HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated May 26, 2013 – 12:00am
That’s what’s written inside my passport as my occupation. That’s what I put down on every application form or questionnaire I need to fill out to describe what I do.
I have been doing this for some 40 plus years now. The word “artist” describes me quite aptly, I think, even if I do not know exactly how I do it.
An artist creates something out of nothing. That’s what I do when I write a song. I make things up by picking things out of thin air — beats, words, melodic lines, feelings, moods, memories — and try to create something with them. Many times, I don’t know how it happens but I just suddenly find myself in the middle of creating. I am holding a guitar, or sitting on a piano and then it just starts to happen. Sometimes it happens even if I am not even holding a musical instrument. I am in the car or doing something entirely outside of music, and there it goes! A lyrical or musical phrase, or both of them suddenly materialize asking me to make them fly. All I can do is oblige. I just go where it wants to take me. I don’t argue with it. I don’t try to correct it.
Instead, I try to get cozy and intimate with it. I cajole it, entice it, seduce it like a woman so that she tells me all her secrets and shows me her entire being down to raw nakedness. When it gets down to this, I know the artist in me means business and wants to do bold magical things with her.
To make these bold magical things, one must abandon the thinking mind and take creative half-court shots of pure fancy. Just go with the whim, the feeling, the urge, the emotion and just unravel. It is an out-of-mind experience. Logic has no place here.
And yet, despite the creative process being unexplainable and maybe even illogical, you get the feeling that many if not all great creations were/are probably done this way. It’s like sorcery. It is inspired and created by magic. The mind and all its rules are only allowed into the room when the potion is already mixed, brewed to potency and ready. All the mind can do is tweak a few things.
I started writing this column with nothing in mind. When I saw the blank page on my laptop, I saw the potential for creation. There is nothing like a blank nothing to make you want to do something with it. The urge to fill up space, to sprinkle missing musical notes amidst silence, to type absent words to make an essay, or to add colors and lines in a painting, or give way to a shape that wants to be animated in sculpture. All this is irresistible. These urges must be listened to and obeyed.
But I know from experience that these urges are not always there. When they come, they are like very special visitors that must be entertained. They must be recognized, treated properly and lavishly like royalty, for if they are not, they may throw a tantrum and stop calling or visiting. They may even disappear for a long time. It depends on them. And when they disappear, I lose the gift of magic that makes meaning out of my own plain existence.
I am an artist.
I make songs. I write articles and books. I conceptualize performances. I spin images of dark and light from a camera. I make sense of things differently. And while doing all that, I allow myself to be pulled by the magnet of truth and inspiration. And these two things can be quite beautiful but dangerous at the same time. They can make you feel euphoric. But they can also take you to edgy, dark places that can challenge what you know to be true and replace it with a much bigger truth you did not think existed.
I notice that I cannot write songs one moment and immediately write a column the next. Both are different domains that want and need to be separate. The musical works are mostly written in an informal castle where the guards are lax and pretty much allow me to wander about. The Queen Muse that rules there allows me to do what I want. She’s a cool Queen. And whatever I come up with is pleasing to her. Long ago, she and I learned how to get along. She learned that I can actually create good songs when I have no one to answer to — not even to her. It’s a silent, unspoken agreement we have and it works well.
In the other domain, where I do my writing, sometimes it is also easy and non-stressful. But there are times when it is scary and intimidating. The Queen Muse can throw a temper tantrum. Almost on a whim, I am condemned, cursed, and forced to write in the dungeon. And I must come up with something or else. Like Rumpelstiltskin, I must spin gold overnight and have it ready by morning, or be punished.
In the first domain, I have learned not to think too much but to intuit what I wish to express. In this second domain, I must think first, and then learn to stop thinking before I get things done. I think to gather topical material and when I have it, I then intuit and bring something to existence.
I still have not figured out how to understand this Queen Muse completely, much less get along with her. She has too many rules and can show no mercy at times. I am learning to imbibe her many rules thoroughly so that I am no longer stuck in them and can do the work an artist must do. Hopefully, I am getting there.
When I write songs or columns, or take photos, I have a continuing dialogue going on with myself. I am engaged with a deep part of me that is quite peaceful and beautiful. It knows the truth about myself and is calm with it. But while that deep part of me seems serene and pure, it is not content just simply staying there. It asks that it be let out and confess the truth it knows to the world. It wants me to be its spokesman. It is scary because I have seen a few times that truth, when introduced to the mundane world, can shake its foundations. It is often anything but calm and peaceful. But that is what it demands — to see itself play out in the real world.
I am an artist. And often, that sounds glamorous, hip and exciting. But at other times, it is hard, scary work. It is hard because the truth inside often asks me to do crazy things that can subvert everything that makes being an artist easy.
I am an artist. And no matter how long I have been one, bringing out what’s inside me into the outside world is still a mystery. Sometimes it’s a breeze, sometimes a struggle. It’s still a struggle to fight the fear of being vulnerable even if it makes me feel alive doing so. But I would rather struggle and feel alive and glimpse at beauty once in a while than be safe but turn away from creating. I want to feel the life I am living.