Bears overseas

Jornadas sobre Inclusión Social y Educación en las Artes Escénicas 

This week I had the great privilege of attending XIII Jornadas sobre Inclusión Social y Educación en las Artes Escénicas. I’m not exactly sure why, but for some reason, attending this conference made me feel like I’ve been standing still for 25 years. First I have to say how shocking it was to me that this conference was free with my library card except for a E5 fee to see one evening performance. When I arrived at the apertura mesa de acreditaciones to get my little badge, they were giving us the kind of swag that I usually receive at conferences I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to attend so my tiny American mind was blown.

Funding for the conference appears to come from a variety of government and cultural institutions (Ministerio de Culturo y Deporte, Instituto Nacional de Las Artes Escenicas y de la Musica, La Red Española, Consejería de Cultura y Patrimonio Histórico de la Junta de Andalucía, Ayuntamiento De Murcia and of course the amazing Azkuna Zentroa Alhóndiga Bilbao).

Anyway, I want to tell you a little bit about it, but it was such an extensive experience that I’m going to have to do this a little bit at a time. Here is a bit about the first acción performativa.

Day 1: 18.00 – 19.00
Acción performativa: De la A a la Z

Los Bárbaros
Distintas ubicaciones de Azkuna Zentroa

So the first activity was one of my favorite and least favorite kinds of activities. It’s my least favorite kind of activity in the sense that it requires interaction with other people and when I’m feeling shy or like my language skills are sub-par this can be excruciating. It’s my my favorite because I desperately want to leave my solitary square comfort zone despite my avoidant trajectory and as an educator, more than anything, I want to help my students do this as well. It was an interactive treasure hunt organized by Javier Hernando & Miguel Rojo (from Los BÁRBAROS ) and Loli and Asier (affiliated with ONCE– Organizacion Nacional de Ciegos Espanoles) that led the participants all over the Azkuna Zentroa to do uncomfortable and goofy things like…

M– “Mira a los ojos a alguien a las 18:27 horas” Look into someone’s eyes at 6:27pm S– “Silba una cancion con los ojos cerrados” Whistle a song with your eyes closed or T- “Toma un ascensor que no sepas donde va y piensa en el cielo” Take an elevator somewhere that you are not familiar with and think about heaven.

There were I few things that I did not manage to get the courage to do: J- “Júntate a alguien, agárrale del brazo, cierra los ojos y déjate guiar.” Get together with someone, hold their arm, close your eyes and let yourself be guided but I did most of the alphabetical tasks happily. On the back of the poster outlining our uncomfortable tasks there was a quote from Isidoro Valcárcel Medina:

“Nadie hace ninguna obra de arte fuera del tiempo de su vida; son minutos de tu vida, es absurdo ignorar esto…De ahí sale lo que salga, pero primero, estás en activo y primero, estás vivo.”  Nobody does any work of art outside of their life time; they are minutes of your life, it is absurd to ignore this. From there comes what comes out, but first, you are active and first, you are alive.”

On the back on the treasure hunt poster, there was a piece of writing by Loli Mayor & Asier Figueroa exploring how they experience beauty and art from their perspectives, being blind. You can listen to it here. My favorite parts are where Loli explains to seeing people why she go to museums, “…cuando lees un libro, no estas en el sitio, pero te lo imaginas,” and when she discusses beauty,

“Para mi no existe la belleza. Tu tienes un sentido de la belleza y yo tengo otro. La belleza es algo que yo creo que cada uno pone su estilo. Yo soy de las que se levanta por la manana y para animarme a mi misma, me digo: Loli, arriba, eres la mas guapa… En ese momento yo me puedo ver bellisima, porque no me veo en el espejo.” I also love Asier’s thinking when he says, “…una persona por lo que te puede transmitir tambien es belleza.”

Reading this made me think a lot about how as humans, when we look at art, we are experiencing what our brains are able to transmit to us: lines, shadings, textures. I love how Loli points out that while someone may read about or describe a piece of visual art in order to describe it to them, that is also what we are doing when we are allowing our brains to process information from our eyes. This corresponds with what I learned from a book I read a long time ago- Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I also appreciate when Loli mentions her self-talk and how her concept of beauty allows her to have this super power of positive self-talk that so few seeing people have. Asier also mentions that what people can transmit or communicate is beauty. I like thinking about that also because there are so many small things in life that art can bring to us in a way that helps us understand ourselves more deeply, and that is beauty to me also.

