Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


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Back to basics 0

Posted on May 28, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 28, 2017 – 12:00am

More and more, I realize how important it is NOT to engage too much in distractions like television and social media. In fact, it is good to divest and let go of a lot of what society and modern life are asking from us. I am speaking of the need to acquire or own “the latest,” the “new and improved,” the “best” whatever. It means ignoring the impulse to buy, or subscribe to the call to consume, own, possess, or be attached to material things.

Simplicity. The basic stuff. That’s what I aim for when I feel the world controls too much of me. I clear out stuff I don’t need or use anymore, like clothes I haven’t worn for more than a year, the exercise machines I stopped using that I keep under the bed, even files and photos on my computer which I haven’t opened for some time. I also let go of trying to be fashionable and cool, and the need to conform. I basically try to live with less.

The world can be so attractive and alluring. It is so easy for a person to be convinced he/she needs something to be happy or fulfilled. I try to fight that mindset and go inward instead of listening to the world.

What I find inward when I am full-on present is a feeling of completeness. I don’t need anything. I have everything I need. I am my own source of strength, fire and inspiration. My sacred space is not a geographical area but rather a state of mind and spirit. I am here where I am meant to be.

During such moments, the world can move on and I do not care if I am left behind. Being alone is fine and even wonderful. It is a very special moment yet it feels very familiar. It is as if it is our most natural state that we have forgotten.

There are times as an artist when I feel I am in my zone, like I am in my true element. I am in a flow. This is the same feeling, except that I am not doing music. I am not doing anything. I am only being.

In everyday life, I do not always crave certain types of food. Sure, I have my favorite dishes and I enjoy them. If I can’t have them, I do not make a big fuss. I literally eat what is available or what is served at the table. And whatever it is, I find comfort in it. I am thankful I am eating.

When I shop for clothes, I do not buy branded or fashionable styles. I go primarily for comfort. I do not like spending too much on myself. I have some clothes I have been wearing for more than 10 years. And that is just fine.

I do not like feeling entitled because I am a relatively familiar public person. I am aware that life has its disappointments. Just like everyone else, I must manage expectations all the time.

I am always dealing with ego issues. And that is the hardest thing. Ego is hard to kill and when you do, it manages to resurrect in full force. But sometimes I am successful. I can readily stand to be corrected when I am wrong. I have no problem with that. I can face opposition to views I hold. I do not take it personally. I can listen to criticism and not feel diminished by it. But I will not waste time with people of ill intent on social media. Life is too short to try and push my point of view or find the rhyme and reason in what they are saying. I just block them. When I am asked how I should be introduced during a talk, which is what I often do now, I say to just introduce me as an artist, or however they want. I am not big on titles, or bragging about achievements. Many times, I feel overrated and uncomfortable when I am introduced glowingly. I feel like I am attending my own funeral.

What I like is sharing my experiences and the little knowledge I have and getting people’s reactions. I go for “aha” moments, which I try to give my audience, and the reactions they elicit in me.

I am a performer whose career peaked years ago. I can accept not having as strong a presence on the radar screen as my group had during our heyday. When we do perform, I enjoy it more now because it does not happen as often as it used to. I am aware that fame, wealth and influence are fleeting. It is as it is. That’s the way of the world. And I find comfort in not having to act the way famous people are expected to. I just engage people as the person that I am.

It is not so much about rejecting the world, although more and more, to be real and whole persons, we must often say no to it. As the Bible puts it, “Be in the world, but not of it.”

It is a good mantra to remember.

The opposite side 0

Posted on May 21, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 21, 2017 – 12:00am

I am in Sydney as I write this. I have been here two weeks.? Prior to this visit, I was home for close to 10 months with only one foreign trip, to Taiwan. I have been, for the most part, home in the Philippines.?

Australia is where I have two children who have become citizens and who have chosen this country as the place where they will live, work, raise a family, build a home and a future. I have been to Australia many times, especially in the past 10 years. More than at any time, as I live here from day to day, it does not escape me that Australia and the Philippines are like two opposite worlds. I am not talking of these two nations as apples and oranges, although objectively speaking, one can argue that they are. I am talking as a Filipino who has spent most of his life living in my home country and occasionally experiencing life Down Under.?

The weather is a good place to start the comparison. Back home, we have two seasons: the dry and wet seasons, also known as the warm and the cool times of the year. As I write this, it is winter in Sydney, the temperature is nine degrees Celsius, while it is summer in Manila with the temperature hitting the high 30s. While Filipinos are suffering through the sweltering heat, we are enjoying manageable cold weather in Sydney. ??Where we look forward to enjoying a cold weather Christmas in the Philippines, here, it is “tank top” weather during Christmas. It is the height of summer and the temperature often goes past 40 degrees. People wear shorts, T-shirts and slippers. Definitely no sweaters on Simbang Gabi.

