Saturday, May 30, 2015

Maria Isabel Garcia and Her Science Solitaire Book

Maria Isabel Garcia is unlike other authors because, to her, the best thing about having a published book is not about getting rich from sales or leaving a legacy. For her, being a writer is more about the satisfaction of seeing a finished book get a life of its own. She is a natural explorer who writes about what she sees around her, connecting her observations in life with science. Her inquisitive nature has led to become a science writer of The Philippine Star, a content author for Rappler, and ultimately, the curator of The Mind Museum, an innovative science museum in the Philippines that adds to the reasons why it's more Fun in The Philippines.
Maria Isabel Garcia's first book is Science Solitaire: Essays on science, nature and becoming human. It's all about science, but the kind that is more personal and derived from her own personal experience of the world, which comes to her in a visual manner in her head.

Ideas do not come to her in words but in symbols that take on a visually solid or liquid form in her head. She combines what she sees with what she reads and viola, new ideas emerge to help her llustrate a point. That is what she writes about. "Writer's chase" which she does in order to capture the essence of a thought. It's what she experiences instead of "writer's block." She tries to chase after her own understanding of a topic and do all sorts of things to share it clearly and beautifully to people. Getting the approval of the book review board of the Ateneo De Manila University Press was something that she was very happy about.

Garcia’s wish for Science Solitaire is for it to inspire young people to write about science. Oddly enough, it's not even shelved with the science books but rather under the ‘Filipiniana’ section, which even her own friends, who are also science writers in the US, find very strange.

Here's how Maria Isabel Garcia describes her book on Amazon:

"Science Solitaire is a mind dance with nature's cards, in a style and lens that could help us see that science is alive - as it inhabits not just classrooms and textbooks but also our everyday lives. It consists of pieces of discovery that try to reveal the possible connections between the snippets of understanding we gain from science and our journey toward becoming human. What happens to our brains when we are happy, when we delight in music or food or other pleasurable pursuits? What lurks behind the awesome powers of some creatures with whom we inhabit this planet? What is E=mc2 and why is it the most popular icon for scientific ideas?"

Maria Isabel Garcia is also the author of Twenty-One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire

Jim Paredes and His 5th "Passion Night" Dinner When Strangers Get Together and Talk about Their Passion in Life

Jim Paredes and myself with other participants of the 5th Passion Night Dinner.
Jim Paredes in 2013. Wikipedia.
If you've deliberately searched online for "Passion Night" and "Jim Paredes," then it's likely you read a post of him online inviting ten people, total strangers, to join him for dinner to tell stories of what excites them in life. What is your passion?

I was fortunate and honored to have been a part of the 5th Passion Night Dinner of Jim Paredes held at his residence in Quezon City on May 1, 2015 (Labor Day). It was something that I did not really expect although I did think it would be cool. I had reservations about attending, but it was an adventure of sorts and in my opinion, was also the thrill that Mr. Paredes looked forward to.

My adventure began when I saw a tweet of his inviting people to send him an email about what they're passionate about in life. He was going to pick only 10 respondents to join him for a dinner date. As a fellow writer, I thought he might be interested in reading what I had to say, so I wrote him an email. For several days, there was no reply and I thought he didn't pick me, but I was mistaken. He did reply and told me to call in to confirm and that I could bring food if I'd like (which I did). The dinner invitattion, he said, was only for me and that I shouldn't bring anyone along. I told him I understood and that I'd come alone.

I arrived a bit early. From the cab, I saw there was already someone waiting at the gate. He thought I was a resident of the house but I told him I was just a guest of Mr. Paredes. Surprised, he told me that he was also there as a guest. So we rang the doorbell and waited. It took a little while for someone to open the gate, then we were ushered in across a driveway and a patio to a house at the back that had wide glass windows. I could see Mr. Paredes inside. He smiled and waved us in.

The comfy room had a long dinner table in the middle with an overhead light fixture that gave a subdued illumination to the interior. I later learned that the lights in the room had several settings which changed the mood in the room. Another guest, a woman, was already inside. She said she was the first to arrive. She told me she had to walk from the gate that was some distance from the house. Mr. Paredes introduced us to his artist wife, Lydia, who, he explained, was the one who designed the house from scratch, sourcing sturdy wood from dismantled old houses. He pointed out the doorway which he said was originally from a church.

While waiting for the other guests to arrive, Mr. Paredes explained that it was already his 5th Passion Night and that previously, he had held it in Palawan and even paid for the airfare and hotel accommodation of his guests. I thought that was quite generous of him and wondered where he'd be hosting Passion Night in the coming years. Someone had suggested to him that he turn it into something like a reality show with cameras and everything but he said he didn't like the idea, which was a good thing, I thought.

Eventually, the other guests arrived. Sitting at the table were a balikbayan who was vacationing from a European country and another guest who had roots in the same country (she's a singer at the City of Dreams and also a radio deejay). There was also a guy who was passionate about cooking (his marble tomatoes and Pili nuts combo was a hit), a traveling videographer, a female race car driver, a beauty queen, a cancer-gene "therapist" from St. Luke's Medical Center, a computer programmer, and two students - one of which flew in from her province just to attend the dinner. The picture that accompanies this article, which was taken at the end of the affair at 2 am, does not include all of the guests, as two of them left early.

We all had turns telling our story and listening. That was perhaps the "main event" of the night. I learned much from the other guests and also from Jim Paredes, who described himself as a Creative, although to most of us he would be forever one of the faces of the APO Hiking Society singing group with their well-loved songs that are now, I would say, part of the Filipino identity (Jim Paredes also has a solo album, LARO). His other passions, apart from music, are photography (which he teaches) and Zen, which was introduced to him by the owner of a popular grocery chain in the Philippines. If you ask him a Zen question like, "What does one hand clapping sound like?" He would likely return the question to you and if you can't answer, he'd tell you, "Sit on it," and that would be your introduction to Zen.

I won't spoil the fun for you by revealing any more of what transpired that night because if you are somehow considering taking up an invite of Jim Paredes to one of his Passion Night gatherings, then you should really dive in without any preconceptions or assumptions. Of course, you need to get picked first, and that's going to be the first surprise of many. Sometimes, it's good to get off the beaten path and join complete strangers in a room for dinner and storytelling. If you come upon an invite to Jim's Passion Night dinner, charge it to serendipity.

My thanks to Mr. Jim Paredes and his wife, Lydia for their hospitality and also to the other guests for making the night complete and unforgettable.

LARO, solo album of Jim Paredes.