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The comfort of Classic movies

“Cowboy movies are simpler than a yo-yo’s mechanism”, as the father of my good friend said. He sadly passed last fall, a victim of the same type of cancer that is consuming my dad now. 

They both belong to the same generation, born in the early 1940s in a Spain that just got out of a devastating and bloody Civil War. Most of the kids in my dad’s generation experienced hunger and scarcity. The result was that by the time the economy turned somewhat around and these kids were young men in the 1960s, still living in a Catholic dictatorship with very few tolerated pleasures, abundant food and drink were at the epicenter of all activity worth spending time on. Perhaps with the exception of going to the movies. 

I remember dad’s stories about the time when there was no TV, only radio. And when going to the movies was a special event. It was a window to the world, even when censorship was selecting what you were looking at. My dad’s view of the world was shaped in some measure by all those Classic movies from another time, when men’s references were  John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Peck or Charlton Heston, to name a few. 

I feel much sympathy for the Spanish baby boomers, they got the shortest straw. None of them experienced real freedom in their youth, women’s lib never arrived, the hippy movement was extraterrestrial to them if they ever heard of it. By the time there was any real consciousness, protest or revolt against the Spanish establishment in the second half of the seventies, most of these guys were already married and with small kids to feed and living life like their parents. And sometimes in total inner contradiction, torn between the traditional expectations of a rigid society and Bob Dylan’s the times they are a changin’.

Anyhow, my father loves movies. As soon as the video appeared as a household commodity in Spain, he bought a VHS AKAI machine and recorded all kind of films from the television, which we then would watch, particularly on weekends. Bilbao is a rainy city, so a fair amount of my childhood was spent watching old movies at home, which turned me into a bit of a Classic movie nerd. While other kids my age watched “Ghostbusters”, my idea of comedy was Hepburn and Tracy’s “Adam’s rib.”

Today we are back to basics. There is nothing more important than what is going on at this very minute. We try not to think about tomorrow, nor the day after. We don’t make plans. Our days are a series of routines mastered over the past months, only disrupted by the occasional visit to the hospital’s ER. These routines make my father feel safe and calm. 

Like our daily dose of Classic movies. There is something comforting about the memories these films evoke, about the associations, the storylines, the format. They sooth my dad, distract him from his troubles, allow him a break from his physical and emotional strain.  

When it’s movie time, everything else gets shut out and for some moments he gets the freedom he has always wanted. We’ll keep ’em comin’, dad. Just for you. 

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Why I cannot be arsed about FB etiquette and other forms of social theater

Yes, most people with Internet access have a digital social life. Obviously digital social lives have rules, and there is some consensus about what is good and bad behavior on social media. 

In reality I find the rules should not differ much from offline social life. Basic rules of politeness and courtesy apply, like “do onto others as you would like done onto you”. However this is not always the case. Often social media platforms host a rougher tone which would be unacceptable in face-to-face interactions. Likewise, we place a set of expectations on social media relations that we would not dream of placing in real life interactions. In real life we chose when we hear from each other or share a special moment, like a night at the movies. We might not see each other for a while after that. We decide when and where we interact and are not obliged to follow each other around 24 hours a day. Yet we expect full access and attention on social media, and feel rejected or offended if we do not get it whenever we want it. 

One thing that particularly bugs me about social media is the implicit obligation to befriend someone if they invite you. Because they are colleagues, acquaintances you like, they have a relationship with someone close to you, etc. I have fallen for it quite a few times. After a while, the number of Facebook friends explodes and you find your social life is taken over by peripherical persons that you are either not ready or not willing to have daily updates from. 

Facebook provides us with the opportunity to hide posts from people so we only see posts from those we are really interested in. We can also filter our posts to target the persons we really want to share with. And so the social deception begins. We can pretend to be friends and like everyone, we can be nice. What a bunch of polite hipocrites!

I actually not only like but care about a lot of people. I have long-lasting, deep, fun, healthy relationships with people, and those are the ones I want to prioritize on Facebook too. These relationships are usually valuable because they were built on trust, genuine interest and many personal interactions over the years. 

When I have befriended someone mainly out of a sense of obligation I have regretted it every time. I then had 2 options: hide and filter or withdraw and unfriend. For me the only right option is to be truthful and unfriend. To me this only means: I am not ready yet, I need more time to care enough. I probably like you, but I’m not ready for us to be following each other around 24/7.

So, dear Facebook friend, if you don’t care enough to see my posts or share with me, please unfriend me. I will understand. And then who knows? We might even have a chance for building a real, trusting relationship with each other in future. 

