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Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

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Staying alive 0

Posted on September 17, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 17, 2017 -12:00AM

If you are one of the increasing number of citizens of this country who feel almost daily that you are not just losing respect, confidence and trust in the government but are actually threatened by its values and actions, I do not blame you.

We live in a time of madness, an age of incongruence, illogic and total insanity.

Everything has been thrown out the window. The things we used to deem as moral and sacred are now despised and disdained. Human life, rights, fairness, truth, delicadeza, transparency, decency, civility, peace and all the values that fall within a democratic civil framework have been all but abandoned, condemned, or discarded without much thought or soul searching.

The new values are about extreme unquestioning loyalty, cronyism, money, raw naked power, cruelty, disrespect for those who disagree, incivility, crudeness, crassness, indifference, denial of logic, rationality, truth and reality, populism, violence, etc. The pervading political culture is about death and fear.

Sure, we have always had these negative values at work in every administration. But no government has been so barefaced and brazen in condemning the enduring values and things we espouse, stand and aspire for as a nation. Instead, we now condone murder, disrespect for human rights, and breaking the law. Cruelty and killing the helpless are encouraged. Mere suspicion is a death sentence. Heck, there are even people now who blame the children tortured and murdered by the police for being out in their neighborhoods. There is no accountability for murders as long as you accuse the victims of doing drugs.

I am sorry for starting my article with so much pessimism. I don’t want to get too heavy and serious here. This is a Sunday column. You deserve lighter reading. In these trying times, there must be ways to keep sane, happy and unperturbed. Here are suggestions I came up with on how best to stay alive and keep our sanity. These are the new survival skills we need in this upside-down world.

1) Take to drinking. Consume a lot of alcohol. But don’t do drugs. You could get killed. Alcohol will have the same effect. You can escape from everything that bothers you. You will forget your situation, and your feelings will numb and deaden but at least you are half alive. That’s a good thing. Then you won’t have to listen to that pesky conscience that keeps telling you to be outraged. You don’t have to get angry when your moral or ethical boundaries are violated. Just be happy and drink. It will ease so much of the pain. I promise you.

2) Block all your friends who express their political sentiments or moral outrage on Facebook and other social media. Facebook can be entertaining without all that bad news. There are enough cat memes, animal videos and articles to lull you into a feeling of lightness. Besides, will it change things if you get angry? So just post nothing but jokes, articles about sex, or chain letters.

3) Stop talking to anyone about politics. No matter what is happening, just avoid all references indirectly or directly that may lead you to a discussion on EJK, morality, decency, the Church, religion, or CHR. There are infinitely more topics to talk about other than politics.

4) Have topics ready to change the conversation if needed. During parties or socials, do anything to keep things light so no one gets slighted when political views are expressed. Always be updated on gossip, flippant and shallow news about, oh… whatever. Beauty queens, actors and actresses, scandals, jokes will always save the situation.

5) Force yourself to like Duterte, Dick Gordon, Secretary Aguirre, and Congressman Alvarez. Imagine them to be cute, cuddly, furry, huggable and endearing dolls. Imagine the Elmo doll. Now try to imagine a “Tickle Me Rody” one. Laugh as he laughs. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better already?

6) Allow yourself to be amused when the President says cuss words. After all, which other leader in the world does that? He is unique. He is so amazingly funny. Like what is there to like, and suppress the reasons why you don’t like him. It is hard but if you’ve taken enough drinks, it is manageable. Avoid judging him. It will only awaken your conscience again and make you miserable.

7) Read nothing but Philippine News Agency bulletins. You will always be well informed about how well the government is doing. You will also realize that those know-it-all, holier-than-thou people on Facebook who want facts are subversives. Those who support the President are the sources of truth. They have deep thoughts and use “symbolism,” which unfortunately is misunderstood by many as “fake news.”

Anyone who fights such truth tellers is ignorant and malicious, and deserves a “Putang ina” from the President.

8) Join organizations like VACC that fight criminals and “truly care” for the victims of violent crimes. In fact, I just saw their leader Jimenez crying on TV for poor children who have been killed. Never mind if he had no real tears. He cried just like PNP’s Bato and PAO’s Perfidy Acosta. I can detect sincerity. It affected me so much I was catatonic the rest of the day.

And lastly:

9) Make an altar at home. Put the image of the President in the center. Look at it every day. Know him. Pray to him. Love him deeply. Surrender your will. He knows everything. He is God-sent.

* * *

I hope this article made you feel better, although deep in my heart, I doubt it did. Sometimes I forget my readers are way smarter than I give them credit for.

Ignore everything I said then. But here’s one real piece of advice that has worked for you and me so far.

Keep avoiding the Kool Aid! You know what I mean. You are already okay and are on the right path. Be like Teflon. Don’t let the insanity stick to you. Trust your conscience. You will come out of this craziness not only alive, but with your soul and sanity intact!

The sound of one hand clapping 1

Posted on September 10, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 10, 2017 – 12:00am

When I was in early high school I had a dream that I remember to this day. I dreamed I was seated at a table with an old fortuneteller playing with a deck of panggingge cards. These cards, also called Pan cards, were popular in the 19th century and are known to be of Filipino origin. This woman was reading my fortune. She asked me to pick four random cards from the deck. I chose the highest card of every suit. She looked at the cards I picked, laughed very hard and brought her face near mine. She then whispered to me that I would experience every good thing in life — and its opposite.

I think about this from time to time. Yes, I have had a lot of the so-called “good things” in life like fame, modest wealth, good friends, love, happiness, personal success, good health. In many ways, I am still experiencing them and I am thankful.

