Thursday, September 27, 2012

Music to my ears -- literally & metaphorically

Seated at a McDonald's one night, the familiar intro of Here Comes the Sun came wafting from the store's speakers. Ooooh, nice. Well, I suppose I'm not alone in finding this song a happy one. It's so pleasant to listen to, and this time was no different. But the guitar intro was definitely not the Beatles' and when a feminine voice sung the first lines, I became curious as to whose cover of the classic song this was. It was actually quite nice and I even enjoyed it more than I do listening to the original version.

YouTube makes it easier to research information like this; so it's Colbie Caillat who did that version -- she of the name whose pronunciation I can never remember for long. To be sure, her rendition didn't redo the Beatles classic at all; there was hardly any noticeable improvisation on the guitar except for the intro, and it's just as well. Her voice and vocal style spelled the difference.

Listening to the song reminded me of another remake of another classic -- Pure Imagination, from the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The remake is more to my liking, I'll admit, as it's got hints of new wave in there.

A couple of what I call "easygoing songs" -- taking a break for five minutes? Have a listen. No eardrum-blasting riffs or pulse rate-elevating percussion here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

You say you want a (real love) revolution

September started with a blast! For me, at least, and for tens of thousands of others who got to listen to two international speakers who traveled to Philippine shores for a series of talks and conferences as part of Real Love Revolution 2012.

Is there anyone who would not want the prospect of experiencing and living authentic love? I'm almost sure even the most jaded, disenchanted folks hanker for the kind of love that lasts, the kind that doesn't fizzle out when the hardships come one after the other, the kind that's dependable no matter what the circumstances. Well, speakers Leah Darrow and Chris Stefanick tackled the different facets of love and relationships as they spoke before crowds in Iloilo, Cebu and Manila (Manila was the last leg of their trip).

Listening to them was wonderful. They made the harsh realities of life clear, while at the same time sharing the conviction that there is always reason to hope for -- and work for! -- something better. Though her life doesn't revolve around the fashion world, Leah is best known for being a finalist on America's Next Top Model (a "reality show" that doesn't at all reflect reality -- even she pointed that out) who has since set her sights on speaking to girls and young women about the importance of modesty, chastity, forgiveness and hope. Of course she shared much of her journey with the nearly 15,000-strong crowd during the Manila stint -- admitting that the things she shared were all that were suitable for talking about in public. She's charming, and even really funny when she related a few incidents, but without the important details getting lost in the humor. One particularly moving moment was when she probably hit rock bottom and ended up calling her dad to come pick her up in New York as she was at her wits' end. All she wanted to do was to come home. 

Her dad was obviously happy to see her as he stood at her doorstep, and within a couple of hours urged her to come clean through the sacrament of reconciliation (I seem to have forgotten to mention that Leah and her family are Catholic). 

"Confession?" Leah complained, not at all overjoyed over the idea. 

"You asked me to take you home, didn't you? Well, Church is home."

Well, Leah did as she was advised (yet another story altogether) and what joy filled her afterwards!

Chris, the other speaker, was a less subdued speaker, and his guitar-playing upped the intensity quite a bit. He's a singer and songwriter, but that's not all he is. I am elated and eternally grateful that he said the things he said! Check out this short video he made while he was in Manila.

Here's the rest of what he said about love and dating, among other interesting topics. An article about Leah's testimony is here.

Can't wait for next year's Real Love Revolution -- this is the kind of rebellion I go for!

Treasure, not trash

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Of chastity, tattoos, and the Powerpuff Girls

Ten years ago I wrote something for Woman Today magazine which I later placed in one of my blogs. That blog contains some of my published work and I'd love to add more, which I can't do, unfortunately. I forgot my password for that blog.

So in 2002 I was asked to write a piece on chastity, which I nearly turned down. Who wouldn't find such a topic daunting -- particularly if the aim is to come up with something formative, uplifting, and sound and not merely entertaining, a chance for self-expression, or a go at (mis)leading readers into dismissing the notion of chastity and related values as outdated or unrealistic? Well, with much encouragement from my editor, I did accept the assignment. Here's the result:

When chastity is a funky tattoo

That title up there is probably the only instance where you'll see the words "chastity," "funky" and tattoo" in the same sentence. Unless you're thinking along the lines of "Be funky, so get a tattoo and while you're at it, forget chastity as well."

Or maybe "Choose getting a funky tattoo over living chastity."

Or simply "Get a funky tattoo -- and what's chastity anyway?"

