Let’s face it, we all have demons. Mine always choose the worst time to enter my consciousness: sometime around 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. Between having to get up to pee numerous times and these visitors, I get out of bed exhausted. These are people that were either a part of my past or live among the present. The frequent visitors are those I did not have closure with. Death, a major blow up, or fear that any sort of interaction would make things worse, keeps these demons around.
Whether in dreams, semi-consciousness, and/or periods of being fully awake, these wandering spirits, cause much consternation.
The Main Reasons These Nighttime Visits Occur
Therapists I have engaged throughout my life have told me that these visits are normal and a healthy way of coping. What they really mean to say is that approaching someone you’re angry with wielding a knife, is not good. Your mind is a complex organ where your thoughts are not always easily explained. Many of my conflicts play out in my dreams. Usually not a pleasant or productive dream, for the most part, it’s usually more of the same.
How These Conversations Usually Go
So you’re back?
I didn’t choose to be here.
Then why are you here?
You summoned me stupid.
Here’s the thing, I don’t remember asking you to be here and I’d rather you just disappear. I hate how you treated me all those years, but there is nothing I can do about it now.
Oh geez, let it go. I was an egotistical maniac and I treated everyone that way; you need to move on.
But you fucked-up my head. I have all sorts of anger bubbling up because of you. I alienate relationships, hide out for long periods of time, shut down, and sometimes blame others for my own bad behavior.
That’s not on me. Whatever I did, I did it because I thought it was right at the time. You can’t blame me because you kept it all in and never confronted me. And don’t make excuses like: “I couldn’t find the right time” or “You would never have listened,” it’s all nonsense. I’ve been your scapegoat for too many years. I’m tired of repeating myself — you are your own worst enemy.
That makes me feel so much better. Now get out and don’t come back.
[Cold sweats and a sleepless night are almost a certainty. Alcohol and other substances only makes things worse and pushes thoughts down temporarily.]
Recognize the endless loop of outrageous verbiage? It’s exhausting.
Getting Rid of the Demons for Good
As if getting rid of them is even remotely possible (the cynic in me).
I have found that there are very few ways to purge these demons.
Closure — confronting the individual and either receiving an apology (unlikely) or sorting it out.
Working it out in therapy. A good therapist will engage you in role play. Here you have an opportunity to say what is on your mind and purge your thoughts. You must be fully committed to the process.
Time — hopefully, a long period of time will help you to eventually let it go.
Holding on to resentment or anger is never good. It does awful damage to your psyche and your internal organs. The quicker you can work it out, the healthier you will be. I’ve been working on this for years and I can only report a slight improvement. It’s something to strive toward.
COVID-19 strikes again and Lyon and Bristol are not happening . . . now. Instead I am booking a shared cottage on the Island of Farol. I’ll get there by ferry from Faro in about 30 minutes. I booked it for July and I’m fairly certain it won’t be cancelled. This should be a unique experience that I will be excited to tell you about.
I am relieved to be home from a three week trip to the States. Ironically, I almost said, ” . . . three week trip home.” I did not go home, I am home, Portugal is home. We spend so much time making our homes comfortable and beautiful and then we travel someplace else.
In many ways returning to the United States during a pandemic was an insane proposition. My flight was cancelled, rebooked, cancelled, changed, changed again, and changed one final time. What should have been a seven hour direct flight turned into two stressful flights; the first in the wrong direction with a very tight connection — more like 17 hours. I had to be tested for COVID-19 prior to travelling, at my expense. It should be noted that the PCR test in the States was offered at no cost. COVID testing has become a big business with many charging as much $250; criminal.
Looking back, the four airports I travelled through were extremely busy — a plug for Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which was by far the most efficient and user friendly.
I cannot help but wonder if I would have made this trip knowing what I know now. True, there are family and friends I wanted to see; I needed to see. It had been a long time and I lived in the U.S. for the first 59 years of my life. This trip took its toll on me mentally and physically like no other before it. I’m going to stop writing for afew days. My negative feelings about what I saw and experienced in the U.S. are skewed and time will help.
[An apology to friends and family: I imagine you grew tired of comparisons between Portugal and the U.S. For example, “I can get a latte and a pastry for two euros in Faro.” That must have sounded more like: wah, wah, wah and wah. My bad. Is it true people are no longer saying, “My bad.?”]
Some time has passed and I have gained some perspective.
One of positive things about travel was the renewed appreciation of my home. Whilst away, I thought a lot about Faro, Paco (my dog), and my apartment. After only a few days, I lamented about the rest I get in my own bed and the joy I get from hanging with Paco.
Of course I know that I think and say all of these things and by next week this time I will be thinking about my next trip and longing to be away again.
I didn’t take very many photos; living in the moment and creating living memories.No doubt, I am one lucky fella.Don’t be upset if you do not see yourself here, I chose these pics quickly — I blame jet lag.
Some of the highlights and pitfalls of my time in the States (not all fact, but a whole lot of opinion):
The non-U.S. passport line at JFK was a lot shorter; there is a first time for everything.
I oddly had little to no jet lag going west.
The old Penn Station was like entering hell without warning. I’m still suffering from PTSD — Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury (Google).
New York City is not the same with Broadway gone dark and that’s just a fact.
People get angry with you when you’re nearby, but have no time to see them. Please don’t be mad at me.
The food in New York City is better than anywhere I have ever been (must be the competition).
Brooklyn Bridge Park is absolutely incredible and should not be missed — what a gift to the people of Brooklyn and the city of New York.
There is no bed like your own bed.
May is the best month of the year for good weather in the northeast (mostly not hot and humid).
I understand why they say you can never go home again.
No one gets you the way your siblings do.
Charlotte, North Carolina has exploded (I went to university there).
BBQ should only be eaten in the south.
Downtown Boston is not easy to navigate since the Big Dig. I almost missed my bus back to New York (plug for Flexi Bus; easy and inexpensive way to travel).
I’ve been writing this blog for three years and much to my chagrin, friends actually said this, ” . . . so what is your blog about?”
Not everyone is happy that I was able to get the J&J vaccine in Brooklyn. Doesn’t matter, I’m glad I did.
I spent way too much time throughout my travels, thinking about quarantine weight.
I refuse to travel back to the United States during this pandemic; I know we’re all hoping things will improve soon.
I thought turning your data off on your cell stopped you from roaming. A cell phone bill for hundreds of euros let me know that I was wrong. I’m certain cell carriers and cell phone manufacturers are in cahoots regarding this issue. My iphone has to be on airplane mode to avoid roaming charges. I can assure you that unless I have dementia (do I?), that will never happen again.
You know I have a lot more to say, note my restraint.
A Minha Casa
Now that I have been home for almost a week, I can sit back and reflect on the significance of this last visit to my place of birth. People I know and love have lots going on; they’re frenetic, preoccupied and manic. That doesn’t mean they love me or think of me any less. What it does mean, is that I need to be patient and understanding. All I ask in return, is the same consideration
I painted stenciled blue birds on my solarium floor on my first full day home. No doubt I was seeking peace and tranquility. Hoping to squash that PTSD.
I cancelled my trip to Lyon scheduled for next week. Too much COVID-19 testing and complicated travel. Businesses blaming everything that goes wrong on this virus is getting old.
I have tickets to Bristol, UK in July — who knows if that will happen. It’s only been postponed four times. Stockholm in August, Toulouse in September, London and a European cruise in October, and a long awaited trip to five Asian countries in January 2022. Cuba moved to February and the planning continues. I keep telling myself it’s okay to plan, even though it’s a bit insane. Humans are strange after all.
April was a significant month for me, the the United States government officially acknowledged my hard work and said, in not so many words, you can retire now and we’ll give you back a fraction of the money you paid in for all of those years — 43 years to be exact. For reasons I won’t go into here, I have decided to wait on those funds a bit longer.