?Another striking difference here compared to back home is how Australia values the dignity of manual labor. I am talking about tradesmen such as plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, painters, gardeners, etc. To become a certified tradesman, one must go to school for proper training, then through years of apprenticeship before one can be licensed. A tradesman is expected to do a good job or a customer can take him to court and he could lose his license. ?When you need a tradesman, you have to make an appointment and pay lots of money for the consultation and the actual work done. Years ago, when we had a problem with our toilet here in Sydney, we called a newly arrived immigrant who was an unlicensed plumber to fix it. It was our way of helping him get established in Sydney. A few weeks later, the toilet broke down again and we finally called a licensed plumber. He pointed out that the replaced parts of the toilet (which had been repaired earlier) were of poor quality and were not even installed correctly. ?Before you get your car’s registration renewed, it must be inspected by a licensed mechanic (if it is over four years old) who must certify that it is road-worthy. After registration, if your car gets into an accident due to, say, faulty brakes, the government will go after you and your mechanic who will probably lose his license. ?Back home, we are still far from this level of professionalism where people are held accountable if they do not do their jobs well.?

We also fall very far behind in the delivery of justice. Down Under, politicians have been booted out of office for simple infractions such as not reporting an upgrade they enjoyed during a flight, or not reporting receiving an expensive bottle of liquor as a gift. A judge lost his job, pension and reputation for lying to the police about who was using his car that was caught speeding. He said it was driven by an American friend who had left the country. When the police investigated, they discovered that the judge’s American friend had died two years earlier. I think the judge also served jail time. Many years back, popular Prime Minister Bob Hawke was waving to people on the street from his car when he was called out by TV viewers who said he was not wearing a seatbelt. He ended up paying a fine. ?Big politicians, businessmen, famous people are routinely arrested when they commit crimes. No big deal. Police routinely order drivers to pull over for alcohol and drug tests. Driving violations are fined heavily. You can actually lose your license depending on the violations you commit.?

During the first year we moved to Sydney, I woke up to a knock on the door at 2 a.m. It was the police. Before I opened the door, I asked my wife if our son was home. I thought he might have gotten into some trouble. He was asleep in his room. When I opened the door, the police asked me how many cars I had. I said I had one. He then said that I had left my garage door open, and advised me to close it. I was impressed at how much effort the police took to make our neighborhood safe.?

Traffic is a monumental problem in Metro Manila. People complain of traffic here in Sydney too, but it is nowhere near what we go through back home. If you define heavy traffic as not having moved forward for at least 15 minutes (as often happens in Metro Manila), I don’t think I have experienced “heavy traffic” here at all. By Philippine standards, traffic is non-existent in Sydney. People call it traffic if their car is the fifth or sixth vehicle before the traffic light. ?

Lastly, I must say, it is more fun to spend your money in the Philippines because it is far less expensive there than here. Your usual McDonald’s meal back home of a burger, fries and a soda is four times more expensive in Australia. To get a car registered with insurance will cost close to P50,000. Council fees (the equivalent of barangay fees which we don’t pay back home) cost P60,000 per year. The cost of houses and rent keeps going up to ridiculous heights and there seems to be no end in sight. They say that properties in the Sydney area double in price every 10 years. A real concern is that a great majority of young people are not able to afford owning a home.

I have learned to love living in both Manila and Sydney. Each has its charms and its downsides. While my roots are in the Philippines, I like the different pace and dictates of living in a place where rules are more clearly defined and observed. I also love how much open spaces there are in Sydney compared to the density of Manila. I feel comfortable with and assured by the peace and order, and the predictability of life here. I love the snow-less winter. I also love the new friends I have made here. ?However, I enjoy the freedom of living back home. Sometimes, life in Sydney can feel too regulated. There are so many rules. It is great to have access to both worlds. I am reminded of a Zen saying that goes, “The opposite side also has an opposite side.” That’s fine by me.

A new mom speaks 0

Posted on May 13, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 14, 2017 – 12:00am

Author Jim Paredes’ daughter Ala Paredes Buencamino and her baby.

For this Mother’s Day, I decided to ask my daughter, Ala Paredes Buencamino, to write her feelings down about being a new mom. I thought first-time mothers out there would resonate with this since most Mother’s Day articles will probably be talking about older mothers and how they have successfully raised their children.

* * *

How are the first weeks of motherhood?” That’s what your friends who don’t have children ask. The correct answer is to paint a picture of a cuddle-filled existence that manages to be fulfilling even with very little sleep and having to change a hundred dirty diapers per day.

Here is a real answer: motherhood is fragile, physically and emotionally. While I found that I was prepared to endure birth without pain relief, I was unprepared for how long and slow postpartum recovery would be. I felt strong during my 10-hour labor, a mighty force of nature; but I felt flimsy and helpless when, two weeks later, my knees were still wobbling, I couldn’t sit up unassisted, I could barely walk, and I had this new, unfamiliar body covered in aches and pains. They say postpartum recovery takes six weeks; true, but only if you are Wonder Woman.

