Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Archive for March, 2018


Imagine: It’s easy if you try 0

Posted on March 25, 2018 by jimparedes

Imagine: It’s easy if you try

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 25, 2018 – 12:00am

All of us have imagination but many lose it through the years. As a result, we look at the world and see no poetry or enchantment. But we can keep it alive by recognizing it and practicing it as often as we can.
I have always had a sense of wonder ever since I was a kid. I could look at a wooden table and get very curious about the varied hues of brown on it. I would find pictures on the table that came from the wood grain or the way it was cut. I would see all sorts of things and make scenarios and stories about them.

I would also push it and imagine where the tree came from, what kind of tree it was, or who may have cut it. I would try to learn how this particular table ended up being a part of our family’s worldly possessions. My curiosity was endless.

I also liked gazing at the night sky. I love doing it to this day. Decades ago, Manila’s night sky was still awesome. You could still see a sky filled with stars. There was no pollution to cover or lessen the beauty of the heavenly bodies. There were stars that were big, and there were some that were small. Some twinkled beautifully. Some stood still. Some looked near and some appeared to be very far. There were clusters of stars that were aligned or arranged in certain patterns. I would try to make some order out of those who were in some strange patterns. It was like connecting dots. Stargazing always left me marveling at how awesome the universe was.

The beauty of words also fascinates me. As a kid growing up at the Ateneo, we were made to memorize poems and then recite them in class. I loved Edgar Allen Poe’s poems, especially “The Raven” and “The Bells.” “Crossing the Bar” by Alfred Lord Tennison was a poem I learned in grade 6 that has stayed with me since. I often catch myself reciting it at dusk or when I am near the ocean.
I remember reading Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Corey” for the first time. As much as I loved it, I also found it quite shocking. I memorized it for both reasons. Decades later, I remember driving with my kids. I started reciting Richard Cory to them. It was late evening. From the rear view, I could see most of them already fast asleep. Or so I thought. When I got to the last line they all screamed a loud “Huh?” Everyone was suddenly wide awake. If you do not know the poem, look it up. I do not want to deprive you of the shock at the end of the poem.

If you’ve ever wondered or continue to be fascinated with beaches, sand, water, the stars and planets, or just about anything in nature, it is because there is something organic inside of us that awakens at nature’s presence. We were born to engage in mystery.
All of us have it but many lose it through the years. And most people lose a lot of it.

As a result, they look at the world and their lives and see no poetry or enchantment. They are stuck in the routine of living daily, trapped in the literal world of work, struggle, boredom. In short, they live a life lacking in joy and meaning. Almost everything is dreary and boring. They have stopped asking questions long ago, and have accepted life as such — without poetry and wonderment.

As adults, whatever is left of that organic curiosity, we must keep alive. And we can do so by recognizing it, and practicing it as often as we can.

Time was when our toys were abstract things. It could be a can of sardines with some homemade wheels put on its side, a sled made out of cartons, or random pieces of anything that we imagined or shaped into something. These were products of our awakened creativity. These days, I observe that kids are given toys that are too realistic, thus depriving them of imagination. Instead of becoming creators of their own toys, they become consumers of toys made by others for profit.

Sometimes, I feel that so much of the loneliness and alienation people suffer in the world is because what used to give them joy has now become the very source of their anxiety. Where they used to express freely as children, they now contain or hold back for fear of being wrong, laughed at or compared to others. Where we used to make sense of the world by making ‘conspiracy theories’ as we saw them, now we want others to connect them for us. We do not want to be answerable for our thoughts and actions. We want other people to figure things out for us.

What would life be without imagination, or without the pursuit of what makes us curious about everything? Where would our joy, meaning, passion and purpose come from?

Nowhere.

We would all end up living dull lives.

We do not need more products, or services that will only whet our insatiable appetite to want and crave for even more stuff. What we need is to be happier, more connected with each other.

Einstein, for all of his dedication to something so measured and precise such as science, actually praised imagination more and even suggested that it is greater than knowledge. “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,” he said.

Imagination creates new possibilities and connections. It can bring joy and open us to see the poetry that already presents itself daily in our lives. That creates more wonder, passion, joy and enchantment.

