Making every moment a shot at eternity

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts. From William Shakespeare’s As You Like It

‘Theater is the filling up of time and space,” my teacher Rolando Tinio declared, discussing an activity he loved in its most simple form. The stage is the space and what you do on it your every movement, every word spoken, every silence and pause, every emotion is played out in a span of time by the performers. This is a great description of theater and performance, and it may well be an apt metaphor for life itself.

The space is the world we live in, including the geographic and emotional locations we find ourselves in as we show up for everyday life. And time is, well, our entire lifespan. Perhaps the main difference between theater and life is proportion. A great theatrical performance where time and space are filled up majestically with a great story and a convincing dramatic depiction may seem “bigger than life” as the expression goes, but it will always be dwarfed by the largeness of real life playing out. An average lifetime, after all, is longer than a two- to three-hour performance and is “performed” in multiple locations. And everyday life, though not as packed with dramatic content every two hours or so, surely has its share of drama that we take part in and generate.

Then there is also the script. In theater, it is vital for a performer to know the script and relate to it on various levels to be able to give a decent performance. In real life, there is a starting script that you inherit your personal circumstances that are your givens parents, race, nationality, economic and social status, religion, genes and physical characteristics, etc. At any time, you have the choice to follow this script or dump it and create a new one as you go.

Life is an open-ended performance where you are the scriptwriter, director, actor and if you develop enough of an interior life, you may also be the audience and critic/reviewer all rolled into one.

When life seems aimless or when I am bored or stuck between life’s stages, levels, journeys or meanings, I worry about how time is slipping away. Look at old picture albums, or hang out with classmates you’ve known forever, or listen to retro music and you will understand what I mean. What were once new, current, young and fresh are now rendered quaint, old, irrelevant and useless by time.

As the years go by, I notice how short life really is. Years can pass almost with the blink of an eye, and before you know it, it could all be over.

I recently had a conversation with an old friend whom I had always known to be super active. He liked to travel, go diving in the ocean, sky dive, climb mountains and engage the great outdoors. He sucked the marrow of life’s adventures, so to speak. He was, after all, a former Green Beret, the elite corps of the US military. He was one of those guys that is tough, trained to do anything and everything, and he did. The last time we talked was years ago. Now 72, he has slowed down a bit due to health problems.

When I asked him if he still went diving, he looked at me and said that he has pretty much lost his appetite for such physical activities. I know he is still physically fit to do them, though on a more moderate basis, but he said it was a case of “been there, done that.” He is done. The thrill has gone.

While I am far from wanting a limited engagement with life, I can relate to my friend’s need to prioritize what he would like to do with his time. After all, at 72, he has less time to do it all. If he cannot totally plan his life and choose only worthwhile activities, he can make sure that everything he does is a meaningful pursuit and not a waste of time. And he can do this by being present and paying attention to whatever is going on around him.

Now, more than ever, I give greater thought and sincere responses to questions about life’s meaning, the true relevance of activities and issues that come up in everyday life, the value of the people I meet, and questions that matter outside the field of space and time. This mindset opens an avenue so wide it makes living exciting. The onset of age and its diminishing prospects, especially time-wise, can open us up to the possibility that the greater part of our being may be its link to the timeless and borderless, or the eternal.

If you seek meaning in what you do, choose your activities and link them to values, causes and truths that will outlive you. Those actions will constitute time well spent on life’s stage. Time and effort such as these do not only define and depict a life well-lived while performing on life’s transient stage, they defy time itself as the greatness of your life lingers long after your performance has ended.

It is making every moment a shot at eternity. When one’s life’s performance has ended, people will still be talking about how extraordinary it was.

Our modern day heroes need healing and compassion

Jim Paredes

I recently met with Ms. Kay Bunagan and Ms. Teddi Dizon, two young
psychologists with the Ugat Foundation, an NGO that helps families in
the grassroots deal with psychological problems. They wanted to get me
interested in something they are very passionate about: Project Leap
Year,  a mission to help our OFWs cope with the psychological problems
they go through because they are away from their home, loved ones and

Try to imagine being an OFW in, say, Italy where Kay and Teddi and
their group of psychologists currently operate. Let’s get into the
mind of someone who has left everything familiar and important in the
hope of earning enough money to keep his loved ones alive. In the name
of love, one turns his back on everything that spells ‘home’ and lives
and works in an alien culture away from the people whom he loves and
who sustain him. It is hard to miss the cruel twist of fate here.

