All posts by Alberto Pérez

Thought #50. Jaded or life-loving.

Depression affects a surprising number of people. Although everyone can feel very sad and anxious on occasion, some people are more prone to undergo deep depressions during their lives than others. This medical condition and its treatment have been historically studied by numerous scientists, doctors and researchers. But as yet, knowing whether we are suffering from depression or not remains a tricky question.

As a layman on this subject, I would not go so far as to say that, more often than not, people misuse the term. Conversely, I do think that only sometimes this term is employed to describe just a rough patch. A niggling worry could render us sleepless for a few days. Does it mean that we are growing depressed? Not necessarily.

Some psychologists’ therapies go too far and are out of kilter with the patient’s problems. Why are we expected to be always happy? Fortunately, the vast majority of therapists are knowledgeable and well-prepared to treat depression in all its forms and manifestations. Life is tough and sometimes the future will be bleak, it is something that we cannot deny. However problematical the situation may seem, besides our natural ability to overcome the toughest circumstances, hope is what makes a difference.

Hope that hard times will be over one more time, as they always were in the past. I do not mean that every problem has to have a solution, not to mention a satisfactory, easy or permanent one. I just want to let it be known that hope is tantamount to the ability to dream, feel excitement and develop endurance against complications.

And when there is little or no hope for the future, you can always live the present. What else do we have? Human life needs little more than air, water, food and shelter to get by. It would be advisable to settle for just being happy.

Thought #49. On folk memory.

I still remember with heartfelt emotion the enticing prospect of a summer’s fortnight at my grandparents’ cottage. They would boast about what they had achieved, not without a great deal of hard work though. Had it not been for their financial ingenuity in hard times, my mother, aunts and uncles would have not been who they are. Mum is the eldest of six children and although she was widowed at the early age of 42, she already had five children.

My grandfather, Fermin, born on July 7th, 1919, fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. Fortunately, he survived it and became a forest guard on January 26th, 1946. He devoted his life to preserve the mounts of Castellon province, on the eastern coast of Spain. He would worship nature during the rest of his life, only coming into his own when trees and plants were literally surrounding him.

When my father died, we were living in a small suburb of Tarragona. As we did not have family there, my mother took us to Castellon, where her brothers and sisters lived. I was then eight years old and the elder brother of my baby sister. My grandparents lived between two places, their city flat in Castellon and a cottage near a small village that used to be a windmill. It was there, in that country house, where I hold so many treasured memories.

My grandmother, Adelina, was remarkably cheerful and always displayed a strong character. She was a good person, sometimes a little innocent. I would not go so far as to say that her patience hardly ever snapped but, most of the time, her company was extremely pleasant. I would play cards with her  till the small hours by candlelight, and tried to cheat her by using devious tactics. It was at those moments when she would snap fiercely.

Games apart, every summer with them was outstanding. Picking cherries and loquats, collecting apples and pears, watering tomato plants, I passed the time of those long days. We often made marmalade out of any ripe fruit. Food was never thrown away. A famine-stricken youth had taught them the lesson. A lesson inherited, as many others, from generations. Bits and pieces of a folk memory that we must not forget.

To Adelina and Fermin, from his grandson Alberto,  still captivated by your eternal humility, generosity and humanity.

Thought #48. Follow your nose.

Learning how to be guided by natural instincts could help us thrive in life. Strangely enough, very few people are used to relying on intuition. By all accounts, rationality is synonymous with lacking faith in our sixth sense. Then, if both approaches, rational and instinctive, seem to be at odds, how can we marry them?

If we could go back to our origins, when the first life on earth struggled to survive, we would, in all likelihood, see how the inborn intuitive power of living creatures came into its own. Yet we cannot help but believe that it should have gone that way.

Besides ignoring the past, we have been taught to believe that human reason equals sanity. Can we make conscious decisions by following our gut instincts? Consciousness and normality is hardly ever used when talking about intuition.

However, we use it all the time. Every day, we make life-and-death decisions unconsciously. For example, we stop at a red light or let the soup cool. But, most commonly, we make thousands of wise decisions without even thinking about them: brush your teeth first thing in the morning, close the door when leaving home, buckle your seat belt when driving to work, answer your mum’s call, etc.

Going on automatic pilot prevents your brain from being overwhelmed, from crashing. If we had to consider every action separately, we would never leave home in the morning. Sometimes, it takes us too much time to come to a conclusion before deciding. It would be advisable to optimise this process.

Why we do not we learn to use our natural instincts more frequently? Why not use them when making conscious decisions? From my point of view, spontaneous people welcome change and that is the crux. In other words, fear of change could be tantamount to excess of rationality.  By acting instinctively, we save time and effort and that gives us the opportunity to concentrate on those tasks that really require such a concentration.