At the same time, I was also once an unknown, a nobody when I started my career. I was a hungry artist trying to get people to listen to me. Those were hard times. But looking back, I can’t really describe that stage in my life as being bad. Actually, I am even grateful I went through certain hardships.

When I started in life, I had little money, and even after I had some successes, there were still times when I suffered through financial difficulties. But even when times were hard, my wife Lydia would always remind me that God always provides. So far she has been right. I hope that she will always be right about this.

I have been lucky in health. Although I was a hypochondriac when I was a teenager, I have always been quite healthy. I may have had sicknesses from time to time and even had a few operations but my physical constitution easily bounces back to a healthy default. My last health examination showed all my vital numbers to be normal. I have no restrictions imposed on me by my doctor, thank God.

As for fame, as much as I have been praised in the past for what I have said and done, I have also been pilloried lately on social media for my outspokenness against the President and the government. I can say that I have experienced both fame and so-called “infamy” right there! I have been adored and I have been hated.

Who knows what other “opposites” I will experience. I don’t know, and I do not wish to speculate nor anticipate it. Life keeps on going and it will always bring good and bad surprises. That’s how life has always been, is and will be.

Sometimes, in the middle of a positive and spectacular experience I am going through, I remind myself that while I am enjoying it thoroughly, the moment, too, shall pass. It is the same thing I do when things are not going well for me. As I suffer, I remind myself of the temporal character of suffering. The thought consoles me.

Ken Wilber, one of my favorite writers, likes to describe anything and everything that happens in the world as “waves of form.” It affects us in various ways and unconsciously; we decide how we want to feel about what happens. Very seldom are we in total awareness of see what is really happening.

Whatever the wave of form is at any moment, whether good or bad, it will not be permanent. It has a duration. Sometimes it is long and sometimes it is short. But it will eventually go away and new ones will always take their place.

There is an old Zen koan that asks, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” To many people, it appears to be a silly question and every time I ask the question, people react by trying to literally clap with one hand and end up laughing. I can’t blame them. On the surface, it is indeed a ridiculous question.

But wait! There is something far deeper to ponder here. Koans are not yes or no exercises. The answers are never cut and dried, nor even definitive, dogmatic. There are no official interpretations or answers.

Koans speak volumes about life. The way I intuit the meaning of this koan is something like this: people spend their lives trying to shield themselves from pain, discomfort, from bad things that cause unpleasantness. But can we really avoid them when they are inevitable occurrences in life? All attempts at sanitizing our lives from pain are futile and ridiculous. Yes! It is as crazy as trying to clap with one hand!

The sound produced when two hands clap happens because opposite forces meet. Isn’t life all about living with both the pleasant and unpleasant, the good and the bad, pleasure and pain? What is abundance without scarcity? What is white without black? What is joy without sorrow?

That dream I had was a prophetic one. The fortuneteller was right. We will live through the best and the worst. Life was not meant to be lived ridiculously or unrealistically, like trying to produce sound with one hand clapping.

Fear, anger and denial 0

Posted on August 27, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 27, 2017 – 12:00am

I vowed not to write about politics. I have hardly touched the subject for many months now in my STAR column. I like my readers to enjoy their Sunday reading. So I would like to apologize at the outset: I am sorry but I can’t ignore what is happening around us. Murder and skullduggery are just too blatant already and “in-your-face.” The wild elephant in the room has now become too big to ignore.

For the first time since martial law, I am again sensing great fear coming from everywhere. It is palpable. You can almost poke it with a knife. Everyone seems to be in some state of fear. Some are on a high level. Some are just beginning to feel it. But it is there.

They fear for what is happening to the country. They fear that friends and family may be killed randomly by police in some drug raid. They fear that the peso is rapidly losing value against the US dollar. They fear that our government is giving away our islands to China. They fear we are destroying the gains of the past and slipping into a deterioration spiral. They fear we are isolating ourselves from our allies and the UN. There are so many things people are fearful about.

But every time fear is felt, anger cannot be too far behind. A lot of people these days are very angry and they are expressing themselves on social media. Friends who work with the urban poor tell me that people in depressed neighborhoods are very fearful of the drug war. They are afraid of weekly tokhangs and of being killed. And they are very angry that they are being targeted as a social class while government adheres extremely to due process regarding cases against wealthy, powerful Chinese drug lords.

Anger is a powerful tool. Emotions are part of who we are. Being angry serves a purpose. Every time we feel anger, our emotions are sounding big alarm bells. It is telling us many things. It must be listened to. Author of the book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron, explains why anger can make us powerful. She writes: “a) Anger tells us we are being violated; b) Anger tells us that we should do something; c) Anger reminds us that our boundaries have been trespassed; d) Anger tells us we can’t continue to live the way we have been living.”

Anger is an antidote to fear. Susan Jeffers wrote a bestseller years ago and the title alone says it all: Feel the Fear But Do It Anyway. Yes, do it because it needs to be done. Do it because you are motivated.

Many times I have stared fear in the face. When I was 14 years old, I faced two people who were ready to beat me up because a girl we were all courting was favoring me. They waited for me outside the girl’s house. They were angry at me. I was fearful. But I did nor run away and instead confronted them. I asked them to hit me right that moment if the plan was to beat me up. Get it over with, I said. I stared into their eyes and said I was ready to take the first blow. I waited and did not stop staring at them. After close to a minute, they turned around and left. I walked home proud of myself.

