Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for February, 2017


Classmates are forever 2

Posted on February 25, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 26, 2017 – 12:00am

When we first laid eyes on each other around six decades ago in prep at the Ateneo, none of us had any idea how much we would be involved in one another’s lives.

We were innocents with no thought about the future; just kids seated together in the same classroom who would run around the campus during breaks. They were the wonder years. We were so pure.

There were some who joined the class after grade school, others in high school and college. We had fun times. We enjoyed and suffered through the same teachers. We grew up and matured somewhat under the school’s guidance and moral teachings.

And here we are, some 60 years later, still sharing our old stories and jokes, camaraderie and friendship when we meet. We even have a Viber group where classmates who live abroad can join us in discussions and share a joke or two.

More than ever, I am in contact with my schoolmates from the Ateneo de Manila. It is so much fun when we’re together. Each one of us, it seems, has made a life for himself with families, careers, personal trials and proud moments to share. Some have established themselves in a big way. Some have been widowed and remarried. Most of us are grandfathers now. But whatever our status in life, it seems to matter little when we are together. We still call each other by the nicknames we had when we were in school. We’re still bound by the same memories of our teachers, jokes and various incidents when we were young that shaped us into who we are today.

A long time ago, I wrote a song for my class called Saan na nga Bang Barkada, which has become a kind of anthem for many graduating classes when they get together in reunions. In that song, I was not idealizing when I wrote,

Napakahirap malimutan

Ang saya ng aming samahan

Kahit lumipas na ang iilang taon,

Makabarkada pa rin ngayon.

Magkaibigan magkaibigan

Magkabarkada pa rin ngayon.

How can one forget the happiest moments of one’s youth and childhood?

Dr. Tony Dans, an Atenean and a distinguished heart doctor, was right when he said, during a commencement speech at the ADMU, that your high school classmates are people you will be with for the rest of your life. You will stay in their homes when you travel. You will go to them when you need doctors, lawyers, priests, brokers, accountants, etc. You will spend a lot of time with them playing sports, going on retreats, vacations, and a host of other things. In a way, one might say, classmates are forever.

My brother Jesse, who is turning 80 in September, recounts that a waiter in Club Filipino approached him and asked why he and his classmates had stopped going to the club for meetings. My brother said that they still get together often except that the venue has changed. When the waiter asked where they now meet, my brother, who never stops joking, answered, “We often get together in funeral parlors.” As morbidly funny as it sounds, he was actually serious.

As we get older, we tend to revisit chunks of our lives and re-live them in order to get our personal lives more integrated. We weave happy and sad memories into some mental and emotional tapestry to understand what our lives mean.

Some classmates, even if some 60 years have passed, I still remember as children. I never got to know them as adults since they passed on early. I can only imagine what they would have been like if they had lived longer.

People come and go in our lives. We stand by others as witnesses to their lives when they die. We bid them farewell. We reminisce and remember them forever with a fondness for the short but happy times shared. I guess, in some way, we want to spend time with those who we have shared the same timeline, those who will remember us when we go.

Aside from family, friends and lovers, there are our classmates. There is little time left and we want to savor it with people who will be our witnesses as we pass into the next life.

Life is short and fleeting. As children, we never thought about getting old. Aging happened to our parents, but it was not going to happen to us, or so we thought. But here we are! Sixty-fivers. Thank God, we are still very much alive!

Looking forward to the next get-together with you guys.

We do not have to spend our last years just reminiscing. The past is only a place to visit. Let us enjoy each day as a blessing to welcome the new things that still show up in our lives.

It’s great to be alive and sharing ever-new moments with old classmates.

Gaining back my equilibrium 0

Posted on February 19, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 19, 2017 – 12:00am

A few days ago, I saw a post from a book on Facebook that read, “To the enlightened mind, what is and what should be are one and the same.” This spoke to me in a deep way.

I was going to copy and paste and share it on social media until I realized that it was a quote from a book I had actually written years ago.

I was stunned. I read it again. It occurred to me in a painful way that I am now nowhere near that frame of mind I used to be in. The realization shook me.

I remember how I was when I wrote my first book. I was calm, quite settled with myself, and my Zen meditation practice was solid. I would wake up in a heightened state of awareness and aliveness. The wisdom of the world opened up to me. And I understood it in a heartfelt way. My heart was open like a lotus.
At that time, I would sit on my meditation pillows on my mat almost every day. It was a habit. I felt like a mountain. I felt solid! I was the direction, the way people look at mountains. I was not the one seeking it. I was constant, sure as a guiding star to myself in my own life’s travel.

These days, I am not as calm as I ought to be. I get easily confused, angry and agitated. Social media and the pressures of life push and pull me in all directions, disturbing my peace. Trolls, the political situation, personal problems, the vicissitudes of life drive me up the wall. I lose my center and my clarity so easily and feel that my life is being lived, led and rearranged according to an agenda not of my doing or planning. I find myself living in other people’s worlds, whereas I used to feel that I lived in a world I had fashioned myself.

