Terror in Turkey

One Horrific Night in Istanbul

An early morning nightmare I wish I could erase from my memory.

A few years ago I was presented with the opportunity to visit Istanbul. One of our French Culinary Institute graduates was opening a cooking school in the center of the city and I was invited to stay at her home and take a look at her school. I had often dreamt about traveling to Turkey and what better reason could there be to make the trip.

Whenever I travel to a city I haven’t been to, I check out the gay scene; if there is a gay scene that is. I knew of course that Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and it is essentially against a Muslim’s religion to be intimate with someone of the same sex.

[The Quran narrates the story of the “people of Lot” destroyed by the wrath of God because the men engaged in lustful carnal acts between themselves.[1][2][3][4] Some hadith collections also condemn homosexual and transgender acts,[5][1][6][7] prescribing death penalty for male homosexual intercourse.[8] Homosexual acts are forbidden in traditional Islamic jurisprudence and are liable to different punishments, including the death penalty, depending on the situation and legal school.] (Wikipedia)

This knowledge should have been enough to squelch any desire I might have had to explore the gay culture in Istanbul. Truth is, I can be way too curious and extremely stupid sometimes. Hence the night I came close to losing my life in Istanbul.

This was a few years ago and I couldn’t find anything about a gay community on-line prior to traveling to Turkey. I thought I’d inquire once I settled in. I was shopping at the Grand Bazaar on my second day in Istanbul and finally met a young, friendly, English speaking man, who was working at a spice stall. I had the notion he might be gay and so I delicately approached the subject of gay culture in Istanbul. He basically informed me that it was underground, not wildly popular and not easy to find. He was aware of one particular club, but not sure about others in the city.

I should note that I did not think it was appropriate to question my host about this matter or inform her that I would be going to a gay club. We had not been friendly prior to my visit and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing personal information. For the most part, I was scheduled to be on my own in the evening.

It was Friday afternoon and I thought it might be fun to venture out and find this club while there was still some daylight, so that it would be easy to find that evening.  After walking around the vicinity of where the young man said the club would be, I found it sort of tucked away on a side street near the centre. It was closed and there were no hours on the door. I wasn’t even sure that what I found was a club. I figured I’d go at about 10:00 p.m., hoping to find it lively. When I arrived that evening, there was just one person at the door and the bartender. The bar was sparse and not at all enticing. I asked the bartender what time things got going and he just shrugged his shoulders acting as if he had no idea what I was talking about. I believe he spoke English, I wasn’t really sure.

Two hours later, a few others began to arrive. What I experienced at the club that night I have never experienced at a gay club prior. It was a pleasant enough space, one large room with a chandelier and some colorful club lights. There was a small dancefloor; unused that evening. There appeared to be one couple and then maybe three or four guys just standing around hugging the wall. I don’t recall any laughing or smiling, just guys looking very serious and holding their drinks. I’m not sure why, but I was intimidated and intrigued at the same time. At one point I questioned why in the world I was sticking around. A part of me thought that things might liven-up. I had been to clubs before that didn’t get going until 1:00 a.m. and so I thought that perhaps the culture in Istanbul was a late one.

I was dead wrong, it never got better. I decided to leave the club at about 2:00 a.m. I had not had much to drink due to the circumstances. I walked outside to find a taxi and a young gentleman followed me out. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from New York and visiting Turkey for the first time. He then asked me if I would like to walk for a bit. The streets were very quiet, in fact, they were eerily deserted. I was curious why he had not spoken to me at the club, but instead, waited until I left the bar. His English was not great,but we understood one another. He told me that he had not said hello to me at the club because he was afraid I would reject him. He appeared shy and said that he had been working up the nerve to speak to me. He also apologized for his English. I asked about the gay culture in Turkey and I could tell that he was reluctant to go there with me. He started to become agitated as I probed, and so I apologized.

We were walking without saying much for about ten minutes, when he asked me if I was interested in going back to his place for a coffee. I told him that I didn’t drink coffee at that hour, but that it would be nice to see his place. I was very curious and he was attractive. We found a taxi and went to his apartment; it was a five minute ride at the most.

When we arrived at his apartment, I began to be concerned. His demeanor changed abruptly. I wasn’t sure if he was having second thoughts about inviting me to his place or if he was possibly dangerous. When you walked into his apartment there were three guys playing some sort of game, and whatever they were smoking filled the entire apartment with smoke. He did not introduce me and took me into his bedroom. Honestly, I’m not sure we ever exchanged names. The room was small, dark and very unpleasant. This is when I began feeling very threatened. I told him that I wasn’t feeling right about the situation. I didn’t share this, but I had gotten a bad vibe from the guys in the other room. He dismissed my discomfort and told me not to worry.

The next bit came as quite a shock. He asked me for $100 dollars. It was then that I knew I was in trouble.

I said, “You should have told me that you were working. I’m not interested in paying for sex.”

He became angry with me and told me that I had to pay him because I should have known. He was insulting and incensed. I was very frightened at this point. I asked him to please just let me leave.

“No, you cannot leave without giving me $100.”

I told him that all I had was $20 (in Lira) and that I needed it for a taxi. He said he didn’t believe me and I had to empty my pockets for him. He saw that I had my ID and bankcard. He said that if I didn’t pay him, that he and his friends would beat me. At that moment, I believed him. I told him that we’d have to find an ATM machine. He agreed that we would go to a machine with one of his friends. I know that I was shaking and close to tears.

We found a machine near his apartment. I made a couple of attempts to withdraw money, but it wasn’t working. His friend kept telling me to hurry. I tried to explain that it wasn’t working, but they said that I was lying. I asked them if we could try another machine. This was my first attempt at using an ATM in Turkey. I brought Lira with me, but I left most of it in the apartment where I was staying. I have never liked carrying a lot of cash. They took me to another machine a few streets away. I was looking for the police as we hurried through the streets, but I saw no one.

I had the same issue at the next machine. I thought that I might have been so nervous that I was using the wrong pin. At this point both men were very agitated. I tried to explain that it just wasn’t working.

I pleaded, “What if I give you what I have in my pocket and my watch as well?”

They just shook their heads and said they wanted the money. I took the money out of my pocket and handed it to one of them. I tried to give them my watch, but they refused to take it. At this point they were both screaming at me in Turkish. I threw my watch at them and ran. They chased me through the streets and all I could imagine was that I was going to be brutally killed in Istanbul. I was running marathons at this point in my live and fortunately, I was very fit. I ran toward a taxi I had spotted and begged the driver to allow me to get in; he refused. I ran a bit further and I saw another driver standing on the side of his taxi.

“Help, these guys are going to hurt me.”

The driver opened his door and I jumped into the taxi. The two Turks chasing me were pounding on the window as the taxi drove away. I thanked the driver several times, but he spoke no English. I tried to tell him that I did not have money, but that I would get some cash for him when we arrived to where I was staying.

