Comedy, art and music

Here are three events I’ve been meaning to write about.

Watched Dyords Javier at the Teatrino in Greenhills last Thursday and had a blast! Dyords, who has always been funny and entertaining was on full-throttle. Together with a 12 piece band, he sang, danced, told crazy stories, played instruments, joked, and just totally charmed, and floored his audience. It’s one of those nights that brings a smile to your face when you remember it.

The great thing about entertainers like Dyords Javier is that they are NOT into TV culture, and the insultingly low standard of comedy that it believes to be funny and entertaining. No obvious, predictable, stock-character personas. No degrading, embarrassing attempts that fail to hit the mark that get more pathetic because of canned laughter. Dyords is live, FUNNY in a creative, original, seminal way and the audience reaction shows it. His concepts are unique, and especially so because of the immense contributions of Ernie Baladjay, his musical director and co-creator of his musical gags and elaborate works. John Lesaca, his guest, not only performed superbly but also gamely got into Dyords’ antics.
I won’t get into details about his material. I want you to discover it for yourself. Catch him on Thursdays, 8PM at Teatrino. You’l be happy you did. And yes, you can bring your high school son or daughter. No obscene material that will make you squirm. Just stuff that will make you laugh out loud or shake your head in delight! And btw, the music playing (and at times, even Dyords’ singing) is excellent!

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Two Saturdays ago, a good friend in the art world Noli Romero invited me to photograph a nude painting session by some famous painters at the NBC tent. This was part of the big art exhibit and sale that went on during that weekend where many gallery owners displayed their collections much to the delight of the people who went.


The model was alternative cinema actress Mercedes Cabral, the ‘most beautiful actress’ in the last Cannes festival. It was interesting to watch blank canvases come to life with a few masterful strokes by the hands of good painters.

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Last June 20, I invited a few friends in Sydney to my house to watch a young Phil-Aussie guitarist perform. About twenty people were agog watching Bryan Browne, 15 years of age play music with his guitar like a master many times his age. His audience of first-timers clapped, cheered, and even gave him a few ovations during his one and a half hour performance. He played guitar pieces that showcased his unbelievable dexterity and masterful grasp of the instrument. At such a young age, he plays with such impeccable precision and soulful feeling.
No wonder he has been invited a few times to play in Nashville, and for the Chet Atkins Society, a group of guitarists who keep alive the glory of one of the world’s greatest guitarist who Bryan idolizes. One of my favorite stories of his which I enjoy telling people is how he met and layed with guitar legend Les Paul. Maybe he should be the one to tell the story. Ask him when you meet him.

Bryan is still in high school. It is quite ironic and funny that even when he is able to tour the world , meet, play and hang around with great guitarists, alas, becausee of his age, he can’t even have a few beers with them!

Writer’s block

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated July 26, 2009 12:00 AM

It was driving me nuts. I had been staring at my monitor on and off for hours, and I could not even get a whiff of a sentence out, much less an idea on what to write about. My self-imposed deadline for this column falls on a Monday, the first day of the week. I feel I should get it out of the way so that I can feel more relaxed in the following days and enjoy my week. But there I was late Monday night, hopelessly attempting to write with not even a word to show for it.

Normally, if nothing is getting me interested enough to start writing, I check my mail, go to Facebook, Multiply or my WordPress account to see if people have commented on anything I have written, or just to catch up on postings by friends. Then I go back to try and write. But this time, this didn’t seem to work.

Writer’s block, no doubt, can hijack one’s creativity, and for someone who writes a weekly column, it can be terrifying. It makes me feel like a sailboat without a sail, a sports car without wheels, a comic without a gag, or Sisyphus trying to push a huge rock up a cliff. In moments like these, my attempts at writing seem not only like poorly launched endeavors but miserably failed ones.

And one of the causes of writer’s block, I believe, is the expectation of writing a good piece. “People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently,” said Anna Quindlen. And because the Muse seems not to be amused enough at our attempts to take pity on us and share inspiration, a writer can get panicky. And the more he does, the harder it is to write.

