My habit to count things

By Dora A. Ayora Talavera | @DoraAyora

We acquire some habits during our lives without noticing how and when we make them ours. These customs are not necessarily useful but we have them. In my case, for example, I have developed the ability to count things, I sometimes do this as a hobby, for curiosity and other times as part of an investigative action.

I count things wherever I go; while I am driving I can count “yellow Volkswagen sedan” or just cars with the same colour. I could not guess how many people have the same car than me.

When I travel, it is very interesting to know how many sits the plane has, the bus, or how many coaches a train has. How many suitcases are from the same brand than mine and how many have the same colour.

Buildings are amazing, they have lots of windows to count, how many are opened or closed, and how many have curtains, lights on or some ornament to enjoy.

If you participate in a Congress you can be surprised on how many nationalities can be together in the same place, how many different continents we come from and how many languages we can speak; even the common counting about how many men and women we are.

Long waits in rooms are the perfect excuse to count light bulbs, lamps, different kinds of chairs and amount of people in transit through these spaces and corridors. Also they are a good excuse to count the frequency of words, letters in pamphlets or advertisements that are in my visual field, it is worth recognising that lately I have noticed it a bit diminished.

I have counted how many members the choir, orchestra and viewers in the performance of the Ninth Choral Symphony of Beethoven has, as well the number of dancers that the Swan Lake has and how many people go to the theatre not wearing a black coat.

In the classroom, while students are working, I use to count how many of them are using jeans, short pants and skirts and how many different kinds of fabrics they are made from. I take into a count how many of the students wear sandals, tennis shoes and formal shoes. If a colour in a blouse or a T-shirt is more frequent I count how many different prints and full colours they have.

Though I enjoy counting things, good manners indicate me that I never must count how many tacos someone eats or how many beers he drinks, that does not look good!

I have made sad counts, when you say good bye and you know that this farewell has embed time… a year, 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, and multiply by 3, 4 or 5 they become your existence.

I also count life stuff. I have 17 years counting, every 15th of April, the first time that my daughter Ana stood up by herself in her bed. I count the anniversaries of my surgeries, my lost toenail, my kidney stone, the death of my father, the accident of my mother; my first check and of course my van’s anniversary.

Three years ago I started my own counting, just because I wanted, since the 4th of December of 2011, I count days. Every morning in my notebook I write the date and the number of that day, I have counted 1248 days, I can say, days of happiness, because they are full of a special consciousness about my life, my joy and my desire to be fine.

Counting things is absolutely useless, but it entertains me. It amazes me what I discover and it wonder me that always there is something new to count. Then, to count is a way to say who you are, where you have been, what you have seen; numbers and counts become a witness of your life and that is what makes a useful habit in a record about you, and then counting with numbers become a way to confess, to narrate yourself numerically, it is not an innocent counting about who you are.

From my side I want to continue counting, full notebooks with numbers to have a quantified record about what I live, to report myself by figures and narrate myself by digits.

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Do not tell it out loud!… the heat is stifling

It’s 8:00 am and 25° Celsius

What?? 25°C but, it is just sunrise!

How many degrees we will have today??!!

You only need to think about it, it’s enough having the idea in your head,”What a heat!” and then…you are lost. It is a way to give your body permission to start sweating; to feel how the small drops drip through your forehead, through your back, to see how your arms start emanating transparent pearls that have the potential to become rivers and a salty flood. There is nothing like opening your car at midday and feeling a boiling gust of wind in your face, it makes you want to die! But getting into the car, opening the windows without breathing to avoid burning your respiratory tract and your lungs from the boiling wind. That is heroism!

Walking on the street or on the road and suddenly seeing that pavement is melting or that there is a lagoon; you are surprised and walk faster to reach it but only to discover that it is an illusion! It does not matter how early in the morning it is, at midday or at 8 pm at night, there is no way that you can go jogging and not be left out of breath, with a tomato face, inflamed hands, bathed in sweat and dying of thirst. That is discipline!

What does this heat do to our body? Even on the shower you continue sweating. When you finish and try to dry your body, it is impossible. Your towel is like a brush that at the same time, takes the water off of your body and spreads on your skin a new slide of sweat. That is amazing!