When we got to the apartment I tried to tell him again that I had no cash on me. The driver was very angry that I was not paying him; he kept repeating something in his language and pointing to his hand. There was a military soldier standing with a rifle near the house where I was staying. This was a very wealthy neighborhood and there was a soldier on almost every corner. He spoke a little English and I explained my situation. He then spoke to the angry driver. He told me that I could go in and get the money. I quickly went in to retrieve some cash and I brought it out to pay him. He angrily grabbed the money and drove away. The soldier said nothing. I often wondered if he knew what had happened to me that night.

I showered and shivered for who knows how long. Sleep was elusive. The evening kept playing in my head on an endless loop. I crawled out of my bed a few hours later and spent the remainder of the day trying to forget what had happened. I told no one. I called my bank and I was told that I had not informed them that I was traveling and so their policy was to block my account.

Let’s be totally honest; what I did was dumb, insane, ridiculous, naive, and immature. At the time, I was a young man in my early 40s and I had put myself in dangerous situations more often than I care to admit. Hindsight is twenty-twenty and that’s all I’ll say. I wish I hadn’t been so stupid, but then, who knew I’d be chased through the streets of Istanbul at 3:00 a.m. You live and learn and I learned the hard way.

“I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”
― Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

The Ups and Downs of My Relationship With Food

Who Am I Kidding, I Feel Fat

 

 

 

Eight weeks into quarantine and no surprise that my weight is weighing heavily on my mind. Apparently, one of the by-products of quarantine is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Out of nowhere you can become all weepy or conversely, elated. This week I was sitting on my sofa and suddenly I was crying. I just let the tears flow and I felt better when it passed. I guess the absence of social human contact is taking its toll.

Eating dulls the ache. With food as a major focus, I have become hyper-aware of my weight. I refuse to get on a scale, however, I know from the tight fit of my pants, that I have gained weight. Yes, I have to wear pants when I walk Paco or go to the market.

I have one full length mirror in my apartment. When I walk past it, I look away. I’ve developed that “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude. I guess it’s a defense mechanism or perhaps complete denial?

I think quarantine is playing tricks on my mind:
Is “walked past” or walked passed” grammatically correct …
Passed” is a verb which is the past (heh) tense of “pass“. So you could say either “walked past” or “passed“, but not “walked passed“. … Walked is a verb. Past is an adverb (we walked past, she drove past).
 

Body Type

I have written about this before, so I apologize for repeating myself. Naturally human beings have different body types, the reality is that some of us will never be thin and some of us could never be fat. Unless I’m very ill, I will never be skinny. All my life I have dreamt of being skinny. I wish I knew why; I don’t necessarily like feeling this way, but it is what it is — the grass is always greener . . .

There have been a few times in my life where due to surgery or stress, I have dropped a good deal of weight. During those times, although psychologically I was happy to be thin, I looked terrible. My face is too long to be thin, my frame is too large and wide; therefore, without meat on my bones, I look sick. One would think that having this knowledge would be enough to settle my mind and I’d just be satisfied with a “healthy” look. One would think.

I have my father’s body and I seem to have a weight my body comfortably settles into. I know I have some control over how big I get, but I also know that my body type is genetic. So when will the mental agony end?

 

The Media

We all enjoy blaming the media for a lot of our issues. We have been looking at beautiful people in magazines and on screen for so long, the ideal body type is ingrained in our psyche. By now we all know that what the media might see as the “ideal” body type is not a representation of how most of us look.

Sit at an airport lounge when things get back to normal. You will see every type of shape imaginable. The vast majority of people in our world do not look like the people in magazines. There has been an effort in recent years to change that, however, it’s a slow process and we’re a long way off. It is a known fact that seeing a likeness of yourself depicted in the media, helps you feel more comfortable with your own body type.

A piece on body type worth looking at.

I loved it when I started seeing bald male models. Unfortunately, overweight middle aged male models are a long way off; probably not in my lifetime. When you do see it, it’s Joe Middle America in a sad sitcom or a reality crime show.

 

Health/Exercise

Good health is linked to good eating and exercise. I embraced this fact many years ago and I attribute my excellent health to living a lifestyle where nutritious fresh food is paired with daily exercise; providing for a better quality of life. However, because I am human and because I have weaknesses and character flaws, I often veer off course. This pandemic has been a good excuse to sit or lounge a lot more and therefore, gain weight from being sedentary. And then there is the baking . . . just because. I am exercising several times a week, but not moving nearly as much as I usually do. The age factors in and metabolism is the enemy. Cookies and cake and ice cream and rich savory dishes and trips to the grocery store as my only activity; all leading to weight gain. It’s a downhill spiral with no end in site.

People all over the world are experiencing the same problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Please allow my gym to reopen soon.

 

Letting it Go

Often, when you share these thoughts of being overweight or out-of-shape with friends or acquaintances, their first reaction is to say the following:

  • “You are not overweight.”
  • “You are the healthiest person I know.”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Are you fishing for a compliment?”
  • “You have nothing to worry about.”
  • “You should see a professional.”
  • “We all feel that way.”
  • “Have you looked around these days.”
  • “You know it’s not true.”
  • “You look great for your age.”
  • “This is a temporary situation.”
  • “Just buy new jeans.”

What people do not always understand, is that in no way do any of these statements make you feel better. You might be flattered for about three seconds, but the reality is, if you feel overweight, than nothing other than weight loss can make it go away.

 

Mind Games

Talking yourself into believing something, is common practice. I tell myself that everything in life is a trade-off. If I’m going to eat the things I love, I’m going to have to deal with a few extra pounds. I also tell myself that at my age, being slim and toned is not as important as it was in my 20s and 30s; after all, no matter what I do I will not have the body I once had. To be honest, I give up on dating at least 100 times a day.

I tell myself that what matters now is that I remain healthy so that later in life, when my body continues to age, I will maintain a good quality of life. For example, if you exercise and stretch your muscles, they will continue to help you move without pain and discomfort. Healthy lungs, a healthy heart, a stimulated brain, and so on, will all insure ease of movement and a sharp mind later in life. I’m not in a hurry to experience this, however, it is a motivator.

When the elderly are asked what they would have done differently, they often say the following:

  1. They would have worried less
  2. They would have exercised more
  3. They would have taken better care of themselves

 

An expert speaks:

Older people who smoked, didn’t exercise or became obese were regretful about it, but the issue wasn’t only about dying.

“Many people will say to themselves, ‘I enjoy smoking’ or ‘I don’t like to exercise’ or ‘I just like to eat — who cares if I die a little sooner?’” Pillemer noted.

“The problem is in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

Their advice: Pay attention to your health and change your lifestyle if it’s making you unwell, otherwise the incredible burden of chronic disease will make your life miserable.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

I just keep telling myself that this will end soon and life will go back to normal. The truth is, because of my lifestyle and my love of rich foods, I will never be thin and that has to be okay. I’m grateful that I’m not diabetic, not obese, not addicted to sugar, not lazy, and not an alcoholic. I do consider that any of these issues could become an unwelcome reality.

