What Does Happy Look Like?

[I’m traveling tomorrow, so I decided to publish this week’s blog early. Sunday, February 3rd’s blog will be all about the Canary Islands.]

 

 

 

Thoughts about happiness has been occupying a great deal of my time lately. I’ve been taking stock of my life and wondering the following:

  1. Am I happy?
  2. What makes me happy?
  3. What do I need to do to be happier?
  4. Is it okay to settle for happy moments versus overall happiness?
  5. Are my expectations reasonable? Why or why not?
  6. How do I assess my own happiness?
  7. Do others interfere with my happiness?
  8. Do I make myself unhappy?
  9. What does being happy feel like?
  10. What were the happiest times of my life?
  11. Who makes me happy?
  12. Why does being happy matter?

I’m not going to go through these questions and answer them one by one. I am instead demonstrating where my head is at this stage of my life and how might create my own present and future. I’ll be sixty in a few months and whether I like it or not, age factors into my happiness. It’s a milestone that forces you to take inventory and consider your future.

There are ways to address this milestone that may be helpful. The following topics will be tackled in order of importance in my life at this time in my life:

Health

Health is a difficult reality. On one hand I want to life as healthy a life as possible so that I can enjoy a good quality of life; on the other hand there are many choices that I make that bring me joy, however, these choices have a negative impact on my health. For example, my daily 5:00 p.m. cocktail. I usually only have one and I know that by itself, that is not a bad thing, but there are a couple of other considerations:  1) the cocktail contains empty calories with no nutritional value, 2) when I’m with friends, I will give myself permission to have more than one, and 3) I also have a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. I am not an alcoholic and I don’t drink to get drunk. Still, I know that I would probably drop a few pounds if I stopped drinking. Truth is I enjoy that time of day when I relax and have a drink and I enjoy the taste of the cocktail or wine. I have made the conscious decision to continue drinking and monitor my intake; try my best to keep it at two or three portions a night. I have a very similar relationship with food, which also brings provides for a good deal of my happiness. Most of what I eat is fresh, healthy and delicious; however, there is that ten percent of my diet that I know is unhealthy. Again, one has to know oneself and choose wisely. And get a regular check-up to be certain that your body can tolerate certain things.

Note:  It doesn’t help that two of my dearest married friends had cocktails at 5:00 p.m. and ate what ever they wanted and had/have very healthy and long lives. One of them just recently passed away at age 95 and the other is alive and healthy at 90. Of course I know that everyone has a different genetic make-up and many, many other factors contribute to a long and healthy life.

I have always said that I’d rather live to be 80 and enjoy the bounty of life, then live to be 90 and deny myself much of what I truly love. This lifestyle choice doesn’t work for everyone. I am happy to say that I am almost 60 years old and medication free. I workout five days a week and only suffer the normal aches and pains that come with aging.

It’s odd how little we talk about our own path. We usually talk about other people and their habits or we generalize about society as a whole. It seems that people are either ashamed of their choices or choose to hide them. I wrote about my drinking habits this week in hopes of getting feedback from my readers. Am I kidding myself? Do my habits seem healthy? Unhealthy?

Home

The first view is the backside of my apartment and it represents my morning view. This morning, I watched the lunar eclipse. I have a clear view of Faro, the mountains and the morning moon. This view inspires me and reminds me that I am alive and that each day is a new and different day. The morning light is filled with color and most of the year I can watch the sunrise from my terrace. I also have a magnificent view of the Ria Formosa. The Ria is every changing and dynamic.

The second view is just after the sun has set in the evening. This view is facing southwest from the front of my apartment. This view represents the quiet of the evening — soft, diffused light

 

 

 

Front views at different times of the day:

 

There is a spot in my dining room where I can see both views. Depending on the time of day, every view is different and new. It’s like slowly moving still photographs marking time. I stand in this spot at least once a day to marvel at the light and color.

Family

Family can complicate happiness. I love my family dearly and my happiness is all wrapped up in their happiness. I constantly consider the amount of control or the lack of control I possess related to their happiness. I can make my sister laugh or buy my brother a nice present; I can spend hours on the phone with my niece listening to her talk about esoteric adventures; I can daydream about how my mom would take us shopping as children, pass an underwear bin, grab a pair and put it over her head; and I spend a day remembering my three siblings who have left us, whose memories lift me up almost daily. What it all adds up to is how my family takes my happiness to a higher level. Without them I would be happy; however, not nearly as happy.

Friends

Good, good friends know when you are unhappy; they know it before you do. My friends question my emotional state of mind on a regular basis. My mind is always churning and when that’s happening I don’t always smile. When I’m not smiling, my friends get concerned and I have to reassure them that everything is okay. There are times when I am not happy — for my good friends, that’s okay.

I consider my good friends, my family. No doubt my good friends make me happy. Sometimes they make me sad, but I realize that peaks and valleys are a normal part of life.

Plans:  Travel, Entertainment, Dining and Adventure

Making plans and executing them is all about creating memories. I read an anonymous quote many years ago that went something like this:

“We don’t remember days, we remember moments.”

