Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

This is why I love teaching 0

Posted on December 04, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated December 4, 2016 – 12:00am

It was the last day of my “Special Topics in Performance and Practice” class this semester. One of my requirements was that students had to do a performance before the semester ended.

I told them what I wanted, and that was to take me to a place where I had never been before and show me who they really are, what they are passionate about, and reveal a side of themselves I had not seen in class.

This assignment is usually very challenging. That’s because the students have to offer something of themselves. They are not intellectualizing the lessons we learned in class but actually experiencing them. It is all about authenticity and presentation.

It requires the student to, first, show up; second, do it; and third, come from his/her own truth. These are three of the five rules of the creativity topic we tackle in class. But since it is also a performance, they must present themselves to the class, hopefully with surprise and delight!

One student presented her passion for making brownies by sharing the recipe through rap. Another danced ballet to rock music. There were the shy ones whom I never expected to be energetic and creative dancers taking over the stage. Some recited poetry, acted out scenes from plays, sang songs from musicals. Let me say they were all delivered quite impressively.

Some performances were touching in their boldness and honesty. One student sang about his “coming out,” starting the song wearing men’s clothes and by the time the performance ended, he was in a dress and heels. The class broke into applause.

One quiet student did Tai chi and martial arts with great precision. His movements were fluid. We were totally enthralled. A girl shared her success in designing and making bags. Another one shared her creative campaigns in the field of advertising. There wasn’t a performance that left me bored.

After all the honest sharing through their performances, I could sense a feeling of well-being and joy in the room. I sensed that my students felt not just relief but also proud accomplishment. They in turn asked me to perform. I gamely sang a song no one knows about that I wrote years ago. Its melody was too high to sing in the morning without vocalizing. But I did not care. It was an exercise in authenticity.

After I said my goodbyes and posed with everyone for a class picture, I asked all my students to gather in a group hug. I told them how much I appreciated their efforts at coping with this crazy subject they signed up for, and hoped that they learned something in class they could keep and use in their future. I also thanked them for the lessons I learned from them and wished them the very best in life.

Since I started teaching this class, it has evolved a lot. I have learned many things from my students’ feedback as I strive to be a better teacher. Every now and then, I hear from or run into some of them. I have written recommendations for employment. One student invited me to her wedding. Some keep in touch through social media. I continue to bump into those who are in media, especially during rallies, or when I guest on television.

I get a great sense of fulfillment when I see them years later, especially when they bring up the classes they took under me. I am happy to learn that they took a lot of the lessons to heart, and to see them succeeding not only in their careers but also in being good human beings.

This is why I love teaching!

How I ended up in a destination not on my travel list (and loved it) 0

Posted on November 26, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 27, 2016 – 12:00am

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Nanya rocks offer rugged, dangerous beauty.

I have never been to Taiwan. It wasn’t even on my list of dream destinations to visit. But suddenly, there I was last week with a group of travel writers, bloggers, hoteliers. We flew in on the invitation of Air Asia Philippines which launched its newest international flight destination last Nov. 21.

We were quite amazed how close it actually is from Manila. It took less than two hours to get there. Ably piloted by Air Asia Philippines’ CEO Captain Dexter Comendador, the maiden flight landed smoothly and on schedule in Taipei at 1 a.m., full of excited merry passengers gifted with special souvenirs from the airline.

We checked in at Hedo Hotel located at what they call “the old city” part of Taipei. By 9 a.m., we were off on the first day of our tour.

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The first stop in our tour was at the massive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial hall, a must-visit complex of impressive structures reminiscent of old empires gone by. It houses a humongous bronze statue of Taiwan’s founding leader Chiang Kai-Shek guarded by two soldiers. Every few hours there is a changing of the guard ceremony that takes place and is a must-see. Solemn and precisely choreographed, it is quite impressive.

Next stop was the National Palace Museum where we saw impressive, exquisitely made art and masterpieces from centuries back. It was just sad that we could only stay a short while because were on a tight schedule. We had our first delicious lunch, a mixed plate with some Sichuan dishes.

We had to rush to the Air Asia press conference by 2 p.m. where the new Manila-Taipei-Manila route was formally announced to the media in Taipei.

We then proceeded to the Longshan Temple which is quite an experience. Intricately designed with dragons and religious symbols, this temple was filled with worshippers chanting and praying almost non-stop.

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The scent of candles, incense, burning joss sticks, food offerings and flowers filled the air. There were personal ceremonies going on at the back of the temple where devotees threw wooden blocks in the air and, depending on how the blocks fell, they would get their answers.