In 1983, my group APO Hiking Society started to comment politically in our concerts. Soon our comments against the regime became more spot-on and aggressive. We knew we were making ourselves targets of a regime that could really hurt us. We were warned by common friends of the Marcos children to tone it down. But we kept on. We were ready to take the consequences. We knew we were being watched but we still did it because we felt we had to. Soon we were banned from all media, and could not perform in government venues. Were we fearful? Absolutely! But did we stop? No. We were defiant to the end.

One of the things I notice is when we look at fear long enough, it often shrinks. I realize that our own fears can get overblown. We overrate them. But more than that, I also know that, deep down, an inner strength lives in us and we can summon it to face what threatens us. While fear can encourage panic, flight or avoidance, our anger can also inspire us to stand up to it. It is a challenge. Defiance strengthens our character and our resolve. “The devil that you swallow gives you its power,” said writer Joseph Campbell.

In the Philippines we live in now, there are people who want to bring out the worst in others. They will threaten and intimidate us. They will insult and try to shut out the reasonable voices. This is something we must not allow.

Before 2016, I can’t recall that there ever was a large cry for people to be murdered without due process. I don’t recall that there was a clamor for the death penalty, especially including kids as early as nine years old. I also can’t recall that people were willing to give our islands away to China without protesting. I don’t believe people relished and enjoyed rape jokes, or crude language then, especially coming from the president.

Imagine how much Aquino would have been pilloried if he said even one cuss word in public. Remember the hue and cry about PDAF? SAF 44? Or even something trivial like Kris Aquino being seen riding on a PSG helicopter? How Duterte can get away with bigger things, from mass murder, to nepotism, to freeing crooks from jail, to giving away our sovereignty to China, to uttering crudeness against our allies and the UN, and allowing his people to show arrogance of power and contempt against the people, is beyond explanation. He spends public money on travels bringing friends and supporters. He assigns incompetent people to government posts to repay favors and reward loyalty.

I don’t know what happened in 2016 that caused this moral breakdown and (un)civility to occur. It is as if 16 million surrendered their consciences to Duterte. They have stopped thinking and analyzing and seem to have shut down the tiny voice in their heads that helps them discern right from wrong.

When confronted with facts, they shun reason and militantly deny the truth. They are addicted to fake news even if many of them know it is fake. Perhaps it is because the most rabid find comfort in not having to face the reality that they erred greatly in their judgment.

Meanwhile, life goes on in the Philippines. The elephant in the room is getting bigger and bigger. It is also getting madder.

And soon, ignoring it will be almost impossible.

The ebb and flow of passion 0

Posted on August 24, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 20, 2017 – 12:00am

There are interests and hobbies we adopt in life at some point and there are those we let go of. I am talking of activities we do with passion and commitment. We spend years doing them until we tire of them. We stop devoting time and effort and eventually abandon them.

Sometimes, we leave them but only temporarily.

I used to love diving. I would be in Anilao almost every weekend to enjoy its many dive spots. I would also go diving in different places around the Philippines. I have gone to Tubataha twice. I was so adept at the sport that I had taken and passed all the tests to be an advanced diver and could have become a dive master if I had wanted to. I opted not to because I did not want the responsibility of taking care of others. I just wanted to enjoy diving with my buddies.

I had three regular diving buddies. One of them had to stop because of back problems. My closest dive buddy, Redford White, eventually gave in to his wife’s wishes for him to stop diving. She was always worried every time we went to Anilao. About six years ago Redford had cancer and died a year later. That hit me hard.

I have done only three dives in almost five years. I still have my gear but I have not gone underwater for a long time. I am not closing the door to it but I have no immediate plans to pick it up again. Maybe I need to meet new people to dive with if I wish to go back to it with the same passion.

For almost 10 years I was totally absorbed with the writings of Ken Wilber. I read every book he wrote. I thought he was one of the most brilliant people in the world. I still do. He speaks about transcendent experiences and states of the mind. He talks about enlightenment and Zen. He is not an easy read but I tried to understand everything he wrote by rereading the difficult passages many times. I even had his audiotapes and I would watch his videos on YouTube. During those years, I felt that my understanding of myself, reality and the world had broadened immensely.

During the past two years, I have sort of slowed down on my reading of his works. I know it is temporary. I still love Ken Wilber. He is still a major intellectual force in my life. I will get back to reading him maybe next year. Right now, I spend too much time on social media and am hardly reading any books.

I have been playing the guitar since I was 11 years old. The guitar was the instrument I adopted to express all the music I have inside me. I learned everything I know about music mostly through the guitar. I have spent a great deal of my life playing it. My love for guitar and music has given me a career and a good life.

There was a time when I could claim I was a very good guitar player. But not right now. During the past seven years, I have not spent time playing it the way I used to. In fact, there would be months when I would not touch it at all.

I used to have a decent layer of hardened skin (calluses) at the tip of my fingers because I played so much. They have largely disappeared. My fingers hurt easily now without them when I play.

Lately I have picked up my guitar again but not yet at the same level of passion I once did. But I have decided to get back to it and play every day. One of the reasons I lost interest in playing was because I have been singing with a live backup band for decades. I lost the need to play guitar. I only do now when I am writing songs. I also feel that today’s music just does not excite me the way the older music did. I am hardly inspired to learn new songs. But I have promised to keep playing and learning and to do more shows where I accompany myself with my guitar.

In school, I never indulged in any sport. In fact I avoided sports. I only began to be athletic in my mid 30s. I started going to the gym, and also took up some jogging and biking. As a jogger, I was quite devoted. I would do low-impact jogging three times a week. I wanted to build up endurance and stamina. At my peak, I could run 15 kilometers non-stop. But some 10 years back, I stopped jogging completely. I was worried that the continuous pounding on the pavement may destroy the remaining cartilage I have left in my leg joints. I replaced jogging with long brisk walking. I’ve been doing that for some years now.

