Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Making a legacy 0

Posted on August 12, 2018 by jimparedes

Making a legacy

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – August 12, 2018 – 12:00am

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I felt really wonderful about how the musical turned out. It captured the APO spirit and made people laugh, cry, get nostalgic, and it brought them to a new experience and appreciation of our music.

Last weekend was quite an emotional one for me. It was because Eto na! Musical nAPO, the stage musical, opened at the Maybank Theater last Thursday. Boboy and I, with a few friends, bought the Sunday night showing and invited all our close friends and the public who wanted to join the special night. Old and new friends showed up. Many of the people who were already present early in our career as APO, and fans who have stayed with us all this time, were present. Our relatives, their children were all there to watch the musical that has been getting standing ovations ever since it opened. It was a sentimental night. It reminded us of how long APO has been making music.

I felt really wonderful about how the musical turned out. It captured the APO spirit and made people laugh, cry, get nostalgic, and it brought them to a new experience and appreciation of our music. We wanted our friends to enjoy what 9 Works Theatrical, Globe Live Events and the whole production and cast had done to our repertoire. They made the songs new, fresh, magical and more beautiful than I had ever heard them.

Right after the play, as people were leaving the theater to go to the lobby, two people approached me and asked me how I felt at that very moment. I was taken aback. I had no words. I thought for a while and said that I felt happy that people recognized how APO had built quite a formidable catalogue of songs worthy of becoming a legacy. I was proud but humbled, ecstatic but reflective at the same time.

I still remember when we wrote the songs and recorded our albums. I remember the creative processes that happened in the studio. We were not sure of what we were doing; we were often shooting from the hip. We embarked on making a career in “Pinoy pop” without a template even existing then. In a world where the goal was to imitate foreign artists by singing covers, we wanted to do our own songs, and sing in Tagalog!

Our aim was to make songs that Filipinos would sing and love and use as themes of their everyday lives. Unsure as we were, we just plodded on. We felt that if the songs we created pleased us, then they would probably please other people. We believed in our own instincts. Many times, we were proven right.

Not all the songs we recorded became popular. Far from it. We actually had more misses than hits. One of the things I have learned is that a songwriter’s job is to go for quantity. For every song you do not write, you deprive yourself of a possible hit. Don’t wait for outside inspiration. Learn to tap the fire within you. Just do the work. If you have to wait to fall in love to be inspired, you will create very little. Just write. Do not judge the songs. God will take care of the quality.

I have been writing songs for five decades. In the past five years, I did two solo albums. More than for any other reason, I wrote and recorded them because that is what a songwriter does. I try to keep it that simple. In short, I do not put too many conditions when doing what I enjoy doing.

To ignore or suppress the urge to write and bring forth these songs to life would be to commit creative abortion. Songs are creations. They are living things. These creative seeds are entrusted to me and it is my duty to take care and give them a chance to shine and be heard. Even if at times I can be extremely critical of my work and sabotage my confidence, I try to allow the thoughts and feelings that come to simply flow and let them be what they were meant to be.

Every song in the musical is wonderfully received by the audience every show. Before they were part of the musical, they were hit songs that sold well and got a lot of media coverage. Some of them had been interpreted by other artists. Some of these artists even became famous because of them. Seeing these “pre-loved” songs come alive onstage performed by new singers was such a treat for me.

When we were just starting, we never thought we would actually build a body of work like we did. We just did things almost spontaneously. When we thought we had written a batch of songs, we would go to the studio to record them. All in all, we released about 27 albums including compilations of hits.

When we record an album, we often have our favorites that we predict will become hits. We put a lot of effort into them. We fall in love with them. But quite often, these songs we heavily betted on end up ignored. Meanwhile, the unexpected ones, those that we simply recorded without expectations or great effort, end up taking all the glory. This is one of those “mysteries” that no one has really figured out in the record industry. We can only laugh.

I think the secret to building a legacy of any kind is to approach what it is you do with love and passion. Without them, you can’t breathe life into anything. Love is in the details. Always. Passion is the effort you put into the work. You cannot love generally; love is specific. Acts of love are always nuanced. A song is an expression of a unique feeling. As a songwriter, I believe that the more “localized” or defined the feeling, the more people can relate to it. Songs are, after all, emotional “stories.” And people like these musical stories with truthful details written with some poetry.

I do not think I will ever be ready to retire from songwriting and performing. Boboy and I still do shows and events occasionally. I also have been doing solo shows for sometime now. Last month, I did two solo performances for a mostly foreign crowd in Sydney. I sang my original songs in English and Filipino plus a few generally popular songs. Guess what? I got more positive reaction doing my own originals. The newness did not seem to alienate them since I would tell them what the songs were all about. They were warmly received.

The love, passion and authenticity I put into them must have crossed the language barrier.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/08/12/1841662/making-legacy#DMYyUMVOhwL4sQwp.99

Eto na! Musical nAPO! 0

Posted on August 04, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – August 5, 2018 – 12:00am

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It was not the first offer we had received.

Many individuals had approached the APO with plans to launch a new musical based on the hits we had made through the years. A movie called Idobidobidoo was created some years back which was based on APO’s hits. But APO’s music had never been used in any theatrical production. There were a few people who approached and presented us with rough storylines. Some sought our permission without anything concrete on paper. None of them grabbed our attention.

Around five months ago, Robbie Guevara, Anna and Santi Sta Maria of 9 Works called for a meeting to interest me in a project they had in mind. 9 Works had been doing theatrical projects for almost a decade, successfully producing plays and musicals in English, including popular Disney theater shows. They recently restaged Himala earlier this year to critical acclaim. For the rest of the year, they wanted to do something they had not done before. They wanted to create an original musical and they thought that APO’s repertoire was the right material to play with.