Early parenthood is full of doubts and perceived failures that have the power to shatter you and reduce you to a blubbering mess. One such “failure” was when my newborn lost too much weight in her first few days of life due to a delay in my milk supply. While I knew intellectually that this was not a “failure” on my part, it certainly felt like one, as though I couldn’t fulfill my basic duty of providing for my hungry baby. As I bottle-fed her with formula to get her weight back on track, I would collapse into emotional sobs. “She’s starving! My body has failed her!” I cried as my husband tried to console me.

Eventually, I learned to stiffen up and keep these imaginary failures in perspective. I was doing the best I could with what I had at that time. Being gentle and forgiving with yourself.

And while you learn to let many things roll off your back, you cry and feel a little resentful when you see your partner have free time to enjoy hobbies, something that is denied to you in the meantime. You feel sorry for yourself because you’re exhausted, unwashed, and barely have time to even put on a complete set of clothing, then immediately feel guilty about experiencing any amount of self-pity. Shouldn’t you be acting like a mature adult by now? You chose to have a kid so suck it up and deal with it, honey.

Still, you cry because so much is on you, you, YOU. You’re the mom. You carried this child in your womb for nine months, and you mean the world to this tiny, little person who can often only be comforted by your heartbeat, your smell, and the sound of your voice — nobody else’s! If you are breastfeeding, you are your baby’s irreplaceable, round-the-clock giver of life. All that responsibility on someone who feels so fragile.

mothersday

Fragile because the transition into motherhood is an extreme chemical change in your identity, one that cannot ever be undone. For the first time in your life your heart truly feels its own depth and freedom as you’re overcome with a sublime love that feels almost too big to contain. You feel a heightened sense of time passing, watching your infant change faster than you can love each amazing version of her. You watch moments of heartbreaking beauty fly past you, never to be repeated. Oh, the joy you feel over that miraculous first smile, those heavenly hours you spend watching her as she sleeps, marveling at the wonder of her existence; and all you can do is pray that your memory will not fail and that those memories will keep your heart warm throughout the years.

So many big emotions rolled into one incomprehensible, beautiful mess. No wonder it’s easier to just stick to clichés when people ask you what motherhood is like. But here’s my answer in a nutshell: you have to be either crazy or naive to want to be a mom. I guess I’m both.

A trip to Sagada 0

Posted on May 07, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 7, 2017 – 12:00am

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A breathtaking view on the way up. Fog invasion.

After decades of saying I wanted to go to Sagada, I finally decided two weeks ago to set the date and do it. When I married Lydia, we vowed we would go to Sagada, but never followed through. We’ve opted for many other travels other than this place we had heard so much about.

Summer was going fast. I felt that I had not done any great traveling yet. Lydia was abroad. I did not want to let summer end and regret not embarking on some trip to remember.

Last week, with my driver Zenon, my grandchild Ananda and her friend Tricia, we finally took the 11-hour drive up to Sagada. The ride to Baguio, which was the first part of the trip, was fairly easy. It took us less than five hours. We stopped for lunch and then proceeded to Trinidad Valley to start our journey further upward. This was a bit tough, not because it was a long drive but because half of it is zigzagging roads. You have to really pay attention.

But the scenery was at times so breathtaking that we had to stop and take photos. Mountains of pines everywhere, an occasional waterfall, a sudden fog invasion, unexpected hard rainfall, pretty flowers lining the road kept us entertained and focused.

On the road up, we would sometimes feel we were lost and would stop and ask for directions. What I noticed was people in the area seemed to have a poor sense of distance. They may know directions but distance is always underestimated. During our fifth hour of driving, we asked a lady how far Sagada was and she said it was a kilometer away — only to discover it was 12 kilometers further up. We also asked directions to our hotel when we got there and someone said it was 600 meters away. It was more like one kilometer.

We arrived at the Shamrock Tavern at 7 p.m., which was to be our modest abode for the next three nights and days. In Sagada, most things are modest. Do not expect five-star accommodations. Mostly, you will have a decent place to sleep, a shower and CR, and that is about it. It is a small, rustic town and for all practical purposes, everything is within walking distance. The foreigners like to walk in their shorts and sandals while the Filipino vacationers like to ride.

The weather at this time was not very cold. It was about 24 degrees when I was there. You could feel the heat of the sun on your skin at noon but the air was cool and breezy enough to keep you from perspiring. I was wearing T-shirts every day. In the evenings, I would put on a jacket. But locals say that from September to February, expect the temperature to drop to a very cold eight-degree Celsius.

Sagada has many nice restaurants and places to eat. Notable are Sagada Brew, Lemon Pie, Strawberry Cafe, Yoghurt Place, and a few others. Eating out is great. And the average cost per meal is around P150 to P250! Yes, you read that right. All the meals I ate at Sagada Brew where delicious and wonderful. When you go there, try the pasta and the steak meal. You really get value for money.

