Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

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Not your usual school day 0

Posted on November 26, 2017 by jimparedes

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

I teach a subject under the Communications Department at the Ateneo de Manila University. It is called Special Topics in Performance and Practice. It is mainly a discursive class tackling diverse topics. The discussions are about World Music, the history of OPM, the Filipino bilingual experience, Filipino humor, Myths and Symbols, and the Creative Mind. We end with a conversation on the relationship between performers, writers, makers of products — anyone who makes a pitch to any audience — and the people who subscribe or buy into them. It answers the questions: “What is the promise?” and “Why do we buy into them?”

I give lots of assignments to my students. Some of them are reflection papers, but the more interesting assignments are the experiential ones. By this, I mean I assign them to do things that will drive the point of the discussions beyond an intellectual discourse and into real “felt” experience.

For example, part of the creativity module talks about how we can actually and proactively set the tone for the kind of day we want to have. On a certain day, I assign the girls to show up in long gowns for the class, and the guys are asked to wear shoes that don’t match, short pants, and a coat and tie. I then ask them what the experience is like walking down the school corridors dressed up differently from everyone they see. It is an exercise in one’s power to break routine and create new experiences. I had a female student who wore a chador, and it was such a personally moving experience for her. It made her feel empathy and compassion for all Muslim women everywhere.

Throughout the semester I give unconventional assignments and homework.

The last assignment I give at the end of the semester is a lot of fun. It is, in a sense, a summary of alI the lessons from the various subjects we’ve discussed in class. World Music and OPM talk about how people contribute and share music that reflects themselves, and how one needs to come from one’s local setting to be able to contribute in a universal way. The bilingualism module talks about how we switch languages depending on the subject and the person we are talking to. We live in two worlds that we cross back and forth between many times a day. We “wear” two cultures.

The creativity module presents five rules that one must apply in real life. It takes the subject of creativity away from a mind exercise and into a real-life application. The subject of myth talks about old and new symbols and narratives that we as a people connect to and which help us make sense of the world.

The underlying values in many of the subjects are about having authentic experiences and being conscious and present to them. It is not just about having an intellectual discussion that you forget once the course is over.

For the final assignment, I ask my students to take me, their teacher, to a place where I have never been. I tell them that the place I wish to be brought to is their world. In four minutes, they must show me something that I have never seen before.

I ask them to present one thing they are very passionate about. I ask them to do so with the aim of helping me to know them better while surprising and delighting me, or giving me an experience of shock and awe in the process. I ask them to share something about themselves and present it in the most interesting manner.

It can be a daunting experience for many of them. They must go inward and share something of themselves. It is a big challenge. They must not only present something they are passionate about but must do so with creativity, truth and passion.

I had one student who loved baking cookies. What she did was recite the recipe in rap form accompanied with a beat box, and then gave out cookies for everyone to taste afterward.

Some students who appeared to be shy and introverted throughout the semester would surprise everyone by breaking into a Broadway song and dance routine.

I have seen students recite poems, do soliloquies, dance, play the guitar, sing, etc. I had one student who designed bags and shared her story about how she managed to sell them in big outlets and establish her own brand.

I had another who shared her love for photography by showing her favorite sunset photos and explaining how she took them. She also gave away photos after.

One of the most memorable presentations was from a male student who was a cross-dresser. Throughout the semester, he would show up in class dressed however he felt on the particular day — sometimes as male, sometimes as female.

During the last day, he showed up as a male. Before his performance, he explained to us how he had to come out twice to his parents, first as a gay man, and second as a cross-dresser. It was traumatic for him and for them, he said. For his presentation, he sat down on a chair in front of a mirror and put on makeup while the Disney song Reflections played. When the song reached the central part with the lyrics, “Who is this girl I see, staring straight back at me? When will my reflection show who I am inside?”, he stood up and in one bold, flawless motion tore off his male outfit and instantly transposed into a woman in a flaming flowing red dress.

It was breathtakingly executed and the performance was shining with authenticity. He got a standing ovation from the class!

I have been teaching this subject for more than eight semesters now. I have received quite a few positive comments from my students. Some of them said it was a class they will never forget. Occasionally, I have foreign students who sign up for my class. I had one French student whose main track was economics. She changed her life path when she returned to Paris. In place of the office job she though she would be doing, she became a writer, a museum curator and a disk jockey. She told me it was my class that opened her to other possibilities.

As this semester comes to an end, I look at my students and thank them for being a great class. I know I have taken them to a place where they have never been and have raised their awareness and consciousness about themselves and the world they live in. They have learned a lot, and so have I. Just as many of my students in previous semesters still keep in touch with me, I am looking forward to hearing from my latest batch.

I can’t wait till I offer this class again.

How to inspire yourself 0

Posted on November 19, 2017 by jimparedes

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

People often ask me what inspires me to write songs. I tell them that there have been some special songs that I was inspired to do. Songs about a peaceful revolution, and the birth of my first child were two of them. But not all songs I wrote had obvious or dramatic muses. In fact, many of them were not “inspired” works at all but something I just did because I needed songs to fill an album.

Many of them were melodies in my head that I made years ago and had set aside but then resurrected all of a sudden because they begged to be taken more seriously. Some of them I sat down on the piano and worked on with specific topics or feelings in mind. They were out-of-the-blue creations brought to life in a more deliberate manner.

