Being 60

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 28, 2011 12:00 AM

In a few days, I will be six decades young.

It’s amazing how quickly time has flown. I can still remember being a four-year-old and feeling the simple joy of running as fast as I could, which seemed incredibly fast then. My hop, skip and jump felt like flight.

I also remember growing up with the tacit belief that getting old, bad health, tragedies, accidents and deaths were awful things that happened only to other people. Such is the cluelessness of youth.

I may have faced some of life’s great vicissitudes but, I must admit, I have not suffered as much as many others I know. My point is, when you are young, you feel that youth and its incredible energy will last forever.

Today, the world is telling me that to be 60 is to be… well… old. Yet frankly, I do not feel old at all as I enter into this marvelous stage, even if I have stopped dyeing my hair and allowed it to turn grey. My body is still quite strong and nimble. I do brisk walking occasionally, and daily, a 25-minute Zen-style meditation and 80 pushups. All my medical numbers have been good since years back, thank God. And I still have the enthusiasm to learn, grow and be adventurous.

I wonder, though, how long it will be before I feel things slip away. It will surely happen someday. I hope I have acquired enough wisdom to learn to accept things if and when they happen. But, of course, I will only know how much of this acquired wisdom is theoretical and how much of it I have truly imbibed when I actually need to invoke it in the face of the inevitability of aging.

For my 60th birthday, I thought I should make a bucket list of things that I still have passion and interest to pursue. I may or may not end up doing them. I may even change my mind about some of these later on. But one thing I know is, many unexpected things have happened in my life that have pushed the limits of what is possible. In short, I seem to cause my dreams to be self-fulfilling.

Life has been good to me. I can say that in all honesty and gratitude. Untold opportunities have presented themselves to me and continue to do so. Quite often, when I was younger, I felt the world was giving me more breaks than I was worthy of, and so I turned them down. It was probably for the better because I realize that I am a late bloomer. I have needed more time to prepare and process the abundance life has given me. If I had been an overnight success, who knows how badly I would have handled it? Who knows how much of a wreck

I would have become later on?

But there also were times when great obstacles stood before me. Yet, between what I wanted to do and the daunting odds the world presented to discourage me, I always bet on myself and seconded the world. I turned to intuition, conscience and my secret dreams for guidance. And more often than not, my instincts were correct.

For my coming 60th year on earth, I made a bucket list of things I still want to do before my life ends, hopefully many more years from now. I noticed certain themes that emerged in the list under four general categories: 1) my ever-strong yen for travel and adventure; 2) my passion for teaching; 3) my continuing commitment to make any place I live in a better place; and 4) my enduring love for music and performance.

Travel would be a terrific thing to keep doing until I can’t do it anymore. I continue to be fascinated by different cultures and enjoy the unexpected and the foreign. Give me the prospect of a plane or boat ride, or even a long drive, and I get giddy with anticipation. I like to say yes to things unknown.

I have been to almost every country I have wanted to see. But there are still more places I wish to experience. I have not been to Mach Pichu in Peru and I have yet to experience the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. I would like to spend some months or even a year or two in Japan since I am enamored of most things Japanese. It would be great to do the Santiago de Compostela Pilgrimage where one walks for 35 days from Spain to France. A month in an ashram in India with a guru is also on my list.

I once wrote articles for the travel section of a small newspaper in Sydney and I noticed how much I enjoyed narrating my adventures. Travel is an elixir that has not lost its potency with me.

I discovered that teaching is something I could do well some 10 years ago. For lack of something to do after getting out of a TV noontime show, I went to see my former teacher, the late Doreen Fernandez, who was head of the Ateneo’s Communication department, and accepted her long-standing offer for me to teach there. Much to my surprise, I discovered I enjoyed preparing for class, engaging my students, lecturing and guiding them through the semester. I have also been designing and doing workshops for some time now. I get a great charge, standing before an audience.

In my bucket list, I dream bigger. I declare that I would like to gain and accumulate more wisdom and become a world teacher. I feel I have something universal and substantial to contribute that would expand the lives of many people in the world today.

I am also a bleeding heart when it comes to making the world a better place, with less suffering for everyone. I have been thinking about the great success Gawad Kalinga has achieved in the field of housing and have been entertaining the idea of pushing for similar efforts by the private sector in education and health. There are reforms that are needed to modernize our nation so that it can serve our people adequately. We need a great leap in consciousness and knowledge to be a viable, vibrant nation in the modern world. We need a new cultural software that is ours alone and will deliver us closer to where we wish to be.

Lastly, music and the creative arts continue to beckon. I have so much music playing in my mind these days and it will not give me peace until it is recorded, released and proclaimed to the world. I also have books in my head that need to be written. This creative mind is still on a roll and is not ready to close shop in the foreseeable future.

