Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for October 7th, 2014


Jamming with Jim Paredes in his universe 0

Posted on October 07, 2014 by jimparedes

By Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 5, 2014 – 12:00am
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MANILA, Philippines – With his now snow white hair giving him a more dignified aura, Jim Paredes still bears visible traces of the guy the English-speaking colegialas swooned over back in his young Apo days with Buboy Garovillo and Danny Javier. Beneath his warm smile that’s disarmingly charming, you unravel the many facets of his personality, his passions, his compassion, and the fire in his belly that has remained undiminished by time.

KNOCK ON WOOD — LOTS OF IT!

On a muggy afternoon, Jim welcomes us into his house in Quezon City — a home he and his wife Lydia built with lots of old wood and glass, and tons of love and laughter. “We saw this mansion and they were making a new building so we offered to buy the wood, glass, and everything,” Jim tells me as I sit across him at the long wooden dining table that can seat 20 persons. “I love the whole idea of wood. Nung bago pa lang kaming lipat, somebody came here and told me, ‘Dun pa lang sa labas, Jim, I could already smell the wood.’ When people come here, they think they’re in the province or para kang nasa Bali.”

But he quickly points out, “Nakamura nga kami sa wood pero ang mahal naman ng carpentry.”

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If you’re looking for the living room, well, this is it. There’s just one big sofa on which sit six throw pillows with drawings of the occupants of the house — Dad Jim, Mom Lydia, daughters Erica and Ala, son Mio, and granddaughter Ananda.

The long wooden table is the centerpiece of the living room — so massive that it took a lot of people to bring it in and it will be hard to move it from where it is now. Talk about an unmovable feast!
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Speaking of feasts, the perfect quote for this perfect dining setting is written on a cornice: The fondest memories are made when gathered around the table.

“It’s a very dramatic dining table, you really feel you have an appointment with food, which is really important as you just don’t eat for sustenance — you taste the food, you appreciate it,” says Jim. “That date with yourself is so special.”

Wife Lydia is the hostess with the mostest; she loves preparing elaborate dishes — salad, fish, pork, beef. “She likes laksa,” Jim shares.

There was so much spare wood left that Jim decided to make a bahay kubo for his apo, daughter of his daughter Erica who’s a single parent. “I love them both, they’re a blessing to my family,” says this cool dad/granddad who confesses he could be “too cool.”

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In this Balinese-inspired little house, Jim says he can also get a massage or do some writing. Jim wears a lot of hats now: “I’m a writer, teacher (at Ateneo, his alma mater), and speaker. I do a lot of things. I still do concerts by myself. The Apo split up four years ago after being together for 41 years. It was time, but I still like to perform and do concerts here and there. Sometimes, I do it with Buboy; si Danny ayaw na talagang kumanta.”

WALA NAPO SILA

Jim misses the Apo (originally called the Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society which began during their days at Ateneo de Manila High School) tours abroad as well as the sold-out concerts. How can he forget the Apo’s well-applauded performance at New York’s Carnegie Hall where the Apo was the first Filipino group to perform in that world-famous concert venue? He also remembers the Apo’s concert in Saudi Arabia, having been the first foreign group to be allowed to perform there.

Jim wrote love songs from an angle that had not been fully explored, like “Mahirap magmahal ng syota ng iba.” He wrote songs that commented on the day’s social issues. His unforgettable offering to Filipinos is his Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo, the anthem of the Edsa Revolution in 1986. This active street parliamentarian continues to publicly support progressive causes.

In 1998, when Joseph Estrada was elected President, Jim decided to leave the country and migrate to Australia with his whole family out of sheer disappointment. “I just wanted to get out and my wife was also recovering from cancer. It was a good time.”

It’s been 10 years since his wife Lydia was diagnosed with breast cancer. “That’s one of our biggest challenges — I didn’t want to think she was facing cancer, I always believed we were facing cancer, the two of us had cancer,” says Jim. “Doctors always suggest a mastectomy, but my wife went to a young female doctor. If you were educated before a certain year, mastectomy was it. After a certain year, they found that lumpectomy works just as well, as long as it’s done properly. That’s what we did. And when we moved to Australia, we got an Australian doctor who’s a world cancer expert. Two years ago, the doctor told her, ‘Stop seeing me. You’re cancer-free.’”