 

Ina Garten is one of my favorite television personalities. She has been overweight since I started watching her cook. She wears clothes that are flattering, she never apologizes for her weight, she has a beautiful genuine and hearty laugh, and she seems to truly enjoy life. When she had the gourmet food store, The Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons, New York, I would marvel at her magnificent displays and incredible food. I always wanted to buy and eat everything. If I could spend a day with any celebrity, it would be Ina. She made a quarantini on social media recently, and it went viral — everybody loves Ina.

Right Where I am Supposed to Be

Accept, Adjust and Adapt

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There have been many life lessons learned over the past couple of months. I can’t speak for those of us who were/are in quarantine with others and in fact, I cannot speak for those spending this time alone; I can only speak for myself. Clearly, this is and has been a unique experience for all of us. I have been alone in a foreign country since the lockdown began and it is surreal at the very least.

It’s difficult not to be confused about exactly what is happening with COVID-19. It depends on who you’re watching or reading and what you choose to believe. There is a reason most people no longer have faith in the media or their government. I only allow myself a few minutes of news a day. It doesn’t matter when you turn on the television, it’s one big loop of sensationalism and half-truths. For the most part I choose to read a couple of sources and form my own opinion. I do what I have to do to stay within the law as we battle the unknown. Since fear is a major motivator for government and the media, I refuse to get sucked into this toxic vortex. I rely on facts as much as possible and I leave speculation to others.

 

Once You Discover Who You Are . . .

When you’re alone with your thoughts, you come to realizations and you make choices. Do you dwell on the negative? Do you get angry? Do you find yourself escaping? What mechanism do you use to cope? You probably have an arsenal of weapons on hand to deal with reality. Choosing healthy tools is the best way to go, however, that’s not always possible. So how do decide the route to take? First, do you know who you are?

There are things I have discovered about myself that help me develop the tools I need and make the right choices:

  1. I do not like for anything to interfere with a good night’s sleep (about 7.5 hours).
  2. I do not like paying for my bad choices the next day.
  3. I do not like how it feels when I beat myself up.
  4. I love how it feels to be well rested.
  5. I do not like how my stomach feels when I have overindulged.
  6. When I have the discipline of going to the gym five or six times a week, I never contemplate not exercising. When that option is not available, one out of two times, I will not exercise. Even writing this down helps to motivate me.
  7. There are times when I’m stressed and concerned and in complete denial about my state of mind.
  8. As I get older, I have less tolerance for many things.
  9. Food has become my primary motivator.
  10. Having a pet helps with self-discipline.

It all seems pretty straightforward and normal. So why am I still uncertain?

 

Tools & Rewards

One of the tools I frequently use is the weighing of pros and cons. Yes, that second Marguerita would taste really good with my Mexican food, but what price would I pay? When I do this simple assessment, nine out of 10 times, I will decide to pass on the second cocktail.

I live for rewards. I find them to be a positive way to live a healthier life. If I do blank I get blank as a reward. This has been my MO for a long time. During this time — the lockdown, I have noticed this happening more often. If I complete my language lesson, I can read my novel for an hour. If I climb the stairs in my building for 30 minutes, I can have some chocolate and on and on. It seems to be the only thing that motivates me, but it works.

 

What Matters Most

What matters most in my life has been the greatest lesson learned during this time. I thought about this prior to the virus, but sorting it out has become a much greater priority. My family has always been important to me and that will continue until I die. A trip to the States this week was unfortunately cancelled. Now that I am a resident of Portugal, I cannot fly to the States at this time; my legal address is here. I need to be certain that I am okay with this situation for at least the next five years. Selling an apartment in Faro is not going to be like it was in the States — I sold my last three apartments in less than a week. In Portugal, your place can easily sit on the market for up to two years. That’s fine, it just means planning a bit further into the future.

The good news is that I have come out of this knowing that living overseas is definitely what I want and remaining overseas is a certainty. I have come to realize that there is another move left in me and it will more than likely be Italy. I ultimately want to be where my father was born. I am Italian after all. Now that I have my father’s birth certificate, I can begin to look into dual citizenship. The coast of Croatia is also a possibility — all options are currently open. It’s a big world out there isn’t it?

 

Noticing Changes 

It seems that people are more grateful now than they have been for a long time. Grateful to others, grateful for their own good health, and grateful to be alive. I remember how people in New York City were after 911. I rode the subway watching strangers who would have never considered giving up their seats, stand for older people or the disabled. I saw people smile at one another for no other reason than to show gratitude and solidarity. This was a New York City I could love. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. We slowly slipped back into our everyday, former routines.

I suspect the same thing will happen with this pandemic. People will be more grateful for a short while and then we will all go back to “normal.” Even if we have to socially distance ourselves from one another for a long while or wear masks when we get a haircut; we humans adapt pretty quickly. If we’re conscious of our nature, is it possible to change? I think it is very possible. Your new normal can be based on what you learned from past experience. If you took up running while in quarantine, then continue to run. If you started eating healthier foods, keep it up, if you called people you care about more often, and so on.

The hardest thing for me has been isolation. I enjoy being out and about. I’m not sure it’s in my nature to spend a lot of time at home. I currently do not have a lot of choice and I’m hoping that will change sooner than later.

Life Goes On! | Change my life quotes, Go for it quotes, My life ...

 

Growing Up With Broadway

Too shy to be on stage, but happy to watch and dream.

​​”I got a feeling there’s a miracle due gonna come true, coming to me. Could it be? Yes it could. Something’s coming. Something good, if I can wait.” – West Side Story

I was watching an interview with Dame Judi Dench, an actor for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. She was asked about her favorite medium and she replied, “The stage.” When pressed for a reason, she explained that it meant a great deal to her that in order to see her perform on stage, people had to actually go out and purchase a ticket and then they have to actually go to the theatre. She wanted to perform her best for these people because they truly made an effort — makes a great deal of sense to me. Watch Dame Judi perform “Send in the Clowns,” and you’ll see and hear why she’s a national treasure.

60 principais fotografias e imagens de Judi Dench - Getty Images

 

The Impact Theatre Had on My Development

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with Broadway as my playground. My father was an Italian immigrant with a blue collar job, but he loved the theatre. My mother, on the other hand, barely tolerated it. Her indifference made no difference to me.

There was a time when I would have chalked my infatuation with Broadway up to my sexuality — that was societal brainwashing. Obviously, people of all sexual orientations, ages, races, and cultures have an equal love of the theatre and for good reason.

My first Broadway show was The Wiz. It is an all black version of the Wizard of Oz. My father took me to see it for my ninth birthday. Stephanie Mills played the lead and she was brilliant — a performance I still consider to be one of the best I have ever seen. The show blew me away; over 50 years later and I still hear the songs in my head. I believe my life lessons mainly came from theatre. The visual spectacle helped me to escape the reality of my own unfortunate childhood.

