Nov 21, 2011

Meaning of life

I can't sleep. Sometimes I just don't feel like going to sleep until I can't stay awake any longer. So it's 5.29 am of a Monday. I'm working today... and I'm listening to a beautiful song repeatedly, I just heard it in a movie. I think my life has changed so much in the last few days, I feel a deep sense of humility I've never felt before... but real humility: a deep sense of respect and appreciation for my life. Much of what we say we believe and live for stays in words, in a narrative that we tell to ourselves, but we don't feel it deeply. I wish people would value and strive to be kinder, much kinder, without expecting kindness in return. I wish people were more compassionate. I wish people would strive to understand the other one, just a little bit better. Things could be so simple, life could be so simple for all of us: I try to be simple in everything I do and say, I like people to understand what I mean, I try to think in a simple way, in a straight forward manner. 5.49 am and I'm secretly happy, what's the point to live if we don't do what we really want to do. The problem is of course that most of the time either we don't know what to do or we can not afford the luxury of even thinking about the things we want to do. And I seriously wonder, whether I live the life I want to live... but life is a journey, there will be happiness and there will be sorrow, there will be playfulness and there will be pain, there will be success and there will be failure, we will be afraid and we will feel confident. In one hundred years every single person I know including myself will not exist any more. How many people have you ever inspired? How many people have you fearlessly loved? I want to give myself one hundred percent, do you? I have to answer two important emails today, and I wish I could write some more; but since I haven't slept I'll probably feel my head foggy until I get my good eight hours of sleep. Do you feel that your life is awesome? Do you understand that at the end whether your life is awesome or not, it all depends on the perspective you have of your own life? This is it, it is now, it is right now, at this very moment. It is at this very moment when you know that your life is awesome. I've met people so amazing, I've met people so smart, I've met people so beautiful, and they don't even know it. And it is very important to acknowledge yourself, acknowledge your existence as something positive, or magnificent, or miraculous. Would you offer one day or your life to alleviate the pain of someone who needs it? Would you exchange life for a day with a starving child? We all have to live through tough moments, some of us have endured more hardships than others. But pain, sorrow, and misery come in many shapes... starvation or loneliness, what's more painful? I'm so grateful, I'm truly am. Would I be still happy even if everything I have would be taken away from me? Would you be happy? We are so dishonest to ourselves. I believe the secret to happiness resides in patience, kindness, generosity, empathy. Impatience leads to precipitated and impulsive decisions, in other words bad decisions. Kindness means that you respect life, that you respect others, that you respect yourself. Generosity is giving everything you are. Empathy is the opposite of being judgemental, it is seeing deeper on a person's heart, it is understanding beyond the words said. 6.30 am and I should stop here... I don't really know what I should do now, should I sleep? Should I stay awake?

Nov 9, 2011

Languages and I

My relationship with languages is a weird one, I think: love and hate here and there.

My mother tongue is Spanish as you might or might not know, but the way I use it may be a little bit different than usual. Not different enough to come across as mad or psychedelic, but different enough for people to comment about the particularities of my speech every once in a while and ever since I was a kid. 

At the beginning, when I was a small kid I was pretty cold, serious, and more formal than the norm. My usual conversations would start like this:

Relative or family friend: Tani how are you?
Tanai: fine.
R: What have you been up to?
T: Nothing.
R: Tell me, what have you been doing today?
T: Nothing.
R: And how was school?
T: Fine.
R: And what did you do?
T: Nothing.

People found this funny, for me they were totally honest answers.

When I was about seven years old I got the nickname el Pequeño Larousse Ilustrado, or the Small Larousse Illustrated, which is a huge dictionary. I got it from some family friends and I never understood why they called me like that back then... never made much sense to me but I guess the way I spoke seemed somewhat unusual to the listeners. I would have certain prescripted sentences that I would use in certain specific situations like "control your emotions". So, imagine a ten years old kid saying to a couple of adults having an animated conversation with a patronizing voice and gesture: "please, control your emotions".

Later on, I've had a vew people complimenting the way I spoke, which tells me that indeed I sometimes may have sounded atypical.

Spanish is a language that I love, I considered it an extraordinarily beautiful and vast. Today I still think is beautiful and vast, but so is English, French, Chinese, and many other languages.

I remember when I was in high school, we had to study Spanish grammar and structure: we had to learn things like counting syllables and where to put the accents, and the subject, the verb, the adverbs, the nouns, and the like. It was never obvious to me, I still remember that I couldn't understand, I remember it very clearly for some reason. Little I knew that four or five years later I would attempt to write sonnets and other forms of rhymed poetry. I always took writing seriously since I was a teenager and that led me to study Spanish a bit deeper, so that I could write correctly. The funny thing is that you never get the feeling that you actually write correctly. I would sit at the dining table at home in Bogotá, with some white sheets of paper, a pencil, and the Small Larousse Ilustrated, and every sentence and word I wrote I would look it up to make sure it was the right meaning.

The second language that I was destined to confront was Latin. This was because my aunt used (and still uses to) visit a Catholic church that would celebrate the Mass in the traditional style, so pretty much everything was said in Latin. This was when I was really small, around six or seven; I thought it was cool, so I learned a few prayers and responses in Latin and I still remember a few. Later on when I was a teenager I borrowed the books that my aunt had from a Latin course she had taken and tried to teach myself but I lost motivation pretty quickly.

Then it was English. I had seven years of English lessons at school; during the first four the only thing I remember is that I sucked at it. I remember failing my tests, one after the other, I just didn't understand English for some inexplicable reason. I still wonder how I passed the English class at the end of the year. When I was about thirteen, my parents decided that school was not enough and sent me to take additional English lessons to some private English teaching institute in my hometown. I must confess that at the beginning I didn't go willingly, I was forced to go. In any case, it was probably one of the most transcendental decisions they made and that would have such positive consequences in my life. I remember that before the class I used to go to play video games at the shopping mall where the institute was located, didn't do my homework, and I cared very little about the course. So I failed the first semester, and I'm glad my mom didn't give up on me. When I failed the first semester something changed within me, finally I understood, finally English started to make sense to me, finally I saw the pattern, all of a sudden I could see the resemblance to Spanish... never again I failed an English test in my entire life. I attended the institute for two more years and at the end I was pretty much able to read without much problem. This was crucial because at the University I went most of my class books where in English and most of the material I read was in English... from the most basic general biology book I had when I was a freshman until the last day of university. If I had not taken the extra lessons, I would have not chosen English as the optional subject during the national examinations, which means that my final score could have been lower, it means that I may not have been able to study at the University of los Andes, and thus the events that brought me to Sweden to get a PhD and then to France may have never happened.

At University of los Andes I had to take two more years of English lessons and in order for me to get the Biology degree I had to pass the TOEFL exam with at least 213 points out of 300. I didn't do as well as I thought I would do, I failed the listening part and I scored just 217 points... I barely made it.

By the time I finished university I was able to read and write in English but my conversational skills were close to none, mostly because of lack of practice. The practice would start in Sweden... at this moment I decided that if English was to become my main language I would have to reach a level that could allow me to express myself as well as I did in Spanish. In order to accomplish that everything I did had to be done in English, from googling a subject or reading the news on the internet, to my inner dialogue: I would take notes in English, I would count stuff in English, I would become one with the English language. If I was going to buy a book online that was written originally neither in English nor Spanish, I would get the English translation. I still keep that until this day.

Today I still have a lot of things to learn, my English is far from perfect, I still make mistakes that only someone that didn't learn English from birth would do, both writing and speaking. I would like to live for a while in an English speaking country to further improve my language. I guess it is a lifetime of learning, as it is also for my Spanish: that is, if I want to become a successful writer in either language.

After English I met Swedish. I started studying Swedish before I left Colombia, I managed to photocopy a fifty years old little book to study the basics before getting there. When I was in Sweden and during the first months I went to Swedish classes but I dropped out. I kind of assumed that I was going to learn Swedish eventually... I got comfortable with English and didn't really bother to put some effort into the local language. About four years later I decided to restart Swedish lessons but I again dropped out after just two months. It is sad that after five years I was not able to speak it. I feel a bit guilty, though I didn't make any less friends or had any less fun as if I had been perfectly fluid. It is a strange thing nonetheless.

My experience with French is not better, this time I didn't even registered for some classes. I had some tapes, about ten hours of listening material to learn the very basic and I didn't even finish the fourth hour. It's been now almost two years and people freak out when I say that I don't speak any French despite the time. In Sweden people were more understanding, they never freaked out until around past the third year.

When people ask me (particularly other expats) why I have not learn French or Swedish, I used to invent some excuse. Now I just tell the truth: “frankly I haven't (or didn't) put any effort into it”, I say “I'm not really motivated, it's not really in my top priorities list”. Many fail to understand that for some reason, and I can see sometimes they are a little perplexed, even perhaps a bit offended. I don't blame them, they might feel a little thorn in their hearts, after all they did put the effort into learning the local language... how dare I say such thing! So they look at me with a little scorn dissimulated with a polite smile. They don't know a thing...

Probably it won't be the last time I'll encounter a new language, who knows what new places I'll live in, who knows what turns life takes.

If you could say that Spanish is like a mother, English would be like a beloved girlfriend to me... So I'll keep trying to get to know her better because I'm in love with her.