The day closed with another sumptuous Chinese meal. I am not the type of traveler or blogger who takes pictures of food. I just sit down and heartily savor what is on the table. Every meal we had on this trip was what I would call an elevated experience as far as my palate was concerned. Yes, all meals were Chinese food but everything was prepared differently.

The tofu, veggies, mushrooms, pork, seafood, soups, dessert had a touch that I had not experienced in Manila. The meals were scrumptious and heavenly.

The next day we went to the Northeast Coast where we took pictures of the wild sea and its waves splashing on the rocky shores under rain and strong winds. The Nanya rocks are awesome.

The scenery included wild rock formations strewn randomly along a coast as killer waves smashed against them with such fury, it was breathtaking. It reminded me so much of Batanes in its roughness and rugged beauty. We passed by the Golden Waterfall, a series of waterways that, though majestic to look at, are actually heavily polluted with poisonous chemicals and heavy metals. One can only admire — but do not touch or go near the water.

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Lunch was at Joufen Village. It was quite a trek of a few hundred steps before we reached our dining place. But the food was well worth the physical challenge. I thought it was the best meal we had on the entire trip.

In the evening, we meandered around the neighborhood near our hotel and tried out some street food. I always fancied myself an adventurous eater, but I admit to failing the test when it came to the notorious Stinky Tofu, and the ampalaya smoothie. I won’t describe it. I will leave that for you to try out when you visit Taipei. Who knows, you may like it. The fun part is summoning the courage to try something new and edgy.

The next day, we visited Taipei’s premier high-rise tower, an ultramodern and luxurious building called Taipei 101, which boasts the fastest elevator in the world — one that travels 89 floors in 39 seconds. At the top, one can see a panoramic view of the entire city.

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It was an extremely foggy and rainy day when we got there and so we hardly saw anything. More impressive for me was seeing the engineering wonder that could keep this building “balanced” during earthquakes and powerful typhoons. It is a huge damper in the center of the building occupying a few floors held in place by thick metal cables. During earthquakes, the damper moves slightly around balancing the building, however much nature’s forces try to shake it.

We went shopping at a fancy arts and craft store called Eslit where I bought a sturdy dry bag for travel near the sea and during inclement weather. Taipei is a delightful place to visit. The sights are awesome, the food is wonderful and the shopping is nothing short of fantastic.

Whether you are a high-end or low-end traveler, shopper or eater, Taipei has something for you. And oh, yes: the people are quite friendly and accommodating to visitors.

On my last day, not far from the hotel, I discovered a small home gallery displaying old photos of the early days of Taiwan. They were nostalgic photographs of Taiwanese life before prosperity transformed it into an economic miracle. Despite the communication gap, the owner and curator welcomed his few guests warmly as we appreciated the artworks.

I felt that this was my short fleeting moment of a personal encounter with a local in this place I had visited for the first time. It was a good way to end the trip. I will surely come back.

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Air Asia Philippines flies daily to Taipei from Manila at 11:05 p.m. From Cebu, it leaves at 6:35 a.m. on Wednesdays, and 10:20 a.m. on Fridays and Sundays. Photos by JIM PAREDES

Rage against the dying of the light 0

Posted on November 20, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 20, 2016 – 12:00am

I have been avoiding writing about this. Too many people have expressed their views about the political situation in the world, most especially in the Philippines and the United States. For the life of me, I have tried to stick to “safe,” non-political subjects, but there is no escaping from the realities of the day.

Duterte, Trump, the Supreme Court decision on the Marcos burial, daily EJKs are all upon us. In the US, discrimination against women, race, gender rears its ugly head, leading to violence.

We can’t help being affected by the Nov. 8 elections in the United States. From the time I was growing up, the US has been the center of the world as I know it. We learned to speak English from the Americans, we watched (and still watch) US sitcoms, we listen to American music, and we like their way of life so much, many of us aspire for all things American.

The recent events in our country and the US have redefined reality for many Filipinos. The presidential elections in both countries have changed everything. The shape of the new reality is still a blur but the details are getting clearer by the day, and it is not pretty. It is a departure from the way we used to know and feel about that country and ours.

Questions arise on how we should react. Should we just accept these leaders — Duterte and Trump — simply because they won the elections? After all, isn’t that what “Vox populi vox dei” is about? Or is this a case of vox populi vox crazy? What I know is, while there are those who are happy with the outcome, there are many of us who feel physically and emotionally threatened by the results.

I see myself as a liberal democrat and I am in a quandary. Has democracy played a joke on us?

