How My Childhood Experiences Shaped Who I am

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Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where I grew up. That’s me top, far left. I tried to hide as much as I could.

 

Home Life

My earliest memories are of physical and emotional abuse, alcohol abuse, racial tension, divisive and foul language, death, family turmoil, drug abuse, illness, and poverty; all at extremely damaging proportions.

Conversely, I witnessed love, sexual freedom, a struggle to rise above socio-economic barriers, an acceptance of alternative sexual and gender orientation, and ethnic diversity.

I was profoundly affected by what I saw and heard, how could I not be? In what ways did it shape who I am, determine my values, inform my capacity to love and be loved, create a roadmap for what my life might be like, provide tools for survival, determine my biases, my political beliefs, my predilections, my sexual tendencies, my fancies, my relationships, and my truth.

Psychologists have researched and reported on how your childhood experiences shape and determine who you are as an adult for just about as long as the discipline has existed. About three months ago, Howard Stern interviewed Anderson Cooper (you can Youtube the entire interview; for some reason YouTube does not allow you to post the link). Among the many things they discussed was analysis and how it can help you alter who you are. At one point Anderson asks Howard a very direct question:

“Did therapy save your life.”

Howard quickly answers, “Yes.”

I would respond yes as well. Two of my siblings died as a result of mental dysfunction; one from an eating disorder and the other from an overdose. My deceased sister struggled with poor self-esteem her entire life; the eating disorder was just one manifestation of her numerous problems. My brother, who overdosed, turned to drugs as his only escape. Other siblings struggle with issues I am not at liberty to discuss. I am fairly certain that without therapy, I would have been fucked.

Howard and Anderson spoke about how childhood experiences affect you and how the damage (unless dealt with), remains with you your entire life. I knew early on that I was not in great shape emotionally and psychologically. Doubts about my sexuality and major sleep issues were the first couple of things to haunt me. My first thoughts of suicide were when I was ten years old and I hoped that I would die before my next birthday — I wrote about this in detail in an earlier blog. I did not share these destructive thoughts with anyone until I was well into my twenties. I was ashamed of my feelings/thoughts and did not want to burden anyone in my life.

When I look back on my childhood, I recall that teachers noticed that I was often melancholy and distant. I was frequently asked about how things were at home, how I felt, and did I need to talk about it. I would just brush it off and deny that anything was wrong. Teachers would ask to see my mother knowing she was a single mom with a house full of children. I’m not sure what was discussed, but my mother would just say to me, “Chris you need to smile more and try to have more fun in school; your teachers think I’m abusing you.” I assured my mother that I was well behaved in school (claiming to be happy would have been a stretch).

I loved school. It was the only time I could truly escape from the dysfunction that was taking place at home. I would always arrive early and stay late. After school theater activities were my early therapy. These days, school psychologists spend time with troubled kids; fifty years ago these professionals did not exist on school grounds (at least not in Brooklyn). My teachers coddled me — that only made it worse. The other children bullied me because I was perceived as the teacher’s pet and a “goody-goody.” Admittedly, I did seek the approval and praise of my teachers as a result of not getting it at home; it made me feel special, but I paid the price.

I’m sixty years old and I am who I am. I assure you that this is not a “poor me” moment in my life. I know that understanding where my issues originated helps me to understand and appreciate others. So much of life is about forgiveness; forgiving yourself for characteristics that were born out of adversity and forgiving others for their insecurities, mishaps and home environments.

I had friends here from New York over the last few days. My friend Julie is a very bright woman and we go back many years. She knew me when I had just completed my doctorate (we had this in common). I was passive aggressive, cocky and way too angry for a young man. Julie put up with a lot of nonsense from me back then. We talked about our history while she was visiting me here in Portugal. Julie helped me understand how she perceived my behavior and why she accepted it. I explained how I viewed the dynamic between us. It was interesting to discuss our thirty year friendship and share gratitude for what it is today. Clearly, we have both worked hard to examine who we are and who we’d like to be. This is one of the best things about a long term friendship, you experience life together and apart and revisit what attracted you to the other person to begin with. Too often in relationships, we forget where we came from.

Image may contain: Christopher Papagni and Julie Ratner, people smiling, sunglasses, plant and outdoor
Julie and I capturing a moment in our 30 year friendship. The similar sunglasses was a total accident, but I love it.

 

A Quick Story (over 50 years ago)

It was just an ordinary Saturday night and this happened:

We were sitting around our small television watching some banal comedy show on a very fuzzy screen when three woman strolled into our basement; nobody knocked when they came to our house. Today we call drag queens who dress in women’s clothes, women, because they prefer that we refer to them as woman; they use feminine pronouns. But back in Coney Island in the 60s, they were men dressed up as women and they were, for the most part, rejected by society.

