From Scrooge at Christmas

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 29, 2015 –

I have experienced 63 Christmases in my life.

I’ve had really happy, festive ones. I’ve also had religious spiritual ones. Of course, I’ve also had sad and tragic Christmases.

I have experienced the varied moods, feel and ambience of Christmases past. I have played Santa, Ninong, inaanak, caroler, one of the Three Kings, a host of celebrations, etc. This year though, I feel very different. In the past few Christmases, I have noticed that the holidays have become less fun, not exactly something to look forward to with delight and enthusiasm. This feeling has been building up through the years.

And this year, that feeling has intensified.

I must come out of the Yuletide closet. I am going against the tide and will reveal my problem with Christ- mas. Yes, folks, my inner Scrooge has sprung from the depths ready to experience the season in a different way.

In short, Christmas has stopped being magical and happy for me. Here are some reasons why I am beginning to hate the season.

1.The malls and media start playing Christmas carols too early. Hey guys, there is a time and place for everything and September is too early to think about Christmas. It is premature excitation.

I feel violated when I hear a Christ- mas song played months before Christmas. I know malls do this to get people into the mood of the season and start spending. But in the process, they deprive Christmas of its romance. You guys don’t really care about Christmas, admit it. You care about money.

2.With the way has completely taken over our schedules, I know the Christmas rush will be total carmageddon. Without it, we are already drowning in traffic. What more when malls let loose upon the unsuspecting populace the monsters of Midnight Madness, Christmas sales, etc.? It’s goodbye to calm and sanity. Say hello to stress and take away all the cheer!

3. Christmas has become more and more about commercialism. It is about going in to credit card dept to finance every gift you want to (or must) buy. It’s great to give, you feel rich and generous. But after the holidays, you go without the meat and curse the bread!

4. One’s heavenly peace can easily be shaken by bad carolers. And believe me, the cards are stacked against getting the good ones. For every good group of carolers, there are about 67 bad ones. They don’t actually serenade you with Christmas songs, they terrorize you with their discordant voices and bad renditions and you end up paying them to stop already. And when you shell out, word immediately gets around and infinitely more carolers rush to knock at your gate. It’s like being attacked by Yuletide Zombies.

5. And yes, there is a price to pay for all the food you eat during the holidays. Binge eating and consumption of all that alcohol will alter your relationship with gravity and your wardrobe. After the Christmas carols have stopped playing, you will stand before the mirror and ask yourself in disgust, “How the hell did I allow this happen?”

You look for your gym membership card and rush over, but you end up waiting for your turn at the machines because everyone else is also burning their fat.

I don’t want to end this article on a negative note. I do have some suggestions on how to make Christmas a better experience.

1. Let’s implement coding. Let’s make sure everyone enjoys a great Christmas, even if not all at the same time. If we divide the population by three and assign three weeks of the year as Christmas holidays for three groups, everyone can be less stressed

be Christmas spending all throughout the year and businesses will be happy.

2. Be a real Santa. Put CCTV cams in your children’s and godchildren’s rooms to check if they have been naughty or nice. Remember to check twice.

3. Finally, leave the country. Go to North Korea. There is no Christmas there. It might just be the right place to avoid the holiday stress, carolers and pesky godchildren.


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 15, 2015 – 12:00am

A nephew of mine in his early 30s did the math and figured out that at the present rate of annual tuition fee increases, he would end up paying P4 million to get his kids schooled and graduated from college at the Ateneo.

People worry constantly about the affordability of life these days. Looking at the prices of cars, homes, goods and services today — and especially when you project how much these costs will increase in the next 20 years — you understand why.

I was the same when I got out of college. I felt poor and was barely making it. My salary at work was so small and the monthly rentals, amortizations, gasoline and food prices where quite high. I could not imagine a future where I could earn enough to feed my family and send the kids to school.

At that time, I envisioned (only half-seriously) living in some sort of commune with friends where we could share resources In order to live half-decently.

That was many years ago.

Somehow, despite my fears, I was able to rise above my economic situation within a few years and live comfortably for the most of my adult life.
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Why the calculations driving my economic forecast of my future turned out to be so wrong can be explained by a creative mantra that says: “One never creates alone.” Allow me to elaborate.

I believe that for everything we strive for, there is some kind of help that comes along. Life is in a state of constant flux. There are many forces at play in the universe that can completely change the way the cards are dealt at any time.

I believe that the universe helps us attain our dreams and wishes. The Chinese have an interesting phrase that goes, “Be careful what you ask for, you might get it.” In his book The Alchemist, Paolo Coelho posits: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

When I dream of something and rely purely on my own limited resources, it often doesn’t seem like it can happen. But when I ask the universe for help, synchronicity — or serendipity, as we called it in the ‘70s — plays its part and the world rearranges itself. I discover new doors that suddenly open me up to new possibilities. People and opportunities suddenly present themselves and point me in the right direction that will make things happen.