On my 60th year, I am throwing myself a big party. I have always avoided such extravagance for myself although I have not hesitated when it has been for my children or my wife, Lydia. This year, I want to be in the company of people I value and care for and I want them to witness the day I turn into a senior citizen. And I will have the fabulous AMP band to play the soundtrack of our lives.

I will also go and apply for my coveted senior citizen’s card. I find the idea hilarious since the kid in me still can’t believe that I am actually turning 60. But yes, I will gratefully accept the discounts that the law allows in honor of the simple fact that I have lived this long.

Meanwhile, as the world turns, slowly but surely, age creeps up on every one of us. No matter how much we run away from it, it will always catch up with us. It’s really up to us how we want to deal with its inevitability.

I find it useful to adopt a metaphor for aging if we are to live with it creatively. Personally, I see growing old as another state where new possibilities and variations for greater experiences in life can happen. I do not see it as a time to disengage from life or even engage the world less. No fading away. Not for me! I see this time in my life as the build-up to the big final production where I will sing a definitive song with a glorious jaw-dropping sunset as backdrop.

One thing I can promise is that the song will not be My Way. I do not wish to hasten my own demise. In truth, the song is still being written, even as I am singing parts of it now. Hopefully, there will be some people in the world who will be pleased and delighted enough to have heard it when it is over.

I will be 60 in three days and I can’t wait. Bring it on! Rak ‘n’ roll!

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Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop: The best awakening-to-creativity workshop you can experience. This is the special six-session run from Sept 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. Call 0916-8554303, or write me at for info, reservations or any questions. Visit

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Basic Photography Workshop: Go beyond the point-and-shoot experience. Know your camera like a pro. I am offering a class on Basic Photography this Sept. 10, Saturday at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. To reserve a slot, please e-mail me at jpfotojim@gmail.comorcall 0916-8554303.

The artists’ way of being and doing

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 21, 2011 12:00 AM

I have always lived the life of an artist. I write songs, sing and perform them. I also write articles and have published a few books. I take photos as well. In many ways, I live my art.

My children, judging by what they like doing and the way they think, are artists as well. This both delights and scares me. It is delights me that they take pleasure, pride and meaning in creating stuff — paintings, drawings, poetry, essays, music — and I especially like how varied their taste in music is. Despite the generation gap, I can relate to much of their world.

But it scares me because they seem to have gone more for the intangibles than the tangibles in this world. Unlike other parents’ children who are into law, accounting, engineering and other professions, my children are interested in less “sure” things. They preferred to take up the more artistic courses than the technical ones in college.

Conventional thinking says they have less to hold on to, career-wise. And even while my life as an artist has very often been about defying how the world works and succeeding quite well, financially, it still scares me that my kids seem to be taking the same route.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about art and artists, probably because a great many people have put on their expert’s hats and judged the controversial opus of Mideo Cruz that is currently causing such a commotion. Many question not only his motives in putting a red phallus on Jesus but also his right to be called an artist.

Detractors have asked, how could he have done what he did and call it art? His defenders, on the other hand, point to his artistic credentials to try and convince people to go beyond their clearly visceral reaction to his work.

In this regard, the last thing I would be interested in is someone’s artistic credentials. In my view, they are not that important. I believe an artistic work must stand by itself. No previous awards or glory can save bad art, nor add honor to a mediocre one. Neither can bad history of failed art done by someone detract from a new good creation by the same person.

While it is true that an artist with an impressive record or catalogue is afforded greater respect than a newbie, he/she can bomb as easily as anyone else and probably with greater negative consequences. It is often said that an artist is only as good as his or her last work. That is quite true in terms of how audiences judge.

One of my favorite stories of all time is Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I like it that the little boy, who was not at all versed in political correctness and artifice, saw right through the layers of hypocrisy and pretense that the tailors had fostered on the Emperor and the entire town. In their fear of being called ignorant and unsophisticated, everyone went with the “experts’” opinion and made fools of themselves. Only the boy who knew nothing about consequences, and had no reputation to risk nor investment or attachment to right or wrong or any other dichotomies, saw what was actually self-evident. He called the “experts’” bluff, broke the spell and proclaimed that the king was, in fact, naked. And all hell broke loose.

To me, that boy fulfilled the artist’s function — to see what others refuse to, or cannot, see.

An artist does not need permission or license to be one. Not even formal or informal qualifications. Sure, one can study art and learn a lot. Or maybe not, as some artist friends who have taken formal studies, claim. A friend who finished a course at the Juilliard School of Music was so envious of some unschooled musicians who could create melodies with less effort and complication than she, who had studied a lot about music. While she is a good musician, at times she feels boxed in by the knowledge she acquired formally. Instinct and intuition are not developed in the classroom.