Bad Coffee makers & sad thieves


Today was a weird day. I woke up all sweaty with the words “Truco o Trato” flashing in my head in orange and black. I didn’t get very good sleep which is weird for me. I went to my Codependents Anonymous online meeting at 6:30 am (9:30 pm on the west coast of the U.S. ). I tried to make coffee without a coffee maker in a new, weird way:

It didn’t work out too well. Then I grudgingly went to school, feeling like I would do anything to be allowed to stay in.

We have a new teacher which is sad because our last teacher was a lottt of fun. I do have to admit that class was a little better today on new guy’s second day though. He mostly just gives us worksheet after worksheet which makes my head feel like it’s going to explode but today when I thought something was dumb I just changed the assignment.

One reading asked us to read an outdated article full of lies about Cristóbal Colón and answer basic comprehension questions so I just started reading other articles about him on my phone and answering the questions based on my research.

When prof. asked “¿Quién descubrió América?” the Germans all said that the Vikings had.

I said, “Los indigenes quién vivieron allá,” and another American agreed with me. New guy sort of laughed nervously and said something ambiguous.

Around 10am Francis messaged me on Whatapp…

Doing some quick math to try and figure out the fastest way to bring her the PE CLOTHES I decided bike/metro combo might be best. As soon as our break started at 11:30am, I rode my bike to the closest metro stop in Casco Viejo (tourist hotspot nearby). I locked up my bike and rode the metro to our apartment (actually it’s a dorm room) in Txurnidaga. Walked up the 2 blocks to our apartment, grabbed the clothes, walked back down to the metro. But this time when I ran my metro card it didn’t work. Luckily there was a lady in the little glass box and she was able to fix the card for me.

I made it to Indauxu where Fran’s school- Colegio Nra Sra del Carmen- is. Dropped the clothes in a small Farmacia bag with her name on it. I got back on the metro to Casco and rode back over to school. None of these places are very far apart but with the hills it can take a while to bike everywhere. Sometimes when the city is quiet during siesta it’s amazing to bike around- it’s like I own the streets! Anyway, I got back to school at 1pm for the last 30 minutes of class but I had missed eating my lunch. It was a such a beautiful \/ day and I was so hungry so I went to eat at my usual lunch spot- a flight of stairs down to la ria. Here’s what my lunch view looks like:

After I ate my quinoa and veggies I was reading some emails, still sitting on the steps and then I put my phone in my back pocket to pack up my stuff. It was then that I noticed a sound that was a little bit too close to me and I had that feeling like when some family member is sneaking up behind you to scare you or steal something off of you (why this feels like a normal, common thing I do not know 😉 ). As I turned around I saw a guy sneaking quickly back up the stairs and out of my mouth came the words, “Are you serious?” He had stolen my phone. I stuffed everything in my bag and started chasing him. Jogging at first, I started picking up speed as it dawned on my what a royal pain in the ass it would be to lose the phone. My keys were jingling on my pants and I realized he could hear them so I grabbed them off my belt loop and shoved them in my pocket. He turned a corner into this train station and I ran in there after him (it’s very safe open air area). Finally I caught up to him- just walking slowly, smiling, looking at my phone. I got really loud (the voice I use to let my kids know that I will get loud in this public place if something doesn’t get fixed and yelled,”Hombre! Damelo!” He slowly handed it over to me, I gave him a glare and huffed off. For some reason I felt like I had just caught my brother or my kid robbing me. I guess that happens when you get old!

After that I felt pretty good, like I had just saved myself a shitload of trouble. I was happy that I knew from the start that no one else was gonna solve this situation but me. I did feel bad for the guy- he didn’t look too healthy. Maybe my age (46) or younger, but missing teeth. I have a feeling I will see him again.

After the failed robbery, I went to our favorite Panederia to get some pan espelta that Francis loves and I meandered for a while, people watching in quiet Casco Viejo siesta-time. So many people from all over the world!

My last stop was the beautiful public library there. I love this library because their main exhibit at the moment is literature

involving matemáticas.

I checked out 2 graphic novels. The librarian handed them over sullenly. I hope won’t be too hard for me to read since Harry Potter was not happening.

The Greatest Nation


Spain is the greatest nation I’ve ever visited if for no other reason than they’ve made the can-opener obsolete. Think of all the times you’ve wanted to open a can of black beans, garbanzos, coconut milk, pumpkin filling or cranberry sauce and just before you pick up the can, you realize that your can opener went missing last week, or it broke yesterday or your daughter lent to a neighbor 48 hours ago.