The best ones were those that were written without fuss. They didn’t take long to write. Almost no pressure. I just followed the flow.

So what inspires me? The answer is everything and nothing.

What I want to actually write about is how anyone can be creative and write stuff even without the so-called inspiration.

Is that possible? Yes, it is.

One of the reasons why we have a hard time finding inspiration is because we always think of it as something that happens or originates from outside of us. In many ways, it is understandable that we see it that way. A beautiful girl comes along from out of nowhere. We get hit by a thunderbolt and fall in love and we feel a glow inside and see the world through rose-colored glasses. We feel so lucky and blessed — as we should. We feel that the heavens made it happen.

Drugs and alcohol can also make us feel “inspired.” Taking them can cause some to open their minds to images and hallucinations that take them out of the ordinary world and inspire them to think outside of the usual. The experience can be terrific and earth-shaking, to say the least. And it can spark tremendous creativity.

The problem with the first example I gave is that it does not come that often. Sometimes it doesn’t come at all. Life is not always that dramatic. And drugs and alcohol can give you that high, but it can also destroy you. We cannot rely, then, on these two types of inspiration to give us the ability to create when we want or need to on a consistent basis.

What if we try to think of inspiration as something that can come from anywhere — not just from the outside, but even from ourselves?

I speak of a mindset or a state of being that can transform the ordinary and the mundane into something extraordinary. This state of mind is aggressively playful, imaginative and creative that can “see” beyond what most everyone see. It is a mind that can connect what has not been connected yet. It is “conspiratorial” in the sense that it finds patterns, themes, relationships and stories where others might not see anything. One might say it is a mind that awakens to mystery and tries to capture its wonder. It is open to serendipity and sees more of it than most people do. It is both sublime and mischievous, sacred and profane.

You can learn and train your mind to be like this with practice and training. There are rules and methods to use and develop.

But you also need a few leaps of faith to be able to totally internalize this. The very first thing you need is to believe that what you want to create is already there.

Often, I look at ordinary things and events as portals that can lead to bigger experiences. There are hidden gifts to be picked up everywhere. Our job is to find them. From conversations, phrases, emotions shared, facial expressions, practically anything can inspire me and make a world out of it and express it through song.

American writer and potter Mary C. Richards hit it on the nail when she said, “Poetry enters through the window of irrelevance.” In short, nothing is irrelevant. Everything is important — that is, if we care to look closely.

The second leap of faith is about believing that God or the Universe is there to help you. The moment I focus on a melodic phrase that pops into my head, I feel an inner force at work that opens me creatively. My melody can go anywhere, but I feel some sort of guidance that is leading me to bring the song where it is “meant” to go. With regards to lyrics, it works the same way plus I can open a dictionary or a thesaurus to match words that rhyme. Assistance is there. Always. You just have to turn on your awareness.

There was a song I wrote for my daughter Erica when she graduated from high school. It talked about trusting yourself and finding your own path and truth. The lyrics in the bridge of the song went this way:

“Everything you need is inside of you. You’re the fire and breath of your own soul.”

What I really wanted to describe was our natural inner power, our built-in creativity to make anything, even to make our own future and create our own life experiences. While life happens to us, I believe we can make things happen, too.

This creative mindset applies not just to songwriting but to a lot of other things I do. And I know many creatives can relate to this. Magic, enchantment, creation of meaning is always at our fingertips. I know I make it sound so easy. Sometimes, it is that easy.

And with more practice, it becomes easier.

Talking about my generation 2

Posted on November 12, 2017 by jimparedes

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

Yesterday, I was riding the car from White Plains and as we passed through EDSA on our way to Pasong Tamo, I noticed so many things I never paid attention to before.

There were buildings that had been there before but I never took notice of them. There were some tall ones, too. Some of them stood alone against the sky without other tall buildings near them.

There were also pedestrian overpasses that I just noticed that day.

My wife Lydia was telling me that if I raised my head more and looked around instead of being glued online to my cell phone, I would have noticed all of these things way before. She has a point.

When I look at the billboards along EDSA, I see faces of people that I do not know. New faces everywhere. A new generation of showbiz folks had entered the scene since I ended doing regular television shows.

When I turned my attention to names and faces of Korean personalities on one billboard and asked my granddaughter who they were, she screamed with delight, rolled up her eyes and chided me for not knowing them.

I have stopped getting updated on names of current TV shows, celebrities, new songs, trends, fashion, pop and cultural tidbits. More than half of the people I watch on television are new to me. It doesn’t help that I hardly watch TV except the news. I am totally ignorant of Game of Thrones, Stranger Things and other TV blockbusters that people spend their time on. I hardly recognize anything playing on the radio now, too. I can’t relate to most of the themes, lyrics and melodic lines of the songs playing today. They just don’t grab me.

In the words of my own generation, I have stopped “tuning in” and have basically “turned off” and “dropped out.”

I don’t feel I really am missing a lot even if younger people I talk to are somewhere between being amused and shocked at how alien their celebrities and music are to an oddball like me.

