The need for new stories

The Philippine STAR 02/25/2007

To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Because of the story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people. — Ben Okri

That’s a quote from a tiny book called Birds of Heaven given to me by a reader in New York.

This makes me shudder as I ponder all the negativity I encounter each day in the newspapers, television, radio, and from people I talk to. Too many stories abound about defeat and pessimism in the Philippines, about corruption and the hopelessness of our politics, about how we are morally flawed in character. There’s just too much pettiness, frivolity, vapidity, cynicism, and too little of anything of value to pick up.

It hasn’t always been like this. There was a time when we could trust the media, and we felt safe in our cities and our neighborhoods.

There was a time when stories about ourselves were illuminating and truthful and they nourished our sense of well-being, who we were, and what we could be when we were at our best. We still see traces of these occasionally but they are too few and far between.

Think of EDSA. That was a time when we felt very good about ourselves as a people. Lately, there have been stories about Manny Pacquiao and other Filipino sportsmen who have brought home glory for us to savor. But sadly, we’ve gotten so used to our diet of low self-esteem, that even when such triumphs happen, we tend to think that they are mere exceptions to an otherwise depressing rule.

As I find myself deluged by all this negativity and the accompanying vexation, I question whether the situation is truly as it is reported. Are we really condemned to hell at worst or to mediocrity at best? Are we in a spiral of self destruction? Some of us will cite many good, ample reasons to believe so. But even if a lot of our countrymen seem to be so defeatist, we don’t have to follow them. We have a choice to take another route, the higher road. We always have a choice.

I always go back to what Anais said: “We do not see the world as it is. We see it as we are.” So much of what we read about, listen to and observe about our world does not reflect how things necessarily are, but how they are seen by others who have become jaded and stuck in a negative mindset, and who see nothing but hopelessness.

I remember a conference I attended many years ago in Amsterdam on the link between entertainment and education, where a speaker gave a presentation about how tales of heroes, myths, fairy tales and folk stories actually create or help shape the identities of nations or groups of people. During the Q&A, I asked what it meant if a people were fixated on heroes who had been martyred. I had in mind Ninoy, Rizal, Macliing Dulag and other martyred Filipinos. The speaker’s response gave me goose bumps.

She said that ideally, a people should also have heroes who have grown old and lived a full life. Otherwise, according to her, there would be something sorely missing in a society or culture. She said that some heroes must actually live long enough among their people in fulfillment of the “promised land” that they had fought for, and not just represent some visualized utopian future.

One example of such a hero is Nelson Mandela, who continues to be an icon in South Africa and the world. He is a gift to humanity for the story he has lived and continues to live. In contrast, there are societies that are forced by circumstances to almost exclusively hold up suicide bombers as their present-day heroes to emulate. The promise of their deaths is fulfilled in the hereafter or in some faraway future that may never happen.

Ben Okri put it very well when he wrote, “Unhappy lands prefer utopian stories.”

Here’s another quote from Okri:

Nation and peoples are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for future flowerings.

Let’s look at ourselves and at the stories that fascinate us. What can we say about a nation that is obsessed with adolescent love stories, Korean telenovelas, tele-fantasies, chismis and game shows? According to screenwriter and director Joey Reyes, the revival of the ’70s soap Flor de Luna is a sad example of the state of affairs of the media in the Philippines. He laments that the three greatest no-nos in the media today are innovation, identity and growth.

A running argument I have with some media bigwigs is why they continue to feed their audiences with mediocrity, or worse, stuff they won’t even allow their own kids to watch. Perhaps to justify their actions, shut me up and end the argument, I have been told brazenly that it all boils down to their assessment that, “Tanga ang Pilipino.”

But isn’t this the same audience that responds positively to excellent world-class shows and movies like Lord of the Rings? I have begun to seriously wonder if our society, mired as it is in mediocrity, would be able to spot a Shakespeare, a Rizal or a Gandhi if they were reincarnated in our milieu.