You, girl, may be nodding and suppressing a smile over that last line, either because you totally identify with the sentiments in it, or because you can just imagine today's MTV generation asking such a question, and you understand why they are absolutely clueless about something like chastity. Whichever it is, you have to admit that hearing the word "chastity" can be like taking a trip back to the time of Leopold, the Duke of Albany, if it doesn't conjure images of cloistered nuns first.

Billboards and pop icons
"Just look at all those billboards. Is it surprising that people are so used to the idea of getting sexual or, at the least, to the idea of nudity?" a friend casually remarked as the prevalence of the topic of sex among ordinary chitchats and countless magazine articles figured into our conversation.

"If you see pictures of women almost down to their underwear everyday -- or barely clothed men and women in seductive stances, you eventually acquire the attitude. Sex know, it's cheapened. Like it's always there, in-your-face -- know what I mean? Tapos pati ikaw, without your knowing it, malamang magiging gano'n na rin ang attitude mo."

She does have a point. Constant exposure to the sight of half-naked people does have a way of numbing the senses and erasing such concepts as modesty and purity from our sensibilities. I mean, if I spent hours watching Jennifer Lopez or Britney Spears music videos everyday, it's very possible that chastity would be wiped out from my vocabulary (and my memory) by the end of the first week.

But then this is not about J. Lo or Britney and their treatment of human sexuality or their lifestyle choices; this is about us ordinary people and how we look at ourselves, and about the choices we make based on the kind of self-image we have.

Saying 'yes' and not 'no'
It took a good friend to help me understand the meaning of what it is to be truly chaste in modern times. "Chastity is something positive. Think of it as saying 'yes' to something instead of 'no' to certain things," she explained. When I found myself attracted to a pleasant and professionally prestigious man who seemed (to my ears, at least) to say my name with a special warmth, and whom I also discovered was married, I wondered where the 'saying yes' part had gone. It sure felt like I was saying 'no' to moments of wonderful conversation, 'no' to potentially blissful memories in the making.

Okay, that's just the sarcastic side of me talking, grumbling over the loss of possible emotionally satisfying moments. I knew, after the initial disappointment, that my decision to keep anything from developing and to forget about him was a choice to say 'yes' -- uh, but to what?

Well, I don't know exactly, but saying 'yes' then never felt so exhilarating and so congratulatory! It was the kind of feeling you get when you know that you did the right thing, even if it's difficult. Maybe it was 'yes' to happiness -- authentic happiness.

Whatever it was, that 'yes' made me feel brave: as if I were a Powerpuff Girl in disguise, and nobody but me knew about it. Yep, that was it, except that there was nothing cutesy, cartoonish or crime-busting about the power I began to feel then. It was just a quiet strength on which to anchor my heart and the core of my womanhood. Think of it as having, say, a funky tattoo etched on some obscure part of your body, and only you know about it. It is amazing how a woman can draw enormous spunk from a silly adornment acquired simply for vanity's sake (which is generally what a tattoo is perceived to be).

Chastity indeed began to seem to me like an everyday concept, not like some "up in the clouds" outdated notion for those who are out of touch with reality, or some word you'd utter with pursed lips or a pretentiously sweet smile.

But hey, how many of us are going to find ourselves being drawn to men who are unavailable? Okay, maybe a lot (especially if you belong to the 30+ category and no Mr. Wonderful is in sight. Or maybe your Mr. Wonderful is starting to seem like Mr. Wonderless?), but wearing chastity or purity like a badge of courage comes in handy in the most ordinary situations, far from the complications of getting involved with married men.

The tsismis factor
For instance, I must admit there were times that keeping a pure outlook became a struggle. In some circles, cracking kinky jokes and gossiping about the who's who in pre- and extra-marital affairs are standard fare for small talk. When I kept silent rather than participate in fanning the flames of intrigue, and when I whipped out "hey, I like your shoes, where did you buy them--?" while teasing in various shades of green went on, the responses were varied. Some appreciated it; others didn't.

But always it gave me (and continues to give me) a sense of joy, knowing that I acted on the strength drawn from the idea of my cool tattoo, that I said "yes" each time. Put simply, I held on to my principles and I felt good about it.

Then somewhere along the way, I also discovered that matters pertaining to sex are just a wee bit of what purity is really all about. There's such a thing as being pure in one's intentions -- the motivations, in other words, behind the things we do. I began to be concerned as I learned about this virtue more deeply. Wait a minute, am I being sincere when I talk to people? When I do the things I do?

Strength, self-worth and the tattoo
So it's really not hard to see that matters about sex and things pertaining to, say, malicious criticism and 'dubiously motivated' action are interrelated, since purity in all its forms -- purity of heart and intention, modesty, decency, chastity -- are all tied together. The great thing about it is that taking care of one aspect also helps you grow in the others.