The second play I went to see was A Chorus Line. There are a dozen themes in this play and each of them spoke to me. I may have been 12 years old when my father took me. I remember my father wiping tears from my eyes during the performance. He had huge, strong hands and I loved when he did that. “At the Ballet” hit me hard and I was never good at holding back my feelings. I wonder to this day if my dad realized I knew I was gay and how ashamed I had been; I hope he knew.

Dozens of shows seemed to have been written with me in mind; at least that what I thought. What it said to me was simply that there were more like me out there and for that I was and am, grateful. It was a lonely world, but at the theatre I felt safe and understood; I still do.

While other teens were saving their money for clothes, video or baseball games, I saved for the theatre. Back then TKTS was a real bargain. I recall seeing Broadway plays for less than $10. It’s unfortunate that young people today, for the most part, cannot afford Broadway theatre tickets. I know there are programs designed to expose young people to the theatre; however, like most things these days, theatre is big business and only the elite can afford it. Fortunately, there are regional theatres all over the States that are much more affordable than the Great White Way (Broadway).  —

In my early twenties I met a New York City couple who attended Broadway shows weekly. They were members of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). As educators, Ann and Aaron were able to purchase a group of ten tickets at a large discount. Their circle of friends included dozens of people who would buy tickets from them on a first-come first-served basis. It took a lot of time and energy to organize the selling of these tickets and they did it without taking a dime for themselves. We had mutual friends who brought us together often and over the years we became very close. Aaron passed away at age 95 not too long ago. Ann has dementia, but we had a Skype call a few months ago and there were moments where she was her old self; funny and smart. My friendship with Ann and Aaron started at the theatre, however, it extended far beyond that for over 30 years. The common denominator was our love of the theatre; for a long time our lives revolved around shows and eating out. I’m fairly certain I would have only seen a fraction of the shows I saw had it not been for Ann and Aaron; two of the loveliest people I have ever known.

 

Times Square in the 70s and 80s

70s times square | Tumblr

The Theatre District (Times Square) in the 70s and 80s was a pretty scary place. In fact, when I was a teenager, a stranger pulled a knife on me only because I was walking in his path. There were sex shops everywhere and drugs sold on every corner. However, that’s where the Broadway theatres were and nothing could keep me away. I would get a ticket for a show and tell my mother I was going to a friend’s house for dinner. It was a secret world I was reluctant to share. I worked hard for spending money and I didn’t want my mother to know where my money was going; unfortunately, she often took money from me, charging me for room and board when I was a teen. I guess it taught me to be fiercely independent and for that I am grateful.

Times Square today is not what it once was, it has lost it’s grit and unique appeal. I’m afraid Disney has cleaned it up and made it shiney and safe for middle America. It’s probably for the better, but I can’t help being nostalgic. It’s become overcrowded and commercial and no longer appealing to me.

 

Meeting a Famous Composer

The following is a secret I’m not sure I have ever told. I haven’t shared this because I was closeted for many years and I was ashamed of the life I lived prior to coming out. Today, I am way past worrying about being judged.

When I was a young man I went out on several dates with a Catholic priest named Peter — I often wonder what became of Peter. I was a minor, but I knew exactly what I was doing at the time. There may have been an element of the forbidden fruit, but I’ll leave that for another blog. This priest led a double life in New York City and some of his friends were famous in the theatre world. Peter was young, attractive, and flirtatious. He knew how much I loved Broadway musicals and he surprised me by taking me to the home of a world-renowned, Greenwich Village composer. I remember walking down to this composer’s sub-street level apartment and shivering from head-to-toe. I knew at the time that this would be a memory I would hold onto for life. There is a part of me that would like to be more innocent and less jaded.

Peter knocked on the door and this larger than life man invited us in. I recall a large piano in the center of a small living room. There were Broadway show posters everywhere and most of them were his shows. I’ve had natural highs many times throughout my life, however this one, sent me soaring. I could not speak for fear of saying something stupid. I accepted a glass of wine and blushed over his shameless petting. Up to that evening I had never had a stranger show me that much attention, let alone someone famous. Peter knew it was harmless and he knew that he was the one who’d be taking me home.

 

And Then There Was This:

Stephen Sondheim

I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen Sondheim when I was working in Student Affairs at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. He is, hands down, my favorite composer. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without his music and lyrics. This is not hyperbole, I mean every word of it, he is like no other songwriter alive or dead. The MMC theatre department brought him in for a Master Class. I normally do not approach celebrities because I know that no matter what I say, I’m going to sound stupid and behave badly. But in Sondheim’s case I made an exception because of the direct impact he had had on my life.

I asked one of our professor’s to introduce me and she said she’d be delighted. I shook his hand and I said, “Thank you for the many times your music has spoken to me and brought me joy.” Sondheim held my gaze for a moment and said, “It’s been my pleasure.” If there is a God, he resides inside the heart of that man.

Many songs featured in musicals were moving and played a role in my life; however, none as much as “Being Alive.” Raul Esparza played the role of Bobby and sang it in the 2007 Broadway production of Company. These are the lyrics:

Being Alive
Someone to hold me too close.
Someone to hurt me too deep.
Someone to sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.
Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.
Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.
But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.…

Coincidentally, a 90th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim aired a couple of days ago. What a gift to all of us; you can watch it on Youtube:  #Sondheim90Concert 

 

Theatre’s Impact on Me Today

Broadway and the West End, by way of musicals and dramatic productions, will a destination for me for as long as I can travel. It’s like a dangling carrot I can never imagine going away. These plays speak to me in ways no one can. It’s as if the writers are inside my head and my heart. Whether it is a time of happiness or sadness, I turn to lyrics and dialogue for hope and consolation. It seems unfair that there are many people in the world who will never experience Broadway the way I have. I have to assume that people in other parts of the world have their own Broadway; it is in that truth, I find pleasure.

www.astep.org — A not-for-profit organization designed to introduce and connect underserved children to the arts.

 

“So much of me Is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart.”  — Wicked

A Wicked Story

A number of years ago I was in a relationship with a Spaniard living in Zaragoza, Spain. Alejandro would travel to New York to see me as often as he could. Alex’s plan was to move to New York to be with me when he finished med school. We shared many things in common, however, one of the many things we joked about was his disdain for musical theatre. I would tell him that I was seeing a musical and he would just laugh and tell me to have fun. I have a good friend who invested in Wicked and she invited me to the opening on Broadway; certainly one of the most exciting nights of my life. We attended the after party at Tavern On The Green in Central Park and I got to sit alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, Carol Burnett, Michael Hall and many other big stars. I was euphoric, star struck, and in many ways it felt magical.

I called Alex to share the experience and he said, “Honey, if it’s that good, you have to take me.”

