Surreal

In the CD-ROM entitled All This Time, rock icon Sting shares how strange and surreal it was to meet your heroes face to face. This realization dawned on him as he met singer-songwriter legend James Taylor for the first time. This was because Taylor was one pop icon whose albums Sting  used to buy and listen to a lot during  his formative years as  a musician.  Given the preceding, it is not that difficult to imagine how he must have felt when Taylor unexpectedly showed up backstage right after Sting’s concert to engage him in a conversation. They would, of course,  eventually become life-long friends who would sing  in each other’s albums over the years.

Sting’s surreal reflection might as well apply to me when I met not one but two real-life writers who have paid their dues as accomplished craftswomen of the written word. Thanks to their continuing long-running stints with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading broadsheet of the Philippines. I am, of course, referring here to Ma. Ceres Doyo whose column Human Face appears every Thursday in the Inquirer and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz who also regularly writes for the Inquirer on top of her duties as  Chair of the National Book Development Board and her calling as an educator, a book critic, a reading advocate and prime mover of WhereTheWriteThingsAre.  The latter facilitated the afternoon talk which was given by Ms. Doyo on the basics of feature writing.

SURREAL

Since I am a struggling and aspiring writer despite being published 5 times by the Inquirer between 2014 and 2015, it took awhile for me to get my bearings back when I realized I was in the presence of writing greatness.  Awed, blessed and highly favored would not be inaccurate to describe how I felt.  I took in the whole experience like the first time I saw the U2 docu film on IMAX.  Indeed, the experience brought back fond memories of how I felt when I  had the privilege of shaking the hand of Inquirer columnist  Conrad De Quiros during one of the rallies in Makati sparked by the excesses of the  Estrada presidency. The same might as well apply to the first time I got to speak face to face with yet another Inquirer columnist Randy David during the visit of the late philosopher Richard Rorty to U.P. I was instrumental in coordinating Professor Rorty’s visit to the Ateneo by referring Professor David to the Ateneo Philosophy faculty.

 MASTERCLASS

Despite the fact that Ms. Doyo conducted her talk sitting down (as she was not feeling well) and notwithstanding the fact that her Powerpoint deck  could use some millennial aesthetic fine-tuning to keep up with the times, from the moment she opened her mouth and proceeded to walk us through the various stages of feature writing, you knew this was not just a talk on feature writing. It felt more like a master class. I particularly appreciated her many stories and examples from her writing career. She used these to amplify her tips and advice to aspiring feature writers like me.  Among those that seared themselves in my heart and mind were her first-hand experience of being harassed during the Marcos dictatorship, her engaging interview with Chavit Singson, her life-long project of preserving the legacy of Mac-Ling Dulag and her front-seat access to the execution of a serial rapist by lethal injection.

It was also inspiring to realize –  as she was sharing tips on prospective subjects to write about as well as numerous angles and approaches one can explore – that one could never possibly run out of things to write about.  You just need to have the guts to face the typewriter or the keyboard and, to quote her favorite author, “let the drops of blood flow from your head to your keyboard.”  Funny yes  but oh so true.

DOWN TO EARTH

After overcoming the surreal dimension of the entire experience, I  found the voice to engage with Ms. Doyo by way of questions which she encouraged her class to shoot her way.  She answered every single one of them with very incisive insights and in a very inspiring way.  I think it was the poet Maya Angelou who once wrote that after several months, people will forget what it was you said to them but they will not forget how you made them feel.  Thanks to their sincerity and their being grounded in the  reality of their readers and now listeners, both Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz reminded me of my favorite teachers in high school and college. They would not only answer your questions with wit. They would also effortlessly complement their replies to your questions with inspiring remarks. Remarks that inspire you to dream bigger dreams. Remarks that goad you to keep fighting, keep trying, keep writing no matter what.

Maybe it was the reason why I ended up being caught by the camera with my eyes closed when I had my picture taken with them. Maybe it was my self’s physiological way of telling those who cared to observe that clearly my mind and my heart at that time could not snap out of such  a transcendent experience.  “Was this really happening?” would not be a bad way to caption the said picture.   In her book entitled Human Face which I requested Ms. Doyo to sign, she scribbled the message:  “Celebrate the human.”  That was what I felt like doing through writing as I contemplated her message weeks after her talk.  After listening to Ms Doyo’s talk and conversing with Ms Cruz about my travails and worries as an aspiring weekend writer, that was exactly how I felt celebrating by continuing on with my blogging, come rain or come shine.

Maraming salamat po, Ms. Doyo and Ms. Cruz. Hulog kayo ng langit.

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A 2014 Christmas Playlist

“Ruby” or not, come rain or come shine, Christmas is practically just around the corner. And along with the familiar sight of the parol and Christmas lights all over the country, one sure sign that there is no stopping Christmas is the almost omnipresent sound of Christmas carols from a myriad of storage devices and streaming media.

Here are my top 10 Christmas tracks or if you will, songs my family and I can’t do without come December. Thankfully, most, if not all of them have not been accorded the overplays that tend to make some songs grate on your ears after some time. Check out how they stack up compared to your list.