That is how we should live.

The joy of teaching 2

Posted on March 18, 2018 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 18, 2018 – 12:00am

What hasn’t changed from a teacher’s point of view is the presence of students who have a great passion and an insatiable desire to learn. Every generation has them and they inspire us to go the extra mile to be better teachers.
The last year I was a student at the Ateneo was in 1973. That was the year I finished college. I have been teaching at ADMU for about 14 years now on and off since 2001. I have taught three different subjects under the communications department.

I have been on both sides of the classroom. I have stood near the blackboard as an instructor, and I have also been a student. I have had many students since I became a teacher. More often than not, my classes are full. Sometimes I accept beyond the quota of 25 students per class. You can say I love to teach.

I notice that students during my time and the students of today are quite different. I guess that is to be expected. After all, it has been 45 years, and times have changed so much. Technology alone has made many things easier for students today but at the same time, it has made certain things harder. Most importantly, it has altered the ways students and teachers relate and interact.

During the ‘70s, the only access students had to their teachers were during class hours, and a few scheduled appointments during the week. If you were absent in class, your only recourse was to ask classmates what happened and ask what the homework was.

These days, technology has made a lot of things more convenient. Lectures can be videoed. Assignments can be submitted via email. Classes can have their own Facebook pages where students can share ideas, or catch up with assignments they missed out on because they were absent. Once in a while, teachers (if they wish) can continue an extended discussion of a topic that was not taken up thoroughly in the classroom on Facebook.

Two weeks ago, I had to leave for the US to attend to a family matter. While I was there, I still continued with my songwriting class in ADMU using Apple’s FaceTime app. My students talked to me in real time with my moving image flashed on a big screen. They could ask questions and I could answer them as if I was physically present. It was amazing.

As a student in a very analogue world then in the ‘70s, we actually held books, opened pages and read them. Yes, we read entire books. There were rarely summaries of books available that you could read quickly. There was no Wikipedia then. Also, copy/paste had not been invented. No computers. You actually had to write down things on paper before transferring them to a typewriter. Typing was tedious. Erasing was a hassle. And papers had to be submitted in physical form. The digital world did not exist yet. No email. One might say we gave more time and effort in doing our assignments.

It was also a less permissive and enlightened time then, and a bit more formal when it came to how students showed up in class. There was a stricter dress code. And teachers then were not advised or warned by their department if certain students were going through certain psychological problems.

These days, students show up in shorts and slippers. I have LGBT students who even cross-dress. I am also informed by the department and sometimes by the students themselves when they are going through depression, some personal crises, etc.

I also notice that the knowledge base of today’s students do not go as far back in time as compared to what we were aware of then. We knew a lot about history and social movements of the past. For example, many do not even know, or lack a familiarity with the Beatles, and other music that transpired beyond 30 or 40 years ago. When I ask my songwriting class to listen to songs of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘60s, they are amazed at how vibrant the music was then.

In many ways, I would say that the students of today have it far easier than we did during our time. I know many teachers who give high grades too easily. Sometimes I can be one of them. I guess it is because I am of the baby boomer generation, and we tend to over-encourage and readily reward them just like we did with our own children.

One thing has not changed. Just like the students before, the women generally seem to get higher grades and do better than the men. They try harder. Why? Maybe it is because girls in our society are raised to be “ate(s)” and are expected to take charge and care for everyone, or at least act more responsibly.

I always make myself available to my students for individual consultation. I also always make sure that everyone is on stream with the syllabus. If I have to repeat or return to a subject already discussed because it was not well understood by my students, I do so.

What hasn’t changed from a teacher’s point of view is the presence of students have a great passion and an insatiable desire to learn. Every generation has them. They are the ones that inspire teachers to go the extra mile to be better teachers.

I have had students who wrote me letters of appreciation and thanked me personally for the semester they had with me. It took me a while to do the same with my old teachers. After graduation, my generation embarked on our own lives which took us to many directions. It was only the invention of email, Facebook, Viber, and the traditional class reunions that made it possible to find some and personally thank them.