Oct 4, 2011

How to start conversations and other interpersonal skills

A couple of days ago I was openly complaining about people making comments on a person's looks: I was arguing that when a person makes a neutral or negative statement about our physical appearance (e.g. "you look tired" or "new haircut"), it could make us feel uncomfortable and awkward. A friend said that sometimes people might use that as a way of starting conversations: however, it has been proven scientifically that starting conversations by pointing out an aspect of our appearance is very inefficient, conductive to self-consciousness, loss of spontaneity, and even annoyance. So, I am going to reveal here my strategies to start conversations out of the blue, 100% field tested, very easy to use, and extremely effective.

But before we go to the specific strategies there are some things we should consider:

Do we really want to start that conversation? To figure this out we must calculate the boredom factor, that is, the chance that the person we want to talk to is actually exasperatingly boring. Because, sad as it is, there are people just too boring to talk to, there are human beings that for numerous reason have suppressed their innate ability to converse. So, we should wonder, is it worthy to have this conversation? To calculate the boredom factor we must weight the background knowledge that we have on this person (if we know that person from before, say a classmate or coworker) against the vibe we get from the person as he or she is located in our vicinity, the moment prior to the beginning of the conversation.

The other thing we must consider is: are we accustomed to awkward silences? This is because we humans feel compelled to initiate a conversation just to avoid an awkward silence, disregarding sometimes the fact that it might be about a hundred times more awkward to have a forced and lousy conversation with plenty of uncomfortable smiling and eye-contact avoidance. So, once we have assessed the boredom factor and we have decided that it is useless to start a conversation... then, the awkwardness of the silence will just vanish away and we will feel no pressure to initiate the conversation.

The last thing we should consider about initiating a conversation is the difficulty level. This is important because it is harder to converse with certain type of people. Difference in social status might make a conversation hard to begin because we could feel a little intimidated... the higher the social status of the person we want to talk to, the harder it will be: say for example, starting a conversation with the boss, a person significantly wealthier than us, a very attractive person, a person of extreme coolness, a professor or a person with a reputation of having a way above average intelligence. Usually it is the person of higher status that will initiate and lead the conversation, this is the norm... but if the contrary happens and the person of higher status we want to talk to does not initiate conversation or show interest in doing it, we must not hesitate and start it ourselves. As a matter of fact, people are just people no matter how beautiful, intelligent, cool, or wealthy they are: after all, we all fart, burp, pee, and shit.

Alright, so now we are ready for the specific strategies.

1. We want to talk to someone we have never met.

This is extremely easy... if it is the friend of a friend at a party, or someone from the same workplace, or a classmate we have never talked to before; in general a person we don't know but with a connection to us, we can start by introducing ourselves.

Say I am talking to a girl:

Tanai: Hey, I'm Tanai, what's your name?
Person: I'm Cutie.
T: Where are you from?
P: I'm from Paris.
T: Really, I thought you were from Latin America, do you speak Spanish?
P: Un poquito.
T: Perfect pronunciation... bla, bla, bla.

Say I am talking to a guy:

T: Hey man, what's up! What's your name?
P: I'm Mr. Cool Guy.
T: Where are you from?
P: I'm from Australia.
T: Awesome, I've never been but I'd love to go sometime.
P: Where are you from?
T: Colombia, do you work here? I've seen you a few times...  bla bla bla.

We can also start a conversation with people we do not know by using an opinion opener. We simply ask for an opinion about whatever:

T: Hey, can I get an opinion on something?
P: Sure.
T: What do you think about tattoos in people? (I've been saying that lately).
P: I think they look cool; I actually have one in my leg.
T: Really? Did you do it here in this city? I've been thinking about getting a tattoo and bla bla bla.
T: Hey, what's your name by the way.
P: Mrs. Sunshine.
T: I'm Tanai, nice to meet you... bla bla bla.

It is a bit harder to talk to people we do not know and we have no connection whatsoever, say for example, at a bar or nightclub... this is because of social conditioning. However it is all in the mind... I have done it plenty of times. In this kind of situations I would start the conversation in very similar ways as above, however I would be paying more attention at the comfort levels of the person I would be talking to.

2. The exaggeration way.

This could be one of my favorite ways to start conversations... particularly with people I have talked to before a few times. We just make a hyperbolic comment about whatever.

Say, we are having lunch with colleagues and silence reigns:

T: Oh my god, this is the most delicious chicken I've ever tasted in my life.
P: hahaha, are you serious?
T: not really, hehe, but it's good. How do you like your food?
P: It's alright.
T: What's your favorite food?
P: hmmm, I don't kn... (interrupt)
T: I love duck... I had never tried duck before I came to France. Can you cook?
P: Yeah, but I'm not that good... can you?
T: I'm an expert... bla bla bla.

Another one:

T: I've never been so happy in my life, today is a great day of celebration.
P: Oh! What are you celebrating?
T: LIIIFE!!!!
P: hahaha
T: I hope this weekend comes really soon, do you have any plans for the weekend?
P: Gonna visit my sister.
T: Oh cool, where does she lives?
P: In Nice...
T: I've never been to Nice, I've heard is very pretty bla bla bla.

3. Forcing a conversation.

Say we are trying to start a conversation with someone, but that person is making it hard by not giving much information. So we bombard that person with questions even if they are redundant.

T: Hey, what's up!
P: Hi.
T: How are you?
P: It's OK.
T: Alright, haha, how's life going?
P: Everything is good.
T: Nice, what have you been up to?
P: Just finishing work...
T: Was it a hard day?
P: Yeah.
T: Lots of stuff to do?
P: Yeah, I was writing a manuscript. (If by this moment I can not get anything to grab on to, I would drop the conversation and let silence reign).
T: Oh really, what about?

4. Weather.

This just works... lame but safe.

T: Nice sunny day.
P: Yeah, it's really nice.
T: It could actually be the last warm day of the year... (cry).
P: Hahaha, I've read that this weekend is going to stay warm bla bla bla.
T: How's life by the way...
P: It's all good, I'm going to Spain next week... bla bla bla.

Another:

T: It's so dark and cold. It sucks big time!
P: Yeah, I haven't seen the sun in like a week.
T: True. I need some holidays and escape to some sunny island.
P: Yeah, that'd be nice.
T: How's life by the way...

Alright... now we know a few strategies for starting conversations. Most people like to talk so it should not be that difficult. Whatever stupid shit we say should do the work and let's not feel bad if we feel like we have nothing to say… we don’t have to talk all the time or initiate all the conversations.

Sep 30, 2011

Daisy (Flash Fiction)

Two days after I arrived to Colombia, a Friday afternoon, I felt a barely perceptible discomfort on my left ear. I thought that it was something insignificant and that it would disappear in a few minutes, but contrary to my expectations the discomfort quickly transformed into severe pain. At night I was already at my limit, I was suffering badly and my hearing was quite impaired. Next morning, I wanted to see if I could look inside the ear by taking a picture of it, and perhaps by zooming in I could catch some details. When I inspected the picture I noticed something unusual: from the ear canal tiny green filaments were sprouting. After a couple of hours I was able to clearly see in the mirror a couple of delicate stems holding proudly quite a few emerald leaves. The plant grew and grew until I was hardly able to keep my head straight, then a beautiful daisy blossomed, showing off elegant white petals and a golden heart.


Sep 28, 2011

Gigantic (Flash Fiction)

The other day I was walking around Trocadero with my friend, she's from Moscow and had come to visit Paris for the very first time. We wanted to see the Eiffel tower and she wished to go to the top... when all of a sudden we heard some thunderous rumble. In the distance we saw a gigantic creature, at least 200 meters tall... it looked human, male, he was naked, white skin with numerous freckles, blonde, he seemed retarded and angry. He was coming directly to the tower, stepping on people as he crossed Champ de Mars. People was in panic, I was in panic! The strange humongous retarded human reached the tower, grabbed it and tried to shake it off the ground with all his might. People was sent flying... but the tower withstood the rattle. When the big monster got tired simply left with an expression of disappointment.

I wonder what is of him? Was he annihilated by the military? Or taking to a top secret facility for experimentation? I will never know.

Sep 21, 2011

What to do, what to do?

My heart is torn asunder, split in two. The left atrium and ventricle want to travel to a part of the world I’ve never been before, perhaps an English speaking country, explore new horizons and push new frontiers, the exciting new possibilities! The right side wants to come back to Sweden, settle down and establish myself there, let the roots grow, and enjoy from the comfort and safety of that country I love. Both possibilities are real and are equally appealing to me.

I don’t really know what to do. My life would be a lot easier if I come back to my dear Sweden… on the other side the high-risk endeavor of going to a new place like the United State (for example) might promise high rewards.

In Sweden I have many loved friends and many more acquaintances, yet I don’t have any problems at all meeting new people and making new friendships; in fact, it has become a fundamental part of the person I am.

I don’t mind the Swedish winter: on the contrary, I look forward to become a snowboarding expert, yet I could live in sunny California and try surfing.

What to do, what to do… I don’t have any more time to ponder around; I must take a decision immediately. Throw a coin? Enlighten me, please.

And the fear of getting none of the above, and be shipped away to the developing world to experience extreme poverty, hardships, and suffering, still resides within my soul and is a permanent disturbing feeling running in the background of my brain. I don’t want to consider it at all, but there it is. Can’t really help it that much.

Aug 3, 2011

The true origin of my name, Tanai.

I have always had this romantic idea about the origin of my name. I’ve told the story to pretty much everybody.