When we planned the trip we thought we would do the sights on our own. As it turned out, you really need a guide to show you around for practically every spot you wish to visit. It is mandated. And you need to register as a visitor at the tourism office when you get to Sagada. Your guide can do that for you.

The first attraction we visited was the famous hanging coffins. This is a burial site where coffins are suspended on the side of a cliff to hang. On my way down a steep incline with improvised steps to get there, I slid down and twisted my ankles, tore my pants and got a gash. I was shocked since I do a lot of walking on similar trails in Australia and I’ve never slipped or fallen. Painful as it was, I still managed to reach the sight and take photos. Our guide who was very knowledgeable and he explained the tradition to us. I will not discuss it here since you may want to hear it for yourself during some future trip.

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I had to rest my ankle after we climbed back. After lunch, Ananda and Tricia visited Sumaguing Cave. There are two paths inside the cave: the easy and the difficult. Not surprisingly, the two of them chose the difficult one and had the time of their lives.

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Did some pottery.

Despite my swollen ankles, I was able to visit four other places, and photographed a sunset at Lake Danum. I was also able to visit a place called Agid where I waited for Tricia and Ananda who met us there after trekking to a big waterfall and swimming for two hours. We also attended a pottery session. We noticed that we did not have enough time to see all the sights.

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The trail at Agid which the kids took to get to us.

On our last day, we woke up at 4 a.m. to go to Kiltepan, an outlook ridge famous for its spectacular sunrises. When we got there, hundreds of people had already arrived earlier. We found our viewing spots and waited patiently. And waited. And waited. By about 5:20, I knew the sun would be a no-show. It was a cloudy day and all we saw was night turning to day. It happens, I guess. But none of us felt bad about it. We had arroz caldo and champorado which we bought from vendors as we enjoyed the cold morning.

Driving down was more relaxed. I was at the wheel and I knew the road already. It was a Saturday and the traffic going up had peaked the day before. There were few cars going down to Baguio.

I had heard a few legends about Sagada. One of them was that you could buy marijuana easily and no one frowned at you for being high. I asked the people from there about this and they said it was true. But not anymore. Duterte’s drug campaign put an end to that.

There was this other story we heard during the ’80s, that NPA warriors and military would cross one another’s paths in Sagada but neither side would fire a shot. They considered the territory a war-free zone, an escape from hostilities. An old cadre from the left confirmed this and so did one resident I talked to.

As much as I love Sagada, I was actually hesitant to write about it because, frankly, I do not want too many people going up there and destroying its pristine, rustic quality. But alas, I saw the cafes visibly filled up the night before we left with people who had suddenly ascended from below the mountains. They were brought in by “agencies,” as the locals like to call organizers of tourist groups.

I am glad that many people are still turned off by the long drive to get there. I secretly smile when vacationers who have not gone up get anxious about the less than five-star accommodations and the sites that demand some physical challenges to get to them.

No. This is not a place for your average tourist who is on the lookout for discos or nightclubs, or eating in elegant restaurants. It is more for tourists who like gazing at the stars at night, and who like to walk during the day and enjoy the simplicity of life there.

And I hope it remains so for a long time.

Life is music that must be performed 0

Posted on April 22, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 23, 2017 – 12:00am

There are many ways to describe life. We can be optimistic, pessimistic, didactic, light, heavy, etc. We can see it as happy, sad, crazy, profound. It is full of trials, or maybe abundant with blessings, a cup that is full, or empty. Life is a test, a challenge. Life can feel like a roll of the dice. It seems very random and meaningless. But no! To some, life is full of meaning. Some will say life is predetermined.

There is no limit to what we can say about life. There are as many opinions about it as there are people on earth. And everyone will probably be changing their assessment and description of life many times in their lifetime.

I would like to use the metaphor of the world of music to describe what life may be.
Life is music that must be performed. You are born with an audience waiting for you to do your thing. It may take you many years to write a song to express who you are, and practice it and hopefully be good at it. But be reassured (or terrified) that you have a slot in the program of life. It is already there waiting for you. It may not even be just one song or performance that will be required of you. It may be many.

The song that you will write and perform is something you will decide for yourself. Inspiration will come from all your experiences. Your background and upbringing will determine the style, the genre, mood and theme of what you will write.

So be prepared. Anything goes. Who knows? You may be called to write, say, a jazz piece.

If that is the musical performance you will do, know that you will be required to be “in the moment” and express yourself spontaneously. You will write and perform as you go along. You will make on-the-spot decisions on what notes to play, given the key, progression or flow that is life at the moment.

You will need to be totally immersed, concentrated and in full awareness as you ad-lib your way through the performance. It will demand that you come from everything you know in theory and things you’ve learned from practical living. You will be required to approach the piece with a boldness and audacity to risk and trust that you are making sense. And as you play, you will come from creativity, joy and lightness.