As we approach the 21st anniversary of the EDSA revolution, my thoughts turn to heroes, and what kind of examples we need at this time. We have proven time and again that we are ready to march, and at times even die for our country. We praise those who have died for democracy, freedom, justice, truth and all the good things we want to have in our lives. But maybe what we need at this time are living heroes who are ready to stay the course long enough to overcome the vicissitudes that plague our national life, and to march with the rest of the country as we redirect the nation to a better future.

I truly believe that there is no reason why we cannot be those heroes — men and women who are willing to live big, imaginative and creative lives for our country and our people. The people behind Gawad Kalinga, for example, are telling new, compelling stories of redemption in the many communities that they transform almost daily. There are many others in different fields, to be sure, who expand the borders of what is wonderfully possible.

We need to dream our own dreams and boldly live our own stories that rise above the mediocre narratives that the media prefer to purvey. And as we actualize the new realities that we know we are capable of, these newer, more nurturing realities will claim their own place in our society and the mediocre stories, which have been our toxic staple for too long, will wither and die.
* * *

rockin, acting, laughing and 3 major events.

It’s been wall-to -wall schedules recently. During the past seven days, we actually did 5 concerts, one with Sharon in Araneta, one with Pops in Shangrila Makati, and three solo APO shows; Valentines at Bellevue, a concert in Zamboangga the three nights ago and two nights ago at the Irwin Theater in Ateneo. I am bone tired! I haven’t worked this hard in quite a while. It’s a miracle I have not lost my voice although I am developing a mild cough. I still have the Sharon Cuneta show on TV monday night but that should be easy with just one song to do.

If I sound like I’m complaining, actually, I am not at all. I am so happy to be doing this since APO is such a joyful activity expecially when we have a live band (which has been the case except for Zamboanga). I have three more out-of-town concerts to do the next two weeks. Man, been at this for 38 years. I’m gonna rock till I can’t rock no more!!! ha ha

I got lots of texts and even a few comments on my blog about my surprise appearance in Maalaala Mo Kaya, the drama show of ABS-CBN. I played an older Piolo Pascual and in the program I get to marry a childhood aquaintance who has had a crush on Piolo’s character for years. It was one of those showbiz offers I ordinarily turn down since I am not comfortable acting, but what the hell, I’m getting old and I wanna try all these things that come my way from time to time and say yes this time around. I always consider the possibility that things I refuse may actually be loads of fun, and guess what? Most of the time they really are! Ha ha. I thought I was so awkward while I was doing it but it turned out OK (I think). It was supposed to be a kissing scene since we were lovers and were seeing each other for the first time in ages but alas–my leading lady was too shy. So it became a hugging scene instead.

Hmm.. I would not mind doing more of this. It’IS fun pala.

My sister Babsy is currently in Manila to attend a class reunion–her 50th anniversary with St. Scholastica! It’s been a blast for her ever since she got here about a week ago. But nothing beat the small siblings’ reunion we had yesterday at my brother Gabby and Marianne’s place. We had a great time singing, laughing, and just plain monkeying around the way we used to many years back when I was still a kid below ten years old.

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We are a big family of 10 kids and I am the 9th. Yesterday afternoon we sang a lot of the songs that I heard while growing up in this wonderful family I belong to. We are loud, bossy, noisy, and outrageous when we are all together (most of us are like that too individually, ha ha) and our boisterous laughter and gleeful screaming can be heard till about 5 houses away. Yesterday was no exception.

Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if I was born to another set of parents. I will never know. But what I do know is I am so thankful to be the son of Jesus and Ester, and the sibling of Jesse, Ducky, Babsy, Tictac, Aping, Meiling, Gabby, Lory, and Raffy!! We weren’t even complete yesterday and already it was so unbelievably fun. The last time all sibs were present was some 10 years ago. I wonder if we will all ever be together again in this lifetime?

