Family stories

Humming in my Universe
By Jim Paredes

Last weekend, I spent time at my brother’s Batangas beach house with most of my siblings. Two, who are US based came home to attend class reunions and it was a good reason to get together and talk about old times, our current situations, and just about everything and everyone.

It’s amazing how years spent apart are instantly bridged by memories and shared histories. We talked about our relatives who had passed away, the narratives their lives took and the color they added to our family heritage. There were heroic exploits, noble deeds, principled stands and interesting twists and turns in their lives. And then there were the peccadillos and the full-blown scandals surrounding some of our elders.

We must have gotten tired of retelling the good things our elders did since we have recounted them so many times in the past, because last weekend, we spent much time discussing their indiscretions. Each of us shared what we knew about certain incidents concerning certain relatives, surprising and shocking some of us who were hearing some of the stories for the first time (though admittedly with great relish).
We realized that the primary sources of family stories were mostly our mother and some uncles and aunts. However, they never told any of us the complete narratives. The stories were parsed, the details spread out among us, perhaps unintentionally. If it was intentional, I do not know what made them do it. One sister, for example, would know the general story of an indiscretion but another would know the juicier details.

Listening to the sordid and torrid goings-on that some of our relatives were involved in, I somehow felt a strange sense of comfort, more than shock. It was actually a relief to know that behind the larger-than-life principled acts they did for personal or family honor or for country and people, were human beings with human frailties. It somehow makes me feel better about my own imperfections and weaknesses. Perhaps, my last comforting insight is that my family is like many other families in the sense that it is capable of great deeds as well as despicable ones. Thank God, we are not special.

It is always educational and enriching to look at one’s family history and see one’s relatives in the contexts in which they lived. On my mother’s side, there was a strong moral impulse to reject immorality and corruption. My grandfather was the most beloved prison director Muntinlupa ever had. He did not just discipline criminals, he rehabilitated them. My grandmother’s roots were in the rebellious Basque region in Spain. She was a strong-headed and very moral woman who passed the tests of faith, love and charity when the situations presented themselves. I see these traits in my mom and my siblings.

On my father’s side, my grandfather was an Ilokano lawyer who was a man of the world, open-minded and more understanding of a person’s weaknesses. My grandmother was a homebody who doted on their children and grandchildren. Although my mom’s side was not more morally upright than my dad’s family, they set a higher bar for themselves and so were also more strict and unforgiving of themselves when they failed.

There were both the heroes and scoundrels on both sides of my family. But hero or scoundrel, they were mostly lovable. Maybe I am casting a sympathetic eye on them because they are my relatives. But really, for a large part of them, the balance is tilted in their favor because of their redeeming qualities such as compassion, a true sense of charity, intellectual probity, a strong sense of social justice, and courage.
When I look at the lives of the people I love, I take into account what Carl Jung said that every person has a dark side. His basic message is that every man casts a shadow, and the greater the man, the bigger the shadow. It is foolish and naïve to expect people to live lives of perfection. The so-called perfect person, the one without a shadow, is probably a one-dimensional, uninteresting and soul-less being, a caricature, or a stock character. And I even doubt he or she really exists.

We are all capable of good and evil deeds. And there is not one of any of us who comes from a so-called “pure” source. Thomas Jefferson, one of the drafters of the US Constitution which guaranteed the rights of every person, was himself a slave owner. Contradiction exists in every man and woman.

Shakespeare, in his play “Julius Caesar”, had Brutus speak these words upon the death of Caesar: ‘The evil that men do live after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” I often wonder about this. On some days, I fear it is true. But from our family stories where good and bad deeds are re-told objectively, almost matter-of-factly, I know it is not.

In a cynical but funny and true way, the novelist Kendall Hailey wrote, ‘The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you.”

To the members of my large clan who have gone before me, what will determine the perspective I will take when I look at my family history, or any person or event for that matter, is whether I have the capacity to go beyond judging simplistically, unlike the wooden one-dimensional shadow-less people Jung described. But that shouldn’t be that difficult because I am getting more and more accepting of my own shadow as I learn more and more about my relatives. And I thank God there isn’t a relative I know of who was and is not real enough to share not just his or her light but also his or her shadow with the rest of us.


For the first time, I am offering an Advanced Photo Workshop on March 10, 2012. This will be in a location where we will shoot under different sets of lighting conditions with a model. For details, Email or call 4265375 or 09168554303 to reserve.


HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 19, 2012

People my age are currently going through what is called the empty nest syndrome where one by one, our children are opting to move out of the family home and going on their own. It’s the cycle of life, I suppose. It’s what we also did when we came of age.

