Oct 24, 2009

On days when the sun refuses to shine

Photography and collage by me.

I recently listened to an audiobook by Alain de Botton called How Proust can change your Life. This clever man has brilliantly distilled Proust for those of us not ready to wade though the 7 volumes and millions of words in In Search of Lost Time. Proust has a great many insights into human nature and how to live. Botton's audiobook has inspired me to one day delve into Proust first hand. For now, let me share with you a few quotes by Proust that I found helpful on days when the sun refuses to shine.

"Happiness is good for the body, but it is grief which develops the strengths of the mind."

"We cannot be taught wisdom, we have to discover it for ourselves by a journey which no one can undertake for us, an effort which no one can spare us."

"The moral: to recognize that our best chance at contentment is by taking up the wisdom offered to us in coded form through our coughs, allergies, social gaffes and emotional betrayals, and to avoid the ingratitude of those who blame the peas, the bores and the weather."

"The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes."

Oct 23, 2009

If you want something to believe in, believe in Life

I trust that life will unfold and I will be able to navigate its unfurling sequences.

I'm grateful for the people who walk their own paths and offer their flashlights to those of us who are learning to see in the dark.

I'm inspired by life's many amazing plot twists, cliff-hangers, reversals, pregnant pauses and poignant silences. It's the best show in town.

Happy Friday!

Photography by me. Self-portrait taken on the swing carousal at the Parque de Atracciones in Madrid last winter.

Oct 22, 2009

Portrait of a room: retro american kitsch with a twist

[click on the image to see it enlarged]
Photos and collage by me.

It's not every day I walk into a room decorated in classic 50s-70s Americana. What an unexpected surprise to happen upon in Madrid. It's a lucky thing I have my camera on me. Nicolas blames his fetish for American memorabilia on the influence of American TV in his youth, shows like Starsky and Hutch, which explains all those posters and the model car from the series. Although license plates from almost every state, posters of Elvis, Elvis theme Russian dolls, and stacks of cds of rock 'n' roll from the 50s line his walls and shelves, Nicolas insists he's NOT a fan of the USA. He just loves the music from this period and has been collecting this retro Americana for years. (an aside: this is an apparent contradiction I've noticed a lot in Spain. While folks here are often too happy to poo poo the Americans, they sure love American movies, tv shows, music, etc...)

In the corner of his room, there is a lovely old double bass, which fits in with the 50s theme but in fact plays more classical than classic rockabilly. Nicolas, who grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, tells us a beautiful little story about the journey of his double bass. His instrument is originally from Madrid and was one of the secondary instruments belonging to a fairly well-known double bassist. This musician brought his collection of double basses with him from Madrid to Buenos Aires when he moved there decades ago. When he died, his daughter sold his double basses at auction and Nicolas bought the one you can see in the photo. When Nicolas relocated to Madrid a few years ago, his double bass came with him and, in a way, his bass was able to return to its homeland to begin a new life with a young classically trained contrabassist. This isn't quite the story of the Red Violin, but for me, this serendipitous journey half way around the world and then back again infuses the non-matching tuners, the sensuously scrolled head and the curvaceous dark wooden body of this upright bass, with character and soul. And I admit, I sometimes enjoy the personification of inanimate objects because it allows me to see the inner beauty of a thing shining through its casing and what I might otherwise have overlooked as ordinary becomes instead illuminated by the firelight of stories. A beauty to behold, a spark for my imagination and a flicker upon which to daydream.

I found this room intriguingly and deliciously disorienting. Thanks to Nicolas, for letting me take photos and share his room on my blog.

Oct 16, 2009

Why? Oh why do Spanish boys in their late 20s still have all weekend long slumber parties?

Last weekend I had the flu. I had the chills, a fever, a cough that tasted of blood, congestion and a runny nose. I share an apartment with a quiet guy in his late 20s from Granada, at least i thought he was a quiet guy... until he and 4 of his buddies stayed over in what ended up being a weekend slumber party for boys. He told me one boy was going stay but he arrived with four. Then he told me not to worry, they would party on the street, but they were home by 11 pm and sat around chatting and drinking in the living room until 2 am then they left and I fell asleep. At around 4 am they returned and began chiseling ice for more drinks and giggling in the kitchen (which shares a thin wall with my bedroom). My patience and good will ran out.... but I let it go... ah the joys of sharing I told myself, they'll be gone by morning... Turns out that's not quite how it works here in Spain. Your friends don't just spend the night, they spend the weekend! Aiyee!

Next day, I felt better so I went out for a while with a friend for a drink, then I caught a parade, then I had more drinks but was back in bed by 1 am. Again at 4 am, the boys returned drunk, blabbered in the kitchen for a while, left all the lights on (and shining into my bedroom) then stumbled off to bed. Next morning I awoke to discover fat "chorizos" heavy at the bottom of the toilet bowl. Apparently, someone didn't know how to flush. This vile surprise tipped the scales and I had had enough. ya no puedo mas!! When I saw my roomie later, while I was sweeping and mopping the floors, I told him we need to talk. I told him it was demasiado para mi. too much. too much. He apologized and promised this wasn't normal practice. The last of the boys, who all live in Madrid, by the way, finally left on Tuesday...