I usually say that the reason why I’m called Tanai is because I have crazy parents. I usually say that because my dad is an anthropologist, he once knew about some mythological stories of the Polynesia. The story that my dad told me is about a boy that left his hometown, located in an island from the South Pacific, to find fresh water somewhere else because they’ve been living for many years in a terrible drought. Tanai travels around the world overcoming incredible perils and hardships. He finds the fresh water and civilization, so he ventures back to his native land to tell his people, now being many years old… but when he arrived, there was no one in the town: everyone had died! With the exception of one old lady, the lady came to him and called his name, Tanai. Tanai meant, according to my dad, the Sea Walker.

However, the true story might be a little different. The reason why my dad called me Tanai was not because of a mythological story from the Polynesia that he heard in some of his anthropological studies. I’m pretty much sure now that he found it in a movie he watched: this movie is called the “The Voyage of Tanai". It was released in 1975, and was directed by a man called John Latos.

I’ve tried to find this movie, a clip, a trailer, anything… but it seems pretty rare. It doesn’t show up in the imdb database, there’s nothing in youtube, only a couple of second hand VHS tapes in amazon. The director does not register either in the imdb and it seems that it was the only movie he made. I did found a synopsis of the movie, this is it:
Tanai, a young Polynesian, sets out on a voyage to obtain soil to plant a breadfruit tree, symbolic of survival to his people. Through storms and rushing tides, Tanai visits some of the most spectacular areas of the world. He battles the Philipino mud people, confronts Easter Island's bizarre ancient sculptures, and fights thirst and hunger. His amazing voyage takes him to the remotest corners of the globe, but the voices of his ancestors guide him on. Upon his return, Tanai must face another challenge of the Modern world—the relocation of his people.

That’s the original source of my name. My dad didn’t tell me he got it from the movie… I’m sure he didn’t tell my mom either.

I wish I could watch this movie though, sounds really interesting and might have touched my dad deep enough to want the name for his son.

Aug 1, 2011

How to tie your shoelaces

When we are kids, at some moment we are taught how to tie our shoes. Usually, you cross the laces one over the other, make a loop with one lace and then you wind the other one over the loop, you pass it underneath making a second loop, then pull to tighten the knot, and it’s ready.

But for some reason, no one taught me how to tie my shoes. I figured it out on my own.

So I remember that fateful day when I needed to tie my shoes but I didn’t know how. I was then at the kinder garden, probably 3 years old. So after some trial and error I came up with a not very conventional way to tie my shoes, a technique that I’ve been using ever since until this very day, unaltered, for more than 25 years.

What I did then, after crossing, was to make two loops at the same time, and then cross one loop over the other one!

I remember that instant, so perfectly, as if it just happened yesterday: such an epiphany, the great happiness of unaided discovery.

Super

―Frank, The Creeping Bam is just this, like, fantastic phrase, you know? And I wasn't gonna tell you before, but it's my favourite.
―Oh, it's very good.
―You're lying.
―I don't need a kid sidekick.
―Are you kidding me?
―No!
―Look what happes to you when you don't have a kid sidekick. You get shot by people. Frank, you team up with me, and I swear to fucking god that we will take those cocksuckers down that stole your wife.

I loved that escene! Wonderful movie. Too bad Boltie died.

Jul 27, 2011

The Top 5 things Colombia is known for.

Since I left Colombia almost seven years ago, as an expatriate, I’ve had the chance to meet and talk to literally thousands of people from every corner of the world. When I say that I’m from Colombia, almost always people react in a positive way… then they think a little and say whatever they know about Colombia. So these are the top 5 things people first say about Colombia:

5. In Colombia a lot of women have plastic surgery (read: breast implants).

4. Colombian coffee.

3. Colombia football: typically Valderrama, Higuita, and the murder of Andrés Escobar.

2. Shakira.

And, lo and behold! In position number one:

1. Cocaine and drugs!

YAY!!

I would say 90% of people I meet, the first thing they say after I tell them I am from Colombia is some lame joke about cocaine. It ranges from calling me a drug lord and a relative to Pablo Escobar to the following:

Tanai: Hey, where are you from?
Random Person: I’m from XXX, and you?
Tanai: Colombia.
RP: Wow, Colombia!!! [Excited, big smile… think for a second]
RP: Cocaine!!!
Tanai: Yeah! I get that one all the time. [Then I lean in and whisper to his/her ear]
Tanai: How much do you want?

It usually gets a big laugh. Truth be told, I don’t give a fuck.

Nonetheless, everyone I have met that has been to Colombia say wonderful things about the country and their stay in there. So, it’s not so bad, not bad at all!


Jul 25, 2011

The Obsession by Charles Baudelaire, sonet

Great woods, you frighten me like cathedrals;
You roar like the organ; and in our cursed hearts,
Rooms of endless mourning where old death-rattles sound,
Respond the echoes of your De profundis.

I hate you, Ocean! your bounding and your tumult,
My mind finds them within itself; that bitter laugh
Of the vanquished man, full of sobs and insults,
I hear it in the immense laughter of the sea.

How I would like you, Night! without those stars
Whose light speaks a language I know!
For I seek emptiness, darkness, and nudity!

But the darkness is itself a canvas
Upon which live, springing from my eyes by thousands,
Beings with understanding looks, who have vanished.



Charles Baudelaire
Translated by William Aggeler
The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

Jun 28, 2011

Natural fears

I have not been myself lately. I notice I’m changing. I notice my mind is changing. I’ve noticed myself doing a few things that I’ve never done before, that could've never occurred to me before. It’s my brain rewiring itself. It’s scary.

The thing is, who the hell are you? Have you always been the same person? Do you think you can change or are you the kind of people that think you should be accepted just like you are? Like Bridget Jones or something…

Have you ever thought that you could be better? That you could accomplish bigger things? That perhaps you could be a little more open minded? Perhaps you could procrastinate less and be more disciplined? Perhaps you could look a bit better, get cooler clothes, or a bit more original hair cut for a change? Perhaps you could improve your relationships? Perhaps you could be a better lover for your partner? Or a little less stubborn and conflictive, perhaps you could be a bit more understanding? Perhaps you could take bigger risks and break through the comfort zone to take advantage of better possibilities?

Sounds awesome, huh? It seems not so difficult all of a sudden? To become a better person, the best of who we are!

Do you even think about it? That you could be better than who you are right now? That you could change for the better of yourself and your people?

Do you want to be a better person?

Do you know what it takes to become the best of what a person can be? It's not a matter of going to university and reading more books. It's altering and reshaping the damn brain, it's a behavioral thing.

I’m changing, I can notice it, I can feel it.

I’ve changed before… if you know me, if you’ve read my blog before you should know about that. The thing is, that then, even though I wanted to change, I kind of wasn’t aware of the process… when I noticed already a lot had happened. But now I’ve grown more mature, I know myself better, and I can see me in the process of transformation.

However! That “the best of what a person can be” is a EXTREMELY relative thing. It is subjective to a person’s history and life experiences, a person’s personality, a person’s way to see the world. In here, “the best” actually means a state of complete satisfaction with your own self, a place of no regret, of harmony. The concept of harmony is also EXTREMELY relative for the same reasons.

I’m scared. Because I’m like a bat. Yeah, like a lost bat. A lost bat that has been flying on a sunny day… but dusk is approaching. The sun is caressing the horizon. And I’m hungry, I’m really hungry. It was a really hot and sunny day. I’m fed up and kind of cranky… The sun and the daily creatures have made me upset, I’m on the brink of rage; the day was ignominious, those diurnal creatures offended me. I have to settle the score, I have to set things right. The first blink of the brightest stars is piercing through the darkening sky. I might lose control blinded by the exhilaration that the forthcoming night promises. The cooling air infuses new power to my wings and to my heart, and I like it. It’s been too long of a day. I fear I might go berserk tonight. No, I will go berserk, I know it. Welcome to my Kingdom of Night.

Jun 22, 2011

The Code of the Samurai or the Bushido Shoshinshu of Taira Shiesuke

I’m in the search for wisdom, and this search led me to a book called The Code of the Samurai or the Bushido Shoshinshu of Taira Shiesuke; a book that was written about 400 years ago. Is there anything to learn from the ancient Samurai class of Japan and the code of the warrior?

Reading the little book, two things hit me hard. The first one is at the very beginning of the book. The author opens the book saying the following:

"One who is supposed to be a warrior considers it his foremost concern to keep death in mind at all times, every day and every night, from the morning of New Year's Day through the night of New Year's Eve.

As long as you keep death in mind at all times, you will also fulfill the ways of loyalty and familial duty. You will also avoid myriad evils and calamities, you will be physically sound and healthy, and you will live a long life. What is more, your character will improve and your virtue will grow."


Isn't it counter intuitive? Isn't it a beautiful piece of wisdom? Then he goes on explaining like this:

"Here are the reasons for that. All human life is likened to evening dew and morning frost, considered something quite fragile and ephemeral.

If people comfort their minds with the assumption that they will live a long time, something might happen, because they think they will have forever to do their work and look after their parents―they may fail to perform for their employers and also treat their parents thoughtlessly.

But if you realize that the life that is here today is not certain on the morrow, then when you take orders from your employer, and when you look in your parents, you will have the sense that this may be the last time―so you cannot fail to become truly attentive to your employer and your parents. This is why I say you also fulfill the paths of loyalty and familial duty when you keep death in mind.

In any case, when you forget death and become inattentive, you are not circumspect about things. You may say something offensive to someone and get into an argument. You may challenge something you might as well have ignored, and get into a quarrel.
[...] You could lose your own life, get your employer bad publicity, and cause your parents and siblings difficulties.

