Smile Blog Revisited

Coping With Lockdown

The Western Algarve Coast

This blog is more for me than for you. I recently learned that the Portuguese government will extend lockdown until early April. On top of that, my vaccine is months away and the two jabs could get in the way of travel. It’s been a difficult year, however, I have come to realize that there are several things that I now do and can do, to make lockdown more tolerable. I made a list which I believe is best left in my journal.

When you put it all down on paper, it’s a full life. Last year I read interviews that were done with elderly people close to the end of their lives: when asked, “Is there anything you would have done differently?”, they overwhelmingly responded that they would have worked less and spent more time doing the things they enjoyed. For the most part, I’m doing the things I enjoy, in and out of lockdown. Excellent life lesson, especially for someone who believes that we get one shot at making it count.

I should add that I am acutely aware of those all over the world who are far less fortunate; gratitude helps keep things in perspective. I must admit this all seems a bit trite considering the current condition of humanity.

Spring has arrived here in the Algarve; it’s warmer, greener, and hope is in the air. That makes me smile.

“ALWAYS WEAR A SMILE BECAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHO IS WATCHING.”

Gracie Gold

I want to smile more. I do. One would think that this would be an easy goal, but trust me, if you’re not inclined to smile, deciding to do so, just like that, is a difficult objective. I was born cynical, but coming up in my world, how could I not be. I also believe this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Was I cynical because of my genetic makeup or did growing up in a tortured household make me cynical. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call it a draw and say that both factors are the cause. The point is, I have to work at smiling and how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

“Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset.”

Ileana D’Cruz

Some Ways/Places to Practice Smiling

  • Tell yourself to smile every morning. You can do it when you’re brushing your teeth. It won’t take any more time out of your busy day. Soon it will be as routine as brushing; you won’t even think about it.
  • Add a little caveat to practicing your smile:  make it so that you cannot smile unless you add something you’re grateful for. For example:  this morning, before I brushed my teeth, I thought about how grateful I was that I slept well and then I smiled.
  • Practice while you’re doing something mundane — like when you’re on the treadmill at the gym or while you’re riding in a bus or on the subway.
  •  Look straight into a mirror and keep smiling.
  • Practice with a friend or family member. Let them tell you what they think of your smile and accept the feedback. Is it genuine? Too broad? Too big?

Be Your Own Motivator

I have a friend whom I met at a gym in Portland, Maine. He was struggling on an abdominal machine near where I was working out. He saw me watching him and asked me if I knew how to use the machine. I hopped on and did a few reps (gym lingo for repetitions just to show you how cool I can be). Chomba is from Zambia, he studied in Europe, he’s in his 20s and he’s quite a specimen; naturally I was pleased to show him how to use the machine correctly. Like any normal man, I preened and walked away triumphant. A few days later I saw him using the same machine and he was smiling ear-to-ear. Honestly, Chomba has the most genuine and beautiful smile I have ever seen. I noticed him using the very same machine on a regular basis. I finally approached him and asked him if he used any other equipment at the gym. He shared a big laugh and thanked me for showing him how to use the machine. I said, “Chomba, because I always see you on this ab machine, I am naming it the Chomba Machine.” From then on I when I would see him I would ask if he had done his ab reps on the Chomba machine that day.

Weeks went by of just saying hello in the gym and I thought it was time to become friends outside of Planet Fitness. I approached him and invited him over to my place for dinner. I was having a dinner party and I thought he’d be a great addition to my guest list. Chomba was delighted and came to my place with a nice bottle of wine. Everyone at party fell in love with him. He’s the kind of person who lights up the room and makes everyone feel special. That night I learned that he was a motivator working out of Boston. His firm was hired by companies to motivate their staff (Chomba if I’m getting this all wrong I apologize). What I loved more than anything is that he did not boast about his work or his life. We had to poke and pry before he came clean. Chomba is a modest fella. By the way, Chomba models now (lives in Portland, OR — fairly new) and always stays in touch. I’m grateful for his candor, his loyalty and his beautiful smile.

What Chomba has taught me is invaluable. Essentially, you can be your own motivator. You can do what he does, but in your own head. You can get yourself charged-up and energized whenever you feel yourself needing a little boost.

Experiment

Having been a sociology student in college, I often love to go back to my roots and do human interaction (behavior) experiments. I occasionally spend the day smiling all day just to see how people respond to it. I also enjoy seeing if it affects my mood.

I have to say that I get pretty amazing results:

  • People almost always smile back.
  • It sometimes feels like you’re waking someone up and suddenly they seem to come alive.
  • It makes me feel lighter.
  • The results make me want to do it more often.
  • Sometimes it makes strangers laugh; especially when I smile really big. I’m thinking, they must think I’m crazy, but who cares.
  • There is a reason for the saying “A smile goes a long way.”
  • I am in the middle of a very frustrating experience with an upgrade to my apartment. The person responsible for getting the work done has been slacking off and it’s sort of driving me crazy. The project began 14 months ago. I decided to give him an ultimatum knowing that he might walk away from the job. Instead, when I saw him I smiled. It appears that is not what he expected and I believe he may be close to finishing the job. Yesterday, I received a call from a man who will hopefully complete the job this week.

Current Mood

One of the interesting things about blogging is how your mood and thoughts change as you work through a particular thread of thoughts. I woke today in a non-smiling mood. You may relate to what I’m feeling, except that I don’t quite know what I am feeling. What I do know, is that I don’t feel like smiling. I had an interaction yesterday that was troubling and it’s still on my mind. I’m pissed to put it bluntly.

I am going to work through these feelings and thoughts by forcing a smile and see where it takes me.

The next day:  the left home for a bed & breakfast about 90 minutes away. Sometimes it helps to be away from your familiar environment. I found myself smiling just as soon as I boarded the train.

Smiling is one of those things you can do to brighten your day and/or someone else’s day, and it cost nothing! Nada! Zip! Zero cents! In fact, studies have shown that it’s good for you too.

Image result for is smiling good for your health
Why Smile?

http://www.waynedentalarts.com The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. … The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.Jun 25, 2012

There’s Magic in Your Smile | Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/cutting-edge…/there-s-magic-in-your-smile

There’s Magic in Your Smile

Surprising Health Benefits of Smiling

Two things that help me smile: Giving when I can and volunteering my time. Never underestimate the power of compassion and charity.

Question of the week:

What makes you smile?

You Can Go Now

I’m not proud of it, but it had to be done. I held my mother’s icy cold hand and I whispered, “You can go now mom.”

Mom and me. I know, I’m working that stache.

“Why don’t you feel good about this? Wasn’t it the kindest thing to do?” If my intention was to have my mother pass in order to end her suffering, that would have been kind; however, that was not my intention. In truth, I thought it was wrong to keep her hooked up to a respirator and I knew she’d try to hang on for as long as she could; mom was fiercely stubborn. We had a complicated relationship and I was tired of the drama; I was done. Before you start hating me, I’d like you to consider a few facts. For one, my mother had been in and out of hospital for several years and near death numerous times. She was resuscitated and even though she told my stepfather that she did not want to be, he went ahead and ordered it anyway. She had not completed the paperwork in hospital, no surprise to me or my siblings.

When I say that my relationship with my mother was complicated, I believe an explanation is warranted. In many ways, throughout my youth and twenties, I was the parent. My mother was a heavy smoker (even during her pregnancies), a gambler, cheated on my father, a thief (insurance fraud and groceries to name two), and she did psychological damage to all four of her daughters. Three out of four of my sisters had eating disorders due to my mother’s unhealthy weight obsession. I was constantly reminding her about the hazards of smoking, begging her to cut back on that and gambling, and soothing a great deal of her self-inflicted pain. So when I said, You can go now mom, it was after many years of shame and disappointment, as well as a strong belief that modern medicine was prolonging the inevitable. Some people will say that I judged her harshly; others will say that it does not matter how awful she was, I should not speak ill of her. You can be certain that my living siblings would attest to my account of our upbringing and the chaos she rained upon us as adults.