Character 1

Posted on March 10, 2018 by jimparedes

Not on PhilStar

By Jim Paredes

I know this is a Sunday column. I want to give my readers a good read that can entertain, or inspire. The truth is, I find it hard to write that kind of column right now. I am too upset about the goings on in the world and in my own country. I don’t want this column to be a rant although it will be a little of that. But I will ask uncomfortable questions in the hope that we may open ourselves to answers and solutions to why the world seems to be going crazy.

Many beliefs we grew up with and have taken for granted are now being aggressively challenged. I am talking of the freedoms we fought for, the constitution that has guided this nation, due process, decency, and what I see as the rapid decline in morality of leaders and many of their followers all over the world.

It seems that the landmark battles we won in the past that installed democracy, strengthened human rights over the decades are suddenly being threatened.

Misogyny, racism, fascism, fake news are on a big comeback and they are threatening to lord themselves over everyone. Configuring signs of a dangerous new world order are appearing.

Everyday, as I peruse the news I ask myself many questions that bother me.

Why do some women laugh at anti-women jokes? What kind of people are they who laugh when the President says he should have been given first choice to rape a missionary? Why do they laugh when the President says the armed forces should shoot women rebels in the vagina? What kind of women and men find these funny?

And why is it that there is little outrage over the injustice of Leila DeLima being in jail on trumped up charges? Why is our congress illegally defying the Ombudsman’s orders to fire a proven thief within its ranks? Why is Supreme Court Justice Sereno being illegally and forcibly taken out? Is a fascist state looming 32 years after EDSA?

And why is it that our officials seem to be siding more with China on issues involving our islands in the West Philippine Sea? Cayetano and Roque sound like they are lawyering for China. Why do our technocrats not speak out against the onerous terms that the Chinese are imposing on loans when Japan’s offer is so much cheaper? Do they want us to pay more taxes to China? Or is it because Japan has conditions that make sure that the money is spent for what it is intended for?

And what is wrong with the constitution and why are they rushing to change it? And why can’t I believe that these people behind the haste are doing it with the best intentions in mind for the country?

I also ask why a country like the US refuses to see that easy access to guns are the cause of the many killings that have been occurring for decades now. The figures are clear. Why does government decide in favor of those who believe that anyone can possess guns and that they should be able to carry them at all times? Bob Dylan once asked, ‘How many deaths will it take till we know that too many people have died?’ So far, the answer is still blowing in the wind.

And what is this resurgent racism and fascism all about? How did this resurrection happen? And where did their supporters come from?

Fake news has become an epidemic. When I see people believing in fake news, I feel sorry that they are degrading themselves by not thinking, and not discerning properly. By refusing to think things through, they are dehumanizing themselves. And those who spread them are worse. They are outright liars, deceivers, and deniers of the light.

History called the people who fought on the side of the democratic forces during World War 2 as the greatest generation that ever lived. I know I am simplifying things a bit but the sides were quite clear. When you got down to it, it t was democracy over fascism.

These days, those two sides are staring at each other and are heading for a rumble. Yet, not too many people are alarmed. Why don’t more people see the situation with urgency? What has made us stop discerning properly? Facebook? The internet? Gadgets and distractions of modern life? Apathy? Wealth? Moral decay?

I often ask myself: Are people all over the world suffering from a lack of character? As a child, I went through rough times when I had to live without getting what I wanted or sometimes, what I needed. The consolation I got from my mother was that at least, suffering built character.

It built patience, understanding, discernment, discipline, leadership, compassion, and strength to overcome hardship. One would think that deprivation would make people subservient and lose the capacity to dream. In my case, it challenged me to strive for a better life. It also taught me that there are times when passivity is the right response, and when actively challenging the status quo and outrage were necessary and useful.

In times of great turmoil, character is everything. Character determines how things will turn out. As writer F. Fitzgerald said, ‘character is plot’.

Are there enough people with character who will stand up for what is right? I frame this conflict as the battle between good and evil. It goes beyond political questions I do not think I am exaggerating it. Too many people are turning their backs on logic, reason, compassion and kindness, and abandoning their moral compass. Many have clearly chosen to side with evil and are going out of their way to intimidate, threaten and discourage good people.