Still, milestones are laden with questions and expectations: Am I retired? Have I achieved all that I desire? What is my ultimate purpose in life? What matters most? Are there more rats in the world than people? Who really cares?
When I started this blog three years ago, I was addressing three important personal concerns:
What will I do with all of my spare time now that I am no longer employed (my choice)?
Does anyone care about what I think? It’s all about feeling relevant.
Can I monetize blogging?
Time is a tricky reality. When you are happily doing what you want to do, it just sort of slips away. I have never truly felt “retired.” My days are filled with so many wonderful and interesting things to do and now that travel is back in the mix, I don’t think I’ll have much time to think about time.
Some people do seem to care about what I have to say; however, oddly, not my family. I don’t think any of them follow my blog. Perhaps if I ask them to read a particular piece, they might. At first I was hurt by this, but I have evolved and now I could care less. I do have several close friends who read my blog each week and some even comment. I convinced myself early on that I write for myself; so much of life is what you tell yourself.
I cannot monetize my blog because I refuse to make it about one thing. My topics are all over the place and that’s the way I want it. Money is important, but it’s not everything.
The bottom line is that I’m been fairly structured about publishing on a timeline/deadline. It’s been weekly from the start and that has worked fairly well for me. My schedule for 2021 has changed dramatically due to my travel plans. Most of my 2020 trips were moved to 2021, making it more difficult to stick with a weekly format. So basically, I will continue to write, but my posts will be more sporadic. This will provide more freedom, less structure, and perhaps my readers will enjoy the anticipation. I’ve been trying to be more loosey goosey for years; I’d like to think I’m coming around. Not easy when you’ve behaved a certain way your entire life. Other people do not impose expectations, it’s all me. Time to get away from that if I can, this is a start.
My problem with routine is this: I think after a while anything can become boring. I realize there has to be some order in my life; Paco for example expects to go out certain times throughout the day. Sleep on a schedule is important; without sleep I’m useless. But so many other things can and will be more spontaneous. Here are just a few of my daily “must dos” that will hopefully become less structured:
coffee in the morning
Paco to the dog park
gym time (I prefer early morning when I have optimal energy)
watching the news
catching up with friends
trying out a new recipe(s)
tending to my terrace garden (plants and herbs)
Up to this point I actually noted many of these daily to dos on my daily calendar. I find way too much comfort in checking things off a list. Yesterday (Sunday 5/2) I went about my day with a blank calendar. By the end of the day I was amazed how much I got done just by doing things when I felt moved to do it. I planted on my terrace, grilled, and hung some photos; none of these things were planned.
Now you need to stop laughing; it’s just not right. I can do this. I can change. I will change. Now I’m laughing.
There is a part of the day that I have come to love and appreciate; I don’t believe that I should shake things up to much. After dinner I take Paco to the park across the street from my apartment. There are always people strolling, runners running, and other dog walkers — I don’t know most of them and I like it that way. It’s peaceful. It’s the start of the winding down process. Once we are inside and my teeth are brushed, there is no more eating; sometimes a snifter of brandy, sometimes not. I save my favorite series from Netflix or HBO for this time of day. If there is a new film out that I can subscribe to, I order it. My cell phone automatically goes on do not disturb and so does my brain. The light from the sun going down is magical in the late spring and summer. This two or three hour ritual prepares me for sleep. I have learned the hard way, one cannot go from 60 to five in 30 minutes. Why mess with a process that is almost guaranteed to make a restorative sleep possible.
I entitled this post “Going Forward,” in truth, this was a roundabout way of telling you that in the future, I will only be writing when I have something to say. If you’re a subscriber, they will be dropped into your email box whenever I complete an entry. Please continue to comment and provide feedback — it’s fuel.
I read The Midnight Library by Matt Haig this week. If you’re searching for meaning in your life, I highly recommend this wonderful, insightful, provocative, novel.
I’m getting a bit of flack for traveling during a pandemic, but there are some advantages and I believe in freedom to choose (if the law allows):
The airplanes I’ve travelled on have only been about a third full and studies have shown the air filtration systems are safer than if you go into a grocery store (for example). I usually pay for a comfort seat, ensuring more distance.
Plane tickets to European destinations have been greatly reduced.
Hotels that are open have been clean and fairly inexpensive (I stayed in a one bedroom apartment on the marina in São Miguel for a week, with breakfast, four star: 425 Euros).
The airlines and destinations require COVID-19 testing
You are helping the tourism industry. Frankly, without some influx of funds, many will go bust. This will create monopolies and greater costs to the customer in the long run.
A great way to visit places you’ve never travelled to.
A good cure for cabin fever.
Once crowded destinations are calm and peaceful.
Paco needed a break from being around his dad 24/7.
I’m not sure I can stop myself.
From Faro I always have the choice of getting to Lisbon three different ways: air, train, or bus. I usually choose first class on the train. It’s a little over three hours, no pre-boarding obstacles at the station, lots of space to move around, very inexpensive, clean, and relaxing. My roundtrip ticket was 35 euros, and I think, a good value.
There were a couple of airlines going to São Miguel, however, Sata Azores Airlines, was reasonable and the flight times in both directions were perfect. I could take the train from Faro in the morning with more than enough time to make a 1:35 p.m. flight. The flight time was about 2 hours 15 minutes. A great way to get there. You may have to wait for the train on return, but I made the best of it by dining out for lunch (see Choosing Where to Stay).
I believe Air Portugal also flies out of Lisbon to São Miguel. They have decent fares, but they also have a lot of add-on fees (seats, bags, etc.).
If you’re going to any of the other islands, I believe you have to take another flight or a boat. I honestly did not explore these options. What I did learn, was that São Miguel was the only island that imposed restrictions on restaurants.
The airline insisted on luggage check which actually worked out well because I was able to purchase several authentic liquid products that I have not seen in Faro.
Choosing Where to Stay
I checked out Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Airbnb and ultimately went with Booking.com because the rate was good and I get free upgrades due to my status with the site. I also like that you can cancel most reservations up to a couple of days prior and you usually do not have to pay until you check in. When I booked the trip two weeks ago, restaurants and museums were open. Since then there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases and until the end of April, the restaurants (just a few), are only able to do takeout. Having learned this at the airport in Lisbon, there was obviously no turning back. I figured I’d go with it and in all honesty, it wasn’t a big deal. Well, the casino closing was a big deal, but in the long run I probably saved boatloads of cash.
I decided that it would be crazy to be in a double room for a week, being that I had to sleep and eat in the same space — I’m not in college any more after all. I asked the desk staff what it would cost for a larger room on the marina and he told me it would be an additional 80 euros. I was pleasantly surprised, paid for the upgrade and headed to my room. I was elated when I got to the room and it was a large, fully equipped, one bedroom apartment. Considering the hotel is fairly full, I felt very fortunate. Not only could I eat in a dining area on a dining table, but I could also reheat leftovers. This made the week a whole lot nicer. Hotel Gaivota is a four star property in need of a little redecorating. All in all, I was pleased with the service, cleanliness, and breakfast was excellent; especially the freshly made cakes and breads.
I was walking distance to just about anywhere in town and there was a walking/bike path right on the edge of the marina that went for miles along a beautiful coastline. It was the perfect spot for a week of sun, storms (I love storms), and lots of wind.
Unfortunately, I did not get my 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I’m an early riser so it was fine. I never sleep well the night before an early flight so I was up by 4:15 a.m. You can never rely on a hotel wake-up call. I had also set my cell phone alarm as a back-up. You can see how being obsessive-compulsive can help you get places . . . and ensure that you lose your mind.