Strangely enough, one of the things that parents whose children move out to live on their own actually think about is the exact same thing their kids want to do: they, too, want to move out. They think of downsizing their lives into something smaller and more manageable. While their children want to discover the bigger world, us parents want to miniaturize ours. A smaller place like a condo or a townhouse is what many have in mind. For some, it is a move to the province or a small home in places outside of Metro Manila like Tagaytay, or Quezon or Laguna.

All of a sudden, the comfortable family house has become too big for just two people. Where once the corridors, the dining area, the big sala and the spacious kitchen were the scenes of family bonding and happy moments, they now seem lonely and empty, devoid of the laughter and happy voices of the kids. The big happy house is slowly but surely being abandoned.

My wife Lydia has entertained the thought of downsizing but I am not too keen on it yet. Maybe it’s because, despite the absence of my children for the most part of the year (since two of them live in Australia and the one in Manila is moving out), this big, spacious, happy house continues to get its share of visitors. This is where my side of the family holds many of its loud, boisterous and fun dinners, after-dinner meetings, sudden gatherings that start during lunch and continue till things just wind down on their own, usually late into the afternoon.

In this house is also where I hold my photography, creativity and songwriting workshops. Here is where I receive visitors, work and conduct meetings so it is still a busy house for the most part. I also like that it is quite spacious and empty since a lot of the furniture has been shipped to Australia. Sometimes, the sparse furnishings seem to float around the house. There are still many things here for sure, like many types of tables and chairs, cushioned sofas, picture frames, some antique pieces, two pianos (one of which was once owned by Juan Luna’s wife, and the other by the songwriter Willy Cruz). There are also little mementos — abubots and figurines, bells, cups, statuettes and other souvenirs bought from different tiangges here and abroad that grab the attention of visitors who have an eye for detail.

Even if the house sorely misses the sound of laughter and life from two of my children who lived here for most of their lives, it still seems to be a living organism which sustains its life through the visitors and activities that find their way here.

Admittedly, despite the house’s relatively young age, the “ancestral home,” as my kids like to call it, has some vibrancy to it. But there are many things in it that need to be thrown away. Typhoon Ondoy, which affected us slightly with mild flooding, made spring cleaning mandatory, and sooner than we had planned. Boxes of pictures, letters, documents, old and rare vinyl records were destroyed by water and had to be thrown away. In the process, more stuff which was stacked in areas of the house that had been left untouched and unexamined for sometime was also uncovered and deemed fit for the trash bin. And the truth is, there is a lot more that needs to be thrown out.

There is that feeling of a desecration of memory when one throws away things. And I am not in any way close to being a hoarder by any definition. But getting rid of stuff can seem like closing one’s eyes and simply jettisoning things out of one’s life — objects that were once loved and even held sacred and are now treated as worthless junk. I ask myself many times what the conscious criteria should be in deciding what stays and what goes. And often, the answer is utilitarian. The useful stays and the useless goes. My son told me once to be ruthless in getting rid of things. If something has been in a box for years and you’ve never missed it, it must go!

But like all rules, there are exceptions. The gray area where many things that would have been condemned to the wastebasket find a new lease in life is whether these have been thoroughly appreciated or examined, or whether they were objects which were acquired but never opened, used or even looked at since. If they fall in this category, they are set aside for further evaluation.

Zen practice tells us that one must empty the mind to see clearly. It is logical as well to say that one must make way for new things and ideas by letting go of old stuff and paradigms.

The big house downsizes to the more humble abode fit for two people to live in. As the years go by, people learn to live with less stuff. That’s what happens when couples downsize. For parents who are empty nesters, there is also the slowly diminishing need to control our children’s lives. More and more, we leave them to make their own decisions, which is just as well since parents are now just occasionally consulted anyway.

As I sit and have my meals on my long dining table in the sprawling screened veranda, often with just my grandchild Ananda, or alone, I am happy to be accompanied by the ceiling light installation above, and the furniture that has served my family since way back. I am the man of the house, the gentleman of the manor, the king of the castle, and as I survey everything within my domain, I feel a sense of peace and accomplishment.

Where others may feel lonely because they are alone, I feel a sense of fulfillment knowing that my once little children have become adults. Soon this house will have only Lydia and me and the remaining household help for its occupants.

While this house has lost many of its occupants, it has hopefully not seen the end of happy moments that will be shared in its rooms and living areas by those left behind and the people who visit. A good sign is that Lydia still wants to do some remodeling, repainting and a minor makeover of some areas.

Downsizing does not have to mean living smaller lives. When we downsize, we can enjoy the new spaces available to live even more expanded lives.

The right to sing ‘My Way’

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 12, 2012 12:00 AM

When we speak of “quality of life,” we generally mean the well-being of individuals and societies. There are so-called standards of living brought about through hard work and prosperity that rich societies like to brag about.