I notice that as people get older, they eventually take stock of what they have gone through, and choose to gravitate around that time in their lives when they felt most alive, powerful, happy and “together.” It is that time when they felt in sync with the world, and everything made sense. They had struggles and won them. It was their time, those moments in their lives when their core tastes in music, culture and values were defined and shaped by their personal experiences. And that specific timeframe becomes the foundation of their adulthood, and will always be a big reference point for the rest of their lives.

In my case, my defining time was between the ’70s to the early years of the new millennia. I was young. I had lots of energy. I felt I could unleash big bolts of creative power and make stuff and achieve anything I wanted. During that time, I wrote tons of music, recorded it all, toured the world with my group and did what we felt were great memorable performances singing the songs we wrote.

I also married and raised a family.

I also participated in the biggest political struggle of my generation that defined my liberal democratic values that I still believe and adhere to today.

It was good that during the prime time of my life, I had a very curious mind. I engaged the world boldly. I was active. I was diving, biking and running. I was also reading a lot about everything and learning life skills that would help me adjust to the changing times. I also traveled extensively and saw the world. Today, I am at least technologically savvy. I also have a solid liberal arts education and mindset that serves me well as a human being living in the modern world and trying to make sense of it.

Time seemed to have stopped for me during the ’70s, until around 2007. It’s like I hopped off of the time bus, settled down and built a life and a home in that neighborhood. The worldview I subscribe to was largely formed around my experiences at that time.

I have caught myself telling younger people stories of that heroic time in our history when we kicked out the Marcoses. And I love telling them how glorious a time EDSA was. And that our great contribution to the Philippines was building a big catalogue and repertoire of OPM songs. I am proud of my generation’s legacy. I know I sound just like my uncles who talked to us when we were young about their defining moments during WWII and the rebuilding of our country after.

I still do feel creatively powerful today but I have mellowed. I like doing other things now. I now write a lot more than I used to. I have also become a teacher and I enjoy that a lot. I still do write music and perform but I am no longer on the radar of the millennial audience that has developed new tastes.

Our defining era is really the foundation of the rest of our lives. What we went through and struggled for helped build my generation’s character. Perhaps it was my luck that the ’70s was a time when we were inspired to produce great music. It was also a time when our conscience and consciousness were awakened enough to shape a bit of our cultural identity and history.

My generation’s time is passing quickly. It is now the time of the millennials. I am curious to see how this new generation will act upon the world.

Life at 66 0

Posted on November 05, 2017 by jimparedes

Life at 66
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated November 5, 2017 – 12:00am

Very often these days, I find myself underutilized. I feel I’m not doing enough. At every single moment, time is passing by and it makes me restless. I feel I am wasting opportunities. That’s because I feel I am waiting for things to happen while time passes by and is gone forever.

To some it may seem like I am a very busy person since I wear many hats — artist, teacher, writer, etc. And so I seem to be doing a lot of things. The truth is, I like to do more. Much more.

I am strong and healthy. I am motivated largely because at 66 years old, I feel time is running out. Life is short. Time moves too fast. I want to do many more things before I get t

Yes, I have made a bucket list and I will be doing as much as I can to fulfill the items on it. But I also have this feeling that there are other callings out there waiting to be answered. I know that I have not lived enough yet. There’s still a whole lot of living to do. There are things that are waiting out there for me. I can sense it although all I have are inklings to go by.

Right now I feel like I am in a lull before some big thing is about to happen. And I don’t know what that something is.

Am I being called to do a mission or just being asked to indulge my passions more? Every day, my radar is scanning my life’s horizon, looking for signs.

During the past weeks, I’ve been staying at home mostly. I go to the gym three to four times a week. I teach at the ADMU twice a week. I practice a little guitar almost every day. I meditate occasionally. I spend a lot of time online. I know there is definitely more to life than doing just these things.

There were times in the past when I felt clear about what I wanted to do in life. I was with the APO Hiking Society, and it had a job description and we did what we felt we had to do. And we did it well.

These days, I do not feel engaged enough with anything, certainly not enough to get me focused 24-7.

I know I am more of a doer. I want action. Sometimes, I can be a procrastinator, too, and postpone things for a future time. But aging has changed that. You know that your time is limited and so you make sure that you are focused on the remaining time at hand. Things can’t wait too long.

I see people my age slowing down to retirement. I can’t see myself ever retiring although sometimes, I ask myself why I need to keep busy.

Why do I need to fill my hours doing “stuff”? Why do I have this need to achieve? Can’t I just be happy and calm while in “being” mode? Should I always be doing something? Do I feel defined by the things that I do? Isn’t the state of just being myself as important as what I “do”? If doing is more important, should people who do not have the physical strength or health to pursue their dreams be considered failures as humans? Are we here to always prove something in this life?

I guess it is just my nature to be active and look for things to do. Asking yourself what or how much how much you have done in life comes up more often as you get older. The truth is, there is always still something to do. I often ask why I must still try to fix the world, or respond to the call of doing what I think is right. Shouldn’t we leave that for younger people to worry about? I wish I could say yes. In truth, I can’t.