There are countless hardships and sacrifices OFWs encounter. The
feeling of alienation living in a strange culture, and learning a new
language and customs are just some of the tough situations they face.
Add the disempowering feeling of being denigrated to the task of doing
lowly menial jobs even if they have college degrees and professional
experience in the Philippines. That does something quite devastating
to a person psychologically. There is also the extreme loneliness in
being far away from the reach and touch of loved ones.

There are a lot of things OFWs and their families go through. There
are the unintended and unpredictable changes in the family dynamics.
OFWs miss out on birthdays, weddings, graduations, baptisms, house
blessings, anniversaries, Christmas, Easter and other family bonding
moments. They are also not there for the less dramatic but equally
important moments like family dinners and simple family time with the
spouse and kids. Children in turn grow up without one or sometimes
both parents, missing out on the parental love and guidance they need.
They are raised by surrogate parents like ates, kuyas, lolo, lola,
aunties, uncles or whoever is the adult they are assigned to.

All these surely take a toll on family life. The situation is bound to
cause some kind of resentment on the part of the children. As time
goes by, the unusual situation loses its novelty but not its
unintentional negative consequences. Family life settles into
something less than what it once was. The formerly richly nuanced
relationships are reduced to something more like a simple financial
arrangement. One parent works abroad while the spouse and children
left behind spend the money.

The effect of all this on the OFW’s psyche can be quite a burden. He
can suffer a kind of  psychological fragmentation. In his mind, the
family members are somewhat unrealistically ‘frozen’ in time, and he
lives with an idealized impression of the kind of people his children
or his spouse really are or have become. There is a gaping hole in his
understanding of the reality of what has happened to the family. He
has after all missed out on much of their lives, and vice-versa.

Kay and Teddi point out that many OFWs are in denial and even
delusional about their situations, and that of their loved ones. Their
capacity to earn money and send it home has superseded all other
responsibilities and concerns.  It has become the justification for
everything. And it is easy to understand how this has come to be.

Kay told me about an OFW woman enrolled in the therapy they offer who
had stayed in Italy for many years. She was finally able to bring over
a daughter she hardly knew, only to discover that they were both
alienated from each other. Her daughter was not only a stranger but
harbored so much resentment towards her mother for having ‘abandoned’
her. As part of the woman’s therapy, she had to vent all her bad
feelings by writing down everything she had gone through and
sacrificed as an OFW. Since she was not computer literate, she asked
her daughter to type the document for her. It was only then that her
daughter realized what it took for her mother to ‘raise’ her
financially until they could be reunited.

The Leap Year Project, so named since it was started only this year,
offers psychological workshops, interventions that deal with the
fragmentation and ‘compartmentalization’ OFWs suffer in the hope that
they can be whole and empowered enough to reconnect with themselves,
and eventually their loved ones and their community. And the great
thing is, according to Kay and Teddi, the Leap Year Project is
remarkably effective. OFWs who go through the workshop not only heal
but also pick up skills that help them help others in the community.
In effect, it is a great service to our modern day ‘heroes’ who most
need it.

It takes a lot of resources to keep this going. The cost of airline
tickets alone is a big drain on meager resources. Kay and Teddi’s team
of four psychologists would like to get more of their colleagues
involved to deliver this service to other OFW communities in other
countries. The workshops demand that the psychologists stay a month at
a time to make sure that the process is thorough, even if they hardly
receive any compensation for it.

I am writing to urge you, dear reader, to help this compassionate
effort in any way. Aside from financial contributions, they also need
volunteer staff, videographers, editors and even participants who can
help them raise funds by joining the workshops they offer.

To inquire how to help, please call 4265992 or email
The way to help our OFWs is to help them restore a true sense of
authenticity in their lives, and their relationship with themselves,
their loved ones and their own Filipino-ness.

#  #  #
Last Basic Photography Workshop  until May. Sign up now and learn how to use that DSLR to make sure your summer photos are great.

When: March 24

Where: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.

What time: 1 to 6:30 p.m.

How much : P3,920 VAT inclusive.

Call Ollie at 0916-8554303, 426-5375 or write me at jpfotojim@gmail.comfor inquiries and reservations.