The frustration and fury that overtakes me in such situations is singular in its madness and I wholeheartedly love País Vasco and/ or España (who is responsible?) for resolving this exasperating experience. Shouldn’t this be on the to-do list of all governments? Truly, every can here has a tab that opens it. And not one that breaks right after you start to open it, one that opens the can all the way with ease. I don’t know how they did it, but this magical administrative act fills me with appreciation every time I open a can of atún, mejilliones, pulpo or whatever sordid kind of seafood I’ve taken to eating out of a can because it’s cheap. I can even temporarily forgive the bureaucracy of the police or the Oficina de Extranjería. As an avid complainer, I felt the need to get that appreciation off my chest.

Today I went to pick up my bici at the bike shop (the chain was broken) and I felt great joy while riding it home from San Francisco neighborhood to Txurnidaga, as always. Here is a picture of my odd route, which is certainly not the most direct but which is the most comfortable and safe-feeling for me.

It doesn’t matter what kind of mood I’m in when I start riding. By the time I’m over the biggest hills my face is smiling with or without my permission. I wouldn’t have noticed this except for the fact that one day a man (who must certainly be a transplant from a more extroverted part of Spain) yelled at me “Que bonita la sonrisa! Hola guapa!”

I don’t know why wheels make me so happy, but they do. I spent 4 years playing roller derby because wheels, women and fights make me happy and now my knees can’t take any more so I have to get my joy from bicycle wheels.

When I’m cruising on wheels I feel like I’m flying. The world shifts, ever so slightly, so that I can see its insides, like when I was a kid. I know it sounds cliche, but I feel very free and connected when I’m on wheels. I’m breathing the air and seeing the people and animals move around in their environment. I’m hearing the sounds of cars, birds, dogs, tranvía and buses. The bodies and metal get in my way but I can command my destiny to a degree and navigate around them. After a while I start to see certain patterns- people or animals in certain places at certain times. The patterns start to build a world for me that I can climb inside of. It holds me in its arms and somehow I’m safe here and I belong.

When I drive a car (back home) it’s like I’m living in disconnected boxes with big sensory blanks in between each location. When I take the metro here, there is a long stream of darkness and then there are many awkward moments while I stand around feeling overly American; I try to read on my phone in order to fit in better.

In case you were wondering, yes people know I’m an American before I even open my mouth. There is a point system that people (subconsciously?) use here use that tells them if you are a foreigner. They can even tell I’m Ingles and not German for example (though I’m not sure how many can distinguish between a Brit and American by sight alone). I know some things that give me extranjera points, but I most certainly do not know them all. Here are a few:

1 point: the person has a bike helmet and even wears it

1 point: the person is rubia and not stylish (blonde or light hair).

1 point: the person is looking at their phone when they walk around

1 point: the person is not riding an electric (city) bike

1 point: the person wears a backpack and/or carries a water bottle

Back to the biking… I had made it a personal challenge to find a route from the busy downtown valley up to the hills where I live that is not so steep that I have to walk the bike up it. Failing that, I was also allowed to get strong enough to make it up the hill on a known route without stopping. News flash: I can do this now on this /\ route if I’m not carrying too many groceries and if it’s not too crowded (I have to turn the handle bars back and forth a bit wildly to make it up). However, I know there is a secret (to me) route out there that I have yet to discover.

I had many moments of regret while transporting my bicycle here to Spain:

1. The outrageous fee for the box at the airport in Seattle and at JFK 2. The terror I felt when I noticed halfway through the trip that the hub had worn through the box and there was a good chance the bike (or parts of the bike) might not make it at all after having paid way more than said bike is worth to transport it 3.The point upon arrival when I realized that it was going to be virtually impossible to find a taxi big enough to get the bike boxes into which forced me to rent a car. Problems associated with the car rental caused me considerable anguish.

I’m sure there are a few moments that I’m missing. And yes, I now know that I would’ve been better off buying a bike here after all the airline fees. Last summer I’d read in an article online that it was much more expensive to buy bikes in Europe than in the U.S. and the author recommended bringing your own bike. This article was written for people with bicycles worth more than $125. 🙂 Mischief managed! I do love my joy machine.

Misery, Insanity, Inspiration in no Particular Order


Today is Sunday, 24/10/2021 as they say here in Europa. I guess it is more logical than writing 10/24/ 2021 but I’ve never felt particularly attached to the idea of logic and when the month comes first, it puts a picture of the season in my head which I prefer over a meaningless number.

I guess I should mention that I’m in Bilbao, Basque country where both Spanish and Euskera are spoken. Why I’m here is a long story for another post, but suffice to say it was a bit of a post(?)-pandemic school year decision.

Today I woke up feeling sad because it was already 9:20am when I woke. I had wanted to sleep late. I knew I needed the sleep because I stayed up too late reading the interminable, Farewell to Arms, but I wanted to wake up at 8:30 since I suspected masses might start at 9am.