These men in women’s clothing came by to see my mother before stepping out into the Manhattan club scene. These were my mother’s friends and they knew my mother (she was about 30 years old) couldn’t join them because she had small children, but she could help them with their hair and make-up. What I remember was a lot of laughter, a great deal of compassion and complete acceptance; my mother did not judge. To my eyes, she admired and fully embraced their alternative lifestyle. These individuals were colorful, funny, talented, brave, and present. I realize that I have not had a lot of nice things to say about my mother; however, to be fair, this sort of role modeling is the reason I have always been accepting of differences — it’s what I was taught as a child. My mother loved people; people of all shapes and sizes, race, and sexual orientation.

I have learned that individuals who are not very tolerant of differences, more than likely, were raised in a home where differences were shunned, not celebrated. I don’t believe we are genetically wired to hate; hate is something we are taught.

 

People and Places I have Sought Out in Order to Grow

I knew early on, that the only way I would survive would be to find normalcy and attach myself to it. My childhood friend Joey’s parents were happily married and he had grandparents. Grandparents were nurturing and supportive and I wanted that. I endeared myself to Joey’s family and spent as much time at his house as I possibly could.

Education was an essential part of my early survival. Anyone having to do with teaching seemed well adjusted and were almost always helpful. I was always eager to learn and well-prepared — educators appreciated that. I was somewhat aware of my ability to manipulate certain situations; being quiet, complimentary and naive (sometimes I faked this), helped get me a place at the table.

Friends throughout my life have been supportive and loving. I knew that unless you nurtured your friendships, they would not last. Many of my friends have been a part of my life for many, many years; they are my family and I am grateful to them.

I hired a life coach about 10 years ago. Betsy had a profoundly positive influence on my life and I cherish our professional and personal relationship. Having someone ask the right questions can never be a bad thing. If you can afford coaching, I definitely recommend it.

I have had the good fortune to meet and get to know some very bright people in my life:  authors, teachers, artists, creative and caring individuals. These people have helped me to be a better person. Lately, I am more discriminating and selective about who I spend my time with. Part of being more secure and better adjusted, is making the most of your time and life experiences. There is no longer any place in my life for toxic, angry people. No matter how long I have I left, I want to die knowing that I lived life to the fullest. There is nothing wrong with a laugh or two along the way; oh and a really good meal.

Examine where you came from and choose where you want to be. We don’t have much say in our early experiences, however, we do get to pick and choose how we live our lives as adults. Using a bad childhood as an excuse for poor behavior is not always valid. There are certainly times when early imprinting has an impact on our lives, but hard work, some solid therapy and the desire for change, can help you shape your own present and future.

The best thing about this work is that it never ends. Each day brings new lessons and new beginnings. Start the day with gratitude and hope; a lifeline worth preserving.

Namaste.

couple holding hands
Photo by Luis Quintero

Human Behavior is Complicated

 

 

 

 

Studying human behavior has always been a fascinating pastime for me. I majored in sociology in college and the question was always:  how does the behavior of others apply to me and what am I going to do with a sociology degree?

 

behaviour
noun
noun: behavior
  1. the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially towards others.
    “he will vouch for her good behaviour”
    synonyms: conduct, way of behaving, way of acting, deportmentbearingetiquetteMore

    • the way in which an animal or person behaves in response to a particular situation or stimulus.
      plural noun: behaviours; plural noun: behaviors
      “the feeding behaviour of predators”

     

I admittedly spend too much time trying to figure people out; individuals and groups alike. I make the same mistake over and over again; I usually believe people will react the way I do. We all know how ridiculous that assumption is. We’re raised differently, we learn from different people and we all have a different moral compass. If you think you’re more trustworthy or “right” than the next guy, that’s a huge mistake and it’s bound to get you into trouble.

 

Family

Whenever I write about my family, I am concerned that I will alienate or offend someone I care deeply about. So once again, I will not mention names. Except this one time:  My niece Nicole is close to giving birth to twins; very close. This is a very positive “family” happening and from where I’m sitting it appears that all of the people around her are excited for her. This will of course change the dynamic of Nicole’s immediate family and I consider myself a part of Nicole’s immediate family. Because of Nicole’s positive energy and desire to be a mother, the behavior I am observing and the words I have been hearing, have been upbeat and anxious anticipation, “When will they come, what will they be like, and how what sort of mother will I be?”