During that meeting, they ran the story by me including how the songs would fit in. Rough as it was, I liked what I heard. 9 Works had also talked to Boboy and Danny about the project. It did not take long for us to agree and give our go signal.

About a month later, Robbie invited me to sit through a reading to see my reactions and give suggestions. The story was simple. It was about a barkada in college circa 1975 that wanted to participate in a singing and songwriting contest. The plot is interspersed with the love stories of the cast amidst the martial law years. Robbie wanted to hear my comments about the characters and the plot and ask me more about what life was like during that era.

The reading I attended featured a slightly modified script that had already been developed from the one they’d sent earlier. It had new elements. I liked it. But Robbie knew it needed a lot more revisions before it was ready for a paying audience.

Some weeks and 21 revisions later, he invited me again, this time to watch the rehearsals. I was so elated with what I saw. The script and the music were a great fit. The story line was clear. The unraveling of the plot was exciting. The characters were distinct and quite lovable, and the few songs they had already arranged were uniquely and beautifully interpreted and performed. The musical was clearly coming to life in a wonderful way.

I’ve always believed that to entertain people is to surprise and delight them. The aim is to let them experience something that is not only new but like no other.

I wished everyone involved good luck and left for Sydney a few days later. I came back last July 31. Three days ago, I finally watched the musical on stage. Before the show, Robbie told me I was about to watch revision No. 33. Quite honestly, I was not prepared to see what I saw. I was more than surprised and delighted. I was ecstatic!

From the last rehearsal I saw a month earlier, it had transformed into a wonderful stage musical with amazingly beautiful and solid musical arrangements by Orly de la Cruz and Daniel Bartolome. The choreography by PJ Rebillida was delightfully brilliant. The entire cast showed great singing, acting, dancing and wonderful comic timing. There were so may highlights in the show. Everything worked flawlessly. There were no scenes or performances that were lacking. The whole musical was superb. Overall, there was that feel-good quality served in generous servings that knocked the audience off its feet.

I felt that the whole creative universe that we in the APO had inhabited through the decades when we were performing and writing our songs was explored to the fullest. The humor, angst, wit, lightness and seriousness, the bold spirit and originality of OPM, the Filipinoness unfolded magically on stage. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Alas, I must stop right here since I am obviously a biased source. Instead, let me quote reactions from members of the audience.

“As I watched everything unfold, I could not help but feel sentimental and emotional as the songs of the APO has been an integral part of our lives. It is a show that cannot be missed.” — Franco Laurel, actor

“Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! is jukebox musical done well: infusing the very soul of APO Hiking Society’s music in its storytelling. Superbly takes the period piece route instead of relying on nostalgia. Offers plenty of surprises, including a breakout performance from Jobim Javier.” — Nikki Francisco, Theater Fans Manila

“Just saw Eto Na! Musikal nAPO! and it was such great fun and I’ve a renewed appreciation for the music of APO Hiking Society. So much fun!” — Wanggo Gallaga, writer

“Got to watch the technical preview of this musical and I loved it. Really enjoyed the story, comedy, acting (Sonny was my favorite) and to top it off the amazing songs of APO.” — Sam Milby, actor

“I went down memory lane tonight through APO’s music, the soundtrack of my youth. I really enjoyed watching friends hamming it up, prancing about and being emotional on stage. Benta ang mga jokes! Saka yung scene ni Raul Montesa sa huli, panalo! Iba talaga ang music ng APO. Magaan sa tenga.” —Raymund Concepcion, theater actor (father of actor Sam Concepcion, and Red Concepcion, the new “Engineer” in the US touring cast of Miss Saigon).

After the show, a millennial told me, “Frankly, I did not expect to connect to all the songs” (since most were written before he was born). “But I did.” It was a delight to hear that.

I want to give special thanks to the Globe Live Team for being co-producers with 9 Works amd suppoting creative endeavors such as this. I thank 9 Works’ Santi and Anna, Robbie Guevara and Jon Jon Martin and the entire effort that brought all this to life. The musical runs all weekends of August. Tickets are available at Ticket World. There are matinees and evening shows on some days.

Do not miss this! You won’t be sorry.

MUSICAL NAPO!

Why I believe we will overcome 0

Posted on July 29, 2018 by jimparedes

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HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 29, 2018 – 12:00am

“One of the big things we need to do is to simply behave in our country the way we behave abroad.”

In this article, I will attempt to write about aspects of who we are as a nation and race. The subject matter is a hard one. It is like describing something you do not see, like air. We were born and largely raised as Filipinos and have taken that for granted and therefore we may not be objectively and consciously aware of what we are like.

I have been a Filipino for 66 years. To write objectively about being Filipino is like searching for God. How can you search for something that has always been already present? How can I step out of being myself to describe who I am?

Let me start by stating what the mythologist Joseph Campbell said many years ago. He said that every people and race in the world thinks they are the “Chosen” race. We are no exception.

We pride ourselves on being the only Catholic nation in Asia and this supposedly makes us special, maybe even blessed among all nations. Even when we do badly we explain our behavior with the catchphrase “only in the Pilipins” to berate ourselves, but often also to put a positive spin on our blunders and rebrand them as “uniqueness.” Recently, I heard some people claim that the term “Pilipino” is supposedly derived from two Tagalog words — pinili (chosen) and pino (to refine or smoothen) — oblivious to the historical fact that our country was actually named after King Philip of Spain whose name was Felipe in Spanish.

I have encountered many of our countrymen abroad and in the Philippines and I have observed certain commonalities we all share as a race. I speak generally but at the same time I am aware that there are exceptions. Here are some observations:

1) We love beauty contests. We take great pride every time a Filipina wins an international title. Beauty contests also happen in every barangay in the Philippines every year. We love pageants of all sorts. We also hold contests for Mr. Philippines and Ms. Gay Philippines. In almost every Filipino community abroad, it is not an uncommon occurrence.