I hesitate to admit that I’ve been binge-reading Hemingway. I started partly because the school I’m attending is named for him and partly because his descriptions of France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland are so charming and romantic and I’m most likely a cheesy romantic at heart.

Anyway, I woke up sad because I had wanted to attend mass but I imagined I was too late, though there was no real way of knowing. Last night I tried to find the churches in my neighborhood of Txurnidaga online, but apparently masses here are only meant for people who already know what time they start because there was not one website I could find connected to any of the Catholic churches. I was able to read some reviews of the churches.

Reading reviews has become a favorite pastime of mine since it seems to be the only way I can learn anything about various businesses and locations here. Spanish reviews are often very entertaining. “I don’t hate it,” for example was one of my personal favorites in reference to one of the local churches.

On the weekend it’s hard for me to get up and get out of the apartment. The thought of leaving feels so exhausting and I have to do it 5 days of the week so I sometimes avoid it on the weekends. I also avoid it because I don’t want to spend money and because walking out of the building forces me to pass clusters of 18 year olds and the office attendant who is probably 19. Call me crazy, but I don’t particularly like to be reminded that I’m an anciently-old 46 year old and I’m stuck in a student dormitory because I have no job. As a sensible act of protest, I stay stuck inside the student dormitory.

It’s a nice enough dormitory and the common spaces are perfectly fine for anyone who wants to be with other 18 year olds.

The one part of this building that actually did sound good was the “gym” but it’s been flooded since before we arrived.

On top of all that, I stay in on the weekends because I need to apply for more jobs which I have to do here in our dorm room because I have no laptop and every place close by seems to be closed on Sundays anyway. It’s so odd to me that this is the biggest city I’ve ever lived in (300,000+ ppl) and yet everything nearby is closed by 9pm except for a few bars.

“You’re still not any closer to finding a job?” the resident 16 year old inquires from across the tiny hallway-kitchen.

“Nope.” I don’t actually know the answer to this question but I prefer to disappoint the people closest to me straight off rather than offering what could amount to false hope.

“Do you even talk to people about…”

“No! Stop talking to me. I spent my whole retirement on this stupid trip and you’re such an ungrateful brat! You won’t even walk down the frickin street next to me.”

“We’ve already been over this…”

“Go way. Shut up!” <closes door>

I know I act like the worst teenager, and a terrible parent. The stress of trying to find a job so that we can stay here (or stay alive anywhere) is soul-sucking, mind-numbing, knuckle-cracking, brain-tweaking.

I do like it here even if I’m desperately lonely and there are no functioning websites and the girls soccer programs are horrible for extranjeras and I can’t find a music scene that interests me, and the government office bureaucracy is (or should be) world-renowned and the British ex-pat hikers you find on Meet up take you on murderous 13 mile hikes after claiming they are easy beginner hikes, and we are stuck in a dorm room because no one will rent to us without proof of employment even though I had the money to pay them for an entire year upfront.

I love the art, the architecture, the new ideas, new people, the odd public distaste for money, the cheap surf lessons, the cheap wine, the metro and the opportunities for learning new things.

I know I have to let go of outcomes- I’m in a 12 step program and they tell us that we have to stop trying to control outcomes. We have to be okay with whatever our “wider power” decides for our lives because most things are out of our control as lowly humans with limited funds.

I figure we can get by here for another 2 months if I don’t find a job. That ticking clock looms in front of my face wherever I go.

A Ukrainian friend told me recently that in a fit of rage and desperation she screamed- prayed to god, “You want control of this mess? Take it! And good luck to you!” I appreciate her approach to this relationship since I often struggle to imagine any honest, communicative interaction between myself and this wider power. I’m definitely planning on trying this strategy.

At around 10:45 am, after I finished speed-reading the end of the novel where the incredibly codependent, pregnant female character (SPOILER ALERT) dies of a hemorrhage in childbirth, I had to take one of my old, left-over Adderalls in order to get out of bed. I used to take Adderall for ADD. I don’t like it and it doesn’t work very well when I take it consistently so I stopped taking it but I have a few left.

When I’m really down and I can’t think straight enough to accomplish anything, it can pull me out of my rut for a bit. It can remind my brain how to put things in an order and how to complete tasks even if they are not done perfectly.

So I took one and it did help me complete some new job applications and write this, but it didn’t help me respond sensibly to my roommate, resident teenage- critic, aka kid.

I guess, me trying to get out of bed via Adderall, I guess that’s me trying to control outcomes again when I should be thrusting them upon my wider power and working to accept whatever comes next. It’s not a very American thing to do and I am very American so this may take a while.

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