It was Plato who pointed out the irony that tyranny actually emerges from a democracy. We have seen this in the history of the world. In Germany, Hitler rose to power using the legal route, albeit coupled with cunning and intimidation. Duterte and Trump were both voted into power, but they are extremely polarizing figures. They are dictatorial, with views that many of their citizens not only disagree with, but find abhorrent and threatening.

To complicate matters, our President is not a unifier. He goes out of his way offend the Catholic Church and isolate those who did not vote for him through the machinations of his paid trolls in social media. His rabid followers threaten, insult and intimidate those who criticize him. I have been the recipient of death threats, too many to list down.

What should we do when the words and actions of the President go against our moral compass, what we hold true and sacred? Should we just grin and bear it, live in denial, be apathetic? Should we just shut up because our views are against those held by the majority at the moment?

My views have changed drastically these past four months. I am no longer interested in giving an ear to political strategies, or explanations and justifications on why a leader behaves as he does. I have no patience with the spin doctors who are trying to save Duterte from himself. I don’t need them to tell me how to think. I believe my conscience is quite reliable and accurate in sensing what is right and what is wrong. I don’t dabble in shades of gray or moral ambivalence.

Right is right and wrong is wrong. Injustice is injustice. Murder is murder. The “clarifications” of paid spokespersons of government do not impress me. In fact, they strengthen my resolve to speak out and call a spade a spade.

An article in the New York Times pointed out that during Hitler’s rise in power, some people actually believed his anti-Semitism was only a “joke.” In another article, Liel Leibovitz, whose Jewish grandfather survived Hitler’s wrath, gave advice to citizens of regimes that sow hate and violence:

“Treat every poisoned word as a promise. When a bigoted blusterer tells you he intends to force members of a religious minority to register with the authorities — much like those friends and family of Siegfried’s who stayed behind were forced to do before their horizon grew darker — believe him. Don’t try to be clever. Don’t lean on political intricacies or legislative minutiae or historical precedents for comfort. Don’t write it off as propaganda, or explain it always as just an empty proclamation meant simply to pave the path to power. Take the haters at their word, and assume the worst is imminent.”

This is not the first time we’ve experienced dictatorship. We should have learned our lessons by now. I know I have and I refuse to accept the present situation as “normal.”

It is far from normal when people are killed without due process. This is an aberration, a monstrosity and a blatant abuse of human rights. If we accept EJKs and stop pointing them out as wrong, the entire value system that has made us tolerant, fair and compassionate to each other will crumble.

I am 65 years old. I lived two decades of my life under the Marcos dictatorship. I am angry that issues that we thought were already settled a long time ago have resurfaced, this time giving legitimacy and even hero status to a torturer, murderer and plunderer, by our dictator-in-the-making.

I end with the words of Dylan Thomas that inspired me as a young man during the martial law years: “Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The soundtrack of our lives 2

Posted on November 06, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 6, 2016

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Illustration by IGAN D’BAYAN

As I write this, I am listening to the music of Simon and Garfunkel and other artists of the ‘70s. My iPod is on a playlist that I made of songs that mattered to me then. I was just in my teens when I first heard these songs. They still touch me to this day.

They defined many of my thoughts and feelings, which I could not figure out, much less express, by myself. They sang about the pains and joys, the anger and frustration, the angst of young people of that time, and the new world our generation dreamed of.

The songs were beautiful and the artists were cool as cool could ever be. They were expressive, opinionated, talented, novel, rebellious, experimental, chic, crazy, daring and they were making different kinds of music the likes of which the world had never heard before.

They were breaking from tradition in all ways. They did not look like their elders. They dressed very differently, they talked differently and they sang of love that was raw, real and honest. They also sang about politics, peace and changing the world. They moved my generation and touched us deep to the core. We could quote from the verses of these songs the way the religious can quote from the Bible.

It was a great time to be an artist and to make music. It was a time when artists understood what was going on, and the producers and executives just followed suit even before they could figure out the scene that was unfolding.

Having cut my musical teeth on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Bee Gees, etc., my attitude and taste in music is wide, eclectic and very open. Memorizing hundreds of songs and being able to actually sing and play them was such a great education and achievement for me. My knowledge and familiarity with the chords and lyrics of these great songs of the ‘70s allowed me to express my emotions easier and gave me the template for writing my own songs.

While my generation was musically influenced by Western pop music, many of us consciously opted to write Filipino lyrics at some point. The rebellion in music was happening here, too, and it was tied up with the battlecry called “Filipinization.” In the campuses, the students were demanding more relevant education. By this they meant they wanted an education that was more in tune with the needs of the nation. Overnight, speaking in Filipino became the norm.