A couple of months later, Alex told me he’d be coming to New York for his birthday and to spend some time with me. I was able to get center orchestra seats for Wicked on his birthday. I made a reservation at a restaurant I knew he would enjoy and kept it from me until the day of the show.

When I told him over dinner, Alex was excited because he’d heard a lot about the show and he knew how much I had enjoyed it. I was fully conscious of his feelings about musicals, but in my heart-of-hearts, I knew this musical would bring him over to my side. Throughout the performance I would glance over and see Alex smiling from ear-to-ear and every so often he’d squeeze my hand or bump knee. His tears and laughter throughout made it even more special for me. During a long standing ovation, Alex whispered in my ear that this was the best birthday of his life. He grabbed my head, turned it with both hands and planted a big kiss on my lips. I was out of my mind elated.

As we continued to stand and applaud, a woman sitting behind me with her ten year old daughter, tapped me on the shoulder and screamed above the applause, “My daughter did not have to see that.”

Of course I knew she was referring to the kiss. Understandably curious, Alex asked me what she’d said. I told him and that’s when I saw his Latin temper unleashed. He held nothing back; letting this woman know what he thought of her and her biased, toxic rage over a kiss. I said nothing. I watched and listened to this man defend our love to this vile stranger. I knew that I loved Alex, but that moment, that night, that unbridled valour, sealed the deal forever.

 

Times Square Today

Dialogue With Yourself

 

Here’s how the conversation might go on any given day:

5:15 a.m.:  Good morning! Where’s Paco (dog)? Paco! Paco! Come and say good morning because I have to get up to pee. Did I set up the coffee last night? You need to brush your teeth. Hey Paco, good morning, what a good boy, yes, yes, yes, yes. No tongue, I told you no tongue. Okay let’s get up. What are you going to do today? I need to blog. It’s Monday, I need to start my blog, but what the fuck do I write about (I have a potty mouth when I talk to myself)? Call Angie to wish her a happy birthday. Oh shit, my back hurts. Stretch stupid! Paco are you hungry? Shit, I didn’t set up the coffee.

Later the same morning:  It’s 11:00 a.m. and I have accomplished absolutely nothing. What is wrong with you, go for a walk.

6:00 p.m.:  You didn’t get everything you wanted to get done, done, but it’s 6:00 p.m. and time for a cocktail. Good stuff? Cheap stuff? Oh what the hell, go for the good stuff.

9:30 p.m.:  Did you floss? I don’t remember flossing? I should floss. I should go to bed. Goodnight Paco.

2:00 a.m.:  get up to pee but don’t wake up. Crap you’re up. Why aren’t those pumpkin seeds helping my prostate? I’m sweaty? Why is it hot?

[Talking to your pet is more like talking to yourself and that’s a good thing.]

“We actually talk to ourselves silently all the time. I don’t just mean the odd “where are my keys?” comment – we actually often engage in deep, transcendental conversations at 3am with nobody else but our own thoughts to answer back. This inner talk is very healthy indeed, having a special role in keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions.” (The Conversation, May 3, 2017)

It’s not like people have not written about this topic before, it’s just that it’s very personal and I want to add my two cents. We all process these kinds of things differently. Some people have always talked to themselves and could not imagine any other way of life. The other end of the spectrum is those who believe you have to be clinically insane to carry on a conversation with yourself. Like most things, most of us are somewhere in between. In order to prepare yourself for this behavior, you have to be:

  1. Willing to accept that it’s okay; normal even.
  2. Open to whatever comes out of your mouth.
  3. Prepared to answer back.

Give it a try, after all, what have you got to lose. Don’t worry, we’re all crazy and the sooner we accept that . . .

 

Out Loud Conversations

There was a time when I would not have considered having an out loud conversation with myself. I would have been way too self-conscious and afraid that I might do it in public. Now, I couldn’t care less. I’m fairly certain that at this stage in my life I’m not going to humiliate myself. But if I’m in a car and I’m by myself, I’ll probably have a little talk. Things like, be careful, don’t go too fast, what are you forgetting — you see where this is going.

When you live with other people and you’re unsure about something, you can just casually mention stuff in passing. When you live alone there is no one around to run things by. So why not ask yourself? The answer is more than likely inside that brain somewhere. When you’re bold enough to practice this behavior, you’ll notice a higher level of self-esteem and a certain pride in your own independence.

Trust in yourself is important for this practice. Do you believe in your own words? Do you practice what you preach? Do you follow your own advice?

Singing to yourself can be very calming. I had a boss who sang gospel songs to herself all day long and she was very centered. So much so that I resented it. I honestly didn’t realize she was doing something healthy for herself. Don’t be your own worst critic — this isn’t a live concert with a sophisticated sound system, belt it out.

Have you noticed that people on the street and in their cars all seem to be talking to themselves these days? Most of them are on their cell phones. Bluetooth devices have made it easy to speak hands free. Now it looks like we’re all talking to ourselves, making it easy to do so with judgment from most.

 

What People Might Think

We humans care way too much about what people think of us. It’s not an easy thing to dismiss or ignore. Have you noticed how many older folks just don’t care. It seems to be something we learn to do over time. When you’re working on providing for your family or building a career, it has to matter. Still, there are things you can do that make little difference to anyone else; talking to yourself might be one of those things. When you come to the realization that what others think no longer matters, it is extremely liberating.

 

The Benefits

A good exercise might be to give it a try. Talk to yourself out loud for a solid week and see how it feels. Are you able to respond? Have you worked out any unresolved issues? Do you feel better? I’ve never been one to feel lonely, but my guess is that if you acknowledge what great company you’re in when you’re in your own company, you’ll feel better and make better decisions. Gaining more self-esteem and holding your head high only makes you more attractive to the world. Tell yourself, “Shoulders back, chest out, stand tall and be proud. Show the world who you are.”

 

When Something Good Becomes a Habit

Humans have a lot of bad habits; I won’t name mine here, but if you’re curious, every blog post reveals a few. The thing is, we can have good habits too. Do it once and it’s just a one-off, do it twice and it’s a repeat, do it many times and it becomes a habit. Make talking to yourself a positive habit (like going to the gym, dressing up and eating superfoods).

 

Is talking to yourself ever harmful?

Talking to yourself is often associated with mental illness, but that is rarely the reason for or cause of self-talk. However, there are some situations where self-talk may be an indication of a psychological problem.

When self-talk is accompanied by self-harm — for example, striking yourself or cutting — then it’s a sign of an emotional problem, Dabney said. As well, if you are engaging in self-talk that involves repetitive phrases, mantras or numbers, and this type of self-talk is disruptive to you or difficult to stop, that can also be an indicator of an emotional problem. In either case, speak to a qualified medical professional for a proper assessment. (Huffington Post, Is it Normal to Talk to Yourself, August 23, 2019)

 

collage photo of woman
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

 

Next Week:  Growing Up With Broadway

Caring Too Much or Too Little

Developing a balance between empathy and good health is a formidable goal and this is a good time to work on it.

