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You are not just an English teacher.

January 23, 2015

The worst class is always the “Three levels class”. I can handle two levels of English. I can handle a very naughty kid if the others have the same level. Last year I had this little kid who was horribly misbehaved, but since he was the only one in his class, it was quite easy to enlist the other as “teachers” to help him. His classmates felt proud of being “authority”, and he was piqued into working harder so he could catch up with them. I turned a class trouble into wonderful reviewing practice. I was pretty proud of that one.

But the horror is always the class with children of three different ages and three different levels of knowledge of the subject. If I follow the book, some get lost and others distracted. When I am trying to help the one who is one or two years younger, the others start chatting, standing up or moving through the room. When I try to advance a bit faster so the older ones don’t get bored and pay attention, the youngest gets lost.

It happened last year. This year, it’s happening again. You must have guessed at this point that this is the class which drove me to extreme lengths to get them motivated.

This year, the youngest one is a girl with crazy mood swings. I am quite the logical person, and I was taught to think logically from a young age. That is a problem because I am used to being surrounded with highly logical people. When this girl gets angry or sad or frustrated, there is nothing you can do with her: she will refuse to open her book, will refuse to participate, will voice her constant anger… If I try to reason with her, normally to no avail, her brother tells me: ‘Don’t bother, she’s like that’.

Unluckily, it is a rare class that does not see V suffering a severe disappointment about something, and therefore getting all moody, sulky, non-collaborative, defiant and proud of it all. As if the world owed her to stop just because she feels bad.

Her brother’s constant reminder whenever I try to reason with her, which apparently means “leave her alone, there’s nothing you can do about it and actually at home we have given up on that” makes me feel slightly less responsible, but not much. These are little kids: I know I must give them back with a higher knowledge of English than they had at the beginning of the year, but I guess their education as human beings is just as important.

Today I just had to tell her:

‘V, I just cannot go on interrupting the class whenever you feel sad or angry or annoyed. Nowadays people tolerate it from you because you are a child, but in the future you cannot do that. You cannot skip classes or exams because you feel bad. If you behave that way in a job, you will lose it, and a job is what allows you to eat.’ I didn’t know how to go on… this is an eight year old in a class with slightly older children. ‘Look, if you are mad and you just do this’ (I frown, look grumpy and cross my arms over my chest to illustrate the act of reinforcing the anger) ‘you just get madder and feel worse. I know it’s difficult, but maybe next time you are angry or sad you can try to … take a deep breath and do something. And at least not get even angrier. It’s hard, but you can try. Because in the end it’s going to be better for you. It doesn’t make you happy to stay two hours angry.’ And then I moved on, because it was too much for such a young girl… although at least she was listening to me intently, and looking and me with piercing eyes during the whole speech. But I had to go back to English (that speech had to be done in Spanish) and it was enough of an interruption.

When her brother said: ‘Teacher, you are not just an English teacher… You are… ‘ He didn’t find the words, but I felt stupidly grateful for the fact that he had noticed my efforts and acknowledged them. I tried to tone down the seriousness of the situation exclaiming: ‘Yay! I’m a philosopher! A philosopher is me!’

And then we went back to the map of Duke Vlad’s castle. Yes, I am letting them explore the castle, and I am drawing the place as they open doors and telling them what they find. So I can ask them where they are going to and what they do, and they can answer in English.

The poor things have found one hundred gold coins and and the castle armory, but haven’t ransacked the armory for all it’s worth.

Ah… the innocence of the first games…

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Melancholy power.

January 19, 2015

I know, I know, I haven’t updated or written in a while. I have unluckily fallen into one of my “melancholy” holes.

I wouldn’t say I am depressed. I do not want an emotional low to be confused with the terrible illness that is clinical depression.

I am feeling melancholic right now.

I don’t know why, but from time to time, something (in most cases a work of fiction) hits me emotionally and I spend the next three days in a very low emotional state, with an obsession I can’t shake off. I feel a cold weight in my chest, where the heart should be. It’s even leaning to the left side… It’s probably psychological, but still.

Because of the melancholic emotion, I feel… well, I wouldn’t say sad. When I am sad, I can try to put it into painting, or singing, and I try to cry if possible, to let it out. When I am melancholic I cannot let it go. It’s a really negative feeling. It stops me.