Even if we can’t solve all the problems of the world, we still have to try. Ultimately, people have to pick up the cudgels, and I am afraid I have always been one among the not-too-many who have not and will probably never go gently into the good night. It would be so easy to just drop out and use the excuse of being too old to avoid answering the call of one’s conscience. But to do so, you also have to be the type of person who can live the rest of your life knowing you are bullsh*tting yourself.

There are many things we cannot change. But I don’t think we should give up trying to change what we can.

When I was younger, I sought to change the way things were because I wanted to alter the trajectory of where the country was heading then. I knew my generation would be living in that future. That future has become the present and is rapidly becoming the past. So why I am still fighting for another tomorrow I will no longer be living in?

At my age I know that more and more often, to be true to yourself means to challenge the ways of the world instead of accepting them passively. It means one may have to be “unreasonable” and even unpopular and choose to stand by the side of truth. You can’t live a real life if your aim is to gather as many “likes” or live for the approval of others. The great temptation is to succumb and say we can’t change things and just give up. I detest that.

This battle between oneself and the world may never be won with finality, but at least you try to change the little corner where you live while you still can. Every ripple you make counts if you want to contribute to the making of a formidable wave of change.

And so here I am waiting out this lull. Eventually, I will hear the call clearly. I know I will still be up for it.

40 years 1

Posted on October 28, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 29, 2017 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2017-10-29 at 6.39.26 AM
The author Jim Paredes and wife Lydia Mabanta on their wedding day.

It was 40 years ago today when Lydia Mabanta and I got married. She was a beautiful, innocent, wide-eyed 20-year-old girl who marched to the altar for her father to give away to a 25-year-old man waiting at the end of the aisle.

We met in 1976. My cousin Robbie was dating her sister Nandy and he had this idea that if I could date his girlfriend’s sister, this awkward chaperone practice would be less of a drag for them. He invited me to a party at Nandy’s house. Lydia and I were instantly attracted to each other. The next night, the four of us went out to watch a movie. It was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicolson.

We dated for seven months before she had to migrate to the US. We thought it would be the end. But during the next seven months, we wrote each other almost every other day via snail mail. They were intense letters expressing how much we were missing each other. The Internet had not been invented, of course. Long-distance calls were very expensive. Almost daily, I would wait for the mailman to pass by and ask him if he had a letter from her. I would read and reread every letter for days.

I finally mustered the decision to call her one night and ask her to marry me. She wasn’t home. She was out on a date. At 4 a.m. San Francisco time, I called again and she had just got home. After we talked, she decided to come home to the Philippines.

As much as we wanted to marry immediately, we could not decide where to have the wedding since I was also waiting for my papers to migrate to the US then. After a few months of waiting for my petition to come through, we decided that we would stop waiting and just marry here in the Philippines.

We chose the Church of Mary the Queen to have the wedding. The priest, however, refused us because Lydia was only 20 years old. I politely but firmly told the priest that we could go to other churches where we could most likely find a priest to allow us to marry. After talking to us for about an hour, he gave us his blessing.

It was not to be a grand wedding. I was a poor young man who had P30,000 savings to my name. I had a budget of about P1,000 for her wedding gown. My brother Gabby gave me clothing material and had a new suit made. I borrowed a necktie from my soon-to-be father-in-law. My mother-in-law had me made a nice white long-sleeved shirt.

On the day of the wedding, Lydia showed up radiant in a classic, gorgeous Gang Gomez gown. She had modeled for him before and he practically gave it to her for a song. Father Kull, a favorite Jesuit teacher of mine, officiated the wedding.

The reception was held at my mom’s house. We had a big garden. The day before, the very tall glass was cut and cleared, and we strung bare bulbs to light up the place. We served cocktails, which was all we could afford. There were no decorations or anything fancy. The garden was not even spruced up. We had our friends and immediate relatives over and that was enough. When it rained, we all rushed inside the house to continue the celebration. We were even delighted. We saw rain as a blessing.

Our parents and godparents gave us cash gifts. My father-in-law had estimated how much we spent for everything and gave us P18,000. We got P6,000 from our ninong Chito Ayala. We got a few more from other guests. We felt rich enough to start life with about P30,000!

I was working for Jem Recording Company, a start-up then that played a big role in the history of OPM. Half off my salary went to rent for an apartment within the Balete area. Before every fortnight ended, we would be eating meals at my in-laws since we usually had very little money left. After we spent on groceries, gasoline, and things for the house, we would watch movies at the Arcega’s theater along Aurora Boulevard.

It was the ’70s. We did not want to start a family right away. We wanted to be a couple and do things without the responsibility of having to raise a family. We wanted to venture into life together. We had no maids. We wanted to be independent.

But after only nine months, we felt like we were just “playing house,” and decided it was time to change plans. Nine months later, Erica came into the world.

The hungry years were great, memorable years. We had very few worries. We had no great ambitions to be rich and buy a big house. We had a nice secondhand car. We were happy to have a stereo set and listen to records we liked. We made love, watched movies, ate at very modest restaurants and hung around with friends. What else could we possibly want or need? We were content to live in our little apartment except for the fact that thieves were always trying to attempt to steal our car radio.

Not too long after, my career as a singer-songwriter with a then-unknown group called Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society started to take off. We bought a modest shell of a house in Fairview. At that time, North Fairview was the last place you wanted to live in. It was in the middle of nowhere. You had to go through bad roads to get there. It had no streetlights and it was a dumping ground for dead bodies.