One of the things I learned in Zen meditation is the ability to simply observe things without getting caught up in them, or being attached emotionally, intellectually, or in any other manner. I could watch my thoughts come and go and suspend my opinions and biases about them. They were simply clouds passing by. They didn’t stay. Everything was transient.
Not having an opinion, or preferences, or any emotional interest or bond with personal issues and how the world should be could be very liberating. It was like being the eternal blue sky above the changing weather below.

With enough meditation practice, I could look at myself in the third person and watch myself the way I would observe other phenomena or events as they arise and leave. I had discovered what meditators call the “witness” — one who can look at the world and oneself without interest or ego, and just watch.
It is like looking at the world fresh and new with no cynicism or prior judgment. Everything is there but without labels. There is that freedom to experience things as though for the very first time.

I once asked my teacher what would happen if I stopped meditating. She said that everything I had learned or experienced while in such a state would become a memory and eventually become meaningless.

I started meditating again when the new year began. I am slowly gaining back some of what I thought I had lost. I am slowly learning again to not always comment or engage in arguments on social media. I am learning to turn away and not engage. In the process, I am going back to the direction of wholeness and balance. I am gaining back my equilibrium.
Zen is pure unadulterated awareness. The Zen mind is without artifice. It sees purely. And strangely enough, a natural compassion can arise from one’s own depths. How can it not when judgment is set aside?

As I observe myself these days, I feel a kindness slowly taking over. Whatever I am right now, with all my mess and shortcomings, I know I am in the state of the art of who I am. I am in the here and now. Everyone always is. We are always doing our best at the present moment, considering everything. Only hindsight can point out if we are doing better or worse compared to any other point in our lives. But at this moment, we are simply unfolding as best we can.

We simply “are who we are,” right now. And maybe be that’s how we ought to be.

Great songwriting takes practice — and accidents 0

Posted on February 11, 2017 by jimparedes

Great songwriting takes practice — and accidents
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 12, 2017 – 12:00am

I am teaching songwriting this semester at the Ateneo de Manila University’s Communications Department, for the second year in a row.

I require certain conditions of the students who wish to join my class. I require that enrollees play at least one instrument. I also want a small class of no more than 15 students, although this semester, I ended up with 18. I gave way after I read the emails of some applicants who missed the deadline. I sensed that they really wanted to be in the class.

My approach to this subject is very hands-on. I ask the students to bring their guitars. There is a keyboard available in the classroom. I require them to write at least one song a week. It is quite a challenge but I really feel that you can’t learn songwriting without writing as many songs as you can. Writing continuously makes one write better. While there are theories and structures to learn, songwriting is not a subject that involves much intellectual pursuit.

One’s approach to songwriting is usually 90 percent intuitive and 10 percent intellectual. The only way to learn is to have an intimate knowledge, a passion and a feel, for music. And one must play it. If you approach this as a regular subject, you will not learn much. You must “love” it and feel it. Only then will you learn.

Of course, I teach chords and their relationships to one another. I also show how and why certain songs are great and some are not. I give them formulas to follow and play with. This gives the lessons some kind of structure. I always tell them that they must master the rules and only when they know them well can they break them like artists do.

I encourage my students to pay attention to one or two songwriters they like and to emulate them. Learn and play every song they have ever recorded. Know their style. Copy if you wish. And when you think you’ve learned a lot from them, can you explore on their own.

I encourage them to listen to the Beatles, who were the biggest influence in my songwriting. They taught me how to write simply and to be bold in my approach. I have a few students who love the Beatles, but sadly, the majority of kids today do not know their music.

In every class, I pass on practical tips that the students can adapt immediately. When I was learning to play the guitar, I would watch anyone who played it live or on TV. I paid attention to chords, beats, lyrics, genres, styles, etc.

As a young man, music was my life. The guitar saw me through teenage angst, heartaches, shyness, insecurity — all the feelings trapped inside me that were blocked by my inarticulateness. Music was a parallel language that I used to express myself. What I could not articulate, I could sing out loud. The melodies and lyrics were like conversations, while the chords were the context.

I learned music on my own. I never went to music school. I do not know how to read notes, but I know my chords, bars, measures. I can work with professional musicians and talk about flats, sharps, etc. I can follow music charts. I learned everything from experience and by being intensely interested. I try to pass on to my students this wonder and fascination I have for music and how to write their own songs.

I believe that their interest, if it is keen enough, will teach them what they need to know. My job as teacher is to guide and encourage them, accelerate the speed of knowledge, and nurture their passion.