 

65 Compassionate Empathy Quotes (2019)

 

I have always been a bit too sensitive. I was bullied as a child because I cried easily (and I liked playing with girls . . . and I hated sports). I get the crying part honestly, my dad wept without shame. The problem with feeling intense empathy is that you often feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Managing these feelings and mitigating your health and well-being are essential.

 

What it Feels Like

I have been reluctant to look at the number of deaths around the world due to the Coronavirus. Denying a problem exists or refusing to acknowledge it, has long been a defense mechanism. However, in this case I believe empathy matters. I need to be able to experience what is happening all over the world so that I can do my part to help. I’m forcing myself to look at the numbers and think about what people are going through. It’s surreal, it’s painful, it’s difficult and it’s morbid, but it’s necessary. We’ve been told what we can do and we need to listen, learn, and hold ourselves accountable. Doing your part helps you to be empathetic without drowning in sorrow.

A brief story of too much empathy — very recent and still fresh:  When I adopted Paco in January, he had only been found on a country road two weeks prior. He weighed just over five pounds and his bones were protruding everywhere, his fur was extremely matted, and he was deathly ill from a virus. When I saw him for the first time, I wept. Each time I thought about him fighting for his life, alone and abandoned in the woods, I wept. Admittedly, this extreme sensitivity went on for weeks. This is the reason I had to leave my volunteer position at a pet shelter; I had too much empathy. Learning how to compartmentalize my feelings and thoughts was and is, necessary. By the way — Paco has fully recovered and he’s out of danger. I still worry, but it’s under control. The crying has stopped.

 

 Family

The reality of family members who are not as strong as I am or who might be struggling with emotional and/or financial issues is ever-present. How much of their worries are my worries? How much of their suffering can I or should I take on? What can I do to ease the anxiety I impose upon myself? There are a number of considerations when discussing problems with family members. First and most importantly, in some cases, they have families of their own. Therefore, when you get involved, there may be others in your family that are also affected and that complicates matters further. There is a risk of alienating family members who may be embarrassed or who may see things differently.

Most people prefer privacy, even if it means not sharing with their own family. This could be the topic of a whole other blog. I’ll leave it at this:  there are times when it is best to keep family problems at arm’s length. You may have to be clear about that when approached. “Sue, I think it would be better to discuss that with Greg; your husband is my brother-in-law and one of my favorite people in the world, I don’t want him to be angry with me for taking sides.” Sue doesn’t exist. Just an example of the language you may have to call upon when communicating. Remember, most people prefer candor and authenticity. Those who don’t may not deserve your time or energy.

There is always the advice that is unwelcomed. Family members who are not ready or willing to face their problems will sometimes push you away and resent you for getting involved. In these situations, you have to be either willing to handle the confrontation or in some cases ignore the radio silence.

 

Friends

Our friends are our chosen family. We love them dearly and sometimes that love might cause us great pain. When you see a friend in trouble and you cannot help them, it can tear you apart. Two of my friends are alcoholics. One of these individuals will no longer speak to me because I tried to help and he does not want to acknowledge his problem. The other is in treatment and doing well so far. The only way I can live with myself in situations like this (be it a friend or a family member) is to try to help in some way:  support, resource, friend, caregiver, etc. Doing nothing makes me feel useless and more like a failure. On the other hand, if I reach out numerous times and the friend refuses my help, I have to be able to accept that I’ve done all I could do and walk away. Speaking from experience, I’m not insinuating this part is easy; in fact, it may be one of the more difficult things in life you will have to do. Friendship is like any other relationship, empathy is imperative and it must be conveyed delicately. People who are suffering emotionally cannot always handle empathy when you’re feeling it, they may need time to process and prepare. As a friend, you need to understand boundaries and know when it’s the right time to help.

 

Our World

We live in complicated circumstances with over seven billion people inhabiting the planet.  Unfortunately, 734 million of the world’s dwellers are considered to be living in absolute poverty (wikipedia); that’s a lot of people. Horrible reality like this can keep you up at night. The number of people with cancer and no access to care, the number of people in abusive relationships, the number of children without food, the number of refugees without a home, self-serving politicians, and on and on. It is important to consider the difficulties all around you and do what you can to help; however, it is equally important to consider all that you have to be grateful for.

 

How to Manage it So that it Doesn’t Take Over

Meditation is a self-help practice I mention regularly. People often think of it as a waste of time or new agie. For me, it is a way of keeping things in perspective. Sometimes I make life too much about me and I have to remind myself that it is not at all about me. At other times, the weight of everything around me is so difficult to manage, I have to shed some of it by logically thinking it through.

Exercise is one of my top three ways of sorting through life’s difficulties. When you’re overly concerned about everything, you have to have a way to balance the gravity of all of these concerns or it will consume you. Exercise is like a release valve. There is no doubt in my mind that I have developed an addiction to working out. Exercise and chocolate are the only two addictions I can honestly say I embrace without guilt or self-punishment. I do not often give myself a free pass to indulge; therefore, I am grateful for the freedom to just enjoy these two gifts.

Volunteering your time is not a panacea for solving the world’s problems. However, it is a way for you to feel empowered. Everything you do to help will yield rewards.

“Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

— Sherry Anderson

 

You know as well as I, that no matter how thoughtful you are or healthy you may try to be, your emotional state of mind (mood), often determines how you feel. You might have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling so much better than the night before. On the other hand, you might do everything right and have a restless night’s sleep and wake up angry at the world. I have learned to just go with it. If you try to push it away or sweep it under the rug, you are likely to either experience it with greater angst or have it rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. If you breathe and treat yourself kindly during these difficult periods, you will come through the difficulty with less collateral damage.

 

Talk Through it With Someone You Love and Trust

For some, talking through your worries is a learned behavior. Some of us are hesitant to burden others with our problems or confused thoughts. We’re quick to want to help others, but when it comes to our own issues, we retreat and suffer in silence. I’m a big fan or running things by people who are not directly involved and I believe, can be objective. Be sure to ask if it is okay to share. Do not judge or dismiss an individual’s thoughts. You can be certain that if you disrespect a generous listener, you will never be able to solicit advice again.

 

 

“Empathy is the medicine the world needs.”

— Judith Orloff. M.D.

 

Resources:

How to Be More Empathetic (NY Times)

Importance and Benefits of Empathy (Very Well Mind)

 

I hit a milestone with 100 blog posts last week. I wish I had been aware of it, I would have celebrated sooner.

Coloring Up My World

Give it a try, it might help you feel better.

 

 

The single most inspiring thing I have done over the past few years (not counting moving overseas which was a different kind of life change), is to add color to my life. Blues, reds, yellows, and lots of contrasts. For the longest time I was afraid of color. That fear still exists deep inside of me.