I am looking forward to the joy this boy and girl will bring to the family. My sister and her husband will be wonderfully loving grandparents, my nephew will be a terrific uncle and my niece will be an exceptional mother. Observing all of this from Portugal will be joyful and sad; sad because I am thousands of miles away. Thanks to modern technology I will be able to have frequent contact and I will be meeting my great niece and nephew in Baltimore this coming December. Although this experience is not new for me, never having had my own children has made having lots of nieces and nephews, very special.

The behavior of family members mattered more to me when I was closer in proximity; moving overseas has helped me put their love into perspective. It sort of always goes back to how being human makes us all different and trying to appreciate where the other person is coming from.

 

Friends

My close friends are all very different and I love that about them. I have not heard one of my friends disparage another one of my friends; this is important to me. They each know how much I love them and they are also aware of how much I love and admire my other friends. It’s been very important to share my appreciation for them and to show them how grateful I am to have them in my life. What I have observed in my friends is respect, admiration and loyalty. I’m not sure it would be fair or reasonable to ask for anything more than that.

I have also learned that when a friend behaves in a way that disturbs me, it is essential to share my feelings as soon after the incident as possible; waiting is unfair. Friends deserve clear communication and a great deal of consideration. Remember to listen. Also, remember to be loving and forgiving.

 

Strangers

When I observe strangers, it is usually through a non-judgmental lens, unless they do one of the following:

  • fail to clean-up their dog’s poop
  • behave cruelly to animals
  • verbally or physically abuse their partner/child/friend in public
  • speak loudly on their cell phone
  • act extremely intoxicated or tripping out on one drug or another
  • display a weapon in a threatening manner
  • publicly display signs of racism, prejudice, anti-semitism, anti-homosexuality, anti-individuality, anti-freedom, hate or disregard for humanity.

 

Internal Dialogue

Here are some of the things I say to myself when I am observing human behavior:

  • She talks and talks and talks and doesn’t listen to a word anyone else is saying.
  • If he leaves that pile of shit on the ground, I am saying something.
  • Why does she wait until the moment she is getting on the bus to take her money out to pay? She’s been standing at the bus stop for 20 minutes.
  • Who does he or she think they are?
  • Why doesn’t he just stay home?
  • Where does this person come from?
  • How can I make it stop?
  • I need to get away from here.

 

Why I Need to Stop 

Just observing human behavior is fun; however, attempting to figure out why people say or do the things they say or do, is just plain unhealthy. We are so often wrong for the simple reason that we cannot be inside someone else’s head; it’s just not possible. Sure you may know someone a long time and their behavior may be somewhat predictable, but people do often surprise us and sometimes the surprise is positive.

What I’d like to more often, is ask why. Why are you raising your voice? Why are you pointing your finger at me? Why are you angry right now? I think if I ask because I’m genuinely interested, the response will enlightening. It’s important to not be patronizing or passive aggressive.

“Rob, I’m not sure what’s happening today, but you seem upset about something; can you tell me about it?”

“Trish, I’m not sure you whether or not you realize this, but your voice is louder than it usually is right now. What’s up?”

“Mike, some of the words you’re using are hurtful. I wanted to let you know that I’m confused about why you are saying these things to me.”

“Sue, what am I doing right now that is making you angry? I promise to just listen and hear you.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living With a Lie

“There are only two things. Truth and lies. Truth is indivisible, hence it cannot recognize itself; anyone who wants to recognize it has to be a lie.” Franz Kafka

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Grace Marie when she was a happy child (to my left). Anthony to my right next to my mom and my sister Debbie.

My mother’s lies taught me two things:  First and most harmful, it was acceptable to lie, and second, secrets are impossible to keep.

I had a beautiful half-sister who died a horrible premature death several years ago; she was in her mid-forties. In fact, it was her birthday a couple of days ago and it was the anniversary of my brother Anthony’s death. My sister Grace found him with a needle in his arm on her birthday. She was already far gone by then and I’m certain, finding her (our) brother lifeless in her own home, must have sealed her fate.

My sister Grace or Gasha (the way we spelled it), as she was known to close family, was a troubled child. She wore thick glasses and was labeled “four eyes” by her siblings and peers. We also called her monkey because of her button nose; kids can be mean and her brothers and sisters were the cruelest of all. I am not claiming innocence; in fact, I may have been the worst culprit. Perhaps it was the secret I held onto that drove me to cruelty.

My parents argued a lot; in fact, they argued night and day. My father would come home from work at midnight and my mother would dig in her hateful claws. Having been exposed to this behavior early on, I worked hard to tune them out and fantasize about a quieter world that I knew existed elsewhere. My memory of their relentless rage goes back to pre-school and a time when I was too young to understand the complicated world of adult anger. One particular memory is vivid because it involved a lie I did not understand at the time; I may have been five or six years old.