Those words stuck with me and I have always tried to create moments or cement moments into my memory. Like the time I was mountain biking through a dense wooded area in Mexico. For a few moments I felt as free as a bird and more alive than I had ever felt in my life. It was exhilarating, I remember this happy moment as if it happened yesterday. I have many moments like this one and I recall these moments frequently.

Since arriving in Portugal, I have been creating these moments on an almost daily basis.

The Future:  Goals and Aspirations

I have come to realize that no matter how hard I try, there are certain “life concerns” that occupy my mind. When I’m in total control, rested, and have plans for the near future, I can keep these concerns in check and focus on my positive future plans. I also know that there are times when no amount of positive thinking or intervention by friends or family, can help put me in a happy place. When this happens I make myself as comfortable as possible and allow my thoughts to organically flow. The unhappy stuff usually passes pretty quickly when I allow myself to just feel or think whatever it is I’m feeling or thinking. I’ve learned that fighting my natural inclinations only makes me more anxious — know thyself.

I have fewer aspirations today then I had when I was younger. I can live with that.

 

A Funny thing happened on the way home:

My friend Susan is visiting from Maine for a few days. Unlike most of my friends, she reads my blog (as Bianca del Rio would say, “I ain’t mad”). So we were on a train to Tavira and I was talking about what I needed to include in this week’s “happiness” blog.

“I need to remember to make a note about how happiness directly correlates with being grateful, in my blog.”

We talked about how fortunate I am to be living this abundant life in Portugal. Not long after this conversation, we were sitting in the backseat of an Uber and the driver took us through a section of Faro I had never seen. The driver was surprised to learn that I live in Faro. She looked back at us in the review mirror and said,

“Faro is a happy place.”

What more can I say.

 

Observation

Last post of the year. Reiterating an important message:

One of the many advantages of being present is the ability to take in what is all around us. Observation is a privilege very few people take advantage of. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in your own small world that you fail to see the many wonders around you. I have been keenly aware of my surroundings the last few months and the following are just a few of my observations:

  • I have never seen as many elderly people out and about as I see here in Portugal. It probably has a lot to do with the weather in the Algarve, but I also believe it is the culture. What I am seeing is that seniors are respected and not ignored, I have been observing their daily routines and I am loving what I see. The patience they show with their pets is admirable. I see healthy people in their 80’s and 90’s; although some are using canes and walkers and moving slowly, they are outdoors and they are enjoying themselves. I am observing lots of smiles and warm greetings. I am also constantly seeing people ask the elderly if they need assistance. On the bus, in the streets, on the sidewalks; everywhere. A couple of reasons I’m liking what I see:  for one, I’m approaching 60; therefore, I’m closer to be a senior than I ever was before, and two, I have always enjoyed being around the elderly and this makes me feel really good. Note:  I live on a street with an uphill climb. People that are up there in years are climbing this hill daily and many are doing it without assistance. It just seems like a good thing.

Side note:  I have a friend here who is in her 70’s. Yesterday, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “You just need to slow down a little.” I was struck by her honesty and directness; the truth is she’s right.

  • Young people are engaging in conversation (not always on their cell phones). I live next door to a high school and I see young people outside of the school almost daily. It is refreshing to see that many of these young people are talking to and laughing with one another. I was honestly under the impression that this practice of communicating in person, was a dying art. It seems to me that it is as much a part of life for our youth as it’s ever been.
  • The streets of Faro are filled with cafés. Due to the mild weather here, these cafés are overflowing with people enjoying one another’s company and drinking espresso. If you listen closely to the chatter it has a wonderful rhythm. The best part is that an espresso is still under a Euro here. A café com leite (coffee with steamed milk; a latte) is often one Euro.
  • Bicycle riding is often quiet and graceful. I love watching people dart around on them or peddle slowly through neighborhoods; taking in the local scenery. I try to do it myself at least once a week — it’s a nice break from the day-to-day.
  • Foliage:  the shedding of leaves, the receding of plant life, the changing fauna and flora; are all amazing to observe. If you pay attention to the foliage on a daily basis, you will notice the subtle changes. The changing seasons are another gift our planet gives us. Life is a precious thing to behold.
  • The sounds of  the city:  dogs, children, people chatting, traffic; are delightful — a city symphony if you will.
  • Sit on a bench and just watch humankind. You’ll see snippets of stories, anguish, real life playing out, right under your nose and you’ll know you’re not alone.

 

The Noise in Your Head

I have a noisy brain. Constant static and colliding thoughts. Switching from listening to that brain chatter, to taking in the world around you, can be calming and hypnotic. In fact, it can be a whole lot more pleasant than what might be going on in your head.

How to Stop Your Noisy Brain (click for article)

 

Meditation

There are many different ways to meditate; however, I have found that just being present — living in the moment — is a great way to meditate. Being acutely aware of what is around you is an eye opener. It sort of shocks your body and in turn, your entire being wakes up. If I had read this just a few years ago, I would have been a doubter; what a bunch of mumbo jumbo. However, practicing meditation — in its many forms — over and over again, will demonstrate the power of mindfulness.