There is nothing like trying to take a nap or sleep at night; if you sleep in a hammock, you can discover that it is as warm as the wall where it is hanging; the blankets on your bed are like they were just ironed, but they are hot, not flat. That is heat!

In this place,you do not take a shower to be clean, you take a shower with an illusion, to feel fresh, but what happens? You notice that you have to shower in 17 seconds, 8.5 with the hot tap before water boils, and 8.5 seconds with cold tap before you get peeled. That is bravery!

Every morning, in front of the mirror, you are begging that the fresh shower goes on, but you know that its effect is brief. Very soon you can feel that your body is sweating abundantly again, stopping you from dressing and putting your make up on. No power can stop you from starting your day without having humid clothes and an imperfect and not discrete make-up because of your sweating body. That is your vanity in jake!

It does not matter if you are a slim and strong athlete or a fleshy and agile woman, it is for sure that if you dare to eat lime soup or habanero chili you will melt in sweat and pleasure. That is gluttony!

It is obvious that in this place to make your bed, to organize your books, to brush your teeth are activities that justify the abundant sweating all day long. That is everyday life! But just sitting to read, to think, to listen music or simply to talk have the same effect. That is infamous!

These is the way which we live here, the place localized at latitude 21°38´ – 19°32’ and longitude 87°22’ – 90°24’ of our planet, I mean Yucatan, Mexico. That is happiness! @DoraAyora

Working on a story about a jigsaw puzzle

I have a hobby. During the last twenty years I have enjoyed working on jigsaw puzzles. The first one I bought was The Orana María by Paul Gauguin, one thousand pieces by the way the brand Nuova Arti Grafiche Ricordi (AGR)… is the best!

The size of their pieces, the careful and well managed cut, the quality of the impressions, the colours, the finishing touches, but specially the perfect gear assembling, it makes me think about the ballet concept, “timing” that refers to rhythm, velocity and pauses when a dancer moves or stops according to the music, giving to the performance a sense of action and drama.

When you are working on a jigsaw puzzle, the most extraordinary pleasure is when the anxiously looking piece fits in perfectly, making that joyful “timing” come true.

My hobby is not only to work on them; it is to collect them too. When I finish one I leave it in exposure for a while on the table; dusting and watching it time to time. At the end of the day, I disassemble it and I store it again. As time goes and I am craving I work on it again. Five years ago I decided working on all of them I make a plane pile of jigsaw puzzles, but now they are stacked on their boxes.

I like the pieces that form famous paintings; I do not like landscapes, animals, bridges or that kind of jigsaw puzzles that are made from very small figures creating a bigger and a different one. I have pass hours and days working on Gauguin y Van Gogh, Matisse, Remedios Varo, Picasso, Dalí, Kandisky, Rousseau, Velázquez, Da Vinci, Veronese, Degas y Klimt’s works.

Though, I was sophisticating my acquisitions. At the very beginning I bought them on toy shops, but in latest times I have the joy to buy them on museums and specialised stores. In that way I have singular souvenirs from “The National Gallery” and “The Natural History Museum” of London, from “Ashmolean Museum” of Oxford, from “Magritte Museum” in Brussels, from “Museo Nacional del Prado” in Madrid, from “Louvre” in Paris, among others.

Evidently I have my favourites! I just want to write about two of them that curiously are not famous paintings. One of them I found on the Ashmolean, Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford. The image is a reproduction of Powhatan’s mantle, originally made from deerskin with shell decoration. One particularity of this jigsaw is that its pieces are made from wood, three millimetres of thickness, and they do not have the “traditional” forms, as you can find two pieces that make a “framework” you can find a brush or a completely irregular form. Though it has only 250 pieces, it is a work of art that you can truly enjoying work on it…and smelling it.

The second is a gift. It is not a work of art. According to the box it is the world´s most difficult jigsaw puzzle. Someone challenged me and I accepted. It has 529 pieces, but given its difficulty it is equivalent to a 4000 pieces. What does it consist of? It is a small square 38 cm by 38 cm, the image is “scattered paperclips”, what is the most interesting thing is that is double sided, I mean the same image is on both sides but one of them is turned 90° relative to the other. All the pieces, except the frame, are exactly the same size and shape. You do not have any clue about which side is which, because the way the pieces were cut, no edge is bent. The box advices you about the confusing instructions and recommends, to just work on it! I have finished it three times.