I’ve had this vague, not really well-thought-out theory for sometime now that I can only do one kind of writing at a time. It’s either writing books or columns, or it’s the other kind that got me started writing in the first place. And it’s brought about by the fact that I have not had a real opportunity to do both for long stretches.

I am talking of songwriting. I have no solid scientific study to back this up but I base it on personal experience. I can’t ever recall a time when I was doing both essay writing and songwriting in a prolific manner at the same time. It has always seemed like it is either one or the other. It’s not that I can’t do it because there have been occasions when I needed to write songs while maintaining this weekly column and I have had no trouble doing it. Songwriting is still easy to do for me but the lack of big projects and the deadline of a weekly column deprive me of the urgency to keep at it on a regular basis. And so it’s just been this column for the most part.

To me, they are two different disciplines. My method at songwriting involves marinating myself in a mood or an idea, a musical or lyrical hook before I even attempt to write a song. I just let things percolate inside. From a germ of a mood or a pinch of a concept, it soon becomes an elaborate feeling that hangs around the free spaces of my mind. At this point, I begin sensing the song becoming more animated, and insistent about being expressed, like an itch that needs scratching or a spirit that needs incarnating.

That’s the only time I reach for a guitar or sit at my piano and attempt to write the song. When it is easy (and for the most part it is), it’s done anywhere from a few minutes to about an hour and a half. If it seems like it will go beyond that, I get the feeling that it was prematurely labored on my end. I usually stop all attempts for a while until I sense a more opportune time. Without trivializing the process, it is pretty much like the biological need to go to the toilet. When it’s ready, it comes out easy. When you push it, it’s difficult.

But with writing, the dynamic is different. Or at least it feels like it. Perhaps it’s because readers write back and give their reactions more quickly from the time I write it, unlike creating songs that take time to produce and release as a finished product.

There is much truth in the Taoist adage about going with the flow, or “not resisting,” that can be helpful in any kind of writing, or any kind of art, for that matter. When we are fixated at the outcome or finished product, it can get quite intimidating. But when we “just write,” it works out better.

The key, I think, is to write unconditionally. That’s when the flow happens. It means not getting caught up in being your own worst critic, or falling into the expectation trap by comparing your present work to your previous ones. The only sane way to look at the work you are doing at any moment and give it the chance to become something decent or even great is to tell yourself that this is the state of the art of where you are, right in this moment.

We learn through Zen that it is good to recognize that this moment is not like any other, and what you are doing is the sum total of all your thoughts, feelings and moods right now. There may have been times when things were better or worse, but that is not what it is all about. What is important is what you are expressing at the present time.

Maya Angelou talks about “just writing,” even if badly, to convince her Muse that she is serious about it and thus may take pity on her and give her the inspiration to do great writing. Gertrude Stein put it more bluntly when she said that, “To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.” Other writers have expressed the same idea in different ways.

Writer’s block can seem like traversing aimlessly in a dry arid dessert that looks like it has no beginning and no end. But if you keep at it, sooner or later, some faint patches of green begin to appear, then perhaps not too far away, an oasis of inspiration refreshes and reanimates the writer’s dried-up soul.

The more I think about it, and the more I do it, the more I believe that writing is life itself. The first thing one has to do in one’s life is to show up for it. If you don’t show up for your own life, dreams and desires, absolutely nothing will happen to you. The first requisite to being alive is presence. Just be there for a start and soon enough, you become at home in the spacious landscape that is your creativity and you may even pitch a makeshift tent till you decide to transplant yourself there and eventually grow roots and bloom.

And the better you are at being wholly present — meaning being there with all your heart and mind and soul and senses — the better you become at writing.

A writer writes. A painter paints. It’s as simple as that. To try and write “the best article ever,” or attempt to pose as a master at what you do can often subvert the very act of creating. More than attempts at mastery, it works better when we marvel at the mystery of things to feel alive.