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3-6 months

3-6 months is my father’s prognosis. He has an advanced inoperable pancreatic cancer. We got the news recently and we are still trying to accept it and cope.  “Let’s see how we manage this closing act”, my father said to me while in hospital. 

Managing the closing act is not turning out to be easy. My dad jokingly remarks that one should die two or three times in order to learn and master how to die well. It weighs on him when he is unable to live up to his own high expectations. He has always sought to excel at what he does. When you are a man of order, you have a hard time accepting that you are no longer in control of the situation.  

But what does dying well mean anyway? The measure of dying or living well is individual. For me it’s about authenticity and being coherent with your personal values. But I guess it can be about many things depending on who you are, being true to oneself, dignity, character, independence, relationships…

The process of dying sends you into a cocoon, where the only thing you can consider are your own most immediate needs. You become irritable, you lash out at people and loose your grip, especially with your closest and dearest. You also start detaching yourself from life. You stop doing the activities you once loved, like reading or writing. 

Though we have seen each other every year, my father and I have lived apart in different countries for 20 years. Thinking back on 2015, it’s been incredibly fortunate that we got to see each other more than usual due to a combination of family occasions, vacations and business trips to Spain. 
We enjoyed the opportunity to be together, chat, go to the market, cook some of our favorite meals and watch Classic movies. 

 
One of the highlights of last autumn’s visits was going to the theater together to see Euripides’ Greek tragedy “Elektra”. When the play finished, we agreed that the Greeks had human nature all figured out several thousand years ago 😊

During the October vacation, we went for some scenic drives together, among others to Torre Loizaga to see a great collection of veteran luxury cars.   

Dad was already then not feeling very well. He had trouble sleeping and an uneasy stomach, the sensation of being bloated and full. He was tired. The doctor said it was probably flatulence and prescribed something against the symptoms. Without further investigation of the root causes, dad was put on the waiting list to see a specialist. 

Eventually the specialist did see him in the middle of december, diagnosed him with a bacteria and prescribed an antibiotic treatment.  

Next time we saw each other again was at Christmas. I was shocked. My father had lost about 12-15 kgs, was extremely thin, weakened and exhausted. Friends and family had prompted him to see the doctor or go to ER but he wouldn’t hear of it. He had just taken the antibiotic treatment, he said. It was a 10 day treatment and now things would turn around. On December 27th, I was done waiting for an improvement and took him to hospital to ER together with my little sister and her husband. 

Dad had severe pains and could not stand up. We sat him on a wheel chair and waited for our turn. We waited what was an eternity for someone in his condition, from 5 p.m to 2 a.m. After the first few exams, my dad got finally admitted into hospital in the middle of the night. 

Several days of tests followed, including a scanner. The scanner showed a tumor in his pancreas. A sample biopsy was still pending, but we were sent home without knowing when it would be scheduled. A miserable New Year’s Eve followed where dad was still in pain and depressed. 

On January the 4th, we decided to go back to ER. If nothing else, dad’s pains needed to be put under control. This time the hospitalization lasted a couple of weeks. The first biopsy sample was not valid, so a new sample had to be extracted on the second week. Complications to his health emerged that also needed medical attention. 

 

Finally the results came back and the doctor was direct when breaking the news. The hours and days that followed were very intense for my father, as well as for the family and close friends. 

I know that my father wishes to die with dignity, at home and surrounded by his daughters. He wishes to die sooner than later a death without pain and being as little a burden as possible.  

I am a 42 year old woman. I understand that death is a natural part of life. I understand that this will come to all of us, and now has arrived for my dad with a warning, giving us all the opportunity to say goodbye. 

Although I do not wish his suffering, I do not feel ready to part. My dad is dependent now, so I moved in with him to support him through this process. I feel that it is a necessity for me too, as I intuitively know that being with him now will help me when he passes. I am extremely thankful that my employer has allowed me this time off, and that I have my partner and childrens full support. 

I understand my father’s remark about dying three times. We are constantly learning how to deal with and adapt to new situations in life. We have never tried this before. And all we can attempt is to learn fast and try to do our best. In that sense we are all novices. At least I know I am. 

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Old friends

When does someone become an “old” friend? I guess for some it takes 50 minutes, for others 50 years to consider a friendship established. 

My high school friends and I have a 27 year old history together. After finishing high school we all went in different directions, both professionally and geographically. Being able to meet up has become increasingly complicated. However we have started to plan one reunion per year where we spend some time together away from our partners, kids and daily responsibilities. 

This year we stayed at a large rural house in the north of Navarra region. The house was located in the small village of Garralda. We arrived to the house late on the Friday evening and entered the living room and its lit fireplace. We felt very welcomed and after a light dinner with tapas, red wine and a long chat, we were ready for bed. 