“Color plays a vitally important role in the world in which we live. Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. It can irritate or soothe your eyes, raise your blood pressure or suppress your appetite. When used in the right ways, color can even save on energy consumption.”

 

IMG_5573 (1).jpg

It took me months to decide on the color of this piece. Once I made the decision, it tooks months to make. The price you pay to have the color you can live with. It’s a greenish yellow (hard to tell) and it brings out the mustard in the rug and a yellow in the painting that hangs above it. I think it also compliments the burnt orange rug.

Color Matters — an article to review

Now why would a grown man like me be afraid of color?

Imagine living a lie for over 20 years; my sexuality being the lie. When you’re in a situation such as this, where you are hiding your true identity, the last thing you want to do is draw attention to yourself. I shouldn’t really generalize this way; in fact, some closeted gay people do a great deal to draw attention to themselves. Best that I switch to first person:  the last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to myself — I lived life through muted colors for a long time. On certain days and sometimes for extended periods, I revert back to this practice.

Here I am, 61 years old and I’m finally comfortable enough in my own skin to add color to my life and not feel embarrassment. True enough that my last apartment, in Maine, was decorated with burgundy and lime green, but they too were muted. I would often walk into my kitchen and think, what did I do? Is this too much? Is it feminine? What will people think?

Then I made a bold move and bought a contemporary condo in Portugal.  I am finally at a place in my life where what others think hardly matters. I can’t say it doesn’t matter at all, because that would be a lie. It just doesn’t matter as much. What does matter is what makes me comfortable; right now, color feels good.

I do admit that I’ve had to reign it in. I saw the latest Almodovar film and came close to painting my kitchen cabinets red — that would not have been good. Almodovar uses color effectively in all of his films; it’s one of his distinct trademarks and I have always envied him for it.

I want to have a big, bold, splash of red somewhere in my home. I decided on the terrace wall and then I pulled back on that idea; now I’m reconsidering it. I figure if I sit with it for a bit, a more concrete decision will come. Some would say, don’t worry, if you don’t like it you can paint over it. That seems like a big hassle to me, I’d rather get it right the first time. And now I have meshing up so that Paco doesn’t go through the slats; therefore, that would have to come down first. This is what is called procrastination; a Coronavirus byproduct. Stay tuned for a firmer decision sometime soon.

 

 

The Current Situation

Like so many others I constantly shake my head wondering if this is really happening. When you have never lived through a war (Vietnam but I was a child), it’s difficult to wrap your head around so much death and despair. I’m coping the best way I know how; grateful that I have a pet to keep me company, happy to be in a beautiful place, and hopeful that my friends and family remain healthy.

Feelings Reiterated

Reblog — difficult time to write and some things require reiteration

 

 

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

Isolation

“Isolation is a way to know ourselves.”

— Franz Kafka

I am certain I could not write about anything else this week. There is the kind of isolation I have experienced since moving overseas and then there is this. As I have said in the past, I am a introvert, therefore, I enjoy my alone time; the difference is choosing to be alone versus having the choice made for you.

 

My Concern

There are many people in the world who need social interaction in order to survive. I had a very intense conversation with a U.S. based recovering addict yesterday. I learned about a support system for addicts I was not aware of. Apparently there are group meetings by phone, sponsors, and other ways of reaching out. That made me feel a little bit better for Americans in quarantine. I’m not sure the same support system exists in Portugal or other parts of the world, although family ties in Portugal are very strong; I have observed a great deal of support for family members in need since I arrived. You also see a lot more elderly people living with their children. Somewhat of a thing of the past in the U.S.

I’m also concerned for individuals, non-addicts, not connected to any social network. These individuals would normally be able to go the mall, a bar, or to their local coffee shops; in some places this is not possible at the moment. I went out today and I was happy to see some of our coffee shops are open. People were sitting far, however, still interacting. [They have  been ordered closed by the government.]

I realize that we need to focus on the deadly virus; however, there are those in the fallout who are not sick with the virus and should not be forgotten.

Personally, I’m fine. I’ve lived alone for quite some time. I love the quiet of the early morning when I wake and the stillness of the night when I drift off to sleep. I’m strong enough to endure isolation for a very long time. A cell or windowless room would do me in, but fortunately I have a view of water, trees, and Paco sleeping in his comfy bed. As long as my internet doesn’t go down; I have many on-line interests. Fortunately, Portuguese television is more American than Portuguese. The weather is springlike and my terrace flowers are blooming. I have no right to piss and moan.

 

An Observation

Compassion and rage . . . I’m seeing a great deal of both right now on social media. I guess it is to be expected considering the times. This is the first time in my lifetime that I have ever experienced a global crisis. This crisis leaves no one behind.

I’m very concerned about the number of unstable people in the U.S. with access to dangerous weapons. If the economy continues to go south and people do not have money to eat, no telling what some will resort to. I’m hoping the 1% who have 90% of the wealth will see fit to share a portion of it with those who truly need it; I believe some are already stepping up. Perhaps the threat of death will help some individuals see that they do not need billions to live a good life. Maybe Trump should be an example to others and make a massive donation? I know.
AND ALSO…THIS
What’s seen a rise…
Hate groups. Earlier this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of hate groups in the US grew 55% since 2017. The SPLC attributed the increase in hate groups – and associated attacks – to President Trump’s rhetoric, using terms like “invasion of illegals” and saying there were “very fine people” at the 2017 deadly rally in Charlottesville. But it also mentioned that in the last year, the FBI has made racially motivated violent extremism a “national threat priority” and placed it on the same level as combating ISIS. (source:  the Skimm, 3/20/2020).

 

I witnessed masses of people come together for 911, maybe something similar can happen now. And do we ever need it.

Some of the late night hosts are filming from their homes. It’s actually much more intimate and natural — I’m enjoying it, but I would prefer things the way they were.

 

What We Can Do or What I’m Doing

These are some of the steps I am taking in order to make this easier:

  • I am contacting all of my friends that may be home alone
  • I am contacting any of my friends who have an illness
  • I am changing my reservations (two out of three of my trips for the next two months have been cancelled)
  • I am cleaning some areas that I usually don’t think about (closets, ceiling fan, the bottom of my pots)
  • Journaling more often
  • Baking and freezing
  • Reading more
  • Catching up on Netflix shows
  • Long walks with Paco
  • Meditation
  • Spending more time on preparing dinner
  • Discovering BroadwayHD — oh my, if you can’t be there

 

Where I Am

I’m getting lots of telephone calls from friends and family. Fortunately with Whatsapp, Facetime, Facebook, Skype, you can be made to feel as if you’re right there in the same room. And people seem more comfortable remaining on the phone a bit longer; not rushing off to work or some social gathering.

It’s only been a few days, but I can see that this will get old. I’m just grateful that I have Paco; walking him and seeing neighbors do the same with their dogs, is very comforting. And I am ever grateful that you can still buy food.