No table is enough for my hobby. The surfaces are not enough. My biggest jigsaw puzzle has 1500 pieces; I would like having a 5000 pieces one.

If one day you want to make me happy, give me a puzzle… or a table.

@DoraAyora

What will you feel driving a trailer?

To travel by road is an experience that I have always enjoyed. My father was an excellent driver, I learnt from him.  Looking at him drive was fantastic. Mostly when we travelled on vacations, departing from Mexico City at 3:00 am and arriving to Yucatan at 10:00 pm, stopping just to fuel the car and let six girls –from one to twelve years old– visit the bathroom.

Seeing my father drive, his dark skinned hands, strong and firm over the car was like taking his driving skills.  I used to imagine that I was the driver; I felt the pleasure of speed changing, putting the turn signals to pass and the speed to take the lead in the opposite lane and to get back on track with the satisfaction of leaving the “slow car” behind.

There were so many girls, that we did not fit in the car; sometimes he drove a blue Opel, in others it was a brown Malibu that later became a green beetle car. I insisted on sitting in box that was in between the two front seats, placing my little legs on the sides, left leg touching my dad, the right touching my mom.

To imagine my size in these dimensions makes me think that I was really small and rickety; but that was not important I steel felt like the main co-pilot, I was responsible to give, first to my dad and then to my sisters, food and water –pickle sandwiches prepared by my mom– since we left home.

Although sleep overcame me many times, I was trying to stay awake all the time to accompany my dad. I remember how suddenly between dreams Javier Solis began to sing or Glen Miller’s Orchestra began to play In the mood.

The nights that I could beat the dream, I could not stop looking out of the corner of my eyes how my dad moved the fingers of his left hand. It was a sign of his thinking. When we talked he taught how accurate and cautiously drive the car.

It is clear, that when you are driving in the road, you could see all kinds of car models, but it was more fascinating to watch tanker trucks and double trailer trailers sway. It was my dad initiative to enlist me in the habit of keeping a tally of their tires. But we always passed so quickly, I could not finish counting, but it was the perfect motivation to keep me alert.

When trailers were a single trailer, it was not so difficult to make a tally: one-two, three-four, five… ten tires. Practice and age made ​​me good at counting fluently the thirty- four wheels that a double trailer brings, sometimes I included the two that it has as replacement tires.

Driving a trailer has being always a craving. I find truly fascinating its size, strength, power, and the great ability it takes to drive it. I do not know why, but in my mind two scenes are recreated: my memories of the past on the road admiring the magnificence and counting the wheels … and a picture of the future where I smile at my eighty years old sitting in the driver’s seat, enjoying how feels to drive a trailer.

@DoraAyora

A cyclist town

“We live in a cyclist town”, in Mexico we use this expression in a pejorative way, meaning a place that is underdeveloped. Nowadays, when someone use this expression I do not know exactly what it means, because this phrase makes me think about some towns that I had met; towns that commonly use bicycles as a transport and I like them very much.

I met a cyclist town, where its main transport are two wheels, thought there were two legs… and four, six, twelve even one hundred wheels if we think of train.

What did I find there?

A city that privilege pedestrians and bicycles presence, that makes it fascinating to travel its streets, letting appreciate among other things, the diversity of bicycles models that exist and showing all the options you can choose according to your needs.

I am going to describe some examples that I found:

There were the Old Fashion models, they were the most common, I call themBike-banger, they thunder while pedalling. They are very safe to pedestrians, you know when they are coming because of their thundering; the owners look relax without any worry about their sonority.

There were the Modern models, racing bicycles, light, which look like they do not weight anything and these are the fastest. They pass as fast as the cyclist blows away and you just feel a gust of wind.

Family models are fantastic, to two and three people. Exactly, what I dreamt to ride with my sisters. There are many family models: a big one the front and a small one at the back, they are used to transport kids to school. Another one is a traditional bicycle with a small chair at the back, where babies go tied with a sit bel and a helmet; they are sleeping while their heads are shaking from side to side.

I could see some models that I call Twins, they are like a motorcycle with sidecar, the sidecar could be opened or closed depending on the weather. They were used to transport kids and babies too.

There was a model that could be perfect to my father; it was like a tricycle with the loading area at the back, a big one. I can imagine him with short trousers and venison-skin sandals riding the tricycle; in the loading area his shotgun and a wild boar, product of his hobby, hunting. Of course, this model can be used to carry groceries too.