As a biker, I was quite fanatical. I had an expensive racer bicycle. I had the proper clothes and gear including biking shoes that locked on to the pedals. I even joined a bike activity to Tagaytay which I finished in below four hours which was the cut-off time. I biked quite a lot in those days.

I’ve been biking on and off for more than two decades now. I’ve always enjoyed it. About six years ago however, I abruptly stopped.

I had an accident with an electric bike given to me as a gift by a sponsor after a concert. When it was delivered to my home, I gave it a try around the neighborhood just to check if it was in good working condition. I was without a helmet and had planned on buying one the next day. On my way back home, I was going 50 KPH and suddenly braked before reaching a hump. When I did, I flew off the bike landing on the pavement with the right side of my face hitting the road hump.

After a major operation that lasted seven hours and left me with pieces of titanium to reconstruct my cheekbone and left eye socket, I vowed never to bike again. I was physically and emotionally traumatized. It took months for my eye to look normal and years to heal. My electric bike is still at home and has not been touched since.

About two weeks ago, I saw a bike shop in my neighborhood. I went inside just to look around. Before I knew it I was inquiring how much a simple mountain bike would cost. By the time I left the shop, I had bought two bikes, one for my grandchild Ananda and one for me.

When I tried biking again for the first time in six years, my heart was pounding with both excitement and fear. I was in full concentration. The bike wobbled during the first few meters as I hit the pedal. I guess I was still too tentative. Soon I was going slowly but surely. I felt that familiar wind on my face that I used to enjoy before. It felt familiar and wonderful.

I am glad I have picked up biking again. It was something I had always enjoyed. I felt I had conquered a major fear and had overcome a trauma.

At my age now, I would still like to do a few more dives, walk and bike on a few trails with my camera, and do the Compostela pilgrimage. I still want to spend time in an ashram and write a few books. I will also show up more consistently and continue my meditation practice. I also want to take up a new language and travel extensively.

I think I still have enough passion and strength to do all these and a few more dreams. After all, passion begets more passion. If I stop, I may as well retire from life itself.

My tattooed family 3

Posted on August 13, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 13, 2017 – 12:00am
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Author Jim Paredes

We’ve all heard of the Catholic mantra that goes, “The family that prays together stays together.” There are a lot of people who believe this. To a great extent, I know that prayer makes people closer. It is a bonding experience.There are many other things that can bind and bond a family as well. We share many things in our family. But one special thing we have in common is we have all been tattooed.

Erica was the first one to get a tattoo at age 16. She was a rebellious teen. She got inked without telling us. We only found out when the Australian Embassy doctor who examined her for immigration sent her medical records to the house because Erica forgot to sign them. We found out that she had a butterfly tattoo on each side of her pelvis. When my wife told me about it. I was quite shocked and angry. People from my generation largely associated tattoos with criminals and lowlife. And here was my teen daughter who had not just one, but two tattoos.

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As a parent who wanted to understand my kid’s generation, I tried to be a bit more liberal and told them that they could decide on such things as tattoos, tongue, ear and nose rings etc. when they reached age 18.

But while I was miffed at Erica for not waiting, I found it quite funny as I watched her squirm her way out of the situation. After she got her first tattoos, she had many more that followed soon after. I could not understand then how anyone of sound mind was willing to undergo body disfigurement, or want to permanently etch something on their bodies until I read Joseph Campbell’s explanation for body piercing and tattoos.

It basically goes back to our tribal past. We moderns have not really outgrown morphing our bodies and probably never will. Mutilation, like circumcision on a young boy, announces that he has metamorphosed into a man. He is “disfigured” during this passage to manhood so that when he returns to his mother, his mom will no longer recognize him as her “little boy.” He has transitioned to the next stage. It is a milestone just like when kids turn 15 and get their driver’s license, or have a debut at age 16, or vote for the first time.

They are rituals that assure us our place in the world and that we are part of the order in the society we inhabit. Tattoos serve the same purpose. The young person basically announces that he/she is no longer just a member of her family but is now part of another, bigger tribe. And they wear permanent decals on their bodies to proclaim it.

It is a ritual of separation and differentiation from family and childhood. It is both a breaking from the past, and a membership to something new.Erica’s short-sleeve tattoo on her right shoulder and arm was designed and drawn on paper by my other daughter, Ala.

When I saw it on Erica, I was quite impressed. I’ve never seen a more elegant tattoo on anyone else. Strangely enough, it looks so feminine and uniquely attractive. My daughter Ala got her tattoo at age 28. She designed and drew it herself.

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Mio got his first one about nine years ago and intends to get more. He has had some done in the Philippines, a few in Australia and one in San Francisco. He has 10 tattoos at the moment.It was eight years ago when the kids gave their mom a tattoo for Christmas. They even accompanied her to Sin City, a tattoo parlor in our neighborhood.

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Surely, it is not the type of gift that kids normally give their moms. But Lydia is not your regular, ordinary mom and my kids are nowhere near typical. She had Ala design a dragonfly tattoo.I was the only one left without a tattoo after she had hers.

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In truth, I felt left out of my own family. After a few weeks, I asked Ala to design one that had meaning for me. If it was going to be permanent, I wanted it to reflect my love for music and Zen. I did not want to look through the usual catalogues that everyone looks through. I suggested to her a design featuring a guitar and a fox (symbol of Zen). I loved the way it turned out. I asked the tattoo artist to add a lotus flower and some greenery.