Or you could be playing classical music. You trained long and hard for this as a pianist. You may have memorized every note and have learned all the nuances of every part of the piece. You have practiced every day for years. You’ve put in so many hours for this that you can play it without the music charts in front of you. You have listened to the best classical performers playing this piece and through your mentors you have learned to come up with your own take on it. You have mastered the balance of technique and emotions. You are very ready. Hopefully all the players in the orchestra are ready as well.

You are performing at a venue with a reputation for showcasing the best talents. You are a bit nervous but you are confident that you will do well. Your name has been introduced. You march in to applause and you sit on the piano chair and begin.

You could be a famous pop artist. You’ve played countless gigs everywhere. You’ve experienced small and large venues, met hundreds and thousands of people, sold a lot of records. You’ve earned your chops and managed to be “in the zone” during most performances. Good for you. You know hundreds of songs and from experience you know which hit song to sing that will wow a crowd.

While it took years of hardship playing gigs wherein the audience was oblivious to what you played, you now enjoy the attention and respect of a large fan base that fanatically supports you. Everything you do is appreciated and wildly applauded.

Or you could be a new artist on the make. Sometimes, the venue is not that great, and the gig is not a big one. It may not even be prestigious. It could be a small venue or even a begging job singing on the street with your guitar case open for tips and donations.

But hey, there is still an audience, however small, to play for, thank God. You will still play your heart out. You live for those who stick around long enough to watch you sing a song or two, or three, and leave something.
You trust that someone out there could be listening very intently and is inspired at what he/she is listening to. To that person, your performance matters a lot. You are touching their heartstrings and bringing them to a state of beauty and aesthetics that brightens their boring lives. Just for that, you give it all you’ve got.

In this metaphor of life as musical performance, what is clear is that somehow, you will be called to show your talent and you must play the music that makes sense to you the most. Your performance is your moment of truth sharing.

But whatever metaphor you use, it is clear that the biggest requirement of life is it must be lived. I am not trying to trivialize it. You must show up for life because if you don’t, there is no life to talk about. Nothing happens.

And because you do show up, other people will be affected in some way by your presence. Hopefully, the effect is something that will enrich them in many ways. So show up for that slot that is there for you. And play the most beautiful, richest music that you have made. Write and learn a lot of songs. Perform them to the best of you abilities. That is the meaning of life!

Defying death 0

Posted on April 16, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 16, 2017 – 12:00am

We are always wishing for redemption stories or outcomes. When someone is sick, we pray they get well. When someone is troubled or depressed, we want them to feel better and live more positive and happy lives. When something is broken, we want it fixed. When something is not right, we want to make it right.

We value wellness, the restoration of things that have gone bad from good. We value continuity and expanded opportunities to partake of the good things in life. And when we already have them, we wish that things do not change. But if they must, it should be in the direction of growth towards greater opportunities that will make our lives even better.

The meaning of the Resurrection is to bring back the good from the side of the bad. In this case, it is to bring the dead back to life and to make them live eternally. That is its promise.

To defeat death is one of mankind’s primordial yearnings. Death, as we have been told, is an inevitability. That’s what history and time have told us, and it has been proven time and again. So far!

In college, I read a paper by a philosopher who dared look at death as a possibility instead of a forgone conclusion. I can no longer remember the writer of the essay but the premise struck me as bold, daring and defiant.

Much scientific, social and medical efforts are being taken in this direction and man’s longevity has improved dramatically in the past 100 years.

It used to be that when I woke up, I thought of the next 24 hours as something that brought me closer to death. But almost every day now, when I wake up, I chuckle because I know that, so far, I have defied death. My being alive proves it! It sounds funny but it is true that I have been successful so far!

This got me thinking that while I am literarily alive and defying death as of now, I must still consider the possibility of dying someday. And yes, I am stubbornly using the word “possibility” and not “inevitability.” Not yet. I will interchange these two words when I start to see that death is imminent.

But whether it happens or not, every person must think of what he wants to leave the world. It is true that every person wants to shape the world in his own image and likeness, for good or for bad. And this is where we go back to where I started in this article.

We must actively create redemption stories and narratives in the way we live our lives. We must bet on values that make redemption stories more possible and be living examples of them.

In this age of extreme polarities, we must side with the good. Our values must defy the culture of death that promotes hunger, sickness, starvation, addiction, anti-people policies that promote extra judicial killings and allow refugees to die at sea while trying to escape persecution and build a new life.

We must fight for truth and goodness that benefits mankind. This suggests a host of things we can do, like comforting the sick, educating the ignorant, feeding the hungry, uplifting the lives of the poor and the wretched, and creating a more inclusive world where everyone can enjoy a great degree of equality, equity and the good life.

