Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

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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.

Duterterata 1

Posted on March 10, 2017 by jimparedes

A remake of the beautiful, positive and uplifting Desiderata.

This is the TROLL version!

Go loudly. Always be the noise and haste,
Create disturbing dissonance every time there is silence.
As far as possible without surrender
Be on bad terms with all persons.
ALL OF THEM are yellowtards

Troll incessantly and be as annoying as possible;
Remember, you are among the dull and the ignorant.
That’s why you make fake news and slick lies,
And believe in them!

Avoid bright and intelligent persons.
They are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself to them,you may become hopeless and bitter.
So just insult and threaten them with death and rape.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble.
Although trolling is not a real job, it is still money.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
Many persons strive for high ideals;
And everywhere life is full of heroism.

Sorry, skip that.
That last verse was not written for people like you.

Deny all goodness in you.Do not reveal what you look like.
A simple egg on twitter is who you are–dull and ignorant
Be gung ho about spreading negativity and venom.
For in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
Life to you is like a long Duterte speech laced with much cursing.
You live for it!

Do not take kindly the counsel of the years.
Be contemptuous of anyone who makes sense.
Call them names. They are old and stupid anyway.

Nurture deception to shield you in sudden misfortune.
Strengthen yourself with the force of evil and lies.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Take Fentanyl.
Remember, the President will protect you.

You are the scum of the universe.
Unlike all living things, you have no right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
No doubt the universe is exorcising,
Vomiting out trolls like you

Therefore be at peace with God ?whatever you conceive him to be,
A mayor from Davao on Fentanyl, a monster with anger issues.
?Remember that whatever your labors and aspirations,
Be reminded that n the noisy confusion and uncertainty of life,
YOU have a salary.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
But you don’t have to accept that.
Insult and threaten everyone
Destroy beauty
Be extra malicious and vile.
Evil is your identity.
Fuck them all.

OBOSEN sila.

Ms. Vivian Velez, meet my Mother 15

Posted on March 05, 2017 by jimparedes

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

My mother, Ester Misa Paredes Jimenez, who died 20 years ago, has become a celebrity of sorts in social media lately, thanks to Ms. Vivian Velez who sought to malign me by saying that my mother, an anti-martial law activist, “has blood on her hands.”

Since she can no longer speak for herself, I would like to share two articles — testimonials, actually — on my mother and what she did for our freedom. The first is the write-up on her as a proclaimed hero of martial law by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani:

“JIMENEZ, Ester Dolores M. (Posted on October 21, 2015):

“Ester Dolores Misa Paredes Jimenez became involved in the anti-dictatorship struggle through her children, whom she had raised to be independent and to have minds of their own.

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“When her youngest son informed her in 1975 that he was intending to drop out of college in order to go fulltime in the underground, ‘She held my hand and said, “I am very proud of you.” Then she shed some tears. It was the very first time and, I believe, the last time, I saw her cry. It was also the proudest moment of my life. That moment would repeatedly come back to inspire me to move on in spite of the difficulties.

“She opened her home to underground activities, including the production of revolutionary publications, and weekly meetings of activists. Her home became a refuge for wounded revolutionaries or those in hiding. On two occasions, she personally drove a wounded guerrilla to the hospital for treatment.

“Jimenez was a widow who, at age 41, was left to raise and support 10 children by herself. Her first husband was Jess Paredes Jr., a lawyer and broadcaster who died in an airplane crash with President Ramon Magsaysay in 1957.

“When martial law was imposed, her children were grown and she was already in her mid-60s. Still, she became involved in urban guerrilla activities against the regime through the Light-A-Fire Movement, with her second husband Othoniel Jimenez. The members of this group were arrested in December 1979, among them Ester and her husband. After her release in 1981 she continued to visit him and the other detainees in the Bicutan jail to minister to their needs.

“Members of the Light-a-Fire group, including Ester and Othoniel Jimenez, were sentenced to death by a military court in December 1984 but the sentence was never carried out. After the EDSA people power in 1986 and the abolition of the Marcos dictatorship, the Supreme Court nullified their death sentences.

“Ester Jimenez was neither ideologue nor political leader, but she was a steadfast person who simply did what she believed was right. She gave generously of herself without expectation of reward or praise. Many came to call her ‘Mommy’ in recognition of her good heart and selflessness.

“She died in 1997 at the age of 81, after a long illness.”

The second article is by one her lawyers, the renowned Senator Rene Saguisag, who writes about my mother and the context she lived and worked in, in his own inimitable style:

“Light-A-Fire hurt no one, much less killed anyone. In a timid busabos society, I saw in it that not everyone would be like the Good Germans of Hitler’s time. Among its supporters is a prominent respected individual very much around today. Ready to give their all.

“I was privileged to be among the FLAG-MABINI lawyers, led by Tanny (Lorenzo Tanada), Pepe (Jose Diokno) and Joker (Arroyo), who helped the group of patriots. We left when the Kangaroo Court became blatant in its servility to Macoy. Uncompromising Tanny would even give us the silent treatment if we so much as spoke with Ani Desierto, whose classmate, Bing Padilla, was with us, including Jake Misa.

“I continued to monitor the proceedings, unofficially, and was present in Camp Aguinaldo when all the accused were sentenced to death, by musketry. They were ready to go, for the Motherland — ‘worth dying for,’ in their conviction. (Indeed lead accused Ed Olaguer said, when asked to plead, on arraignment, boldly said: ‘Gentlemen of this tribunal, I have taken up arms against this corrupt and illegitimate dictatorship!’)

“EDSA ‘86 led to their liberation. The Supreme Court ruled later that military commissions had no business trying civilians. Heroes all, including Ester Misa Paredes, the late tough mother of Jim and Paulynn, who I met last February 25 in the People Power Monument, where Prez Digong sent a wreath. Conciliatory, correct and proper, which I appreciate. Had he gone there, baka nagka-commotion.

“Prudence he displayed, not shown by the irresponsible provocateurs.

“Had I gone to Luneta, I might have been tolerated or I may not have been able to leave in one piece.

“What unites us should be stronger than what temporarily divides us, as family.

“Bully for Jim! And the Paredeses. His father perished in that plane crash involving President Magsaysay, whom he advised and wrote speeches for. Jess finished AB summa and law at the Ateneo and was No. 2 in the bar exams topped by Dingdong Teehankee.

“Knowing Jim, Paulynn and Ducky (President Cory’s spokesman, and sis Babsy, who I’d see in Camp Aguinaldo during the trial, with Sister Christine Tan) and Ester, I can only say, fruit indeed never really falls far from the tree.

“The trouble-seeking provocateurs had it coming from gutsy Jim. Good.

“‘Di lahat tameme.”

These are times that try men’s souls, and challenge our patience and ability to discern the fake from the real. Ms. Vivian Velez went out of her way to malign my mother. While my mother was living dangerously, making a stand against the Marcos dictatorship, Ms. Velez, known as “Ms. Body Beautiful,” was capitalizing on her ample assets here and abroad.

Her unexpurgated biography is something I’d like to read someday.

Or maybe not!

Classmates are forever 2

Posted on February 25, 2017 by jimparedes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napakahirap malimutan

Ang saya ng aming samahan

Kahit lumipas na ang iilang taon,

Makabarkada pa rin ngayon.

Magkaibigan magkaibigan

Magkabarkada pa rin ngayon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaining back my equilibrium 0

Posted on February 19, 2017 by jimparedes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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