Remember, this is all part of my journey. There have been some bumps in the road, people who are toxic, rules meant to be broken, checks that didn’t come, and so forth, but so far, I’m on the right track. Thank you for listening.

 

Happy holidays folks; until next year!

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There will be no blog post for the period between December 30 to January 6 (two weeks). The next blog post will be January 13 — Morocco. The Canary Islands

Feelings

 

 

 

Your State of Mind

One of the many things that happen when you grow older is coming to terms with your feelings (if you’re lucky). Coping with your feelings, identifying your feelings, sorting out your feelings, embracing your feelings, allowing yourself to feel, projecting feelings; you can see where I’m going with this.

Why Your Biology Runs on Feelings (click for more)

Feelings are complicated and so is being human; it comes with the territory. Some people are so wrapped up in themselves, they neglect to consider the feelings of others. Is it social media, the pressures of life, family, coping skills, socialization? What is it about the world around us that has made us less empathetic? Some would argue that humans have always been this way. I’m not sure about that. I recall a time when people had more time for one another and seemed to care more; I could be wrong.

I’m sure the news media has something to do with it. Around the clock news covering the world. It’s easy to become numb. The “this doesn’t affect me” attitude is also pervasive. I certainly do not have the answers; I only know how I feel.

Anger
I hate it when I get angry. Mostly because I feel that it could have been avoided. Harnessing my anger has been a long-term goal. When I’m well rested and relatively happy, any anger I feel is short-lived and can be sorted out. On the other hand, when I’m tired and things are falling apart around me, anger becomes a ball and chain around my ankle; impossible to get rid of. I can usually take a step back to process my anger and that seems to help; however, let’s be honest, sometimes the stepping back part just doesn’t happen. When I react based on emotion, it’s usually an outcome I regret.
Not long ago I was having lunch with a friend and she started spewing what I thought was bigoted hate speech. You’d recognize it in a minute; when the words come from privilege and a lack of empathy. No matter how hard I sit on my hands and push the anger down, I find myself gritting my teeth and becoming righteous. I don’t like it one bit. The person sitting across from you does not hear the words you are speaking, they only experience the anger. What it does do is justify their feelings. What they hear in their head is:  it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, he always has to start an argument or why does he think he’s smarter or better than I am? None of this is productive; in fact, it is counter-productive. Now we’re both angry and not speaking to one another and we both feel justified in our feelings. I shouldn’t speak for this person, let me say, I feel justified.
We seek out like-minded individuals in order to avoid this kind of anger, but you have to ask yourself if avoidance is the right way to go. I’m not providing answers, I’m merely asking questions; processing for myself and hoping it helps others.
Tears
I am often moved to tears. I cry while watching movies, I weep while reading novels, I’ve been known to shed tears in the middle of a conversation with a friend, I cry in my dreams and at poetry readings, and I have cried myself to sleep a time or two. My father was a big man and he cried; he taught me that crying was okay and I am forever grateful to him for this. I feel sorry for people who cannot cry. I highly recommend it.
Loss of Control 
I have come to terms with being a control freak. I like to be in control. If something bad happens and it is beyond my control, I get angry. I have a difficult time processing:  how did this happen, why did it happen, who made it happen? I guess I believe that if I were in control, bad things wouldn’t happen. This is of course, untrue. Many bd things have happened while I was in control. The helpless feeling that I have when something is out of my control is unpleasant and frustrating. I am learning how to “let go” of situations, events, and reactions that are out of my control.
Pain
The hardest thing about pain, emotional, physical or psychological, is coping — not denying it, but feeling it. Let’s face it, pain in any manifestation sucks, but it’s unavoidable and must be felt. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and wait for it to pass. Unless we’re talking about a terminal illness, it will pass, and you will more than likely be stronger for having dealt with it.
Happiness
I hear about and read about happiness a lot lately. I was watching an old episode of the Good Wife last night and Stockard Channing (love her — did yoga with her in NYC once) was the guest star. Her character said this, “When you get older, the only thing that matters is your happiness.” I guess it struck me because I was in the middle of writing this blog. I don’t think it’s true. Life is so much more than my personal happiness. Yes, lots of things make me happy and I do often pursue my own happiness, but I also spend time thinking about the world, friends, family, cleaning my apartment, paying bills and none of that is necessarily about happiness. A good deal of the day is spent just doing what needs to get done. What makes me happy is just that, getting stuff done — it’s that sense of purpose I’ve discussed in earlier blogs.
Joy
I have to give myself permission to feel joy. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is what it is. After a while, if you’re watching, you get to know yourself and your limitations; your proclivities. I can hear this little voice in my head reminding me to smile and enjoy the moment. I have stopped questioning why this is so. As with any habit, good or bad, you do something often enough and it becomes part of your everyday life. It’s a good habit I am striving to teach myself . . . live a life filled with joy.
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin
Gratitude
Feeling grateful is powerful. Replacing feelings of pity, blame, resentment, anger, heartbreak, and regret, with gratitude can be more powerful than just about anything else. Sweeping feelings under the rug doesn’t work. Taking pills or drinking alcohol is temporary relief at best. Sitting quietly and thinking about or even writing about, what you are grateful for, helps you to feel more joyful.
Tools
Tools are helpful when feelings become difficult or painful. Some tools/coping skills have been discussed in this blog or past blogs. What I have learned is that tools are at our disposal and can and should be used as often as possible — not as a way of hiding or denying, but as a way to guide us, comfort us, and teach us.
What’s Next for me?
This is the six million dollar question I often ask myself. The answer is:  I have no idea. For the first time in my life, I am not thinking past the next few months and I have to say, I like it.
abstract aluminum architectural architecture
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