Many angry words were exchanged during one very loud shouting match and most of those words were as difficult to comprehend as a foreign language. For some reason I held onto something my father said, “Grace is not my child.” At the time I thought it was odd for my father to say such a thing and so, I dismissed them from my thoughts. Every so often I found myself daydreaming and reflecting on these words. As I grew older and more inquisitive, I wondered why my father said this to my mother. I looked at my sister differently because of what my father said. I naturally wondered who her father might be, if it were not my father. I was not aware of an affair my mother had with her first husband while she was married to my father.

When I turned nine, there was a lot going on around me; my only living grandparent passed, my mother was divorcing my father and marrying my stepfather, and I was repressing my sexuality (I remember having some strong feelings toward one of my mother’s male friends). My mom and I would occasionally spend quality alone time together — rare because she had seven children. On one of these occasions, I decided I would ask her about Gasha. My mother had a way of drawing me in as a close confidant and then shoving me away. I can’t blame alcohol because she wasn’t a drunk, but her father was an alcoholic and physically abusive; perhaps it was his influence. As a child I longed for the kind of closeness where you felt honest love and affection — not likely to get it from my mother, but I never stopped trying.

We were sitting on her bed watching an old black & white film and she was running her fingers through my hair. I may have been as happy at that moment as I would ever be with my mom.

I looked up at her and said, “Ma, who is Gasha’s father?”

My mother pushed me to the edge of the bed and said, “Where do you get these ideas?”

I told her that I had overheard an argument she had with my father a few years earlier and she told me that I was imagining things.

“Who would Gasha’s father be if it wasn’t your father? Honestly Chris, I worry about you.”

I wanted to believe my mother, so I let it go . . . until a few years later when this happened:

I was having dinner with my father at the restaurant where he worked. Our meals were very special to me and we always spoke openly and earnestly. I’m pretty sure I was in my teens at this point. I had accidentally seen my parents marriage license and came to learn that my mother and father didn’t marry until I was three years old. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t bother me. My dad told me that they couldn’t marry because my mother’s first husband was in prison and there was a law about divorce and incarceration back then. He said that they married as soon as they legally could. I shrugged and decided this would be a good time to ask about Gasha. I sort of tricked my dad and acted like I knew for certain that Gasha was not his biological daughter.

When I asked him who Gasha’s father was he said, “Joe is her father, but I adopted her and so she’s my daughter now. How did you know about this? Did your mother tell you?”

I shared that I had overheard an argument between the two of them when I was a kid and he grabbed my face and squeezed my cheeks; something he did to show affection. He hardly ever said anything negative about my mother and I wish I could say the reverse were true.

When I asked him how she ended up with Joe while married to him, he said, “Your mother has always been a bit wild.”

Truer words had never been spoken. Now that I knew my suspicions about Gasha were true, I had to consider what this meant for my relationship with her, how I felt about my mother lying to me, and whether or not I should share the truth with Gasha and our siblings. I knew early on that it would not be fair to share the truth with her. It was my mother’s place to tell her the truth. I was tormented by the lie. I did not approve of my mother’s infidelity and I could not understand why she denied the truth all those years ago. In my mind, I could never truly trust my mother again — in truth, I doubted her always. I’m also certain that I felt betrayed by my mother and it has had an affect on every loving relationship in my life.

My mother did eventually tell Gasha who her biological father was. I’m not sure when or where it happened. My brothers and sisters found out at some point as well. It seemed to me at the time that no one cared about the indiscretion or the lie. I questioned my own reaction to it:  had I made too much of it? Did it really matter? As an older adult I am obviously still questioning the lies I faced as a child and young adult — there were many others.

I recall often looking at Gasha and wondering who she resembled. When she would behave a certain way that was odd to me, I would explain it by considering who her father was or was not. Gasha had a severe eating disorder and made several bad choices in her life. She was angry, she isolated herself from those who cared about her, she refused to acknowledge her disorder, and she trusted no one. I cannot help but wonder if the knowledge that she was conceived during a torrid affair, had had a huge impact on her life and her ability to cope. Knowing her biological father was willing to allow my father to adopt her, must have tormented Gasha throughout her life; her self-worth was shattered.

My mother had a very complicated relationship with her and Gasha was resentful of the way she saw my mother treating the rest of us; she seemed to always feel slighted. I was aware of both the way she was treated and the way Gasha perceived it. I had conflicting feelings about my sister. There was a part of me that believed she didn’t belong and I’m not proud of those feelings. At the same time, I felt sorry for her.