Wearing a mask from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. wasn’t easy. I had lunch at PekingPeking in Lisbon and so, a short reprieve. The best Chinese food I have had in Portugal to date. Delicious buffet and a very pretty restaurant . . . and indoor dining on the mainland. Paco was in surgery to remove a tumor on his paw while I was dining; not a great situation, but by the time I finished lunch he was out of surgery and doing well. Five hours later he was cuddled up by my side. This fella is a trooper.
As I mentioned earlier, take-out or delivery was my only option and only a dozen or so non-chain restaurants were open.
I had take-out from Ramires twice and the food was excellent and travelled well. They’re well known for their piri piri chicken, however, I thought the ribs were even better. A full meal delivered to your door for 10 euros. They were on the marina and nearby.
These are the restaurants I heard and read were fantastic that I did not get to try because of the pandemic: A Tasca, Ōtaka, Balcony Restaurant, and Restaurant Mariserra. No doubt that I will return at a later date.
I discuss the famous cozido das Furnas stew later in this piece. You cannot visit the Azores without giving this dish a try.
There are several pineapple growers on the island. I learned that the São Miguel was once known for its oranges, but a plague wiped them out and the crops were replaced with hardier pineapple plants. Pineapples were not yet in season. I did eat pineapple, however, not certain of where it was grown. The pineapples from São Miguel are smaller and supposedly sweeter.
Mainland Portuguese people are extremely welcoming and helpful, but the people I encountered on São Miguel were far more open and very laid back — island life I guess.
The food is different; spicier and more flavorful. Perhaps it’s the influence of other cultures. It’s out in the middle of the Atlantic and the cuisine has its own distinct signature. I was pleasantly surprised, especially since restaurants were not permitted to serve, indoors or outdoors.
Considering it’s a tourist destination, everything was quite reasonable. I was surprised that mainland wine was the same price as you pay on the mainland. I tried a couple of wines from the Azores and decided to stick with wines from Alentejo and Douro.
Hiking is amazing on the islands. It’s peaceful and naturally stunning. If hiking is your thing, the Azores is a great destination for you.
If you’re looking for nightlife and partying, this is probably not the right place. I was told that even during non-pandemic times, the nightlife is fairly mellow. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of bars and many public spaces for evening strolls. Definitely more my speed.
The natural thermal springs were my favorite part of this trip. There are several on the island and most were open.
My review for: São Miguel East Full Day Tour, Pure Azores (Miguel)
I had the great pleasure of spending the day with Filipe touring the eastern part of São Miguel. Despite the wind and the rain, I had a special tour in a naturally beautiful location. I was served an excellent lunch — a traditional Azores stew, cozido das Furnas, cooked in the ground. My first time experiencing food slow cooked this way and I enjoyed every bite. Four different kinds of meat, cabbage, greens, yams, and natural juices. If you can make the time for this island tour, you will be glad you did. Communication with Miguel was excellent. A five star experience.
My second tour (experience) was a gin tasting with Ali. I booked it through Airbnb. I have mostly found Airbnb experiences to be a great value, entertaining, easy to book, and memorable. Makes me wish that I owned stock in Airbnb. I don’t always use Airbnb for overnight stays because I enjoy staying in the center of the cities. You can get to key locations quickly and a car is unnecessary. I find center city flats to be more expensive than high quality hotels. I’ve grown very fond of the breakfast usually included in European hotel stays. Having said this, I have found beautiful apartments at a good value, especially when I book early. For example, I’m going to Lyon in June and I found a beautiful apartment in the center for less than 100 euros a night. It takes a bit of work and planning, but always worth the extra effort. Hotels are also competing with Airbnb these days by offering suites and apartments at decent rates. I’m sure Airbnb owners are not happy about this. I understand having a cleaning fee; however, I have found some Airbnb owners abuse this part of the cost.
Gin Tasting details: “We will conduct our gin masterclass in the Gin Library, located on the grounds of The Solar Branco 1885 Eco-Estate. Perfectly located less than 10 minutes from the main city of Ponta Delgada.The heritage house sits on top of a hill, surrounded by farmland, overlooking the quaint town of Livramento and the ocean beyond.”
Ali is a British expat living the dream. He is renovating ruins on his property and he was happy to show me around; a real treat. I’m always amazed at the commitment and perseverance it takes to restore a centuries old property in Europe. Ali and his wife have been getting approvals and restoring since early 2018 and they are close to completing their living quarters, just a small part of this ambitious project. It felt special to be in on the details of making this happen.
Ali shares some great tips about the Azores. The best was his taxi resource, Carlos. Carlos was a treat: good driver, nice car, and reliable (+351.962.374.849). He also told me about Joana who delivers sushi to your door. Couldn’t ask for better than that when dining out is not an option.
That’s Ali of course and Brooklyn Gin — which I didn’t try or purchase because I’ll be in Brooklyn in a few weeks and I thought it would be fun to try to find it. Ali assured me it was a fin gin.
On my final day, I did an all day tour of the western part of the island. This is when I went to Sete Cidades (seven lakes) and visited several beautiful sites and small towns. The pineapple plant was a highlight. Due to closures, this tour was good, but not great. Once again I had a private tour, this time with the tour owner’s son. If you would like to know the name of the tour company, please let me know. I don’t believe it’s fair to judge them due to pandemic conditions.
Photographs of the Island
It’s easy to take great photos in the Azores. Everything is lush and green (several shades) and the light is beautiful no matter what time of the day. The weather changes frequently, but that adds to the charm and mystery of the place. I’m excited to see some of the other islands; the locals say they’re all different and worth a visit. Several are a short boat ride away and others are quick plane trip. Pico Island is the one I’m most excited to visit in the future. I selected only a few photos to share; as you know I try to remain in the moment and minimize my picture taking:
New York, North Carolina, and Boston May 11 if all goes well. I have be tested within 72 hours of travel and that means weekend testing. This might not be so easy in the Algarve. Booked for Lyon, France June 9.
Question of the Week:
Have you been to the Azores? What was your experience?
Reblog from 2019 post with some new content (always learning) — [new content in brackets]
“The best mirror is an old friend.”
Who are your true friends and why are these friendships so important?
Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and it would be difficult to share my thoughts on all of them; therefore I will focus on just a few for this blog. I will cover these five:
Friendship with a life partner
A close friend
A sibling who is also a friend
Your parent as friend (being childless, I do not feel equipped to write about this matter from the parent’s point of view)
A co-worker who is a friend
My friends are extremely important to me. I hold my true friends near and dear and would do just about anything for them. The friendships I cherish the most were established many years ago, but having said that, I do have several friends that I only met recently. Six months ago I left a city I resided in for less than five years; yet several of my close friends live in Maine. You can gauge some friendships by communication (although some friends are better than others at this). When I moved overseas, there were individuals I expected to never hear from again and some that I thought would communicate regularly. As with many things in life, what I expected, has not panned out. Several people I thought would reach out, never have and others I that I thought were acquaintances have been great about staying in touch. Some people work hard at developing friendships and their persistence can pay off. These days you have to factor in social media, because it doesn’t take much effort to drop a line or two. I truly miss the days of letter writing; writing a letter took time and thought.
[The pandemic shed a new light on close friends; I’m fairly certain a couple of my friends saved me from myself during lockdown. What did we do before Facetime, whatsapp, and Zoom? I shared a few meals with single friends from the U.S. during lockdown and it made eating so much more fun.]
To be clear I am not writing about acquaintances:
acquaintance əˈkweɪnt(ə)ns/ noun
2. a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend. “a wide circle of friends and acquaintances” synonyms: contact, associate, connection, ally, colleague
I am certain you all acquaintances; if you had an expectation that they would all be friends, you’d be extremely disappointed.