Time

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

 

pexels-photo-707582.jpeg
Photo by Carol Buenosia

 

I am convinced that I have spent the better part of my life creating stuff to do, experiences, lists, expectations, worries, and so on, in order to pass time. If I give myself enough to do, then I won’t have time to think about the “real” questions:

  • How can I make a difference?
  • Am I the best version of myself?
  • Am I happy with the choices I’ve made?
  • Do I spend time doing the things that matter to me?
  • What aspects of my life are a waste of my time?
  • What is stopping me from being impulsive?
  • Do I make too many lists?

As I consider these questions, I know that this is not a definitive list. Answers sometimes come easy enough; however, acceptance of the answer is often elusive. For example, if I break away from my normal routine and decide to do something unpredictable, what will happen? Other things come up for me:  Will I spend money I shouldn’t spend? Will I be neglecting my responsibilities? Will the lack of planning make for a less fruitful experience? The questions are endless; this is what gets in the way of spontaneity. When I have thrown caution to the wind, I have often been pleasantly surprised; the unexpected happens and I’m happy with the outcome. One would think that this alone would help push me past my comfort zone. But alas, I get in my own way and way too often I take the conservative route and remain at home.

I have asked friends to help and in some cases, they have. Letting go of control and allowing someone else to do the planning and decision-making, can be a wonderfully freeing feeling. It’s often a win-win. I wish it happened more often. I find myself in the position to just let go, now more than ever. I’m hopeful that more friends will trust my intentions and take me up on this offer. Everyone knows me as a detailed planner, making it difficult to convince certain individuals, that I would truly like to give up control. I’m screaming it from a mountaintop, I’m okay with you driving!

Allow me to ponder another of my annoying questions:  Am I happy with the choices I’ve made? Wow, this being honest with myself business isn’t easy. I’ve made so many bad choices; however, most of them were with good intention. I’m not talking about the nights that I stayed out dancing until noon the following day with the help of recreational drugs or deciding to play hooky from work so that I could see a matinée Broadway show. I’m talking about marrying a woman or deciding not to father children — big decisions which informed the better part of my life. To be angry at myself for making these decisions would be pointless and a waste of time. Having regrets doesn’t reverse the bad decisions or erase the memories. What I do hope is that I have made amends and learned from my mistakes. Reviewing your personal history can help you to know what not to do in the future. Dwelling on that history for a long time and lamenting about what could have been, is futile.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I have been working on being present. Breaking old habits is difficult, however, what I am noticing is less worry and more overall happiness. Thoughts of being grateful have replaced regret and anger about the past. In truth, it’s easier when you are in a beautiful place with great weather and less chaos, but I remind myself that it was me who made the move; it was me who said to myself life can be better if you choose to make it so. And so, I am trying to just enjoy what I have created for myself.

There is a push and pull, the yin and the yang I guess. It’s called balance; the weighing out of the things I need to consider:  money, obligations, insurance, goals, language, and so on. I cannot just overlook or discard all of that. I need to stay focused and balance living in the moment with insuring that there are more moments in the future. Easily done? I’m not so sure. This exercise is a reminder to me that time is precious and cannot be wasted; every moment counts in so many ways, for so many reasons.

A friend of mine recently lost her husband unexpectedly; no warning, no preparation. When these things happen to people we know, it’s like the proverbial slap in the face or as Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!” We cannot ignore the fact that at any given moment time might be swept out from under us. When I rest my head on my pillow at night before I close my eyes, I like to think about the day and what occurred. I no longer say accomplished because I no longer feel that everything I do has to be the fulfillment of a goal. There was a point when I was so driven I had to do lists that were broken down according to subject matters and often, I would lose track of where my lists were stored:  computer, journal, desktop notepad, under the refrigerator magnet?

Future Mother-in-law Story

It was New Year’s eve and my partner and I had just hosted a 90 person party in our Brooklyn apartment. It was 1:30 a.m., most of our guests had already said good-bye and the few guests that remained were lapping up the spoils. Most of them were unaware of a conversation taking place in our living room. My future mother-in-law had been staying with us for several weeks. She had travelled from Spain on an extended holiday; a bit longer than I would have preferred I’m afraid. She spoke no English so my partner had to interpret everything she said to me.

Let’s call her Sofia. Sofia looks over at me across the room and says, “Chris, si supieras que solo tienes 24 horas de vida, ¿cómo quieres pasar ese tiempo?”

I looked over at my partner who translated, “She wants to know how you would spend your last 24 hours on earth.”

I had just spent a week preparing for a huge party and I was about four cocktails in. I wasn’t sure why Sofia was asking this question, but I was always polite with her and decided to play along.