When you always keep death in mind, when you speak and when you reply to what other say, you understand the weight and significance of every word as a warrior by profession, so you do not engage in futile arguments. As a matter of course you do not go to dubious places even if people invite you, so there is no way for you to get into unexpected predicaments. This is why I say you will avoid myriad evils and calamities if you keep death in mind.

People of all social classes, high and low, over eat, drink too much, and indulge in their desires to an unhealthy degree, all because of forgetting about death. This puts strain on their internal organs, so they may die remarkably young, or else become sickly and invalid.

When you always keep death in mind, even if you are young and healthy, you already know how to take care of yourself. You moderate food and drink, avoid sexual addiction, and behave prudently. As a result, you are physically sound. Because you are healthy, you will live a long time.

When you assume that your stay in this world will last, various wishes occur to you, and you become very desirous. You want what others have, and cling to your own possessions, developing mercantile mentality. When you always keep death in mind, covetousness naturally weakens, and to the degree a grabby, greedy attitude logically does not occur. That is why I say your character improves.
"

It makes a lot of sense to me. We are not Samurais, but we are somehow warriors in the battle of life; and as the Samurai had an employer or master he was willing to give his life for, our master should be our dreams we fight for, the path to our fulfillment. So let's do our best today, because our life may not be certain in the morrow.

The second part that called my attention a lot is about the heart of the warrior and when this gets corrupted. The author compares the heart of the warrior to a white jacket that gets dirty with use... the heart of the warrior might get dirty with time, because of bad habits and practices. So he says:

There is a variety of detergents used for cleaning white jackets. Similarly, there are various practices that are like detergents for cleaning the heart of warriors. What are these practices? They are loyalty, duty, and courage. There is dirt that is removed by the detergent of loyalty and fidelity, and there is dirt that is removed by the detergent of faithfulness to duty. When the stain remains stubborn even after washing with loyalty and rinsing with duty, then you use the detergent of courage, and make a determined effort to scrub it clean. This is the warrior's ultimate secret of cleaning the heart.

So if in the battle of life and in the battle for the accomplishment of your dreams, you lose your way and your heart becomes dirty: you must remember to be loyal to your goals and believes, to your path; and always be dutiful with regard to them, do whatever it takes to get there. But if everything fails, when you are losing all hopes, then use courage, remembering never to give up, never. That is the warrior's ultimate secret.

Code of the samurai

Jun 20, 2011

Portrait




just a few words
a whim of prose
a speech and a whisper
three poems
of youth
a flower
the rain





Jun 15, 2011

My path and career choice dilemmas

I have always felt that I'm destined to do great things. That my path has always led to a higher destination. That my life is there for a greater cause, a life far above average in every way. I don't know if everyone feels like that, I guess you never really talk about this because of what people might think: "don't be ridiculous!" Some might say. I don't really know why I have felt this way, perhaps because my parents inculcated it in me, unconsciously and unaware, by the way I was raised, by the way they talked to me, by the way they gave me freedom, by the way they encouraged me, by the way they treated me, perhaps they trusted me at a deep subconscious level with the dreams they could not achieve. Or perhaps I feel this way because I have felt not average, unfitting of my surroundings, maladapted to the environment I was born, socially and intellectually. I have no idea.

At school I did pretty average, I was never at the top of the class or the best student. As a matter of fact, during a time in high school we were graded with numbers and rankings were published every three months; my personal best, on a class of more than forty people, was a modest fifteen place and a couple of times I went way below average. At university I did not do any better, I was not at the top of the class either, just alright, I didn't get a Magna Cum Laude, I didn't graduate with honors. On the other side, however, I never had to repeat a year at school nor I failed a single class at university, which allowed me to obtain my undergraduate degree at twenty-one, an age when many European students are just starting to decide what to study. Not that it makes me a genius or superiorly intelligent.

I went to Sweden to start a PhD; I guess that alone does makes me a little exceptional compared with most Colombians of my same age range. In my lab in Sweden I was the youngest member for quite a few years, which could be considered a little exceptional too. On the other hand, I did not do particularly better than any other PhD student in my lab, I had five publications in my thesis, quite OK, but actually most of PhD students that graduated before me had more than five publications in their thesis. I did not publish in the best journals, I did not discovered anything particularly amazing either.

So why do I get this feeling? Why do I want greatness? What is this fire that burns within me?

I was having a conversation with my old supervisor in Sweden. I was telling him that soon I would start looking and applying for a job to continue with my science career after my contract in France ends. I mentioned a few labs I was aiming for, some of them were pretty famous labs (if there is such a thing as a famous lab in this world), or as he called them "super top laboratories". He implied that in order for me to apply to such kind of labs I should have been "mega successful" in my postdoc, to put it in his own words. I have done as usual, quite averagely... funny enough. He said to me that I should identify and know at what level I am and aim for that level and try to position myself there—sounds quite reasonable. He said to me that it is better to be a big fish in a pond with smaller fish than a small fish in a pond with bigger fish.

It, of course, has made me think and reflect a lot... what kind of fish I am? Am I a small fish or am I a big fish? What is my true level? What is the best I can achieve? What is my potential? How do I compare with most people? How do I compare to Einstein? How do I compare to Darwin? How do I compare to Beethoven? How do I compare to Shakespeare? Can I be like them? Do I have what it takes to be like them? Were they actually that different from most of us? What was about them that made them great? Do I have that in me? Can I handle the best laboratory on Earth? Can I come up with great scientific ideas that could change the world? Or am I just an average twenty-eight years old guy, destined to live an average life, to marry an average looking woman averagely smart, and live in an average house, send my kids to an average school so that they can have average lives and work average jobs? Is that what it is? Am I being foolish?

I refuse average, I reject average. I want greatness, I want the best, I desire it. I must not give up until my word has been heard, until my influence has been felt, until my full power has been exerted. Like the Japanese said, there is no genius that a disciplined, diligent, and hard working mind can not overcome. What I lack in geniality I'll made up in discipline and patience. If I’m not disciplined and patient then I'll become. If my personality gets in the way then I'll change. If I make mistakes I'll correct them. If my mind is too narrow I'll broaden it. If my resolve is too weak then I'll make it stronger. If I walk astray this path I've chosen I'll find my way back. If there are insurmountable obstacles I'll overcome them with immeasurable tenacity. And if I find enemies on my way I'll defeat them, because I shall not give up until I have reached my destination. I'll not give up, I'll never give up my dreams. I'll always aim a step higher, always a step higher. That is my way of life, my choice, my path.

Jun 14, 2011

Save Earth!

Life on Earth is threatened by a terrorist invading species from an unknown planet in the furthest reaches of the Milky Way and you are the only one that can save us! Your mission is to decode the following encrypted message.  Once you have decoded the message, send the original text to Emperor Tanai, supreme ruler of the Solar System, so that he can defend us from the aliens with his extraordinary superpowers.

What intelligence has discovered about the code is this:

The decoded message is written in English and the encryption works similar to a genetic code, with only three different nucleotides (numbers) encoding for twenty-seven different amino acids (letters). However there's only twenty-six letters in the English alphabet!

Please save us! Save us!

This is the encrypted message:

202022012000202100111012000022001201000010120111012000202120000011012201202200120221
000202022120201012000210021110221000001112011000011210111002000022210111001112201

022120212000202022012221000011001200012000202120000010001110110000120210200
000002012001210202100020210110000021001110001220221000202022012000111100110102221
000212001221

022120212000001002201210200011000001112011000011012121110120200001002110012

202022012000120112012000001112011000120112110221000202200210012000112001111012
000120020000202022012000021001110001220221000100201000202022012000002001112001112001
000212001221

202022012200012000100201000112120202022100112021000111120200012
000011012110100010100120210201000202022001112000202022012000201212012012202
000002001112001112001201000020200120111000121110001112012202
000011100121110120011120010210201

100112000202012112000011001221201000212012000212100110110
000011100201100112202012021200001202012000202022012000201120110001200
000201221201202012111000212100202022000120210200000001112202100111001202202012200
000111100201201100110012201

202022012000111100201201100110012201000001200012000120200002100202100112021
000202022012000121110001112012202000202022012221000010001110110
000112012121202210112012

20120221012110001100002221011100111220100000221200102200102200102200

Jun 8, 2011

An example of a love letter

Dearest lover,

This is a confession of my love. Of this love that rages within me like a thunderstorm sweeping furiously all the valleys of my existence. This love can not be contained, it can not be ignored, it can not be denied. This love is too loud, it is too savage, it is uncontrollable.

But you know this all too well; you have tasted it, you have been consumed by it, you have been devastated by its indomitable power. We are defenseless against it, there is nothing we can do to stop it, it has taken a life of its own; its existence is too certain, it is overwhelming. How it devours us, how it chases us relentlessly.

When I first saw you I knew immediately who you were. I saw and understood the history of your life in that tranquil smile, in the intensity of your eyes. I saw the pain, I saw you falling down on your knees and I saw you rising up victorious, undefeated by life. I saw you understood that love is your freedom, that love is to be celebrated and not a sure path to misery. That is when I first knew that our meeting was unavoidable, that our love was written in the book of fate with letters made of the purest gold.

