It’s Christmas… Just Because

Who should be on my list? Whom should I invite to my Christmas party? Which party should I blow off if I get invited to two separate parties in two different parts of town at once? How do you get out of an awkward conversation? What do you do with a gift you don’t like?

We’re well into the holidays, and given all the traffic and stress that come with the season, it probably doesn’t seem like a festive time at all. I haven’t surveyed any of my contacts or relatives, but I highly suspect that nowadays, a “Grinch” mindset is easier to get into than a “Who” mindset.

Who’s a Who?

I’ve never been a particularly “Who”-like person. Christmas decorations, candy canes, exchange gifts, cards, and parties were things that happened to other people, people who could muster up the energy and enthusiasm to deal with the preparation and investment involved in all that.

Don’t get me wrong; I like the idea of people expressing love and sharing good times together, and I like the idea of there being a season for that. It’s just that I’m not the kind of person for whom love comes naturally. I’m not really good at having fun, making connections, and being spontaneous. I look at people who are bubbly, sociable, vivacious, and just general “life of the party” types, those who can go to parties and maybe a couple of after-parties, depending on how the night goes, and I wonder how they can be as on as they are; life springs from them in a seemingly continuous stream. I, on the other hand, feel like I have to manage my energy, rationing my zeal lest I run out of it at an inconvenient time.

I sometimes feel like a Grinch who desperately wants to be a Who.

Love Actually is All Around

How does it happen every year? How do people manage to come together, after months, years, or even decades of separation, and catch up or reminisce with so little effort? How do they voluntarily subject themselves to gift exchanges, pressuring themselves to find a gift that fits with a certain theme and a particular person’s tastes? And how do they endure slogging through traffic and crowds and queues to buy presents that will be wrapped in fancy paper that will be unceremoniously ripped off and thrown away anyway?

I guess it’s because for a lot of us, we need a clear cue before we can show love. When we were young, we could just give a hug or invite someone to play randomly for no particular reason. We were open to every possibility the world had to offer. But as we grew older, we started having less time for childish things like games and friend-making. We became more sophisticated, wise in the ways of the world, and we learned about things like etiquette and social mores. We started learning the importance of being not too far from the norm, and we started caring about how we look and how what we do would look to others. Through this new lens, we started trusting less in love and more in motives, less in impulse and more in ramifications. To us adults, expressions of affection could be interpreted in any number of ways and could result in an unknown amount of drama, so we keep our warmth to ourselves.

A Random Break from Grinch-hood

Christmastime is a vacation not just from work, but from the adult way of thinking. During the Christmas season, we relax. During the Christmas season, we do all these silly things like giving presents hidden in boxes and wrapping paper to see the recipient’s eyes light up with joy, putting up decorations around the house with your family, and letting go of grudges to reunite with loved ones.

Sure, maybe we can see Christmas as an arbitrarily selected time of year during which you could love your neighbor. Maybe there’s no real rational explanation for why this should be a time more special than any other (aside from the fact that it’s regarded as the time of Jesus’ birth, which many people don’t take seriously).

But hey, love doesn’t need a reason, I suppose.

Love, Plain and Simple

So last week I bought Jason Mraz’s new album Love Is a Four-Letter Word. Simple album art, simple sleeve. And, sure enough, when I played it, there were simple songs.

What do I mean by simple? Well, let’s take some of the songs for example. I Won’t Give Up is a declaration of a love that will not surrender.

I won’t give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I’m giving you all my love
I’m still looking up

Even though the imagery of skies evokes a sense of grandness, and there’s an absolute declaration there (“I’m giving you all my love”), the words are simple in that it feels like they’ve been sung by so many other singers. Consider also the lyrics from The Woman I Love:

We don’t have to hurry
You can take as long as you want
I’m holdin’ steady
My heart’s at home
With my hand behind you
I will catch you if you fall
Yeah I’m gonna love you like the woman I love

Again, simple words that sound like they should be familiar. Sometimes I feel sorry for singers and songwriters; it’s difficult to touch on new artistic ground when so many other musicians have lived, played, and died before you were even born. But Jason’s voice, which I think will always sound like a boy’s, makes me listen as if they were new and more sincere.