When she was alive she would actually say, “I know you’re going to write a book about me when I die.”

That was her way of telling me to wait. The irony is that I loved her. When family members would scorn her, I would jump to her defense. But deep down I believed that she was selfish, disingenuous and should probably not have given birth to children. True, she had an abusive father and she got pregnant when she was 16 years old, but that does not excuse the poor mothering; she knew better. I’m certain she knew better.

So when I told my mother that she could go, she had a week prior contracted an incurable blood disease in hospital, and she was in a medically induced coma. My niece was with me in the room and witnessed my mother’s reaction. Nicole was close to my mother, her grandmother, and she agreed that my mother would be better off letting go. Being that mom was in a coma, I expected her to continue to lie still; what I was to tell her was more for me than for her. After I whispered, “You can go now mom,” my mother violently shook her head from side-to-side. I’m not going to lie, it was unexpected and scary.

We shared this with her doctor, who shrugged and said, “It could have been an involuntary reaction or she could have been in the middle of a dream.”

Nonsense. My mother heard me and she was letting me know she didn’t want to die. The whole damn affair was extremely frustrating. Frank, her husband, had been ill for quite some time. He had dementia and other issues and he was in no position to be making decisions about mother’s life. The hospital was concerned about liability and nothing else. My mother remained in a coma for two more weeks until my stepfather gave the go ahead to pull the plug. Frank was not my favorite person in the world and considering how much he supposedly loved my mother, it was ironic that he spent most of her memorial service flirting with a younger blond.

As you can see, I haven’t been able to just shrug-off the experience at her deathbed. It’s been almost 10 years and I still see mom shaking her head violently. Perhaps I remember her obstinance more than her actual reaction. These demons we carry around are quite strong and they show their potency at times when we are most vulnerable.

Despite my resentment and anger, I miss her dearly. She gave birth to me and mothered me for over 50 years; if I didn’t have strong feelings, I’d be an amoeba. I miss how she eagerly took my calls, how she put up with my badgering about the past, her unapologetic sense of humor, her ability to make strangers feel better, her fighting spirit, the happiness she would always try to portray, the grace in which she dealt with losing two children, when she worked as a bartender until 2:00 a.m. every night to ensure there would be food on the table, her support for my education, the way she dealt with my sexuality, her reputation for being one of the best poker players in North Carolina, and her sloppy, but well intentioned cooking.

Perhaps I did want her to leave us peacefully and without guilt, perhaps that was my intention after all.

I dream about her a lot — another sign that her life and death matter. I do forgive my mother, but I have not forgiven myself. The takeaway for me: dream of her for the rest of your life, that way she will remain with you. And for you: None of us should throw stones, especially when personal perfection is so far from reality.

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Nothing like homemade pizza. Two tips: 1)pizza freezes well and 2)use parchment paper on your pizza peel and you won’t have to worry about the dough sticking to it — remove parchment halfway through the cooking process.

Lockdown continues in Portugal. I’ve given up guessing how long this will last. Most planned holidays have been scrapped or rescheduled. Cuba in April is precarious; hoping the U.S. in May sticks.

Question of the week:

Does something from your past haunt you? How do you cope with it?

Admitting Your Own Mistakes

Image result for mistakes quotes

This is a tough one :p

This will be a short blog. Not because I haven’t made mistakes, in fact, I’ve made many mistakes. The reason this blog will be brief, is that I am working on being more positive. Weeks and weeks of lockdown can send you down a dark rabbit hole and I’m choosing an upward path.

Objectivity is way more challenging than most of us care to admit. For me, everything is always personal. The former president signs an executive order to ban immigrants from several Middle East countries and I take it personally. It’s not terribly healthy, but I recognize the mantra, “It’s not about me,” is worth repeating often . . . very often.

Big Mistakes Versus Tiny Ones

I often say regrets are a waste of time; therefore, rehashing bad decisions would be futile; except in at least one circumstance: if you can learn from your mistake.

For example, and I’ll avoid a personal recounting for a change, you purchase oysters and put them in the refrigerator. You plan on opening the oysters that evening, but something comes up and you tell yourself you’ll shuck them the next day. Life happens and the next day comes and goes. On the third day you remember the oysters sitting in the refrigerator. You think about the $26 you spent on them and you wonder how long they sat in the fish market stall before you bought them. You ponder their freshness for another 30 seconds and then you say, “Oh, heck, I’m sure they’re fine, I’m going to have Harry shuck them.” That night you and Harry end up with food poisoning that almost sends you to hospital. I think it’s safe to say that you will never make that mistake again. And who the hell is Harry?

Big Mistakes

For me, the biggest mistake one could make would involve badly hurting another person. There are so many examples of this: having an affair, killing someone (accidentally or on purpose), pinning a crime on an innocent person, driving drunk and paralyzing someone for life, and more.

Hard to fix a big mistake, in fact, in many cases impossible. You end up having to live with the mistake and live with yourself. So why do we make big mistakes? No easy answer here; however, there is something we can do to preempt big mistakes:

  • NEVER drink and drive
  • When you get so angry you want to use your physical power against someone, walk away
  • Play the worst case scenario game and if the outcome is dire, don’t go with that plan, choose another
  • Ask friends for their advice
  • Write a pros and cons list (my favorite past time)
  • Use protection prior to sex with someone you don’t know very well

Small Mistakes

Small mistakes are quite different. We make small mistakes nearly everyday. Beating yourself or someone else up over a small mistake, is a waste of good energy (as are regrets). Instead, why not apologize to someone or use it as a teachable moment. No major damage was done and a lesson might be learned. Repeating bad behavior is inexcusable.

45 Forgive Yourself Quotes | Self Forgiveness Quotes images – FunZumo
Sure, easy for you to say

A mistake I made this week: I walked into the dog park in my neighborhood with Paco. Please keep in mind that I have been going there with him for seven months and there has never been an issue. I asked the two people in the park if it’s okay to take Paco off-leash. We were all three wearing a mask and the two individuals were fairly far away from the entrance. I believed I had been given the go ahead. Unbeknown to me, one of the two women, is tried to tell me that she didn’t believe our dogs would get along. I didn’t comprehend this until Paco charged her dog and attacked him. The owner screamed and lifted her dog off the ground with his leash. Paco grabbed his tail and he was literally swinging off the dog’s tail. I pried Paco off and tried to grab him, but he was angry and rabid. I held the woman’s dog high in the air so that Paco could not harm him and she managed to put Paco on his leash. I learned that this poor woman has heart problems.

I anguished over this mishap for several days. I have since learned that you cannot not expect a neutered male (Paco) to play with or interact with a non-neutered male (her dog). Lesson learned and I hope it never happens again; it was extremely scary and could have ended in the spilling of blood or even the death of her beloved pet.

Side note: There was an unneutered male dog at the park yesterday and his owner assured me that there would not be a problem. She was right, Paco played beautifully and happily with this dog. She told me that it is not the neuter factor, but a scent that dogs give off. It is this uncertainty that concerns me. Is there a clear cause and effect answer?

Recommend an excellent podcast, Obama and The Boss

Question of the Week:

I’m getting some great feedback on and off-line and I want to let you know how much I appreciate it.

Have you done something in the past that haunts you? Is it time to let it go?

The End. Period.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Is there someone else? When did it start? I should have known you’d cheat, you bastard; who is he? How did I not see it. I didn’t want to see it, I was blindsided . . . or so I thought. The truth is, there were weeks and weeks of deafening exchanges, changes in patterns, and forced smiles. Back then I thought I was the cat’s pajamas, the guy who could pick and choose. Why would anyone walk away from a guy who can cook?

In total, we broke-up nine torturous times. Each time I swore to the gods that I would never go back. How many times can you smash your head against the wall before you realize it may cause permanent damage?

When you force a conversation, please talk to me, tell me what you’re feeling, tell me what’s wrong, and this is what he tells you:

“I don’t know.”

You don’t know? I ask.

“I don’t know.”