Our family is an old one with many stories to tell. I know of some sibs in some families who do not enjoy or even get along with each other. We have had our tampuhans but we always manage to move forward. I am happy that my children have all this to enjoy. Family backgrounds are two of the important poles of the tent we pitch and live in in our lifetime. I am glad ours on both side of my parents are colorful and solid ones!

Do you realise that last week was one of those important time periods that had triple significance? For one, it was the start of Valentine week, and we all know how big that is in our country. I’m sure all of us expected some romance or at least to be romanced.

It was also the start of the election campaign season. I guess, it is realistic to expect to be screwed based on the quality of our politics.

Lastly, Saturday was the onset of the Chinese New Year of the Pig. I guess that sort of sets the tone for things to come.

Babuyan na nga talaga! ha ha!

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Three quotes and two stories

Humming In MY Universe
Philippine Star February 19, 2007
By Jim Paredes

Some people like to share quotes from the Bible. I like to share quotes and stories from other non-traditional sources, such as religious texts from other sects, or just quotes from other, non-religious people to share.

Once in a while, I spot a quote that really strikes me like lightning and I find myself in an aha! situation that can be so affirming. It’s like the divine dove of understanding has perched on my head. And at that moment, there is a clarity about the world and myself.

I like passages that deal with the harder issues of life, like this one about loving our enemies. For sure, all of us have had a few people we secretly wish ill will on. This one cuts beautifully.

Another way that you love your enemy is this:
When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy,
that is the time which you must not do it.
There will come a time, in many instances,
when the person who hates you most,
the person who has misused you most,
the person who has gossiped about you most,
the person who has spread false rumors about you most,
there will come a time when
you will have an opportunity to defeat that person.
It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job;
it might be in terms of helping that person
to make some move in life.
That’s the time you must do it.
That is the meaning of love.

In the final analysis,
love is not this sentimental something that we talk about.
It’s not merely an emotional something.
Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men.
It is the refusal to defeat any individual.
When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power,
you seek only to defeat evil systems.
Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love,
but you seek to defeat the system.”

— Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Talk about magnanimity. A heart so big that it can set aside the need for revenge and accommodate new possibilities of relating, is truly powerful. I am not sure whether such an opportunity where we find ourselves having the upper hand with regard to our enemies will always present itself. But if it ever does happen, it’s good to remember Martin Luther King’s thoughts and put proper closure and finality to karmic discord.

Here’s another:

Forgiveness doesn’t look attractive until we get to the other side.’

This is so true.

Depending on how deeply we perceive our personal hurts, it is difficult to even consider the thought of forgiving people who have caused us great pain. The very notion rubs salt on our wounds so that our rejection of forgiveness would seem justified — until we tire of feeling like victims and decide to free ourselves from this disempowered mode. But even when we do, for sure, it’s a scary step into what seems like a very dark direction that goes against everything that we feel. But people who have done exactly this have found that it is the only way to go.

This morning, someone sent me an article about Judea Pearl, the father of Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was kidnapped and beheaded by Pakistani extremists. In memory of his son, Judea Pearl has decided to devote his life to bridging Jews and Muslims in peaceful acceptance and understanding. The first thing he did was to look for a Muslim counterpart who would share his vision so he could reach the Muslim audience as well. He found it in the person of Akbar Ahmed, a teacher. They now work together to foster communication and understanding in some communities among two peoples’ who have had an endless history of enmity towards each other.

Something as traumatic as losing a son the way Judea Pearl did could destroy most men. While Judea Pearl admits that time takes too long to heal his wounds, he says that he wanted to honor of his son who did not have a single mean bone in his body, and whom he loved with every fiber of his being.

It is a tribute to Daniel’s ‘gentle, golden spirit,’ he says. I quote: ‘You see, our son was born with an awful affliction – a belief in the goodness of humanity, and a total absence of malice.’

To wait any longer until the pain of losing Daniel has eased would be to dishonor what his son was all about.