 

Living in a Material World

 

Self-Discovery

I’m not sure when it happened or why it happened, but at some point I decided to give up just about all of my earthly possessions. Have you ever wondered what you could live without? Two years ago I had the opportunity to answer that question. I either sold or gave away almost everything and now I know the answer. As evolved as I thought I had become, I still like things.  This is a list of what I cannot live without (not in order of importance):

  • a comfy mattress
  • good bedding (Portuguese cotton sheets, a down comforter, and 3 down pillows)
  • good pots & pans
  • well made kitchen tools
  • a high definition, smart TV
  • 100% cotton underwear
  • an iphone with a screen that isn’t cracked (it’s not about the label, it’s about quality and efficiency)
  • sunglasses that protect you from UV rays
  • a four wheel suitcase
  • a comfortable sofa
  • good martini glasses
  • silicone ice cube tray
  • a MacBook
  • an iphone (I have the 7S and it’s fine)
  • novels, lots of novels
  • a watch (I’m obsessed with time)
  • Alexa — I love answers to questions without any effort
  • a bicycle
  • a practical wardrobe (includes good shoes)

When I look at this list I feel pretty good. There are a few luxury items (i.e., Murano martini glasses, Apple products); however, I’m certain it could be a lot worse. No judgment if your list is longer; to each his own.

The flip side of this revelation is what I can live without and that list is unfortunately, much shorter:

  • cargo shorts
  • Nike sneakers
  • Cashmere
  • expensive artwork
  • expensive watches (I once owned over 50 watches)
  • fine silverware and wine glasses
  • a car
  • a KitchenAid mixer

Am I a better person for having learned these things about myself? No. What I am is more realistic and less bogged down. I now know that I can easily get rid of almost everything and start fresh. I can walk away from that ceramic bowl I thought I was in love with and never look back. I can give away that Burberry jacket and not shed a single tear. I can survive without a Bertazzoni stove (I do miss my stove).

When I look at the list of things I cannot live without, it seems longer than I thought it would be, but in reality, it’s not that long. There are a few items on the list that I certainly could live without, however, I choose not to. I have come to learn that I love and want certain creature comforts. What I found interesting was the process of acquiring new things. When I arrived to Portugal, my mindset was somewhat unrealistic. I thought that I could wear what I brought with me and only buy new clothing when it was absolutely necessary — holes in my socks sort of thing. I had always cared a great deal about quality clothing; this new business of a minimal lifestyle was foreign to me. I learned over time that it was unrealistic to stay away from shops. I need to feel good about myself and part of that is to wear nice clothes and present myself in a positive way. I’m sixty years old now (61 in a few weeks) and I don’t have the physique I once had; therefore, what I desire these days is a comfortable, practical, classic wardrobe. I occasionally purchase a colorful hat or watch, just to brighten things up. It’s more for my own psyche than to impress someone else.

In a very healthy way, I have come to accept what I look like. I am hoping I care about my appearance until I die. I think it’s important to love and accept yourself physically, spiritually and mentally. When you stop caring, you begin to decline in every way. I have observed that older women in Europe (mostly the cities) seem to embrace this philosophy. I see so many women in their 70s and 80s wearing beautiful clothing and owning their look — unfortunately, men that age do not seem to care. I’m afraid tobacco and alcohol have done some major irreparable damage. There are exceptions of course.

Apropos of nothing, I was talking to my niece Nicole this week and she brought up the scaling down process in her own life. She’s raising twins on her own and she’s figuring out a way to financially make it work.

I told her that I was writing this piece and she said, “You only need one coat, so long as it’s a good coat.”

I laughed because she and I are spiritually connected and that philosophy is exactly where my head has been lately. I have only one coat in Portugal, but it’s a good coat.

 

My Home

My nest is probably in the top three most important parts of my life. It has to be clean, contemporary, and warm. It does not have to be super expensive and posh. Before I moved to Portugal and decided to purchase in Faro, I looked for an apartment with clean lines. I wanted a place I could keep clean with minimal effort. Faro doesn’t have dust build-up the likes of which I experienced in New York and Maine. I assume it’s because there are fewer automobiles and a constant breeze off of the Ria Formosa. It’s nice not to have to dust daily. I mention this because keeping the things I enjoy out in the open gives me pleasure. So even though I have fewer “things” sitting around on shelves, I don’t have to work very hard to keep them looking nice. Sticking to my decision to remain minimal has been easier than I thought. I guess once you go through the process of shedding everything, you never want to accumulate that much stuff again. If I decide to move, I won’t have quite as much stuff to cart around.

 

What is all Means

I can never help stepping back and analyzing what it all means for me and my life. I think that is what I love most about writing; put it down on paper or type it into your computer and it becomes reality. Sometimes you like what you read and other times you are appalled. You can make a conscious decision to change what you don’t like. I have found that if I start with awareness and then gradually make small changes, after awhile, I come to realize that whatever it was, is no longer present.

The car is a good example. I sold my car in Maine a couple of months before I moved to Portugal. I wanted to test life without a vehicle. I’ve had a car my entire adult life, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I even owned a car when I lived in Manhattan. I recall getting up to move it every morning. I found it damaged numerous times; often, I had to park it a mile or more away from my apartment, but that didn’t deter me because I couldn’t imagine life without wheels. This test would not be easy, but it’s the challenges we face that make us stronger and more determined. Cycling and walking have always been favorite pastimes for me, even more so now.

By the way, when people ask about my desire to reduce my carbon footprint, some of them raise the issue of the number of flights I take (and then they laugh). To this I say:  I take a train or a bus whenever I possible and I only fly when I absolutely have to. Sometimes I think doing the best you can do, has to be good enough. On a recent trip I took Amtrak from North Carolina to Boston stopping at various locations along the way. It was a great way to get from point A to point B.

 

A Recent Comment

I love honest conversations and I had one at the gym today. Someone I have known for a few months told me that my blog reads like a diary. He was not being critical, he was sharing his perception. I could hardly argue with his assessment. I do share a great deal of what I’m feeling at any given moment, with my readers.  I actually do keep a journal; I have for almost forty years. What I write in my journal is just as honest and straightforward, but much of what I write privately, is never meant to be shared. I write about perceptions of individuals, fears, hopes; all very personal. I imagine you might be questioning what could possibly be more personal than what I include in my blog . . . I guess you’ll just have to trust me; we all have demons and dark thoughts.

 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19)

It was very difficult to concentrate on anything other than COVID-19 this week. So many things are up in the air and the news changes by the minute. The entire country of Italy on lockdown and Spain is not far behind (they’re only 40 minutes away); it’s difficult to imagine. And then there is the choosing who to save thing.

I woke up in the middle of the night concerned about Paco getting the virus. His immune system is currently compromised and I was acutely concerned. I got out of bed and grabbed my laptop and learned that dogs cannot contract this particular strain.  One less thing to worry about.