So how does one describe an artist and what an artist does, as opposed to say, an engineer, or a doctor? It’s quite difficult. As a New York Times article put it, “Their job description, if they have one, is to operate outside accepted limits.”

I will try and answer the question based on my experience, and what I have seen fellow artists go through. Some or all of these things below are what an artist is or does.

1) Artists can create something out of nothing. They are able to connect off-tangent points and objects into something unified with some coherence and meaning.

2) They bring their audience to emotional, psychological, spiritual places where even they have never been previously. But despite the fear, they take risks to do it.

3) They surprise, delight, shock, awe and awaken people and bring them to experience new undiscovered states and truths about themselves.

4) They live out their nightmares and visions for others who are too afraid to live theirs. Artists do this to liberate themselves and their audience, that they may also have the courage to liberate themselves.

5) When they are really good, artists can successfully turn their private pain, traumas, demons, fears into something beautiful and universally true.

6) They can physicalize art into movement, music and various material forms, images and shapes. They do this to express what they wish to convey and who they are.

7) When artists work within the “zone” where they are in focused, timeless mode, they are actually going through a truly spiritual, God-like experience. There is a creative flow, unobstructed and free, as they deal in things eternal.

8) Artists can’t help but create. One might say, they are condemned to create. And they are a hundred times lonelier and more neurotic when they are in a dry spell and cannot create.

9) They are, in many ways, egotists. But the ego here is often some sort of magnifying glass where passion and message pass through. The ego makes possible the intense focusing of the creation.

10) With their art, artists can enchant and make sacred the mundane nature of everyday life.

I am hardly touching the surface here. My intention is not to paint the artist as an inscrutable, mysteriously perplexing human being. I believe that within each person lies an artistic spirit, in varying degrees. After all, we create every minute that we live. The artist is just more intense about it.

So, to our senators, bishops, lawyers and other so-called “learned” in society, or anyone who has ever needed to get some kind of license or formal validation — before you start interrogating, questioning or forcing your beliefs on artists and defining what art should be, please take heed. Be advised that your “understanding” of artists, their reality and what they do, may be nowhere near what truly is.

You live in a world of tangibles, of measurable objects and defined paradigms, of logic, rationality and limits. You may be comfortable with things that are more quantified, measurable, in black and white even. But outside the parameters of where your fences end, where you dare not look or even cross, is where the artist’s world could begin.

The eternal can’t be boxed in. The artist cannot be restrained. He operates outside acceptable limits. Whether or not you are ready, he will take you to places where you may or may not want to go. Just look at how agitated everyone has become by “Poleitismo.”

The way to deal with an artist’s work is to appreciate it if it speaks to you, and pan it, if you will, when it doesn’t. Then move on. He probably wasn’t speaking to you anyway.

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1) Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop: The best awakening-to-creativity workshop you can experience. This is the special six-session run from Sept 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. Call 0916-8554303, or write me at jpfotojim@gmail.comfor info, reservations or any questions. Visit

2) Basic Photography Workshop: Go beyond the point-and-shoot experience. Know your camera like a pro. I am offering a class on Basic Photography this Sept. 10, Saturday at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. To reserve a slot, please e-mail me at jpfotojim@gmail.comor call 0916-8554303.

On offending and being offended

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 14, 2011

We live in contentious times. Issues, big and small, divide our society. Some topics that have sparked heated debates in recent months and years are Charter change, Erap, Garci, Willy Revillame, the RH Bill, the Marcos burial, and lately, the artwork of Mideo M. Cruz entitled “Poleteismo” which was on exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines until it was closed by the CCP a few days ago after the artist and the Center’s board members were threatened with violence.

There are always at least two sides to any issue and it is not my intention to take any side on this one, but to observe the debate from a dispassionate distance.

Life has become very complex. Many things that were once true have ceased to be so. Old ways are being threatened by new paradigms. Old forms are dying and new forms are arising, and people are caught in between.

Add to this the accessibility of pulpits with worldwide reach that are now available to anyone who wants to preach. I am, of course, talking about social media like Twitter, Facebook, Google, text, chats, etc.

It’s a whole new world we live in. Anyone can now be heard. Anyone is free to give his two cents’ worth on practically every issue or event under the sun. By the same token, everyone has access to more ideas, beliefs and points of view than ever before. And we may or may not necessarily subscribe to these views. Many times, we may find these ideas repulsive, being contrary to our own beliefs.

The web is full of brilliant, inane, practical, useful and stupid ideas. The soapbox is there for anyone to use. The end result of this is that everyone can have, not only their 15 minutes of fame as Andy Warhol predicted the new world order would provide, but also their 15 minutes of shame, condemnation or ridicule.

(Okay, it’s now maybe more like five minutes, or at least until the next engaging or provocative news or tweet reaches our screens). This can only mean that chances are, most everyone will, at some point, be offended by someone or be offensive to somebody.