Let you hair down and if the opportunity presents itself, give a chance to your animal instinct.

Thought #47. On selfies.

The self-portrait is not a latest craze. Art history, ancient and modern, gives comprehensive accounts of this genre as a common means of expression among artists. The question is what is the motivation, if any, for an artist to depict himself.

As an aficionado of photography, I have always been amazed at the power of images. Perhaps in pursuit of an aesthetic value, or maybe out of the need of expressing feelings; no wonder I ended up taking pictures of myself. But I hardly ever shared them with friends or family.

I feel like telling something with my photography and that may prevent my output from being much of a muchness. I would not have published my work unless I had been sure that each picture’s message came across as intended. I know full well that my work is not suitable for anyone, though. I am quite comfortable with detractors too.

Why did I take the picture above? Within those four edges I found a way to represent a question mark. But, deep inside I really wanted to spark, at least, criticism. I remember the remark that a photographer, whose work is a model for me, made when I first showed him this photo. He could have disapproved of the lack of compositional rules, the overuse of negative space (which refers to showing a lot of empty space), and many other technicalities. Instead, he said “I’m puzzled”. Bravo, I murmured to myself.

After that short remark, he told me that by hiding my mouth I was leaving the viewer totally clueless. Without any reference but a pair of eyes wide open, he was unable to tell whether I was laughing, making fun of him or simply scared.

Maybe this story leads the way and the reader will follow. When an opportunity of taking a selfie arouses, it is highly advisable to approach it with the willingness to tell something. People are jaded with meaningless imagery, you too.

Thought #46. Poised to react.

A reaction is what you do, say or think as a result of something that has happened. Every time we react to an event or situation, not only our personality is reflected but also our perception of the outer world. In other words, we show who we are by means of our behaviour. But, is it that simple? Can we judge others by their reactions?

The short answer would be no. Imagine that you are a wannabe writer and you show your latest unfinished short story to a good friend who is an avid reader. You might expect a truly informed opinion or a thorough critique but, maybe it just so happens that your friend is not in the mood because of a recent read on child abuse. That read has just provoked so dramatic an impact on him that your friend’s first reaction to the draft is not just negative, but almost violent: “This is bullshit”.

Must you rethink your entire writing career? No, you must not. The same story would have triggered an enthusiastic and positive response only if the timing of the events had been different. The message I am trying to convey is that we often overplay the significance of extreme reactions, both positive and negative. Would it not be better if we took them with a pinch of salt?

However, the mechanism of judging others is purely based on our careful observation of such reactions and therefore, we cannot help but be always poised to answer, with honesty, to the world that surrounds us. That way, we will do, say or think what we really meant, projecting a more accurate image of ourselves and making ourselves better known.

Thought #45. An insomniac mattress.

Animated objects littered the deserted streets. Any living creature would have sensed the rarefield atmosphere that soured that night, but the city was lifeless of proper life. Humankind must accept its fate. A gloomy future, a hopeless existence, the dawn of things had arrived.

An insomniac mattress awakened from its fated death. More than tired, exhausted is how it was feeling. Oppressed by countless sleepless nights trying to please the jaded couple, it could not help but escape. The scenery was beyond recognition. A teapot and a radio soon joined the mattress which was leading an improvised parade.

The white noise delivered by the radio was felt by hundreds of objects as rhythmic beat. Dancing on the streets, making quirky and, at the same time, distinctive sounds, more and more of them stepped in. Beeping, clanking, clicking… a range of metallic dins filled the silence with music.

A symphony under the baton of the mattress whose driving ambition to become a conductor was being fulfilled, once and for all. Books and chairs, pencils and notebooks, baby buggies and bikes, they all gathered around the insomniac mattress, playing unthinkable dissonant chords. An increasing noise, loud and deafening, awful and incessant.

And then silence filled the room. Sweating and gasping for breath, my heart was pounding. It was only a nightmare. A few minutes later I kissed Marta gently and fell asleep for the tenth time that night.

Thought #44. Completely hooked?

Life was transformed with the advent of smartphones. People from my age group, whose upbringing was highly influenced by the availability of the first personal computers, regard this invention as a metamorphosis of those cumbersome machines that used to entertain us every now and then. However, the social transformation that has taken place in the last decade is beyond our wildest dreams.

We used to have play dates; we would spend a whole evening at the park playing soccer. The weekend was synonymous with going out and enjoying fresh air. Family gatherings and friends hanging out were a common sight. Married couples watched a film on TV to unwind from a stressed week at work. Now, it is highly improbable that we would stumble upon a group of children without a smartphone, or that we might see a couple just talking in a cafeteria. More and more elderly people use them every day to keep in touch with younger family members.