But the song that spoke straight to my heart was the eighth track, called Frank D. Fixer:

Frank D. Fixer was a handyman
He could handle everything; he was my granddad
He grew his own food and fixed his own car
I watched it all happen in our backyard
He’d reinvent the part to fix the broken home
He restored the heart

The first verse sets the tone for the entire song, in which he wishes that he could express love the same way his grandfather could. This is a form of love that is rarely sung about; forget about buying things, or fighting a world that won’t let you be together, or being so attracted to the cutest guy/girl in your school. What this song extols is a man who was steady, level-headed, and able to set things right for his family.

This is a sincere, basic form of love, free from abstract concepts like “forever” and “soul.” Though the lyrics referred to gestures like “restoring the heart” or “building a town if the world came down,” those are just flourishes of artistic license. What I think of when I hear the song is a love that is as good and honest as a bar of soap. It may sound boring to some, but to me, it’s something that’s sorely under-represented in music nowadays.

The album isn’t restricted to romantic love, either. There are also songs about love of the world (93 Million Miles), love of life (Living in the Moment), and even a song expressing his love of expression (Everything is Sound), but they’re sung in the same effortless, bombast-free way.

A simple album with simple songs. And quite simply, I loved it.

Waiting to Hear the Four-Letter Word

So the new album “Love is A Four-Letter Word” is set to hit record bars on April 17, 2012. Not sure if it’s the same in my country, but I certainly hope so. I’ll be checking out some record shops on the said date just in case, after which I’ll listen in earnest.

Sure, the album has been available online for days now. In a bold move, the regular album in its entirety has been uploaded onto Soundcloud, where people can simply listen to all the tracks (although not in my country; perhaps Atlantic Records restricted access to US and European fans or something).

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The cloud's there, but sadly, it doesn't cover the whole world. Bet lots of fans are just dying for access.

There’s even an interactive puzzle on his site that lets fans unblock exclusive content, though to say it’s exclusive is a bit much; all you have to do is work for a few minutes on tangram-like puzzles, and you can see hidden songs and videos.

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Screenshot of the interactive game for exclusive Mraz content. "Easy" is a four-letter word!

It was a very bold move to upload the album, though. Not everyone would be inclined to purchase music that’s available for listening online. In fact, people are already sharing copies of his deluxe edition procured from the iTunes store, and there are downloads popping up in different places on the web. I am resisting temptation, and will buy a copy of my very own.

What do I expect? The same smooth singing, catchy easy-to-sing-to melodies, and the feel-good vibe of one of the best vocalists in the world today!

Love: The Sweetest Sacrifice

So listened to the Morning Rush on RX 93.1 yesterday, and the topic was “Top 10 ways to complete the statement ‘Ang pag-ibig ay…’ (‘Love is…’)” and I heard this awesome answer from Kean Cipriano: “Ang pag-ibig, parang leche flan. Sweet, pero leche.” Roughly translated, it means “Love is like leche flan. It’s sweet, but also frustrating.” Not as catchy as the Filipino phrasing, but the sentiment is true in any language.

The day before that, my girlfriend and I were watching “The Vow” at a special screening. Don’t need to say what the movie’s story is, since I’m sure many other people more eloquent than I am have done that. Suffice it to say, I felt such sympathy for Channing Tatum’s character; he loved Rachel McAdams’s character so much, and to prove it, he had to put his feelings second to hers, even though it meant constantly facing the fact that she was a totally different person who was not infatuated with him anymore.

Love is such a strange thing. It’s a core emotion that occasionally forces you to deny your other ones. People who truly love another will go through hardships willingly. They don’t change; they have the same desires and the same pet peeves, but are willing to go through the things they abhor for the sake of the object of their affection. But the fact that it’s strange doesn’t make it aberrant behavior.

People all over the world are giving their paramours flowers, chocolates, letters, poems. Despite what some may say (“they can’t find anybody better,” “they’re too submissive,” “it’s a conspiracy concocted by Hallmark, chocolatiers, and florists”), it’s a beautiful day. Let’s celebrate love, the most universal and rewarding act of self-flagellation.