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NEW HOUSE, NEW LIFE

Jim adds, “Basically, I am living a new phase in my life now and buying this new house was the right thing to do.”

He recalls with a shudder, “I was really scared when we transferred here three months ago. At the height of typhoon Glenda, I was living here alone and I thought the glass walls would be shaking. But no, they’re sturdy.”

Aside from this new house, what else is new with Jim? He’s doing his second solo album since the Apo disbanded. “I had all the strings of my guitar changed because I wanted to write new stuff and everything,” he explains. “I have six songs already lined up.”

What inspires him when he writes his songs? “Anything — a phrase I hear, something I read about, a thought that comes to me, a deadline, just like writing,” he shares his random thoughts.

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Jim relaxes in his favorite family corner: “Yes, I’m a cool dad sometimes too cool!”

Fact is, so Jim discloses, he didn’t know he could write until “nag midlife ako. My definition of midlifing is you really feel that the software you’ve been working on is inadequate. There are new questions in your life. Sabi nga ni Carl Jung, ‘What was true in the morning is no longer true in the afternoon of life.’ With that, I gained so many insights about my own life and life itself. So, I started writing them down.”

ADVICE TO TODAY’S YOUTH

Aside from the Edsa Revolution, Jim says he reached the turning point (no turning back now) in his life “in my early 40s, when I really told myself that more of just this — singing, being overpaid as a performer, and having fans — is not gonna do it for me. I wanted to do more inner work so I started writing, doing workshops for creativity. I really felt the crisis of the times — when people have lost their ability to get enchanted and to get inspired. They’ve lost it. Everybody’s practical now. I tell even the young kids I teach at Ateneo, ‘You know, your parents are more rebellious than you. You’re all so conformist. You want that good job and you really think that everything just falls into place when there’s money. No. The duty of a young person is to be reckless.”

For Jim, the ’60s and ’70s were probably the best years. “When we started to question everything and we really thought the world would change. It did change, but money made a comeback.”

Jim is home alone now, with his wife and kids in Australia. “My two kids like it there, they’re already dual citizens. My wife can be a citizen if she wants. Me, I’m just a permanent resident, I go in and out.”

The house-proud Jim gives us a tour of his home. Before this house, Jim had his recording studio and office here. “This house was 99 years old when we got it three months ago,” says our instant tour guide. “It was already run-down when we saw it, somebody fixed it for us; we don’t know the owners of the house. The main doors are church doors, which are so huge you can actually enter the house riding a horse. All these doors are made of narra, which you can’t find anymore.”

The doors leading to the living room have handles which Jim and Lydia bought in a medieval market in Kathmandu. “We pick up a lot of pieces from our travels, my wife especially; she’s a collector,” says Jim.

Jim gave Lydia the freedom to do what she wanted with the house. “I told her, ‘Ikaw na ang bahala since you complain the most.’ I only worry about the expenses — magkano na naman yan? My wife is alive and animated when she does things for the house. And it’s a good thing that we had a husband-and-wife (Edwin and Divina Mallari) team of architects. So, the wife knows what my wife likes while the husband makes sure the house is structurally sound. Ang galing ng combination nila.”

A huge tree trunk holds the first floor and goes all the way to the second floor. The stairs are lighted so it won’t be hard for the couple to go up when they’re much older.

SOLAR-POWERED HOUSE

The beauty of it all is that the house runs on solar power and uses more efficient and energy-saving LED lights. Everything is mood lighting, but if the dining area, for instance, needs to be lit up for conversation, there’s central lighting. Believe it or not, for a house as big as this, Jim’s monthly electric bill is no more than P4,000. Sensing our disbelief, Jim offers to show us last month’s bill. No need, we tell Jim, as we cool ourselves under a ceiling fan. “We do have an aircon, but it’s the inverter type so it’s really matipid and meant for long use.”