[I’ve spent a lot of time differentiating close friends from acquaintances this past year. It’s been so much better for my emotional well-being. My expectations are always off-the-charts; therefore, sorting out who my true friends are was a good exercise for me.]
Friendship with a Life Partner
This type of friend is quite unique due to the intimacy factor. Once you have been intimate with someone (and I don’t necessarily mean sex), it’s a game changer. I’m talking about a deeper emotional commitment where there is love and affection. Hopefully, because it matters if it’s true or not, you and your partner have shared moments, where at the time, you cannot imagine a deeper connection. Whether it’s a secret or a thought or a revelation, this kind of sharing creates a bond that can and often does, last a lifetime.
Even when there is a breakup, this close bond will ensure a lasting friendship — if you allow it to happen. Unfortunately, new partners are often intimidated by this kind of friendship and will not allow it. If you’re able to see past the jealousy, permitting your partner to be friends with ex-partners can enhance a current relationship. Your partner will see you as open and caring and trusting — all wonderful thoughts about your partner.
Keep in mind that none of us can be all things to all people. Your partner has limitations and expecting this individual to meet all of your needs is unfair and impossible. This is why it is dangerous not to have close friends outside of your relationship. Lean on others occasionally, it will make your relationship lighter, freer, and healthier.
Also, if you are outside of a relationship looking in, what you see from the outside is not always a complete picture. Couples have their own way of loving one another. Aside from physical and emotional abuse, which is never good, disagreeing and gentle prodding can be the sign of a healthy partnership.
[I feel fortunate to have an ex who has become a good friend; someone I can talk to, travel with, and rely on. He knows me better than just about anyone else. He can call me on my shit and do it without offending me and I can do the same (I think). Knowing there is someone you can call and they will show-up for you, means everything. It wasn’t easy getting here, but it certainly was worth it.]
A Close Friend
Your best friends (yes I believe you can have more than one) deserve a category all their own. Because we all know that if you have a life partner, that individual cannot and should not be able to fulfill all of your needs, emotional or otherwise. A close friend can provide an outlet for sharing and a different kind of important intimacy. It can be someone to talk to about your life partner or boyfriend/girlfriend (finding the right pronouns isn’t easy). With a close friend, no topic is out-of-bounds.
We all go through difficult periods in our lives (having just lost a dear pet, I’m feeling deep loss right now). [Paco is not a replacement for Giorgio, but he’s loving and sweet and I’m better off for having adopted him.] A close friend will sometimes know you are in distress even before you know it. This person will be there to help you get through whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Refusing the help of a friend or pushing a friend away is never a good thing. A true friend is a beautiful gift and you can be sure that this person sincerely wants to help. Let this individual know that you appreciate that they are there for you and that you need them and want their love.
I like my privacy and I tend to grieve when I am by myself. A good friend will always allow you “alone” time. If you gently let your friend know that you just need a little time, they will give you what you need.
Caution: Be careful to make sure that sharing is reciprocated. There is nothing more annoying than a friend who only wants to discuss his or her own woes. Ask questions; show genuine interest and it will elevate the friendship.
Also, do not abuse the generosity of a close friend. Leaning on someone in a time of need is fine, but pick and choose when to lean. Being a constant burden will make a friend second guess the sincerity and value of the relationship. We are only human and all of us has a threshold. Keep your relationships strong by being considerate, nurturing and compassionate. Communicate your needs; assuming your friend knows, is an unfair assumption.
[Due to the pandemic, I have not seen several of my closest friends, but that’s about to change. In a few weeks, I will once again be able to hug, laugh, and cry with friends — the emotional roller coaster of the last year has been challenging.]
Who knows and understands you better than a brother or sister? Unless you were raised in a different household or there are many years between you and your sibling, this person can be a very close friend. I should not rule out a half-brother or sister who is a great deal older or younger. I had a half-brother who was 20 years older and before he passed away, we became very close. He was actually as much a mentor as a friend. I could share anything with him and he “got” me. The relationship was different from that of a parent because he didn’t feel the need to discipline or direct my behavior; it was all about the freedom to be who we were. [It is strange to say this, but even though my brother has been gone for quite a while, that relationship/memory has only gotten stronger. It has taught me that death can be the continuation of a beautiful friendship, however, on a different level.]
A sibling who doesn’t judge you, who accepts you for who you are and who provides a level of trust that is achieved in no other relationship, is a treasure to hold dear. I’m a lucky guy because I have a number of siblings I consider close friends. Unfortunately, I have also lost several siblings; these individuals have provided strength and love well beyond their passing. [As I stated earlier, life, in its purest meaning, doesn’t end when someone special in your life passes.]
Your Parent as Friend
It’s not easy being friends with a parent. Very few people I know are friends with their mother or father. When you are young, your parents are disciplinarians and when you get older they want what’s best for you and that often causes conflict. Being friends with your parents can be fulfilling. Practicing patience and forgiveness is key. If you keep in mind that your parents want what is best for you because their love for you is strong, you can be very close friends. You can confide in your parents, you can lean on your parents and you can usually trust your parents. Having a sit down after a disagreement can help both parties achieve a higher level of trust and understanding.
Of course there are always exceptions. My mother always told me that everything was her fault. She’d say this with a half-smile, “Chris, save yourself money on therapy. I am to blame for all of your issues. Yell at me, lash out, be mad; then think about how much I love you and move on.”
She was a smart lady, my mom.
Friendship with a parent can go through stages of strength and at times this strength may waiver and that’s okay. Keep in mind that your parents won’t always be around. Bringing you into this world and keeping you safe are not easy tasks to manage. They usually want your friendship and they usually earn it.
“My childhood was very colorful, and I am close friends with both my parents. We have no secrets.”
[I had a deeper friendship with my father; I’m not sure why that was, but what I do know is that it came naturally. There was no judgment, only support, compassion, and sweet memories. The loss of that friendship is felt almost every day. Still, I feel fortunate to have had that friendship for the first 41 years of my life.]
A Co-Worker who is a Friend
This can be an incredibly satisfying relationship because you often share so much in common with a co-worker. When you’re together socially it can be fun to gripe about your hours or your boss or your salary or your work environment or your benefits or your co-workers or all of the above.
Careful what you say and to whom at work; a true friend will be discreet and he or she will keep what you tell them to themselves. Such a friend is not easy to find; when you do, try your best to hold on to them.
There are those who believe you should not become friendly or be friends with someone who is higher up or subordinate. I have never felt that way. I think as with most things in life, it depends on the person. If your friend is mature and trustworthy, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If others at work have an issue with who your friends are, let them know (in a kind way of course), that it is not really their business. Still, perception and appearance are both important considerations. Managing all of this at work can be challenging. I believe it all boils down to personal integrity. You know who you are. If you are honest, thoughtful and appropriate, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that at the end of the day, the only person you truly have to answer to is yourself.
[I count several former co-workers as lifelong friends.]
Separation from a Friend
As it goes with relationships, sometimes they go south. Of course it’s always better if you can repair the damage; however, that is not always possible. Some friendships grow toxic and if that becomes the case, I think it’s better to walk away. If you make that decision for yourself, it’s best to come clean with the individual. This business of just disappearing isn’t very fair to the other person and often, closure is necessary. Otherwise, you have this unpleasant, unfinished business hanging over you. [I recently attempted to be truthful with a friend about a conversation that disturbed me. Her reaction was unfortunate, defensive and untruthful; she took no responsibility. I have broken my own rule and ended the relationship without stating my intentions. As I get older I am realizing the value of self-preservation and the avoidance of drama.]