2) We like things “small.” In Nick Joaquin’s essay entitled “Heritage of Smallness,” he observed that we have a penchant for downsizing things and making them less big. Instead of going for the bigger solid enterprise, we like to cut things up into smaller parts. When a province gets big and prosperous, we like to divide it into Norte and Sur. When a city becomes bigger, we want it halved into two. This is also obvious in these little geographical enclaves called subdivisions. Aside from the main entrance gate, it is not unusual to see other gates in many streets inside further subdividing the area.

In almost every nation abroad, it is hard to find one big united Filipino organization. Instead, you will see a host of organizations subdivided along ethnic and provincial groupings reflecting the way things are back home.

3) We love titles. We are status conscious. If you were once a president, a senator or a congressman or a judge, you expect to be addressed as such for life. The joke among our countrymen abroad is that if there are one hundred Filipinos, there will be 101 organizations because everyone wants to be president or a head of something. And of course, there must be an umbrella organization to unite them all.

4) We love the underdog. We identify with them. Almost every success story is framed in such a way that a “humble beginning” is always the way they all start. More than examining the elements that make something a success such as hard work, diligence, foresight and a methodical approach to goals, we like to focus on the odds that stood in the way of succeeding. Redemption stories are more inspiring when laced with a little extra drama.

5) We are genuinely kind and hospitable. We like to share whatever meager resources we have with visitors and guests, especially when they visit our homes. We genuinely want them to feel at home and be part of the family to a point where we forgo our own comforts and offer the best amenities we have to our visitors. We are also generally kind to foreigners. We are amused and pleased to no end when foreigners speak our language or adopt our customs.

6) We love socializing. We celebrate birthdays, christenings, baptisms, weddings, First Communions, house blessings, fiestas in honor of patron saints, graduations, Christmas, New Year, the birth of new enterprises, anniversaries, Valentines, Halloween, Mother’s and Father’s Day, the Feast of the Black Nazarene, etc. Even when there is no reason to celebrate, we look for one. We are party people.

7) We are generally optimistic and hopeful regardless of the situation. We collectively know that we as a people have gone through many trials before. We can overcome almost anything.

8) We are slow to anger but once we are collectively incensed, watch out.

9) We are daring and extremely adaptable. You can find Filipinos everywhere in the world working and raising families under all kinds of social and political systems, cultures, religions and weather conditions.

These are just some observations. The Jesuit historian Horacio Dela Costa once wrote that the characteristics that describe a nation or people are not permanent. They change over time. Many of their virtues are born out of historical necessity.

We are a very young nation. Our people are talented. As such the Philippines is full of promise but, at the same time, it is fraught with danger. We have so much to learn. Like a child, we have not learned to think and plan for the future. We still have to learn discipline, discernment, and to focus our efforts towards a direction of irreversible and continuous progress.

We have been colonized by the Spanish, the British (very briefly from 1762 to 1764), the Americans, and the Japanese. But so have many other countries. Many of them have moved past their colonial history and no longer use it as an excuse. We still have to fully overcome this once and for all.

During these times when, once again, our democracy and our institutions are threatened by dictatorship, I am hopeful that we will rise to the occasion to do the right thing and evolve. I believe there are enough people who can be motivated more by love for country rather than fear in collectively solving our problems.

You may ask why I am optimistic. I am because I have seen Filipinos survive and thrive in societies that are modern, progressive and run under the rule of law.

One of the big things we need to do is to simply behave in our country the way we behave abroad.

What good memories are made of 0

Posted on July 22, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 22, 2018 – 12:00am
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Last weekend, Lydia and I, my son Mio, my daughter Ala and her husband John Buencamino and their baby Sadie went on a short land trip to Turon Gates at the outer Blue Mountains in Capertee to live in a cabin for two nights and three days. We wanted to have bonding time.

It was a leisurely two-hour drive outside of Sydney. It was also a beautiful day. We stopped in a few places for lunch and coffee on the way up.

Turon Gates is surrounded by mountains and rolling hills. To get to our cabin, we had to drive through some unpaved roads. The landscape is quite majestic. It was mostly brownish in color with sparse but beautiful touches of greenery, and fallen trees not uncommon during winter. We saw a few kangaroos, wallabies and wombats running around

The cabin was quite spacious. It had two rooms, a moderately sized living area and a sala with a fireplace to keep the house warm, two bathrooms, and a big balcony. The cabin ran on solar power. It was not connected to the electric grid. The solar panels generated the electricity. We had to be mindful of our power consumption knowing that we could run out. The oven in the cabin was gas-run.
It was a cozy setup. Well, it was supposed to be except for one small thing. The weather forecast that weekend was a high of 18 degrees Celsius and a low of -4 degrees.

When we got there, Ala, Mio, John and I took a walk near the river. The weather was nippy. The terrain was interesting. We walked beside the river and saw some wildlife that tried to avoid us. Interestingly, we saw skeletons of small animals, probably of wallabies, which we picked up and brought to the cabin.

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That night, dinner was adobo with rice — comfort food that Lydia prepared the night before we left.

It was cold. In fact, we were freezing in bed. I had layers of clothing on and four blankets over me. Aside from my thermals and sweaters, I had to wear a beanie to keep my head warm. Apparently the fireplace was not big enough to heat up the whole cabin. It only warmed the sala where my son Mio slept.
When we woke up around 8 a.m., we saw a thin film of frost covering the rocky brownish landscape. The trees that covered the hills were frosted too. We also discovered that no water was coming out of the tap. Apparently, the pipes were frozen.