Another model, is the traditional tricycle with a big basket in the front, but it is covered with checked fabric and the person that is inside the basket just have the head outside, during rainy seasons it could be very useful.

If social practices tell many things about the culture of a country, let’s imagine all the models that Mexican ingenuity could create, and how they could change our transportations practices.

Ironically that cyclist town had some lacks, it did not any street vendors, it did not have stray dogs, neither advertising on buildings, during presidential elections there were not hordes of political advertising invading the city and making life impossible.

I do not believe that every cyclist town has to be the same, however, if being one implies to have a city that privilege citizens instead cars, that privilege the beauty of the buildings instead marketing, it could make our cities, a space that favours the healthy practice of walking and riding our bikes.

Should we become a cyclist town? What do you think?

When I learned about my Mother Country

Even though I was not a good student, I have pleasant memories about primary school. I was, and I am, that kind of person “who does not learn at the first attempt”, one of those who almost failed every course. Unlike my six sisters, I was never brilliant and I never earned an outstanding grade, I was nowhere near to being the favourite student of the teacher. In fact, I am sure my poor mother was worried about my future.

Even so, I remember happily my long walks going to the school. The Cold weather penetrating the skinny body I had in that time and my freezing hands. The Cold weather that made me in many occasions —here among us— go to  school wearing my pyjamas underneath my school uniform to keep my body warm, in spite of the protest of my sisters, my walking partners.

We entered to the classroom paced of the energising “Zacatecas’ march” taratatá-tará-tatá  taratatá-tará-tatá. And although dancing wasn’t my gift either, I enthusiastically moved my body at the rhythm of “La Culebra” in sixth grade, dressed in my Mexican orange dress.

I remember lemon sorbets sold by the janitor, Don Pedro, at the break and the special strawberry sorbets that he gifted every year to celebrate the children’s day. Let’s not forget the importance of  our sports’ teacher — according to my friends and I, he was absolutely handsome and he smelled delicious — we passed in front of him over and over again just to smell him.

Although it was stifling, I got over the threat of having to go backwards a year if I could not learn the time tables, and although the fear of marks book was always present, I survived.

Perhaps I did not memorise what school expected. Maybe I forgot many details about History that we studied. Maybe I still do not understand anything about maths. What can I say about grammar? Difficult!

In Mexico, we are living very complicated and unsettled times, they make me think about the best and the most important lesson I learned at school: What Mother country means.

I do not know how, when and in which way, but school years thought me first of all, to love Mexico… and today it hurts me.

I know that my daughter Ana, who was born almost twenty years after my passage of primary school, loves her country, but I am sure that in a very different way than me, because of the way I was educated and the way my school taught me what it means to be Mexican.

To pay homage to the national flag —in spite of fainting every time during the ceremony— were actual solemn rituals, because we felt them, because we learned to live them. Because that ceremonies to a 7, 8, 9 years old girl, were more than just singing the national anthem and saluted the national flag while the escort passed in front of us to finally recite in unison a pledge of allegiance. Those moments were a way to create an identity, a compromise and respect to my nation, my culture, my home.

Today, behind the window of my room in the stillness of the afternoon, seeing my garden, I hurt. I think, how will we stay afloat? How will we repair this country? Who will make a difference? How can I contribute to making things change from my activities as a teacher, a therapist and a mother?

Sometimes I see myself as a coward, others as a powerless, others more, as a revolutionary that from her trench she makes her part. But it is not enough.

Mexico hurts me.

Lately I have wished that It does not matter to me, it does not hurt me, I act as if nothing happens, I try being indifferent, but I cannot.  Days like today when I feel desperate and angry, not knowing what to do, I tell myself: I would like to never have learned what Mother country means!

@DoraAyora

From Relationship to Relationshit

We can play with language: it is enough changing a letter to transform words as well the perspective and meaning they have. Let’s see!

Every human interaction starts as a relation, plainly, assuming that two people come into contact at the first moment without any information about each other. It is difficult, only if it is a casual and hazardous meeting, which is free of predispositions and expectations.

Thereon that bond can become a friendship, a work relationship, a love relationship. The passing of time, interaction, dialogue, circumstances, acquired knowledge, created expectations, will and interest, will transform that casual meeting into something common and quotidian.