Some 40-plus years later, here I am listening to these artists-catalysts who shaped me as I grew up and led me to the same career that they were in. It is an exhilarating feeling actually.

Many of the singers on this playlist have retired. Some have even passed away. There are some who continue to perform. The music they recorded ages ago is still full of freshness, passion and genius.

Some years back, I used to mock the idea of one day becoming a “nostalgia” act. I felt it was a trap I did not want to fall into. That is why I continue to write new material. I just released my third solo album a few months ago. Yet, I must recognize that some songs I’ve written are as meaningful and “defining” to some people as the Western songs of the ‘70s are to me. I must respect that.

When I sing my old songs, I imagine that they must have been the theme songs of couples that trigger special memories of their youth, the musical background of many pledges of love they made that continue to touch them enough to renew their life-long commitments to this day.

More than listening to them as songs trapped in some era, some songs become timeless, and will always be relevant. These songs are shared with their children and even grandchildren who grew up listening to them, too, as the soundtrack of their lives.

I am proud of the music of my generation. Those songs were instrumental in developing our consciences and made us appreciate and even fight for universal values such as peace, equality, woman empowerment, tolerance, spirituality and yes, love!

If the world could just pause for a while and people would stop rushing to move to something new, if we could set aside the endless quest for new thrills and just listen to the music of my generation, we could hopefully re-learn what “cool” is really all about.

It is in every one of us 0

Posted on October 29, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 30, 2016 – 12:00am

What if you could make things out of thin air? What if you could make something out of nothing?” I ask these questions when I am conducting a class in creativity.

Very often, our concept of creativity is what makes it so hard to create anything. We think the ideas come from our minds, specifically from our literal brains. We think we need to concentrate and focus and come up with an idea in our head and write it down on paper, to materialize it to the physical level. That sounds really hard, and stressful, if I may add.

I use to think that way. Sometimes, I must confess, I still do. That’s when I have a hard time coming up with anything.

I want to look at creativity as something magical and easy. I like to tell my students to look at creativity this way: that every possible thing that can be created has been created and is existing, floating somewhere in the universe, inside of us, and outside as well. The job of a creator is to simply allow himself to be the magnet that attracts these creations and bring them to physical life.

What really happens first when we embark on creativity is we make an intention, a declaration to create something. We open our entire being to inspiration which can always be found from within and around us, everywhere! The self-contained, self-inspired artists know this through experience.

You actually do not need an earth-shaking event or inspirational muse from the outside to get going. Some artists do it without much fanfare. They simply show up and create.

Can you imagine what havoc it would cause in our daily lives if we had to depend on, say, a love affair, or a world event to get us inspired? Imagine having to write 10 songs for an album where 90 percent of the material is about love. Do we have to fall in love so many times to write love songs? The answer is no. While it is true these things do help some people get inspired to come up with artistic work, it would be difficult to make it a requisite every time we create something. We must be able to draw inspiration from ourselves.

Creating something is as much a craft as it is art. We must develop skills to do what we must do. By continuously doing it with presence and attention, we can constantly unleash inspiration from inside us to make works of art.

Can drugs or alcohol be useful in living a creative life? Can it get you inspired? In truth, I am allergic to alcohol. I do not have any use for drugs at all. And I feel that some artists who find alcohol and drugs to be useful and must depend them to keep going will burn out eventually. It is not a sustainable way in triggering inspiration much less in maintaining it. Sooner or later, fatigue and numbness set in. And too much drug or alcohol use stunts growth, and dependence on them eventually blocks creativity.

I believe everybody is born creative, but not everyone is living a creative life. Those who do not think they are creative do so probably because of years of blockage. They have been led to believe by people around them that they were never creative. They have been terrorized, ridiculed, and convinced that they cannot do anything worthwhile in the creative field. They live in great doubt about their creative instincts. Before even trying, they’ve already given up. They will only try if they can be assured that they will be good at it.

The prescription for them is to slowly unblock and simply allow their innate creativity to flourish. We were born creative but through no fault of ours, we grew up with too many conditions to be creative. It may take years but it is possible to get it back to the point where you can “just create” with as little conditions as possible.

If you can still wake up in the morning and smile at a new day, or can laugh at something, or love a person, you still have it in you.

Hello, God 0

Posted on October 23, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 23, 2016 – 12:00am

I know I can always talk to you. I discovered this about 15 years ago when I read the book Conversations With God, by Neale Donald Walsch. The book impressed me so much it actually changed my understanding of you. It was such a radical change for the better. I even invited the author to come to the Philippines because I wanted many people to know that they, too, can talk to God.