But it was our own house. It required no down payment. We bought it without help from anyone. We fixed it up into something beautiful that felt comfortable and safe like a real home. We were happy there.

We had two more children, Ala and Mio, after Erica, and two grandchildren over the course of 40 years. We have moved up in the world. We have had other homes and have done a lot of traveling. All our children live away from us now and have acquired citizenships and residencies in other countries.

Time passes by quickly. Forty years seem like a flash, a blink. The young girl I knew and married is now a doting grandma. She is the light of our lives. She has made every place we have lived in a comfortable, warm home.

The frail young girl I had married 40 years ago has become a strong, independent and caring human being. She is also a fierce cancer survivor.

As a couple, we are still adjusting to each other even after 40 years. That’s because marriage is the most radical of all human relationships. It is a blank check you sign and you never know what the payments are, nor the terms. Anything can happen. It is full of surprises.

We continue to walk on through the long aisle of life before we get to the altar at the end. Forty years have brought us closer to each other and to the inevitable end of life.

We look back with gratitude that we have been blessed. Life has been generally good and abundant. We have good children and grandchildren. Most importantly, we continue to learn a lot about acceptance, give and take, forgiveness, patience. Every day, we learn a new facet of what we understand as love with all its joys, pains and blessings. We still have plans for the future. We still plan to do the Compostela Pilgrimage, and we look forward to seeing our grandchildren as adults.

But today, we celebrate and toast cheers to ourselves.

I love you, Lydia.

Finding your sacred spaces 1

Posted on October 15, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 15, 2017 – 12:00am

Sometimes, things can really take their toll on you. The almost non-stop daily traffic can be suffocating as you feel trapped between buses and big trucks for hours. It can cause anxiety attacks especially after a long day at work. Listening to the President on TV rambling on about non-sensical stuff and lying outright almost daily now can really upset you as a citizen of this country. A lot of our politicians contribute to the wretchedness of life with their stupidity, insincerity and total lack of decency. They are liars, cheats who seem to be focused on nothing but ambition and power. The daily news of scandals, murders, and negative news can really drag down your spirit.

I have been living practically alone in our huge house for a month now with my grand daughter Ananda who is out all day in school. On weekends, she has different activities too. Lydia is in Sydney helping our daughter Ala with her new baby. I eat breakfast and lunch alone. For dinner, I practically have to order Ananda to sit with me around the long dinner table. Almost daily, I spend a lot of time at home, except to teach at the Ateneo twice a week, and go to Gold’s Gym near my neighborhood in the afternoons.

The stress, the boring routine and the loneliness can get to me. The political developments have been so upsetting lately that one feels alternating emotions of anger and hopelessness.

Early last week, I thought of going away for two nights and three days and chill out near the beach. I just wanted a change of scene. So last Thursday, I made a quick getaway to Bohol. I took an Air Asia flight to Tagbilaran and checked in at the Ananyana Resort, one of my favorite places on earth.

I left Manila with hardly any sleep, with a heaviness in my heart, and with a disposition bordering on depression and anxiety. I was tired and weary.

It is only a one hour and 15 minutes flight to Tagbilaran. And yet it is a different world. It is refreshing not to hear horns of cars. Driving to the resort was completely traffic free. The driver was pleasant and I did not feel any stress even when he was driving quite fast. No one is overtaking. You can hardly find any big and annoying ad signs dotting the side of the streets that hovers over you and covers the world. There are hardly any people nor buildings. There is so much open space.

When I went down from the car and walked into the resort, I immediately felt my tense shoulders relax as I heard the waves of the ocean and felt the sea breeze. It was very calming. When you are surrounded by things like the eternal sea, and the wind, one can’t help but surrender to them. I did without putting up a struggle. Everything about me felt relief. The warm staff greeted me and I felt like I was back home. I have always enjoyed my stays here at Ananyana.

It is evening. Right now, I am typing this in the open lobby of the resort. There are no walls around it. There is the night wind rustling the leaves and when you look out into the sea, you can’t help but see a few dots of light in the darkness as fishermen in their boats move about the ocean trying to make a catch.

I ask myself, ‘Does it get any better than this?’ The answer right now is ‘no’.

Relaxation is what everyone needs. In the big bad monstrosity that is Manila, everyone seems to be locked into some sort of rat race for more money and things. Everyone is madly trying to make a living to survive or searching for next bigger, better, newer, latest modern thing to buy.

If we only we could all find our own ‘‘sacred space’’ and access it any time we want, the world could be a more pleasant and more humane one.

Meanwhile, we must find a way to cope with all this stress.

I am not always stressed out. Sometimes, I actually feel great and so ‘together’ that I can find and tap my quiet powerful center inside of me and deal with whatever life throws at me. At other times, I can lose it and feel so unsettled that I don’t even realize how much stress has been building up inside. Soon, it takes over and I start getting poor sleep. I wake up two or three times a night for no reason. I also find myself eating without really tasting the food. I gobble it all up quickly. When I ask myself two or three hours later what I had for breakfast, I can’t even remember. I also get easily irritated and lose my patience quickly.