Time to walk away, except for some reason you will never fully understand, you stay. You stay and allow yourself a daily dose of torture; sometimes two or three doses. That’s called low self-esteem and it’s time to build it back up, but not there, not with him. It took a good deal of heartache and losing a couple of friends, before I had finally had enough. I was fortunate that the tipping point arrived before I’d hit rock bottom. I know too many people who stay and regret it years later. Sound familiar?

Side note: When someone says, “I don’t know why I treat you so badly,” it’s because they are afraid of saying the one thing that might make you say, “Fuck you, get out and don’t come back.” As hard as we might try, we cannot change people.

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What’s Your Story

Many of us have ended relationships. For some, it’s as easy as snapping your fingers; for others, it feels more like passing a kidney stone. For me, I’d have to say it depends on who it is and the circumstances.

We never really know what another person is thinking or feeling. They can tell us or we can guess; however, the truth can be elusive or distorted. Here’s what I mean:

You’re dating an individual who may have very few faults or imperfections. If you’re like me, the tiniest issues reveal themselves very early on. You find yourself tormented by the idea of ending the relationship because you might not see it going anywhere. Sabotage is alive and well in my world. Communication is essential, without it, you have a wobbly foundation. With a solid foundation, you can address nearly any issue. Still, some problems are insurmountable and if your eyes are wide open, you’ll see it.

The Kinds of Endings You Might Contemplate:

Love Relationships — I am the last person to comment on ending love relationships. There are only two things that I know for certain: 1) Sex after a break-up will not make you feel better or help you get over him, and 2) Until you decide it’s over, it will not truly be over. If your gut tells you it’s not working, listen to your gut.

Friendships — Ending a friendship, long or short, is not easy. However, not unlike a love relationship, once a friendship becomes toxic or unpleasant, it’s time to consider cutting your losses. In the end, it’s about what you think of yourself. If you value your self-worth and quality of life, walking away from a friendship — as difficult as it might be — may be the best thing you can do. I think this rule applies to any friendship, long or short.

Many of us view the end of a friendship as failure; for some of us, failure is not an option. So we remain and allow it to slowly rot bits and pieces of our core. I had a 25 year friendship that ended about 10 years ago. I contacted this former friend on her birthday a few years back and she was very angry; she hadn’t let go of the bitterness that tore us apart. I realized that nothing and changed. In some ways that revelation can be a good thing, it helps gives you closure and affirmation. We reach out to one another on our birthdays now, that’s about all the contact either of us can tolerate. Not going to lie, every once in a while I find myself missing this person, but then I recall why it went south and I am relieved that I called it quits when I did. At the end of the day, your integrity is all that matters; and your sanity, that matters as well.

There are those who believe that when you end something it’s best not to revisit it. I’ve had situations when I can’t recall why it ended in the first place and some people do evolve, don’t they?

Business Partnerships — I have a friend that hated his business partner. It got so bad he’d drink himself to sleep at night. If have to ask yourself if it’s worth the pain and suffering, your answer is right there in front of you. Talk to anyone who ended a business relationship that was poisonous; nine out of ten times they’ll tell you they bounced back and came back stronger. When you take care of yourself, you not only fix the problem at hand, but you also end up mending a lot of other broken parts happening simultaneously. Your courage and strength carries over to all other aspects of your life.

Family — This is kind of break-up has hit close to home recently and it is still somewhat raw. If I write about it, I’ll get a bit of backlash and it’s not worth it. I will say that as difficult as it might be to walk away, there are situations that are so distressing, remaining in touch can do physical and emotional harm. In the end, your choice should be to protect yourself. Exhaust every avenue to fix what is broken before you say goodbye. The harder you know you have tried, the less you will regret your decision.

If you don’t end up sad and hurt by the loss, you are either uncaring or way too guarded. Having an open and loving heart has its pitfalls, but I’d rather be sad and hurt than live through life feeling nothing. Or even worse, being angry all the time.

Employment — This break-up variety is every bit as onerous as any other. You add money and fear of failure to this equation and you have quite a lot to consider. One of the things I did that I found helpful, was to make a list of the pros and cons. I also played the worst case scenario game, which I always find helpful. When you’re going through the hardship, you’re thinking I will never survive if this ended. In truth, we always survive. On the other side of abuse and unappreciative supervisors/owners is something better. Remember there is only one direction you can go when things get that bad. If you’re dreading going to the office or meeting with your boss, that’s a pretty clear sign that it’s time to move on. When my doctor prescribed Xanax so that I could sit in the same room with my ex-boss, I knew it was time to go. Don’t let it get to that point.

Image result for a quote for when it's time to quit a job

One of my favorite ending a relationship quotes:

“I thought I was strong, holding on to you, but I was stronger when I was letting you go.”

Cuba postponed to April 22. I will hopefully get to finally go. Back to the States to see friends and family in May (we’ll see). I’m accustomed to the uncertainty.

I’m still in lockdown here in Portugal. The police are out checking for face masks, ID, and for those who might be illegally leaving their municipality. I’m not sure how much more surreal this whole experience could be. It seems like there may be a light at the end of this tunnel — stay strong and healthy.

Question of the Week:

Do you have a successful break-up story to share or advice you might like to convey?

Relocation To Portugal (Update on 2019 post)

Photos: the copper cataplana pot is my most recent purchase. I have wanted one since I relocated to Portugal. They’re fairly expensive. I bought this one used and cooked my first seafood stew with it a few days ago. You cook with it on your stove top and serve it in the same pot. The seafood simmers in its own savory juices, providing outstanding results. The marble tabletop was custom ordered a few months ago after being inspired by the Portuguese marble I saw in Alentejo in the middle of Portugal. My neighborhood Catholic church holding outdoor mass (I stumbled upon services while jogging). Paco looking healthy and happy. He’s been with me one year now. Jamie Oliver’s quick pizza recipe, I have come to love. The evening view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean, from my terrace. Lastly, a seaside landscape I will never grow tired of (a weekend trip one hour from home, near Portimão).

I posted a blog at the one year overseas mark. It’s now been close to three years — time to post an update.

Before I begin the update, I want to share a thought:

Millions of people all over the world are dying and suffering from illness and loss due to COVID-19. Like most, I am consumed by this pandemic. My way of maintaining some normalcy is to continue to blog and carry on with the things that I can do to remain upbeat and optimistic. We all deal with difficulties in our own way.

A Brief Overview

I have pondered living outside of the United States my entire adult life. Until a couple of years ago, the opportunity had not presented itself. I moved to Maine prior to relocating to Portugal, but it never felt like the right fit. When I’m unhappy I usually consider something I might do to change things up; leaving the country was my best option. I love the United States and will not give-up my citizenship. You just never know what the future has in store for you.

Update: When I wrote this two years ago, I was reluctant to make political comments in my blog posts. There were times I didn’t hold back. When Donald Trump became the republican nominee in 2016, I told the people that I loved that I would leave the country if he won. Like many, I couldn’t imagine him leading my country. I have had a few people ask if I will return to the States now that he is no longer in office. My answer is I don’t know. I have decided to allow these kinds of life decisions to come organically. If I later decide that returning to the States is the right thing for me, then I will return. For now, I’m enjoying Portugal and enjoying stability. Stability has been elusive until now.

The Highs (Positives)

I think the best part of leaving the States has been the ability to gain some perspective. A big move, such as the one I made, forces you to take inventory of your life. I left most of my material belongings behind. I didn’t put my things in storage, I got rid of them. I brought five suitcases full of memories I did not want to part with and clothing I hoped would fit for a long time. The purging of most of my material belongings was a good exercise for me. It made me realize that I can live without so much of what I have accumulated. It was also nice to start fresh.

Update: Admittedly, there are times when I wish I had brought a certain something with me. It’s usually a fleeting thought; I quickly remind myself that I have survived for quite awhile without that rug, toilet paper dispenser, or skillet.