This is well and good and societies should strive to attain some freedom from many of the challenges human beings need to overcome to achieve a so-called “decent life.” That includes freedom from starvation, ignorance, unemployment, lack of opportunity, etc. Essentially, it is freedom from want.

I have visited many countries where the people’s basic needs and wants are more than fulfilled, yet there seems to be much unhappiness or meaninglessness in the lives of their citizens.

I have been pondering over this lately. Granted that physical needs have been met, what makes one person seem to be more put together, more a person of substance and meaning, than another who remains vapid, shallow and generally discontented with life?

I am referring here to the quality of life of people I have met. Some are rich and some are poor but in the end, it hardly matters what their status in life is. It’s not about how materialistically or ascetically they have lived their lives; it is more about how much marrow they have sucked out of their lives to nourish their existence.

This is an essay for those who have lived their lives fully and well and, may I say half-jokingly, have earned the right to sing the song My Way. The fact that all the people I refer to here are still alive is perhaps because they wouldn’t be so careless as to sing this song in a karaoke bar. The following are some of what they’ve been through that have made their lives rich, and kept their cups full.

1. To desire something or someone so badly and not get it, but to live long enough to talk about it without the pain of loss or disappointment.

2. To dream, to have ambition and to fulfill it.

3. To do foolish things — spend a fortune, face danger, maybe even challenge a rival — for the glory of winning a loved one.

4. To discover something that is burningly true for you, and perhaps for you alone.

5. To decide to do something you truly believe in that goes against your parents’ wishes or society’s norms and stick to it despite the extreme pressure to conform.

6. To have had a teacher, a mentor or someone older who opened your eyes and changed you and set you on a path that greatly defined who you have eventually become.

7. To have risked possibly being on the side of error and still doing what you thought needed to be done, rather than not doing anything and remaining safe in your comfort zone.

8. To discover an author you learned a lot from and to read every book he/she has written.

9. To come to terms with a God that you may or may not have grown up with but, more importantly, to believe in a God whose wonder and unfathomable quality have grown in you as you matured.

10. To have fallen into a deep rut — financially, psychologically, spiritually — and picked yourself up.

11. To have tasted forbidden pleasures in moderate doses, and even thanked life and God such “poisons” existed.

12. To have loved someone so completely as to lose your ego-identity and become one with the other, and perhaps even with everything.

13. To have engaged in and continued to develop at least five things that you are passionate about.

14. To experience aloneness and be at peace with it without feeling loneliness. In fact, it brings you to a state of contentment.

15. To have experienced not just the ecstasy of love but also the ordeal of commitment and stayed there long enough to enjoy its gifts and pleasures.

16. To feel that the sum of your life means something not just to yourself but also to others.

17. To have turned your back on something so temptingly pleasurable or materially rewarding, or something that would have given you much prestige, for the simple reason that you knew, deep down, there was something dishonest or wrong about it, and so it wasn’t the right thing to say yes to.

18. To try with all of your might and strength to be true to someone, to some ideal or commitment.

19. To be able to see people beyond their stature in life, their money or their reputation.

20. To experience great fear and dread and still go on doing what needs to be done or what you set out to do.

21. To have continued on a path (career, love, etc.) even if sometimes it seemed like a blur and you weren’t sure what was up ahead.

22. To have been on the wrong side and being big enough to admit it and move on with life gracefully.

23. To have forgiven those who have hurt you, and most importantly yourself, for whatever you have done.

24. To feel a shared belonging to a community of people, an extended family, society or nation, and a deep connection with all of humanity.

25. To pass on to others many of the good things you have learned or even the things that you possess.

26. To be able to enjoy the little things as well as the big things.

27. To have friends who you would die for and who would do the same for you.

28. To have developed daily habits that strengthen your sense of integrity.

29. To have both loved and lost, and loved and gained.

30. To have a keen sense of proportion and appropriateness in deciding which things are important and trivial, and which are not worth your time.

These are some of the things I have heard from older, accomplished and evolved people I have met. There must be many more that we can all learn from. Looking at this list alone, I am not sure if I have completely earned the right to sing My Way and dodge a bullet. But if I live to see another day, I will work on it.

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Last Call

1) Basic Photography classes on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Cost is P3,920. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 to reserve.

2) Songwriting Workshop on Sunday, Feb. 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn the basics and actually write songs during the session. Very hands-on! Student must play the guitar or the piano. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 to reserve.

The way they were, the way they are

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated February 05, 2012 12:00 AM

It seems to happen every semester.