I’ve heard from many people who have been inked how addicting it is. My daughter Erica has 23 all over her body. She is not through yet. My son is also keen on getting more. I want a second one but I haven’t decided yet on what it will be. When I got inked, I actually had mixed feelings immediately after.

Knowing it would be there forever got me a little depressed. I thought I may have been too hasty in getting one at my age. But as days went by, I began to accept and like it. I felt it added a new dimension to me. People get inked for many reasons. They do it to immortalize a love, to remember an experience, to mark a threshold crossed, or maybe tell stories.

Writers N.R. Walker and Steven Cohen had this to say about getting inked: “Maybe that’s what I needed: another tattoo. Some pain on the outside to ease the pain on the inside.”

Even if there are lasers now that can have them removed, a tattoo is something you should not decide about on a whim since it is something that can stay with you for life if you want it. Think about it. Make sure it is a statement you can live with. Do it with love. Respect the human canvas you are wearing by filling it with things that mean something to you. And wear it with pride.

A dream about to be fulfilled 2

Posted on July 30, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 30, 2017 – 12:00am

I was delaying writing about it until I actually experienced it. But then again, the actual experience could be another article all together.

While I was in Australia last month, Sir Paul McCartney announced that he would be doing a concert in Sydney in December. I eagerly awaited the announcement when the tickets would be available.

I called a friend who I knew was a big fan of the Beatles. He said he would purchase the tickets for us since he was a member of an organization or club that had priority access to concert tickets. On the day the sales were announced, he discovered that he could only get one ticket. Tickets went really fast. We felt really bad.

Luckily, Paul McCartney announced a second concert the next day and yes, we were able to get 4 good tickets.

I grew up listening to the Beatles. A great part of my musical knowledge and instincts were influenced by them, especially Paul. The soundtrack of my life were their songs. I studied and learned practically all their songs including lyrics and chords which I can sing and play to this day. One might say I know their music intimately.

But It wasn’t just their music that influenced me. It was also their boldness in doing things differently. They were daring and progresive. They were fashion and style icons. They even learned mediation in India. They spoke the thoughts our generation could not say. They had wit and pizazz. They set the pace in many ways. And they were really cool. The songs they wrote explained my own inarticulate awkward angst to myself. And they often outdid their previous work each time they came out with a new album.

Every time they released a new record in the market, i bought them and eagerly rushed to the house to listen to them. I would listen to them for hours and hours each time learning something new. I often bought 2 copies of each of their vinyls because I played them so much that they often got too scratchy and began to skip.

Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was my favorite album. I am not even sure if that is an accurate statement because I loved almost all their albums. Perhaps what I mean is it was the most played album in my stereo growing up.

I saw the Beatles when they performed in Manila on July 5 1966. My brother Raffy and I sat in the cheapest section. We could hardly see them since we were sitting so far. It was all my Ate Tictac could afford to buy for us. Despite the bad sound system, the long delay, and the short show, we loved it.

When the Beatles were beaten up by Marcos goons upon leaving the Philippines because they did not attend an invitation sent by the Palace the day after their show, it was the day I began to look at the Marcoses in a bad light.

Now, some 51 years later, I will watch one of the two remaining Beatles do a live concert. This time we will sit in better seats closer to the stage. The sound system will be infinitely clearer, the lights more dazzling and the show much longer than what we watched in Manila.

To watch Sir Paul McCartney has always been on my bucket list. Finally, it will happen. I have bought my plane tickets this early. I will finally have the privilege of seeing my greatest mentor and I will have the chance to thank him with wild applause and a standing ovation. Sir Paul! I am looking forward to finally watching you in concert. This is a dream about to be fulfilled

* * *

I like surprising myself. One of the ways I do it is by inviting complete strangers to dinner and asking them to talk about what they are passionate about, or what makes them feel alive. I have done these dinners 5 times in the past. They have been great successes. I have noticed that people can find themselves in a comfortable safe setting even among strangers. Why? Because there is no judgment. No one really knows anyone so people become kinder and give each person a chance. Everyone is more open.

I normally post the invitation on social media. I ask those who are interested to write me an email. I read all of them. I take out a few from the list of possible invitees. They are those who I feel come on as too narcissistic, or those who seem to flaunt victimhood, or those who are plain crazy. I do so because they tend to be poor listeners and they end up monopolizing the conversation.

I choose 10 people randomly with the hope of getting a good mix of men and women of different ages and backgrounds. In the past, we have had people fly in from abroad or the provinces. We have listened to stories of a child of an NPA rebel who spent his childhood in the jungle. There was also this jolly young man who had cancer and was undergoing chemo.

One of the things I realized after doing 5 of these passion nights is that everyone has a story to tell. People are indeed amazing.

If you are interested, I only have a few conditions. One is, we must have not met yet. Another is that you are not a stalker.

Please write me at passionnight@protonmail.com. I will be accepting applicants for the next two weeks. The dinner will be held sometime this August. You will be informed of the date and venue via email.

If you are ready for something exciting, unpredictable and new, join me.

25 questions to ask yourself when life seems crazy 0

Posted on July 23, 2017 by jimparedes

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

All people go through a midlife crisis if they live long enough. And to clarify, it is not really just a midlife crisis, but crises. And it can happen earlier than midlife.

Most everyone I know thinks that midlifing is something that happens as a onetime episode in a man’s life. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, my husband bought himself a red beamer when he went through midlife.” It is a time in middle age when a man seems to “lose” himself temporarily. Truth is, he can stay lost for awhile.