And here we are now, now in this very portion of time, of life. Here we are glorifying each other, celebrating each other, loving each other. What is the future but nothingness? What is the past but a hollow memory? What is more real than now, than you and me unbreakably bound together? This is it; this is what some call true love. I know now that true love can not be measured with a time scale, our true love is this present, this reality. Please do not gaze into the future, it is pointless. Abandon the past, let it go to oblivion where it belongs; let us forever forget our oceans of sadness. Let us honor this very moment, this true love.

And here you are lying by my side, sleeping so placidly. I can feel you breathing, I can feel the heat of your life, I can feel your raw humanity palpitating. I am impregnated with your smell, its exhilarating… it makes me feel as if I have suddenly transformed into you. Is this what people call poetry? Is this feeling and this body the true essence of beauty? Is this the human form of pleasure?

Know that I love you, sublime lover, I confess it, I confess it. This love is true, time is irrelevant,

T.

Jun 7, 2011

Labyrinths

This is the path to my heart:

No, I'm kidding... I'm not that complicated. If you solve it I take you on a romantic date: that is if you are female, smart and beautiful. If you're not, how about a high-five!

The rules are: 1) you get one minute; 2) you can't lift the pen, if you miss the way you got to retrace it back.

No, I'm kidding... Here, you get another one, this is easier one so you have only thirty seconds:


To tell you the truth this is what happens when is late at night, I don't want to sleep, I don't have internet connection, my computer is broken, and I don't really feel like reading...

See you soon!

Jun 6, 2011

The Flow of Life

It makes part of being human to experience suffering, to feel worried or stressed, to feel anxiety or fear, to feel insecure or embarrassed, to get angry or jealous, to feel alone or desperate. It is also true that most of the suffering we experience is unnecessary. We worry when everything is fine; we become stressed if we have an extra heavy load of work or we are with no money at all; we might fear losing a job, losing a girlfriend; we feel insecure of our looks, our intellect, our economical situation; we try to keep in control and rigid at all times so that we never make a fool of ourselves; we become angry for a meaningless nuisance and unjustly to people without fault; we cling to vicious or dead relationships because of fear of being lonely, unable to let go; et cetera. Most of human suffering is utterly useless and completely pointless.

If most of our suffering is useless and pointless, then why do we suffer and where does this suffering come from? We suffer because we do not understand the mechanisms of life, the true nature of life, the ways of life. It comes from our misunderstanding of the meaning of life and this misunderstanding endures true a person’s lifetime because lack of knowledge and reflection on our individual life and experience. It means that by understanding the ways of life it is possible to eliminate most of our suffering; it means more happiness, more fun, better relationships, better health, and a longer life expectancy.

So what is the true nature of life? What are the ways of life? Life is complex; to understand life we must observe it with detail, we must acknowledge and be aware of its existence, we must love it. One of the many aspects of its nature is what I call: “The Flow of Life”.

Life is like time: time flows unstoppably and life flows unstoppably. Life flows… life flows… life flows… so let it flow. Life must be lived one step at the time; just as time can’t be sped up to make seconds go faster, the same applies to life, there’s nothing we can do to speed up life. So let’s not rush it, let’s not be impatient, there’s no need to hurry up: all the men or women of the world won’t disappear tomorrow, all the money of the world won’t go away tomorrow, all the dreams and goals won’t have to be realized tomorrow. The opposite is also true, just like time can’t be slowed down, the same goes for life, we can’t stop its flow: if we feel we’re not doing the best we can do of our lives and we feel that life is escaping away from our grasp… hey! Don’t worry; there will always be one new day and one brand new opportunity.

If the lady at the other side of the desk is unhelpful and rude: whatever man, just let it flow… there’s no need to get upset or angry at her. Probably it’s not even her fault and most of people have shown her little or no respect. Just be patient, smile, be calm… life flows.

If the seven years relationship has become monotonous and boring and the passion has been replaced with arguments, there’s abuse and the beautiful memories have long been eclipsed by dullness or resentment… just break up, just let go… there’s absolutely nothing to fear, let life flow. New people will always come, new beautiful and better relationships will always be born again. It is the flow of life.

If work is going crazy, lots of things to do, too many deadlines, too little time… whatever man, what can we do? Just let life flow, the best we can do is to do one thing at the time, one thing at the time. Everything will get sorted out eventually, that’s how life works baby! It’s the flow of life, no need for stress. We won’t die if we miss a deadline, we won’t get a terminal disease if we can’t finish today, and we won’t starve and die of dehydration if we take a break or take it easy a little.

It is essential to see the flow of life. In order to see the flow of life we must master the art of patience. To master the art of patience we must carefully observe and study ourselves in relationship to the people around us, we must find the similarities between the people around us and us, we must be aware of what makes us different too, thus we will gain a better understanding of ourselves and our lives and others and their lives too. Then, by learning to see what we really are and what people around us really are, we will learn to be truly patient; and only by mastering patience it is possible to clearly see the flow of life.

So, just let it flow, it's alright.

May 30, 2011

Season two begins now

It is time for me to resume writing my adventures, stories, and personal reflections on the ways of life. It is time to begin with the second season of Tanai’s Amazing Blog that is celebrating ten months and twenty days of existence! And today, the 30th of May of the year 2011 at 17.41, after a break of a couple of months, directly from the city of Paris, I bring you post number 49!

Going back to my first post, a kind of little poem in prose, I expressed my feelings of doubt and uncertainty on the path I have chosen to live. Today again, I am once more confronted with life defining questions: what am I going to do next? Where will I live next? Will I be able to get the job I want even when my chances are minuscule? And even if I get it, is that what I really want to do with my life? What if I don’t get a good job? How will I support myself and my parents? Will all go to waste?

Saturday night, I’m invited to a party at a club called L’Arc very close to the Arc de Triomphe. So far, the best club I’ve been in Paris… and when I mean the best, I mean the most incredibly looking girls on planet Earth. This is it, this is the place I’ve been looking for, this is the Paris I was looking forward to experience. Then in a dramatic turn of events we must leave the club very early before the place reached maximum temperature. I must come back, it’s my destiny, it’s written in the book of life.

I just got tickets to Colombia, it’s been three years and a half since I went there last time, since I saw my dad, my relatives, and some of my best friends. I miss the people, I miss the people I love, I miss them immensely… yet I do not miss my old life, I do not miss neither my hometown nor Bogotá, not at all; I’m glad those days of suffering are over. From now on I hope I can visit more often though, at least two times a year. That’d be truly wonderful.

I stumbled upon a book called ‘The Book of Five Rings’ by Miyamoto Musashi. It was written in 1643 and it deals with the way of the samurai. Miyamoto was a samurai himself and his first duel to the death took place when he was thirteen years old: he was victorious. He dueled more than sixty times until he was twenty-nine and not a single time he was defeated. He says the following about the state of mind:

Let your inner mind be unclouded and open, placing your intellect on a broad plane. It is essential to polish the intellect and mind diligently. Once you have sharpened your intellect to the point where you can see whatever in the world is true or not, where you can tell whatever is good or bad, and when you are experienced in various fields and are incapable of being fooled at all by people of the world, then your mind will become imbued with the knowledge and wisdom of the art of war.

I abhor war, yet I would like to achieve that level of knowledge where I can see whatever is true or not. I still wonder what it feels to put your life on the line… to be at that moment when hesitation would mean to be slashed by the sword of the opponent and be split in two. Madness? Courage? What is that?

Today I have done no work whatsoever. I’ve been doing just chores, paying bills, writing some letters and things like that. My laboratory seems deserted, I can come and leave and meet no one in the corridors… I kind of like it better that way.

It’s going to be a long weekend starting on Thursday. What surprises will life bring me? What interesting adventures?

Mar 2, 2011

Books, I, and the Crows of Peaerblossom by Aldous Huxley

Sometimes I forget how much I enjoy reading… perhaps reading has been one of my favorite things to do in my spare time. Even before I learnt to read my parents inculcated in me the habit and the love for reading. When I wasn’t able to read at all my mother used to read me children stories, my favorite ever was the Crows of Pearblossom by Aldous Huxley. It’s still fresh in my mind as if I had read it yesterday, I can still remember the watercolor illustrations of the black crows with yellow beaks and the evil green rattler snake of the Spanish version I had. The story is about a couple of crows—married and in love—that laid an egg everyday, and everyday when the crows left the nest to do their daily chores, a rattle snake would climb up the tree and eat the egg…


And the snake would happily slither up and down the tree singing:

“I cannot fly—I have no wings;
I cannot run—I have no legs;
But I can creep where the black bird sings
And eat her speckled eggs, ha, ha,
And eat her speckled eggs.”

I loved it and I’ll probably read it to my children too.

illustrationLater still in my infancy, when I was learning to read but I had not the skill to read entire books, my parents used to buy me the illustrated children version of classics like the Book of the Jungle, Jules Verne’s a Trip to the Center of the Earth, and Aladdin. I had them since before I have memory… and I read those illustrated books hundreds of times; their stories seemed to me so entertaining and fantastic. Just imaging going traveling to the center of the Earth and encountering huge extinct marine reptiles fighting in the middle of the ocean! I also had back then interactive books with pop up pictures, pull downs, flaps and the sort… I still remember them in such vivid detail! When my reading skills improved a little more, I used to read together with my dad, he read the first chapter and then I had to read the following chapter, he would read the next one and I the following one, and so on until the end of the book. Like that I read among others, Homer’s Odyssey and Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science… no wonder I ended up as a scientist.