Going to the gym helps me a lot. After a session, my endorphins kick in and it gives me a good feeling about my body. I also do zen meditation and that really calms me down.

More and more, I also turn to prayer. I used to have a hard time convincing myself that there was anyone out there who actually listens. Now I am sure there is. I realize that the two best prayers for me are about forgiveness and surrender. Everything else we need God knows already. We don’t need to ask. What we must do is ask to be forgiven and to forgive others, so we are more humbled. It becomes easier to detect His presence and accept any outcome. Admitting that we can’t solve or control everything is also a good prayer. We must be humble enough to surrender our problems completely and let God figure things out. It is that simple for me.

Lastly, I also try to take care of myself. Sometimes we do too many things for other people that we forget we, too, need care and love. Running on empty can deplete us and make us feel bitter about constantly giving without replenishing ourselves.

I took a 45-minute break from writing this. I walked by the beach and returned just now. There was a little drizzle but the dark and the slight wind were too inviting to refuse. In the dark, you can hear your thoughts better, and ironically, you see things clearer. And you realize your consciousness is as big as the darkness that engulfs you. As you stare at the nothingness, you realize that you are also the nothingness. To me it was a strangely comforting thought. I feel I am in touch with who and what I am on a really basic level.

I came here to Ananyana to de-stress. I know I am not the stress that clings to me. It is something that I unconsciously allow to control me. It is like affectation. It is with you but not really part of you. You only acquired it without knowing you did. If it were really a part of me, then why can’t I feel it right now here in the darkness?

Yes, we must learn to rediscover the enchantment in everyday life to counter the propensity for falling into the seeming meaninglessness of modern living. We need to pay attention more and cultivate self-awareness.

And that’s why we need to have a few sacred spaces to run to, and get our lives back. There are such places. Some are far. Some are near. Some are outside of us, and some are inside.

We must find all of them.

I remember my teachers with fondness 0

Posted on October 07, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 8, 2017 – 12:00am

Last Oct. 5 was World Teachers Day. It made me remember and reflect on the many teachers I had in school.

I spent my formal education at the Ateneo de Manila from my first day in prep till my graduation with a communications degree in 1973. I have met teachers whom I grew to love and respect, and I also had some whom I never warmed up to, and even disliked.

I would like to talk about those who influenced me in positive, indelible ways. They were the ones who showed patience with me as a young boy who (in my estimation) was slow to learn in the beginning but managed to pick up speed later on.

In grade school, I remember teachers who not only patiently taught us our lessons, but shepherded and cared for us as they nurtured our minds. They were kind and loving. Teachers like Mrs. Belleza, Ms. Lardizabal and Ms. Sandoval were memorable. Mrs. Belleza was my teacher in prep. She helped allay the fears of this six-year-old who cautiously entered a classroom for the first time. Ms. Lardizabal was beautiful. And thoughtful. She was sweet and occasionally received flowers from some students who had a crush on her.

I remember Ms. Sandoval with extra fondness. She was my teacher in fourth grade. She chose me to represent the class in an elocution contest. I was mortified. I was too insecure at that time to even talk in public, much less join a contest. She assured me I could do it and made sure I was trained well.

She and her boyfriend who had a radio announcer’s voice trained me for many days after class. Daily, they would correct my diction, improve my projection and remind me not to swallow my words. They were trying times. I remember crying out in frustration because I could not perform the material the way they wanted me to. After a week of practicing, they felt I was ready. I was in great doubt. To my surprise, I won the top place in the elocution contest delivering a speech on “The Despair of Judas.” I can still remember Ms. Sandoval flashing a big smile and being so proud of me.

Many of my high school teachers had an impact on my life. There was Onofre Pagsanghan, or Pagsi as he was called, who founded Dulaan Sibol, a theater group that presented the play Doon Po Sa Amin. It was a “transplanted” version of the American play Our Town written by Thornton Wilder, translated and directed by Pagsi. After its Manila run, we toured some provinces.

He believed in me enough to assign me the role of director during the tour. I learned not just theater from him but also openness, love, respect and sensitivity. He was truly a teacher who shaped me.

There was also Mr. Justino Roque, a math teacher who taught a subject I never liked. But he was so creative and funny that I managed not just to like math, but to get the most decent grades I ever received in this subject. He would sing the multiplication tables. He wanted us to call him “Justine Rock”! He was a cool guy.

In college, I had two teachers who became National Artists. They were Rolando Tinio and Bien Lumbera. Rolando was loud, dramatic, challenging and brilliant. He challenged the way we thought. He opened our minds and pointed out our bias towards the west and how our mastery of English but our lack of skills in speaking Filipino was isolating us from the rest of the country. And he did this while teaching us English literature.

Bien Lumbera was the opposite. He spoke softly, and was more patient. But my memories of him extended outside the classroom. I remember visiting him in YRC, a big government facility that was converted into a detention center for political prisoners during the early days of martial law. I boldly asked him to collaborate on a musical I had in mind then. It was a “historical fantasy” about the what-could-have-beens during the time of Rizal.

By the time we started working on it, he had already settled in Hawaii. He sent me the lyrics via snail mail. Our musical called Bayani was staged in 1983, a few months after Ninoy was killed. He never got to see it since he was abroad and it hasn’t been restaged ever since. I had already started writing songs in Pilipino then. His lyrics encouraged me to write with more elegance.