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The people in Portugal are gracious and welcoming. I have never felt like an outsider. I had dinner in a restaurant last week and when the owner learned that I was living in Faro, she gave me her cell number and said that I should call her if I ever needed anything. That’s just one example of the reception I have received.

I know this is odd, but I had no idea that I would be only a little over two hours away from Seville, Spain and that it was an easy bus ride away. It’s been a huge bonus to take two or three-day trips to one of my favorite cities. I love everything about Seville. Spanish culture is very different and there’s a whole lot to discover.

Update: I haven’t recently been to Spain due to the pandemic, however, during the summer I was able to travel within the country and I was able to fly to Madeira and see other parts of Portugal I may not have visited otherwise. It’s a beautiful country no matter where you find yourself. If you come to Portugal, don’t just go to Lisbon and/or Porto. Wine country and the coast are absolute must sees.

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The weather in the Algarve is amazing all year-round. With an average 300 days of sunshine, very little humidity most of the year and the temperature never dipping below 45 degrees, I have to say it’s hard to beat. There is often a beautiful breeze in Faro during the summer months because of where we are located on the Iberian south side of the Atlantic. The beautiful and diverse beaches here are also more than I could have hoped for.

Taxes on property are much lower in Portugal. Condo maintenance is one-fourth the cost in Maine and one-tenth of what I paid in New York City. Groceries are about 30% less. Insurance costs are a lot lower. There are bargain airlines that allow you to fly for less than 30 euros each way (if you carry a small bag onto the plane — I’ve learned how to pack more efficiently). Sometimes I wonder why things cost so much more in the States.

The Little things that make a big difference:

  • Because there is very little humidity here, things like sponges and clothes never get that damp, musty odor.
  • No snow . . . ever! I loved snow until I couldn’t ski anymore (knee issues).
  • The Portuguese government has regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in farming, no hormones, no food additives, etc. Eggs are bright orange and delicious and do not have to be labeled organic — all food is grown naturally (that I know of).
  • Very little crime. I feel very safe.
  • Public transportation is cheap and efficient. City buses are less than a euro a ride and run frequently. Going outside the city is also easy and only a few euros. Buses and trains are never overcrowded. Not owning a car has been freeing and has saved me a good deal of money. My commitment to lessen my carbon footprint has been rewarding. It took me a while to figure out the public transportation system, but once I did, it was a right.
  • Because we have an abundance of sunshine and great weather, I can cycle all year-round.
  • I have discovered many European healthcare products that are inexpensive and work well (i.e., face cream, toothpaste, pimple cream). I have a French grocery store a few blocks away and a fresh food market right above it. The outdoor farmer’s market travels from town to town and it’s in Faro on Sunday.
  • Labor is inexpensive. I have been able to do some very nice renovations to my apartment that did not cost me a fortune (i.e., french doors in my kitchen, tile work, painting).
  • Furniture is well-made here.

Update: Adding shorter and less expensive flights to Asia, most citizens of Portugal embrace social democracy, and I believe there is a good deal more concern and respect for the environment (my perception). I’d like to also note that when I lived in the States I actually had to step over homeless people in NYC and Maine; I have lived in Faro for three years now and I have never seen a homeless person. When people are unable to take care of themselves, the country provides for them — their fellow citizens do so with pride and compassion.

The pace in Portugal is teaching me patience. Being born and raised in New York City and then spending most of my working life there, didn’t help. I wanted things done yesterday and efficiently; not the way of professionals in Faro — not a criticism mind you, more of an observation. Bottom line, if I want to live here, I have to slow down and accept the more relaxed pace. It’s no wonder the elderly take less medication and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.

The Lows (Negatives)

Losing Giorgio (my dog, brought from U.S., 11 years old) to heart disease has been the worst thing that has happened in Portugal thus far. In truth, he would have had to be put down in the U.S. at some point; however, knowing that the climate change adversely affected his heart, made his death more difficult. The wide sidewalks were great because I could walk him without a leash. He loved our new home (parks and beaches) and that gives me great comfort.

I indeed miss my friends and family and that can be tough at times. I fortunately chose a place people want to visit and so, I’ve had more friends and family come to see me than I ever anticipated (it’s good to have a guest room with an en suite). It’s been quite a treat to show the people I love my new home. My brother and his wife are with me now and we have been to places I had not yet discovered; I’ll make sure to explore the unexplored, in the future.

I’ve gained some weight and I’m not happy about that. Delicious pastries are everywhere and they’re so cheap. I think the novelty will soon wear off; either that or I’ll get tired of buying new pants. I’ve always had to work hard to keep the weight off, but aging makes this even more difficult.

Update: The novelty of Portuguese pastry has not worn off; I love the pastry as much today as I did back then. Even worse, I have found better bakeries. The good new is that my weight has remained about the same. As long as I exercise, I can keep it in check and hopefully, remain healthy. My prostate is giving me some problems, but that’s not surprising. It is looking more and more like surgery is in my future. Prostate surgery is a common procedure, however, COVID-19 will have me waiting for at least a year. In the meantime there is medication that keeps things under control. As the saying goes, “It’s better than the alternative.”

Learning Portuguese has not been easy, mainly because I don’t get enough practice outside of my lessons. The good news is that my vocabulary is more substantial and I can have a decent exchange, especially when push comes to shove. I’m enjoying the learning process and I need to be less shy. I now watch Portuguese cooking shows and read Portuguese subtitles when watching HBO films and series (HBO is only 5 Euros a month here). As I’ve said before, if it isn’t enjoyable than I don’t want to do it, learning a new language continues to be fulfilling for me. Patience.

Paco has helped me deal with the loss of Giorgio and now I find my memories of him comforting. Giorgio was there for me during many difficult situations. I am forever grateful to the animals that have been in my life.

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Flying back to the States is expensive. Currently, airfare back to the U.S. is 900 euros during the high season, April to July. I won’t be returning very often. There are bargain fares; however, you have to accept long layovers and not so great airlines. I like TAP — Air Portugal and I hate United (still true in 2021).

Did I Make the Right Choice?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I chose the right country at the right time. Portugal is becoming more attractive to expats because real estate prices are fairly reasonable; however, in the year since I purchased my condo, the value has risen by 20 percent. It will soon be just as expensive as everywhere else. I saw this happening with Spain 20 years ago. More importantly, I love it here. I love the people, I love the food, I love the weather, the quality of life, my location in Faro, my healthcare, and I love how it all makes me feel. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am 45 minutes to Spain by car and I can fly or take a train to several other European countries very easily. The time difference in other countries is only an hour or two and that’s manageable — I never did well with different time zones.

Access to Travel

Faro is not a very large city; however, it is the capital of the Algarve and the airport is a fairly large hub. Multiple airlines fly direct to many cities throughout Europe. The rail system in Europe is also quite extensive and efficient. I can see the world more easily from my new home. I know that as I get older I will want to stay closer to home where I get to enjoy all the creature comforts. I sleep better in my own bed than anywhere else. Still I know it’s best to travel as much as possible; while I still can.

Photos:  I took these photos in Sagres, Portugal a couple of days ago. Sagres is the furthest south and west you can go on the Iberian continent. It’s difficult to capture how truly peaceful and spectacular this part of the world is. It was an easy two and a half hour drive from my home.

Sagres Guide

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What Lies Ahead? (previous blog)

The best is yet to come . . .

I have decided to stop thinking long-term. I am open to possibilities I might not have ever considered before. I have two big trips coming up in 2019. After I return, perhaps a rescue dog? A pet would probably force me to stay put for a while, but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to go the organic route on this decision and see where the future takes me. Getting older means aches and pains I did not anticipate and other small medical issues that I have to be dealt with. Staying on top of these things is important for long-term good health. When you get older, health becomes a priority.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Soren Kierkegaard

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep, leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”
― Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Update: Time for a bit of truth telling — this virus and its many variants are becoming alarming. Some experts say that the vaccinations are not effective against the variants, some are saying they are. The numbers keep going up everywhere. Lockdown has been extended . . . again. Yesterday I ran into seven police officers checking for non-mask wearers and people who were not staying in their homes, where they were told to remain. It’s been a year! It’s confounding, scary and tiresome. Honestly, I’ve been pretty strong so far, but I’ve been feeling that I’m maxing out on patience.