We must promote these values so they become an integral part of our existence and the way we understand what it means to be human.

What kind of people must we become then? We must have tolerance, patience and compassion for others, and for ourselves. We must try to continuously create happiness not just for us but for everyone. We must be purposeful so that every day’s effort is valuable and the days we spend are worth living.

Truth, honesty, love, wishing people well and promoting goodwill in our daily transactions will push falsehoods, ill intentions, threats to life, bullying and manipulation into a smaller corner or sphere of influence.

By defying death, we become the light in the darkness, promoting inclusivity, fairness and love. When we make life worth living for us and for everyone, we are living the Resurrection.

Happy Easter!

10,000 hours 0

Posted on April 09, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 9, 2017 – 12:00am

Writer Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Outliers writes about the “10,000-hour Rule,” where he posits that to be able to achieve expertise in any skill, one must spend at least 10,000 hours practicing. He cites the Beatles as an example. The group spent so much time in Hamburg, Germany doing about eight sets a night that they could perform their songs without much effort.

Talking with my sister Lory over dinner about how much music we have listened to since we were very young, she reminded me of Gladwell‘s theory. Yes, surely we spent a great deal of time listening to music. I remember having 78 RPM records at age three and my sister and I would play them on a phonograph that an uncle made for us. We would play our records for hours and hours.

Later, my dad invested in a good Hi-Fi set, as it was called back then. I was still below six years old and I had memorized the soundtrack of West Side Story. We listened and sang with records of the Kingston Trio, a lot of Broadway musicals, Elvis, Gogi Grant, Danny Kaye and a whole lot more. It seemed like music was everywhere around us. It is no wonder we sang together as a family.

We probably ended up learning music theory without having to study it. We could sing hundreds of songs. I even memorized the musical arrangements of most of them that I would also sing them with the lyrics and melodies. Just by listening to a lot of great music, I must have imbibed song structures, lyrical rhymes, and varied tastes from rock’n’roll to classical, pop to jazz, from the popular to the sophisticated.

And then there were the lyrics written with passion, skill, and style. Some were so poetic and elegant I fell in love with them.

I invited the talented jingle writer Mike Villegas to give a talk to my class on songwriting, describing his music process. He said that he uses a little mathematical-like formula to come up with melodies. It involves the scale and the notes that fit into certain chords. It was quite interesting and it helped my class understand songwriting better.

As I listened to Mike, I knew that what he was talking about was pretty intuitive to me. I just Knew it, probably because of the thousands of hours of music I have listened to and played in my life. I have a developed sense of what comprises good, well-written music and songs. I just know a good melody when I hear one, and I can even change the chords in my head to make the song sound different.

At a songwriting workshop where Mike and I participated, he said he was amazed that I and singer-songwriter Ebe Dancel would tell our students to simply go to the garden and write a song. He was totally impressed at how some people can make songs out of thin air. Of course, not all songs written that way are good songs. But it works for me. I have a full library of references that I have been listening to since childhood, and it has honed my intuition about what a good song is.

The 10,000 hours theory makes sense. When you do something as often as that, it sharpens your skills and heightens your perceptions and insights into what you are repeatedly doing. It is like total immersion. You marinate in the universe of your practice and master most of its secrets. My sister says she sees images when she listens to melodies. I see colors for certain chords and I have these feelings when I hear some songs and chord progressions.

You are a citizen of the universe you live in. In my case, I look at my universe of music as having contours like a geographical spread. It has colors and images. I also see and hear music as something that is alive, dynamic and full of emotions. It even has a rationality to it.

The idea behind the 10,000 hours of practice theory or exposure to a field of knowledge or interest is to make you so good that even on your bad day, you are anything but bad.

When APO used to do many shows, we actually felt we got better and better as we went along. Our harmonies were cleaner. There was less effort hitting notes and singing lines in unison. When we sang our own songs, we realized an emotional depth and understanding that we didn’t know was there when we wrote them. Even the comedy we did onstage was more relaxed, natural and funny. And more enjoyable to do.

If you want your children to love music — or any other thing, or that matter — start them early. Expose them to songs that are not from their generation. Give them variety and help them appreciate material from different eras and in different genres. There are simply many more good songs from past generations than what the kids are listening to these days.

Use the reset button 0

Posted on April 02, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated April 2, 2017 – 12:00am

Life can get difficult. The money chase can put so much pressure on a person, it may seem like his whole life’s purpose is about earning money.

You need money to pay the rent or amortization, to feed the family, to send kids to school, to live a good life. And so you work and work because that is how you can pay the bills and have some surplus money for the future.

Modern life can pull you every which way. There is the pressure to earn, to conform, to constantly compete, to succeed, to be politically correct. There is also traffic, pollution, and the stream of life on hyper speed. Everything but the traffic seems to be moving too fast. There is no rest anywhere.

There are ways to deal with things when they become unbearable. Some may be good but some may also be harmful. Let’s start with what is harmful.