“I would want to spend it in your son’s arms,” I replied.

“Entonces, ¿por qué no te comportas como si fuera tu última noche en la tierra?”

My partner chuckled (he too was feeling pretty happy at this point) and said, “She wants to know why you don’t act like it’s your last night on earth.”

The lady could be intense, but this was way too heavy for this particular hour, on this particular night. I shrugged it off.

I awoke a few hours later troubled by this conversation. Why did Sofia say this to me? She obviously had an agenda. I didn’t want to ask her because I was certain it would open Pandora’s Box and I didn’t want to go there with her. We were approaching the end of her stay and I thought it best to say goodbye on good terms. I kept it to myself for the next 48 hours. We put Sofia on the plane and I brought up the conversation on the way home from the airport.

My partner rolled his eyes and said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask me about what my mother said.”

At this point in our relationship there was a good deal of tension between us and any little thing would create an argument. This disagreement was a doozy. He essentially told me that his mother felt that I was taking him for granted and that if I wasn’t careful I would end up with regret and loss. In other words, he would leave me. I, indeed, was guilty of taking him and time for granted. I was assuming that we would be together forever and that we had an endless amount of time left.

In fact, we only remained together for a month or so after the new Year. I was immature and unworthy of his love and affection and it ended. What I learned from my mother-in-law that was not to be so named, is that I went about living life as if my time on earth was endless. I needed to pay more attention to the gifts around me. I needed to be more aware of the finite amount of time I have. And, I needed to live life as if every moment might be my last.

Easier said than done as we all know. However, it is important to keep our mortality and the delicacy of life in our thoughts as we carelessly go about our lives.

 

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
― Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Screenplay

 

 

Fear Can Hold You Back . . . And a Bit of Lagos, Portugal

 

full frame shot of text on wood
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I know fear is normal. We all fear many things and fear keeps us alive. At this time of self-reflection, I think it’s important to address some of my fears and question why I do not possess some of the fears I see in others.

What I am hoping this process will accomplish:

  • Self-awareness
  • Coming to terms with what is real and what is irrational
  • Celebrating fears I have conquered and learning more about how I did it
  • Addressing the fears I avoid and learning more about why I avoid them
  • Developing a process for overcoming fears
  • Learning more about the connection between fear and human nature

 

 

My fears seem to be deeply rooted in my childhood experiences. Without getting too analytical, many of my fears are connected to my mother and how I was raised. My mother had seven children before she was thirty. Her own complicated parenting made it difficult for her to show love and properly nurture her children; therefore, we were all shortchanged in one way or another. As a result, what I fear most is rejection. This is a common fear; however, it does unfortunately interfere with healthy relationship building. I find myself apologizing for just about everything; more often than not, for things that are either beyond my control or unworthy of an apology. What this self-flagellation does is create doubt in people’s minds. This behavior is misinterpreted as a lack of self-confidence and strength. Being aware of how this fear impacts my everyday life is helpful, but it is an uphill climb; fifty years of apologizing is a tough habit to break.

Another big fear is also a fairly common one, the fear of failure. You might say that no one wants to fail and that would be true. However, all fears are attached to levels of intensity; how deep and strong is this fear. For me, the fear of failure has prevented me from interviewing for positions I was interested in, playing sports I enjoyed, taking courses I wished to take, pursuing romantic relationships, and the list goes on. When I did put aside my fear, I gained much from the experience. For example, when I completed my master’s degree, I hoped to further my studies. I dreamed of becoming a Dean of Students as a result of exceptional mentors in college; deans I admired and revered. I was in a fairly secure and comfortable position at Hofstra University and heard about an opportunity at New York University. The desire to live and work in Manhattan was so strong, I decided to pursue the NYU position and the university’s Ph.D. in Higher Education program, throwing caution to the wind. At that time, failure to acquire this dream was stronger than the possibility of failure to obtain the NYU position. Looking back, I recall many sleepless nights of self-doubt and fear. The outcome was a job at NYU and completion of my Ph.D.

What helped me to conquer this fear, was an overwhelming desire to improve my station in life. Many of us are told that we will never be what we aspire to me. You know the verbiage, “You’re not smart enough; you don’t have the money to pay for that; they’ll never choose you.” People say these things to save you from pain and embarrassment. What is does is hold you back — it keeps you from pursuing your dreams and goals. At this point, your dreams have to be stronger than your fears. The only way to be successful is to concentrate on your dreams and push away your fears. There is a reason the old adage, one step at a time, holds up. Small successes lead to big ones. Land an interview and celebrate that success; it puts in the right frame of mind. Next, you get a second interview and finally you claim your prize. In may cases it’s a fight to overcome your fear of failure. I have played the worst case scenario game with myself throughout my life. I find that reminding myself that the worst thing that could happen, would not be the end of the world, made in easier to move forward. Sometimes, going forward rather than remaining stagnant is all that you can ask of yourself. We’re all dreamers; it’s more a question of how badly you want it and what you’re willing to do to get it. Remaining in your comfort zone is rarely the answer.