There is so much more I could say about living abroad, but I fear boring you to death. I have zero regrets, I’m probably happier than I’ve ever been, and I look forward to what is to come. I can still see a possible move in the future and I embrace the mystery of where, when, how and why that might happen.

Cuba Update: I was scheduled to leave for Cuba this week, however, the government has extended the lockdown to March 1. The number of COVID-19 cases are down, but the hospitals continue to be overwhelmed with ICU cases. This new wave of cases was a result of carelessness over the holidays. It makes me angry because now we all suffer and the death toll continues to rise. It is astounding how negligent and ignorant human beings can be.

Question of the Week:

Have your feelings about the pandemic changed over time?

It Helps to Know How Tiny We Are

Don’t forget there is a “question of the week” at the end. Thank you.

The Meaning of it All

There are individuals who refuse to consider the size of the universe because it terrifies them. In fact, my thoughts tend to navigate toward the extreme opposite. I am fascinated by the enormity of the universe and where I fit in. Let me start by sharing my belief:

The universe is a completely balanced entity and we are a small, but necessary part of what keeps it that way.

I am not a scientist. I don’t even have a scientific mind. However, I do believe in science. I see constant significant corrections and the impact on my life. How much of my theory about the universe is true? I am uncertain and I am okay with that. I believe that the universe is infinite, vast, and mysterious. I especially love the mysterious part.

The life and death cycle occurs throughout the universe: the stars, planets, galaxies, comets, etc., have a life cycle and it all seems to have a singular purpose and that is renewal. Our sun may not have a heartbeat, however, there is no denying that it had a beginning, a middle and it will have an end. The life of our sun serves a higher purpose for the entire universe, and I for one, am forever grateful. If you examine nearly every aspect of our universe, you will come to a similar conclusion: there is a reason for everything and everything has a purpose. So why would any of us not appreciate that we exist for a reason. Furthermore, why is it so important for us to figure out what that reason is? We are the universe and the universe is us; I can live with that. In fact, I am empowered by this truth.

I choose to go with the “renewal” explanation for my own life. Consider this my spiritual awakening. I am alive for a purpose I may never fully understand; however, I understand life has meaning. My life had a beginning, it has a middle, and it will eventually have an end. What is left of me when I am no longer breathing will also have a purpose; whether it be a memory, a lesson taught, a thought that lingered, dust particles, or to make someone smile, it doesn’t matter — what matters is how I choose to take advantage of life now. From where I’m sitting, life was a gift I was fortunate to receive; random or otherwise.

Where My Thoughts Go and How That Has Changed Over Time

At a certain point in your life you realize that you have lived more of your life than you have left to live. This realization can be quite sobering. If you sit with it for awhile, your thoughts will visit various places; some dark and some encouraging. You might ask what could be encouraging about knowing you have a limited amount of time left to live? Well, I’ll share my point of view:

First, it forces you to take stock of your life. If there are things that you long ago decided you wanted to do, well then, you ought to get to it. You must consider variables such as physical limitations, priorities, whether you want to do something alone or with others, and so on. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it forces you to consider what you need to do in order to make certain things happen. For example, if you want to climb a mountain, you’d better make sure you’re in the right shape to do it or that you can travel to said mountain. If one of your life dreams is to have a home on the beach, you may need to save a bit more or choose a different beach.

I recently had a revelation that helps me in sorting all this out. It occurred to me that if my life ended, I probably wouldn’t be regretting what I didn’t get done. Oh come on, it’s not morose, it’s realistic.

How Knowing What I Know Helps Me to Cope

I don’t want to sound preachy or too philosophical. I prefer when others share their personal story or history, rather than telling you on how to live your own life. After years of psychological therapy and a good deal of reflective thinking, I cope by being true to myself. Living for others or believing what others tell you to believe, robs you of your own life. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Take advantage of that knowledge and go your own way — oops, a bit preachy. If this isn’t how you roll, toss my words aside and live whichever way you choose; just know that personal fulfillment is just that, personal.

What If I’m Wrong?

I don’t think much about alternative explanations for my own existence. ‘What if’ games are for worry warts and I tend to worry more about the people I love than myself. I figure that if I’m wrong and there is life after death, well then, I’ll be pleasantly surprised (shush). I strongly believe that all living beings possess a soul and it is our soul that makes us all unique. Most people tend to have their own truth; hopefully, that truth brings you comfort and guidance. And if you truly believe that I don’t spend a great deal of time worrying, I have some property in the Florida swampland to sell you.

Medically Assisted Death

When I resided in New York, I belonged to a “Dying With Dignity” group. Our purpose was to advocate for laws that would allow individuals to decide when it was time to end life. Physician-assisted suicide at the end of one’s life should be a human right. I am referring to an individual with a terminal illness, where there is little to no hope for future quality of life. I am not in favor of being hand or machine fed until my heart stops beating. I accept death as an imminent aspect of life. I truly believe that death can be as beautiful and as meaningful as birth. I don’t see New York changing the law anytime and I believe that is unfortunate.

In the News: The Portuguese parliament has approved a law authorising “medically assisted death” which would make the Catholic country the fourth in Europe to legalise euthanasia should the new law come into force.

Lawmakers approved the final wording for legislation allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill and gravely injured people.

It is expected to become law in the very near future.

Resources:

The Complete Life Cycle of the Universe. This piece has some excellent references; although scientific, it is easy enough to comprehend.

1: Artists conception of a star life cycle. It shows the life cycle of the star birth from Stellar Nebula to its death at White Dwaft/Neutron Star/Black Hole (courtesy: NASA).

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THE MEANING OF LIFE — An excerpt

From Great Issues in Philosophy, by James Fieser

Home: http://www.utm.edu/staff/jfieser/120

Copyright 2008, updated 1/1/2021

• Does life have a purpose?

• What kind of life is worth living?

• How can I overcome despair?

• How can I achieve happiness?

• Why do I exist?

• Why should I exist?

• Do my life activities have any lasting value?

Each of these questions focuses on a unique point. The first, for example, asks whether there is an over-arching design or goal to human existence that might clarify our place in the grand scheme of things. The second asks whether some approaches to life are better than others. All of the above questions, though, presume that something’s not right with life as we currently experience it, and we’d like a solution to the problem.

           Not everyone is plagued by questions of life’s meaning, and a good test for determining the grip that this has on you personally was suggested by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900). In ancient times, philosophers from many cultures around the globe entertained a concept called the eternal return. On this view, the universe that we live in now is just one in an endless series of universes that occurs one right after another, each being identical with the others, right down to the tiniest detail. With our present universe, there are fixed laws of nature that determine how it unfolds, including everything about my own personal existence, such as how tall I am, who I married, the job that I have, and every word I ever uttered. Someday this universe will be destroyed by cosmic forces, and from its ashes a new universe will be formed. It too will be shaped by exactly the same laws of nature, and thus all events will unfold in exactly the same way, including my own life. This cycle of universes will continue again and again, forever. Whether you believe the theory of the eternal return is not important. What Nietzsche asks, though, is how you would feel if it was true, and for eternity you would be reliving the exact same events in your life, over and over, in each successive universe. If you would be OK with that, then likely you are not especially bothered by problems of life’s meaning. You are happy with this life, and you would be content living the identical life over and over. However, if the notion of the eternal return sounds like a nightmare to you, then maybe you have serious issues with the meaning of life as you experience it right now.

           Philosophers are not the only ones interested in questions about life’s meaning. Psychological studies tell us that happiness declines in our 20s and returns around age 50. That’s a long period of personal struggle for each of us, and today’s self-help industry has jumped in to address our problems. While many of these involve specific concerns, such as relationship issues or alcohol dependence, others are more general in nature. A mid-life crisis or a “spiritual” crisis, for example, will often involve larger questions of purpose and fulfillment. Philosophical discussions of the meaning of life are not meant to compete with self-help therapies. The main appeal of philosophy’s contributions to this issue rests in the puzzle itself: here is a timeless problem that touches the core of human existence. What exactly is behind the problem and which, if any, of the standard solutions are plausible?