I called the main office and told them about the water situation. The manager assured us that water would be resumed soon. He advised us to keep all the taps open. Once the ice had thawed, he said, water service would resume. In about an hour and a half, water came back just in time to wash the plates and cooking pans we had used for a hearty breakfast.

None of us seemed to mind the minor inconveniences. We were just happy to be together. We spent a lot time sitting around the table and just talked, laughed, reminisced. We took photos, cooked and ate.

Most of my family were there except for Erica and Ananda who live in France. We all just felt great being together even if we were incomplete. Since we now all live apart from each other, we had a lot of catching up to do.

Our apo Zadie, Ala and John’s daughter, was the center of attention and delight. She just loved the cold and the presence of her Tito Mio, Lolo and Lola. We showered her with affection. She seemed to have discovered that we are all close and connected and that her family was actually bigger than she thought.

That afternoon, we drove around Turon Gates and stopped by near a river. We spread a blanket to sit on and took some photos. Ala brought a ukulele and played and sang. Everything was picture perfect and pleasant.

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Ala and John on the way up.
We went home early and set a fire and drank some wine. As it got dark I played the ukulele and sang a few songs. Mio turned on his phone and we went live on Facebook. It was such a unique moment that we wanted to share with friends.

After dinner, Mio and decided to brave the freezing two degrees Celsius weather and drive out to a hill we had passed earlier. We wanted to take photos of the stars. The sky was awesomely beautiful. The heavenly bodies were showing off in a grand way. They were fabulous and countless. Without much effort, we could see the Milky Way spread out across the sky. We climbed the hill guided by a torch that lit the way. We could see a few kangaroos staring at us. It scared me a bit but we figured that we were safe as long as we left them alone.

Since we did not bring tripods, we balanced our cameras on rocks and tree stumps to shoot the night sky. It was such a special moment. There we were, out in freezing weather and almost unmindful of it, totally absorbed and awe-struck by the greatness of God’s creation.

I felt especially blessed. I thought to myself, How many fathers can claim to have had a night like this with their son? I smiled in gratitude. Mio and I were totally enjoying each others’ company as we tried to go for the best shots. There was no effort to even connect. We just connected naturally and seamlessly. It is a night I will always remember.

The next day, we drove back home to Sydney. It was great to be home.

That night, we all exchanged photos via internet to relish the weekend we had. We will probably do this more often.

This is what good memories are made of.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/07/22/1835559/what-good-memories-are-made-of#plwthOEdbq6zBRwj.99

Bar life down under: Footy and a beauty contest 0

Posted on July 15, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 15, 2018 – 12:00am

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I have been to Sydney many times and have seen and experienced a lot of what comprises Aussie living and social life. I have done a fair amount of what the locals do. I have gone hiking in the forests, gone to the beach many times, gone camping, had numerous barbies (barbecue picnics), celebrated ANZAC day, Australia Day, visited national parks, owned a house, had a job, paid a mortgage, taken countless train and bus rides.

I have also gained Aussie friends, and I feel comfortable with them. They are very friendly and accommodating. “No worries, mate” seems to be one of their national mantras.

Last night, I had a minor experience in acculturation. I went to a bar, watched Footy there and took photos of a modeling contest. This is quite unprecedented for me. I hardly go to bars; I don’t even drink. I’ve never sat and watched more than five minutes of sports on Australian TV. Footy, a very physical contact sport similar to American football but with Australian rules and without the protective gear, is very popular here. But I still have to learn to like it enough to care to watch it. I do not know the teams people cheer for, nor the mechanics of this strange sport called Footy. And as for the modeling pageant, while I have attended and judged a beauty contest here in Sydney before where Filo-Aussies competed, I had never witnessed a beauty pageant with an all-Aussie cast until last night!

Two close friends of mine, Paul and Rissa McIness, brought me last night to the Ettamogah pub here in Western Sydney. We have been there before to eat. The pub/bar is a popular family place because it serves good meals. It is a huge complex. A portion of it is a bar where people just drink. Rissa, an active member of the Filipino community and the Lions Club in Blacktown, was invited to judge the modeling contest. Paul and I tagged along.

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The modeling contest started during the break in the game. The judges, a mixed group of ex-winners, beauty queens and civic leaders, were looking for a Miss Photogenic, a Miss Personality, a Miss NSW, a Miss Queensland, and the big winner who would be crowned and given a sash with “Face of the Origin winner” written on it.
Inside the pub, I could see TV monitors everywhere. People dined and drank while watching the sports match between New South Wales and Queensland. Each time the NSW team scored, the noise level in the bar would escalate so loud with cheers. When the NSW team would lose the ball, people would shout in frustration. It was quite interesting to observe. While we were watching the game, Paul patiently explained everything that was happening. It is a fascinating game. Actually I can understand now how most people can get quite involved and carried away watching Footy, thanks to Paul.

The modeling contest started during the break in the game. The judges, a mixed group of ex-winners, beauty queens and civic leaders, were looking for a Miss Photogenic, a Miss Personality, a Miss NSW, a Miss Queensland, and the big winner who would be crowned and given a sash with “Face of the Origin winner” written on it.

As their names were called, each of the 17 contestants came out wearing skimpy sports clothes. They were all bubbly and gung ho as they presented themselves to the judges. Like most girls who join contests like these, many find the limelight and attention thrilling, maybe even overwhelming. They loved the spotlight and gamely posed for anyone who wanted to take their photos. I could feel their excitement.
I have watched many of these contests before in the Philippines. I noticed a general difference in how Filipinas and Aussie girls presented themselves on the ramp. The Aussies seemed to be more energetic. They had bigger movements. They seemed bolder on the ramp. Some of them actually stretched their arms when they presented themselves. They appeared less shy and seemed more comfortable with their bodies.