Gasha’s downward spiral was difficult for me to watch. She married trailer park trash and she had a child with him. Freddie shot himself in the head early on in their marriage. I remember visiting her in Knoxville, Tennessee and thinking that there was hope that she’d come out on top of all the drama in her life. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Bulimia took hold of my sister in her early 20s and never let go. All four of my mother’s daughters suffered from some sort of eating disorder as a result of my mother’s obsession with weight. Gasha lived in complete denial — the disease and the consequences of starving one’s body of nutrients destroyed her life. Her two children suffered the most; watching her abuse herself on a daily basis, had to be impossible to observe. Out of respect for my niece and nephew, I will refrain from commenting on their current lives.

The question is, was it the lie that destroyed Gasha’s life or was it her personality and the circumstances of her illness? I guess we’ll never know for sure. What we do know is that shielding her from the truth all of those years was not productive or right. If her biological father had stepped up and assumed his role asher father, might she have been stronger and felt more loved? I have to believe she would have embraced her father and adjusted to her circumstances. After all her two oldest sisters had the same biological father. But after being adopted by my father, Gasha, was instead forced into a situation she did not ask to be in and was prevented from being with a man she might have loved. I’m not a psychologist, however, I am fairly certain that Gasha was thrust into a situation that would have caused anyone pain and anxiety. It was a lot for a young person to take on and in truth, she had to endure the ramifications of this terrible lie, on her own. It’s a small miracle she was even with us into her forties.

When faced with the reality of a difficult truth or keeping a secret, always go with the truth. As hard as it is to share that secret and cope with its consequences, that reality is far better than living a lie.

 

“When you check your own mind properly, you stop blaming others for your problems.”

Thubten Yeshe

Being Introverted

man sitting on green chair near trees and mountain under blue sky at daytime
Photo by anna-m. w. on Pexels.com

 

How do I know that I’m introverted? A few tell-tale signs:

  1. I took the Myers-Briggs test numerous times and I always come up introverted. (see below for explanation.
  2. I prefer being myself to being with people. That is not to say I don’t like people; I do like people very much.
  3. When I’m attending a social gathering, I have to go out of my way to be social
  4. I have many, many brothers and sisters. Doesn’t that explain why I’m introverted?

The trait of extraversion–introversion is a central dimension of human personality theories. The terms introversion and extraversion were popularized by Carl Jung,[1] although both the popular understanding and psychological usage differ from his original intent. Extraversion tends to be manifested in outgoing, talkative, energetic behavior, whereas introversion is manifested in more reserved and solitary behavior.

Extraversion and introversion are typically viewed as a single continuum, so to be high in one necessitates being low in the other. Carl Jung and the developers of the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator provide a different perspective and suggest that everyone has both an extraverted side and an introverted side, with one being more dominant than the other. Rather than focusing on interpersonal behavior, however, Jung defined introversion as an “attitude-type characterized by orientation in life through subjective psychic contents” (focus on one’s inner psychic activity) and extraversion as “an attitude type characterized by concentration of interest on the external object” (focus on the outside world).[3

There are times when I tell friends that I am an introvert and they challenge me. I’m often told that I am far too social to possibly be an introvert. Those who know me well, know that there are days when I just need to be by myself. One of the many reasons I moved overseas, was to spend more time alone. The older I get the more introverted I become. There is absolutely no danger in becoming a hermit, I like love my friends and family too much.

Just back of five weeks of visiting the U.S. to see friends and family, may of whom I have not seen in years. I truly enjoyed seeing and spending time with all of these folks, but honestly, being “on” for such a long period of time left me completely depleted of all of my energy. I got home to Portugal, closed my door and sat in the splendor of isolation . . . I sat for a long time.

I know people who can never be alone. My mother was such a person. She would call anyone or go anywhere so that she could have company. I guess that would be a case of extreme extroversion or perhaps it was fear; fear of having to be with oneself.  When I was kid, my mother would climb the attic stairs; my bedroom was in the attic, just to chide me about being in my room alone. She would practically force me to go outside to play. If you have children that tell you that they’d rather read or write or play games, for goodness sake, let them be.

 

A Quieter World

Noise as loud as jack hammers

I cover my ears

Piercing sirens and car horns

Muffle it or make it stop

 

Rock turned up six decibels

Slammed shut to block it out

Doors closed, pills popped, eyes squeezed closed

Two a.m. and I still hear it

 

Chatter, chatter, chatter

Barking, bells and horns in surround sound

Planes take off and circle overhead

Breaking in speeding traffic

 

I tell my brain to turn it down

Use reason to soothe the sound

White noise in the dark

Deafening silence as I sleep

 

[I haven’t written a poem in years; it’s a good sign.]