Call me a coward, but I often put my thoughts into writing and send an email or letter. This way I can be clear and provide the other person an opportunity to think about what I shared and respond. You can tell a great deal about a person by the way they reply. If they become very defensive, angry, and lash out at you, it validates your decision. If the person sincerely apologizes or asks to see you, it shows that they value your relationship and that they would like to patch things up. I find that the other person often feels the way you do and the friendship will come to an end. If you can work through it as mature adults, you’ll be happy you did the work.
For some, my desire to shed toxic individuals will come across as cold and dismissive. I have decided that I only have time for friends who are loving, forgiving, true, and real. I value my time on our planet and I’d prefer that my relationships be authentic and fulfilling. Divorce, partner or friend, is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only healthy solution. Don’t judge others or yourself, judging makes life burdensome.
I could do an entire blog on friendship and today’s political climate, but if I were to dwell on the topic for more than a few minutes, I’d have to make myself a double.
When Trump was elected president, I was angry, upset, terrified, and disappointed, and I still am [much less so as I update this blog — today I am hopeful.] I let family members know how I felt and some of them said a version of this:
“Family always comes first and you should never let politics come between you and family.”
And that’s where we disagree. If I know for a fact that you hated Obama as president because he is African-American, and that you consequently voted for a conservative man because he was going to undo everything the last administration did or that you don’t believe a woman can hold our highest office, then I do not want to be your friend and it is has undoubtedly come between us. Does that mean that I love immigrants and medicare recipients more than I love my family and friends? It does not; however, what it does mean is that I love my fellow human being and when I think about the one percent wealthiest Americans, the biased, the racist, and the greed of some politicians, I am always going to be sympathetic to the poor, the minority, the immigrant, the unemployed, the drug addict, and the LGBT community (not an exhaustive list).
Acknowledging the doors that were opened for you or the opportunities you have had that others have not had, will help you to be a more empathetic and giving person.
If family know how I feel and still want me in their lives, well then they’re stuck with me. [This situation has played out on two occasions and I am grateful for the patience and understanding of these two individuals. As a result of the work we’ve done, our relationship is stronger and more meaningful. Of course, I’m only speaking for myself.]
Sometimes years go by and you do not hear anything at all from an old friend and then suddenly, there they are sending you an email or calling you on the phone (a call is less likely these days; texting is safer). You wonder of course: 1) why you are hearing from them now? 2) should you respond? and 3) if you don’t respond will you wonder what it was he or she wanted?
People lose touch with one another for all sorts of reasons. Often, time goes by and one feels reaching out would be awkward and often it is. Be open-minded; reconnecting may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have had former friends I was upset with contact me and frankly, I couldn’t recall why I was angry with them in the first place. That tells me something: it might have been something very small and petty and perhaps it’s time to get past it. Forgiveness has enhanced my life in so many ways. [Forgiving myself especially.]
I am not claiming to be a “friendship expert.” What I do know is that I have had a lifetime of meaningful friendships and without my friends, I would be a lesser person.
“No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend.”
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
I made it to São Miguel and I’ll be writing about my trip for next week’s blog. So far, I like what I see.
Question of the week:
Do you have a story to tell about a friend or would you like to share some friendly advice?
I believe that at some point in every person’s life, they believe they might be going mad.
For the purpose of this blog, I am not using the word “crazy” in the true meaning of mental illness; therefore, please do not be offended. You will see where I am going with this; political incorrectness unintentional, I promise.
Synonyms for my kind of crazy: wacky, off-beat, quirky, loopy, nutty, strange, mad, unhinged, eccentric, and passionate (favorite).
A friend of mine said this yesterday: “Poor people are crazy and wealthy people are eccentric.” I couldn’t get her to quantify wealth.
There are many advantages to getting older, but I think the number one positive is that you no longer care what most people think. To a certain extent you will probably always care, but I think that might apply more to the people in your life that you love and respect. The rest can just fuck off.
Therefore, when your mind wanders to dark places: Am I going mad? Did I just do something crazy? Are these insane thoughts? Do people think I’m crazy? Maybe I’m sane and everyone else is crazy (a sign that you’re not totally sane)? Everything seems distorted.
The Times I Think I Might Be Losing My Mind
When I see someone doing something that makes me angry and I think about how I might disfigure them.
When I’m waiting on line in a bank and I’m daydreaming about how I might get away with robbery.
When I think I might pack a bag and become a Monk in Tibet.
When I wonder about an alternative universe and the role I play in it.
When I imagine suddenly being wealthy and giving most of it away.
When I believe a certain person might be sincere.
When the words come faster than the keys can accommodate.
When I read my horoscope or give it any credibility.
When I rely solely on the mainstream media for news.
When Paco gives me a “you’re crazy” look.
You might have chuckled when you read some of these; I imagine because it may have resonated with you. Our brain is a complex organ, capable of so much more than we know. So when your thoughts are a bit extraordinary or when your mind goes rouge, it’s a pretty normal thing. It’s no wonder we keep our thoughts in check; acting on only the more reasonable stuff swirling around our brains. I like thinking that we’re all a little crazy.
Most of us are at our most creative when we’re centimeters away from insanity. It’s the out-of-the-box thinking that makes our ideas interesting. There are times when I’m thinking about a new piece of furniture or rug for my apartment and I allow myself to consider colors or designs that do not as a rule, go together — crazy right? When I have done this kind of non-traditional thinking, I usually end up with something interesting and worthwhile. However, I have to almost force myself to draw outside the lines. Societal norms, customs, rules, and our neighbors — all keeping us in check. Fairly innocent stuff, we worry far too much about.
If you think about how we define “normal” or sane, you have to admit it would be pretty boring to be just like everyone else and do exactly what is expected of you. Yesterday, instead of walking to the locker room at my gym, I danced the whole way there. I got quizzical looks, some laughs, and even people looking away — don’t want to notice that lunatic. I have to say it was a very minor digression from my normal behavior, but it was fun to see how people reacted. I’m sure several of the people I see every morning just passed it off as me being me and I’m okay with that.
Instead of working so hard to stay in your assigned box/space, why not just allow yourself the freedom to be who you are? Think freely, be a little crazy, and have some fun. Keep others around you guessing. Most of us cannot and will not veer too far from the straight and narrow, centuries of socialization wouldn’t allow it.
I think São Miguel Island might actually be happening on Wednesday. I’m getting the government-paid-for COVID test here in Faro on Monday and then I’m hopefully getting away for a week. The weather is supposed to be rainy and cool, but I’m actually okay with that. We get an abundance of sunshine in the Algarve; therefore, I’ve come to love rain and welcome it. It’s all about perspective. Anyway, it’s never good when we allow weather to determine our mood.
Completely submerged, I pounded the ice with my fist while panicked boys above me screamed for help. Weighted down by boots, a winter coat, and fear, I could only think of Dana. I was certain that if I didn’t find a hole in the ice I would never see my dog again.
My Scouting Days Were Limited
To say that I was a reluctant boy scout is an understatement. The thought of camping and eating dehydrated packaged foods was repulsive. I went along with the idea to show my aloof step-father that I was not a sissy. Our scout leader’s thinly veiled plan was to have us boys slip flyers under tenement doors in order to earn enough cash to leave the city for greener pastures. I’ll explain the scam later. This charade meant giving up Saturdays, for how long, I don’t recall; all for two insufferable nights with miserable scout leaders intent on showing us how to be real men.
I didn’t mind summer camping so much. Well that’s a lie, I hated the mosquitoes and I despised my pumped up, so called, leaders. But in the summer, I didn’t freeze my ass off and I could at least go swimming. When the leaders announced a winter trip, I asked my mom if I could sit it out. My mother was always concerned about my desire to spend more time in my room than out and about. She insisted that I go and demanded that I have fun. It doesn’t really work that way, but back then, kids did what they were told.