I am speaking generally, of course. I have seen some of our own girls back home parade with great confidence, too. But they do it with less “loudness,” if you get what I mean.

After about 40 minutes of the pageant, the game on TV resumed for another 40 minutes. When the game finished, the contestants reappeared on the ramp in bikinis. The pub area was suddenly filled with more people.

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Ettamogah was a curious experience. There is still so much to discover about Australian life. Watching Footy and a modeling contest in a bar may have been just trivial things, but interesting nonetheless.
In my limited observation, nudity and body exposure are not as big a deal in Australian culture compared to ours. There are nude beaches here and no one makes a big fuss, save perhaps for a few tourists. I remember shooting a model with some photographer friends of mine at Bondi Beach. The model made no issue about changing outfits right there by the beach without cover. No one stared, and no one cared. Undressing and dressing in the outdoors is so ordinary here.

Personally, I find it quite healthy when people are more accepting of partial or even full nudity. There is a confidence and even a wholesomeness when people have few reservations about their bodies.

There are so many locations here that are very scenic. The beautiful outdoors can make people feel more carefree. Semi- or full nakedness can be celebratory and liberating.

Ettamogah was a curious experience. There is still so much to discover about Australian life. Watching Footy and a modeling contest in a bar may have been just trivial things, but interesting nonetheless. I opened myself to a new experience and it was good. I even had half a beer. (That wasn’t meant to be a joke.) My understanding of Australia and its people expanded a bit.

I have spent quite some time here over the past 12 years. I like watching politicians debate in Parliament. I still have to experience Aboriginal cultures and ways outside of what I’ve seen in museums and read in books. I also have to get bolder and explore a bit more of the outback and the rest of the continent, among many other things.

Acculturation is when you learn something new from another culture. I love it. It is a never-ending process. The more you learn, the more you understand a bigger chunk of the world and its people.

You also understand yourself better.

My gadgets? My cell phones, my rosary 0

Posted on July 08, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – July 8, 2018 – 12:00am

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I have always been more spiritual than religious. I always felt that most religions place too much weight on dogma, rituals and rites. I am not against rites, rituals and practices as long as they “work,” in the sense that they make you inspired and drawn to the great mysteries that they are suppose to connote. The problem for me is many of them do not take me there. I intellectually understand what they are suppose to do, but they do not inspire me.

As far back as I can remember in my childhood, our family always prayed the rosary. I remember kneeling in our sala with my sibs as my mom led the rosary while facing a statue of Jesus who sits on a throne. Our household help would join us. We would also participate in the Block Rosary ritual where a statue of Mary is passed around the neighborhood and each family leads a communal rosary with a long novena for a few nights.

I also associate the rosary with riding our car. Often, when our family would be riding, my mom would suddenly start praying the rosary. And that was a spoiler since, all of a sudden, a pall of seriousness would come in and change the mood in the car. To counter that, my siblings and I would start singing a few minutes after we got inside the car so that my mom would forget to start praying the rosary. She loved listening to her kids sing.

In grade school and high school, it was the same. We prayed the rosary in school all the time. We were expected to carry one in our pockets. During the month of October, we wore the October medal with blue ribbons in honor of Mother Mary.
The rosary baffled me. I would always ask myself why we had to repeat the “Hail Mary” 53 times, and the “Our Father” six times. And I could never remember the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer, and the “Pour forth we beseech thee oh Lord thy grace…” prayer to end it. For a young man, all this was repetitive, and boring.

Lately, my wife has picked up a new hobby. She has started to make rosaries to give away to anyone who wants them. She spends hours and even days stringing up beads making rosaries. She finds it not only therapeutic but it also gives her a feeling of peace. She feels that it helps the Catholic cause by giving them away.

A few years back, while rummaging through some old stuff, Lydia found my dad’s rosary. My dad died in 1957. He prayed the rosary every day. I don’t know how long he had that particular rosary before he passed on. I remember praying with that rosary a few times. I imagined how many miles my dad’s fingers had traveled through it. I was moved.I felt my dad’s presence. I could feel the holiness and sacredness that this surviving family relic possessed.
When I was going through my decades of cynicism about religion and the Church, I turned to meditation. That became an integral part of my spiritual practice. I got used to silence and watching my thoughts come and go without being attached to them.

Since the new pope came in, I’ve softened my stance somewhat about religion. I started attending Mass again though still not regularly. I again picked up the rosary and started doing formal prayers just like I did when I was a kid. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was this pope’s openness and his liberating views that made me reconsider a few things.

In the late evenings, I like to pray the rosary in the dark. I often fall asleep without finishing it. But it calms me down. Its repetitiveness makes it feel like a mantra. I try to focus on every word. When I say, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners…,” I add the names of people I know who need prayers. It makes it more meaningful.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a devotee. Far from it. I don’t do it as a regular practice yet. But I have discovered its power to stabilize me and calm me down. I try to think of all the times the rosary had been prayed over the centuries, and I am awed into humility. There is a power to it.

I remember a classmate of mine saying that after spending most of his life asking big and small questions about life, love and the nature of God, he still ends up going back to his basic catechism and finds the answers there.

I haven’t found all the answers. And I know the answers that I have found so far may not even be the same as those my classmate found. But as an older person now, I am more patient and I can concentrate more when I pray.

I keep a rosary beside my bed and pick it up quite often now. It is there on the table beside my cellphones. My mother would be so proud.

While my modern gadgets connect me to the world, the rosary, I have rediscovered, is still a reliable gadget that can connect me to deep solitude and God.