 

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A quiet place at the top of the world

 

 

The thing is, when you know who you are and what you like, you can just enjoy being.

 

Over ten million people have watched Brené Brown speak, but I had never heard her name until browsing through Netflix offerings last night. Not only does she know what she’s talking about, in fact, she is a pleasure to listen to. Take a listen:

Observations Concerning the U.S. and What is Happening Now

Some thoughts before this American expat flies home later today:

 

I wasn’t going to write this blog until after I returned home to Portugal and had some time to reflect on my five weeks in the U.S. After a year away from my country, my family, my friends and the politics of my former home, there are many observations I feel compelled to share. I will not name names. Not only would it be unfair and inappropriate to do so, but in truth what I saw and experienced could have come from anyone, anywhere in this country. Some might argue this point, however, the culture of the U.S. is reflected in every city and town throughout the country.

If you consider the history of the U.S., a year is hardly more than a moment in time. To be clear, my comments will not be generalizations that can and should be applied to all Americans. What I will share are subjective observations about the people and places I visited.

Politics

One of the things I said when I moved abroad is that I would try not to pay too much attention to the politics in the States. That didn’t happen. I watched the news everyday and I found myself feeling just as angry and bewildered. I left Portugal in April willing to listen to what everyone I spoke to about politics had to say.

I have several Trump supporters in my life. This became a big problem for me when he was elected because Mr. Trump and the people he surrounds himself with, represent just about everything I am opposed to. At first I did not want to speak to or interact with these people. Over time, I found myself missing them and feeling badly about my attitude. I made the decision to put politics aside and to try to understand where these friends and family members were coming from.

I had several very difficult conversations with family members I care deeply about. I remained calm and listened carefully. What I learned was revealing and comforting (in a way):

For the most part, the people I know who support Trump are kind, smart, caring individuals. They are fully aware of most of his shortcomings and they watch and pay attention to a variety of media. They seem to know that, for the most part, they are not the majority of this country. They say that there are lies and distortions on both sides of the aisle and I would have to agree with this assessment. They know how I feel and they respect my thoughts. I could go on; however, the bottom line is that they have thought about the pros and cons and the facts. They are not 100% conservative or 100% liberal. They believe in much of the same things I believe in and they are not all the same; not in any way.

I came out of this experience feeling a bit better about the people in my world. I’m admittedly still not happy about the choice they have made, but I can no longer dismiss them or their beliefs. The best I can do is continue to share when I witness distorted facts or atrocities. I also need to remind myself that my truth may not be my “brother’s” truth.

The Economy

I was shocked at how much more expensive everything was. Hotels, restaurants, the subway; everything has gone up and not just a little. There was a time when I could buy a cup of mediocre coffee at a street vendor for a buck — that same cup of mud is now two dollars. I guess what I don’t understand is why people keep going back for more. You cannot have a casual sit down lunch at a restaurant without spending twenty dollars or more (including diners).

When I was a teenager I would see Broadway shows for $8 and that was considered a lot of money because movies were a dollar. Now, cheap Broadway tickets are over $100 and movies are $15 (or more). My friends told me stories about rising rents. Between Airbnb and greedy landlords, there appears to be big problems for renters everywhere. You either have to live far from where you work or share a small space. Greed seems to have gotten worse.

I realize these kinds of issues arise with every generation; however, the difference today is how pervasive price gouging is and big business and its impact on the economy. If more and more people are using their homes as Airbnb rather than renting on a long-term basis, what inventory will be left for those who cannot afford to buy or pay high rents?