We arrived at the campground in Alpine, New Jersey. It couldn’t have been more than an hour from the city; rural, desolate, and way too far from Brooklyn for my liking. I’m going to say, all in, there were around 15 of us. We got there on an old school bus; the same yellow jalopies still on the road today. The bus was damp and cold and you felt every bump to the point where it hurt your teeth. I’m not a delicate flower mind you, I just didn’t see the point in such nonsense.
It started snowing the night before we left for Alpine and I recall arriving at camp hoping that the cabins were buried so deep we’d have to turn back — no such luck. Upon arrival, we were told to put our things on top of our bunks and return to the dining hall (I use the term loosely), for further instructions. All the boys had boatloads of energy and were anxious to be outdoors; our leaders seemed just as anxious to coax us out. They told us we could play, but that we should stay close to the cabins and return before lunch. They were to remain in the dining hall so that they could map out the rest of the weekend.
My scout peers and I ran into the great beyond, not far from our home base. The snow was over eight inches deep and blanked the camp. Most of us were testing the snow to see whether or not could make snowballs with it. In fact, it was perfect for packing — we were all ready for war . . . boys will be boys. I started running toward the center of what I thought was a wide open field and I felt the ground beneath me crack open; in fact it was a lake, not a field. I was pulled into the frozen water, weighted down by my winter boots and a heavy wool coat. I must have started screaming, but this part is all a blur. I later learned that as soon as I took the plunge, a couple of the boys ran to alert our leaders.
Completely submerged, I frantically searched for an opening in the ice. It was dark under water due to the fallen snow. It felt as if I was moving in slow motion as I listened to frantic screams and tried to swim to the surface; my clothing was soaked through, weighing me down. After what I’m certain was a very long time, I heard splashing nearby. I moved toward the sound and found an opening in the ice. Each time I tried to hold on, the ice broke off. The other boy who had fallen in was thrashing two or three away. I heard panicked voices pleading for the two of us to stay calm, “Help is on the way.”
By the time our scout leaders arrived, we’d broken through quite a large patch of ice. I’d gone under numerous times. The men quickly laid across the ice, creating a human chain, and pulled the two of us out of the lake. We were carried back to the leader’s cabin and placed in front of the fire. My clothing was quickly peeled off of me and I was wrapped in a large blanket. I’m sure my lips had turned blue and I was shivering so badly I feared I would never stop. Looking back, I’m certain our leaders were more fearful of a lawsuit than hypothermia. I recall deafening silence as they attempted to warm us up. I was given a cup of hot chocolate, but I couldn’t stop shaking long enough to get it down.
A decision was made to cancel the weekend and take us all home to our parents. I don’t recall hearing the reaction of the other scouts. One of our leaders grabbed my backpack and took responsibility for getting me home. I didn’t know him very well, I didn’t like him, and I didn’t trust him. In the car, he questioned me about how I fell in the ice. I shared with him what I was certain everyone had told him, that I ran onto what I thought was an open field and fell into the lake. He just nodded and assured me that I’d be home soon.
When we got to my house my mother was anxiously waiting at the door. I didn’t realize they had called ahead and she was crying and obviously angry. She hugged me tighter than usual. I’m was pretty sure that it was all a show; drama was my mother’s specialty and this was a situation that called for plenty of it. The scout leader asked if he could come in. My brothers and sisters all stared at me as if I had some sort of rare disease. I was still bundled in blankets because my coat was soaked. My mother asked the scout leader to have a seat.
I recall her repeating, “How could you let this happen,” several times.
She made it clear that I would never be allowed to go away with the boy scouts again and threatened a lawsuit. This news made me very happy; almost making my submersion into the frozen lake, worth it. My scout leader told her about the snow covered lake and the human chain, but it fell on deaf ears. They spoke for a few more minutes, he apologized again and left. I wasn’t used to see him humble. Once he was gone, my mother reverted back to her old ways and sent me to bed; not before making it clear that falling into the frozen lake was all my fault and that I was lucky to be alive.
I never returned to the boy scouts after that incident and there was no lawsuit ever filed. It wasn’t because my mother didn’t think she had a case, it had more to do with the effort she’d have to make it happen. I have stayed away from fields covered in snow and never once, regretted leaving the scouts.
The flyers work our leaders had us do, was a scheme to line their pockets. Arrests made local news and there were indictments. I recall feeling vindicated. To this day when I see flyers being slipped under doors, I have a visceral resentment for those boy scout “leaders,” and their intention to teach us how to lead.
São Miguel is less than two weeks away and if all goes well, I’ll be back in the States for a visit, by mid-May.
Question of the Week:
Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? What did you see?
It’s been a year since the start of this pandemic. Hard to believe that much time has passed because to many of us, not much has changed. I say many of us because the majority of people in the world were not personally touched by tragedy. Many died, many got sick, we almost all experienced some sort of lockdown, but many among us were not personally touched by the pandemic . . . and yet.
We want to believe that it’s almost over; there is only so much disruption the average person can tolerate. In truth, COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, perhaps permanently. Over the last few months I have heard many intelligent, resourceful, optimistic people, talk about the upside of this pandemic. For many, the upside has been a discovery of who we are, what we can endure, and what we ultimately want out of our lives. A lot of this is me convincing myself that everything will be okay.
My education, training, and Ph.D. are in higher education, therefore, I am ill equipped to speculate on how this virus will impact our psychological well-being. As usual, I will write from my own experience and observations. What I propose is not science or gospel, it is one individual’s point of view. A point of view I am certain is shared by many and can be seen as a way of understanding why some of us do what we do or say what we say.
The Lessons I have Learned
One of the big life lessons for me is how much joy that I get from going to the gym five or six days a week. Aside from the use of machines to stay in somewhat decent shape, I do a great deal of socializing at the gym. I get there early, very early, and spend about an hour and 15 minutes catching up with gym friends and doing a semi-rigorous workout; convincing myself that because I do this, I can eat anything I want. This has been a steady practice for the last 40 years and until now, I have never missed more than a week at the gym in any given year; I even book hotels with gyms so that I can workout when on vacation. The lesson is, I need to be motivated by others in order to work harder, and two, the routine keeps me on track for the remainder of the day. No doubt I am much more productive after a workout.
I now know that going to bed at the same time everyday and waking up at the same time every morning, helps me to be and feel completely rested throughout the day. When I’m not in lockdown and I go to bed later, I still wake-up early, making me feel sluggish the entire day.
I have rediscovered the joy of cooking. I’m more creative in the kitchen than I have have ever been and I now have a large selection of recipes filed away in my head. The knowledge that things I might have been passionate about in the past can be revived, is the lesson for me. I have been doing a mental sweep of past activities or habits that have fallen to the wayside; several of the positive habits of my youth are worth revisiting (e.g., spending a good deal of time in nature, exploring music).
What I Have Heard From Others
Being home with my partner 24/7 forced me to communicate with him or her and truly get to know them. Well, you know which way that one might go.
I started out on my sofa in the morning, and ended up there at night.
I never realized how disconnected I was with my children. Time with them has been a rediscovery and gift.
I need structure in my life, otherwise I do nothing.
I never thought I had it in me to do ____________________.
I never realized how much I enjoy my own company.
I have finally learned to balance work and leisure time.
I didn’t have to do as much laundry while in lockdown.
We didn’t have much to say to one another after a while.
He got on my nerves.
I fell back in love with him.
I kept worrying that one of us were going to get the virus.
We never ran out of toilet paper.
Human beings are super resilient. Faced with adversity we find ways to make change, improvements, and get on with life. This pandemic has forced people to consider new careers and work in ways they never imagined they would or could. Sitting down and taking inventory of what lessons have presented themselves to us is important. Don’t just assume you will realize what you’ve been taught or what you have taken for granted. Pat yourself on the back for what you have accomplished and make that a habit, in time, you’ll rely on others less for motivation. Internal encouragement and cheerleading is healthy and will lead to success. It will also lead to your encouragement of others — something we do not do nearly enough. I think this is one of the reasons so many seek “likes” on social media.