I feel low, passive, without any activity, and as if the world was in a haze… As if I was a bit dreaming and the world was not real enough. So it takes me a lot of time to cook anything, prepare for work… Work “wakes me up” from the slumber for a bit. But as soon as I get back, it’s like if part of my brain was asleep.

I don’t eat much. Hunger and want for food are gone. It’s really strange, I’ve always been addicted to sugar. Now, not only do I not feel cravings, it takes me hours to feel simple hunger. And even if I feel it, I don’t like putting food in. I do out of pure habit and for logical reasons. The voice in my head saying “if the stomach grumbles, you should eat”. I do, but only until stomach stops growling. It’s a really weird state of mind, really.

I just wonder what’s going on. It’s happened three times before. Twice after a work of fiction set me into the mode… The last one was in 2013 about a certain book, and I couldn’t take it out of my head. This time it’s again about the same book, and it’s stronger.

So I guess I’ll have to push all these emotions out in active form. This is going to take time and effort…

The sad thing is I have been painting lately, but I haven’t been able to finish any of the work. And then, the Melancholy struck in and I was just all ideas in my head and sadness in my chest, and a certain sense of urgency. I have about five painting projects halfway done.

This is abstraction number 011. I have been wanting to finish it for a long time, but haven’t been able to. For some reason, I love the “frame”, but dislike the piece.

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I guess I haven’t made up my mind about what goes in the middle of the canvas, and somewhat the item painted there is not to my liking… I don’t know what I’ll do with it. I’ll think about something. Maybe that will make things better.

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The Persnickety Artist, part I. Awful taste.

January 2, 2015
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Warning: this is a “First World Problems” article. It’s about some frivolity that irks me about art. But art is a frivolity. When scientists get into the room, I pay my respects and respectfully move aside. Mind you, I love art, and it’s hard to conceive life without it. But scientists make deaf people able to hear music, they make paraplegic people able to walk, they make some of the blind able to see paintings like mine, they eliminated smallpox as a threat to mankind. They keep us alive and healthy to be able to enjoy art. Science is a necessity, art is a luxury.
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That said, there’s nothing wrong with little luxuries. The problem is not frivolity, but superficiality, that is, to give non-important things the same importance and priority than really important things have. If you worry a lot about clothes because you love them, that’s OK. If you mortgage your house and skimp on food in order to pay for your clothes, you’re being superficial. The danger is not in enjoying what’s frivolous, but in giving it undeserved priority in your life.
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Straight to the point: when I read about the new rich or simply rich building or remodeling their dream houses, or simply any ad of a luxury house, I many times find that the bathroom or the swimming pool have been built with…
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… Carrara marble.
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Carrara marble quarry. Images politely “borrowed” from wikipedia.org. Which is why I donate to them whenever I can.*

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My reaction varies between rolling my eyes and clenching my teeth.
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I understand rich people spending money on… well, expensive things. The first one that comes to mind is the company of beautiful, extremely beautiful women (or men, although possibly that’s a secondary market). As long as the people who sell their bodies and company are not forced into it, I see no problem (if the person is forced into it, I have a HUGE problem, and fits of rage, and murderous thoughts, and lucubrations about the psychopathy of whoever gets a human being raped in order to get money…). But I digress, sorry. Back on track. Rich people like to buy luxurious stuff. The company of the gorgeous. Cars. Cars are an awful inversion, but if you really like to drive, I suppose a Lamborghini is a good treat. Jewels. They are quite useless and I don’t see the point, but if you can really throw money away, whatever rocks your boat. I understand why some people buy luxury. Everyone likes a treat from time to time, and if you can afford it, why not?
I understand people wanting to have good things. Understanding why they want the best things since they can afford them is sort of easy, too. The problem is when they start thinking that the most expensive thing is the best. That’s losing perspective.
I remember a movie with Greta Garbo in which she had a baby. She called a doctor because the baby had a sore skin in places. The doctor said: ‘The diapers are made of silk!’ She answered: ‘I want him to have the best‘. That was my first glimpse of what I now know as “best-ism”. Which is, some people’s fixed notion on buying or getting or applying or hiring what or whom they think is the best, regardless of whether that thing or person is really what they need. Silk is luxurious, gorgeous, shiny… but it’s not the appropriate material for diapers.
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When I see the hype with the Carrara marble as floor tiling, I want to facepalm so hard I might break my skull.
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So… What is Carrara marble?
(This is in case you don’t know if you do, please endure just this paragraph). It is simply the most famous marble in the world, widely recognized as “the best”, whatever that means. That’s why people with money want it in their houses: it is famed as “the best”.
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The question is, why is it famous as the best?
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Well, it is considered the best because Michelangelo Buonarroti, one of the best ten sculptors of all time (according to some, the very best: I would disagree because I almost literally adore Bernini, but Michelangelo gets easily into my top five) worked with marble from the quarry of Carrara, in Italy. He chose every piece personally, because according to him,”Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” He also is reported to have said “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Or “Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop.” Which means… he gave the utmost importance to the piece of marble he was going to use.
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So, yes, Carrara marble is a beautiful material, with lovely grey-blue hues. It had been used long before Michelangelo, by the ancient Romans. But that’s not why it’s famous. Does anyone know where the Romans got their porphyry or gold ornaments from? Not likely. Carrara marble is known as the best because Michelangelo used it… to make some of the best sculptures known to mankind. Because it’s a good marble for sculpting work.
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And, what are these nouveau rich doing? Financing a good sculptor? No. They are cutting these beautiful high-potential blocks of stone into thin slices and putting the loaves on their bathrooms and swimming pools.
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The same material that gave makind the Piety, David or the Moses is being used so rich people step on it and can think “hey, I bought the best!”
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ARgh. Just Argh.
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OK, let me show you why I feel indignation about this:
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I don’t care how rich you are, Thou Shall Not Use This For Your Bathroom Floor. Michelangelo’s Pietá, 1498-99.