These past years, since I started teaching, I have had the privilege of interacting with many young people and I hear many of them say how fun, exciting and romantic the ‘70s, which is the decade of my generation’s youth, must have been. Every time I teach a module on the origins of OPM in the ‘70s and the milieu and mood of the times then — the protests, the drugs, the challenging of authority, the political underground, religion, sex taboos, etc. — I sense a longing in my audience. They seem to look at my generation’s formative years as a time when people were more alive, and challenged.

Sometimes, I wonder if I over-romanticize the era in the telling. But the truth is, those were really heady days when it seemed like a big chunk of life as our parents knew it was undergoing massive outer and inner transformations.

Physically, my generation looked different from our parents. Aside from the fact that we seemed taller, perhaps because of the better nutrition we had, men wore their hair longer, and attempted to grow beards and mustaches. And we wore psychedelic clothes, spoke a different language, and embraced ideals and morals that shocked our parents and teachers.

The women were also less Maria Clara and more Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary) or Sampaguita — more openly expressive in showing affection, more daring and hip in dress, rebellious, sexually liberated, loud — certainly shocking in the eyes of the older generation.

Kids today are riveted by narratives from the bygone ‘70s era, stories of my generation’s attempts at making original music that became the soundtrack of Filipino lives, and the life-and-death adventures of the college kids who dropped out of school and society to join the underground movement against the Marcos dictatorship. Heady times they were, indeed.

The romance of it all is attractive to many kids today perhaps because the reckless spirit, the call and the response to ideals that my generation took on, make our era seem more “far out” than their era today. Whereas today, much of life seems safe, predictable, easy and measurable, my generation lived in more difficult times, where nothing was predictable and no outcomes were assured. We had no cell phones, iPads, laptops, Wikipedia, geo-tagging, or even the MRT. Ours was an analogue, linear world. We had the telephone, for example, that took years to apply for and if and when you got one, a “party line” went with it. People met and planned their appointments, dates, meetings, parties, etc. by using the telephone or writing letters sent by mail. Social media was unheard of. Even beepers came only a decade and a half later. Yet we accomplished a lot, with remarkable efficiency.

We drove our cars without seatbelts, consumed many things as we were growing up that are now considered toxic, smoked, and had no idea whether some of us had ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s condition or whatever else we know today about learning disabilities.

While kids today are fascinated by life in the ‘70s, I am ecstatic over many things about our current modern (or postmodern) life. I love the technologies available to practically everyone — from cell phones, Internet, e-mail, FB, Twitter, instant communication, Google Maps, air travel and access to digital archives from practically everywhere, to many great thinkers, intellectuals, leaders and famous people through the net. I also love how quickly the flow of ideas from one part of the world can influence another part. People can also now migrate or travel to places that seemed inaccessible before.

This is the world our kids today were born into. It is life as they know it. And they may in fact even be bored with it. The speed of life today may find them with shorter attention spans and an appetite for ever greater stimulation. But for a ‘70s guy like me, this is the second big wave I am experiencing in my lifetime. The ‘70s opened the world to a lot of changes. And now, this!

Every age has its challenges and opportunities and it is incumbent upon the current generation to take them on. Perhaps every age seems more exciting, romantic or wonderful than it really was when seen in hindsight. But as John F. Kennedy said in a speech during his equally challenging decade, the ‘60s, “We would like to live as we once lived but history will not allow it.” The reason why I am feeling the way I do is probably because I have the advantage of hindsight. There is the present to compare the past with. In time, the kids today will probably feel as excited about their time, too.

This generation will one day give way to another and they will talk animatedly about “their” time when they invented rap, ecstasy, meth, social networking, planking, “occupy Wall street,” laptops, YouTube, smart phones and other stuff as they brandish artifacts and ideas from their “bygone” era. And the younger generation will marvel in disbelief at how boldly innovative and cutting-edge their parents lived their lives.

But one thing that ties all these generations together is man’s eternal yearning to feel alive. And this means living in a way where one is engaged fully with the life and the times one is in. Fashion, lifestyles and morals may change but the quest to make a mark on the world, to matter and touch other people’s lives, and to feel awake to one’s own existence is perennial.

If the ‘70s were our heady days, this early 21st century, for the present generation, will someday be remembered and reminisced gloriously as “the way they were.”

I know this era, regardless of its generation’s seeming boredom and indifference with it, will someday be romanticized about and retold with exciting narratives, and future generations will also gawk at and be inspired by them.

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1) Basic Photography classes on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 1 to 6:30 p.m. Cost is P3,920. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 to reserve.

2) Songwriting Workshop on Sunday, Feb. 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Learn the basics and actually write songs during the session. Very hands-on! Student must play the guitar or the piano. Venue is at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC. Call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 to reserve.