Some of the Comments Made to Me or Overheard

  • Americans should take an intelligence test before they’re allowed to vote — overheard at a restaurant in Brooklyn, NY.
  • I like Trump. I mean he’s just a man and men love women. I don’t care what he does in the bedroom and I don’t care if he sends out mean tweets; what I care about is how safe we are and our the security of our economy — someone I know very well.
  • This country will soon be run by minorities; we have to try to slow them down before they ruin it for the rest of us — also someone I know well.
  • What we’re doing to our planet is scary and I’m wondering if I did the right thing by having children — a family member.
  • What we are experiencing is surreal and difficult to comprehend. I know this country has been through tougher times, but this feels like the beginning of the end. I waiting for a huge implosion — a family member.
  • New York City has become a place where there is no longer a middle class. You’re either very rich and live well or you’re poor and living day-to-day — a good friend.
  • There are no more mom and pop restaurants. All of the new places are owned by corporations or rich investors — a friend in the food business.
  • Keeping cars out of NYC only makes it easier for the rich to get around. If delivery trucks cannot or will not pay to enter the city, how will people get milk or afford milk — a friend in NYC.
  • We better be prepared for a second term of Trump because it’s going to happen — several people.
  • Not all Floridians are pond scum — a stranger at the bar at Miami airport.
  • Guns that kill will always be easy to get in America; it’s the people who use them that are the problem — a good friend.
  • Late term abortions are wrong and causing problems for other more legitimate abortions — a liberal friend.
  • Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are too old to run for president. I know it’s agist to say this, but I know how being old feels and the elderly have no place running the country — an older friend.
  • Doctors will never work for less — a friend in healthcare.

There was so much more said in my presence. What I learned is that opinions and thoughts are strong and real. In the end we have to do our own research and search our own souls for answers.

The Future

What I see and hear concerns me deeply. Many people I know and love have the means to survive for years to come, but there are also many people in my life that are living a life that borders on poverty. I cannot imagine surviving on minimum wage today or being out of work for any length of time. People seem more concerned with their own future and less concerned with their neighbors and humankind in general. I don’t necessarily have answers, but I do have questions:

If the United States becomes a country divided by haves and have nots, how long can it survive? Will there come a time when the marginalized and forgotten rebel? If that time comes, who will survive? Would it not be better for those who have an abundance to share a percentage with those who do not? “Charity begins at home,” has true meaning in today’s world.

What is happening in Venezuela and other parts of the world should teach us many lessons, but are we willing to learn?

Note:  Pardon any spelling or grammatical errors, it’s time to pack.

Time Out: Taking A Short Break

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I just read a piece about blogging (click) entitled, “Why 99% of Blogs Will Fail in 2018.” Not very encouraging. If success is defined by earning money from one’s blog, then I’m not successful. If success is staying on schedule and publishing a blog each week, then I am highly successful. From the get go, I was aware of those in the blogosphere who write blogs in order to become famous or make a living out of it; this was never my intention. The decision to relocate to Portugal was one of the biggest decisions of my life and I know that others out there are struggling with whether or not to move overseas. I made a commitment to myself and others to document my move. In the process of sharing detailed logistics, I found myself dealing with personal feelings only peripherally to the move.

When you decide to leave your friends and family, part with 98% of your belongings, and be a part of a completely different culture, a lot of what you end up feeling are emotions you would have not anticipated. I’m not beating myself or complaining; for the most part, it was all good. Blogging provided a means and discipline for putting my thoughts and feelings in writing. I have kept a journal for many years, however, this is different in that you know that strangers and others close to you will be exposed to intimate thoughts you had not shared before. Loneliness and loss surfaced, along with parts of my life I had buried, and had not fully dealt with. Writing about these memories helped me to sort through the impact these experiences had on my life and how these experiences shaped my decision to live in Europe.

For example, the pain I felt as a child while witnessing physical and emotional abuse in my home, was a lonely and isolated pain. I could not share what I was seeing and feeling with others because these matters were shameful and personal; in truth I am still embarrassed by what I experienced. I kept most of it inside and made promises to myself about my life and my future. Today, I find myself fulfilling these childhood/young adult promises. I shield myself from hurt, I walk away from antagonistic conflict, I reel against physical abuse, and I isolate myself in order to protect myself from emotional pain. The ability to see and think about this in real-time has been helpful in my pursuit of emotional wellbeing. The writing has helped me immensely and I have been told that it has helped others.

Keeping it real and sometimes raw, has a downside. Alienating friends and family members who were a part of my past is a real danger. So far, I have received nothing but support. I have made a commitment to deal with personal conflict privately and I will hold to that commitment. It would be wrong for someone in my life to read about an unresolved conflict in one of my blogs — this should only apply to someone who is no longer with us; hence unresolved conflict. When you have not had an opportunity for closure, you subconsciously look for ways to resolve whatever is still hanging out there.

They say it’s all about the journey and with any luck, I have a long road ahead. I expect there is still much to learn. I working hard to embrace truth and a greater awareness of who I am and who I want to be. Thank you for coming along for the ride. Please continue to share your thoughts and personal experiences.

 

Last Blog Until Sometime in May

I am taking off for Lisbon today and the States tomorrow. Knowing that I will not be traveling to the U.S. very often, and because I may be getting a dog in January, I decided to make it a five-week trip home — the U.S. will always be home. I will be taking a Caribbean cruise with family for my 60th birthday and I will be visiting friends and family in different states. I’ll be traveling up the east coast, ending my trip in Boston. Until the next time . . .