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It’s going to happen next Monday. “Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” is on. Join me on August 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10 at 7 to 9 p.m. and discover the joy and aliveness of the creative life. I will awaken in you the life force that will make you creative and joyful.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at for questions or reservations. You can also visit for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it. Do not miss out. Definitely the last one this year.

Me and my shadow

Illustration by Rey Rivera

This is not going to be another Michael Jackson article. I just thought I’d put that caveat since I think a lot of people are already suffering from an overload of information, analysis and sentimentality.

I find the treatment by media of controversial people who die suddenly quite perplexing. While they were alive, people like Michael Jackson and Princess Diana may have been praised but they were also pilloried and vilified, sometimes with great cruelty. And yet, the moment they die, they suddenly become “beatified” to a certain degree. Their “sins,” or whatever it was that they were pilloried for, are not only forgiven, they are almost always forgotten.

I think what made these famous people bigger than life was because they played out their virtues and vices in really grand ways for all the world to see and go gaga over. When they were good, they were extremely wonderful. But when they were bad, they were shockingly scandalous.

It was Carl Jung who proposed the idea that everyone has a shadow side and, like a statue in late afternoon, the greater the man, the greater the shadow. And this best explains the phenomenon of the lives of the famous and infamous.

On the other hand, I sometimes look at so-called “bad” people and wonder about their good qualities. Surely, there must have been something good about Hitler and Stalin, aside from their being methodical, calculating and well dressed. At some point in their lives, they must have performed acts of kindness, some form of goodness or exhibited virtues; but perhaps the shadow side was just so strong that it took over completely.

Even institutions, countries, races have shadow dramas that play out. Deepak Chopra, in the documentary by Debbie Ford called The Shadow Effect, proposes that the Catholic Church’s shadow side involves pedophilia and the way it dealt with it historically, which was by denying it and protecting its erring priests by transferring them to different parishes where they continued to inflict damage. Germany’s shadow side is the Holocaust. Western civilization justified slavery and the subjugation of cultures in the name of God.

There is much to lament about the history of the world because shadow urges have to be played out. And surely, they will continue to do so.

From a religious point of view, especially if one is a Christian, it is quite important to believe that life’s struggle is all about eradicating the shadowy aspects that lie within us which, in the Christian view, are the source of sin. Thus, there is the need to be saved from this place of darkness and come fully into the light of the Lord. Some extreme sects, for example, even believe in exorcising gays to make them acceptable to God. But it is tempting to ask if extreme scrupulosity is itself a shadow manifestation as well.

I suppose, in its extreme forms, shadows are our neuroses. And they imply something pathological, which leads to dysfunctions and even danger. They need to be addressed, but even so, it seems hard to imagine what it would be like if a person had no shadow whatsoever.

That person would be what people derisively call a “goody two-shoes.” They would be excessively or annoyingly virtuous persons, which implies that they are shallow and insincere. Who was the pundit who said that it is easier to have the devil as your roommate than a saint?

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had an interesting remark about people who are overzealous about trying to be perfect. He said, “Be careful lest in casting out your devils that you cast out the best thing that’s in you.”

Joseph Campbell, commenting on that statement by Nietzsche, said that what is left of a person who is in deep analysis with his shrink is one who acts “as though they have been filleted. There’s no bone there, there’s no stuff!” They have been deprived of the very spirit that used to animate them.

In the light of this, one might ask what people like Van Gogh, Michael Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe — neurotics, drunks and addicts that they were — might have become if they had gone into rehab or hardcore counseling to drive out their demons. Would Van Gogh have retained the capacity to see the colors of life in hyper vividness? Would Edgar Allan Poe have lost his mesmerizing poetic fascination with sadness, terror and loneliness? Would Michael Jackson have smoothed out the edges of his music and made it less interesting? What about Picasso? Would his creative prana have come to a halt if he had zipped up his libido?

How to get rid of ego as dictator and turn it into messenger and servant and scout, to be in your service, is the trick,” Joseph Campbell advised. It requires not just the taming of the shadow. It means that one must also know intimately one’s dark side and befriend it. Popular speaker Debbie Ford recalled that in one workshop, a woman had called her a “bitch.” And while it upset her to be called that, the woman pointed out, “Wasn’t it great to be a bitch when you had to be insistent and have your way for the right reasons?”