We have talked quite often the past 15 years. Sometimes I just suddenly call on you, often very early in the morning, and you are always on. Don’t you ever sleep? I know that I can tell you anything. And I do. I have told you things I have not told anyone else. Some of them are quite shocking. But you seem to be cool with them. You don’t get shocked. That’s why I like talking to you.

When I first started having conversations with you, I could not tell if your answers were just coming from me. Were they just my own thoughts? I wondered. I was confused. Your answers seemed too real to come from me. One day, I gave that a long thought and came to the conclusion that it does not matter where it was coming from. What was important was I could feel the love, the affirmation that was coming from you.

I have tried to create a mental construct of what you are like. What can God possibly look like? I have seen many of your faces. Sometimes, you seem like a cool old man. Sometimes, I can’t see any face at all when we are talking. But I know there is an undeniable presence that announces itself clearly. I just sense a feeling that touches my whole being. It is a great feeling of being special. It is a feeling of awe and love that I can almost touch with my hands. God, I must admit you can be so physical, too.

Sometimes when we talk, I must admit I can’t hear you at all. I think I know why. It is probably because the answers I want are not what you are ready to give me. I am full of expectations and so I can’t hear your true voice and will.

During those moments, I close my eyes. I try to quiet my thoughts until it is so still I can sense you are there. When my mind is too noisy or dusty, all I hear is my own ego trying to capture God. But how do you capture someone that is not really separate from you? What a presence you are in my life.

Lately, I have not been praying to you in the way I am used to. I’ve started reciting popular prayers, and even if I feel you answer my prayers affirmatively, I feel that I am not fully present to you. I feel the closeness but I feel there is less certainty on my end that I am actually talking to God.

Maybe it’s because I’ve practically stopped meditating and so I am having difficulty quieting my mind. Lately, there are so many voices in my head that want to destroy the peace of mind I normally have. I think I have unconsciously allowed them in and they are taking too much of my peace from me. I know I have to do something about that. I have allowed too much of the world in that I can’t quiet it down. I want my empty mind back. I must go back to Zen meditation.

I think it was Meister Eckart who said, “God likes to visit when no one is home.” I understand that clearly. I should surrender expectations, concepts, pictures in my mind about you so that you can come in just as you are. I have to be without ego, and free of attachments as much as I can to feel your wonderful defining presence.

Please visit often and continue to have patience with me. I really want to know you! This time- and space-bound creature wants to meet the eternal and everlasting. I have a hunger that can’t be quenched. It is a hunger in my soul that wants to be fed and nourished. Please talk to me. And like a dog toward his master, I will delight in your voice and keep coming back.

A few days ago, I felt quite lucid and connected to you; I actually experienced a great talk with you. It was for no reason that I wanted to talk. No favors to ask. I didn’t want to ask anything from you since I did not want you to feel that all I do is ask. It was merely to open up my thoughts, feelings, secrets to you. I needed to just share them with someone. And just being open to you about them often already solves a lot of things. It is as if problems once stated or confessed point to their own solutions.

Many people come to me asking for advice on many questions about life. I try to answer them. When I can’t, I humbly admit I have nothing to say. When I can give good, inspired advice, I feel good. I feel like you, God.

During one intense Zen meditation years ago, that feeling of being God-like came to me. It was a feeling of intense humility but with searing enlightenment. I described it this way: “I honor God when I claim to be Him.”

I know many people will not understand that, but it’s okay, because I know You do.

Through my eyes, passionately 0

Posted on October 17, 2016 by jimparedes

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 16, 2016 – 12:00am


I’ve hardly written about photography, which is one of my passions. I have been taking pictures seriously since I did my first magazine cover in 1997. I did commercial work, lots of it, many years ago. But mostly, I have taken photos for the pure love of it.

I’ve often tried to write about photography but I have always felt that words are inadequate in describing pictures. The pictures must speak for themselves.These days, almost everyone has a digital camera or a mobile phone that can take decent pictures, which has made many people instant photographers with Instagram as their medium. But that is just not so.We all live in the same world and often look at the same things. We sometimes even take pictures of the same subjects.

Yet the photographer’s eye sees things differently. The subject stands out more coherently, more beautifully, and the narrative of the photo is more focused and clear. There is a compelling quality to the photos.

I believe that a photographer must have the mind of a conspiracy theorist. He must be able to see things others do not and make the “connections.” He must be able to edit and present slices of reality as coherent short stories by themselves without irrelevant, extraneous details that could distract the viewer. He must catch the narration and capture it as clearly as possible.When I started taking pictures, I was using film, like everyone else at the time. With film, you have to know the theories and rules since you can’t see an instant playback of your shots.