I am definitely past midlife, age-wise, but I still feel lost at times and find life and my part in it difficult to understand. It seems like midlife is when the Pandora’s Box is opened, and all the things inside are actually the issues you will be dealing with for life. Some will be easy to figure out. Some will take time. Many will be left unsolved. That’s how it is.

I am sure this is a common experience. No one is happy all the time. No one has figured out life so completely that practically nothing can bother him. Bliss is real, but like loneliness, it too passes. There are people who seem to find happiness easily and there are those who find it elusive. But what we all share is the experience of facing the unknown daily and trying to reconcile ourselves to what shows up.

I thought I’d share somer questions I ask myself occasionally when going through confusing times. They sort of help me get grounded even if I do not get clear answers. If and when I do, the answers change the next time I ask the questions. But at least they help tide me over in life when I need them.

Some questions may be depressing. But I ask them anyway to get deeper and to understand my own fine print. Here they are:

1) What keeps you going?

2) What are you most passionate about?

3) What parts of your life do you like or not like right now?

4) Who are the people in your circle that sustain you? Who are those that deplete your energy?

5) If you had 48 hours left to live, what do you need to do so you could die peacefully? This exercise is really powerful if you do not trivialize it. I’ve done this a few times. I choose a hard, festering issue and try to get over it; I do it for myself. There are rules I follow: I make sure I hurt no one, nor commit a crime while doing it. I do it mainly for myself to be free of it. And most importantly, I come from love. I have no expectations about how people involved will react if I am dealing with forgiveness issues. All I know is I have done my part in solving the issue. I feel very brave and liberated afterwards. And usually, it turns out beneficial for both sides.

6) What are your real values? If you looked at your life and were asked to put price tags on friends, family, health, hobbies, interests, travel, addictions, properties, career, your reputation and standing in society, which would be the most expensive and which would be the cheapest?

7) What keeps you up at night?

8) Do you believe in God? What or who is God to you? Do you believe in a God who believes in you and that God put you here for a purpose? What do you think it is?

9) Look back at turning points in your life. How do you think the decisions you made in the past have affected you today?

10) What do you like best about yourself? What do you dislike most?

11) Have you ever heard a call to action from a source that you suspect was a Higher Being? Did you think you were crazy? Undeserving? How did you respond? Were you dismissive?

12) What would be a priceless moment to you?

13) If you wanted to change anything in the world, what would it be? With your time left on earth, what steps would you take in that direction?

14) What are the things you do that give you joy? When was the last time you set aside time to do them?

15) Do you have a sacred space? A space where you feel you can rest, unwind and put yourself back together again? A place that revives you not just physically, emotionally, but also spiritually? Do you go there often?

16) Have you loved anyone with full acceptance and without expecting anything?

17) Have you ever given yourself to a cause bigger than yourself?

18) What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

19) How would you like to be remembered when you die? What would you like your legacy to be?

20) What have you done to build that legacy?

21) Do you think you are a force of good in the world?

22) When was the last time you made someone happy?

23) Have you had experiences when you felt you had no ego?

24) Have you experienced timeless, transcendent moments? When was the last time?

25) What is more important? To be whole or good? If they were not the same thing, which would you choose?

Do not fear the depths. Explore them. Have an engaged weekend!

Life in real time 0

Posted on July 16, 2017 by jimparedes

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

I’ve often wondered why people who once held certain jobs or positions long ago are addressed as if they still hold their former titles. Decades may have passed since they held their esteemed positions. For example, a person who was once a senator will always be addressed as “senator.” And so it goes with governors, justices, mayors, attorneys, doctors, presidents, engineers, etc.

I suppose such positions are held in such high esteem that people who once had them would rather keep the title until their death. In one way, I find this understandable. But I also find this rather strange.

To me it seems rather sad, holding on to some distant faded glory in one’s past especially when the person who once held such a title may have moved on to other jobs, expertise or new directions in life.

You may have been, say, a senator or a congressman, but that was way back in the past. You are no longer that. You could now be in another stage of your life and doing something else.

We were once babies, students, apprentices, single, married, etc. Statuses change. Some of us may have even held lowly occupations or nondescript ones in the beginning, but we do move on to do other greater and more meaningful things.

But then again, for some, their terms as political persons or as professionals may have been the most defining moment of their lives, so even when their reign may be over, they continue to bask in, live and enjoy their former identities.

In my life as an adult, I have been a singer, performer, songwriter, musical arranger, columnist, author of books, teacher, environmentalist, diver, photographer, a political animal, a fighter of causes, a public person. I have also been a son, a brother, a father, husband, grandfather, neighbor, Atenean, Filipino, artist, migrant to Australia, and a host of other things.

When people ask me what I do, I often have a hard time explaining myself. People like to simplify other people and give them a handle. They like to reduce the sum total of who we are into some identifiable, common function or core competency. My consistent answer when asked to fill in a form is to put down “artist” as my occupation. The description is so broad that a person who does not know me will have to ask a few more questions to find out what I really do.

People are more diverse than we imagine them to be. Every life is a work in progress. Everything is in constant flux. Change is always happening. Every description we have of anyone is a mere snapshot. We don’t know where or what anyone is evolving into at any moment.

I find it helpful to try and describe people as audio equalizers —those gadgets that we use to arrange different sound frequencies from lowest to highest to help define how we want to listen to music. Imagine each frequency as some sort of “self-identity.” We push some frequencies higher than others. We “shape” our overall “sound” to represent ourselves to the world. Naturally, some identities will come out “louder” than others.

In the world we live in today where change is always happening, we should always be ready to call on identities within ourselves to be adaptable in every situation. In dealing with young children, for example, being an “attorney” may not mean so much. Perhaps we are better at being “father” in such situations. It takes self-awareness to do that.

