The blank page

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 29, 2016 – 12:00am

The metaphor of a blank page is often used to indicate a fresh start. It suggests emptiness, liberation, an escape from something that was previously there, a break from the past. I have enjoyed this metaphor a lot as an artist. Creators are content providers. A blank page is an invitation to create something new.

But a blank page can also be terrifying. It can seem like an endless expanse. It can be intimidating to look at ‘nothing’ that is telling you to do something with it, especially when you have no content to provide and a deadline is coming up. The blank page can seem like a huge desert, miles and miles of sand without an oasis in sight.

This is where I am right now. After the elections, where I gave my heart and soul to the campaign, I feel depleted, empty, stumped. I am a car running on empty, a ship without a sail meandering in the open sea, a comic who can’t think of a punchline to save himself.

This is not the first time I encounter a scary blank page. Some people who experience this go on a hiatus. They take a break. It works for them. Others stay on and try to overcome the fear and fight on until they ‘win’ over it. I don’t know what would work better for me.

I could not come up with a column last week. And here I am trying to write one now on why I can’t write a column.

I normally see a creative block as a challenge. I want to face that challenge, even if it seems like I have no tools to fight it. Right now I am staring at the void and trying to find its contours. Does it have any?

Maybe. Hopefully. If this is a prison, it must have bars, walls, a lock.

But where do I find them?

I think of something Miles Davis said about music: “In music, silence is more important than sound.” There! If this applies to writing as well, I must be on to something.


Perhaps I have it all wrong about the blank page. It may not be the prison I think it is. I must be in another prison and I am looking at the blank page from where I am. The blank page is where I need to be.

I am in a prison inside myself and I need to get out. To find out how, I must look inside the empty spaces inside me. How do I do that? How do I liberate myself?

I have booked a vacation where I have no planned agenda. When I get there, I plan to do nothing. I have no great goals, to pursuit of my bucket list. I just intend to relax and see what happens. This is an attempt at just “being.”

But at this moment, I am amazed that I have written so many words talking about how “depleted” I am of creativity. Yet I am alive, and I am the source of everything I have so far written here. And even when I claim I am empty, I have come up with something.

There is a Zen saying that, “Emptiness is form, and form is emptiness.”

This has many deep levels of meaning. I am not sure I understand them all but maybe I am within the territory of its truth. From nothing, I have actually come up with something. And this “something” I have created so far is about nothing.

A Vietnamese poem says,

‘If the cosmos exists, then the smallest speck of dust exists.

If the smallest speck of dust doesn’t exist,

then the whole cosmos doesn’t exist.

I must not panic. There is no such thing as emptiness even if we never encountered form. It exists because its opposite exists. Emptiness must be seen as “empty of something.”

Sometimes, I write and write well. There are times I hardly have anything to say. This column you are reading is the state of the art of where I am right now. It is the truth that I am at this moment. I am both empty and full.

Writing and not being able to write for whatever reason are part of life. This is reality. And whatever the reason, that is its own power. It is simply being itself and we all must deal with it.

Writing, when it is good, is like water flowing. But when water appears in the form of ice, does it lose its substance as water?

I don’t know. That is another topic to write about.

Facing fear and feeling free

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 15, 2016 – 12:00am

I voted early May 9. I felt great doing one of the most important acts we can do as citizens in a democracy. I put the names of my candidates on the ballot. I felt happy. After voting, I went home.

At the closing of the precincts at 5 p.m., I turned on the TV to watch the counting by PPCRV of the ballots. I was so amazed that after just a little over four hours, they were already at 60 percent into the counting. But together with the amazement, I also had that sinking feeling that my candidate Mar Roxas would not win. The gap between Duterte and Mar was worrisome and hard to bridge. A few minutes later, it had become clear that Mar would not be able to turn the tide. It was now impossible that he would be President. The Duterte votes poured relentlessly.

We had worked so hard to make him President. The countless rallies, posts on social media, the fights that even resulted in estrangement between friends and relatives, the engagement with strangers to convince them to switch to Mar’s side apparently were all futile. As I stared at the TV, I knew Mar’s Presidency was not going to happen.

But instead of the frustration and anger which I imagined I would feel would take over me if we lost, something else happened. I began to notice I was in a calm, collected state, and was feeling unattached. I was offering no resistance to this reality playing out before me.

I remembered a phrase from M. Scot Peck, where he said, “The decline in your fortunes can be the start of your spiritual journey.” We had clearly lost. But on another level, I was happy seeing epiphanies everywhere.