An intimacy with and acceptance of the unsavory aspects of our personalities can allow us to access its power over us and use it to our advantage. And it works for us when we bring it to the light.

In practical terms, this means confronting our fears instead of hiding in them. It also means being brutally honest with ourselves about our own vices, reasons and motivations. Marcus Aurelius said, “Know thyself.” Debbie Ford says, “Got a bunch of jerks in your life? Then, embrace your own jerkiness. Guaranteed you’ll stop attracting them. No one to love you? Love yourself first and others love you, too.”

Embracing everything about oneself and all your good and bad aspects is a start. When your life leads to greater authenticity instead of fake virtuousness, the universe will seem kinder, gentler and even more generous with the joy it delivers in our lives. The energy investments we use to cover up our shadows are pulled out and reinvested in being present to one’s aliveness, and life itself, exactly as it is.

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“Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop” is two weeks away. Join me on August 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11 at 7 to 9 p.m. and discover the joy and aliveness of the creative life. I will awaken in you the life force that will make you creative and joyful.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at for questions or reservations. You can also visit http://www.tappingthe for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it. Do not miss out. Definitely the last one this year.

A day with Ananda

Yesterday I took my grand-daughter Ananda to the city of Sydney to visit the Sydney Aquarium. This was a moment she had been waiting for since I brought her to Australia a month ago. Her anticipation of it was so great that for the past few days, I successfully used this trip to the aquarium as leverage for her to do what I wanted her to, like finishing her meals, brushing her teeth and picking up her toys.

She finally got her wish yesterday when my daughter Ala and I took her on a train ride to the city to fulfill my promise.

From the time I woke her up until the end of the day, I observed her and made mental notes on how differently a child like Ananda actually enjoys an experience as opposed to Ala and myself. Of course, I know there are differences between adults and children, and some of them are quite obvious. But I have often wondered who has a greater appreciation of things and can get more out of the experience.

For Ananda, every moment spent with her Ninang Ala and me on this little excursion seemed to be so important that she wouldn’t allow anything to pass without commenting. She talked constantly, engaging us, asking about this and that.

“Can I press the button of the elevator?” “Can I put the ticket in the turnstile?” “Why is the train color yellow?” “Can we play the animal game while we sit on the train?” These were just four of perhaps more than a hundred questions she asked in a period of about seven hours. And every few moments of the 45-minute train ride, she asked, “Are we almost there yet?”

To this adult, it could get exasperating to have to answer every question she asked. Sometimes I just answered with “Because…”, hoping it would keep her quiet, but to no avail. I constantly had to remind myself as I mustered all of my grandfatherly patience, that there is nothing wrong with her being inquisitive. In fact, I should be thankful that she is, instead of being dull, silent and not inquiring at all.

The mind of a child is wired in a way that it has an appetite to know everything and make immediate sense of what it sees. In the case of Ananda, she has a great appetite that is never sated, not even by the endless smorgasbord of new things that she encounters in the world around her. She is constantly fascinated by things, people, objects and has a great desire to know and “own” them.

Before we left the house, her grandma gamely gave her a dollar to put in her pocket, which made her feel “rich.” With her one dollar, she wanted to buy everything that struck her fancy — little toys, chocolate bars, candies, knick-knacks, train tickets, etc.

One thing I noticed is, I do not have as strong a desire anymore — as Ananda does — to open the door wide to life and let in all sorts of people and things. Past experiences have jaded me to many of life’s aspects, and certain types of people. And this, I am quite sure, has made me miss out on a lot. It is refreshing to see in Ananda a blank slate and an unlimited capacity and drive to absorb everything that comes her way.

When I am with Ananda, I feel that she is pulling her toy box from under the bed for the first time while I have put my toys back in a box, locked it and put it away.