I think that every relationship is in power, considering that no relation “is”. They have to be constructed, they have to be made every day. Not even the basic relationships like mother & child, couple or family are natural and spontaneous.

Every relationship is full of social meanings about how they must to be, but they are not until we make them. Mother and child relationships and couple relationships are not naturally loving, nor friendship relations are spontaneously respectful, not even boss & employee relationships are including.

Into dialogue, as a way of interaction, we choose words to communicate. Those words help to shape our relationships until they become —no definitively neither statically— ways of living.

It is not my task to clarify what changes first, the relationships or which words we use to name them. What is evident is that, something happens between a mother and her son when he stop being “the light of her eyes” to become “that dirty and unbearable son”; when a husband stop being “my cupid” to become “that good for nothing man”; when your boss stop being “a model to follow” to become “a neurotic and embittered woman”.

Relationships change and the way we talk about them change too. Not only the words we use are different, but the tune in out voice changes, our not-verbal language and every way to signify is transformed.

How easy is loving, respecting and admiring to “the light of my eyes”, “my love” and “my model” and what difficult is to love what is “unbearable, useless and bitter”. Language is dangerous; it has the power to transform our living together and everyday dialogue, changing from loving “Relationships” to unsustainable “Relationshits”

If we can choose what word we will us to name something, which word we will communicate; if we can think what we will say and stop before behaving… why are there some relations in which we decide to be offensive, rude and disrespectful while in other relations we are kind, attentive and tender?

Change playfully a “t” for a “p” at the end of a word, seems very funny, but what sad and uncomfortable could be when that word represents a relationship that has changed.

Playing with language is risky, we should not despise it. It can create as extraordinary realities and relationships as destructive. What word do you like to construct?

R E L A T I O N S H I _ S. Take your chance!

@DoraAyora

Meme´s viral irony

It is impossible to avoid laughing out loud seeing a picture of Anastasia y Griselda —Cinderella’s stepsisters— tagged with this legend “Let’s hook Prince Harry” concerning Peña Nieto’s Family visit to England.

When you finally stop laughing, you can think about inventiveness required to create a meme, who is the person that is behind of it and if he/she does not have anything more important to do.

What has made memes so popular? What do they say about contemporary culture?

While health policies, technological and medical advances have increased life expectancy around the world —according to World Health Organization, 81 years to men and 87 years to women— paradoxically everything around us has short length. A blender, a car, the furniture of our houses, a boyfriend, a marriage, are now almost disposable.

Life is not anymore that long period in which we grow, reproduce and die; it looks now like a chain of brief occurrences that are linked each other. We live in an age where events have to be fast. We do not like waiting. We are in a hurry. Electronic devices are updated so fast that when we just get the 3thversion the 4th is on sale and people speculate about the 5th.

Cultural evolution is accompanied of certain forms of language and communication which are congruent with social dynamics. Memes, as language and linguistic phenomenon, help to construct the culture of “concrete and fast”. They are examples of social ways of communication that favour that cultural transformation.

The study of memesMemetics— applied to communication and as a form of language, it describes to me, this “concrete and fast” aspect of contemporary culture. We communicate brief messages transmitted by visual ways through social webs, blogs, emails and news; reading from a computer, a tablet or by a mobile. If I think about memes´ social function, it seems that its main intention is to say something ironically and virally, instead the veracity of its messages.

Memes offer ironic critique, sarcastic reflexion, mocking laments, venom advertising. They are like a postmodern hurtful murmur which is disseminated very fast by webs, making us laugh and participate in a social dynamic, in a kind of communication that looks like it’s not having any clear intention.

Being anonymous, memes give you freedom to say whatever you what, without feeling fear to be censored. They allow mocking grotesquely of authorities; complaining of politicians, ridicule unfair decisions in a football game or simply making a joke about something quotidian.

But, what is its goal? Are they just a way to communicate? Are we waiting to see if they will be transcendent? Are they a kind of relief to mocking about our world? Are we waiting for them to generate an actual consciousness and social change? Or maybe are they simply fun and contemporary hobby?

As a creative process, making memes does not only requires of a good phrase with an image. It needs a special sense of humor, a humor that is updated every day, a spirit to create that is informed by current world, an extraordinary ability to think and communicate in a simple and brief way.