The Lessons We Refuse to Learn
What has amazed me throughout this pandemic, is the number of people who refuse to a wear mask or who continue to gather in close spaces with large numbers of people. I’ve seen some of this in my own family and I find it baffling. When you consider the number of people who have lost their lives, the enormous amount of people who became seriously ill, and the impact closing the economy on the world has had on billions of people, many, refuse to believe the pandemic should be taken seriously. Refusing to comply with mandates is madness and a selfish act of defiance. Again, I rely on karma in place of revenge. Yes, I’m slightly pissed off.
Some of us have used this past year as an excuse to overindulge and become complacent; rationalizing the pandemic as a pass for sluggish behavior (who’s watching anyway). It’s not too late to get out of bed and start something new; something that might someday have you saying:
The pandemic was the start of me realizing my potential and fulfilling my dreams.
Cancelled Cuba which was scheduled for April 22. The government wanted to hole me up in my hotel room for a few days and bring me food. I’d be watching god knows what on TV waiting for COVID test results. Not going to happen. Rescheduled to February 2022. The good news (I think) is that I’m headed to São Miguel in the Azores instead. I’ve already book tours to the volcanos, falls and gin tasting. I’ll be writing about it for sure.
United Airlines wanted to re-book me from Lisbon to Newark on my seven hour flight, headed home in May. Their proposal: go through two countries in the wrong direction and get me to the States 29 hours later. I should note that this is without apology. Not going to happen. Booked Delta on a direct flight and crossing my fingers.
Toulouse, France in June: flight cancelled for the fourth time. This time I put it off until April 2022 (just around the corner).
I have tickets on EasyJet for Lyon, France in June; I’m waiting for that cancellation. They have already changed one of the legs of my journey. See a pattern here?
Bristol, UK in July. I’m thinking this will happen, it’s been postponed three times.
No sign of a vaccine for me here in Portugal, they’re very slow in getting this done. I’ll be getting lots of COVID-19 tests done for travel. It does feel a bit like things are changing for the good. There’s that optimist.
I’ve Been a Bad Boy
This week I started a big fight on Facebook around the issue of dog poop in Portugal. I have to say it was fun to watch it play out. People get really passionate around any attack on culture. I had to unfriend a couple of crazies. Root canal this week as well; a tooth infection could take you down a dark path. My dentist insisted it was a receding gum issue — doctors could do a better job listening to their patients.
This is a difficult topic for me. I am strong and for the most part able to resist many of my impulses, but I have been fighting urges to act on the negative ones all of my life. Some impulses are positive and should not be ignored. For example when you see hunger and pain outside of your own community and you have an impulse to help, you should act on it. Warning: I may be a bit preachy in this blog.
Impulse defined: a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act (Google)
The Impact of Impulse Decisions on our Lives
The world is made up of a vast array of different personality types; some strong with good intentions and others, out-of-control and divisive. We have various tools at our disposal that help us to control aspects of our personalities that might cause harm or pain. For the purpose of this blog, I’d like to discuss impulses that have an impact on our own future, not necessarily the future of others. Obviously, our decisions affect and impact those around us as well; however, it is the more personal variety I am exploring today.
Decisions About Where to Live
Acting on impulses regarding where you live can have long lasting effects. How many times have you heard a friend say, “I could live here,” better still, how many times have you thought it or said it yourself?
Where you end up residing is by far one of the most important decisions of your life. Granted, wherever you decide to live, it is possible to leave; however, the amount of details that one has to attend to in order to relocate, are cumbersome to say the least. So much of your happiness depends on your external environment. This is one impulse that should definitely be checked and kept in control. Do your homework, visit and spend some time there, ask people who live there, write a pros and cons list, work-up a budget, and have a plan.
Don’t overthink it.
Our impulses often take us to dark places that are difficult or impossible to resist. For example, no one likes pain: psychological pain, physical pain, and or emotional pain. Our instinct tells us that we should do everything we can to make it go away. Unfortunately, many of today’s remedies are harmful to us and may have long lasting effects. So when you turn to the bottle for relief and escape, your mind tells you that it’s a temporary escape; you only need one cocktail and you won’t need it again tomorrow. I know too many alcoholics who went down that slippery slope with little or no awareness that it was happening, while it was happening. So many people die due to alcohol abuse and the casualties of abuse, every day, yet it’s hardly ever a part of the public conversation. You know why that is and it’s time to face the horrible truth. We mandate the wearing of masks, ban smoking indoors, and we keep transgender people out of certain bathrooms, but we allow excess drinking almost everywhere. No one has the right to put others in danger.
Regrets are usually a waste of time, but I have one regret which will haunt me my entire life: my marriage. My ex-wife was perfect in every way: beautiful, smart, trustworthy, loving, and devoted. We were never compatible because she was straight and I was closeted. How could she have known when I hid it so well? But my impulse was to snatch her up because she could provide the life I “thought” I wanted and should have. I could be a husband, a father, and we could live happily ever after. In what universe? When will people stop judging one another and start opening up to the many faces of love.
If you’re one of those people saying, “But isn’t it much better than it used to be?” shame on you.
I take full responsibility for the farce of my marriage, but I also blame the world around me that taught me to discard any other possibility. I have apologized to the woman I married many times; still, the pain I caused her will never be fully forgotten. I appreciate her love and forgiveness, because that and my integrity, are all I have.
Giving Birth to Children
I know that human beings, like all animals, are naturally meant to procreate and I’m certainly not advocating that we stop bringing children into the world.
However . . . I firmly believe that some make the decision to have children without thinking it through. Most of what I feel comes from my own experience of having a mother who had seven children in a very short period of time. She had little or no concern about how she would care for and feed her babies. My father probably had even less concern, sadly, I never got to ask.
I have a couple of female friends who consciously decided not to mother children. They gave it a great deal of thought and came to this very sound conclusion. Both have told me that they have been getting grief for their decision for years; some people think there is something wrong with them for not wanting children. I think our grief is misplaced, we should be focusing on those who decide to give birth and then either abuse their children and/or put the burden on others to care for them. Obviously there are exceptions, I don’t feel the need to explain what those are.
The Impulses I Fight Daily and How I Control them
I’m happy to share the impulses I have that I believe could be problematic in my own life. I view these urges as a weakness; controlling my destructive behavior has always been challenging. I know that I am harder on myself than I need to be, but the alternative is not an option. My intention is to let you know you’re not alone; fighting one’s demons is an uphill battle. Yes, the things I share are extremely personal; however, I hid my true self for over 20 years and that didn’t do anyone any good. Counseling has helped me over the years; however, I suspect my story includes a fight to the end. Giving you a glimpse of my journey helps me to try harder and heal from past mistakes.
Alcohol Abuse: I often mention alcohol in my blogs, therefore, I thought I should address it. I have been fortunate when it comes to alcohol. As I have said before, I occasionally enjoy a late afternoon cocktail and a glass or two of wine with my evening meal. If it’s a special occasion, I might have a second cocktail, but this is very rare. I have never had a problem with alcohol abuse, however, there are several reasons I limit my alcohol intake:
I like being in total control — my somewhat compulsive personality dictates my behavior
I prefer not to pay the high price of alcohol in a bar or restaurant.
There are times when I am out and driving (certainly not of late); alcohol and driving cannot happen
I drink slowly and enjoy my cocktail or wine.
I do not drink to become inebriated and can honestly say I never have (except at that one Bar Mitzvah when I was 12 years old).