Here I was watching the numbers come in, and with every second the dream of having the most decent, capable candidate installed as President was drifting further and further away. But instead of falling deep into disappointment or panic, I felt the transcendent truth of the moment presenting itself. Reality was unraveling. It was as it was.There are things you cannot control and must simply accept. It was brutal but majestic. I almost wanted to kneel out of respect. Deep into the present moment, I did not allow the past nor the future to barge in and contaminate anything,

There was no sense in denying the reality. I let go of all my resistance and allowed the phenomenal moment to happen.

There was no resisting. I told myself I was not going to flinch or turn away from the monitor. Instead I simply watched. Then it began to happen. I felt the tension and stress, the tiredness in my body disappear. There was nothing more to do. I could not change it. All resistance was futile. I remembered a quote from Joseph Campbell about accepting the pain of reality. He phrased it like this: ‘The devil that you swallow gives you its power.’

Facing the fear was liberating!

Then I checked on the VP race. There were over a million votes that stood in the way of Leni becoming no.1. But not too long after, I started to see the numbers change. Marcos’ lead was slowly shrinking. And shrinking. And shrinking some more. By early morning, Leni had turned the tables around, and a few hours later, she already had a a modest lead of around 250,000 votes over her rival.

It was past 4 a.m. went I went to sleep.I was tired and was in dreamland in an instant. Three hours later I woke up and despite a short sleep, I felt quite refreshed.

During the campaign period, I had looked at Duterte as a man whose core values were diametrically opposed to many things I believed in. His crudeness, arrogance and disrespect towards women, the disabled, and his mercurial temper that he directed recklessly towards four countries upset me. I saw him as unfit to be President.

And I worried how people I knew to be smart, educated and good were smitten by this man’s repulsive character.

The whole time during the campaign, I was waiting for a speech from him that would ease my fears about all this. But none came.

Every single day during the campaign, I faced trolls on social media who threatened, insulted me. I received death threats. I tried to counter them with patience, kindness and rationality but they were incorrigible. I realized eventually that it was an impossible task.

Despite all these vexations I faced everyday, my friends would ask me why I seemed unaffected by them. I simply answered that I have become a patient man. At my age, I have learned to be more understanding. I told them that the practice of zen through the years had taught me a lot of things. One lesson was to let go of attachment to anything including opinions, ego, the need to win or be right. “Be like Teflon. Let nothing stick,” I tweeted to one follower.

The truth is, I was not always successful. Sometimes, I would be deeply bothered. Things would get me angry. But learning to let go of vexations to my spirit quickly is a spiritual practice that has helped me a lot.

I do not know where the country is headed with a Duterte at the helm. I am hoping that the wisdom of the people is correct. Vox Populi Vox Dei as they say. I hope it was not Barabas that the majority favored.

I must admit, the mayor has been conciliatory the past few days. That should somewhat help in uniting us. I still have not warmed up to him but will heed his call for unity. I will give him a chance. We all have to if we truly care for this country. We all have to move on from the most bitter, and vicious electoral campaign we have ever experienced.

He has over-promised in the view of many. Let us see. Time will tell. I am hoping that at the end of the day, we will be a richer, stronger, prouder and a happier democracy.

My choices

My choices
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 8, 2016 – 12:00am

Tomorrow, close to 50 million Filipinos will be going out and voting for their preferred President, Vice President, senators, and local candidates. I would not be surprised if many have not completed their list of local officials. I am very sure though that almost everyone has chosen their President and Vice President.

I made my list two weeks ago. I looked at it again today, and I am not making any changes. I have shared this list with many OFWs who wrote to me asking advise on who to vote for.

Before i share my list, a caveat. In politics, there is no perfect candidate. You just have to look at a list of imperfect people and choose who you think can serve the Philippines best.

These are the ones I have chosen to shape our country in the next six years, and my reasons for choosing them.

President: Mar Roxas.

He is the Only one among the candidates who is not connected to or tainted with corruption, or is supportive of Marcos in any way. All the others are somewhat connected with the dictator. I also like it that he will continue and improve on Daang Matuwid. I believe in what has been started. At no other time have we been prouder of our standing in the world. Our economy is improving so much, the world has taken notice. Four Ps, the one good thing started by GMA and vastly improved on by PNoy’s government, has been adopted by all the other presidentiables. Why? Because it has worked very well to combat generational poverty.

Mar Roxas will not sell us to the Chinese or the NPA. That is for sure. We will have prosperity and stability, The other candidate with mercurial ways will create instability at the very least. He has vowed to be a dictator which to me is totally unacceptable.

Vice president: Leni Robredo.