While Ananda sees her Lolo as a fountain of knowledge, security, love, material blessings and a fun companion (more or less), I see in her boundless enthusiasm, total freshness, unbridled rawness, a lack of decorum or political correctness that awakens in me a sense of what I have lost. It is a loss that I see only when I am patient enough to let go of my “adultness.”

For example, I catch myself constantly reminding her to lower her naturally loud voice when we are in public, or to stop asking too many questions. But just as soon as I do, I stop myself and just allow her to be as natural as she can be.

It is fascinating to see the power a child naturally possesses. When children are upset and cry, their parents are beside themselves doing everything they can to stop them from crying. Often, when a child shows off this power, adults put them in their place, scolding and threatening in the name of discipline, passing on to the child the message that having power is “wrong,” when what we should be teaching them is how to use it wisely and when.

“A child seldom needs a good talking to as a good listening to,” observed writer Robert Brault. Having grown up in an age when children were seen but not heard, I chose to bring up my children differently. As a young parent many years ago, I decided I wanted my kids to grow up expressing themselves freely. I am quite happy with the decision, because at least I more or less know where they are at emotionally, psychologically, etc. and that is valuable when you are raising them and helping them stay out of trouble.

I watched Ananda hop, skip and jump as we moved through the city, and I recalled the magical moments in my own childhood (and some in my adulthood) when there was no moment that music was not playing, or where there was nothing but beauty and fascination everywhere. I smiled and said “thank you” to the life prana that animates her and awakens my own.

To a child like Ananda, time is not a measured landscape with a beginning and an end but a magical dimension in which she is totally engrossed. In it, she is like an athlete in “the zone,” totally one with what she is doing, until an adult says “Time’s up.”

To a child, life is all play and joy until adults come and take that away, slowly but surely. It seems the opposite is true for us grownups where life is mostly about work and being responsible, with only occasional moments of play and joy. I believe that the few times we adults have these moments are sacred epiphanies that make life worth living.

The difference between us adults and kids is that they do these things naturally, without thinking about it or trying too hard while we have to make the conscious decision to allow or create such experiences. One might say then that while a child is naturally happy, with adults, being happy is a deliberate choice.

Last night, before going to bed, Ananda gave me a big hug and thanked me for the great day she had. Before she closed her eyes, she whispered, “I love you, Lolo.”

This kid can always melt my heart. In turn, I hugged her for being the naturally wonderful person she is. I guess, with Ananda, I am like a kid since I love her without having to decide or to try at all.

* * *

I am happy to announce the 47th run of “Tapping the Creative Universe (TCU) Workshop,” an experience of creative, joyful awakening. This will run from August 3 to 7 and finish August 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. The cost per participant is P5,000.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916- 8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at for questions or reservations. You can also visit for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it.

When celebrities die

The King of Pop is dead.” The news that shocked us early in the morning in Sydney resonated throughout the world. People everywhere reacted viscerally and with great disbelief.

The Iran election, which had dominated the headlines for weeks, was dislodged from media headlines for at least two days. Google’s cyber technicians reported that the sudden surge in Internet traffic about Michael Jackson made them think initially that they were under a major virus spam attack. Due to the number of people who used the Internet, the Huffington Post and CNN remarked that Michael Jackson’s death threatened to bring the entire Internet down with him.

Many were saddened, if not upset, that the Iran story was dislodged from the headlines by Jackson’s death. That world public, or at least the media, seemed more concerned about the death of the Gloved One while millions of Iranians were being persecuted with dozens killed in their fight for freedom and truth, spoke volumes about the priorities of people — and the media — worldwide.

I felt a sense of disbelief at this turn of events, even if it was explainable in hindsight. Such is the power of celebrity as large as Michael Jackson’s, and the unexpected snuffing out of his life. While I mourn his death, I am thankful that the world has once again focused on Iran.

It is totally shocking to hear about celebrities dying too soon. Among others, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, James Dean, Freddie Mercury, John Lennon, Princess Diana, Heath Ledger, and now Michael Jackson have all died early, eliciting the same shocked reaction from the world. There is a sense of loss, as if their deaths were premature, not having completed what is believed to constitute a “full life.” The incompleteness leaves us hanging, baffled, shocked and feeling a great loss.