This year I have read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I thought it was funny but superfluous; I read the Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett, quite funny too but stupid and disappointing; Brave New World by Huxley and it was awesome; Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, a book that I had been neglecting since high school… I loved it, especially the whole ideology about crime was extremely interesting. Besides those, I read also a book about the evolution of the mind called “the Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature” written by Geoffrey Miller, it was quite interesting but needlessly long; I read too an extremely good book, which I would like every person in the world could read: “the Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating” by David Buss… this book transcends! Finally I have been also reading some biographies, some how-to books, and some self-help books in my search for wisdom and truth; some of those have been pretty lame and some quite interesting, particularly one called “the Richest Man in Babylon” by George Clason. Right now I’m reading a book called “Breakthroughs!” by J. M. Ketteringham and P. R. Nayak: it tells the stories in detail of several major commercial breakthroughs that changed the world—I find it pretty insightful. Finally, I’m also reading a book called Art of Fiction: Notes of Craft for Young Writers… very educating.

I wonder what else is out there, which books I will read in the future that will change my life and alter the course of my destiny…

If you have read any books that have made a big impact in you, please let me know!

Jan 27, 2011

Overcoming shyness, a persnal account - Finale

In Europe unlike Colombia, it’s quite common that people don’t know how to dance; and it’s funny because many times I meet people just like me. They want to dance, but they are afraid of trying… they’re just embarrassed of making a fool of themselves when no one really cares if someone have sloppy or fancy moves, no one cares as long as one is having a good time. Obvious isn’t it? Go and insist, “come on, let’s dance, it’s fun!” the standard answer is “naah, I don’t really like this song,” or “I’m kind of tired, I’ve had such busy week”.

Alright! So coming back to the awesome miracle of Tanai Cardona doing exercise and running!

Well yeah, as you can imagine, for me going out to do some exercise have been as difficult as it was dancing. There has been every single possible mental obstacle to discourage me from doing it and rather stay at home under my sweet, warm, lovingly cover… I’ve been meaning to exercise for years, I’ve been thinking of going to a gym, perhaps run for a bit, even try and do some work out at home, yet there’s an Everest of mental obstacles stopping me from doing it. Those mental obstacles have the form of a universe of excuses and also have their origin in my years as a child and a teenager… let me transport you back to the past for a bit again.

Since being a kid I’ve never been good at sports, why… hmmm… this might go back to times before I had a memory. In any case, I was always this small, kind, quiet, fearful kid. I wasn’t playing around, jumping on the mud, climbing trees, grabbing frogs, and shit; I was the kid imagining cities and adventures in the inhabited room of the huge house where I was born—playing by myself—or among the countless plants my grandma had all around: that was my kind of play.

So I’ve sucked at sports, I’ve had no coordination whatsoever between my limbs and the different types of balls, small or big ones… at school I was always outran and outplayed: in fact, I was the third shortest kid in my class of more than thirty boys...

[Would you like to know how did I figure I was the third shortest? Because the geniuses of my teachers used to align us by height… evil motherfuckers! Why? Why the fuck? I’m surprised how people could have such disregard for the self-esteem of the children of the world! Actually, the shortest in my class was nicknamed chiqui, which was a short for chiquitín, which originates from chiquito, which in turns originates from chico, which means small or short in Spanish. It put a target on your back immediately for the tallest oldest brutos of my class.]

In addition to my exceptionally athletic physical qualities, I almost drowned at the school’s swimming pool and once at karate class, which I attended because it was mandatory, I farted out loud in the middle of performing a kata, to the amusement of everybody and to top my list of most embarrassing moments of my life… In consequence, I’ve always had all these negative feelings associated with sports and physical activities in general. Running for me was out of the question! Completely out of the question! But my soul is strong and determined; to the extent that I have climbed the Everest of obstacles and tonight I overcame every possible excuse my brain put in my path… excuses that stopped my previous intents of exercising many times before.

I’m sitting there in front of my laptop, when suddenly I heard this voice within my brain, let’s call this voice Dr. T… so Dr. T said:

“I should go out and run now, this is the time”.

Then another opposing mysterious voice within my brain appeared, let’s call this other voice LazyMF, MF for Monkey-funky… so LazyMF answered:

“No waaay!”

“Come on Tanai,” exclaimed Dr. T cheerfully within my brain. “You can do it”.

Then I imagined myself running, checked the time, 20.20… it must be cold, it should be raining too.

“Como on!!! Let’s run baby!!! Show me your power!!!” shouted Dr. T within my brain… then I started feeling that energy rising, that heat in my chest, that inspiration.

“Are you serious?” asked LazyMF disrupting me while I was getting all psyched up. “You don’t have proper clothes for running; you don’t even have shoes for running! You don’t even know how to fucking warm up!”

“Whatever!!! You can wear your converse… I mean, they were designed for basketball players from the very beginning, so they should be comfortable enough. Just put some sweat pants, a sweater and go out and run!” Nice move from Dr. T there…

The exchange between Dr. T and LazyMF continued for a few more minutes.

In the meantime, I was pondering...

“What’s the temperature outside?” I tried to open the browser to check the actual temperature but I remembered that I didn’t have internet… I minimized all the windows on the screen of my laptop revealing, all of a sudden, the very inspiring Megan Fox wallpaper I just recently set on the background to cheer me up in these cloudy winter days.

Then Dr. T spoke wisely these very words:

“Would you like to date Megan Fox? Well, she probably works out pretty hard, probably she spends a lot of time exercising and trying to keep in perfect shape. I know your personality is attractive enough to seduce Megan Fox given you get the opportunity to meet her… but man, do you really deserve a perfectly fit girl when you are just a lazy monkey-funky that doesn’t even bother to drag his ass out that chair away from your laptop and go out for a run?”

I was fully convinced now; anymore pondering would have been useless. So I got up the chair, and went out for a run. An event the likes of which I’ve never experienced before… and I ran, and I ran some more, the road was muddy, all the better, there was drizzle, there was the wind… and then I sweated and I sweated some more, I ran some more until I felt too tired and decided to come back to triumphantly ran the last bit uphill at my maximum speed: it reminded me that I’m still very young and powerful…

From now on I will have absolutely no excuses that could stop me from doing some more exercise and have a healthier and active lifestyle… I mean, besides dancing all night long at the club.

Overcoming shyness, a personal account

A miracle has happened! After twenty seven years of life—two years to thirty in March—I, for the very first time in my life out of complete and total free will and choice, went out running: I went out to run, to exercise! I have seen Jesus baaaaaby ♫♪! Oh my god! A miracle ♫♪! Hallelujah! (Insert upbeat gospel music here sang by a fat Afro-American lady). Yeah that’s right… a miracle happened! A true miracle! I’m crying of happiness for this glorious achievement.

A few months ago I wouldn’t have considered at all the idea that I, Tanai Cardona, would go out a winter night to run. When people asked me, “hey T, you should do some exercise, it’s healthy!” my standard answer usually was, “Me? Exercising?” wide-opened eyes in surprise, mouth open in bewilderment! “I’m a scientist! Scientists don’t exercise!” I used to say in a dramatic way… yet I know very clearly that if I want to live a healthy lifestyle, avoid stupid diseases later on, and add some extra years of world domination to my life, I should do some exercise… it’s not going to kill me! The point is that in my mind there were one million reasons, excuses, and obstacles that stopped me from doing something as simple as exercising. As a matter of fact, those mental obstacles have been very abundant within me; those mental obstacles stopped me from doing a lot of things I wish I have done leaving my soul plagued with regrets and fears... overcoming those obstacles has, to certain extent, defined my life and my path.

Am I making any sense? Let me take you a few years back to the past in order to make myself as clear as possible.

I was then 17 years old and it was the last night of a field trip to the Caribbean coast with the invertebrate class at the University. The entire class was back to the city of Santa Marta and it was time for celebration! It had been scheduled a visit to a nightclub to party, hang out with our classmates, and have a pretty good time dancing. However, things were not so very simple for me since I have never been to a nightclub before—as I recall now. My first experience in a nightclub was kind of traumatic I must say; it freaked the hell out of me and I just ran away! The music seemed to me so excessively loud, I think I became dizzy and disoriented until I couldn’t stand it anymore. Then I left the club and sat down outside in the sidewalk waiting for the party to be finished, while I condemned humanity and the world.

At the time I didn’t dance. I had totally refused to dance ever since I was a kid; and I always opposed myself vehemently against someone trying to teach me, why? Well, that was because I felt extremely embarrassed. And why would someone feel embarrassed of dancing or being taught how to dance? That’s a mystery that can’t be explained, it’s an incomprehensible mystery of the human mind. Then, my rationalization was: ‘I don’t want to dance, because I don’t like dancing’, and I believed it, I was fully convinced that I did not like dancing; yet deep inside I did wanted to dance, although I only admitted it later when I had matured some more and understood myself better.

Such feeling of embarrassment and discomfort went far beyond the issue of dancing. Not only I refused to dance but I also refused to like, listen, or tolerate music in general. In other words, I felt embarrassed or ashamed of liking music! How is that possible? It is absurd. But yeah, I was afraid of letting myself like music. The only type of music I actually allowed myself to enjoy was classical music.