Shooting a thousand words

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated March 11, 2012 12:00 AM

In my sixth year as a columnist for the Philippine STAR, I realize that I’ve written about an entire gamut of topics such as God, spirituality, technology, the future, people, teaching, music, passion – you name it, I’ve done it. Except for one topic that I spend an inordinate time on and I am very passionate about it. I have barely written about photography.

Over the years, I have done countless photography workshops around the Philippines, in Sydney and Melbourne, Los Angeles, and soon, I will give one in Singapore. I teach the basics, and even a few advanced topics such as glamour photography, and the art of the nude. And I have been a judge in many photography club contests around Metro Manila.

On an obvious level, it is understandable why I have not written about photography, which is all about pictures. Why write about it when I can just show the photos I have taken. And I do share my photos in different websites; I have had two solo exhibits and have participated in joint ones.

But when I put on my writer’s cap, I realize there is much in photography to write about. For one thing, never in the history of man have so many people suddenly had the capability to take pictures with simple and high-end cameras, cell phones and gadgets that probably have more capabilities than the cameras used by the masters only some 30 years ago. Sometimes, I kid about this and say that everyone on earth is turning Japanese. I used to laugh at how many Japanese carried cameras as standard equipment for every day living and how they would take pictures of anything, including the food they are about to eat. My wife and daughters, I have noticed, also do this very same thing today. Every facet of life must now be documented in pictures.

Today, there is an abundance of cameras in the hands of people with the corresponding deluge of photos they post online for everyone to see. This makes me resigned over the lack of aesthetics in most of these snapshots. Many are underexposed, overexposed and quite lacking in basic presentation values. Look at social media and be underwhelmed by the ho-hum slices of their lives that people post in tons of dreary pictures.

I always start my photography classes by defining photography as the art of using light to tell stories. With the camera, one captures and manipulates the light available (or unavailable) to give a narrative that aims to move the audience in some way. One takes pictures to evoke delight, surprise, shock, disgust, fear, joy, laughter, awe, sensuality, mystery and other feelings within. In my book, if a photo does not do that, it is not worth keeping or posting.

How does one evoke emotion and feeling in a photograph? Do objects already evoke these feelings by themselves and all we need to do is capture them? Or do we actually give the spin to what we see and capture it as such? Good questions.

To me, good photography is about making a visual narrative, however short, of what we are looking at. For example, before capturing the image of a building, a photographer must ask him or herself what it is about the building that he or she wishes to convey. And the way to do that is to attach an adjective to what one is looking at. Instead of just a building, the photographer may want to take a picture of an “imposing” building, or a “busy” building, or even a “sorry looking” one. With an adjective in mind and using the buttons on the camera, one can come up with an evocative photo that will impact on the beholder.

It is amazing what one can do with the few tools available in a camera. With the adjustment of speed, aperture opening, ISO and White Balance alone, a photographer can use an infinite combination of settings and apply these to a subject to create different pictures around a narrative. Throw in angle and framing and the options practically double. These tools are pretty basic. Using my background in music, I call them the ‘do-re-mi’ of photography.

I started taking pictures during that charming era long ago when people still used something called film. At the time, every shot I took cost me money, even before the film could be developed and the pictures printed. Compared to today, we took only a few pictures. And we had to wait a few days before we could see the photos since we had to have the film processed in a lab. Every shot therefore was given some thought, arranged properly and shot with the right settings to make sure it would be a lucky one.

I remember doing shoots for magazines using my Mamiya medium format camera and being given only four to six rolls of film (with only 10 shots per roll) for the cover and inside photos. I took the shots with great concentration and focus, and then fretted till I saw the final outcome a few days later. The activity had to be done with careful calculation and an eye out for detail, and, of course, knowledge of my equipment.

Camera manufacturers are constantly upgrading and giving their products newer and wider capabilities that can tantalize a photography enthusiast or professional. And each time a new camera model is released with ever better bells and whistles, I am so tempted to part with some of my wealth just to own one.

But great pictures are captured by people, not by cameras. One can have a great camera and totally miss out on what is right before him. But a person with a visual story to tell can work the subject to do what he wants it to, and say what he wants to say, even with a simple point and shoot camera.

Sometimes, when I have a physical need to take pictures, I go out and look for scenery, or call people and ask them to pose for me in my little studio setup at home. Luckily, I have a group of friends in Sydney who I go with on occasional out-of-town trips to capture the breathtaking sceneries that Australia has to offer.