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Question of the Week:

What is your view of the life cycle?

May be an image of text that says 'FOR ALL, WHO MAY BE HAVING A BAD DAY.. It Can Always Be Worse.'

Surviving Another Lockdown

Can it be too quiet?

[If you’re too busy to read, scroll to the end; I need your help with answers to weekly questions.]

The Current State of Affairs

A friend of mine who happens to be alone a lot because of his work, had this to say about quarantine:

“I’ve been practicing how to isolate my entire life.”

I can relate to that. I’ve been living alone for eight years now and it’s been pretty quiet and more peaceful than I ever imagined. So much so that I cannot imagine it any other way. Still, it’s different when you choose to be alone versus having the government enforce it. And for you partnered folks: if living with someone works for you, I wouldn’t want you to change it; just presenting alternatives.

I guess there was always the possibility that the government in Portugal would decide a second lockdown was necessary. I saw it happening in other European countries and it was only a matter of time. So here we are again: big infection rates and more deaths than we can handle. And as you’ve heard, a slowdown in vaccine production and delivery.

Intellectually, I get it. I’m constantly imagining what it must be like for people losing family members and close friends. And believe me the last thing I want is to be in hospital in a foreign country hooked up to a respirator. I’m living in Portugal where I have new friends who care about me, but who wouldn’t be able to see me in hospital anyway. And then of course there is my dog Paco; it’s been just the two of us for a year now. I’m convinced that without Paco, I would be a slug with a big bag of chips, on a too cushy sofa, rewatching Netflix originals and endlessly surfing Youtube videos.

The Right Head Space

Attitude is a huge part of a successful lockdown. If you spend a lot of time thinking about what you cannot do and where you cannot go, you will become bitter and filled with anxiety. On the other hand, if you remind yourself that lives are being saved by staying put and it’s temporary, coping becomes easier (at least for me).

I also purchased a tiny little fireplace for 30 Euros on Amazon. It runs on ethanol and it’s very safe. So when I’m wrapped up in a quilt with Paco curled up next to me, I now have a fire to add to the peaceful ambiance. Make your space comfy and cozy so that you never want to leave.

Routine

I’m finding that routine helps me feel better about the situation I find myself in. I go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, spend time journaling and blogging in the morning, take Paco to the dog park (where I can also socialize from a distance), do some stretching and walking, learning Portuguese on Memrise, cleaning up a bit, cooking new dishes, going to the market (allowed), reading, watching a bit of news (not too much, I find it depressing and the media sensationalizes everything), Facetime or whatsapp family and friends, etc. If I do all of these things, just about everyday, time breezes by and I feel fulfilled. I have also discovered the art of napping. Closing your eyes for 10 to 20 minutes in the middle of the day, can be quite rejuvenating and there’s no guilt attached.

Newish Hobbies

I’ve always been at a loss for dreaming up new and interesting hobbies. Like most people, I’ll try something a couple of times and put it down. Pre-COVID-19 I discovered that I enjoyed croquet; bought an expensive new mallet and everything. Now I hang my jacket on it. The point is, I found a passtime I enjoyed and now I know that I can do it again . . . hopefully in the near future.

Lockdown has forced me to cook more and that’s a good thing. I’m enjoying watching Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson on Portugal’s mixed Portuguese and English food channel, 24Kitchen. Not just for enjoyment (most of the Food Network these days), these are shows where you can watch, listen and learn. I’m having fun duplicating recipes with my own twist. I don’t write them down, I wait a day or two, let it churn in my head a bit, and then give it a try. I’ve come up with quite a few very satisfying meals. I’m not photographing most of them — something I’ve discovered about social media: most people couldn’t care less what I cook.

I’m occasionally enjoying a virtual meal with my friend Gina. It’s not the same as sitting across from her, but it’s fun for the two of us to plan a menu, pull up a laptop, and chow down together.

The Quiet

There is a high school with hundreds of students very close to my apartment. Students hangout at a café at the base of my building, pretty much all day. A few weeks ago the government decided that all of Portugal should stay at home except teachers and school kids. So for the first few days, when the second lockdown began, I continued to hear the chatter of high schoolers from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admittedly, I resented it. Even the owner of the café was concerned about the pile-up of young people on the sidewalk. They were maskless and all over one another (well that’s what you do when you think you’ll live forever). I guess their infection rates went up and the kids are back home. I miss the chatter. It was a reminder that there is life out there in the world. Quiet is grossly overrated.

My Perspective

It helps to have a place to breathe. The view of the Ria Formosa and Atlantic Ocean from my terrace never gets old. Some days the temperature goes up to 70 degrees (21C) or higher. If you’re going to have to stay home, the Algarve isn’t a bad place to be.

I’m legally permitted to exercise close to home. Long walks with earbuds and music was no longer satisfying, so I have started listening to podcasts. Wow, if you want to pass time and be stimulated while you’re doing it, this is the way to go. You have to sort through the bed stuff to get to the good ones, but once you find a few you like . . . it’s like my outdoor Netflix and they’re free on Spotify (with occasional ads). Modern Love, The Counter Chronicles, The Daily, The Daily Zeitgeist — all very interesting. Short spurts of listening are not a problem. Audio books next?

Eat. Sleep. Isolate. Repeat.: Funny Self Isolation Notebook Journal.  Quarantine Humor for Coworkers and Friends. Social Distancing Sarcastic  Quotes.: Press, Twisted Journaling: 9798639563256: Amazon.com: Books

Question of the Week:

How has lockdown changed the way you think about life?

Why Winning Might Not Be So Important

Just about everyone I know is living through relationship difficulties during this divisive time in our country’s history. In my house any conversation was fair game at the dinner table. We fought over politics, race, religion, and just about anything you can imagine. In the end, there was so much love between us, it never got in the way. Maybe that’s why despite our political differences, I am still very close to several of my family members.

Our homes are not always reflective of the rest of the world. When I was a young and I attended dinner parties, it was made clear that certain topics were taboo. My guess is that the host did not want to deal with yelling and screaming at the table, people possibly walking out, and even worse, some people never coming back. People are often hellbent on winning arguments. We’ve all been to at least one of these epic dinners.

For many of us, it’s all about winning. It’s one of those things some of us were taught growing up: “Winning is everything.”

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”

George Steinbrenner


“The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.”

Mia Hamm

It’s Okay Not to Win (here comes the list):

  • When you’re having an argument with your boss
  • when you’re playing sports with your child
  • when you’re playing for a charitable organization and it’s more to do with making a donation
  • when make-up sex is on the horizon
  • when you have a disagreement with someone who care about
  • when you may never see the person you disagree with again
  • when getting to a win will cause health issues
  • when winning means losing your integrity
  • when you would have to lie in order to win
  • when winning means losing a friend
  • when winning means cheating
  • when losing means keeping your humility

I have this little voice in my head that tells me: winning comes at a cost and that thought stops me from doing many things — good, bad, I’m not sure.

When Winning is Fun

Winning is fun when you’re enjoying yourself; when it’s not life and death or having to go to prison for the win. I love winning a game of cards. I love when my party wins an election. I love winning at the blackjack table. I love winning a bet. I love winning a scratch-off lottery ticket. I love winning board games. I love winning a big Supreme Court Case (eg., gay marriage). I love when winning is followed by a celebration. It’s true, I love winning.

A Personal Story (I apologize if you’ve heard it)

When I worked for Dorothy Hamilton, owner of the French Culinary Institute, we used to enjoy playing Scrabble; obviously not at work.