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Artists complain they cannot afford it anymore.
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And tons and tons get out of the quarry every year to adorn floors and maybe walls.
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Well, here comes the rant: putting Carrara marble tiles on your swimming pool is only proof that you’ve got more money than taste. Marble in general is not that useful: it looks beautiful, but it’s difficult to clean, since many products will harm it. It requires polishing every three or four years. None of those are disadvantages any rich person should care about, I understand. It is a cold material: in hot places, it will help keep the house cool (so, acceptable for your house in Italy… not so much for your mansion in London). However, the fact that it’s highly slippery makes it absolutely inappropriate construction material for a swimming pool, or any place with lots of water. Yes, the bathroom. Polished marble. Bad idea.
Of course, they can cut it with a coarse surface, then it loses the slippery quality. But then it also loses most of its beauty. Marble shines beautifully when polished, make it coarse and for the result you’ll get you would do better with adorned clay tiles.
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In short, a better choice for a swimming pool is some anti-adherent material. And that’s only if we’re talking about regular marble.
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But those people are not using just any marble. They are using what could be impressive art works by hundreds of sculptors around the world, now and in the future.
Putting Carrara marble in the swimming pool is the equivalent to using the Mona Lisa as a curtain for the shower. It’s awful taste. It’s… giving the baby silk diapers because you want “the best”. It’s just not knowing what “good” is, believing fame equals quality. It’s not a good purchase at all.
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There, I said it. I know the world has much worse problems right now, but this is a little thing that irks me.
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Basically because most of the people who put Carrara on the floor are awfully rich. If they want to pay for the best marble, why don’t hey hire a really good sculptor and have a really good statue made of them? If the statue is good enough, that should grant them a name along with the Sforzas as great patrons of the arts.
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Some of those people probably have portraits made of them by painters. What a sculpture for the ages if someone like Bobbie Carlyle made those portraits in Carrara marble!
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Yes, probably they should spend their money helping people, maybe creating more jobs. You know and I know. But I can do little to avoid the injustice that some people are filthy rich, (except voting every four years and voting with my wallet almost daily). However, if über-rich people insist on having the best, the most luxurious stuff, couldn’t they do it efficiently? If the wealth of the world is going to be so unevenly distributed, at least we could get some good art of it.
I’d prefer good science, but I guess that’s even a more ridiculous thing to ask for.
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And it stupidly bothers me.
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* If there’s any problem with the use of the images, please tell me and I’ll remove them or credit with a more direct link.
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Unhappy in Christmas, or happiness is not compulsory.

December 25, 2014

I don’t mean to be hipster or non mainstream or original. I mean this from the heart.

I feel bad about wishing merry Christmas. I wish all the good people happiness all year round, and wishing Merry Christmas sounds redundant.