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‘ Starry Wintry Night’

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‘My Spirit is Stronger than Cancer’

You can only take 36 shots per roll, and even less if you are using a medium format camera. You also pay for every shot so you tend not to be trigger happy with the shutter. You need to plan your shots and hope you get some good ones on every roll. And you have to wait a few days, with bated breath, until the negatives are developed and you can finally see your work in print.

A passion is something that gives one a purpose and an explanation for why one spends so much time, effort and money on it. It also has phases that one goes through while engaging in it. There was a time when I was obsessed with shadows in my photographs. I felt that the darkness highlighted the subject, giving it more depth and character.

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These days, I don’t think too much about anything when I shoot. I am just happy looking through the lens and capturing stories that appear in their own time and place. Through the years, I’ve taken photos that I am pretty proud of. Here are some of them.

Kensho (enlightenment) around the corner

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Lolo goes to cosplay 0

Posted on October 09, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 9, 2016 – 12:00am

Some cosplayers from CosMania 2016 held at SMX in Mall of Asia
As part of my “Lolo duties,” I had to give up my Sunday last week to accompany my grandchild Ananda to a cosplay event at SMX in the Mall of Asia.

Cosplay events feature people in costume, mostly dressed as Japanese or Korean-inspired anime characters, superheroes and robots, meeting up, interacting and having a lot of fun.

Ananda had been planning on attending CosMania 2016 for quite a while. I accompanied her once before to a smaller cosplay event. Last Sunday’s event was touted to be a big one. She had an intricate costume made, and wore a long, curly, black wig which her Lola Lydia ordered from Amazon.com to complete the look of Celestia Ludenberg, an anime character dressed in school uniform.

We left the house before noon. When we got to SMX, the place was almost full. All kinds of people showed up in their best fantasies. A sea of heads wearing pink, white, black and green hair filled the building. As I looked around at a crowd that seemed to get bigger every minute, I put on my amateur socio-cultural analyst hat and tried to understand what was going on.

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Here was a fun, vibrant subculture parading before me. I remembered readings by Joseph Campbell about rituals, costumes, masks and all things associated with tribes.

People in the olden days used to wear animal skins and paint white spots on their faces to emulate animal markings. They wore masks to look as fierce as the creatures they hunted. It was a way of summoning the power of nature, the spirits in the animal world to be with them.

As I looked at the characters in the room at SMX, I felt that these young people, though in modern garb, were doing the same thing, more or less. They were reliving that tribal thrill of possessing certain special characteristics via costumes, masks and accessories.

When a person wears a mask or a costume, or puts on a physical appearance that is different from what he or she is and that is compelling to look at, it is a way of dictating how that person wants people to relate to him or her. You command the way that people will interact with you. A monstrous or grotesque mask tells people that you are someone to fear. The people who came as Batman, Superman, Green Arrow and the like wanted to feel the awesome power, skills and personae of their idols who can rescue society and mankind.

The people in the robotic attire wanted to summon the awesome power of their destructive capability and potential. They had rockets, light sabers, lasers and weapons of mass destruction on their metallic bodies. It did not matter whether you saw their faces or not. They were not human. But they were dangerous and lethal.

Those who came dressed up to look like cute Japanese anime drawings wanted to embody beauty, youth, sweetness, with a touch of the innocent sexuality of the characters they admired. They put on colorful wigs, intricately designed costumes taken from cartoons and comic books, size-adjusting colored contact lenses that made their eyes rounder, cuter and quite mysterious.

I saw soldiers, Storm Troopers, witches, Pokemon Go characters, Suicide Squad characters, Johnny Bravo.

Famous characters (according to Ananda) were scattered all over the place. In truth, I hardly knew any of them, except perhaps, that yellow Pokemon, Pikachu.

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Famous characters (according to Ananda) like the twins Rem and Ram, Sailor Moon, Fairy Tail, Satella, Naruto, Pikachu, Miraculous Lady Bug, Baymax, Rocket Raccoon of Guardians of the Galaxy, Demon Lady, Gravity Falls; and Vocaloids like Hatsune Miku, Rin and Len were scattered all over the place. In truth, although they are famous to the young generation, I hardly knew or had heard of any of them, except perhaps, that yellow Pokemon, Pikachu.

It was quite an experience for me. I felt the excitement of the young people, and admired their daring to show up as the characters they fancied. They were bold and they indulged their imaginations and fantasies.

