My next 20 years
HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes
Sunday, October 26, 2008
At 57 years old, I find that life continues to be challenging. When I was younger, I thought that the things I worried about would resolve themselves by the time I got older. In many ways, they have, and in many other ways, they haven’t.
A young man usually sets his goals and, if he is consistently focused, he can achieve a good number of them. I was young once and had my own goals and dreams. For one, I wanted to be materially comfortable. I also wanted a job I would enjoy. But what I was obsessed with was writing songs for my generation.
I wanted to give my fellow Filipinos a kind of pop music that did not just speak to them but was also about them. I wanted to write the soundtrack of the lives that were being lived in this country. And yes, I also hoped that it would make me famous as well, if I was successful, which was something I also dreamed about.
This writing of original songs in Pilipino was a rebellion of sorts. While it was true that we were a generation that grew up with Western music, we still saw ourselves as Filipinos even if we could not relate too well to the kundimans and balitaws of earlier days. What was natural to us was Western melodic structure, but the APO decided to break ground by writing our messages in Pilipino.
We were rebelling against the fact that a lot of the music that was being played on radio was foreign, and though it was nice to listen to, we knew the songs were written not for us, but mostly for Americans and Brits. Even if we could identify with and even love the songs, we knew that the composers and those who sang the tunes never really had us in mind. We were not even an afterthought. We were just a fringe market whose existence must have totally surprised the people who marketed the music.
Actually, many other songwriters of my era (the ‘70s) had the same thing in mind. We wanted to break away from the practice of blindly admiring what was foreign and laughing at what was locally made, at least when it came to music. We hated the fact that radio and the rest of the media were ramming all this foreign junk into our ears. We wanted something different. We were tantalized at the idea of singing our own songs, and dancing to our own music.
That’s how the genre of OPM (Original Pilipino Music) came to be. I am happy to have participated in adding this musical genre and component to our popular culture.
And while I continue to enjoy doing this performing with the APO, lately, I have been sensing other possibilities and callings somewhere in the distance.
I may be in my late 50s but I still believe in looking forward and impacting the world in a tangible way. It upsets some people, especially my classmates, when I tell them that the next 20 years are the last good years of our generation. In fact, if I can manage to stay healthy and active and attend to all the other callings I have in this span of time, I would consider myself extremely lucky.
Actually, I still feel like a young man with goals in mind. I am excited about what may lie ahead and what I may surprise myself doing and discovering. But, just like the young man that I was, I am often still fearful, unsure of how to go about doing things.
Some habits, I guess, I will never really outgrow, and one of them is fear. I am both excited and hampered by the fear of cutting a new path in the forest of my life, even if that’s exactly what I have been doing, however unwittingly.
In the next 20 years, I would like to find the energy and focus to do what I feel are important things that still need to be done. A lot of these involve our country, the Philippines. Like so many others, I feel that there are things that we should have done at certain junctions in our recent history but which we failed to do.
I would like to do work in education. I feel strongly about this and I cry at the state of our educational system. There must be a way to educate the young that can make them imagine greater things to do with their lives beyond manning call centers or leaving for greener pastures abroad. I want to help educate Filipinos so they can contribute to our society, and not to some other society. This is an investment we cannot afford to pass up, or the consequences will be disastrous.
I am also looking at ways to transform popular culture into something more liberating and transformative which will awaken our people to our own greatness. After having met so many of our kababayan on countless trips abroad, I have no doubt that we Filipinos have what it takes to rise above the physical, moral and psychological squalor we find ourselves in. The real question is why a lot of us can’t seem to make things happen in our lives without having to leave the country and working somewhere else. We need to awaken and realize the power of self-inspiration.
We need a cultural revolution on top of the political and social ones. I think that if we want to wage real change in this country, one of the most important things we need to do is take control of the media and change its content radically. Our attitudes and self-image are like software that is largely defined by media. As long as our self-image as a people (which television encourages) is an immature, childish and dysfunctional one, that is what we will continue to be in our daily lives.
I am amazed that in a country like Australia, people can watch high-quality documentaries that teach people how to garden, do carpentry, or fix things. These are shown during prime time! No asinine soaps and childish telenovelas, and no corrupting values being passed on as entertainment in noontime shows. There is not too much shallow or irresponsible newsgathering, either.
It will take a different kind of mindset to bring Philippine media to something close to this. We need a national paradigm that promotes responsibility, accountability and the habit of continuing education. I would like to be among the vanguard that will bring about these changes.
Lastly, I want to help change the structures and culture of the government that rules over us. I am not just looking at the personalities who are running it today but the very system itself which inevitably corrupts and stands in the way of reforming anything. There are better ways to run a country, as many OFWs who live under more functional systems abroad will attest.
All these issues are playing over in my mind right now as I look at scenarios on how to spend what remains of my life. I ask myself often if this is indeed my next calling — or am I just ranting? I also ask myself if I still have the energy and dedication to handle the work involved. Shouldn’t I just slow down and enjoy the next 20 years?
I am not yet sure of my answer to these questions.
Then I remind myself that Mother Teresa’s calling came to her in her late 50s when, as a teacher in an international school in India, she found her life changed totally by a beggar who had collapsed on the street, right at her feet.
She cared for this man, a man of the untouchable class, who eventually died. But it started her on the path of a nun in the service of the poorest of the poor, which is the part of her life where she contributed the most to humankind.
Life is full of twists and turns. Anything can still happen in our lives, no matter how old we may be in years. The one thing I’m sure of is, this 57-year old is not ready to retire — or be an old man.