What Judea Pearl is doing is nothing short of heroic and revolutionary. Instead of succumbing to hatred he has chosen to create new possibilities for the future of mankind. He is pulling up humanity to a higher evolutionary stage beyond the ‘eye for an eye’ mindset. He is choosing to love instead of the time-honored but deadly response of hatred and revenge to deal with his loss.

Another quote I find quite illuminating has to do with confusion itself. It is from Vaclav Havel, the poet and playwright who is a former President of Romania. He says:

‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.’

I love this! It’s so full of faith that clarity will always dawn upon us no matter what happens or how confusing things seem to be!

This is a good mantra to repeat at this time when we are pondering the inexplicable behavior of the political players in our country, or our seeming inability to ever rise from the mire we’re in, or when we witness unbelievable cruelty or suffering everywhere. I think of Havel’s faith as I watch how a country like Iraq is utterly destroyed by a thoughtless, mad leader of an otherwise great nation.

Lastly, I’d like to end with a story about purity of intentions, albeit explained in a most unusual way.

The story as told by Joseph Campbell, one of my favorite writers, is that of a Samurai warrior who was tasked to look for someone and kill him. After many months, he finally found himself face to face with the enemy, and after a fierce fight, he had him cornered. But right before he was about to kill the man, his prey spat at him. This angered the Samurai warrior so much, that he had no choice but to walk away and let the man go. Why? Because he would not have been true to the Samurai code if he had done his job out of anger and without equanimity and purity of intention and purpose.

Can you think of a more dramatic story of honor and dignity?


Love and service, beyond the call of duty

The Philippine STAR 02/11/2007

A few days ago, I overheard two young women talking. One was a maid who was complaining that she was working too hard and was only getting P1,500 of the P2,000 monthly salary promised to her. She also said she was too poor to complain and risk losing her job, but that she was itching to leave.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but reflect on my family’s experience with household help in general. We have had maids, drivers, cooks, yayas who have stayed with us for decades. We have been lucky to have had good relationships with people who have come to live with us and serve our family.

I remember Inay — yes, that’s what we called her. According to family lore, she was only 14, an Ilocana from Abra, when she came to work for us early in the 1940s, long before I was born.

Inay is an indelible fixture of my childhood and teenage life and of our family’s history. She was maid, cook, yaya — an all-around person in our home who did whatever needed to be done. I remember when I was seven, she would chase my younger brother Raffy, my older sister Lory and me (we were the three youngest in a family of 10) around the house and in the garden outside to catch us during our bath time. It was fun trying to escape her clutches, squealing with delight as this small, hefty woman tried to catch us while hurling mild Ilocano expletives.

At night, we three youngest kids often slept beside her in the maids’ room. We liked feeling her round, warm body while lying on her banig and inhaling her scent of Vick’s Vapor Rub, Winter Green ointment and tabako from Abra. We somehow associated this strange olfactory combination with the love, caring and nurturing she generously showered on us every day. Snuggling up to her was a comfort for us young kids who feared the dark and the ghosts and demons she herself believed existed and loved to tell us stories about. She had many tales about dwendes, the mumu, the kapre and the demonyo, that frightened us silly, but somehow, her presence made us feel all safe. We never feared as long as Inay was there.

I also liked to hang around our big kitchen when she was preparing meals, especially when she had to kill a chicken. During the ’50s, we still bought live chicken from the market and my brother and I would watch transfixed as she expertly held the nervously clucking chicken with one hand and beheaded it with ease. Sometimes the chicken would run headless across the counter — and for us, that was funny, and magical!

She would cook our meals which, when I think about it now, were nowhere near gourmet creations. In fact, she cooked with extreme thrift when it came to ingredients and portions. She was, after all, a survivor of “Japanese time,” as people of that era liked to call World War II. She would always remind us to finish our food because life was hard during the war. (“Malapit na ang geeeerrrra!” she would admonish us) She overcooked meats, Ilocano-style, which were hard to chew. But since it was Inay who cooked them, and we didn’t know any better, we all thought it was great. Everything about her was nourishing and nurturing.