I saw the thrill on their faces when people asked to take their pictures. They gamely emoted for the cameras. They preened, posed and lived their adopted personas. Those who came with elaborate flair and style were the most sought-after subjects for photographers.

I must say I was hooked! I told myself that I would join the next cosplay event and come in a really loud, eye-catching costume.

Events like Halloween and Cosplay festivals are venues and occasions for expressing aspects of ourselves we do not reveal every day. Joseph Campbell wrote that when a ritual has stopped moving or touching people, it has lost its energy and capability to transform or lead people to mystery.

To the young, cosplay is a way of discovering and displaying the many aspects of who they are while being assured of mutual acceptance. It is a huge masquerade, a “come as you would like to be” party.

In cosplay, one is allowed to get out of reality and live out one’s fantasies even for just a few hours. For a while, you are allowed some vanity, exhibitionism, indulgence and crazy role-playing.

I think this is something we all need from time to time! Photos by JIM PAREDES

On becoming an adult 1

Posted on September 24, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 25, 2016 – 12:00am

Often, we look at children and wish they would never grow up. They seem perfect as they are — cute, lovable, with innocence so pure you wish you could protect them from the world so that they remain so forever. We want them kept safe from the turmoil and tribulations of life. We wish it could be possible. But life is not meant to be lived that way.

Every grown-up has a clear memory of when and how their innocence was broken, when their childhood came to an end. We have all experienced that primal pain of being kicked out of Paradise and thrown into the circumstances of our own space and time, our own reality with all its pain and suffering.

I lost a chunk of my innocence at age five when my dad died in a plane crash. Many more events happened after that which made going back to Eden an impossibility.

Something had to “break” us to drive us out of our safe cocoons and force us to be vulnerable to pain. Today, as a much older person, I can say that this is the only way. Otherwise, what gifts we were born with will never come to fruition.

Childhood is a magical place. We all have some good and bad childhood memories. But this stage doesn’t last too long. It gets rougher especially when we inch into adolescence. The teen years escalate our angst and insecurities as we evolve into grown-ups.

But being grown-up does not necessarily mean being an adult. We may look like adults because of the size and development of our bodies, and because we have reached a certain age. But in truth, adulthood requires so much more from us. One of the things it requires is control over our selves. There is an entire range of emotions we must rein in and/or indulge when needed. We also must learn to delay gratification and get socialized, meaning we must learn to live as productive, peaceful, law-abiding and generally good individuals, parents, citizens, bread earners, members of the community and the society we live in.

We must learn important traits like compassion, decisiveness and discernment. There are also lessons like accountability, grasping complexity, humility and the taming of our ego from the autocracy of our infantile stage to a more functional one that does not sabotage our intentions. Many leaders make mistakes when they cannot control their insecurities and their toxic need to have their egos massaged.

Adulthood is about being in control of oneself, and making conscious, well-thought-out decisions that affect others aside from ourselves and taking responsibility for them.

I am in awe of how the most powerful man on earth, Barack Obama, can stay calm and focused and do his job well without being ruffled or intimidated by the cruel politics, crises and problems he must deal with every day, and how he can still manage to smile and stay inspired and inspiring. When he deals with his adversaries, it often seems like he is the only adult in the room.

The modern-day philosopher Ken Wilber wrote that every man must learn to balance and manage five areas of his life. These are: money (earning, spending, saving and being trustworthy and honest, living within one’s means); career or work (knowledge, learning, passion, reliability); bodily intake (food, drugs, alcohol, substances that affect physical, mental health); inner work (character building, self-control, spirituality, esthetic appreciation); and relationships (love, sex, obsession, affection, fidelity, compassion).

Most people are weak in one area but are functional in the rest, which is, generally, still manageable. But when we fail at two or more areas at the same time, our lives become too dysfunctional and we need intervention.

If, for the most part, we can handle all five areas at the same time, one might say we have reached a high level of adulthood.

Everyone goes through the childhood phase, and if we don’t die early, we grow up. But not everyone who grows up becomes an adult. Just look around and observe many grown-ups and older people.

So what happens when we get to old age and have not reached the level of adulthood? I am not a psychologist but I see people as either happy or unhappy.

What I observe is this: Grown-ups and old people who have not learned the ways of adulthood become trapped in an unhappy life of their own making, pulled and pushed aimlessly by unsettled personal issues, and uncontrolled emotional outbursts. Where they should have generally made peace with their past and present, they have unexplained bursts of anger, regret, bitterness and a feeling of being lost in a largely unexamined life. They are cynical and angry and often lash out at the world without realizing that in order to control the world, one must first have some degree of self-control.