If people, would communicate through memes, can we imagine how would change our way of relating and learning. How would parents communicate long and in detail with their adolescents? What would happen with love, and how would it solve differences between? How would legislators discuss cleverly to promulgate policies? If we use memes as a teaching method, how would teachers promote reading great literary works and academic dialogue?

Memes as a way of communicate; let us gain a new kind of criticism and social consciousness: viral irony. It is creative, funny and propagates at speed. In addition, we lost some richness about language, dialogue and mutual understanding and we can favour manners to be merciless about some perspectives and ways of living.

At the end of the day, what we will do with memes? Will they be just a viral communicative trend and will they dead as fast as they spread? Or will they be a social transcendence communicative way, which is here to stay and to challenge constantly our need to dialogue, understanding and action, for social change?

@DoraAyora

The time: adjective, verb and noun

I always believed, that time was just a noun, a word that describe an abstract or concrete reality. Suddenly, after reading the next Julio Cortázar’s story on his book “Historias de Cronopios y de Famas” it has an amazing perspective. Let’s play with it!

Preamble to the instructions on how to wind a watch

(Translated by Paul Blackburn)

Think of this: when they present you with a watch, they are gifting you with a tiny flowering hell, a wreath of roses, a dungeon of air. They aren’t simply wishing the watch on you, and many more, and we hope it will last you, it’s a good grand, Swiss, seventeen rubies; they aren’t just giving you this minute stonecutter which will bind you by the wrist and walk along with you. They are giving you – they don’t know it, it’s terrible that they don’t know it – they are gifting you with a new fragile and precarious piece of yourself, something that’s yours but not a part of your body, that you have to strap to your body like your belt, like a tiny, furious bit of something hanging onto your wrist. They gift you with the job of having to wind it every day, an obligation to wind it, so that it goes on being a watch, they gift you with the obsession of looking into jewelry-shop windows to check the exact time, check the radio announcer, check the telephone service. They give you the gift of fear, someone will steal it from you, it’ll fall on the street and get broken. They give you the gift of your trademark and the assurance that it’s a trademark better than others, they gift you with the impulse to compare your watch with other watches. They aren’t giving you a watch, you are the gift, they are giving you yourself for the watch’s birthday.

Measuring time, is probably one of the biggest consensus that human beings have, even though how and when measure it is not exactly the same.

To some, we live in 2015; to others in 4713. In Chinese calendar every year can have twelve or thirteen months and between 353 and 385 days; to us every year have twelve months and 365 or 366 days. To Mayan culture time is counted through cycles, thirteen months with twenty days each one, 260 days per year. Thus, we live on AC. while others lived on BC.

What a perspective!

However these conceptions time constructs us. It is through it that life starts and finishes – though to some actual life start after death, to others we just reincarnate – it gives to life cycles, stages, moments and short and long term effects.

If time as concept constructs, what does it make us?

As a noun, time is not innocent; we have given it more properties that really “belong” to it. It is not a neutral noun that only refers to something. Time,defines the start and end of things, what is past and what is present. It has as well effects on us depending on its actions as “adjective” or “verb”

As an adjective, time qualifies us; it makes us old and young, it also makes us punctual, irresponsible, dissatisfied, resigned and obsessive people. It is also a way, to judge what we do pointing out what is right and what is wrong – e.g. when something happens at appropriate moment- it dictates what is real because is durable and remains; and what is trivial because it is ephemeral.

As a verb, it makes us act, because it makes us go faster or delay decisions –carpe diem- trying to care it; when we are conscious about life and death, it makes us buy, save, assure, trying to project our future; when something happens in a wrong timing it makes us stops and reflects on; when we feel that time is passing, we do what is right studying, paying and sometimes getting pregnant.

Time is as relative – time will tell!- as categorical – here and now!-; it is as cruel –your time is over!- as fun – we have more time than life!-. Either way, as noun, verb or adjective, time shapes us to live on right moment, specific tasks and expected actions.

Don’t even talk about time as an adverb! It will make us seek uselessly, dream intensely, and maybe love desperately.

Have you ever have stood on Greenwich meridian playing to be in the past and in the present, or in the present and in the future, depending on the way you want see it.

@DoraAyora

REFERENCE