How to love your enemy 1

Posted on June 24, 2018 by jimparedes

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I am not really sure if it is a poem. You can call it anything you want. But this really hit me.
Artwork by David Mihaly

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 24, 2018 – 12:00am
I thought that visiting some of my favorite sites on the net might be a good way to be inspired to write my column this week. I remember saving a screenshot of a page I had encountered on the net years ago. When I reopened it last night, I was again struck by it.

I am not really sure if it is a poem. You can call it anything you want. But this really hit me.

It talks about love, especially how to love your enemies. I like poems, quotes, stories, passages and essays that deal with the harder issues of life. They make me feel more inspired to expand my understanding of the human condition.

For sure, all of us have a few people we secretly wish ill-will on. We disdain and ridicule them. We hate them because of what they had done to us. They have become targets of our hate. We see them as lower than us. These are people we know who want to hurt us or may have actually done so. They have insulted threatened and humiliated us. And often, we dream of the day when karma will bring us face to face with them and we will have the upper hand and we can administer personal revenge in the name of justice.
When I read this, I felt that it cut beautifully into my heart. I thought I should share it with you my readers. Read on.

Another way that you love your enemy is this:

When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy,

that is the time which you must not do it.

There will come a time, in many instances,

when the person who hates you most,

the person who has misused you most,
the person who has gossiped about you most,

the person who has spread false rumors about you most,

there will come a time when

you will have an opportunity to defeat that person.

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 8.11.36 AM
Artwork by Richard Day

It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job;

it might be in terms of helping that person

to make some move in life.

That’s the time you must do it.

That is the meaning of love.

In the final analysis,

love is not this sentimental something that we talk about.

It’s not merely an emotional something.

Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men.

It is the refusal to defeat any individual.

When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power,

you seek only to defeat evil systems.

Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love,

but you seek to defeat the system.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote this. It is a testament to how evolved a man he actually was. Amid all the hatred, discrimination and injustice that surrounded him practically all his life, he had the kindness of heart and the wisdom to not just write something so beautiful like this but to actually live it.

It makes me want to kneel in awe. How can strong people not fight back and do revenge or justice? And yet, he tells us not to. Nelson Mandela was also able to overcome his painful past which was full of injustice and racism. He suffered a lot. But he needed to learn this to lead a racially polarized nation. How did he do it? I don’t know but it takes extraordinary character to be able to rise above personal feelings.

I hope someday when I meet the people I loathe and wish ill will on, I can summon the better of me to be more loving.

It doesn’t count too much when we only love those who love us. That is so easy to do. The real evolved human beings must rise above personal feelings to be able to dispense love to their tormentors because that is actually what they need. This is what it means to love; it means learning to love the unlovable, the ugly and respect even the despicable ones in our midst.

Surely karma will kick in at some point. And that is what we call divine justice, and we hope it really happens to those who have hurt us. But at the same time, we also need a greater consciousness and compassion to stop thinking like this. Let karma do what it must without us having to relish their defeat. Otherwise, we as humans will remain stuck in this cycle of hate forever.

Are you ready? How many of us can say yes right now?

As for me, I am open to the concept. It sounds good and right. But to actually practice it, I need to evolve a lot more.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/24/1827248/how-love-your-enemy#MTAFFPB1cUQFVUl8.99

Why being a dad is like shaving 1

Posted on June 17, 2018 by jimparedes

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Dad’s the word: Author Jim Paredes with (from left) Ala, Mio, wife Lydia, Erica, and granddaughter Ananda

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 17, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been a father for 39 years now. Let me tell you, it has been quite a ride.

Being a dad is a multi-faceted job. From the time they are newly born up to age three is a very important phase because that’s when kids are most physically vulnerable. You pretty much do primitive nanny work. I do not belittle this. The work is important and crucial. You help clean them up. You rock them to sleep when mama is too tired. You make formula milk, or feed them breast milk from a bottle. You check once in a while if they are still breathing. You take turns with Mama in taking care of them.

You also make sure they are physically safe from insects or from airborne sicknesses. You make sure they are alive and healthy. You buy food, diapers, medicines, clothes, bibs, tiny shoes that they outgrow very quickly. You bring them to the doctor for their inoculations. All these, and much more. The payback for all the exhaustion and sleepless nights you spend taking care of them is when you see them smile, turn around by themselves, chuckle, crawl, stand, walk, run, and learn other physical skills.

My three kids started pre-school when they were three years old. They were active, curious kids who were always looking for things to do and learn. I personally taught them to read and write, and do math. Throughout grade school to college, they learned their academics quite easily, for the most part.
All that seemed like many decades ago. My daughter Erica is now 39 and has a 14-yearold daughter. Ala is 35 years old, wife to John Buencamino and is a first-time mother to Zadie. Mio is single, a hard-working man who will be turning 30 this September.

Some 13 years, ago, we moved to Australia. Since then they have learned to become very independent. They all earn their own money and pretty much live their own lives.

The three of them all get along easily, often beautifully, although there are times when they disagree and even have shouting matches. That’s normal. I am glad that, somehow, they are able to fix things.

One of the things Lydia and I had impressed upon them from the start is the sense of belonging to this family. They are close to each other and to us, their parents. Throughout their growing years, we constantly told them to look after each other. And thank God they do watch out for each other. When my eldest Erica went through her depression, we were all available and ready to talk or be there if she wanted to open up to us. I am always happy when Erica takes on her ate role and gives advice to her younger sibs. She can be very reassuring to younger sister when Ala has questions about her baby Zadie’s health, eating and sleeping habits, etc. Ala invites Mio to lunches and dinners at her place just to see how he is doing. Mio can be very protective of his sisters, and delights in being a good uncle to their children.
While they have their own secrets, our kids are pretty transparent and upfront when they express themselves to each other. When one of them goes through a breakup, the other two are there for some emotional support.