Besides music and dancing, I was obviously afraid or embarrassed of things like talking to the lady at the administration office to ask for whichever paper, asking for an appointment to the doctor, making the line for whatever reason—for god’s sake! Making the line? Add to the list: asking the time to an estranger, speaking in class to ask for a question, making eye contact, making a phone call, talking to a girl or flirt was completely and utterly beyond my capabilities. I was totally afraid to speak up for myself or argue when needed, I was embarrassed to use formalities like Mr. or Mrs. which in Colombia are quite common (I rather avoided using proper names altogether)… and I could go on forever and ever, because pretty much every single aspect of my life was dominated by a sense of fear or embarrassment that stopped me from enjoying my life… and for many years I sulked in my sorrows, that was my reality, I held the firm belief that I was not alive. I had arrived to the conclusion that I was dead; that my body though moving around, my soul had perished, withered. Get the picture?

I did have some good qualities though; among those there was one quality that usually becomes highly developed and sharp in some particular types of introverted personalities… this quality is self-awareness, a self-awareness that is enhanced by a powerful introspection. What I mean with self-awareness is the capacity to be aware, to be conscious of who we are, of our feelings, of our actions. All of us possess this quality, it’s what allows us to recognize ourselves in the mirror, and it allows us to distinct between being sad or being happy. Self-awareness, as all human qualities can be developed… in me it developed to such an extent that I have a very clear and precise view of who I am, I understand very well my defects and my positive qualities, I know what I’m capable of and I’m aware of those things about me that hold me back. I understand quite well why I am the way I am, and I know exactly how I want to be. I have a comprehensive understanding of my feelings; I know how I feel and how I would feel about things… crystal clear and not clouded by pride, arrogance, hatred, jealousy, and other nasty feelings that distort our self-image and our realities. I understand why I behave the way I do, why I act or react in one way or another. I’m aware of the true meaning behind my words and of the deepest impulses that motivates me. In other words, I have a capacity of being very analytical and very critical about myself… very very very analytical and critical, in a positive and empowering way though…

So as I was mentionning above, I used to say that I didn’t like dancing… if I had accepted that rationalization of my acts, I would have never discovered how awesome and joyful dancing is: today, nightclubs and parties would still freak the shit out of me. I had to go through a very troublesome mental process to discover what truly lied behind that rationalization: “I don’t dance because I hate dancing”. The true feelings behind my actions, the true explanation of my absurd behavior was that I was afraid of dancing, I felt ashamed, I felt embarrassed, I felt embarrassed of let anybody teach me how to dance. Arriving to this conclusion wasn’t easy and straight forward because I believed that I hated dancing, over, period, end of the discussion. Thank you to my enhanced self-awareness I started to notice that my rationalization was kind of superfluous and incongruent; little by little I realized that although I said that I didn’t like dancing when I was in a situation that I needed to dance, say I was invited to dance (either by friends or relatives) instead of feeling disgust or dislike as I was claiming, I felt something else… something else called embarrassment and shame. It was hard to admit to myself that I did want to dance… that all that “I don’t like dancing” was just bullshit: I had to break through my own pride and accept the absurdity of my behavior—that was truly painful, believe me. It was even more painful because dancing in the ‘Latino World’ is so fucking important, everyone in Colombia knows how to dance, it’s ridiculous.

So then, finally I came in terms with myself and after much analyzing I knew I wanted to dance. Yeah, but just because I wanted to dance doesn’t mean that the next day I was going to a nightclub with my friends and do some salsa! I was mentally conditioned to feel embarrassment when dancing, like a dog salivating when it hears the bell for some meat: there was a strong association between fear and dancing that I had to break. The mere thought of dancing freaked me out! It was a great ordeal for me to finally throw my first steps in the dance floor and overcome this fear, it took me years…

[My dancing teacher was Bob Marley; I used to practice my dance moves secretly in my room watching videos of Bob Marley dancing and singing live in concerts, and then I would replicate some of his movements… I actually did… and for a time I was only doing reggae moves when dancing any kind of music.]

The point I’m trying to make is that because I was aware of my self-defeating believes and behaviors I was able to overcome such mental obstacles as fear to dance.

The moment I finally understood my feelings and my reactions towards dancing was incredibly important in my life, it was the turning point in my path to awesomeness. Because I understood then, at that moment, that the same feelings I had towards dancing, those irrational fears permeated every single aspect of my being, of my actions, of my thoughts, of my reality… I had not come to this realization and it could have ended up with Tanai committing suicide after losing all hopes for life.

Jan 14, 2011

The darkness within, Colombian conflict and violence

A few days ago I wrote a tale about a little girl that had to defend herself from an evil young man (check it out here), a man that wouldn’t hesitate to kill, to slaughter a man, a woman, or a child. And within the fantasy of that tale it’s easy to think that such kind of characters are just a figment of people’s imagination, it’s easy to believe such evil characters are just pure fiction.

Two Colombians, biology students from my university (Universidad de los Andes) back in Bogotá were murdered, cold blooded, by some evil men, some degenerated members of the human race, drug dealers, paramilitars? Who cares! Margarita Gómez (23) and Mateo Matamala (26) were found assassinated at the Caribbean cost not very far away from my hometown: it could have been me the one murdered.

And I wonder, why someone could be so evil, so resentful, so hateful, so perverted that would kill people just like that. What kind of monsters does this society breed? People are being murdered right now, at this very moment, somewhere in the world: war, conflict, vengeance, violence... every day, every day, every day.

Is such violent and aggressive behavior part of human nature? Is it a part of the diversity of behaviors that are within the possibilities of our genomes? Is it somehow encoded in a given variant of a gene, or combination of genes and certain given mutations that when present in the proper environmental conditions lead a man or a woman to murder and aggression, to slaughter his or her fellow humans? Murder intent and extreme violence most likely do make part of what humanity is.

This means that the end of war is impossible and the absence of violence is but an unrealizable ideal. There will never be a society where men do not kill other men; there will never be a world where weapons are not fabricated, sold, and used; there will never be a world without prisons and prisoners; there will never be a world ruled by compassion, generosity, and equality.

Is it but a futile enterprise to strive for peace then? Is there such a thing as true peace?

Jan 13, 2011

A snapshot of life, my life.

Allow me to describe you in detail a brief moment of my everyday life.

It’s 15.32 in the afternoon.

I’m right now at work doing some experiments; it’s part of my rutine. The room I’m at is painted in dark blue, it’s around 20 square meters, the temperature is 16.5 °C as I can see in a thermometer that’s lying on a table. That’s pretty damn cold; I don’t like it that cold! It makes me feel uncomfortable. The lights are switched off except for a small lamp that shines very weakly; that is because I’m working with a type of biological material that’s sensitive to light. To my left and immediately after the main door to the room, there’s a cylinder full of pure argon, the gas is compressed to 120 Bar, that’s like 120 times the atmospheric pressure. I need the argon to flush away the oxygen from the biological material since the combination of too much light and oxygen could kill it.

Next to the argon cylinder hanging on the wall, there’s a telephone and a board to place a variety of tools; there’s two hammers, some screw drivers, and other tools with names that I don’t really know neither in English nor Spanish. Against the same wall there’s a table full of stuff: bottles with different chemicals and solutions, plastic bottles, glass bottles, tiny bottles, big bottles (and the thermometer)… on that table I prepare all what I need for my experiments. Next to the table you find me; here I am, hello! Actually I’m standing up, I’m holding a big notebook (the lab book); on it there’s a scientific paper and I’m writing on the last page with a red ink pen. I just reached the end of that page…

[It just came to my mind the realization that it’s been a long time since I wrote by hand something lengthy, something else than an address, an email, or a phone number. I’m also thinking that it’s going to be pretty tedious to type all this into the digital world.]

I’m wearing Converse—like usual—and they look pretty dirty, it’s been raining quite a bit; blue jeans, Levi’s 504 straight, I bought them online; a Tommy Hilfiger polo shirt with gray and white horizontal stripes, slim fit; a Tommy Hilfiger white jumper and on top of that my white lab coat. I have not shaved in a week and I didn’t comb my hair, but it’s very short so it doesn’t really matter. Now, I’m actually sitting down. In front of me placed on a little table, there’s a laptop, HP; a really nice and big one since it was bought very recently…

[I wouldn’t mind trading it for my three years old laptop.]

Below the laptop you find an instrument called, a potentiostat: a pretty unimpressive box. This box is used to generate electric potentials and do some other stuff related to electricity. I use the laptop to control the potentiostat. To my right there’s a huge table that occupies most of the space in the room; on the table there’s a powerful lamp that I’m using to shine very focused and very strong light into my biological material. There’s also a small container where I put the biological material… and through many cables it’s connected to the potentiostat. In the same table there’s also a laser that you can use to shine laser light of every different wavelength, but it’s switched off right now. There’s also another machine called an infrared spectrometer: it’s called like that because it can use infrared light to tell the structure of molecules… when it does, it draws a picture, some lines going up and down; the picture is called a spectrum… and it’s a meter because it measures… so it measures spectra using infrared light. I’m not using that machine either; I’m only playing with the potentiostat.

What I’m doing—besides writing this—is to use the potentiostat to test the electrical and chemical properties of my biological material when I’m illuminating it with the strong light. Why electrical? Because the biological material I’m studying moves electrons from one place to another. Why chemical? Because the biological material is a huge molecule with lots of other molecules within it. Why when I shine light? Because the biological material only moves the electrons when it absorbs light. So I click the mouse of the laptop to start an experiment… wait two minutes in the dark, then I turn on the lamp… wait two minutes, then I turn off the lamp… wait two minutes, then stop the experiment… save file…click to start experiment… two minutes, light on, two minutes, light off, two minutes, stop, save, start, and so on and on and on and on and on and on.