It was great just sitting with Inay listening to stories about her childhood, and her experiences during the war with our family. She had a folksy but authoritative air about her when she told stories, especially to us younger ones who were under her influence. She talked to us of her rustic roots in Bangued, and the first Paredeses she met there. She adored my Mom and Dad and all of their children and showed it with her undying loyalty and love.

We three youngest kids always felt that we were more special to her than our other siblings. It seemed that her day started with us as she helped us get dressed for school and ended with us when we fell asleep beside her on her banig. She always felt responsible for us. I remember seeing her get hysterical when she saw a huge snake by the gate while she was walking with my younger brother Raffy. She ran inside the house with little Raffy in tow narrating what she saw in an almost incoherent manner. I thought she would faint.

Inay stayed with us for close to 40 years. When she reached her late 40s, she hardly did any housework anymore. She was more the majordoma now, the head of a little kingdom of other household help. She would sit around the house watching TV or outside, by the front door, smoking her cigar. I will always remember the sight of her as I came home from college classes most afternoons, sitting in her armchair looking very much like a fixture, or a sentry. I would call out to her as I walked up the long driveway and then joke around with her about any silly thing. She would laugh so hard when I tried to dance with her. She laughed the loudest when the jokes came from any of the three youngest members of the family.

When Inay passed away, she was around 54 years old. She died of a heart attack, while still in the service of our family. In gratitude and in tribute to this woman who spent the better part of her life with the family, we buried her in a memorial plot in Loyola Marikina that our Mother had purchased for herself years before. Her wake was simple but heartwarming. It did not feel like the usual wake but more a celebration of the life of a woman who had a big heart. Inay had few relatives present, but we were all there — siblings, spouses, children, and my uncles, aunties and cousins who also knew her well.

I realize, as I write this, that I am holding back some tears. I will never forget Fausta “Ustang” Baje — that was Inay’s real name — which to this day, I find strange and funny. She was one of the women I loved early in life. Inay taught me many things about love, dedication, duty and the joy of living. She also taught me how to be happy with so little.

This Valentine’s Day, I dedicate the day to the women who have nurtured me in ways that have made me a better person. Aside from my wife Lydia, my sisters, some teachers, some ex-girlfriends and a few other female friends, there is Nita, our cook of 18 years who has made countless meals for my family, Bebeng, who has cleaned our house, fixed our beds and continues to do all the things that hold the sky up for us. Nita, Bebeng and all of the other household help who have come and gone and who loved my children as if they were their own, and have taken care of us, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for teaching me so much about what it is like to love and serve truly and selflessly.

Transcendent magic

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 02/04/2007

My two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Ananda, whom I adore, thinks that she is a princess. She also thinks she can fly and that her toy stove can really cook food. It’s so refreshing to watch someone so innocent and untainted by the constraints of what we adults like to call “reality.”

We all started out like her, I suppose. All kids know they are powerful because they think magically. As children then, we felt invincible and sensed that the world revolved around us. We felt in command, and why shouldn’t we? When we cried, or felt hungry or dirtied ourselves, our parents and caregivers dropped everything to attend to us. We had no doubt we could control and manipulate and impact on the world.

Growing up, we were tamed by our elders. In place of our innate imagination and child-like wonder, we followed their dictates and allowed the world to come in and shape us. There was school, and all the other obligations foisted on us by our parents and society. Before we knew it, many of us had pretty much lost our childhood, our sense of awe at everything, our sense of power and our autonomy to be who we are. I think of some grade school kids in Ateneo who put in 12 hours of school and tutorship every day. So young, and already so stressed out.

We quickly become “pleasers,” doing everything to live up to the expectations of everyone. We surrender a big part of our uniqueness and begin to validate ourselves solely by the standards of approval from others. And while many of us do succeed and continue to do so as adults, we may pay dearly for it. Many of us have all but lost our capacity to be happy and have failed to imprint the joy of being who we are on the world. In fact, the reverse seems to have happened; we have forgotten or denied who we really are and have allowed the world to do unto us what it wants. It has made its mark on us and in our adulthood has left us twisted, mangled and more robotic than human.