Our kids often talk to Lydia and me about their lives, their issues with their partners, their dreams and a host of other things. They like to run their plans by us to hear our comments or seek advice. We always lend a listening ear. I am always happy to know where they are at every moment of their life stages.

Erica is now living in Paris with her daughter Ananda. In a few years, my grandchild will probably be very European in her ways.

Ala and Mio have been living in Australia for sometime now. They almost think, talk and act like Aussies. They know their place in this new country. They work hard and I’m pretty sure they, too, will come up in the world. They are great, responsible and reliable adults.

When they ask for fatherly advice, I listen and readily give them my thoughts on the matter, although I do not expect them to follow everything I say. They know that. They must follow their own paths. If they want help, I will certainly be there. I trust they will decide what is best for them. If they suffer pain, I know they will recover.

I remember the time I was in my mid to late thirties. I felt that life was waiting for me to decide what I wanted to be. I felt fearful and challenged at the same time. I was full of doubts about my capabilities. But I began to notice that when I tried hard enough, I would often get somewhere close to achieving what I wanted. Sometimes, I even exceeded my own expectations. As a parent, I feel that they are in this stage now and are discovering their true capabilities.

I have written two songs for my kids. One is Batang-bata ka pa. The other is called, Live Your Own Life. In both songs I mentioned that they will have to learn and discover their own truth. Here’s a passage from Live Your Own Life:

Don’t take my word or anyone else’s

What’s right for me may not be right for you

I have my own dreams. I live my own story

And someday soon you’ll be living yours, too.

So… Enjoy your own joys.

Gain from your own pain

Dream your own dreams

Dance to your own song

It’s the only way to go

It’s the only road you’ll ever know.

Live your own life (feel it so you know it’s real).

Hold on to your own truth (live life without any fear)

Decide your own fate (with bated breath the world awaits)

Make your own mark (All you gotta do is start)

Everything you need is inside of you

You’re the fire and breath of your own soul..

I knew that when I became a dad that there wouldn’t be a day that would pass when I would not think of my children. Although they are grown-up now, they are still in my thoughts daily. I can’t help it. That’s what being a father is like.

As parents, it is true that we raise our kids in our own image and likeness. We only know what we know and where we come from. We do our best. Hopefully, our own parents raised us well.

Now that they are adults, I delight in watching them become who they are as they create and recreate themselves.

No matter how much I try to detach from them, it seems impossible. I love them too much and so the caring and concern will never stop even when I don’t express these daily to them. I quote writer Reed Markham, who said, “Being a great father is like shaving. No matter how good you shaved today, you have to do it again tomorrow.”

Your children may outgrow you, but you will never outgrow being their father.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/17/1825186/why-being-dad-shaving#VS3UoCPHcu7QPQhJ.99

…And miles to go before i sleep 0

Posted on June 10, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 10, 2018 – 12:00am

I have been taking stock of my physical, mental, psychological, artistic and spiritual health lateIy.

I have been paying attention to my body and all its aches and pains and its new gains since I’ve been going to the gym. A few years ago, I also started eating moderately and more sensibly, and have generally been taking care of myself.

I have been sleeping well lately, around seven hours a night and a few naps at different times of the day. I still have bad nights sometimes where I get less sleep because I wake up and can’t get back to sleep. But that is rare.

I go to the gym two to four times a week. I do a lot of stomach crunches of different types — around 500 reps each visit. I do 3:15 minutes of planking followed by 60 pushups and 13 pull-ups. I work out with jump ropes and a few weights as part of my routine.
I would say my gym activity is a light one. What I am aiming for is to get better body definition and a few cuts around my arms, chest and stomach. I also like getting that endorphin high and that feeling of well-being which exercise brings. I also walk to and from the gym which is about a 26-minute walk. Sometimes, I walk further inside the ADMU campus near the gym for an hour.

Mentally, I try to stay alert. I like to read a lot and still like to learn new things. I continue to write a weekly column. Quite often, though, it happens that I forget people’s names and can’t remember certain circumstances when I met them. I notice memory lapses. However, my innate curiosity about everything continues. I also still teach at the Ateneo de Manila University. Teaching young people is as much a learning experience for me as it is for them. It challenges not just my mental skills but my overall ability to pay attention. I am also thinking of taking up a new language.

Psychologically, I feel more or less balanced. Despite the times, I can easily find calmness when I need to. I am generally okay. I am less bothered now by things that used to bother me a lot when I was younger. I can watch my mind processing information and can flag most of my own biases. But best of all, I may even say I am capable of generating my own inspiration or happiness. I like being by myself. I like myself most of the time.
Spiritually, I am still dialoguing with the Universe and trying to ask questions about life. Maybe this will never stop. I talk to God the way I understand God to be. Yes, I hear answers. I try to have a Zen take or understanding of everything. It makes me calm. Sometimes, I become more compassionate. The state of the world and our nation has not dampened my optimism or hope. I am still up to the challenge to change things for the better. The contemplative in me is still there although perhaps I should cultivate it some more by going back to daily meditation.

Artistically, I feel freer than ever to think and do what I want. I have lately picked up the guitar again and started learning new songs and chords. I can write songs easier. I do not fret about whether people will like them or not. I do what I like. I do not need constant reassurance from an audience. I can also be more focused if I have to be. More easily, I am able to synthesize my thoughts and feelings and shape them as presentable musical or literary pieces.

My interest in photography continues although I should be shooting more. I should also do more workshops like I used to.

In short, I feel more good than bad, overall.

I know I am getting older. My hair is thinning. My hearing has deteriorated a bit. Sometimes, I get sudden joint pain, but this disappears just as quickly. I am still working on getting even just a shadow of abs on my stomach. I refuse to accept that this goal may be a losing battle at this point, and yes, it will be difficult to achieve.