The problem is, some people are NOT happy during Christmas. Some work in sales, and they are four times as busy and exhausted during this time of the year. Some are unemployed, some are not happy in their marriages. Many divorces occur after Christmas time, when people are forced to see each other and buried tensions come to the surface.

Some people are not Christians… although I dare think Christmas has little to do with Christianity right now.

If you are happy, I wish you continue that way. But if you’re not, I just want you to know that it’s OK. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t feel forced. Happiness is not obligatory. Do not fake a smile and cheer up because it’s Christmas. Sometimes you need to be sad, or ashamed, or angry or furious. Better times will come and you can learn from your negative emotions and what caused them. But if you are sad or unhappy or pissed off or frustrated, and all the Christmas vibe is only making it worse for you… well, welcome. I guess I cannot help you, but if you want to write in the comments and tell me about it, I can lend an ear. I’m not good at listening. I have a friend who is a genius at that, I’m merely mediocre.

But I can try.

Because you have a right to be serious at the party. Or thinking alone and silently at the corner. Or being sad. Or unhappy because you remember your lost loved ones. Or feeling alone. Or frustrated because you cannot enjoy your introvert nature right now. Bored because you want to go back to your computer and to chat with people in the other side of the world with whom you feel a deeper connection than to your blood relatives on the table. Whatever.

If you are happy these days, with a loving family you yearned all year to see back, congratulations. May it go on like that.

If you’re not, here’s a virtual hug if you want it, and an ear to listen, or just a nod in your direction. I know you’re there, and you’re not alone. I don’t know if that’s worth anything, but at least it’s a little something I can give, for whatever it’s worth.

Because I know you’re there,

Feel-what-you-need-to Christmas, everyone

And may things get better

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Plutarch Heavensbee is working for the ISIS.

December 21, 2014
I normally follow international politics, but I am rarely interested in military strategy. However, my husband loves both politics and military strategy. He has been following all the revolutions in the near and middle East, from the epic revolutionaries at Myzrata (-Libya – that resistance movement deserves a series of movies) to the newborn ISIS.
What apparently American pundits, investigators and researchers are being fascinated with, is the ISIS ability to attract young jihadists from all around the world.
Well, looking at their new and improved propaganda, it seems they have learned a lot since their early static-camera shot videos with poor lightning and null glamour. Have a listen:
Wow! Saber-unseathing effects included! First time I heard this was in Manowar’s Power of Thy Sword. They have grasped the concept of “epic” versus the concept of “crummy”.
These people have experts and money guiding and helping them. That song was recorded in a studio with everything modern technology can offer. I guess it’s easy to understand why a lost young man, probably unemployed and with no hope for the future, would choose “ashes rather than dust” and join a radical movement in order to get something out of life. An epic moment. Something bigger than themselves, something glorious.
It’s harder to understand why a young woman would do the same, but the fact that they have female followers is a good indication on how well their propagandists did their homework.
I only wonder who is financing them. Not that I need to wonder long, it’s easy to answer my own question. I guess we all know more or less who is giving them the money directly. Indirectly, it’s partly me, whenever I use my car.
Thank God for Elon Musk. I don’t like to spend money in cars, but if I ever buy another one, it will be Musk’s 30.000 dollars car. Supposingly I have the 30.000 dollars, which is a huge supposition, but a girl can dream. Once we stop buying gas they will still try to kill us, but at least it will be with molotov cocktails.
And, in order to follow the old Spanish tradition of laughing out loud in the face of death:
P.D: In case you don’t know who Plutarch Heavensbee is, you can have a look at The Hunger Games franchise, although he appears in the second installment: “Catching Fire”, and the reference involved in this entry comes from Mockingjay, the book or the movies.
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Ten f***ing minutes

December 16, 2014

Recently I went to another city for the weekend, to a friend’s house. To play table-top games imitating the role-playing games of my childhood. The game is called Descent, and it has a bit of a Dungeons and Dragons vibe, though I still miss old plain table-top RPGs.

While playing, I mentioned the incident I wrote about here, in the entry called “Foul words”. It caught some of the other players’ attention. In for good measure, and in order to clarify up to which point the n-word is taboo, I made a comparison with the F-word, (also called the F-bomb), and the c-word, (far more widely accepted in the British isles than it is in the USA). In the end and after a bit of historical background, I managed to convey that at least in the USA, the f-word is beeped out in many TV programmes, the c-word is extremely, enormously, tremendously rude, and the n-word is absolutely taboo: even some black people don’t approve of other black people saying it. The other players were interested, asked questions and in the end found the situation and the cultural differences quite fascinating.