In my last class, I taught my students a series of chords to increase their songwriting vocabulary. I could hear them sigh when they heard certain progressions I played. I remember being a young man rushing home because I had a song in my head and I wanted to play it on guitar for affirmation. It was such a great feeling.

I try to approach each student individually since they are not all starting from the same place. Some are newbies at guitar while a few have been at it for years. Some have written a few songs; others are literally just starting. I expect the more skilled ones to pull up the rest of the class.

I tell my students that they will write a lot of bad songs before they write a good one. At this point, quantity is more important than quality. A good song is almost always accidentally made. In my years of songwriting, I know that to be true. I have had many hits and most of them, I can honestly say, were accidental. If I knew the formula for writing hits, then every song I have written should have become hits.

And so I encourage quantity and prolific output. This also applies to every kind of artistic pursuit. The more you do, the better you get at your craft. And the better you get, the more chances for that happy accident to happen.

In the end, the aim is to become “accident-prone” and coming up with consistently excellent work.

I still believe 0

Posted on February 05, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 5, 2017 – 12:00am

Every once in a while, we hear of a taxi driver who returns money or luggage left by a passenger and we feel good about it. And well we should. The newspapers and television make a story of it and we are delighted, pleased and inspired to know that, in this evil world, there are people who choose to do the right thing.

I do not know whether the majority of the people in the world are good or bad but it is safe to assume that there are good and bad people everywhere. I have changed my opinion about mankind quite often, but mostly I tend to believe that there are more people who are decent, conscientious, helpful and honest than we give mankind credit for.

I have been lost in foreign cities and I have been helped by strangers who went out of their way to put me on the right train, taxi or bus to get back to my hotel. A lady in Japan brought me to the right platform which was several floors up in a train station in Tokyo, waited for seven minutes to make sure I got on the right train, and reminded me in broken English to get off at the fourth stop. I can still picture her waving goodbye as the train left.

Here are more examples of innate goodness I have experienced.

Some years back, Lydia and I were in Rajasthan in India. Lydia went to a store looking for cheap earrings. When she found a pair, she took off the diamonds she was wearing and put on the ones she liked. She paid for it, and left the store. Some time later, she remembered that she had left her diamond earrings on the counter. We called the store, and the saleslady confirmed that the earrings were there. She said her son would meet us in Delhi in two days to give it to us. She said it was better to hand it to us personally since the postal system was unreliable and corrupt and the diamonds could get stolen.

But the next day, her son had a change of plans and said he could not deliver the diamond earrings. Lydia told the saleslady to just keep the earrings. Maybe someday, we would be back in India and we could pick it up.

We left it at that.

The following year, a friend of ours visited Rajasthan and went to the same store. She talked to a woman there and mentioned a pair of diamond earrings left by a Filipina a year ago. The woman smiled, and after asking a few questions, gave Lydia’s earrings to our friend. Lydia got them back!

I find this quite inspiring. It speaks well of Indians and the way they treat strangers.

Here’s another.

My son Mio left his wallet on a bus in Sydney during his first day of school there over 10 years ago. When he got home, he was distressed and upset about losing it. I told him to call the bus company to inquire if they saw it. He was pessimistic. He was sure the wallet was gone. But when he finally called, lo and behold, it was there at the bus depot. A passenger had seen it, picked it up and gave it to the bus driver who submitted it as lost property.Another time, my daughter Erica left her bag at a food court in a mall in Sydney. It had her passport and hundreds of US dollars. It was some four hours later when she realized she didn’t have her bag and she went back to the food court in a desperate rush. She saw the cleaning woman and asked if she had seen the bag she left behind. The woman asked my daughter what color her bag was. When she said it was brown, the woman went to the cleaning room and gave Erica her missing bag.

Lydia also once lost her wallet with lots of cash and credit cards but found it intact at the lost and found department of a shopping center.Here in the Philippines, Erica left her Mac laptop in a cab. To her surprise, the Uber driver called to tell her she forgot her laptop. He drove over to where he dropped her off, and returned her gear promptly. Erica offered a reward but the driver would have none of it. He said it was company policy to return items left in Uber cars.

Stories like these buoy up my spirits, and restore my hope and trust in mankind.

Have you ever had the opportunity to save the situation for another person? Once there was a big flood that engulfed a depressed area occupied by undocumented settlers near our neighborhood. In the confusion that ensued as the floodwaters rose, a child was found wandering alone. Someone brought her to our house for safekeeping. We had no idea who she was. We took her in, fed her, gave her dry clothes, and made her comfortable. Several hours later, her mother came to pick her up. When she saw her daughter, her face broke into a wonderful smile of relief.

During Ondoy, we took in 14 strangers who needed a place to be dry and safe. They stayed for two nights. I was glad we had the resources to do it. Giving and sharing are acts of kindness that the world should have more of.While evil does exist in the world, and this may inhibit many of us from doing right, I still believe there are more people who give us reason to trust each other.


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