One rule that applies to the world and everything is the law of entropy. Things rot, wither and die. The tendency of everything is to disintegrate and eventually get destroyed. Perhaps the reason why the world is still alive is that there are still good people holding the sky up and preventing mankind from destroying the world and each other.

I imagine these good people that stare down the law of entropy are those with character.

As the crises unfolds, many things will be revealed about ourselves. True character will out. I just hope there are more who are of good character who will come to the rescue and win this epic moral battle that is playing out everywhere.

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – March 4, 2018 – 12:00am

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I knew songs could move crowds to sing out loud and dance. At one point an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug


I left the Philippines on Feb. 23, 2018 to go to the US. The past four days I have been in a hospital in California visiting a relative who has been sick and confined there. I wanted to cheer her up so I made sure I brought something she has always enjoyed. I brought a guitar. She was one of those people who really encouraged me to get into music when I young.

I wanted to sing to her and make sure she had had a great time. I and my sisters Meiling and Babsy were there for her.

She had slowed down quite a bit since the last time saw her. She can barely get out of bed, much less stand and walk by herself. She also gets tired easily so we are lucky to have more than four hours with her in a day.

I made sure she remembered the old times when we all shared happy moments We talked about childhood friends, relatives, happy times. I retold old jokes, and reminisced on crazy experiences. I chose songs that reminded her of home, family, love and friends. Mostly, I played the guitar to make her sing and just enjoy herself.

She remembered all the lyrics to the songs. For three afternoons, we settled ourselves near the nurses’ station and I just played my guitar and sang. Patients would pass by. Some made requests. Some would linger around for about four songs. A few stayed around the whole time we sang. One day, we sang for almost three hours.

In between songs they would talk to us about how great it was to listen to our singing that were part of their childhood and teenage years. Some would quietly cry. Everyone thanked us profusely.

There was a woman who first caught our attention by shouting, “I am so stupid. I want to die,” over and over the morning we arrived. She was a tough one. But every afternoon, she would hang around with us and tell us how much she loved the songs we dished out. She listened attentively and even sang along.

There was this long-haired guy who had a guitar in his room. He sat on his wheelchair as he paid attention to every chord I played. At times, he would borrow the guitar. He missed playing. His fingers had lost their muscle memory to play with conviction. He loved the Beatles.

A well-groomed man in his early ‘60s grooved with every song. During a break, he expressed that he had been living with constant pain all over his upper body for years. He said it was the first time he felt pain-free just by being there and enjoying the music.

It was no surprise that most of the staff in the hospital were Filipinos. All over the world, Filipino nurses have earned their good reputation. The nurses, the office people, the utility men always serve their patients with that love and respect we give to elders back home. There is always more than the usual amount of laughter you hear in hospitals run by Filipinos. They are friendly and like to joke with the patients and always give encouraging words.

On my last day, the staff arranged for me and my sisters to play at the big cafeteria so more people could watch us. As I stood on stage, I smiled and introduced myself and my sisters and told them that we would be singing a few songs. I sang two English songs, one a medley of Paul Anka’s version of ‘90s songs, the other was When I Met You, a hit song I had written some 30 years ago. They went quite well. The next two were Ewan and Panalangin, which I dedicated to the Filipino staff. I then played a couple of Everly Brothers songs on the piano and ended the gig with Hey Jude. The response was enthusiastic. They sang along aloud. We, performers and audience felt wonderful.

It was the most unusual gig I have ever done. It was impromptu. The technicals were not great. It was a simple audio setup. No fancy lighting. No band. I was not in a performance outfit. I did not charge a fee. But we sang with all our hearts and played to a crowd that was dying to be reached out to — and loved. At one point while I was singing, an old woman stood up from her wheelchair and slowly walked up to me to give me a hug. I hugged her back.

I have lived a full life as a performer and a songwriter. I know songs could move crowds to sing out loud, and dance and clap their hands. But this was one moment when I saw the power of music heal broken spirits and lift them enough to add a smile on their faces, a spring to their step, and joy and love in their hearts, even just for a moment.