A passion is something that feeds one’s soul and must be allowed to express itself. To me, shooting the moment is like choosing the right notes in making music, or the right words or thoughts in writing a poem, short story, novel or essay. It is gazing at the physical world, taking delight in it, and preserving a moment of zen insight into an image!

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Last Basic Photography Workshop runs until May. Sign up now and learn how to use that DSLR to make sure your summer photos are great.

When: March 24

Where: 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, QC.

What time: 1 to 6:30 p.m.

How much : P3,920 VAT inclusive.

Call Ollie at 0916-8554303, 426-5375 or write me at jpfotojim@gmail.comfor inquiries and reservations.

Paul McCartney bought a BenCab for P70 in the ’60s (and other stories at the BenCab Museum)

My visit to Baguio last week was a pleasant shocker. After dozens of visits to the summer capital in my lifetime, I thought I had seen everything this charming destination could offer, until I went with Sydney friends Edd Aragon and Menchie Maneze to the BenCab Museum along Kilometer 6 in Asin, Tuba.

National Artist Ben Cabrera — the BenCab himself — greeted us at the gate, and after taking some photos by the museum entrance, we went in. I was immediately charmed upon entering the lobby where large art pieces greeted us and I knew this was going to be a special treat to my artistic senses.

The museum building is multi-level, made of glass and steel. To view all the exhibits, one must take the stairs four floors down. On the top and bottom platforms are viewing decks decorated with sculptures and outdoor paintings, and a breathtaking view of the entire property.

In full panorama are thousands of trees on a steeply slanted hill that is at least a couple hundred feet tall. Between the museum and the hill is a valley of streams, lily ponds and pathways that lead to large gardens and hidden delights such as waterfalls, orchards, fishponds, small gardens and little Igorot huts scattered throughout the property. Strewn randomly but artfully about the huge property are carvings in stone, wood and petrified rock and lots of bonsai. Within this magical kingdom are also the studio and living areas of the artist himself.

We were lucky to have been accompanied on our tour by BenCab himself. He knew every detail of the place by heart. He described every tree planted, every patch of land beautified, in a continuing conversation from the time we arrived, through lunch, and until we left the premises four hours later.

I gathered that it had been BenCab’s dream to build a site like this for sometime. Walking with him around his property, I realized that, in this case, the artist was a creator in the grandest sense of the word. He has not only created artworks that have delighted his international audience, he has also created entire landscapes, environments, ecologies and mindscapes — worlds, if you will — in this generous sprawl of nature.

It was a special delight listening to BenCab, who allowed us into his creative universe pointing out his art pieces and giving us the background of each. He spoke intimately about the paintings and sculptures, including those that were not his own creations. Bulol statues that occupy an entire wall, ancient Igorot wooden pieces — bags, rice containers, harvest vessels, etc. — displayed in a huge room are really impressive.

A valuable bit of trivia I learned from the artist himself is that Paul McCartney actually bought one of his paintings in Ermita when the Beatles played Manila in the ‘60s. Sir Paul paid P70 for it. The sale transpired while the artist had stepped out of his gallery. To Bencab’s dismay, no one in the gallery had taken a picture or even had thought of asking for an autograph from the famous buyer. Years later, when BenCab wanted to include the sold artwork in a book he published in London, he wrote to McCartney who acknowledged he still had the painting and even sent a photo. The title of the work is “Fishing in Sexmoan.”

A friend who had visited BenCab’s museum a few months ago described it as “world-class.” I would have to agree. It isn’t just a nice or impressive place for Baguio or the Philippines, it is comparable to great museums we have visited in other parts of the world, such as the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, for example.

There was a small but steady stream of visitors when we were there who, like us, were enjoying the exhibits, the outdoors and the café. Once in a while, BenCab would gamely pose with them for pictures or autograph a museum flier. Marveling at BenCab’s capacity to create something as maddeningly beautiful as this, I realized that not everyone shared my appreciation of the place. I am hoping that local officials see the value of the great art and heroic effort in an investment of this magnitude that honors, propagates and preserves man’s higher longings.

A few tax beaks would certainly encourage more investments in fine and worthy projects like the BenCab Museum that uplift our sensibilities, instead of the crass materialism of golf courses, theme parks, malls and parking lots.

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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, e-mail or call 426-5375 or 0916-8554303 to reserve.
View to a thrill: The breathtaking view from the top floor of the museum.

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