What do you think happened?

The next time a bad boss beat us up, it got called “nigger” (it was a white figurine of a fantasy monster). Someone tried to one-up the insult, and said “nigger and cunt”, to general amusement.

I don’t know if it was because I’d been reading a lot of English at the time or because in the end you sort of absorb a bit of the culture of the language you study, but I felt a bit shocked (as much as a Spaniard can be). I just couldn’t help thinking: “Ten minutes. I said these words were taboo ten minutes ago, and that’s all it took them to start dropping them at the first chance”… Of course, it was a friendly setting, highly informal, and we were almost role-playing (role-playing is a great destructor of inhibitions)… but still. Ten f***ing minutes.

Welcome to Spain. “Did you know this word is taboo?” It’ll be generously applied to the first inconvenience in a quarter of an hour. As a joke. You might not want to say you find something offensive here. There is a sport out of trying to offend people. The game is, people start saying what you find most offensive, and if you feel offended, you lose. Actually, catholics and christians learn to not get offended and shrug blasphemies off quickly: the more offended you get, the more people try to anger you. “Don’t feed the troll” is basic behaviour for any believer with an atheist friend. Getting angry at these exploits only causes more desire to punch more verbal holes in the easily-offended heart. There are also contests of sexist jokes from men to women and from women to men. Gypsies also get their share of verbal abuse, at least in informal settings. Black or Asian people do not get scot free, although of course they have less material to be teased with: they’ve been here less time. Spaniards are trying to catch up anyways.

If you think that’s offensive, let me introduce you to a rarely used insult: “Perro judío”, which translates as “Jewish dog”. I’ve never heard this one used against people (after all, being Jewish is nothing negative). It is normally used as a referred insult, such as people saying “You can call me a slut, a whore, Jewish dog… but you can never call me false”. Or “he started insulting Pedro and he called him everything, from Jewish dog and up”. So, in a sense it’s considered the worst insult, but only in narrative: it’s not actually used as an insult. I suppose there are very few Jewish people in Spain, and I don’t think that would be an insult nowadays. It was historically, back in the times when blood purity was in vogue and you actually could lose civil rights or social standing for having Muslim or Jewish ancestry. (Note: everyone had Muslim or Jewish ancestors, nobles included).

I guess many people out of Spain would find that one offensive. However, it’s probably not a good idea for me to tell. Or I bet that the Deep Ones in the next Call of Chtulhu game will get called Jewish dogs. Despite being alien fish. Because you know, the point is breaking taboos.

I guess there’s nothing like a few centuries of government sanctioned catholicism (inquisition included) to make blasphemy a national sport.

I’ll go on some other day. On a different topic, someone faved one of my paintings in my Etsy shop, and I was stupidly happy about it. I guess I haven’t lost the ten year old girl who feels all warm inside all day after a pat in the head 🙂

https://www.etsy.com/es/listing/202260546/abstraction-005-warm-colors?ref=shop_home_active_6

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My cat ate your homework.

December 14, 2014

That’s something I’ve had to say to some of my pupils once or twice, when they received their writings back with my annotations and some holes and bites. I’ve learned to not let the homework I’m correcting unsupervised on the table. Just as normally she drinks so little water that I fear she might suffer from dehydration, but she LOVES to drink from the glass where I clean my brushes (I don’t know what acrylics and watercolors have, but they must taste like cat’s cola), normally she doesn’t touch my sheets of paper, but she has a habit of biting my students’ homework. Maybe because I pay lots of attention to those? Do those pieces of paper contain some chemicals that remind her of stress or fear? I wonder if someone is investigating it somewhere…

Meet Celes, the homework-destroyer:

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This photograph catches her personality perfectly. I wish I could think of some interesting meme with it.

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This is from when I gave her the present of a cardboard box. I’m done with spending money on toys… she loves boxes.

Meanwhile, I’ve moved on to bigger projects. This one is taking far more time than I had foreseen, but it’s going to look great when it’s over (the longer side is more than a metre long). It’s acrylic on canvas, and this time it’s big. The photograph looks terrible because of the light and the mobile camera, but I’ll do a proper one once the piece is over. I bet it’s going to look great:

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