We know intellectually that we will all die. There is nothing more certain than death and every day brings us closer to it. “Our birth is nothing but our death begun,” wrote the dramatist Edward Young. Still, we react strongly to its arrival. Even when it’s expected, as when old people who have lived long lives pass away, death continues to catch us unprepared. Pope John Paul II was old and sick but his death still came as a shock to many. What more when it happens to the young?

Tragic as it may be, it is totally romantic for a celebrity to die early. A famous person’s sudden demise practically guarantees some kind of “immortality.” Elvis has probably generated more wealth from royalties, sales of memorabilia and entrance tickets to Graceland than when he was alive. It is safe to say that such derivative income will also enrich Michael Jackson’s estate, keep his music immortal, current and hip even if, before his death, his career had gone awry.

Ironically, even if it was probably from an accidental overdose, Michael’s death was a “master stroke,” career-wise.

Early, unexpected death makes time stop for celebrities. They never really die; they continue to live on, frozen in our memories. How can they not? Their songs were the soundtracks to our lives. Their very lives were our preoccupation. Unlike ordinary mortals, their memories are never put to rest. They do not age or grow irrelevant. They are alive as ever and continue to entertain us.

Even after some 46 years, Marilyn Monroe and John Kennedy continue to enthrall the public as details of their lives are dug up. The same goes for Princess Diana. The squashing of youth and the potential it carries leaves everyone speculating endlessly about how the rest of these celebrities’ lives would have played out if they had not died so soon.

It hardly matters that the celebrity who suddenly died was living a life that was far from admirable. Factual reports of substance abuse and immoral conduct in their personal affairs become irrelevant. Their unconscionable behavior is easily forgiven; their personalities and reputations are coated forever with Teflon. Nothing negative will stick.

There are various reasons for this. One is the dictum that if there is nothing good one can say about someone who has died, then it’s better to shut up.

Another reason why the bad stuff is suddenly glossed over by the public is because these celebrities touched our lives in a special way. They worked up our emotions in a way that defined us. John Lennon spoke for my generation when he rebelled against the world of wars, guns, and conformity. Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance and great talent was an outrageous yet brilliant expression of the youth of his time. Elvis gave us rock and roll. And all of their songs — and yes, their personal struggles — took us to a special place away from the ordinariness of our own lives.

We watched Michael Jackson grow up from the little boy who sang ABC with his siblings to become a fantastic performer. He made us sing great songs and dance The Moonwalk. But he also captivated our attention and kept us wondering if his love for children was pedophiliac in nature. And there was his continuously morphing appearance.

These last two aspects were explosive, grotesque dramas that played out in the courts and in public eliciting endless fodder for gossip that hurt his career and gave late night comedy shows something to joke about.

But the main reason why the likes of Michael Jackson will forever be cherished by the public is because such stars create things of beauty that touch us, elicit awe and make us feel alive to ourselves. John Keats was spot on when he wrote that “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

* * *

I am happy to announce the 47th run of Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop (TCU), an experience of creative joyful awakening. This will run on August 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 from 7 to 9 p.m. at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Q.C. The cost per participant is P5,000.

Please call 426-5375 or 0916-8554304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at for questions or reservations. You can also visit for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it.



Has your life been on hold for sometime? Can’t move on to the next stage? Can’t get going on the new career, relationship, calling? Can’t let go of the past?

You need to create space for the real you to start living the life you were meant to have.

I am happy to announce the 47th run of Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop (TCU), an experience of creative joyful awakening. Unblock yourself and let the sunshine in.

This will run on
WHEN: August 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and10
TIME: from 7 to 9 PM
WHERE: at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.
COST: P5,000.

Please call 4265375 or 0916 855 4304 and ask for Ollie, or write me at for questions or reservations. You can also visit for the syllabus, FAQ and testimonials from people who have taken it.

For those who have taken this course, you can take it again for free if it has been more than a year since you attended. Please feel free to pass this on.

See you soon.