When I shared this story with different groups of my students during the week, we all had a good laugh over it. "Typical Spanish" they told me, especially with boys from Andalucia. "Preparate", they told me. Prepare yourself. Now, I have several amigas españolas but I've never heard of this type of weekend slumber party. Perhaps it's because they are in their 30s but a one night sleep over after a night of drinking is common, but several days? This is news to me... but I guess this has all been a cultural learning experience... The Spanish, after all, love to do everything in big groups, so I suppose these slumber parties that continue far into adulthood is to be expected, even understood(?). I told my students that where I'm from slumber parties are for children and teenagers and they don't usually last for days... and typically, the only adult slumber parties we have, are the sexy ones for two. My students were surprised by this and insisted on extolling the virtues of adult slumber parties, namely, they're fun. But my question is why? Why would you want to spend ALL weekend with your friends and sleep on their couch? Wouldn't your own bed be more comfortable? I don't get it. Maybe one of my Spanish readers can explain it to me better than my students could... Why? Oh why do Spanish boys in their late 20s still have weekend long slumber parties?

Oct 12, 2009

Madrid's VivAmerica Fesitval de Ideas Parade: a Photo Essay

VivAmerica is the cultural celebrations of Latin American countries in Madrid. The festival started on the 7th of October and finished on the 11th. Thousands of people gathered near Atocha, along Paseo del Prado to participate in the parade of rhythms, dance and costumes from South America and Mexico.

All photos taken by me at yesterday's parade.

I've been house bound with the flu over the last few days and knew nothing of this parade when I stumbled onto it. I was walking to meet some friends in Retiro when I discovered there was no way through the crowds and I was not going to able to get into the park. So I decided to hangout and see what was happening. I squeezed myself into a good spot and took photos for the next two hours. These happy accidents are one of the reasons I love Madrid. There's always more going on than you can know about, let alone attend. Bumping into events brings me the joy of the unexpected spectacle and reminds me that there's so much life waiting around the corner, all you need to do is get outside!

Oct 10, 2009

My medicine bag

When I started this blog over a year ago, I wrote quite a bit about depression. I haven't written on the subject for a while and it's not because i don't have patches of darkness, I do, but I feel more confident that the depression is temporary and that it will lift. So what has happened to me in the last 14 months to change my equilibrium? Well, I've put together a medicine bag to combat the horribles.

The current contents of my depression medicine bag:

A change in perspective. I focussed on making a shift from self identifying as a depressed person to identifying as a person who has tendencies towards negative thinking, which left unchecked will lead to depression. Seems like a minor shift but it's not. Identifying yourself as a depressed person makes you a passive victim. Identifying as a person who has a tendency towards depression gives you back control and forces you to take responsibility for your mental health. Be as vigilant about monitoring your moods as a diabetic is about their blood sugar levels.

Meditate. I've been meditating daily for 2 1/2 years and I think it's helped me to find balance in my mind and in my life. I've done a series of different guided meditations, experimenting, looking for the right fit. My latest combination is an hour long brain entraining meditation by Holosync, augmented by breathing and affirmation practice and mindfulness practice. The brain entraining is supposed to help create neural connections between the right and left brain. I don't know if this is actually the case, but I find that I am more clear minded and calm since I began this particular program a month ago. Mindful meditation has also been really good for me and I recommend Jack Kornfield's The Inner Art Of Meditation audiobook.

Do Yoga. I recently bought a mat and try to follow a 40 minute video at least 2 - 3 times a week. I can feel the effects in my body and it feels good. It's helping me get back in touch with my body and altering my negative body image.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Cut down on sugar and bread. No explanation necessary.

Build a creative space. For me this space is here, my blog. It's my public notebook and it motivates me to keep producing work for an audience and for myself. As a creative person, having a forum where I can express myself and explore my passions is important to my sense of well-being.

Do NOT engage with angry freaks. They aren't interested in debate or intellectual sparring, they are trying to shadow box you in the head. They will often accuse you of doing the very things they themselves are doing to you and then try to force your emotional reaction by hitting below the belt. I repeat, DO NOT engage, don't feed them with your energy. Withdraw and focus instead on your friends, interests, movies, art, whatever brings you positive energy. Let the shadow boxers fight by themselves.

Get fascinated by things. Be curious. I've been watching TED a lot, following up on lectures that catch my fancy with more research. Science and the natural world is rich with amazing wonders. Lately I've been researching everything from string theory or the potential unified theory of everything to biomimicry to V.S. Ramachandran's investigations into phantom limb pain, synesthesia and other brain disorders, which have allowed him map the functions of the mind to the physical structures of the brain to how and where the brain thinks about other people's thoughts to Dan Dennett's ideas on consciousness to Richard Dawkin's call for militant atheism to positive psychology to neuroplasticity to understanding comics to the relationship between text and images to photography and photoshop techniques. The world is indeed stranger and more fascinating than we can possibly know. If you can't experience the splendor, the elegance and the jaw dropping wonder of the natural world then you are not awake.

In a TED lecture, Richard Dawkin's says this:
Steve Grand points out that you and I are, ourselves, more like a wave than a permanent thing. He invites us, the reader, to "think of an experience from your childhood -- something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all, you really were there at the time, weren't you? How else would you remember it? But here is the bombshell: You weren't there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place. Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that doesn't make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important."

So these are some of the contents of my medicine bag. What do you have in yours?

Oct 8, 2009

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