So actually just sitting here with these two minutes intervals just looking at the laptop screen… it can get pretty boring: and it’s freaking cold! Wait…

[Stop experiment, save file, toilet visit, change sample of biological material, change conditions of the experiment, check all the cables are well plugged, check argon is bubbling; all is good, click to start experiment.]

So I was thinking that it could be a great idea to write a blog entry about an accurate moment of my life during these iterative two minutes intervals.

Alright, it’s now exactly 16.41 and I must stop writing here because I’m getting too distracted.

Good bye, have a nice day, you can send me the Nobel Prize by mail and put the money on my bank account, merci, au revoir!

Jan 11, 2011

The ingenious Hippopotamus and the Crow of Lightning

Once upon a time somewhere in the domains of a huge kingdom there lived a most remarkable child whose story of courage and tenacity has no comparison. I shall share one of her deeds with you.

Her name was Hippopotamus; she thought that was a big heavy name perfectly fit for a little lady of her awesome power. She was ten years old, with voluminous curly dirty blond hair decorating her circular face, big green fiery eyes, a little chubby with very rosy cheeks and always a smirk on her mouth. She was loud and a free uncontrollable spirit. Hippopotamus had infinite amounts of energy and was continuously in movement, playing, exploring, running through the fields like a wild stallion, jumping into the nearby crystalline waters and swimming like a tuna fish; there was always an exciting adventure to live, new life to discover under a rock or at the canopy of a tree. Hippopotamus was also a creative genius, she was always inventing and crafting things; a ships made of pieces of wood and leaves, entire cities of sand, even her clothes were of her own design. In particular she wore a cap she made out of pieces of leather she found in a forgotten chest from her parents; it had the form of a hippopotamus head and she wore it only in moments of great importance when she needed the totality of her focus to succeed in the critical moment of an exciting campaign, she called it the Hippo-cap. However, the creation she was most proud was what she called the Crow of Lightning; a slingshot.

But Hippopotamus was not always like that. Up until she was seven years old she was like any other kid her age, until the horrible day that would change the entire fate of her life. It was the first day of May, the day when soldiers of the kingdom are deployed throughout the entire nation to visit every house and collect the mandatory royal tax. It was required to finance the wars of conquest and other evil deeds of the king and the queen. The sun was bright and the tulips bloomed intensely red, perhaps an omen of tragedy.

Three heavily armored soldiers rampaged within Hippopotamus house, among them there was a thirteen years old boy; he was not wearing armor like the three older companions but he did wear a steel helmet. She would not forget the vicious black eyes of the boy staring at her while stabbing to death her dog, Pepep, and her little brother aged three. Such was the training of the new recruits of the kingdom’s army. Ever since then, Hippopotamus love for life in all its forms was set ablaze and had never again ceased: she swore that day to do good and protect all life at all cost, even at the cost of her own life.

Thus she thought that if she was to protect life she would need a proper defensive weapon and so Hippopotamus built The Crow of Lightning. It was almost as long as her arm and she always kept it with her in a large bag that she took everywhere she went. She fabricated the slingshot from a Y-shaped steel handle, wood, and rubber she collected one day of exploration when she adventured herself too far north. That day she was following a trail of foraging ants that seemed to go for kilometers and after walking four or five hours she found the wreckage of an old battle tank from the kingdom army. The battle tank might have been there for decades since there was vegetation covering most of it and a third of the machine was already buried underground. Her curious spirit drove her to investigate the inner parts of the whale sized monster that lay there as a reminder of the hateful hearts of people. To her surprise the wrecked tank had a lot of interesting objects, within them there was the metal handle that was used to stir the tank in movement, it had the perfect shape for a slingshot and it was decorated with the engravings of what seemed crows, hence the name.

She had spent countless days and nights perfecting her sharpshooting skills until her little chubby fingers were bleeding and cover in calluses. Her accuracy was such that she could hit the target the size of a coin within a thirty meter radius, even in movement. She had sharpened the bottom end of the metallic handle so that she could stick it into the ground; by anchoring it with her right foot and using both arms and the whole weight of her body she could send a stone flying double the distance, although sacrificing a lot of her accuracy.

Hippopotamus had never used the slingshot against any living creature including people, she was too kind and she did not want to hurt anybody. Though she wasn’t a fool and understood very clearly that not all people have good intentions: in special, the soldiers from the kingdom, who seemed to be possessed by an evil force thirsty of blood and destruction. It was not uncommon to find them patrolling around the city market that was about thirty kilometers southwest from Hippopotamus house; wrecking havoc, bothering people, and occasionally killing whoever was brave enough to challenge them. The kingdom’s soldiers were always heavily armed and in order to control rebellion of the people, all civilians were banned to carry any type of weapons at all, and whoever disobeyed was either sent to prison if lucky or would end up with his or her arms mutilated. Those were the times where Hippopotamus lived.

Maybe life is just a play written by higher deities for their personal entertainment or just call it destiny, but the day Hippopotamus would confront her fate as the ‘protector of life’ came as dark and violently as a hurricane. It was a cloudy morning the last day of October, drizzle and a strong wing swept the dead leaves of the autumn. Hippopotamus was asked by her father to take two heavy canisters of milk two the mill of Mr. Sharragan, a blacksmith that lived about five kilometers west at the shore of a wide river. The road to Mr. Sharragan was muddy and slippery and after walking already half an hour she was already out of breath, so she decided to take a break and eat an apple to regain some energy and continue carrying the heavy cargo. She sat on top of one canister looking at the enraged river flowing while daydreaming of becoming a sailor. At the same time she took the apple on her hand and just when she was going to give it the first bite she heard the murky voice of a man:

“Hey you kid, give me that apple, I’m hungry.”

She turned to see the insolent man; he was tall, he seemed almost twice her size and very muscular. He was wearing no armor, just a helmet, and on his back a two handed sword.

Fearless as she was she stood up immediately and told him:

“What?”

And took a huge bite out of the apple, so big she could not close her mouth completely to chew.

The man was astonished and his jaw dropped.

Just at this moment Hippopotamus realized that the man was dragging an unconscious kid that was tied from his hands to an iron chain. The kid probably was five years old and she recognized him as the only son of Mr. Sharragan.

She knew immediately that he must be a soldier that came to take Mr. Sharragan’s son; it was a common practice to take the son of a family as a form of debt payment and transform it into a killing monster soldier for the kingdom. It was the ultimate payment or just an excuse to make you suffer and multiply the huge army that already spread like an infectious disease across a vast part of the continent.

She became red of anger, her blood was boiling: enraged she shouted:

“Release him now!”

“Who the fuck do you think you are?!”

The man answered angrily. He dropped the unconscious child and was coming for Hippopotamus. She immediately smelled death; her first reaction was to run away before he could catch her, then the image of her dead little brother flashed into her mind. She stood her ground and looked at him directly into the eye, defiant.

It all happened in a fraction of a second. He grabbed her with one arm and lifted her one meter above the ground as if she was a feather, with the other one he took his knife and placed it on her neck. At that very moment Hippopotamus recognized those vicious looking eyes; those were exactly the same eyes of that fateful day of horror. She spitted in his face.

“Is this a joke?”

She thought.

The teenager boy of then was now a monstrous man, sixteen years old yet murder was for him no different than eating breakfast. He screamed of anger and instead of stabbing her he threw her with all her might as far as he could. She flew in an arch almost ten meters before she hit the ground, face first, eating the mud.

This was her only chance, there was no time to feel pain, there was no time for crying or whining. Fast as lightning she pulled out of her bag the slingshot and with a swing of her arm loaded it and shot with all her power.

Direct hit to the head but the war helmet protected him.

The soldier rapidly took his knife and threw it piercing her in the left shoulder. She could not ignore that pain this time; instead she tightened her jaw and held it together.

The evil man laughed out loud madly and said:

“You’re going to die!”

He was going for his sword but by the time he touched the hilt Hippopotamus had already stood up and shot her second stone aimed deliberately to his hand. His finger bones cracked broken: such was the power and accuracy of Hippopotamus.

The man tried to take his sword again but before he realized another stone hit him directly in the left eye and blood started flowing down his face.

“Get the hell out of here or I will make you regret right now your own existence.”

Hippopotamus said with an incomprehensible authority; then she reached to the bag, grabbed the Hippo-cap, removed the hair from her face, and put it on. But the pain of the wound was too extreme; she fell to her knees and stopped herself of completely falling flat by sticking the Crow of Lightning into the ground.

The evil man took advantage of that moment of weakness, wielded the sword and charged to her with the intention of cutting her head with one single blow; he swung it…

She could not die too by the hands of this man! She could not die! Not like Pepep, not like her brother.

There was no way she would be defeated by this evil man. And before the arrival of death, faster than the eye of a regular man or woman can see; she loaded the Crowd of Lightning, leaned backward, anchored the slingshot with her foot, and using her entire weight to stretch the rubber of her weapon to the maximum tension, she shot.

The sword cut the air just millimeters above her and the stone hit the man in the chin with such force that her jaw shattered and teeth and blood flew through the air. The man fell to his back unconscious.

She lived, it was her victory.

She took Mr. Sharragan’s son back to his father who gave both first aids and stopped the bleeding of her shoulder.

This was Hippopotamus first act of true courage; she had truly become the Protector of Life. This very same act of courage would snowball into the Wars of Justice and the last day of October forty years later—at last—the people of the vast Kingdom of Light would know true peace.