A professor of philosophy, Tony Romualdez, opened me up to a deeper understanding of life. He was responsible for setting me on my life path with a profound yearning for the metaphysical and the spiritual. I remember attending every class and thinking a lot about the lessons and discussions for days, weeks and even months after.

On our 50th anniversary year as graduates of grade school, our class threw a party in honor our teachers who were still around. It was great seeing them. They beamed with pride at how we had turned out. There was a teacher who asked for forgiveness for the physical pain he had inflicted on some of us then. It was politically correct at that time for teachers to spank us or even punch us in the arms. I found it strange but touching to listen to his apology, even if we had mostly forgiven and forgotten what was done to us.

As a teacher, I realize how important my role is in shaping the hearts and minds and attitudes of my students. Quality time spent in the classroom and the teacher-student relationships are critical elements in influencing young people. I listen to them a lot. As a teacher, I learn a lot from my students and I know that a lot of what I teach is also something they can keep for life.

I have been teaching for almost 10 years now. I have students who have excelled in their work. I don’t claim much of the credit. But I fancy that I may have had something to do with the success of some of them. Receiving letters of gratitude from some who changed career directions after attending my class has encouraged and inspired me.

I have been lucky in having great teachers in school who taught me things I have kept for life. These lessons were not necessarily about the subjects they taught. Sometimes it was more about the way they modeled adulthood and how they permanently awakened my curiosity to learn as much as I can while I am alive. They had passion, patience, and yes, they loved what they did and it showed.

What a teacher leaves behind may not be noticeable until years after. Seeds are planted. Sometimes, they grow into deeply rooted trees just as a student with good teachers later on excels in his profession. There is a saying that goes, “teaching creates all other professions.” It is true.

Without inspiring teachers, I ask my generation what kind of people would we have become and what kind of lives would we be living today?

I Feel close to panic 0

Posted on October 01, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 1, 2017 – 12:00am

Sometimes I look at a blank page with excitement and promise. I look at it and smile and can’t wait to write something on it. I am carefree, spontaneous and I feel like I am staring at the limitless sky. I can fly inside the page. It feels great. I can create worlds with words. I can make my own universe. I can define the reality that I want. And I want nothing more than to let the world know what I have written.

I feel like God rhetorically asking what I want to create today. “What experiences do I want today?” I confidently ask myself!

There is a palpable current of energy running inside me that wants not just to type words but to imbue the blank page with magic and inspiration. I feel very powerful. I know my place in the world. I am attuned to the spontaneity of “the flow” — that divine force that runs everything we know in the universe. And I ride it effortlessly.

But sadly, it is not always like this.

There are also times when I look at the blank monitor and feel a sense of fear and nausea. I feel dread. The blank page is luring me in with an urgency and I am balking at the invitation. I feel I am not worthy nor talented enough to enter the page. But the blank page is demanding that I write something on it, and it better be good. In times like these, I want to run away and hide, and never look at the blank page again.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and my deadline for the article looms closer and closer.

I feel close to panic. I feel like the girl in the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale who was tasked to produce gold every night under great duress. It can be very distressing.

Every writer finds him/herself in these alternating situations often. I know. I’ve been here many times.

Every artist has the calling to do art, but with the forces of doubt and fear not far behind. These two opposite forces that pull artists will always be there. A part of me wants to fly. The other is too afraid to fall. I like to engage the world freely and shape it to my own image and likeness. But I am also too afraid to completely reveal myself and be criticized.

Lately, I have been mostly feeling the latter. Sometimes, I feel like I am running on empty. I have nothing new to say. I have no muse to inspire me.

Throughout the week, I think of topics to write about. Sometimes, I find something to write about and so I submit my article to my editor early before the deadline. This week, I could not think of anything. I had started writing an article this morning to catch today’s deadline but for some reason, I quickly lost interest in the topic and abandoned what I had already written.

I decided not to write about anything that I was not really that interested in. I wanted to write about something real. And so I followed the urge to write about what is true for me at this very moment.

I am writing about something that is happening to me right now. I am scared because I have no great “safe” topic to thrill my audience with. And I am afraid to admit that I feel defeated. Surely, I am suffering from writer’s block right now.

Art and fear are two things that go together with being a creative person. One is a force out to talk and dialogue with world. The other is a force of restraint, a force that tells you that you are not good enough, and that you never will be.

Art is about beauty and authenticity. For any work to be authentic, one must from time to time directly bare one’s soul just as it is. If it means showing up as the lesser version of you on the page then so be it.

One must also accept that at that moment you are writing whatever it is you are writing, you are doing your best. You always are coming from the best of you, considering that your moods, psychological state and spiritual barometers are always in constant flux.

Don’t beat yourself up when you feel you’re not as inspired as you want to be. Be kind to yourself. You are always, at any given moment, the “state of the art” of who you are. Right now. Nothing less. Nothing more. Accept with humility that your present output will always be either greater or lesser than what you have done before, or what you may do tomorrow. And that’s perfectly okay.

Fear exists in everyday life. But you also have your life to live. And you must do what you must do whatever the conditions are. In short, while the fear is there, go beyond it so you can do the job that you are tasked to do. As a writer, the very act of showing up on the page, especially against the odds, is a real act of courage.