On Saturday morning we put our trekking shoes and running tights on and went to the Irati Forest. We walked a 10 km route around the Irabia reservoir, then had the delicious menu of the day at a local restaurant for 15 euros. 

In the late afternoon we went to Roncesvalles and got smitten with the spirit of Pilgrimage. I think most of us have dreamt of walking the Pilgrim route and we began to make plans to walk part of the Camino de Santiago together with our families next year. 

On Sunday we went on a scenic drive to enjoy a beautiful view from the Mirador de Ariztokia and from there to the picturesque village of Ochagavia. I had previously been there with my parents and sisters as a child and was excited to return. I love the big white houses with red tile roofs and flower filled balconies and heavy wooden doors. The entrance to the older houses are beautifully paved with grey river stones. 

  
Today this is no longer allowed in new construction so as to protect the natural environment of the river.  

We took the opportunity to have lunch at the local Sidreria Kixkia, where we tasted the local cider directly tapped from the wooden barrel and indulged in the exquisite meat, peppers stuffed with cod and fresh salads. We had a feast!

We enjoyed a wonderful time in beautiful surroundings. Our weekend together adds more happy memories to the history of our friendship. 

I can’t wait to next year’s reunion! 

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Cleaning up

The family & I have enjoyed a long weekend at a pretty spot in Denmark called Møn. We have walked down the longest stairs in Denmark to the beach by Møns Klint, and walked back up again. That was 497 steps times 2, it was tough on my old knee, but I tried to pace myself and took 2 small breaks on my way up. 

  

The kids loved our visit to the impressive Knuthenborg Safari Park, and we enjoyed the sunset at the beach by Klintholm Harbour.  

 My right knee resented all the weekend activity, so today when I attempted to clean up by the hedge at home, I soon had to turn to a chair in order to avoid kneeling. 

 

Removing the grass and weed that had grown among the hedge was a long overdue task at home. I enjoyed doing this, while listening to Classic French songs that remind me of my grandparents, my parents, and my childhood. I was listening to Georges Moustaki, Françoise Hardy, Charles Aznavour, and one of my favorites Edith Piaf. 

Lovely music to end a long weekend break. Have a great week everyone!

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Test run and re-start

Short recap: I got my knee injured last year in March, got surgery last October and have not run for 13 months. It’s been boring and demotivating not to be able to run! 
So finally today I decided to go for a test run. It was a perfect spring day, and I went for a very short run with my daughter. I really enjoyed her company and her support. We stretched, ran, and by the end of it I walked back home. I would rather be too careful than risk not being able to run at all again. 
The test went quite well, in that my knee seems ok. At least it’s not worse. I would like to have a short run every other day for the next week and see how I’m doing. 

I hope all goes well and I can re-start my running. I have lowered my ambition level; it’s not about half or full marathons for me anymore: all I want is to do really is be able to run – even if only shorter distances – for the rest of my life. 

This little fellow came by the garden the other day – this is one of the reasons that I love where I live. 

Have a nice run everyone! 

 

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The liberation of conscious choices

Procrastination, otherwise known as displacement activity, is translated as “overspringshandlinger” in Danish. Most of us know it well, as we procrastinate every time we have too big or complex a project ahead of us, or if the duty is simply not interesting enough. Procrastinating would be the mechanism to postpone the discomfort associated with the task. Diffusing to 100 alternative activities is also tempting in this situation. 

As I grow older, I am becoming more aware of the importance of using my time if not wisely at least consciously. This goes for other consumption than time, like energy, food, money, social media, etc. 

I cannot claim that I succeed in restraining from procrastinating or consuming in excess of what would be my best interest, however something happens after 40. Getting to the middle of life gives a new perspective, a new mindset. 

There is a realization that NOW is the time to choose consciously and let go of all that is not necessary or is in disharmony with who I am. The restlessness and curiosity that characterize me are not gone, but with time I have become more rooted and focused – and learned to choose something and let go of something else. In Danish you actually “choose to” (at vælge til) and you “choose from” (at vælge fra), which makes much sense. It’s logical and coherent. 

For many years I lived in the illusion that I could have it all, and this pursuit made me deeply unhappy. I wanted to be everywhere, I wanted to do everything. Something had to give, as indeed it did.  I have spent the past 20 years burning my candle on both ends, attempting to do everything at once. As soon as I let go of the illusion and focused on what really mattered, things started falling into place. I began to feel content, I began to feel at home. 

And so the journey into consciousness continues. I have peripherically become acquainted with mindfulness and yoga and I find them interesting. I would like to dedicate more time to meditation and cultivate the balance in my life. 

Everything is much easier when you discover what you want and who you really are. 

I would encourage everyone to liberate themselves. It’s a choice.