The last fear I will mention is the fear of being incapacitated. I never want anyone to have to take care of me on a long-term basis (more than a couple of days). This fear is linked to my inability to ask for help when I need it. Friends have forced me to be better about reaching out. Family and friends have shared that it makes them feel good to help and that I should be better about accepting their help. I’m doing everything — or almost everything, I can do to remain healthy, but life can throw you a curve ball and this fear is real. I am currently in the process of coming up with a game plan so that I can rely on a “facility” to care for me if this were to happen. Leaving it to chance is not in the cards. I cope with this fear by taking control of my options and the outcome.

 

Death

I don’t fear death; I never have. I have always felt that when it happens, it will probably be fast and painless. Rational or not, it’s how I feel. I was in a bad bicycle accident a couple of years ago and I’m certain that when my body hit the pavement, there must have been intense pain. I couldn’t tell you what that pain felt like because my brain has completely erased it. Studies show that our brain protects us from severe trauma — shock shuts down certain body functions and we are not fully aware of the pain we are experiencing. I know there are many ways in which one can die; however, I’m banking on a painless death. The fear of dying keeps people from pursuing many dreams in life. I’ve been fortunate not to possess this fear. As a result I have jumped out of a plane, gone hang gliding, done some rock climbing, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, experimented with psychedelic and other mind opening drugs, and so on. To be clear, this is not to say I welcome death.

 

What have I learned from this exercise?

Plainly speaking, it is clear that I have a fair number of fears. Some have been conquered, some I’m working on, and still others are an ongoing challenge. I am okay with accepting that some fears will never go away. I told myself I wouldn’t say or think never prior to relocating overseas. I am willing to accept that some of my fears may remain with me until I die.

I realize that I am revealing a good deal about myself in my blogs. Several individuals have written to me to tell me that it is helping them to be more honest with themselves. Seems like a win-win to me.

 

 

Lagos with Friends from Cape Elizabeth, Maine

 

Jim and Gillian Britt visiting from Maine. A beautiful November day at Ponta da Piedade. The sky really was THAT blue.

 

 

Difficult to capture the true beauty of the place.

 

 

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Tasca Jota— delicious suckling pig, Lagos

 

 

Racism and Me

 

person holding stay focuseds paper
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

I am a racist. Not the kind that marches with white supremacists or secretly believes black lives don’t matter. I am what is called a passive racist. In other words, when I see racism, I do little or nothing about it. Some of you will say, “Chris, you’re being really hard on yourself,” and others will say, “You’re a left-wing liberal who has gone too far.” And still others will say things I care not to repeat. This is always been a controversial matter.

The current U.S. administration is forcing me to take a good hard look at my moral compass. In truth, I think having Obama in the oval office gave some of us a pass. Being white makes it easy to just be in this world without a whole lot of thinking about how to navigate it. Feeling guilty about that isn’t going to do me or anyone else any good. I need . to channel my thoughts into action and that’s the part that I am attempting to figure out.

I’d give anything to participate in a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of people right now. I mean RIGHT now, today, this minute, right here. I would sit on my hands and tape my mouth shut! I just want to listen and learn. If there is anything life has taught me, it is that there is so much I do not know. I am perceptive and fairly well-educated; however, this is one case where I think you would have had to experience racism firsthand and I have not.

We’re living in a much divided and polarized world. There has always been war, unrest, crime, uncertainty, etc.; however, this feels different; it’s too close to home. It’s not enough to say we have come so far; in truth, we have not gone far enough. Being angry, objective, respectful, marching in rallies, listening, donating, fighting, conversing, debating, clashing, slamming the table, and screaming, is not enough. I want to be clear that I am speaking for myself. Judging others is not my thing. I can be angry at what I see and I can dislike other humans, but pretending to understand why people do the things they do, is a futile exercise.

There are clearly other forms of discrimination and I believe I need to tackle all of them: gender, age, sexual orientation, body type, and others. I find all of types of discrimination repulsive. Looking at yourself with an objective eye is difficult, but revealing. My biases run deep. It doesn’t matter how I got to be this way or why, the question is what I can do to change. Changing these biases is essential. If I’m going to evolve and be a better human being, I have to do the work, however difficult it might be. Brainstorm:

  1. Talk to people who have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to be black or in the minority.
  2. Learn from those who have initiated change; however small that change may be.
  3. Don’t try to change the world.
  4. Work on yourself first.
  5. Be the one to speak up; do it gracefully, tactfully and thoughtfully.
  6. Don’t be afraid to say what needs to be said.
  7. Continue to embrace those who disagree with you. Let them know why you disagree with them and ask them and continue to engage.
  8. Be true to yourself.

 

Unfiltered/unedited rant

I am tired of hearing people denying the existence of racism. I am tired of people saying that it will never go away. I am tired of people claiming they can’t do anything about it. And I am tired of the hate we thrust upon on black fellow human beings. I’ve never been black and I don’t know how it feels to be black. But I do know what I see and hear everyday. We live in a white world and that’s a fact. We have been given advantages for many years and these advantages far outweigh any opportunities provided to blacks. There are good and bad in every race; no more, no less in one or another. We all need to search our souls for truth and come out fighting for those around us who have been oppressed for centuries. The only way that I personally can live with myself, is to initiate change; first within myself, then people I love and care about, and finally anyone else I can touch.