The first thing my Zen teacher told me to meditate on some 16 years ago was the phrase, “Every day is a good day.” I mostly believe in this. Every day brings blessings. When it is not a good day, it’s probably because I unconsciously decided it wouldn’t be one.

For this phrase to be true in your life, you must be able to practice self-acceptance on a daily basis. With aging comes diminishing abilities. You will never gain back a 30-year-old body. The past is gone forever. That’s life. But if you can accept that how you are today is the best you can be right now, you will probably congratulate yourself. This is not mind’s play. This is the truth. You may have been more productive, healthier, better when you were younger. You were great then. But you are also great now.

Every day, we are great and perfect.

I will be 67 soon. Some people think that is already a ripe old age. Sometimes, the world can make you feel like that. Some people are retired at this age. I don’t think I will ever retire unless my body makes it impossible for me to move and do things. Maybe I can’t picture retirement because I never had a 9 to 5 job. I did what I wanted and got paid for it. How can I retire from things I love doing?

One of my favorite lines in poetry is from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” It goes,

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

While it is not my choice to decide when I will die, I still want to do many other things while I can before I go into the lovely dark and deep woods.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/10/1823074/and-miles-go-i-sleep#wB5rrijKKcmXHm3u.99

Death of a classmate 0

Posted on June 03, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – June 3, 2018 – 12:00am

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Joey, you lived a good life. You were a good person. Your classmates stand proudly and applaud at the idea that you have not just done your mission but have also become one with God.

The message I saw on Viber a few mornings ago was a rude awakening. Our classmate Jose Biglete Zuñiga had suddenly passed on. Everyone in our class was shocked. We still are. We haven’t stopped talking about Joey’s demise since.

Joey Zuñiga seemed healthy and strong. In fact, he was one those classmates who still looked very youthful. His gait was that of a young man. To me, he did not look any different from 45 years ago when we finished college. He did not even have white hair. You had to look hard to find any wrinkles on his face. Classmates say he jogged every morning. He looked fit. He did not seem to have any of the physical pains many of us in class are already feeling due to the onset of old age. During class parties he was one of those who danced a lot.

And then came the terrible news that he had suddenly died. Soon after the announcement, we learned that he had had cancer of the lymphatic nodes a few years back. He underwent chemotherapy and it seemed he had conquered it. Apparently, it made a vicious comeback. He had kept the news about his condition to himself mostly. Except for his family and a few classmates, no one knew.

Hearing of someone dying, a relative, a classmate, or anyone we know and have had pleasant interactions with is always devastating. But for our class, it was more than that. We are all going into our late 60s and it is beginning to really dawn on us that time is fleeting fast as we march towards our sunset years. This reminder seemed especially cruel to hear. Many of my classmates already have health issues. Some are moderate while some need more medical attention.
Even for those who are still fit and healthy and who exercise regularly, the news of Joey suddenly dying hit hard. It can happen anytime, to any of us. And yet, no matter how often we are reminded, the reality of death is so shocking and abhorrent that it shakes us every time someone dies.

Prior to hearing about Joey’s death, the topic in our viber discussion thread was death itself. Before that, it was religion, the meaning of life, God, etc. The death of our dear classmate made me think about my own life and how tenuous and fragile it actually is. I am sure everyone had the same thought.

A lot of us posted about our last interaction with him. The last three times I saw him, he asked how I saw the political landscape. He seemed worried and upset. He was close to angry at how things were unraveling. After the conversations, he cautioned me to take care of myself since I can be very vocal about things. “Ingat, pare,” he said to me each time.
Our Viber group has been a beehive lately. Many have been sharing their feelings, their grief. Names of classmates who had passed on before have been reposted several times. We remember them with fondness. We still feel their loss in our lives.

I sense that we have mostly been showing up on Viber not just to express our shock at Joey’s death but also to comfort each other. There is genuine concern, fondness among our classmates. Our friendships are decades old. The bonding and camaraderie are wonderful and healing. Thanks to technology, even those who have migrated to other parts of the world are brought into the conversation.

My eldest brother Jesse, who is 15 years ahead of me, has been attending wakes more often these days. The death count is expected to increase more frequently. Their class is much older and the latest census shows that 72 of his classmates have passed on and 72 remain.

While our class is still in a more optimistic situation, I know we will also get there.

Captain Hook in the movie Pan by Spielberg called death “the final adventure.” No one knows what is out there. And yet, we will all go though it.

We are suffering and grieving the death of Joey right now. Death is indeed a thief in the night. But perhaps its sting may really be overrated.

Maybe we might even be completely wrong about death. I don’t know. But since no one really knows anything about it firsthand, I am suggesting a coping way to look at death. It is this: Joey is finally free from all physical, emotional and psychological suffering and pain. His mission on earth has ended. He now rests eternally.

And let me push the envelope a bit more. Could it be possible that the day we die may actually be the happiest day of our lives? Why, you may ask?

Well, why not? For those who have faith, it has to be THE event of events. It has to be that since the whole search is over and we finally meet our loving God and experience unconditional love, and get to answer all of life’s greatest mysteries and questions.

If this is indeed true (and personally I believe it is), then maybe we should mourn less and instead honor the journey of each soul that leaves the earthly plane and joins eternity. We celebrate it the way we do with every passage in life.

Joey, you lived a good life. You were a good person. We, your earthly classmates, stand proudly and applaud the idea that you have not just done your mission but have also become one with God. That is the greatest thing we actually all strive for.

‘Til we meet again, Joey. And I wish the same for all who have gone before, and for all of us who will surely follow. The heavenly reunion that awaits will be the happiest one and will have complete attendance.

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/06/03/1820993/death-classmate#YWLthG8Ol3yPxZ66.99


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