The thing is, nobody imposed this way of thinking on me, just like the way nobody forced me to once regard immodest dressing as an assertion of one's strength (that's what fashion pages project, right?). Just like the way I toyed with the notion that giving yourself completely to a man who is not your husband is okay as long as there's love (I probably watched too many Hollywood movies of the wrong kind). Just like the way I assumed that laughing at jokes about private parts and bedroom activity was the most logical thing in the world (pure ignorance here). I do understand how maxims like "If you've got it, flaunt it" and "If it feels good, do it" can work their messages subtly on impressionable minds. No need, then, to cram down one's throats such principles.

So, don't believe me right away when I say that chastity is for each of us who knows the worth of the innermost recesses of our being. Don't be convinced at once that modesty doesn't automatically mean donning turtlenecks and ankle-length skirts, and that it translates to the thoughts you entertain, the things you say, and the way you act. After all, it took me a while to grasp these things.

What matters is that you figure out the worth you place on yourself, how much respect you have for your whole being. This, Powerpuff Girl, will determine what you hold dear and let you see the funky little tattoo that's already there. You probably just had to believe that you had one all along.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


"God’s law does not reduce, much less does away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom."
- John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor

When black is presented as a gorgeous splash of colors

One of the ideas I found most striking in weekly doctrine classes I attended in the 1990s was that though evil is real, it is often presented as something attractive and alluring. "If it were revealed to human beings as what it really was, then it would be easy to say no to it," a friend further explained later. "Imagine the devil appearing to people as the embodiment of evil -- grotesque, hideous, with the most offensive stench you can think of... really the opposite of beauty, goodness, truth -- of course everyone would be horrified! Even the most hardened criminal would probably be so terrified by the sight that he would run to God for mercy!"

I thought about that a lot and I still do; it does make perfect sense.

That being said, I am always fascinated by the battle between good and evil in movies, especially when it involves superheroes, sword-wielding freedom fighters, light saber-brandishing protagonists, spaceship-bound teams whose mission is to protect planet Earth, and even children who carry out their quest to uphold the good with the aid of polyjuice potion and some wand-flicking. Growing up, though, I remember thinking from time to time where God was in the stories -- how Superman didn't ask God for help when Lois Lane died (Superman I), or how come Luke Skywalker or any of the other characters never went to church, or if Harry Potter ever mentioned the word "God" in the books (I've read only books one and two, and half of three). Purely human heroes from more realistic settings (ones that didn't involve aliens) such as Zorro and Balian of Ibelin (Kingdom of Heaven) at least acknowledged the authority of God.

What I notice in such movies is that the good and evil characters are often presented with stereotypical qualities. It's therefore easier to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. When I first saw the video below of an "infantile"-looking Darth Vader and equally cute Storm Troopers, it occurred to me that this would be a clever way to urge people to find vices or even really evil things more acceptable -- and later on, even desirable and preferable to virtue. Vader is so cute here that one may forget the dark side he represents.

Below that you'll also find a video of really brilliant piano-playing -- it's a rendition of the Harry Potter theme. I'll put some notes on that below the video. Fascinating music, skill at work here, and the mood -- of course befitting of the movie's plot. The costume, the flickering candles, the dark surroundings coupled with the incredible piano-playing can all make one forget that despite the sub-themes of friendship and courage that are very much part of the movies, there's the magic, witchcraft and the occult that are portrayed in a positive light quite expertly. Parents, you know what that means.

Ok, so enjoy!

God protect you, and don't let the precious become an obsession. And may the Force be with you :-)

From the YouTube page:

This is a video we produced of Jarrod Radnich performing his original
copyrighted arrangement of Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter. This is played
in REAL TIME and is not sped up. It is part of his Virtuosic Piano Solo
Series sheet music, which includes suggested fingerings to obtain this

Sheet music and the MP3s for this and other arrangements are available
through Radnich's website:

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mr. Moonlight and the serenade

You know how practically everyone at some point ends up saying things like "During my time, we didn't have computer games and remote control cars -- we played outside, climbed trees and invented our own games!" or "Now people take lots of pictures but back then we didn't have digital cameras. We used film so we chose our shots and we had to get the film developed..."? Or what about "Back then, you could tell who were girls and who were boys. Nowadays it can be confusing..." and "During my time, you could understand what songs were about, but nowadays songs are just so angry all the time -- or it's about a guy singing his less-than-noble intentions concerning some girl (or girls)!"