In the song That’s Life, by Frank Sinatra, the lyrics go:

I’ve been a puppet, a papa, a part, a poet, a pawn and a king.

I’ve been up, down over and under, and I know one thing.

Each time I find myself flat on my face,

I just pick myself up and get back in the race.

That’s life.

The aim is to move on with grace and skill to face life situations.

Have you ever looked at yourself deeply to discover hidden talents and gifts that you possess? Sometimes, it takes tough situations for them to come out and reveal themselves to you. One of my favorite quotes from Joseph Campbell is, “Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” It is amazing how life is designed to keep us growing and ever changing.

Jimmy Carter, who once served in the US Navy, became President of the United States, then a writer, a humanitarian, an activist and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He has also just celebrated 65 years of marriage with his wife Rosalyn. He has also given up strongly-held opinions and views about politics, Israel and even his long-standing membership in his church to embrace greater truths as he sees them.

Times and circumstances change. We are constantly in “beta” mode. Trust that we have it within ourselves to go with the flow, and even thrive.

Our greatest contribution to the world is to know ourselves and live courageously as who we are. In real time.

My evolving family 0

Posted on July 08, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated July 9, 2017 –

When Lydia and I got married in 1977, our plan was to have babies three to five years after marriage. We wanted to enjoy each other and do stuff together first. We figured that a baby would tie us down too early in our marriage. To be honest, I was not too crazy about babies then. I was not in a hurry to be a dad. I knew that once we had a baby, we would have a life-long commitment to care of and raise a human being. We thought we should wait. We were young and we did not like the responsibility of parenthood just yet.

But after just nine months of living as a couple in our small, rented apartment where we cooked, cleaned the house, went out weekly for movies, and did what newly hitched young couples do, we decided to have a baby. We felt that our life together was just too much like “playing house” or, as we say in the vernacular, “nagbabahay-bahayan”. We felt we weren’t really living the “real life.” I guess by then we were ready for a real purpose and direction. And besides, we noticed more and more of our friends were starting their families. We felt it was also time we did.

In 1979, we had Erica. Four years later, we had Ala. Five and a half years later, we had Mio. Lydia actually wanted two or three more kids. I was already content with the three ones that we had. I did not want to work harder than I already was.

In their early years, our life as parents was mostly about raising our kids, feeding them, helping them with school, providing for them and taking care of them in all ways needed.

When Erica started being a teen, parenthood changed a lot for us. It was time to accept that our firstborn was growing up, and fast. Our family was getting older. I could feel a change in our family dynamics. As parents, we used to have easy authority and control over our kids. But now, Erica, being the strong person she has always been, had started to question our parental authority and flex her muscles. She was pulling away from us, but we were also pulling back and also giving her some slack so she would not rush to be independent. Even if we were not strict as parents when they were growing up, we knew this would eventually happen. It was disconcerting but inevitable. The tug of war went on and on during her teen years.

Ala and Mio, our second daughter and only son, went through the same phases but in milder ways. But by then, we had learned a lot about how to deal with teenage angst, thanks to our experience with Erica.

When we moved to Australia, the two girls had already graduated from college while Mio had finished his high school. Mio took graphic design in the University of New South Wales; Ala went back to school and took up an art degree.

In Australia, they were all miserable at first. They all started with jobs they did not like. They felt they did not belong. They missed home. Erica and her daughter Ananda actually returned to Manila after a few months and rethought the move to migrate.

But soon enough, Ala and Mio started to have friends. They also started dating and that changed their feeling about Sydney. They had gotten better jobs and had started earning their own money and doing what they wanted.

It has been 11 years since we moved to Sydney. Ala, now 34 years old, is married to John Buencamino and they have a new baby. She is also an artist-illustrator who has had exhibits and is joining another one in a few months.

Mio is now 29 years old, employed and a motorcycling warrior on the weekends. He has a serious relationship with his girlfriend Kaylee.

While we were in Sydney, I talked to Mio a lot and he told me about his life there and how he much he had changed and surprised himself. He told me that he had never imagined he would ever become the person he has turned out to be in Australia. He was proud.

He figured that if he had stayed in Manila, he would have been living a predictable life, and it would be that of an upper middle class, white collar employee, “just like everyone else.” He had opted for the road less traveled.

In Australia, he learned independence and the value of manual labor and hard work. While he works in an office now, he went through other jobs where he learned a lot and discovered his curious, adventurous side. He is well-read and has learned a lot of life skills. He is friendly, charming and gets along with everyone very easily. He can also be very generous with his time and resources.

After a few months of being with Ala and Mio, Lydia and I returned to Manila a week ago from Sydney.

Four days ago, as I was lying in bed ready to sleep, my daughter Erica who lives and works in Paris suddenly walked into our bedroom. It was all unexpected. She had come home because of the death of a friend’s relative. While it may have been a sad circumstance that brought her home, it was a welcome surprise reunion between Erica, her daughter Ananda and us.

As I am writing this, I can see a lot of activity going on in our home kitchen. Erica, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu’s famous culinary course in Paris, and trained at the Michelin-starred Robuchon restaurant, is cooking up something with her daughter Ananda.

I can smell delicious, sumptuous food emanating from where they are. My wild, restless firstborn who was our most high-maintenance child seems to have found her bliss in being a chef at age 38. I am happy about that.

Since we are spread out all over the world, events like Christmas can be problematic. Everyone seems to have their own plans right now. It is entirely possible that we may not be together for the first time this Christmas. Lydia and I may have to spend it alone.