A smartphone is more than just a combination of a computer and a phone. The constant improvement of high-speed networks and handsets has resulted in sophisticated pieces of technology that monitor and control our daily life. Curiously enough, we barely use our smartphones to make calls. Instead, we prefer to communicate using multimedia chats, where immediacy and convenience set them apart.

The millennial generation has become hooked on technology. They will go to any lengths to get more gigabytes when their data plan is exhausted; even the most wayward of children will behave well for fear of having their smartphone or tablet confiscated. However, smartphones do have a plethora of advantages such as the ability to make us better understand the global problems that afflict our time. Most would agree that information equals informed decisions.

There is a long way to go to comprehend the profound changes that our societies have undergone and, consequently, we do not have any other option but to wait and be hopeful about what the future holds. In my opinion, humankind has evolved throughout millenniums and, by and large, our welfare has always improved so there is no point in dramatising the risks of this kind of addiction. Only time will tell.

Thought #43. Unreliable memories.

What’s your earliest childhood memory? And your most bitter-sweet one? Can you rekindle your great and joyful past events clearly? Maybe you can answer those questions easily, but that says little about your ability to recall facts and events as they really happened.

Apparently, a single long-term memory did not even exist as an entity. Our mind is not a library where a pile of books rests waiting for being loaned at will. Each life event is broken into several pieces that are stored in different places of our brain, sometimes redundantly. When we try to recall a memory, a process of reconstruction takes place.

It often happens that we find ourselves unable to conjure up a particular event. Probably, it would come later, unexpectedly. Then, if it is still relevant, we will make an unconscious effort to store it again, reinforcing the chances of a future successful retrieval. But memories are volatile, shifting and unstable.

The process of reconstruction can add irrelevant and misleading information to the original event, making new pictures of our past reality each time we trigger and recall them. Depending on the situation in which we try to remember something, our brain can take a wrong path and end up with a wrong set of pieces to build a past experience.

I would not go so far as to say that we can barely trust our brain storage system, but next time you want to remember something, think about the possibility of taking your memories with a pinch of salt and, if you have your smartphone, take a picture. It is worth a thousand memories.

Thought #42. Crocodile tears.

Crying emotional tears is a strange quirk of humankind. Sometime during the early development of the species, our ancestors had to contrive ways to express emotions in response to new forms of social interaction. However, social traits have been widely and deeply observed among other animal species and yet shedding emotional tears is considered uniquely human, making it so far impossible to reveal the mystery over why others animals do not show emotions using their lacrimal gland.

Apparently, this unique feature could be one of the answers to my dearest question: what makes us human. We are used to witnessing impressive emotional displays involving the act of crying. Despite being generally attached to sadness or sorrow, our ability to weep tears goes beyond these bounds. Angry tears can fill someone’s eyes when an upsetting situation is confronted. Similarly, bitter tears are suitable for disappointments. We even have invented the glamorous happy tears, especially reserved for great moments. The crocodile tears are aimed to make the viewer misleadingly react, which could be tantamount to the popular insincere smile.

Streams of tears have flooded our planet since time immemorial. Genuinely or not, we cannot deny that crying is a powerful tool to convey outward messages. Luckily, modern societies have positively evolved into a social system in which this communicative tool can be used not only by children and women but also by boys and men. But we must be able to turn away and hide tears because crying is also part of our intimacy and sometimes, the mere presence of a single tear rolling slowly down your cheek can make people willing to stop you by making the well-known and telltale “please, don’t cry” statement. I would go so far as to say that sometimes I love tears in my eyes, I need them all around but, I prefer to shed them in private. I cannot stand being told to stop crying. Emotions make us human.

Thought #41. Look on the bright side.

However hard you try, nothing seems to work. This is a situation which may sound all too familiar to most of people. When we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, especially when there are too many clouds on the horizon, it is challenging to make the right choice. A dilemma normally involves two equally undesirable alternatives. And still, if you look on the bright side, the fact of having the choice is by itself something good enough.

How we learn to make conscious decisions is probably the crucial question. In order to broaden your experience in the art of decision-making, take into account that fear is the worst enemy. Fear of change, particularly, has been broadly studied by psychologists and researchers all over the world. I would say that we normally tend to exaggerate the importance of our own dilemmas. Inwardly, it may seem the most important ones but, if you openly share your problem with, for example, a friend, a new point of view could melt your niggling worries.

Coldly considering the action of making decisions can improve the chances of success. You can weigh your alternatives, but most importantly, you must let your hair down and try to wind down. A put off decision is better than a hastily made. Sometimes, however hard you try, nothing will work until you manage to stand back from your quandary. This little space between you and your problems might be enough to discover some overlooked facts that could tip the balance firmly in favour of an apparently worse choice.