Not an easy blog to write. I usually sit with my thoughts for a while before I put the words in my head to print. This week, much of what I thought (especially with the U.S. government’s anti-transgender initiative) was angry and full of expletives. Although it is how I am feeling, I fear that I would alienate too many if I express some of these thoughts. Instead I believe it is more productive to position myself on the starting line with enthusiasm and conviction. There are things I can and will do.

Please let me know if you would like to discuss the future and how to change it.

 

Purpose

What is purpose? Why I need a purpose? Will I find my purpose?

 

 

purpose
noun
a person’s sense of resolve or determination.
“there was a new sense of purpose in her step as she set off”
synonyms: determination, resoluteness, resolution,

resolve, firmness (of purpose), steadfastness, backbonedrivepushthrustenthusiasmambitioninitia-tiveenterprisemotivation, single-mindedness, commitmentconviction,

dedication

Whenever I think of purpose, I am reminded of Steve Martin who plays Navin in The Jerk, where he goes on and on about his “special purpose.” The purpose I’ll be discussing is not quite the same; my purpose is less sexual in nature. I’m certain that’s a better way to go.
A person’s sense of resolve or determination; that’s seems essential to me. So I ask myself, do I have purpose? Considering that I am a planner and that I need to have future goals or plans to look forward to, I would say that I have purpose. However, now that I am no longer a pet owner — I hate the word owner when referring to a pet, it seems to me that a pet is a member of your family and ownership isn’t really the right word, so I’m going to change that to having a pet — that is a huge obligation that I longer need to consider. I don’t plan to acquire another pet anytime soon; losing Giorgio has provided an opportunity to explore the world without being tied down. This was Giorgio’s final gift to me. I miss the little guy.
Career
When you have a career, a sense of purpose comes easily.  For over 30 years I focused on education; first on my Ph.D. and then educating others. I truly felt that I was making a difference. Then I focused on creating a consulting business and when I achieved a certain amount of success (over 20 clients in two years) I decided consulting was not fulfilling and that I needed to move on. There were parts of consulting that I enjoyed immensely; however, convincing potential clients that they needed my help or any help, was tough on the ego. And that brings me to now . . .
Writing
I did some professional writing in Portland, Maine and discovered how much I enjoy it. The question I need to ask myself is do I want to take it further than a blog? I thought perhaps putting together a memoir (a collection of all of the personal stories from my blog) might be worth pursuing. I’m frankly concerned about those that might not like what they see in print and I’m not sure the purging is worth the pain. The other option might be an Expat How To book. Either of these two considerations would be fulfilling and perhaps helpful to others.
Daily Stuff
There are many things I do on a daily basis which provide purpose. For example, I am motivated to rise in the morning for two big reasons:  1) I love the quiet. It’s usually dark and the city is still sleeping. I make coffee and either work on my blog or read. Sometimes I watch the news, but with all the negative things going on in Trump world, I’ve been attempting to avoid this trap, and 2) I have always had more energy at the start of the day. That is after a good night’s sleep and sleep has been elusive lately.
Going to the gym is a big part of my physical drive. I enjoy the community I have at the gym and I like how it makes me feel. I usually do my market shopping after the gym. I’m freshly showered, shaved and raring to go.
I have always looked forward to lunch and dinner. I don’t think about breakfast much, but I do mix it up in the morning. I eat whatever I feel like that day (ex., eggs, toast, cereal, avocado, fresh juice, granola). I don’t eat all of those items on the same day. I start thinking about lunch at around 10:00 a.m. and I usually have a salad, sandwich, or leftovers by 12:30/1:00 p.m. I’m inspired by the food at the market and that’s when and where my dinner decision is made. The Algarve is a great place for fresh fish, beautiful vegetables, fruit (amazing oranges and melon), organic chicken and charcuterie. I like to make enough so that I have leftovers for the next day. In the summer, I freeze homemade tomato sauce and pesto (basil and parsley from my terrace garden) , so that I can have summer dishes during the winter. I’m no Martha Stewart, but using my freezer to store food is something I learned from my father.
I have a terrace garden (see as much as I could get in the two frames below). My terrace is very long and narrow and has lots of room for potted plants. I’m growing flowers, succulents and herbs. Tending to my garden brings me a great deal of pleasure and purpose. I am proud of what I grow and enjoy sitting out on the terrace, either by myself or with friends. It got started in June so I have aways to go.