There are things you can take into your body that can deaden the pain you may be feeling. There’s alcohol, different types of drugs, and food that will make you feel good even for a while. But to keep on relying on these to help you cope is unsustainable and unrealistic.

There are other distractions like gambling, sex, and the constant pursuit of activities that excite you enough to keep altering your mood. John Bradshaw, a psychologist who writes about addictions, says that anything we do regularly that is mood altering can be addictive. Too much of anything can be bad for you. Below, he talks about, and this will surprise you, religious addiction. Yes, there is such a thing.

“The feeling of righteousness is the core mood alteration among religious addicts. Religious addiction is a massive problem in our society. It may be the most pernicious of all addictions because it’s so hard for a person to break his delusion and denial. How can anything be wrong with loving God and giving your life for good works and service to mankind?”

I don’t intend to start a discussion on religion here. Bradshaw’s point is, anything in great excess can be addictive.

There are positive ways we can reset ourselves and make us feel refreshed and ready to go back to the battlefield of daily living. All the practices that can help us cope with life in ways that won’t hurt us have something to do with going inside ourselves. But to do so, we must be able to empty ourselves so that new energy can come in.

Below are some “reset buttons” you can use to get your energy back:

1. Exercise. At any age, exercise is beneficial to your health and well-being. Physical activity makes you come alive and aware of your own body. It’s great to release the endorphins that exercise brings. Your body, with its emotions, feelings and drives, is your way of experiencing life and the world. Include yoga, tai chi, and other physical-mental disciplines.

2. Meditation. Meditation in and of itself is a good thing. You don’t need a reason to do it but it will help you. All there is to meditation is to be aware of everything that is happening as you sit quietly. It does not demand that you be analytical, defensive, or anything. All it asks is that you allow yourself to be free and observe everything that is coming and going without attachment or self-interest. Let your thoughts, opinions, and biases come and go. Somewhere, sometime during constant meditative practice, your authentic self will appear. Life will still be the same with all the good and bad in it, but you will have changed and found your power to let go.

3. Stop social media from taking over your life. Sure, our friends are there and that’s where we catch up with them. But virtual life is not real life. In real life, you talk to people and interact with them more completely. You can’t mute or block them instantly. You come present as you are. You show up to real life.

Every once in a while, it is beneficial to disengage from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and live the way humanity did from the beginning of time up to around 10 years ago when the smart phone took over our lives. If you give more of your time and energy to virtual life, your real life may suffer immensely. Talk, shake hands, hug, laugh, tell stories, express opinions spontaneously while facing a real person.

4. Keep a journal. Writing can help you get in touch with who you are and give you a sense of being centered. Getting to know and becoming clear to yourself can help you find your life’s purpose. The world is a confusing place but you can know yourself well enough not to get lost.

Finding truths in love stories 0

Posted on March 25, 2017 by jimparedes

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

I watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with my sister five days ago. Right after I watched it, I posted this reaction on social media: “Just saw Beauty and the Beast. EVERYTHING about it is superlatively wonderful. Magical in all aspects. Music is beyond beautiful.”

I watched it again two days later, again with my sister, but this time I brought my granddaughter who enjoyed it immensely. I am excited to watch it a third time.

As a child, I was introduced to the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen who wrote these stories centuries ago. I read their fairy tales with great fascination. But, as expected, I pretty much outgrew them when I got older. They were for children and I had grown up and I started reading more adult literary stuff. But when I had my own kids, I bought children’s books and got them interested in these same stories.

It was later in my life when I discovered the writer Joseph Campbell that my interest in myths and tales came back in full force. Campbell, one of my favorite writers, says that these types of stories are found in many cultures, and he predicts that their popularity will remain with humankind for a long time because they speak of universal experience and truth.

“Myths are popular because they are true,” he writes, though not in the literal sense. They speak in symbols and must be appreciated as such. They are connotative rather than denotative, meaning they are not to be taken literally. Unlike its opposite, there is nothing magical about literal stories. Their meaning is static. They are dead ends. Campbell likes to say that “literalism kills.” On the other hand, the symbolic opens you up to greater mystery. And therein lies its power.

Take “Cinderella.” Campbell says that similar stories exist in China and many other countries. When you reduce the story to its essentials, it is about a young woman who is finding her place in the world. And where does she find it? In the arms of a man.

Hollywood made movies like Pretty Woman and My Fair Lady. Basically, these are stories about women who ultimately find meaning and validation in life when it is bestowed upon them by the opposite sex. Through the approval of men, they find their rightful place in society.

In this age of emerging equality among the sexes, it can be shocking to read something like this. The point is, male dominance has been the norm for centuries and such mythical narratives have been passed on through generations. But not anymore.