I know her personally. She is intelligent and compassionate and is genuinely concerned for the poor. Her dedication and her honesty are unquestionable. Prior to her candidacy, I participated in a dialogue where we peppered her with 35 questions about governance and national issues and we all came out very impressed. It was clear she had a real grasp of the problems. Her answers were clear and nuanced. No generalities. She was very specific. Leni is my VP.

Who would I want to see in a strong Senate?

1) Kiko Pangilinan

2) Risa Hontiveros

3) Leila DeLima

4) Frank Drillon

5) TG Guingona

6) Ralph Recto

7) Serge Osmena

8) Nariman Ambolodto — A Muslim and a woman!

9) Cresente Paez — He has wide experience running cooperatives

10) Ping Lacson

11) Susan Ople

I am still deciding on my last senator. But one thing I am sure of, I will not vote for anyone who is running with Duterte and Binay

These are my choices. You don’t need to follow them. But when you vote, please do so for whoever you think will serve the nation with dignity and honor and will make our country a more progressive and respectable member of the community of nations. Vote for those who inspire instead of those who use fear to manipulate us and bring out the worst in us as a people. We need more job opportunities, more education, more roads and infrastructure. I would like to see OFWs coming home with no regrets and live productive happy lives here.

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

In a cult-like trance

In a cult-like trance
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 1, 2016 – 12:00am

If you have wondered during this election season why certain friends and family members have startled you with their choice of candidate, you are not alone. Sometimes I wonder how once reasonable, decent women and men seem to suddenly defy reason and logic, and have even changed their demeanor from pleasant and mild-mannered to aggressive and hostile. Are they in some trance that makes them defy their previously held values in favor of the values of their chosen leader? How is it that they react violently to any kind of criticism of their candidate? Is there some kind of political infatuation playing out? Is there a “cult” culture developing here?

Some things I have noticed from my interactions with many of them:

They have a sudden strong, unquestioning commitment to their leader. The leader is defiant, strong-willed, domineering. He is practically adored as a deity. They imitate his traits. They, too, suddenly become aggressive. They will defend him to the death. They elevate him to mythical status.

Questioning or pointing out facts that go against their leader is discouraged within their ranks. When people outside the group make a questioning or critical statement, the members pounce on him, threaten and insult the dissenter, as if he was a dangerous man. How dare anyone question their dear leader?

Millennials are the most vulnerable and impressionable to this kind of candidate. They love his words, his bravado and braggadocio, and subconsciously reject any character issues their leader may have. Often, they become his apologists. When they cannot defend an outright wrong move or utterance, they accuse the other side of any issue, to try and turn the tables and put his opponents on the defensive. Often, they counter with the accusation by waving the flag, saying that unlike their candidate, his critics have not done anything for the country.

They set very high standards for his opponents, accusing them of tiny faults, making mountains out of molehills. But for their leader, they do not require such standards.

What I do not understand is how many of them have completely and conveniently turned their backs on beliefs and values they used to hold as ethical and moral to defend and justify their leader’s behavior and attitude. It is as though they have lost their moral compass. They rationalize this by saying their candidate is just being “real.”

In a cult, no one questions where the money comes from or how it is spent. No one demands an accounting lest he or she be accused of doubting the leader or subverting the group.

They have become fact-resistant. Real evidence is completely ignored or denied. Mistakes, blunders made by their leader are given a new spin to make them seem okay.

This type of leader likes to scare his followers with doomsday scenarios and proclaim himself as their savior, the answer to all their fears. He exaggerates the problem and spins a simplistic solution, claiming that he alone can provide it. He makes general statements with no details, but their belief in him is so total, no one questions him about specifics.

His strategy is polarization where he can exploit the tribal fear of “them versus us.” Thus, the constant need to create enemies.

His followers live and feed on memes and lies that they themselves create.

Such a leader is necessarily anti-authority (excepting his own). He does not believe in sharing power or being accountable to anyone. He threatens anyone who stands in his way in exercising complete and absolute power.

The followers of this type of leader are now unrecognizable to their friends and family because they seem to have suddenly changed personalities. They have become the mirror image of their leader. They have surrendered themselves totally to him. They have established an emotional, psychological bond. The leader now validates their new identity.

Writer M. Scott Peck defined evil as “the militant denial of the light.” I do not think all of the followers of such a leader are necessarily evil. And I’m not making any conclusions about anyone specific. But people I know and love seem to be in a trance. Like the followers of Jim Jones in Jonestown, they seem to have drunk the Kool-Aid, and the vitriol, threats and pure hate coming from them is not their real selves talking.