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All the walls in the master’s bedroom have ventanillas or capiz windows and iron grills, “so it’s really maaliwalas,” says Jim.

Jim takes us for a peek into the glass-roofed shower room that’s got a view of the outdoors. “It’s surreal, but of course, we made it higher than the rest of the house so di ka masisilipan when you’re taking a bath.”

Back in his bedroom, Jim picks up his beloved guitar sitting pretty on a wooden chair. And then he retreats into a little nook, which he calls his meditation corner where he does his Zen. “It’s like emptying your mind, it calms you.”

Jim is a prayerful person. “Most of the time, I pray for acceptance. I pray that cynical people, people who cannot see good in things, can awaken to who they truly are because I think the moment you awaken, there’s no other mode to be in except gratefulness, gratitude. Kung tulog ka and feeling mo there are no portals of enchantment in life, wala, it’s a miserable life. I pray that people awaken to the best part of who they are. They have it, but they don’t know it. So I pray that they discover it.”

JIM THE TRAVEL BUG

Jim likes staying home, but he also likes a change of scenery all the time, that’s why he loves to travel, travel, travel. “I just want to disappear in a city with a camera (Jim has an eye for photography). I just want to hang around with old friends from way back prep school. Through the years, pakonti na kami ng pakonti. But while they’re there, enjoy them.”

He enumerates what’s on his bucket list, “We want to do the Santiago de Compostela walk (a pilgrim’s journey of over a hundred kilometers). I want to do more diving and devote my time to causes that really improve things. Ayaw ko na ng anything na mababaw, because I think on the face of the earth where you stand and live, you light the light so that others may be affected.”

It there’s anything Jim regrets in life, it is that “I should have done things younger. And I should have been more reckless. Parang masyado pa rin akong nakaplano. Parang gusto ko to just take off, decide things on the spot. I kinda like those things. But my wife, if she likes to travel, she plans it two months ahead. Ako, it’s like let’s leave in a few days. My wife takes long to pack. Me, whatever I forget and don’t have, I buy. And I can stay under any accommodations. I’m really not a picky guy. That’s why when this house was built, I said just give me my little corner and a place to sleep, and I’m good.”

NO TO POLITICS

We couldn’t resist asking Jim, “Do you plan to run for public office?”

“I thought of that,” comes the quick reply. “But I can’t afford to be a politician in the sense that I can’t live on the salary of a politician and I’m not gonna steal. I have little resources which will go to my wife because she’s a cancer survivor and it may suddenly reappear. If I use that to maintain a career in politics, I won’t last. At one time, I was thinking of a Cabinet position because I was asked to submit my resume. So, I think as an artist who just expresses himself, I might be doing the service I should be doing.”

Jim not only makes songs that stir our little universe, and make it a little kinder. He now also makes a lot of noise in social media. He has over 700,000 followers on Twitter and Facebook.

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“I’d like to leave a whole repertoire of songs that people will sing for another 50 years,” Jim muses. “And as a teacher now, I’d like to invest my time in affecting the lives of young people. May they pursue their heroes’ journey. I think every life is a hero’s journey. With the proper decisions that you make, you live a life full of passion and compassion. My view is if you have a passion, you have compassion. If you’re just living for a day-to-day existence, wala kang pakialam, wala kang compassion. Joseph Campbell says that when you find your passion, you find your bliss, and doors that were closed for others will open for you.”

Having seen nearly every nook and cranny of his house — and found out a little of what’s in the chambers of his heart — we walk out the door as the rain starts to pour. Indeed, pumapatak na naman ang ulan sa bubong ng bahay.

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Eternal sunshine of the Teflon mind 0

Posted on October 07, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 28, 2014 – 12:00am

Do you control your mind or does your mind control you?”

I read this question some 20 years ago in a Zen book and it actually scared me. It did because I knew the answer and it was that my mind controlled me.

I knew it did because often, my mind would get so hyperactive that I couldn’t relax. When I was worried about something, my mind would go overboard thinking of the worst possible scenarios that could happen. I was always thinking. When I was curious, my mind would get too focused on something and I couldn’t let it go. My mind did not know how to rest.

