Category Archives: Culture, lifestyle and emotions

Thought #59. Is art facing a major crisis?

An good artist is somehow like a great speaker. We can draw a comparison between the process of writing a compelling speech and that of creating a great piece of art; they are both perfect examples of daunting tasks. Why do artists take the centre stage with criticism?

Artists and speakers usually face an uphill struggle to convey the message aspired to. That is because, in order to communicate effectively, it is not enough to have something to say. In fact, the message does not necessarily have to be clear as day. Sometimes, it is slightly obscure and that is perfectly suitable. However, if speeches and pieces of art are not charged with genuine emotion, they will not be worthwhile at all.

Apart from emotion, some technicalities are required. Whereas a speaker must choose the words carefully and put them together using the appropriate register and tone for the occasion, an artist, say a painter for example, would go through colours, materials and techniques to build up the picture that, eventually, will contain the wordless message in which his creation is based on.

The crux of the creative process, though, is that the language used in art changes rapidly and, therefore whatever is a craze today, it may not be tomorrow. Our taste in art evolves ceaselessly over the time in marked contrast to our language preferences that tend to be far more stable.

Precisely because it is language the means that artists have to do their job, when a new generation emerges, art can become inscrutable for the layman. The lack of connection between artists and the public has little to do with the quality of their work, though. We cannot blame the public either. It all goes back to communication.

For a message to be transmitted between A and B, both need to talk and understand the same language. Sometimes artists create they own new one and it takes time to disclose it. Sometimes they get stuck in the past and are unable to adapt to current trends. But regardless of that, there exist exclusive pieces of art which are atemporal and stand the test of time, language and contemporary criticism.

Thought #56. Fight like cat and dog.

Dear Reader,

How’s it going? It’s been ages since I’ve heard from you. I have to confess that your e-mail left me flabbergasted. I still remember when I told you about Sucre: your eyes out on stalks and you saying “Over my dead body my wife would ever bring home a pet”. Anyway, I’m glad you have finally eaten humble pie. Ha ha ha.

The thing is that you are torn between a cat or a dog. This poses a genuine dilemma for you and your family. Don’t get me wrong. First of all, owning a pet is a great idea but also takes a lot of time and effort. I’m sure that you would’ve already thought about it. What you may not know is that unlike cats, dogs do need to take loads of exercise.

If you want to have a healthy dog, be ready to get up early in the morning and start your day with a bracing walk. The first word that a dog learns is “street”. They love going out. And how! Of course, it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or not, they will never say no. Another long walk after work will do the trick most of the times.

Don’t you want to know the best thing? When you come back weary from work, knowing full well that the dog will be waiting patiently, ready to cheer you up the moment you crossed the door. It just so happens that I recently read an article on whether cats or dogs love us more. It’s little wonder that dogs beat cats hands down. They have been testing the levels of oxytocin after having been playing along with dogs and cats. I’ll send you an email with a link later.

When it comes to going to the vet, it doesn’t make any difference. You must take them once a year to have them vaccinated. If a dog, you should also give them some drugs to deal with parasites, especially in summer.

The most important thing, though, is that a pet is a new family member. They deserve your attention and care as much as your children and your wife. They are creatures of routines and don’t have a clue about your life outside home. For them, you’re the most important thing and will bond with whoever they feel you like.

So, as you must have imagined. I would definitely go for a dog. A good and companionable friend that will never let you down and will always push you into a healthier way of life. A win-win deal! Soon you’ll fight like cat and dog with your family for having your own time with your dearest pet.

See you soon,

Alberto.

Thought #54. An old-fashioned tradition.

The advent of beauty contests (or their American counterpart, beauty pageants) goes back to 1839, when Georgiana Seymour was crowned the “Queen of Beauty” at the Eglinton Tournament, which took place in the UK. Nevertheless, it was not until the 1880s that they became incredibly popular. These contests soon became ingrained as a tradition and, despite the efforts of the feminist movement, the craze for idealizing a certain type of feminine figure (euphemistically called a ‘beauty canon’) remained on the rise until well into the twenty-first century. The question is whether this kind of parades does any favours for contestants in particular, and for women in general.

To begin with, we must consider who are behind these contests. Apparently, these events are patronised by ridiculously rich businessmen. They will go to great lengths to keep them going, especially seeing how well beauty contests stand the test of time and, surprisingly, because it brings about the virtual collapse of any venture aimed to tackle discrimination against women. Feminism ends up depicted as bigoted whereas beauty contests come up trumps, projecting a liberal and clean-cut image. Of course, sponsors shell out huge amounts of money to build up a false image of the opposition groups: for example, discussion panels on TV, radio and papers abound with deliberately appointed journalists literally covering all age groups and time slots.

It is little wonder that feminist attempts to campaign against this practice fell on deaf ears. I imagine that such a cherished and deep-rooted a tradition would take decades to defy. In fact, governments and the general public have yet to develop the moral awareness that a change of this magnitude would demand. It goes without saying that we are already starting to see a fading of this craze, but we are far from its end. Only by raising awareness of this neglected issue would we able to combat such a nonsense. In general, we cannot help but reject any liberal remark defending beauty contests on account of liberalism. Liberalism does not equal male chauvinism. We have to say it aloud over and over. Male chauvinism does not equal liberalism

Back to the question raised before, obviously being the “Queen of Beauty” is pointless. Human beings grow old and beauty has a perishable nature. How on earth are we going to create a better future if we are literally like Bill Murray on Groundhog Day, doomed to relive the same old-fashioned and degrading treatment day in and day out. If only we could shift the focus from outward appearances to what is on the inside. What about a beautiful mind contest then? I am completely sure that it would attract far more people around the globe. And do not get me wrong, it would not be restricted to women. Gender equality requires a level playing field.

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 #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 #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 #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.

Though #35. For my own amusement.

I enjoy the solitude of life. There is only so much one can learn by itself. Do not get me wrong, sometimes I can be a good human companion too (ask my dog if you cannot believe me). Do not ask my wife though, she should be tagged as a limited edition human being because she is the only person that really understands my idiosyncrasy. I deeply adore Marta.

I often ask myself big questions. At any moment, you could find me wandering about, listening to my preferred classical “hit”, feeding my brains with some food for thought, aloof. I would like to say that I probably have nothing against you. My rudeness is involuntary, totally unintentional.

What makes us humans? I recently discovered a BBC Radio podcast in which the presenter, Jeremy Vine, and a guest, share half an hour trying to figure out the answer. At the very beginning of each programme, Jeremy asks the guest the question, which is answered as merely foreplay in the form of an essay. After that, Jeremy plays 30 seconds of the guest’s favourite song and they start a conversation, sometimes a monologue, in which Jeremy dissects the ideas presented in the essay and developed during the programme.

Questions like “what makes us humans” are the kind of gambit that I use for my own amusement. Boring, you may think. Ok, I understand it may sound ridiculously boring but I love it. After having been thinking about those big questions, life is simply less harsh, cosier, better.

For example, imagine that I have received unfair treatment by someone that really means a lot to me. Instead of playing the blame game, I do prefer to think that to err is human. Forgive and forget or a way better, just forget. That simple? Do I really need 500 words to say that? Let me give you another example. Instead of blaming someone for not paying enough attention to your needs, why you do not just enjoy the solitude of life and do whatever you like, for your own amusement. It seems quite fair, doesn’t it?

Boredom is healthy. Being slack is often a source of inspiration, an opportunity to grow, to improve. Stress, on the other hand is harmful, at least for me. When stressed, I cannot think clearly and in my opinion, thinking is what makes us human and I do not want to be another kind of animal.