This has become an article of faith for me as a creative person. I know that we were made to be creative — not to be frustrated, but to be productive. And for that to happen, we must believe that we live in a world of abundance instead of want.

When my father died, my mother did not have enough resources to continue sending us to the schools we were attending. Yet each one of her children finished college. That’s because every Catholic school in the country opened its doors and offered scholarships to each one of us. We did not ask for it. But my father was one of the founders of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and the opportunity opened for us after his death. It was the member schools’ way of thanking him. Left to her own resources, my mother would not have been able to afford it, but the universe made things possible.

I ask myself at times if all this is a question of luck. Perhaps that is an element, but I believe that those who pay attention and are bold enough to follow the leads that present themselves catch on; and they successfully pursue their dreams.

I have learned never to write any person off as a failure. That’s because I believe that every person has a chance to lift himself up to a level that is better than his present condition, if he so wishes. I also believe that the power to dream, create and be passionate about things is like a muscle that, when used often, becomes more and more powerful. Success begets success. Happiness begets happiness. Positivity begets positivity.

The point is to work hard for what you want to achieve and be open to the forces around you that actually co-create your future.

Try practicing this in your own life. Look around. Dreams, invocations, incantations are actually prayers addressed to powerful forces. You will discover soon enough that you never are alone in your pursuit of passions and dreams.

Let me give an example. I had a friend who wished to go abroad to study. The moment she decided on this, she discovered how easy it was to get the tangible information that she needed to make it happen. For one, there was the Internet. She felt the info had always been there, as though just waiting for her to discover it. Then the universe suddenly started throwing some synchronicity her way like it was encouraging her to go on. From out of the blue, she met new friends who had graduated from there. She discovered she could apply for a scholarship. By chance, there was a seasonal discount on plane tickets at the time she needed to leave, and she found out that an old classmate lived near the area where she wanted to study. Things just began to fall into place.

Left to our own resources, our vision becomes small, limited, even miserly. But when we invite the universe to come in, all of a sudden, we may find that we have an almost unlimited bank account.

Do you listen to your body? I do.

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 8, 2015 – 12:00am

I have a constant conversation going on with my body. It tells me what it needs and I respond to its requests. It has a wisdom of its own that informs me when it is not well, or when it needs to be better cared for.

I thank God that I have been healthy practically all my life, even if as a young man I was not athletic at all. I never got into any sport. The total number of times I played basketball was one. And I was taken off the court by the coach because I could not catch the ball when it was passed to me. Nor could I dribble.

I pretty much resigned myself to the notion that I had little or no skills in the sports department. I liked running, but not competitively. I could run fast but the moment I had to compete with anyone, I would lose interest.

In high school and college, I was in the school band. When asked what sport I played, I used to answer cheekily saying, “Pang romansa lang ang katawan ko.”

My body weight in my teens and 20s was okay. Even without any sport, it was robust enough to ward off illness. I spent many sleepless nights partying but I never got really sick.

As was the fashion then, I took up smoking in college but stopped after a year. What stopped me was the medical condition of my girlfriend’s father. When I was visiting her, I made the terrible mistake of lighting a cigarette in front of a man who was dying of lung cancer. He shouted at me with the little voice he had left, “Have you no respect for a dying man?” I immediately crushed the cigarette out and never lit another stick again.

It was in my early thirties to age 60 that I I became more active and my body started to crank up. It was an awakening of sorts. It was so ready to get active.

I got into jogging big-time then. I would jog two to four times a week, depending on my schedule. I loved the idea of exercising even if at first I hated sweating.

But soon enough, I began to enjoy doing five-mile runs. What used to be so tiring at the start began to be easy for me. I liked running around the Ateneo campus with its open spaces. At one time, I ran 15 kilometers straight without even stopping to drink water. I pretty much amazed myself. I ran for a few years off and on.

At around that time, I also started biking. I bought myself a really good racing bike that was quite expensive. I would spend afternoons just biking around Ateneo, UP and Katipunan Avenue. At the time, there were fewer cars on the streets and the air was much cleaner.

My big adventure with the bike was riding to Tagaytay from Luneta in less than four hours. I even got a certificate for it. It was a big deal for me. To prepare, I did a carb diet for a number of days and a protein meal the night before the race. I followed everything by the book. To make sure I was not going to get dehydrated, I bought a thermos, a couple of muesli bars and two chocolate bars to give me a kick in the event that I was near enough and did not have the energy to continue.

The chocolate boost really worked. I remember when I was on the last seven kilometers from my destination, I was quite exhausted and ready to give up. But eating one chocolate bar really did it for me. I felt a surge of energy that took me to the finish line. It must have been a sugar rush. I completed the 60 kilometers from Luneta to Tagaytay.

My most enjoyable sport is diving. I got into it for a strange reason — I was afraid of the ocean. So I forced myself to face my fear of the sea. I remember I was 45 years old and mid-lifing. I noticed a few years into my midlife crisis that as I was going through my inner journey of introspection, I was also doing a parallel activity in the outside world: I was literaily exploring the depths of the ocean (writing this column and other things). As it was within, so it was without.