 

Film
I’m a film buff, so I go to the cinema at least once a week. I prefer a matinée because I’m less likely to fall asleep. And for you snarky folks, it’s not because I’m getting old; movies are more likely to make me sleepy in the evening, probably because film allows me to take mind off of other things that may be troubling, thus I become more relaxed and sleepy. Theatre has the same effect on me, but alas, there is little or no theatre in English in Faro. We do have live ballet and opera at the cinema; a big plus.
architecture building business cinema
Photo by Nathan Engel on Pexels.com
Language
Now that I’m living in Portugal, I believe it would be in my best interest to learn to speak Portuguese. I started with an on-line tutor about four months prior to relocating. Frederico who lives in London, but he is from Lisbon, was a great help; however, I knew that what I was learning would “stick” once I moved to Portugal and started hearing the language daily. In theory, this is true. The problem lies in the number of Portuguese people who speak English. Anyone aged 40 or younger (older people as well) has a pretty good grasp on the English language. They learned English in school, they watch non-dubbed American film and television, and I believe they enjoy speaking English. Many Portuguese people need to know how to speak English for work. This can make an English-speaking person in Portugal very lazy. I’m dedicating time to learning the language, but not enough time. I’d like to be able to converse in Portuguese sometime in the next two years. I plan to take classes and spend more time practicing. This is a necessary goal and a great way to keep my aging brain active.
Driving
It is also important for me to practice my driving here. I’ve rented a car a couple of times and I feel a certain level of confidence; however, I want to improve. The roundabouts that are everywhere in Europe, are very efficient, but tricky and they’re so much better than traffic lights. European drivers tend to be faster, take more risk, and they are not very tolerant of beginners. I know this is a huge generalization, but even Europeans would agree with this assessment. I’ll have a car for a few days in November, so I plan to practice.
Friends/Socializing
A few weeks ago I was complaining (to myself) that many of my new friends here in Portugal live 45 to 90 minutes away. Then it occurred to me that when I lived in Brooklyn, many of my friends were either outside of Brooklyn or over an hour away by subway. So what am I complaining about? The only issue has been coordinating the train or bus schedule with visits outside of Faro. It’s a minor inconvenience, therefore, I’m going to heretofore just be grateful to have wonderful people in my life no matter where I live. I have more time in my schedule for socializing and that’s a good thing. I’m trying not to fill my dance card so that I can be more spontaneous. I know several of you who know me are reading this and laughing out loud. People can change you know.
Volunteer Work
I need to work with animals, it’s non-negotiable. I have discovered that there is a pet shelter in both Olhão and Loulé. Neither city is far away, so I will be looking into spending some time at one of these shelters. I have been volunteering since I was in my early twenties; few things in my life have been as satisfying. I cannot adopt or foster right now; therefore, this will be the next best thing.
Travel
I struggle with travel. I love routine, I love my own bed, and I love cooking my own food. When I travel, I sacrifice a great deal; poor me right?. Having stated this, I truly do want to see the world and I don’t mean by watching the travel channel. I now have the time to be more methodical and smarter about travel. I can take longer trips and combine multiple locations, thus making travel more economical and less of a hassle. The last thing I want is more time in airports and the shuffling of my luggage from one hotel to another. I want to spend more time in one place, I want to see people I care about who live in other countries; and I want to be able to boast about the deals I garner.
Possible Citizenship in Portugal
Keeping up with the red tape of full-time residency in a foreign country is a full-time job. I am obviously exaggerating, but seriously, there is a lot of paperwork. It seems at times that policy and law surrounding living in Portugal is intentionally ambiguous or confusing. I had some recent issues with attaining a Portuguese driver’s license. Several expats have warned me about the process. It was clear, that if I did not complete the process for acquiring a Portuguese driver’s license within the allotted 90 days from becoming a legal resident, I would have to go through the process as if I were attaining my very first driver’s license and I would have to take the written and physical driving test in Portuguese. Clearly, that was enough to motivate me to get this done ASAP. Except that there was a huge obstacle. Apparently I should have known that the Portuguese Consulate in Boston needed to verify my Maine driver’s license prior to relocating to Portugal. How could I have not known this? I won’t go into details about how I managed to get a temporary Portuguese driver’s license, however, what I will say is that I believe in my heart, it would have been easier to compete in Hawaii’s Iron Man competition and place.
After a few years of renewing my temporary residence, I will be eligible for dual citizenship (I will never give up my U.S. citizenship). This will not be an easy process, but if it mean shorter lines at passport control in airports all over the world, I am willing to at least try.
In Summary
I highly recommend the exercise of laying it all out. If like me, you are sitting around wondering what you are going to do with your life, it will certainly help you to see and realize, that you have a lot going on.
I won’t lie, I miss the feeling I got when considering that the school I worked for would shut down if I missed a day at the office. I miss the routine of Giorgio jumping into my bed in the morning for a one hour cuddle (that was always the best hour of my day), I miss my weekly poker game, I miss southern barbecue, I miss hopping into my car to see friends and family, I miss English being spoken all around me, I miss the thrill of anticipating my annual raise and bonus, and I miss using work as an excuse to decline social engagements. I can go on, but I ‘m afraid if I do, I will begin to regret early retirement. So where does this leave me when considering purpose?
What I have in my life today, is that opportunity to relax without guilt, take care of my spiritual, physical and mental health, and the ability to see the world. None of these are minor commitments. If I accomplish half of what I have planned for the next ten years, I will be successful, happy and satisfied or at the very least, I can tell myself that I am all of these things. I can also look forward to change. Change is a constant we can count on. Okay, I am motivated.