The Catholic right is calling for the head of Mideo Cruz because they find his artwork with its red phalluses juxtaposed on the image of Jesus Christ offensive. The seculars are offended that the church is calling for censorship of the arts. Others argue that the exhibit is trash and that CCP should have shown better taste. There is also the school of thought that art is not just supposed to be pleasing and pretty like an Ikebana flower arrangement, but must, at times, disturb, provoke and challenge.

And, as if there is not already enough noise, some senators threaten to deprive the CCP of its budget unless its entire board resigns. Even the President has weighed in on what art is supposed to be.

I do not question anyone’s right to comment, react, praise, curse, vilify, demonize, Godify, or even ignore this issue. That is freedom of expression. Artists and their audiences are free to express their sentiments. But I am disturbed by the threats of violence against the artist and the CCP board, and the vandalism against the exhibit itself, and it bothers me that some people do not see anything wrong with these. In their view, the victims had it coming for “insulting God.” In fact, they see the act of defacing the exhibit as their right to self-expression, since they feel that their rights have also been violated.

I am averse to censorship of ideas, art, books and all forms of expression that do not purvey child pornography, racism, violence, murder, hate crimes, and the eradication of sects, tribes and the like. The world has seen too many self-righteous people like the Nazis who began by burning books written by Jews and their other perceived enemies, and eventually killed six million Jews in concentration camps. Then, there was the Ayatollah Khomeini who not only banned Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses for being offensive to Islam but also issued a Fatwa (death sentence) against the author.

I understand the depth of the anger of those who feel offended by what they regard as a desecration and an insult directed to God. And by all means, they are within their rights to raise a howl of protest. But my friend, Nines Terol Zialcita, may have been on the mark when she proposed the separation of church and art — a not-so-crazy idea since art and religion have had a stormy relationship through the ages.

But I hope that the Catholic and Christian protesters remember that even the Pope Benedict XVI managed to ruffle the feathers of Jews, Christian denominations, Muslims and Buddhists with his insensitive remarks within his first 18 months in office. As expected, there were demonstrations, effigy burning, harsh words, even violence, by those who were incensed. Which makes me wonder if there should also be a separation of church and other churches. But there is much to learn from the reaction of the Buddhists who largely ignored the brouhaha.

It is not unusual to discover that one may have inadvertently offended some people or have felt offended by others, considering the ease with which people coming from diverse lifestyles, paradigms and belief systems can now express their views. More than ever, religious, political and social diversity, as well as cultural contexts are rubbing on each other, creating new forms of human experience that often produce friction. The world is so small, we are literally bumping into each other all the time. And so, more than ever, the call for tolerance should be heard and heeded.

Therefore, let he/she who has not offended anyone be the first to call for banning and censorship.

If justice is, as philosophers have said, the minimum of love, tolerance is the minimum of respect and civility that we can practice in the absence of conviviality and agreement, or even in the presence of complete misunderstanding, disagreement, or even dislike.

While I would rather err on the side of liberalism, I call on artists, politicians, church leaders and all who engage the world with their ideas, to show greater respect, kindness and civility toward others who may think differently. To church leaders, to label pro-RH people as “terrorists,” “pagans,” “anti-life” and “sinners,” promotes acrimony and is offensive to those who have searched their souls and grappled with their consciences to arrive at their position. To artists, it does not limit self-expression to practice greater sensitivity by showing a modicum of respect, especially in the use of religious and social symbols that are sacred to other people.

Respect for the rights of others, tolerance of divergent points of view and compassion are useful virtues that should guide societies such as ours that are becoming more and more fragmented and contentious. While instant communication has given us the capacity to quickly respond to issues, perhaps we can use the same speed to get over these issues and move on. Our ready access to more nuanced thinking from enlightened people that is available online can also help us rise above our present mindsets, and think on higher levels.

I look at this current debate as another teachable moment. We are given the opportunity to think, dissect and understand things in the wider context, which includes the opinions of diverse people expressing themselves in this Babel of our marketplace of ideas.

We must learn to understand everything in its context and learn from everyone and everything. For we do affect one another, for better or worse. Instead of using a mental software that shuts out parts of the world and encourages monolithic thinking, we need a better, more encompassing one that will accommodate and make sense of it all.

We all have to learn to live together in peace.

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1) Tapping the Creative Universe Workshop: The best awakening-to-creativity workshop you can experience. This is the special six-session run from Sept 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. Call 0916-8554303, or write me at for info, reservations or any questions. Visit

2) Basic Photography Workshop: Go beyond the point-and-shoot experience. Know your camera like a pro. I am offering a class on Basic Photography this Sept. 10, Saturday at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Cost is P3,500. To reserve a slot, please e-mail me at or call 0916-8554303.