In many ways, the journey to becoming liberated adults lies in recovering some of our childlike wonder and restoring our capacity for awe in the way we deal with life.

When I was in grade school, I was easily moved by stories of heavenly signs and miracles that purportedly proved that God was real and that He intervened in men’s lives. I just loved to hear my teachers’ tales about how guardian angels, saints, or God Himself bent the rules of the physical world to save children or good people from harm. Wide-eyed, I listened and marveled at the power of the divine. Surely, He could do all that since He was God after all and He lorded it over everything.

My child-like mind saw the divine as magical – the way Ananda sees herself as capable of flying. It was logical for me to expect that God could part the seas, multiply loaves and fishes, ascend to heaven (somewhere up there) and do a myriad of tasks that was simply marvelous. God was a magician, except that there were no tricks up the sleeve. It was all real.

As an adult, I have lost much of that and listen with some skepticism when I hear stories of so-called “miraculous tales” in the media. Dancing suns and gyrating Santo Niños do not impress me. I do not deny that I still do believe that God does intervene in the affairs of men. But my perception of what miracles are really all about has changed considerably.

My view of miracles then was all about how God could defy, bend, suspend or even contradict the laws of nature to suit His goals. God was magical. I lost much of my belief in miracles (as defined above) when I grew older. I knew that much of what we considered miraculous many centuries ago can well be explained by science today as part of natural phenomena, and I suppose many more claims will be debunked as well later on.

That bothered me a lot in the beginning and left me pondering for quite a while. Was God really not omnipotent? Is faith being undermined by science? Is God a mere fantasy?

A turning point in my adulthood was when I felt an awakening that went beyond what was taught to me about the divine. I did realize that the world of the divine was not so much about deities with super powers who could take our breath away with their nature-defying stunts. The divine seemed to me to reside within the very mysteries of life itself – especially the unquantifiable and unknowable.

This was the realm of the trans-rational and transpersonal. This was the realm where everything that could awaken a sense of awe within us was operating. Here, I discovered that the power of the divine was not just to demonstrate the obviously special and the spectacular, but to awaken in us the capacity to view the transcendent in everything, especially in the ordinary. Thus, in a tree we could see poetry, or life and even all of creation. In a raindrop, we could see the entire beauty of the Universe. In darkness, we could see light. In a human being totally unrelated to us, we could recognize all of humanity including ourselves. In the now we could experience the eternal.

The divine is in everything – the seen and the unseen and the real religious experience is to live moments of our lives awake, sensing, feeling and knowing this. These are the moments when there seems nothing out there except the divine. I do not claim to feel like this 24/7 but I have experienced it a few times, enough to know it is true.

It’s quite a big jump from a magical God to a Transcendent One. It’s the journey I made from a childish mindset to that of an awakened conscious adult. In the process, I know I recovered a lot of the child’s wonder and awe that was lost on my way to becoming an adult. I know because I no longer need God to “perform” so that I may believe. All I need to do is to open my eyes and I can’t miss.

* * *


I usually post my Philstar articles on a Sunday but my access to the internet these days is intermittent at best.

Humming in my UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 01/28/2007

Iwas nine years old when I saw Neil Sedaka perform at the Araneta Coliseum, and I was mesmerized. There he was, a foreigner who did not look like his Filipino audience and did not speak the language except for the customary “Mabuhay!,” performing to his heart’s content to the infinite delight of his adoring fans. Immediately, I knew I wanted to be like him.

During APO’s very early years, we struggled to be heard. We were not an easy fit then. We were Atenistas, (a rarity in showbiz then), and hopelessly Inglesero. And in a field dominated and defined by performers who wanted to do covers and be the “so-and-so’s of the Philippines,” we were bent on doing original stuff. It was a long shot but we were enjoying ourselves and so we just plodded on.