Dorothy invited me to her Connecticut estate for the weekend. We sat by a warm fire for several hours playing Scrabble. I was a better player, but I held back because I knew how much Dorothy liked to win. Although I am very competitive, there are times when winning must be less important. About halfway through the game she misspelled a word. I looked at it and thought it best not to challenge her.

It was getting late and we had plans to go out to dinner. Dorothy excused herself to change for dinner. She told me that a friend of hers would be joining us and to answer the door when she arrived. A few minutes later the doorbell rang and when I went to the door, it was the actress Christine Baranski. She was gorgeous and gracious; it took every ounce of restraint not to gush. I welcomed Christine into Dorothy’s home. She asked me where Dorothy was and walked over to the fireplace where our Scrabble board was set-up.

Christine Baranski - Wikipedia

“Playing Scrabble?” She uttered.

“We are,” I replied.

“Well, one of you spelled a word wrong.” Christine pointed at the board and sucked her teeth.

I told her that I knew that it was misspelled; however, I requested that she keep it between us. She asked me why and I told her that I didn’t notice it until it was too late and besides, “I work for Dorothy.”

Dorothy called Christine’s name from upstairs and runs down to greet her. It didn’t take long for her to confront Dorothy.

“Dorothy, you spelled a word wrong and Chris is afraid of you.”

I kept my mouth shut and Dorothy looked at me and said,”Why didn’t you challenge me?”

I lied and told her that I didn’t realize it was misspelled while we were playing. I’m fairly certain she didn’t believe me and she teased me about it for a long time. About a year later we were at a Manhattan restaurant and she brought it up.

“Are you afraid of me?”

“Yes,” I said, “you can be intimidating and besides, you’re my boss.”

I promise you she said the following:

“It’s okay with me if I intimidate you.”

I believe that sums her up. I stand by my decision to sometimes allow Dorothy to win.

By the way, Christine Baranski was charming, funny and great company. I believe she kept Dorothy honest and that was a good thing for the rest of us. (A tragic car accident took Dorothy a few years ago.)

An aside: Joan Rivers joined us at our table at the restaurant that night. I loved Joan Rivers, so that was a huge thrill. I just have to say, in person Joan’s plastic surgery made her pretty scary to look at — her face like a porcelain doll; the rest of her old and wrinkled.

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Travel

I am booked on a trip to Cuba beginning February 18; five days in Varadero and four days in Havana. I’m not sure the trip will actually be a go, but it’s insured, so I’m not too concerned. It will require that I take the COVID-19 test a minimum of three times, but I think it’s a small price to pay. I’ve been trying to get to Cuba for quite awhile. Now that I have a Portuguese visa, I am able to go. “If not now, then when?”

Planned Trips: Toulouse in April, the United States in May, Lyon in June, Bristol in July (rescheduled from March), a Mediterranean cruise in October, and five Asian countries in January 2022 (rescheduled from January 2021). Sometimes I choose to fly to places that I can get to on one plane from Faro. I’ve been to Toulouse and fell in love with this city — the UK is easy to get to from here and never disappoints. Asia is elusive. For some reason it is taking me ages to get to this part of the world. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that maybe I’m just not ready. I do love a carrot and I know it will happen soon enough.

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Requires Your Participation

From now on I will end each blog with a question. Your responses will help initiate future blog topics.

This week’s question:

What is one thing that weighs heavily on your mind these days?

Feel free to mention more than one thing if you like. Send it privately if you’d prefer.

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COVID-19

I woke with a bad headache today. Of course I believe I may have the virus. Don’t dare read a list of symptoms. Very early on, perhaps last February, a friend of mine said, “Before this is over, half the world will get it.” I thought to myself, how ridiculous! Now I believe she may have been right.

Gay Life in New York City in the 80s & 90s

Photo by FransA on Pexels.com

I asked and you told me: this blog request comes from a good friend. Patrick asked me to write about being gay in NYC in the 80s and 90s and so here goes.

Some people crawl out of the closet, some burst out, others start with a toe; I did it out of desperation. I have regrets, who doesn’t. This post will be more about what life was like for a gay man in NYC during the time of AIDS and paradoxically a good deal of sexual freedom. I should state up front that what I am writing is my very subjective perspective on what life was like during this time in my personal gay history. I’m going to begin by making a confession:

I apologize for holding back some of what I experienced and witnessed. Although I have been honest in my blogs, I firmly believe that some aspects of one’s life are meant to be kept to oneself. These truths about my past are not shameful, criminal, or up for debate; these truths are my truth. What I choose to share is my business and should be respected.

New York City

NYC has always been a place for decadence and tolerance. I feel fortunate to have been raised in such a place. Having done my undergraduate studies and master’s degree in the south, I returned hyper-aware of my newfound freedom. Like a kid in a candy store, I overindulged. Being who I am, I was also fairly reserved. We’re all very complicated and I am no exception. Just a few stories about the gay 80s and 90s from my perspective:

Wigstock on the Christopher Street Pier

This will not be a history lesson; therefore, I cannot tell you how Wigstock started or why it came to be. It is a dragfest. I believe it still exists, however no longer at the Christopher Street Pier. Lady Bunny, the past MC, always wears a very big blond wig and I believe she is one of the founders. She’s a rather large drag queen with a funny voice. She was and is self-deprecating and playfully cruel to just about everyone. I loved her then and I love her now.

The Christopher Street Pier was known for being a hangout for gays, drug addicts, and the people of NYC who live on the fringe. I was drawn to the place, but only during daylight when I felt safe. Wigstock allowed you to go to the Pier and express yourself openly, no matter who you were. Wigstock usually took place in the hot, humid summer, rendering all homosexuals and their allies, shirtless; often showing off defined torsos. I’m a shameless voyeur; therefore, I never missed it.

One particular year stands out: I was in my 20s, in fairly good shape, and super curious. I’ve heard that men give off some sort of scent when they’re in heat; I must have reeked. I assume this what happens when you quash your sexuality for a long time. I had overalls that I dared not wear because farmers were frowned upon in the big city. What possessed me to darn them for this event I do not know. Not only did I put them on, but I wore them commando; nothing underneath. My memory on this is weak, however, I do believe I had been dating someone who gave me some lame excuse for not being able to attend. Truth be known, he preferred his freedom over a date with me that day. He once casually informed me that he could not be with me 24/7. Had I known better, I would have dumped him then and there.

So there I was at Wigstock in a sea of sexually charged gay men, feeling resentful and vulnerable; I wanted revenge. What better way to get back at that jerk than to attract a far more fetching suitor. I arrived at Wigstock unfashionably early — not uncommon for me. I believe there may have been some sort of leather festival the same day. I wouldn’t swear by it because I tend to mix-up my gay events. No matter, I do recall lots of men in chaps showing off my favorite body part. There has hardly been an exposed derriere I have not admired.

This one fella caught my attention about an hour after I had arrived. He was young and fetching and I felt bold in my revealing overalls. I introduced myself to him after a few minutes of shameless flirting. He was friendly enough, but also somewhat aloof; typical gay man in New York City — you could say hello, perhaps even share a few moments of intimacy, but beyond a first name and country of residence, you dare not get too close.

Knowing he could quickly disappear into the crowd, I suggested we go to my place. He agreed; however, making it clear, 30 minutes tops was about all he could spare. This was a tenuous hook-up at best. As we walked on Christopher Street I noticed his eyes and thoughts were elsewhere. I stopped and asked him if he was certain that he wanted to do this. He hesitated for a few seconds, hence I knew this wasn’t meant to be. I made an excuse about forgetting my roommate would be home and he shrugged. Disgusted with him, gay men in general, and the whole fucking world, I went home. I dare say, this sort of thing happened to me repeatedly.

Out at New York University

Two situations of significance occurred while I was studying and working at NYU. I was a full-time Resident Manager in the 90s and I was completely open about my sexuality. At the time I was dating and enjoying NYC gay life.