1. “Gabriel’s Message” (Sting) Notwithstanding his declaration that he now eschews all types of organized religion (including the Judaeo-Christian tradition in which he was raised) – choosing instead to believe in a higher being – Sting’s inspired rendition of this 1892 classic by Charles Bordes and Sabine Baring-Gould makes you feel like you’re actually eavesdropping on how Gabriel must have spoken to Mary complete with the flapping of wings in the backdrop. The ethereal counterpoint is its key highlight.

a very special christmas

2. “7 O’Clock/Silent Night” (Simon & Garfunkel) Recorded in 1966 as part of the album “Parley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” this song features the signature harmonies of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel against the backdrop of depressing headlines read by newscaster Charlie O’Donnell during an imagined 7 O’Clock evening news. This version of “Silent Night” is unparalleled in communicating the continuing relevance of the carpenter’s son for fleshing out the meaning of love for 33 years in a world that continues to be in dire need of it. It was so in 1966. It is so in 2014.

Parsley-Sage-Rosemary-And-Thyme-cover

3. “Hands” [Christmas Version] (Jewel) Composed by Jewel Kilcher and Patrick Leonard in 1998, this song reminds me of the philantrophic mindset which, I suspect, grounds how Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates have chosen to regard their vast wealth and resources. The same might as well be said about humanity’s less celebrated unsung heroes who have chosen to devote their lives to serving the poor and the marginalized. “In the end,” Jewel would remind us, “only kindness matters.” And the Christmas season is the best time to realize that each of us has been blessed with a pair of hands precisely to explore the varied ways we could show such kindness.

joy by jewel

4. “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” (Amy Grant) The ominous-sounding introduction of this song is almost cinematic in paving the way for appreciating the burden Mary must have felt as she conceived the Son of God. “I have traveled many moonless nights. Cold and weary, with a babe inside.” The song takes flight as Mary chooses to humbly ask for the grace of God to handle “the load I bear.” In this regard, it naturally offers itself as a fitting continuum and an apt response to Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message.’

amy grant xmas album

5. “Christmas Lights” (Coldplay) What Coldplay describes as a “mid-tempo number” was actually released in 2010. In any case, a careful reading of its lyrics would seem to suggest its motif would have made it feel at home with the tracks that comprise the 2014 “Ghost Stories” album. Like most of the Coldplay songs we’ve grown to love, this song is melancholic both with respect to its melody and its lyrics. Its soaring and thankfully, hopeful chorus is a valiant musical attempt to get over heartbreak and move on: “May all your troubles soon be gone. Oh Christmas Lights, keep shining on.”

Coldplay_-_Christmas_Lights

6. “The Rebel Jesus” (Jackson Browne) In the event that Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” has lost its edge to unsettle you due to repeated overplays, check out this little-known Christmas song guaranteed 101% to disturb your merry-making and make you aware that Christmas should not be reduced to “noche buena” and “aguinaldo.” It’s also supposed to make you ask why some of us enjoy the best of the season with style while some of our fellow Filipinos make do with “pagpag” over candle light in a room that, as it is, is already too small to fit 2 but is nonetheless occupied by 10.

jackson browne

7. “A Christmas Song” (Dave Matthews Band) This song which first appeared as a surprise track in “Remember Two Things,” the debut album of DMB back in 1993 offers an unconventional and, therefore, fresh retelling of the life of Christ from His Nativity to His Crucifixion. In fact, the first time I heard it, I thought Matthews was narrating the story of a boyfriend and a girlfriend until the part where he cites the wise men who came to visit the bouncing, baby boy. Makes you realize that indeed, “Emmanuel”  means God with us.

remember two things

8. “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” (Sarah Mclachlan) Written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1971, this song was the culmination of more than 2 years of peace activism mounted by the couple against the Vietnam war. It was given a new lease on life when Sarah Mclachlan recreated it as the carrier single of her Christmas album entitled “Wintersong” in 2006. This along with “Rebel Jesus” offer themselves as powerful wake-up calls to counter the siren call of consumerism which is at its peak during this season and bring back, as the cliché goes, Christ to Christmas. Hence, Lennon and now, Mclachlan’s conscienticizing: “And so it is Christmas, and what have you done?”

Sarah_McLachlan-Wintersong-Frontal

9. “The Answer” (Corrinne May) This is the only original track in Corrinne May’s Christmas album aptly entitled “The Gift.” It is also the most personal as it is actually a prayer penned by May herself, a devout Catholic who completed her studies at the Berklee College of Music. “Give me strength when I am weary; give me hope when I can’t see; Through the crosses I must carry, Lord, bind my heart to Thee.” Interestingly, its melody is based on “Jupiter” which was part of the “Planets Suite” composed by classical music composer and conductor Gustav Holst (1874-1934.)

corrinne may the gift

10. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (James Taylor and Natalie Cole) For some reason, James Taylor and Natalie Cole’s 2006 cover of this 1944 classic brings to mind the witty one-liner exchanges between Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in the 80s hit “dramedy” series “Moonlighting.” Penned by Frank Loesser, this song has been recorded by over 25 pairs of musicians from the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr and Carmen McRae to Idina Menzel and Michael Buble. It is quite possibly the most romantic Christmas song.

james taylor christmas

Have a Blessed and Meaningful Christmas celebration!