But persistence paid off. Danny can still recall the exact moment around 1975 when, to our surprise and amazement, the girls of St. Paul College in Quezon City for whom we were performing actually started screaming when we came on stage. We had our first real fix of what it felt like to be known and admired. Through the years, the dosage would increase, sometimes a whole lot, and at other times, it would recede. But for the most part of these 34 years, the adulation has been there everywhere we’ve gone.

I have been a “famous” or at least a recognizable person among Filipinos for over 34 years now. That’s way over Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes, and I have mostly come to terms with all of its aspects, both wonderful and not-so-great. What I mean is, I am already comfortable with it most of the time. In the first 15 years, it was difficult since I was always self-conscious and felt that my privacy was being violated when people stared or approached me off-stage.

Fame is both a privilege and an imposition. You get a lot of respect, accommodation and freebies. Just yesterday, I met a Pinoy here in Sydney who was taking a cigarette break from his work in a restaurant. He recognized me and after chatting a few minutes, he gifted me with $20 worth of credit to use in any restaurant within the complex.

Many doors and opportunities have opened for me because of APO and I am grateful for them. But while it is an honor to be famous, it can also be a burden. An image can be a very tight straitjacket. It can be scary to speak one’s mind about unpopular issues much more to act in a way that can be misunderstood. Public people are supposed to live up to people’s expectations. My move to Australia, for example, was misunderstood and condemned by some who chastised me, an EDSA advocate, for “abandoning the Philippines.”

If one is too careful about preserving one’s carefully crafted image, he may find that he is no longer the person he has always wanted to be.

Through the years, I have tried to understand celebrity, why and how it happens. Perhaps it is because every human being aspires to make a statement in the world or to make an impact on life, and some people just seem to do this so much more eloquently than others. And so we end up admiring, even adulating them. The appeal is really inspirational. We may like what they stand for, and may want to emulate and follow them. I can think of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa who have qualities and values that rock my world.

There is also perhaps the aspirational pull that celebrities have. We want to be like them, or as close to what they are as we can, because they seem to have it all. Thus we aspire to be as white-skinned, beautiful, thin, sexy or as cool as we perceive them to be. We want to talk, sing and act like them. So we eat the food they claim to eat, use the shampoo and facial soap they claim to use, support the love teams they belong to, etc. Their projected image is the self-image we aspire for.

Whatever the appeal of a celebrity, it boils down to the notion that our dreams are possible since we see our favorite celebrities living our dreams. We are affirmed by their being what they are. But more often than not, we are content to live vicariously, through the seemingly exciting and glamorous lives of the celebrities we admire.

There is another kind of fame, which nobody really wants. This is the notoriety obtained by public figures who get into the limelight due to scandal and negative behavior. Strangely enough, the public needs to have their punching bags. We need people whom we can criticize, ridicule, condemn and send nasty text messages about because they make us feel assured that we have not sunk as low in our own quest for happiness and social acceptance. Just as we tend to elevate ordinary mortals to godly status, we also enjoy cutting them down to size when they misbehave.

These days, the way to fame is quicker than ever. Fame is a commodity that almost anyone can access. But with media commercialism at its height, it is just as easy to fall as it is to rise in showbiz today. Compared to two decades ago, today, many celebrities last only as long as the proverbial flash in the pan. Here today, gone tomorrow.

But the stakes are much higher now. Fame is the magic ticket not only for access to the wealth that a career in showbiz can bring but also to political power. Look at all the showbiz people invading politics.

However, it works both ways. Being among the beautiful people has its rewards and so politicians too aspire to be among this crowd. Whoever it was who said that “politics is showbiz for ugly people’ couldn’t have said it better.

For those in the public eye, the hardest dictum to live by is the one from Marcus Aurelius who said, “To thine self be true.” One thing I’ve learned is, famous or not, I really can’t please everyone. But I can at least try to be true to myself.