The Associate Director of my department was gay. He pretty much had a stick up his ass and not many people liked him. I mostly avoided him and hoped that he would avoid me. At the end of resident assistant training, we would have a celebratory party with skits from each residence hall, eating and non-alcoholic beverages. The staff from my building were mostly film or theater majors; very creative and very bold. We planned a skit where I would play a female role. I honestly never felt comfortable in drag; I thought I was way too masculine to pull it off. I agreed to do it if I could wear a colorful wig and no makeup. We performed, got lost of laughs and that was that. The next day I was summoned to the Associate Director’s office (I’m not using his name because I believe he died a tragic death a few years ago). He was angry about my performance. He said it was one thing for undergraduates to behave this way, but completely inappropriate for a professional to perform in drag. I stayed very quiet for fear of saying something I would regret.

When I asked him if we were done, he said, “How can I help you find another job.”

I will never forget those words because they cut through me like a sharp knife. I had never been asked to leave a job in my life (since then I have one other time). I got up from my chair and walked out. He never brought it up again and I remained employed for Residence Life at NYU until I decided to move on. I think he was jealous of my legs.

The second situation was harder for me to swallow. After six years of doctoral study, it was time to complete my dissertation. My study looked at tolerance and exposure to homosexuals. My random sample were a percentage of freshman undergraduates from each school at NYU. I had to write to the school Deans in order to get permission to send out a questionnaire to their students. Every school except the Stern School of Business agreed to the study. I was devastated by this decision and went before my dissertation committee with the news. Apparently, the Stern School was concerned that their students might be offended by my survey. My committee was angered and disheartened, however, not surprised. They approved the student sample without the students from Stern. The whole ordeal just made me more determined to succeed and prove to the Stern School that none of the students (over 300) involved were offended by my questions. At the end of my study I was happy to report that there had not been a single complaint about the survey. In the end I failed to prove that exposure to homosexuality made one more tolerant. My committee agreed that had I been able to track students throughout their undergraduate studies, I would have proven that the longer one is exposed to homosexual individuals and a gay lifestyle, the more tolerant that individual would be. I learned that working on a dissertation is more about learning how to do research than proving your hypotheses.

Hard to believe we are talking about the 90s in New York City. Young people today have no idea what life was like just a short time ago. Just as I have no idea what it was like before my time. In some parts of the world, there is still little or no tolerance; this makes me sad and angry.

The Bar and Club Scene

First let me say there were lots of choices. Depending on where you were in the city, you could choose a fairly close gay bar or club. Many of the bars had a drag night or several drag nights. I always found the crowd to be friendlier when drag shows were scheduled — perhaps it loosened people up. There was one very large and contemporary bar near Union Square that stood out among the rest; they had a large stage where they featured beautifully sculpted men showering. I imagine that they sold a higher volume of cocktail when these shows were going on.

These places notoriously had back rooms where gay men were known to have fun. AIDS changed all that for gay men. Unsafe sex was killing thousands of New Yorkers and had to be prohibited in public places. I had moved back to NYC during the height of the devastating effect of AIDS. I witnessed a robust bar and club scene practically come to a halt. As AZT and protease inhibitors were introduced, the scene slowly re-emerged, however, it was and never will be what it was in the 60s and 70s — I will not comment on morality or blame, perhaps another blog.

The NYC Population in General

New Yorkers are a very unique and special sub-population of the world. I think it has a lot to do with cramming 8.5 million people from all over the world into a tiny space. If you did not or do not develop a certain amount of tolerance for different cultures, you were and are most certainly not at home in NYC. That doesn’t mean that homophobia did not exist in the 80s and 90s. There were certain parts of the city that were considered unsafe for gay people. There were reported gay bashings where gay people were killed or seriously injured. I was careful; going to and from a nightclub in the wee hours of the morning, could be scary. I never carried more money than I needed and the only jewelry I usually wore was a cheap watch.

To be honest, most of the time I felt very safe and somewhat invisible. New Yorkers were busy people going about their daily lives. I don’t think they paid much attention to me; my sexuality, where I was going or what I was doing. I never before felt that kind of anonymity and freedom in the south and I certainly do not feel that way now in Portugal. New York City draws people from all over the world; people who want to be themselves, without fear of ridicule or persecution. That is how it was then and that is how it is now. There is no city anywhere like it. I was born a New Yorker and I will die a New Yorker. Most of my fellow New Yorkers feel the same way.

I did quite a bit of volunteer work to help the LGBT population further the cause and gain the rights that we justly deserved; however, I was not an activist. I have no regrets about this, we all choose our own paths. Because I was immersed in the world of academics, I personally knew scholars, literary giants, speakers, and journalists who were activists and moved the needle for gay rights in this country. For this, I am grateful to have lived during this time and I feel fortunate to have resided in New York City.

Articles

High Jinks and Hard Knocks: New York in the 70s, 80s, & 90s: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2018/feb/27/new-york-70s-80s-and-90s-carrie-boretz-in-pictures

The Queer History of NYC

New York Narratives: How NYC’s LGBT Scene Changed One Queens Native’s Life

One of the writers/scholars I was happy to know and work with (on Amazon):

Has the Gay Movement Failed?

by Martin Duberman | Jun 8, 2018


Andrea Dworkin: The Feminist as Revolutionary

by Martin Duberman | Sep 8, 2020


Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community

by Martin Duberman | Mar 13, 2009


Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising that Changed America

by Martin Duberman | Jun 4, 2019


The Rest of It: Hustlers, Cocaine, Depression, and Then Some, 1976–1988

by Martin Duberman | Mar 6, 2018

I was also privileged to know and spend time with Larry Kramer, whose work is much more difficult to digest.

Laurence David Kramer was an American playwright, author, film producer, public health advocate, and LGBT rights activist. He began his career rewriting scripts while working for Columbia Pictures, which led him to London where he worked with United Artists. Wikipedia. Born: June 25, 1935, Bridgeport, Connecticut, United States Died: May 27, 2020, Manhattan, New York, United States. SpouseWilliam David Webster (m. 2013–2020). MoviesThe Normal HeartHow to Survive a Plague.

The Normal Heart changed how I viewed the world and gay culture.


Quieting The Mind

I don’t know about you but I have a brain that just doesn’t shut down. I have discovered a few ways to help quiet it down:

  • meditation — there are several methods. What works for me is to allow my mind to go wherever it wants to go for 10 to 20 minutes.
  • journaling — moving it from my brain to paper is very effective
  • talk ideas/concerns/frustrations through with someone else
  • walk or exercise
  • read a novel
  • play time or quiet time with your pet
  • a good film
  • listen to music
  • focus on positive thoughts
  • volunteer work

So long as you do not judge me, I’ll tell you where my crazy thoughts go when unmonitored or bridled:

  • Trump and the damage he has done (continues to do) to the world
  • In some ways I am more concerned with those who believe Trump’s rhetoric and support him.
  • people who disappoint
  • family that claim that they want nothing to do with me because of my politics. I know it has more to do with the fact that I stand by my truth. Oh how I wish I could name names.
  • money
  • COVID-19
  • climate change and what we are doing to our planet
  • people who do not recycle or pick up their dog shit
  • people who live in my building and refuse to pay their condo fees . . . and get away with it
  • arthritis in my shoulders
  • prostate (especially at 3:00 a.m.)
  • what happend at the Capital this week kept me up all night

You can see why I would rather stay focused on positive thoughts. I imagine you might have similar demons.

Resources:

Tasting Page piece (click for article) — 17 Ways . . .

https://www.tastingpage.com/blog/how-to-quiet-your-mind

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Future Posts

I’ve been thinking about where I intend to go with my blog in 2021. I tend to mix it up: lessons I’ve learned, past experiences, and fictional stories. If you can let me know if you have a preference, I would appreciate it.

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I was interviewed by Agatha Khishchenko, a podcaster out of Brooklyn (on Spotify); check it out here:

A couple of corrections: my first professional position at Hofstra University was Coordinator of Student Activities in Residence Life (not Director as I stated in the interview). Also, I taught classes at Hofstra and Marymount Manhattan College (not NYU where I did my Ph.D.). I want to make sure my answers are correct.