On the other hand, there are people who seem happy, calm, who have grown in wisdom, age and grace. They have the passion to do things and dreams to accomplish, even at an older age. They are not lacking in purpose. Every day, they discover new meanings and connections that make their lives richer. They have a calm, cool and serene way about them, too.

More importantly, they have a great sense of self-acceptance. They can move on from the past and are at peace and accepting of who they are in the present. They can move on when they commit mistakes and look back at their blunders and folly and embrace them as teachable moments.

It is not easy being an adult. It takes conscious and deliberate inner work. But not achieving adulthood as one gets older guarantees an infinitely more difficult life.

As we age, we realize more and more that we are spending more time alone. We might as well start growing up and learning how to be good, pleasant company.

God’s neatest trick 0

Posted on September 17, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 18, 2016 – 12:00am

I have attended four wakes since last Sunday.

As one ages, the rate of deaths within one’s circle increases — slowly at first, and then it accelerates as one gets older. But even at age 65, four wakes in one week is pretty much. And as I write, I am told there is still another wake I have to go to tonight. A classmate died of dengue.

The first wake was of a good friend’s mom. She had been sick for some eight years, most of which she spent on life support. Several times in the past, when she was on the brink, the family decided to resuscitate her. For years, she had not spoken and could not even recognize her relatives anymore. Cared for by nurses, she had hardly any engagement with anyone else.

Surprisingly, when she passed away, my friend’s family still went into shock. Even if, at the back of their minds, they expected her to die any moment, the actual moment and the reality of death still caught them off-guard. My friend felt helpless and did not know what to do. It took two days for him to grasp and accept the reality that he had lost his mother.

The second wake was that of comedienne Joy Viado who was in the same mortuary as my friend’s mother. I met Joy more than two decades ago when she auditioned for and got a slot in a performance scholarship program put up by OPM (Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit) for unknown artists. I remember how even when she was new and raw, she was quite funny. She had already honed her performance instincts. Joy suffered from complications due to diabetes, which led to a stroke.

I thought about how relatively young she was. There is no rhyme or reason that explains when someone’s time is up.

On my way out, I saw that another friend’s sister was also interred in a room on the second floor. The circumstances leading to the death of this woman were tragic, macabre even. She died of gunshot wounds in what looks like an execution, an extrajudicial killing. She was left for dead complete with a cardboard sign that claimed she was a pusher.

I entered the room and immediately saw my friend whom I have worked with on acting jobs in teleseryes. I hugged her, expressing my condolences. I tried to imagine how hard it must be to lose a sister under such painful and demeaning circumstances. When she narrated how it happened, I could sense that she was trying to be objective but her rage and sadness shook her composure. It was with great effort that she succeeded in finishing her story. I did not stay long. I hugged her again, whispered comforting words and left.

On another day, I went to visit the wake of the father of a close friend in another mortuary. The scene was more pleasant. The room was big and the chairs and sofas were spread out to look more like a big comfortable living room. There were clusters of chairs surrounding low tables, perfect for entertaining the different groups of people who visited.

My friend’s dad died after heart surgery. He actually struggled hard to keep alive and at times the doctors felt that he would actually make it. But suddenly, like a thief in the night, death came and snuffed out his life.

The love of family was everywhere. Happy pictures and video clips of him singing and playing with his children and grandchildren were shown. The conversation was light, even cheerful, as family members talked with their guests about their dad. Even as my friend said that losing her dad was devastating, she could smile and even giggle as she reminisced over fond memories of her father.

Death is probably the biggest event in anyone’s life. Even while it is inevitable, it almost always comes as a shock to loved ones. And where one goes is an uninsured mystery.

I have always thought of death as the neatest trick God has ever done. For the living, it is one of the greatest mysteries. The questions we ask about death are among what the Buddhists call the “imponderables.”

Billions of people have died yet no one has come back to say what is out there after the great passing. For the one who dies, it is the final, much-awaited unraveling of that mystery.

Philosophies and religions have their takes on what comes after death. But no empirical, scientific evidence has been found to tell us what to expect.

It is only faith that can convince one that there is an afterlife, even if many do not need persuading. As for me, the lack of proof notwithstanding, I believe that in death, we graduate to a different plane, sphere or level of being. I am not sure how to describe it but I know that the before and after of the short life we live is book-shelved by eternity. We have existed from the beginning of time and will continue to do so after death.

Life is that brief moment in our specific time and space where we can accomplish our mission.

Death ends time and space on earth. But I believe that we were already in timelessness before birth and will continue to be there after life as we know it has ended.

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