Often, we think of drawing inspiration from the world outside. But you can also draw it from inside of you, from the most powerful force in you.

That is your vulnerability.

Show your weakness. Show your pain and doubt. Be real. Be true. You may be surprised how healing and powerful that can be.

Miracles 0

Posted on September 23, 2017 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 24, 2017 – 12:00am

I was again going though the book A Course in Miracles (ACIM). I do this from time to time. I started getting interested in it around 15 years ago. The book was collaboratively written by psychologists Helen Schucman and William Thetford from 1965 to 1972. Schucman claims that the book was dictated to her by Jesus Himself. Thetford was the first person to read the early writings. After he did, he volunteered to edit the manuscript.

The book is a guided manual for inner transformation and espouses that the greatest miracle one can achieve is “awareness of love’s presence.” It is a heavy read and it may take a lifetime to master its teachings. I must warn you, though, that this book has been both highly praised and vilified. Some say it is nothing but “psychobabble.” Some say the Devil wrote it. Others say it is life-changing. Make your own judgment.

What struck me about ACIM were the 50 principles the book claims best describe what miracles are.

For this article, I want to discuss some of them. I won’t list down all 50. I will choose the first 10 to get you thinking about miracles. I know one column cannot do justice to the book since it is so rich in insight and it takes people years to absorb its message. I hope to get you interested in exploring the book yourself. You may find something in it. Or it may turn you off completely.

We all would like to believe in miracles. I know I do. We talk of miracles without analyzing what they are. We just know them as things that happen against the odds. We also see them as interventions in our lives. A Course in Miracles opens our minds to what they really are all about.

1. There is no order of difficulty in miracles. One is not “harder” or “bigger” than another. They are all the same. All expressions of love are maximal.

I am amazed at this principle. While I do believe in miracles, I always thought that some are greater miracles than others in that they seem more impossible to happen, yet they do. The truth is, miracles, whether we rate them as big or small, are miracles no less. They are brought about by love.

2. Miracles as such do not matter. The only thing that matters is their Source, which is far beyond evaluation.

Miracles may surprise, amaze us. But the greatness of miracles is not what happens to us but that they come from God and there is no way we can wrap our minds around how big God is. God is the source of everything.

3. Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love.

The real miracle is the love that inspires them. In this sense everything that comes from love is a miracle. Miracles are the result of love. Given that they are, it tells us that everyone who loves can cause transformations to happen to those he loves and even to himself.

4. All miracles mean life, and God is the Giver of life. His Voice will direct you very specifically. You will be told all you need to know.

God is love. He/She is the Source of all love. God also uses us to love and perform miracles to help others. Have you ever felt God talk to you and give you specific instructions? This is pretty hard to answer without thinking that you may be slightly crazy. But the book claims that God does talk to us quite clearly and specifically.

5. Miracles are habits, and should be involuntary. They should not be under conscious control. Consciously selected miracles can be misguided.

Miracles are caused by love. Love is something inherent in us. We spontaneously give and accept love. To give love for the purpose of trying to cause specific intended results may in the end not be fruitful. All we need to do is love unconditionally. Let the miracle happen without our intervention. Leave that to God.

6. Miracles are natural. When they do not occur something has gone wrong.

I have always believed that the forces of the universe are manifestations of love. God is always intervening through miracles. If miracles didn’t happen anymore, it would be a really sad state for the world because it would mean that we have stopped loving and that the Source has abandoned us.

7. Miracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first.

While we are all capable of receiving and sending out miracles, first we must believe that we are indeed capable of loving. We must find our connection to the Source through love. In everyday life though, we tend to belittle our capacity to create miracles or do great things, and so we are blind and do not see them happening as often. Nor do we hear guidance. We must open our minds and hearts and take away all notions that block our understanding of this. We are God-like in our power to love, and thus can create miracles. We must accept that and believe it.

8. Miracles are healing because they supply a lack; they are performed by those who temporarily have more for those who temporarily have less.

Yes, I believe that we all affect each other. We pass on energy, and the best energy we can give to one another is love. Those with higher capacity to give must share. But remember that you will not always be giving out. Sometimes, you may have a deficit of love. We must also be open to accept miracles sent our way.

9. Miracles are a kind of exchange. Like all expressions of love, which are always miraculous in the true sense, the exchange reverses the physical laws. They bring more love both to the giver and the receiver.

The end effect of miracles is a higher state of being for those who give and receive. In fact, the miracle of love maybe the only real, lasting way of interaction we will be experiencing while we are alive. And yes, the power of love can affect the laws of the physical world.

10. The use of miracles as spectacles to induce belief is a misunderstanding of their purpose.

Miracles are not magic tricks that are meant to wow us in some superficial way. They happen not to prove anything. Miracles have a way more profound purpose that is supposed to lead us to the Source and thus transform us.

There are 40 more principles to explore in the book. They are definitely something to think about. Whether the book was divinely inspired or not, I can’t say. But it does open your heart and mind to the idea of how love can change not just people we know and ourselves, but perhaps the entire world and all of humanity.

We were made to love. And we need miracles more than ever.

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!

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