I mention alcoholism now and again because I have several individuals in my life who are alcoholics. I do would not and do not judge those who have a difficult time controlling their alcohol intake; I am aware that addiction is a disease . It is painful to watch someone you care about spin out of control due to substance abuse. I have seen a tremendous amount of success with Alcoholics Anonymous and/or Narcotics/Marijuana Anonymous. To be honest, quick rehabilitation programs seem to be less effective. It is my understanding that alcoholism is linked to genetics. I’m not a professional abuse counselor and my opinion is just that. Please challenge me if you believe I have a problem with alcohol abuse.
Gambling: this vice is an entirely different story. There is no doubt in my mind that if I did not control my impulse to gamble, it would become a problem. Both of my parents loved and abused gambling. My mother incurred a massive amount of debt due to her habit; I believe my father was able to keep his impulse under control, but I have no doubt that he lost a great deal of money in his life; horse racing was his vice.
The most I have ever lost at one time, was about $1800 on a cruise ship. It was my birthday and stupid me was thinking: you have to win, it’s your birthday. Any smart person will tell you that you cannot gamble expecting to win. In this case I visited the ATM machine on the ship three times in one night. I told myself that I could go to the machine once and that would be my limit. Ha, that never works. Because I was so angry for losing that much money, I convinced myself that it could not and would not happen again. This is how I control my gambling:
I limit myself to three casino visits per year (I usually come closer to five or six visits).
My bank has a daily withdrawal limit on my ATM card.
I put a certain amount of cash in my pocket and I leave my credit cards and ATM card at home (harder to do on a ship, but even leaving the cards in my cabin, is a deterrent.
I do not live near a casino and that was always a conscious choice.
If the impulse is strong, I will often treat myself to a nice dinner instead.
Gamblers are judged harshly in our society, therefore, it is seldom discussed with friends or family. Instead, it is divisive and draped in shame. Even writing about my own battle with it is shame filled and upsetting.
Overeating or Impulse Eating: this too has been a lifelong battle for me. I love food; not just sweets, I enjoy savory food with as much fervor. I’ve written several blogs about my struggles with eating; to be frank, I have for the most part conquered this addiction. Portion control, meditation, and vanity, have prevented obesity. At this point in my life comfort is essential. If I eat too much, I am uncomfortable and in the end, it’s not worth the limited pleasure I might have gotten from two more ribs or that second piece of cake.
All of these impulses, although personal, affect the wellbeing of others in your life. Acknowledging you might have a problem, monitoring your behavior and seeking help, are all essential for success in overcoming these difficulties. As I write about my own struggles, there are a few realities that come to mind: the impulses I speak of effect many of us; more than society cares to admit, we cope with most of these difficulties on our own because of the stigma attached to them, and lastly, to be flawed and challenged is to be human. Never give up the fight; giving in or giving up, is the worst thing you can do. If you need help, ask for it.
I realize that I did not cover every impulse we struggle with in our lives. Admittedly, the stress most of us are under during this pandemic, only make resisting negative impulses more challenging.
After a great deal of resistance and skepticism, I have fallen in love with podcasts. It happened shortly after our second lockdown in Portugal. It was hard and fast and I’m better for having embraced it. Although I love music and have been listening to music while working out for years, I found my long, rigorous walks with music, tedious. I noticed a podcast option on Spotify one day and thought I’d give it a try. It’s been a truly transformative experience. I now look forward to my long walks, choosing which podcast I will listen to before I leave my apartment. Stay with me, I’m getting to the point.
One of my favorites is Modern Love, a New York Times podcast. Modern Love is a column that started in the NY Times in 2004; I didn’t know till now that it was also a podcast. They’re usually about 15 minutes long and nearly always engaging. Essays about love, loss and redemption, are read by mostly famous people. These readers choose an essay because it resonates with them in some way or another. I’m listening to one of these podcasts, and it’s a reaction to a study done where you can meet a potential romantic partner, ask them a set of 36 questions, and then by the end, know whether or not you are compatible.
I can’t see myself participating in such an experiment; however, the concept of truly getting to know a person based on their answers, peaked my interest. Lockdown can be a massive downer if you allow it to get to you. Day after day of the same routine, not knowing the day of the week, wondering when it will come to an end. It has forced some of us to be creative with our time and perhaps even use the time to improve our lives.
As a single man, living alone, I find that if I’m not careful, days can go by without human interaction. If you’re an introvert like me, that could be considered nirvana; but I’m not sure how healthy it is. A friend of mine in Brooklyn, and dare I say, my soulmate, has a similar attitude about solitude. Gina and I have talked about why we enjoy living alone and how we are seldom lonely, many times. But this Modern Love podcast on “36 Questions” had me thinking about how well I know Gina. We’ve been friends for over twenty years; good friends for over 15 years. She is beautiful, funny, independent, probably the best mother I know, resilient, an amazing cook, and she loves me, but how well do I really know her?
We speak via Facetime almost everyday and when I visit New York City, I almost always stay with her. As friends often do, we share problems with one another, hoping for sympathy, empathy, and sometimes just an ear. But there is this 35 year period before we became friends that I know little about. There are also the things we may not share for fear of embarrassment or just consideration; not wanting to bore the other person or drag them into our neuroses. As I considered my friendship with Gina and what I knew or didn’t know, it occured to me that this might be a good time to take our friendship to a deeper level.
The idea of asking Gina questions about herself seemed like a great way to start. A few weeks ago I sat on my terrace with a pen and paper and a smart cocktail (a term another friend uses for cocktails that are complex and have deeper meaning). I deliberately did not look at the 36 questions from the study; wanting to customize my questions to suit my intention. Armed with three poignant questions I was excited to pose to Gina, I gave her a call.
There are two things I have to tell you about Gina: First, unlike me, she always cares about how she looks, lockdown or not. She has a knack for casual fashion and she knows how to flawlessly accessorize. Second, she is almost always thrilled to see my face on her screen. So she answers the phone wearing a beautiful Channel scarf in her kitchen. She sits in a stool next to her kitchen island, straightens her back, and usually says, “Hello Babe, whatcha doin?” Who wouldn’t want to be greeted that way? Her long, dirty blond hair is usually tucked behind her ears and recently washed. We sometimes have an agenda, having texted one another with reminders to mention some documentary or another. However, still, this is mostly small talk; making conversation.
Gina, I wrote down three questions that would help me get to know you better, are you game?
“Sure babe, fire away.”
There have been a couple of occasions over the years when Gina said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
Trust me, when this happens I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut. Gina is from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, you don’t mess with Gina. It’s one of the many things I love about her.
Gina was delighted to answer my three questions. After about 20 minutes of revealing conversation, I felt closer to her that day. What I found even more gratifying, was Gina’s delight in my interest in her thoughts. She thanked me several times and she said she’d like to ask me several questions as well, but that she’d like some time to prepare, another thing I love about her.
I’m certain you’re asking yourself why I don’t just marry her? Life is complicated isn’t it? The point I’m making is that getting to know someone on a deeper level is worth the effort for many reasons:
We all want to be appreciated
Being truly listened to and heard is a rare gift
Knowing someone better helps us to understand where they are coming from and where they are going
At times we spare one another the pain we are going through; this is a great way to give voice to the things that may be troubling us
A beautiful way to pass the time
It can be wonderfully disarming
There is a chance the effort will be reciprocated, as it was with Gina
Every yin has a yang, and my relationship with Gina is no different. There are days when I don’t want to talk to anyone and being that we are both introverts, she’s okay with that. There are days when Gina goes right into, “One quick thing before ‘we’ hang-up,” a hint she might be done, and then of course there is the occasional more than one call in a day, but I know that’s all normal stuff, we’re only human after all.