for details on all workshops.

Swearing undying love by the moon and the stars

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated May 08, 2011

I got a message on Facebook from an old friend, Mae Dolonius, APO’s producer in Switzerland years ago. She wrote to ask me to do something really unique.

Mae, 39, and her husband Connie Dolonius, 62, have been married for 10 years. They renewed their vows two years ago on a Swiss mountain for their close European friends. Mae and Connie wanted to do the same thing in Manila where they have lots of friends and family who were not able to attend their wedding years back. She wrote to me to ask if I could be part of their renewal by leading the ceremony. I read the e-mail with a big “huh?” in my head and with much amusement and excitement.

Over dinner a week later, we discussed the project. It was not an official wedding they wanted me to “officiate,” since they were already married. Besides, they knew that I have no authority to make any marital union official. And also, all laws and their religious requirements had already been complied with when their union was solemnized eight years back.

What they wanted was an event that would celebrate their marriage before family and friends in the Philippines without the traditional church rites. But yes, they wanted a ceremony of love that was different, non-sectarian, non-traditional and yet had a sacredness and a spirituality about it. They wanted to have one before nature with the Universe as witness to their promise of lifetime love.

Their excitement rubbed off on me immediately. I told them I would make up some kind of ceremony that would express the theme of their union with nature and cosmic convergence.

A few weeks later, we came up with the flow of the event and the invocations to be used. And on that late afternoon last April 25, with their friends and family, we gathered together at Balai Isabel in Talisay, Batangas, near Taal lake. Connie and Mae, resplendent in white suit and long gown, arrived at the ceremony via banca while a song I wrote, Mangarap at Managinip, played on the speakers.

With Connie and Mae’s permission, I am sharing with you the “rites” that made their tenth wedding anniversary different and special. As the “officiator,” these were the invocations I read:

We the friends of Connie and Mae gather here today to participate in a ceremony of love, bonding and commitment before the Universe.

We also invoke as witnesses and as participants the elements of rock, sand, foliage, wind, fire, the stars, planets, earth and the entire Universe.

We now call on the four winds to be present.

(All face the directions of North, East, West and South together. The four maids of honors burn incense in each direction. Connie’s four daughters with Mae’s four nieces hold a chime each and ring them on each direction.)

In the name of everything that is beautiful, life-sustaining, and life-renewing, we now proceed with the ceremony.

Connie and Mae, two travelers in this lifetime who have committed their love and lives to each other, are here today to renew their vows and seek the blessing of friends, nature and the Universe itself.

We therefore invoke not just the presence and attention of all who are here today, but your participation and love as friends and relatives. You may now shower the couple with applause and appreciation.

(The participants clap and whistle and shower petals on the couple as they approach the altar.)

Let us proceed with the ceremony. May we now call on the bearers of the rocks.

(A couple brings rocks to the altar which they give to Mae and Connie. After receiving the rocks, they exchange them with each other and put them in a big bowl on the table.)

May these rocks signify the strength and solidness of the love that Connie and Mae have for each other. May their love, like these rocks, withstand the test of time and be earthly reminders of eternal love.

May we now call on the bearers of the sand.

(A couple brings sand which they pour on the praying hands of Connie and Mae.)

May these grains of sand fill the hard to reach corners of love so that Mae and Connie may experience a fullness of love always. This symbolizes the give and take, the flexibility of a loving relationship.

May we now call on the bearers of water.

(A couple brings in two pitchers of water that they pour on the hands of Connie and Mae.)

May the water purify their love and intentions for each other always. May their love be as strong as the unbreakable bond between hydrogen and oxygen in every drop of water from these vessels.

May we call on the bearers of the plants.

(A couple brings two saplings to Connie and Mae.)

May Connie and Mae’s love grow, generate and reproduce not just offspring but also healing wonders like these plants which they may generously share with everyone they meet. May their love be like nature’s gifts to all of us — abundant, fresh and ever-growing.

May we now call on the bearers of fire.

(A couple brings in two torches and places them beside the couple.)

May their passion for each other be as hot, enduring and transformative as the fire we see here. Fire is the element that transforms the hardest of surfaces. May they always have the fire that will transform anything that stands in the way to greater love and shape it to a love that nurtures and heals.

(At this point, the couple exchange rings.)

These earthen metals were shaped by the heat of fire into symbols of eternity, which Mae and Connie now give to each other.

(Crystals are brought in by the children.)

We call on the moon, the stars and planets above to witness and bless Mae and Connie on this very special moment in their lifetime. May their love endure and be celebrated by friends and relatives just as we celebrate the beauty and wonder of all of life.

(Connie and Mae kiss.)

This union sealed before friends, relatives, the Universe and All That Is, is now made solemn by Connie and Mae’s love.

The brief ceremony ended with the lighting of airborne lanterns from Bangkok that were released by the couple and their guests. A banquet with singing, music and dancing soon followed.

For me, one of the highlights of the event was when the couple exchanged their expressions of love and vows to each other during the reception. Connie said one thing that I thought was quite important. After he pointed out how much he loved Mae, he said he felt that the renewal of marriage vows should not happen 20 or 25 years later. Given that life is short, and how quickly it can end, expressions of love should not be held back and should be encouraged. He also said that with the way life is changing so fast, expressions of love must also be diverse and creative.

That night, I drove back to Manila with a smile on my face and joy in my heart at having been witness and participant to Connie and Mae’s renewal of vows. When people, as a sign of their commitment, swear their undying love as often as this before God, relatives, loved ones, friends, and the Universe itself, one cannot help but believe that some things may, indeed, be cut out for eternity.

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Now, finally in Alabang! Basic Photography on May 18, Songwriting on May 27. Call 850-3568 to 70 or 0917-8080627. Venue is at Pixie Forest Amusement Center, Level 3 Festival Supermall, Filinvest Corporate City, Alabang. Call for reservations.

2) Creative for Life Workshop in QC on May 14. Basic Photography in QC on June 4. Call Olie at 0916-8554303 or 426-5375 for all workshop inquiries. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com. Check jimparedes-workshops.com for details on all workshops.

LARO, my solo album is finally out!

LARO, my solo album is finally out!

With great excitement, gushing enthusiasm and beaming pride, I am announcing the release of a new album from yours truly. Yes, it is a solo album. It has 14 original songs which I wrote during quite a span of time, some as early as mid 80s and some as recent as six months back.

The album was a delight to make. I worked with Ernie Baladjay, a long time friend and musical soul mate, who was responsible for a lot of APO’s very successful arrangements for live and recording. Together, we created some magic which hopefully will surprise and delight you!

The album cover was made by Ala Paredes, my very talented daughter in Sydney whose illustrations are quite delightful. The recording was done at Shinji Tanaka’s recording studio called Sound Creations.

MCA, the record company releasing it says it will be available this week in the market.

This was the most enjoyable recording I have ever done. I have no idea what radio is playing these days and so do not know if my songs are ‘radio friendly’, although people have told me they are. To be truthful, I do not even know a majority of the new artists foreign or local much less their songs. I wrote the songs here out of pure expression. I come from the school of thought that believes the first thing an artist must ask is what he wants to say. The second is how to say it to make an audience appreciate it.

Is it ‘commercial’? I really do not know what that means anymore. I never once asked myself the question while I was doing the album. I was just on a reckless and wild ‘enjoy and play’ mode. I know the songs themselves and their themes are quite unique.

Do buy it, enjoy it and if you have time, I’d appreciate you telling me about it.