My mind can seem like it is an entity that is separate from the rest of my being. It may sound funny to say it but my mind seems to have a mind of its own. It can lead me to different states and I often catch myself surprised at how I got there.

It was about the same time in my life when I read the quote above that I wanted to explore my own relationship with God, the nature of life, truth and the meaning of everything.

I was deep into my “midlifing” and I did not know it. I was looking for answers to life questions. I was looking for peace of mind.
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I knew that to have that, I had to change some things in my life. I needed to do new things and one of them was to have some sort of control over my own thoughts. This included knowing consciously when I was over-thinking, obsessing, or falling into familiar negative “scenario-making” patterns that gave me no peace.

I tried to detach from them at first with little success. I would always fall back into hearing voices in my mind pitching in the same negative opinions, fears anxieties about so many things.

One weekday when my wife was shopping in our neighborhood supermarket, she saw an old acquaintance whom she knew was involved with a Zen group in Marikina. After some chitchat, she asked about the Zen stuff and the woman said that they were open for new members to join that coming Saturday. There would be an orientation and an introductory session for potential members to give them a feel of what Zen meditation was all about.

I went that Saturday. I was in a group of about 10 people. We were asked why we were there. I think I mentioned that I was curious to find out what it was all about. At that stage in my life, I was also undergoing what I can only describe as a great “spiritual shift.” I had a great longing to find new answers to spiritual questions that had been bothering me, which the religion I was born into could not adequately answer. I wanted direct answers to my questions which dogma could not give me.

I remember one person in the newbie batch who was incessantly talking about practically everything. It seemed like he almost could not stop. I laughed inside as I observed how loud and noisy his mind was.

The teacher explained to us that Zen meditation was all about just sitting and quieting the mind. He said Zen was not for everyone. He did not talk much about anything else. I just remembered he said rather cryptically that just by sitting quietly on our Zen mats and pillows, we were somehow instrumental in saving the world. I secretly rolled my eyes at how “new age” that sounded. He then gave us instructions to sit daily at home facing a wall for 10 minutes and to come back the following Sunday.

Not only did I do the home sits, I went to the meditation sessions every Sunday morning for the next 10 weeks.

At the zendo (the place where we would meet and sit), everyone, old and new members, would sit for 25 minutes at a time in total silence. There was no talking at all except for the Sensei (teacher) who would give a teisho (talk) after a few rounds of meditations. Except for a few bells that rang and the sound of wooden blocks that would tell us when to begin to sit on the mats, end, stand up and do kinhin (walking slowly at the pace of the person ahead of you), everything was quiet.

No verbal instructions were given. The newbies had to observe and simply do what we were supposed to do. In this case, it was mostly to just sit quietly in proper Zen position.

The next few weeks, months, and years, I joined as often as I could. I diligently did 25-minute meditations daily, for weeks, without missing a day.

I gradually noticed a quieting in my thoughts. They were still there but I felt I had the power to withdraw involvement and merely watch them come and go. It was astounding how all this felt so liberating. The battlefield that was my mind had become a place of spaciousness. I felt like I had transferred from a cramped suffocating house into a bigger home with lots of fresh air.

It was the first time in years that I felt a “peace of mind.” I was hardly caught up in anything. While I continued with my personal concerns, commitments, advocacies, I did not feel trapped in them. I felt I was in control of the switches that could turn them on and off when I wanted to.

I also felt a lightness of being where everything was clear to me in both shallow and profound ways. In my mind, I felt there was nothing to keep and nothing to throw away. Everything was just within reach when I needed it. And I found that I was needing less and less of any particular thing.

I cannot say that I am free of all anxieties and negativity. I still do get pushed and pulled by many concerns and it can still mildly drive me crazy. But I know that I have tools that I can use now so I do not get “hooked” too much. I can detach, and come back to them when I feel like.

I use the imagery of Teflon to describe what my mind feels like now. While it may host a number of thoughts and opinions, it does not feel the need to keep them. Whatever negative thoughts find their way into my mind eventually leave. Nothing sticks. There is hardly anyone home. It is free and open like the clear blue sky.


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