I've always liked it when my parents reminisce the "good old days" because it was like being transported into another era. Stories of "the Japanese occupation," or things like euthenics class and cadena de amor, or how they spent over a month aboard a ship traveling from the States to the Philippines (this mode of cross-continental travel was pretty much the norm in the 1950s) were always fascinating. Talk about being worlds apart!

But over dinner tonight I was flabbergasted to learn that my mom was once serenaded with a complete orchestra as accompaniment! Don't those things only happen in the movies?? Apparently not.

We started talking about it when I asked her if she had experienced studying in a Catholic school. "Yes, at Blessed ... " It was *Blessed something Academy, the complete name of which I shall ask my mom first thing tomorrow as the name escapes me now. Anyway, it was in the province where she grew up, and she said she and one of her sisters were sent there by their parents to be far from the Japanese soldiers, who came in droves when the Philippines got involved in the war. This was in the early 1940s.

So, she related how she attended about a year of high school at the Blessed (Something) Academy and lived there for the duration of the school year. Then she casually mentioned the time she was serenaded and chuckled at the thought of the nuns and her schoolmates enjoying the treat immensely. Visions of 1950s LVN Pictures-looking gentlemen in white suits, strumming acoustic guitars, popped in my head -- which turned out to be closer to a dream sequence in a movie than reality.

"Serenade? Harana? Yung kinakantahan ka tapos nakadungaw ka sa bintana sa 2nd floor?"

"Oo, pero full orchestra."

"Full orchestra?! Pati piano??"

"Ah hindi, walang piano. But all the other instruments..."

"Drums?" "Yes, may drums." "Violins? Cello, yung malaking nakatayo? Trumpet...?"

"Oo, pati saxophone," my mom said, amused by my disbelief.

Well, I was floored. How nice -- being serenaded by someone during that era, someone who probably looked like the dashing movie stars of those days. At this point I was shocked when she casually mentioned that "Pacita" (or some similar name) was the "crooner."

"Huh? Babae? Why?"

"Eh accordion ang tinutugtog ni ______." I couldn't remember his name; obviously it wasn't my dad. So it turns out it wasn't that unusual to have a woman or someone else for that matter who was part of your posse, sing to the lady of your dreams. And you could request an entire playlist!

"Ay, I can't remember anymore...but meron yatang 'Moonlight Serenade'... 'Blue Moon' din," my mom said when I asked her what songs were sung to her.

What joy. And how positively unfamiliar. I tried to imagine the whole setup -- where the singers were, what the lucky ladies were wearing, what they were doing... and I discovered that none of the sleeping quarters in schools (at least at that time) were on the first floor of the building. So it would really have to be a Romeo-Juliet, Rapunzel-Prince Charming kind of arrangement.

"Basta tatapat sa bintana yung naghaharana," my mother said.

"What if you were in the bathroom taking a bath when the serenaders arrived?" I asked, wondering about propriety when it came to making people wait or if the lucky ladies actually stepped out on the ledge (if there was one), or peered mysteriously through sheer curtains or casually stuck their heads out the window to enjoy the music.

"Okey lang yon, matagal pa naman bago matapos ang kumakanta kasi maraming songs, (That's okay, it's going to take them long to finish since they sing plenty of songs)," she laughed.

And guys who wanted to serenade their ladies waited for the moon. No, there was no werewolf thing or some "lucky charm" superstition going on -- the moonlight helped illuminate the streets even more. Apparently, the street lamps in the province at that time weren't adequate.

I was really in awe of the customs concerning social dealings at the time so I asked my mom plenty of questions: after the singing does the girl have to invite the serenaders into the house? Was there some kind of "code" which signified that she was interested in knowing him more and another "code" to let him know he had better set his sights on some other girl?

"No, you just say thank you and then they leave," my mom said. She was obviously having fun reminiscing and remembering how the other girls in the school were thoroughly delighted by the experience. Well, I'm sure I would have been, too, had I been around to witness it!

Had video cams been discovered before that time, capturing such a thing would have been wonderful. Oh, and I learned the men who did the serenading were usually garbed in shirts, not white suits. "T-shirt?" I asked.

"Walang nag-T-T-shirt noon!" she scoffed, amused at the idea.

Okay, the white suits are only in the movies. I didn't really need a video or even snapshots to enjoy what my mom just related to me. Just thinking about it can almost make me hear the strains of Glenn Miller's Orchestra wafting in the air :-)

On second thought, let this set the mood (check out the lyrics, too):


* Blessed Imelda's Academy (Dagupan, Pangasinan)

* It sure paid to have friends in music -- the orchestra that was borrowed for the serenade was apparently a seasoned one which was hired regularly for town fiestas, big parties and the like!

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