Two years ago, I joined a group of senior friends with our wives and we climbed Mt. Pulag, the second highest mountain in the Philippines. It was a difficult climb but it was well worth the effort since I felt it was a triumph for my 62-year old body.

These days, I go to the gym to lift weights. I can still do 60 pushups uninterrupted. I obey my body by eating good food and stopping right before I feel full. I do not want to tire my kidneys, stomach and liver too much so I eat sensibly. My last blood tests show I have no cholesterol, heart, prostate, kidney or liver problems. I am thankful for that.

I see my body as a sacred temple that houses my soul and I take care of it as best as I can. I do not smoke. I hardly drink. I definitely do not do drugs. And I only started drinking coffee four years ago when I turned 60. I don’t think I have consumed even a hundred cups since then.

These days, my body feels it needs to do back exercises since I am starting to get backaches. And so I do planking and a few back routines to strengthen it.

While I take care of my body by eating healthy, I sometimes indulge in steak, chicharon, et cetera, which may not be that good for me. A writer whose name I can’t remember once wrote that while the body is a temple, sometimes it is okay to treat it like a nightclub and allow unhealthy stuff in. Your body needs some fun, too. After all, it was created with all five senses.

Eduardo Galeano wrote:

The Church says: the body is a sin.

Science says: the body is a machine.

Advertising says: The body is a business.

The Body says: I am a fiesta.

The body’s suggestion in the quote is one good reason to keep it in shape so one can savor the fiesta longer. It’s okay to indulge in some bad stuff. In my case, I can afford it. My numbers are good. And balance is key.

As in all activities in life, everything in moderation.

I think it was James Dean who said, “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.” I have lived a pace of life faster than moderate speed. I missed out on dying young. But at the rate I am going, I will have a decent -looking body if my soul doesn’t wait too long to leave it.

A primal urge

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 1, 2015 – 12:00am

We have art in order not to die of the truth.— Friedrich Nietzsche

If you are an artist, you may have wondered often what the meaning or purpose of your life and craft are all about.

I still often wonder this, even if I have been an artist for almost all of my life.

When I look at engineers or architects, I can see tangible structures that validate their usefulness in the world. I see doctors and nurses healing people, and I know their work comes to good. I have the same view of plumbers, carpenters, chefs, bakers, street cleaners, garbage collectors and law-enforcement personnel.

They all work and deal with physically tangible things, and we see their effects on people’s lives. It can be empirically proven that they make life better for others.

But what about poets, musicians, painters, sculptors and other artists? What is it that we contribute? Do we make life better for people and society?

I always felt that being an artist was an urge, a compulsion to create. In the early years, I had no concerns about helping people or even thinking of my work in any larger context except pure self-expression. I merely wanted to sing and write songs, nothing more.

There was no great desire to change the world or anything of the sort.

It was during martial law when I suddenly had a change of paradigm. It was a time when the very reason for being an artist — that is, to express oneself — was threatened with illegal detention and the suspension of human rights. Something in me found this revolting. As a free spirit, I was being forced to limit the way I could express myself. Imagination and expression were fettered. It was like we were living in a no-fly zone.

To me, Imelda’s mantra of “the true, the good and the beautiful” was about limiting directions and horizons where artists can go. It was all pretty words to hide the suppression and repression that was martial law. We could only create pretty things that did not upset anyone or raise any important issues in society.

During that time, I also saw some of my great teachers, people who opened my mind, locked up in jail. I read about Pablo Picasso and other artists who stood up against the dictatorships in their own nations. Charlie Chaplin used his persona to make a film called The Great Dictator in which he ridiculed and railed against Adolf Hitler.

Those times of repression were a defining moment for me. I felt turmoil inside. It was a clash between being an artist and avoiding trouble or expressing feely what I wanted to say. I could not continue being oblivious to the society I lived in. I had to be honest and choose whether I was a free artist, or I was not. I chose to be a free one.

That was when I learned to pay attention not just to the style of music I created, but also to the content of my songs.

It was both scary and exhilarating to freely speak one’s mind against the dictatorship that was a threatening presence to everyone. But I had already awakened to the larger meaning of what expressing art was all about. There was no turning back.

To this day, when I find myself swimming against the tide as I express my opinions, I still feel scared. But an urge is an urge, and an itch must be scratched. An artist must express. It is a primal urge.

The world speaks to everyone. Others may not notice it, or simply opt to keep the dialogue to themselves. But an artist must, on some level, talk about his conversation with the universe. He must talk about what he finds meaningful in the world so that he may share this with others.

“When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image,” wrote my idol, Joseph Campbell. A shared common experience for all of us at times: we miss out or fail to interpret the meaning of events and things. This is where visionaries, artists can come in with their insights on life and the world.

With artistic messaging and style, the truth out there becomes clear enough to understand. An artist can inspire and enlighten if he chooses to. When art moves people to action, it leads to something tangible.