Lately, Hollywood has told stories to reflect the new emerging values. The movie Maleficent, a new interpretation of “Sleeping Beauty,” is one such story. Instead of waking up from a kiss by a prince, Sleeping Beauty awakens to true love’s kiss from a female mother figure!

A fairy tale I find fascinating is “The Frog Prince.” It starts off with a princess who loses a golden ball in a pond. She tries to retrieve it but she is unable to. Soon, a frog shows up and offers to give the ball back to her. But in exchange, she must take him home and she must eat with him at the same table, and sleep beside him. Without thinking, the princess says yes, gets her ball back and goes home to the castle.

At dinner with her father, the king, they hear a knocking on the door. The king asks his daughter, the princess, if she invited someone over. The princess hesitates to answer but finally admits that she did. The king insists that she must keep her word.

And that is where her misery begins. She cannot stand being with the hideous frog day and night. But her misery only ends when she kisses the frog and it turns into a prince.

Campbell says that the gem behind this story is the truth that life is indeed horrendous, like living day and night with a detestable frog. It only gets better when you accept how terrible life is. Only then can you begin to be happy and see life’s blessings. And that is what exactly happens to the princess when she kisses the frog.

The new Beauty and the Beast portrays Belle as a beautiful woman with brains — a reader, and a strong, brave character by no means anything like the typical helpless damsel Belle used to be. She has been refashioned as a new, more modern archetype. The modern attributes added to the character of Belle make the film resonate with contemporary viewers.

The lessons in the story about seeing, appreciating and loving a person beyond physical appearances and putting a higher value on internal virtues, have not changed. The challenge of finding “true love” will always be with us. This is why this tale is, as the song goes, indeed, “as old as time.”

Take time to watch Disney’s new version of this classic, and you’ll not only be dazzled by the music and visual effects, you’ll be moved by the truth of this love story.

Hello, Marceline 1

Posted on March 18, 2017 by jimparedes

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

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 6.44.32 AM
Illustration by Ala Paredes-Buencamino

Lydia and I became grandparents for the second time three weeks ago. My daughter Ala and her husband John gave birth to Marceline, a beautiful, tiny miracle. Thank God, Ala had a very safe delivery. Mother, father and baby are well. John and Ala are still giddy about the whole experience.

This is the second grandchild Lydia and I have been gifted with. The first one is Ananda who was born 12 years ago. Marceline was a little under six pounds at birth. As the days go by, her facial features seem to change. Almost every day, I see in her the faces of different people on my side of the family.

It is wonderful that what started with just Lydia and me has become a family with three children who are now adults. A son-in-law has joined us, and now two granddaughters have made the family bigger. Special moments like weddings and births give us a deep sense of what family is all about and how lucky it is that we were all thrown together to share this life with all its gifts.

When I heard about Marceline’s birth, I burst into Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely? I was euphoric; I could not stop singing the song for three days. Sometimes, family life drags on with very little happening. Although I knew that she would be born soon, the reality of her finally coming into the world is just way beyond wonderful. It gives me the feeling that life does indeed go on, and yes, life is beautiful.

Lydia is in Sydney helping the new parents care for the baby. She sends pictures of herself holding Marceline, feeding and caring for her and I can’t help but be aware of the sweep of time that has transpired and made this all possible.

I often ponder what would have happened if people had not made certain decisions (big or small) in their lives. How would their lives have turned out? What if I had turned down my cousin’s invitation to go with him to a party 41 years ago where I met my wife? What if Ala and John had not met at the time they did? It is funny that before they met, both of them had resolved not to date Filipinos. What sleight of hand of destiny made the attraction they had for each other possible?

Every life, no matter how well planned, is touched by the magic of synchronicity. In the ’70s, this was called serendipity — the coming together of events and people that turns into wonderful outcomes. It is the lucky break — swerte, as we call it — a magical gift. I like to think that it is also, in a deep spiritual sense, God’s plan and abundance playing out.

In the book The Soul’s Code written by Jungian psychologist James Hillman, he writes about how uncanny it is that sometimes, two people meet and have a night of passion, produce an offspring and never see each other again. He speculates, could it be that some divine plan caused two particular people to be in the same place and time to make a human being who is uniquely genetically equipped to perform a particular mission on earth?

It’s quite a thought to ponder.

Every human being born into this world, under whatever circumstance, is a wild card that can define or shape the future. Each person has unique characteristics that will dictate to a great extent his calling in his own life.

When I look at Marceline’s photos, I try to imagine how she will turn out. What will she be like? What will be her personality, her talents? What will her future be? It will take a sweep of time before we find out.

Meanwhile, a big part of my life’s weariness has dissipated. Marceline’s coming into the world has opened up new levels of understanding and appreciation and has challenged me to open myself more to embrace life’s never-ending mysteries.

Sometimes, before I sleep, I whisper a thank you to God for everything. I still have a lot of things to experience at my age. There are still surprise gifts to unwrap.

Yes, I have yet to meet Marceline.


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