Counter-intuitive advice 0

Posted on March 05, 2018 by jimparedes

Screen Shot 2018-03-05 at 6.54.01 PM

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE – Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) – February 18, 2018 – 12:00am

You live and learn. You live to learn. That’s a constant in a life. It is instinctive. We learn from the day we are born to the day we die, unless we willfully refuse to learn.

When I think about it, some of the best lessons I have learned were those that seemed to initially go against the grain of things. In many ways, some even seemed counter-intuitive at first. I know some of them will not make sense to a lot of people. They may even shun these lessons. But to me, they opened my eyes to a bigger life. They were not always pleasant but they turned out to be valuable.

Here are some of them:

1) It is better to be sorry than safe.
Okay. I know. The opposite of the statement has always been one of the most important lessons we’ve ever heard from our parents, guardians and teachers. I will be the first to admit that this has saved me from many potentially harmful or unpleasant predicaments.
At the same time, trying to stay on the safe side is not always a great place to be. Staying safe and silent can become a copout, preventing you from practicing what you believe in. Sometimes, as a conscious, concerned human being, you must speak out and go against the madness that rules the world. You will face resistance. You will be cursed and condemned. It will hurt. But you have to do it if you wish to stay true to yourself.

As an artist, I subscribe to this a lot, too. You will never break ground unless you are willing to risk failing. You have to try something new, create something novel, not something derivative. You must go against the tide if you want to be heard.

In the event that you end up sorry, at least you know you learned something. Too often, being safe means being boring and conformist. When you go out and explore beyond what you are sure of, you could end up feeling triumphant, or you could end up regretting. Mistakes can teach you a lot about yourself. At the very least, you experience and discover something new.

2) Don’t ask “Why me?” Ask “What’s next?”
I learned this from the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
In life, we will face disappointments. A big one can stop you in your tracks forever. It could kill your soul. What will decide whether you die or rise from disappointment is your attitude towards it. Instead of asking the world the usual “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”, ask the simpler question, “What’s next?” If you linger too long in victim mode, your heart will become leaden and you will permanently give up on what you wanted to do. You will lose self-confidence and dream smaller.

So at the onset of disappointment and failure, immediately pick yourself up and ask, “What’s next?” In short, if you bump against a door that won’t open, try the next one. And the next, until you get to the right one.

3) “You take care of quantity. God will take of quality.”
This is another lesson I learned from Julia Cameron. Many times, repetition is what you need to do anything well. An athlete who keeps running the same track daily will one day realize that he has just beaten his own personal best record. And soon after, he breaks the school record, then the national record, etc.

My Zen teacher used to urge us to sit daily in meditation. Enlightenment is not something to seek, he would say. It will happen when it happens. It will happen maybe on your 46th sit, or your 98th or maybe 500th sit. Who knows? One thing is sure, though. It won’t happen if you do not do your sits. And when it happens, it will be an accident.

As a songwriter, I know that not every song I write will be good. I have to write a lot to accidentally make a few good ones. It’s as simple and crazy as that.

So if you want to be “accident prone” to perfection, enlightenment, or anything of value, you must keep repeating your process and go for quantity.

4) “If you meet the Buddha, you must kill him.” — Master Linj, founder of Rinzai sect
Clearly this is metaphorical. And like most koans from Zen, there are many ways to understand this. I have a few takes on this. For this article, I wish to share one of them and it goes something like this.

We were born to live and learn. We must be ready to constantly learn ever new things, lessons and realizations. We must be ready to outgrow and surpass our teachers, idols and authorities, especially in our understanding of life. There are no final goals and ideals to achieve and rest upon. Every time we reach a certain level, we must go past its gate. There are no end goals. We must surpass everything, including ourselves. When we have become the Buddha, we must also kill ourselves. (This is metaphorical, of course.)

In short, live and learn. Live to learn. And keep learning while you live.

5) Lastly, be the first to forgive.
It goes against the grain of how ego wants you to live. The truth is, this kind of pride can be toxic. Don’t let negativity stick. Let it slide. It does you no good. Extend the hand of forgiveness!

Read more at https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/sunday-life/2018/02/18/1788771/counter-intuitive-advice#OAHvMscytd8rTIj1.99


  • display_thumbnail.php

  • March 2018
    M T W T F S S
    « Feb   Apr »
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  


↑ Top