Our family may have grown up but it continues to evolve. As our children start living more of their lives and dreams and create their own stories, Lydia and I are moving towards being empty nesters. Our family members may not be living under one roof anymore, and not even on the same continents. But we feel bonded and united as one. More than ever.

As grandparents, we enjoyed helping Ala and John in Sydney take care of their baby Zadie so they could catch up with their sleep. Ananda, now a teenager, is under our care for the moment until she joins her mom in Paris soon.

Our children may have come into this world as undefined humans. We raised them as best as we could and continue to be around to help when they need it. They are all grown-up now. We are grateful to see how much they love each other and actually enjoy each other’s company.

We see them as fine human beings who know how to love, and be loved. They are compassionate and kind people. They will hopefully contribute positively to the world.

Sometimes I feel our work as parents may be over. The kids are grown up and two of them have children of their own. I hope they give us more grandchildren.

Mother Teresa once asked the rhetorical question, “What can you do to promote world peace?” She answered it by saying, “Go home and love your family.”

Funny! This is what we have been doing without expecting to save the world.

The outdoor life 0

Posted on July 02, 2017 by jimparedes

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

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I really enjoyed camping as a young boy. One of the most exciting things we used to do was camp in an empty lot near our house. My brother Raffy and I together with the sons of our household help would pitch a tent, build a fire, cook and stay up at night telling stories. I became a boy scout when I got older and learned a lot of cool stuff that were handy for outdoor living.

When I got to high school, I pretty much stopped camping. The next camping experience I had was around March 2013. Lydia and I, together with our “senior” friends, braved Mount Pulag, the second highest mountain in the Philippines. After a five-hour climb, we slept a few hours at the mountain camp before the final trek to the peak early morning. It was super cold and damp, and Lydia told me that it was the most miserable night of her life.

My son Mio and I have always enjoyed outdoor activities. He likes to take me on long drives to destinations that he has discovered his motorcycle sojourns during weekends. We usually go around with our cameras. One night last month, we went to a national park here in New South Wales, Australia to take long-exposure shots of the Milky Way. We drove for an hour and a half, walked briskly in the cold and dark to the viewing deck and looked for the best positions to shoot the stellar attractions. Even if we forgot our tripods, it was a great night. The heavens did not disappoint. We were ecstatic and vowed to do it again.

About two weeks ago, Mio and I planned on taking Lydia, my granddaughter Ananda and Mio’s girlfriend Kaylee camping. We knew it wasn’t the best time to do it. It was winter and the forecast was heavy rain for that day and the following days. We wanted to move it to a better time but schedules had been rearranged and it did not look like we would be able to do it again soon. So it was all systems go!

We drove to a property in Glenworth, a big acreage with lots of tall trees, open spaces and more than 214 horses. We did not have to pitch a tent since we were provided with a big teepee. It was so big 10 people could fit inside. We could stand inside the tent without bumping our heads on anything.

Ananda and Kaylee immediately went horseback riding and son after played Skirmish laser tag. We stayed behind and pitched a portable gazebo beside our teepee so we could have a place to eat and leave our muddy shoes before entering the tent.

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I ventured outdoors with my camera. I could hear birds chirping everywhere, especially the strange-looking Kookaburra, Australia’s iconic bird which gives out a loud laughing sound. I spotted it on a tree about 100 feet from where I was but it immediately flew away. An hour later, it perched on a piece of wood about 50 feet from the tent. I approached it slowly while taking photos.

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I have this theory that if we “talk” to animals in our minds and assure them that we come in peace, they will allow us to get close. This happened to me in Tubbataha reef during a dive. I “talked” to a huge manta and a giant turtle. The manta, which had passed me by, actually turned around and got close enough to be touched. I was also able to hold the turtle, which even took me for a short ride. (I know these are against diving rules but I could not resist. Sorry).

I was inching my way towards the Kookaburra slowly, and soon enough, I was just three feet away, clicking my camera. It did not fly away. Later on, it even went near our tent!

Late in the afternoon, we took photos of the horses running down a hill to an open field on the way to the barns. Then, we returned to camp, built a fire and started heating the adobo and rice Lydia had previously cooked in the house for our dinner. We also had crackers with cheese, prosciutto, dips and chips, marshmallows, strawberries with chocolate dip. Not exactly Spartan or hardcore camping. But we did all these amidst torrents of rain that poured down sporadically.

The toilets were a minute and a half away from the tent. They were provided for by the campsite management. They were basic but clean enough, thank God. If we had to relieve ourselves in the rain, it would have been a disaster.
After dinner and some campfire conversation, we retired to our airbeds inside the teepee. It was hardly a relaxing night. The cold ground permeated the heavy blankets and thick clothes we wore. We were freezing! Not only that, the airbeds kept losing air and I had to pump them twice in the middle of the night.

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We woke up early, cooked breakfast and left camp in the morning in high spirits. We were happy we pushed through with it despite the rain.

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Camping is almost an Aussie tradition. There is so much outdoors — mountains, hills, lakes, oceans, forests, parks to enjoy. There are also many stores where you can purchase tons of camping gear for all types of adventures.

My son and I plan to do more of this. I am so glad I have not become a high-maintenance, sickly 65-year-old, and can still enjoy roughing it a bit. I have not lost my Boy Scout spirit and love for nature. Camping nourishes both my body and spirit.

I have two quotes from Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts movement, to share with you. One is, “The man who is blind to the beauties of nature has missed half the pleasure of life.” The other goes, “A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room.”

I can only agree. There is so much more living to do out there than just being comfortable indoors!

Bird calls: Kookaburra

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