 

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Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

Growing Up in Brooklyn

 

“Apparently Brooklyn needn’t always push itself to be something else, something conscious and anxious, something pointed toward Manhattan…. Brooklyn might sometimes also be pleased, as here on Flatbush, to be its grubby, enduring self.”
― Jonathan Lethem, The Fortress of Solitude
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Taken in Brooklyn, New York in the 70s

Have you ever been in the audience at a concert or comedy club or anywhere and the person on stage mentions Brooklyn and there will almost always be someone or more than one person in the audience who screams and shouts (loudly)? People who were born in Brooklyn or live in Brooklyn are filled with pride; some say it borders on obnoxious behaviors. Actually, people who come from Brooklyn believe they have supernatural powers.

I would know, because I was born and raised in Brooklyn and I too have supernatural powers. My boyish charm and charisma are proof of my powers, no? Okay, okay, I digress. But honestly folks, there is something about Brooklyn that makes one believe he or she is really special. How else would you explain Barbra Streisand (click), Jay Z, Woody Allen, Joy Behar, and on and on (click for long list)?

 

The Brooklyn of My Youth

  • Coney Island — I was born in Coney Island. It was of course very different back then. There was Steeplechase Park (click), an amusement park that was probably responsible for putting Coney Island on the map. It closed when I was a little boy; however, I have fond memories of the fun houses and rides. There truly was nothing like it in the world. The Amusement Park that is still operating today took its place and although it is not Steeplechase, it’s a great place to bring the kids. My dad immigrated from Italy and moved to Coney Island as a young man. He was a member of a social club and he knew most of the ride owners. I would go straight from school to the amusement park and ride the Cyclone for hours without having to pay. My mother worked at the snack bar at Coney Island hospital where she gave birth to several of my siblings. For some reason, I was born at a different hospital — probably her doctor; I never asked. My mother’s mother was born in Russia — so you see where all my problems originated.
  • The Streets — the streets of Brooklyn were safe back then. Parents would not have thought twice about allowing their children to play stickball in the streets. I pretty certain this is a practice of the past.
  • Restaurants — Because Brooklyn had over 2.5 million residents from all over the world (see below), 50 years ago you could find really good Italian, Russian, Chinese and other ethnic foods. And then of course there was Nathans hot dogs — I still crave these crunchy dogs today. You can get them in many different places (franchise), but to get truly have the Nathan’s experience you have to go to Coney Island. The fries and the Little Neck clams were also memorable.
  • Confidence versus attitude (arrogance) — many people accuse Brooklynite’s of being over-confident. I would argue that a healthy self-esteem is a good thing. Perhaps there are Brooklynite’s with an attitude, but these kind of people live everywhere. The pride one feels about coming from Brooklyn has a great deal to do with the richness of the culture, the diversity, the many great things that have come out of Brooklyn and Brooklyn’s historical resistance to living in the shadow of Manhattan. Brooklyn has always had its own identity and boatloads of things to be proud of.
  • Welcome Back Kotter (click) — was a very successful television comedy series in the 70s. A photograph of my high school, New Utrecht High School, was shown at the beginning and the end of every episode. I didn’t especially appreciate the notion of Sweat Hogs (a whole class of not-very-bright teenagers), but I did relate to a good deal of the show.
  • The Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Farmer’s Market, Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, the beaches — it took me so long to discover how rich in culture Brooklyn truly is. We took school trips to all of these magnificent places and I took it all for granted. I assume I absorbed some of it, but it was not until I moved to North Carolina that I realized what I had been exposed to as a child.

 

Brooklyn Public Library by DS.JPG

 

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The Brooklyn Public Library

Ground was broken for a Brooklyn central library on Prospect Park Plaza (Grand Army Plaza) in 1912. The design of the original architect Raymond Almirall called for a domed, four-story Beaux Arts building, similar in style to the nearby Brooklyn Museum. Escalating costs and political in-fighting helped slow construction throughout the decade. World War I and the Great Depression ensured that Almirall’s building, whose Flatbush Avenue wing had been completed by 1929, would never be built. In the 1930s, the architects Githens and Keally were commissioned to redesign the building, eliminating all the expensive ornamentation and the entire fourth floor. After much public and critical praise for the comparatively inexpensive Art Deco structure, construction recommenced in 1938. Almirall’s building on Flatbush Avenue was largely demolished except for the frame. (Some of the original facade that faces in toward the library’s parking lot is still visible.) Completed by late 1940, the Central Library opened to the public on February 1, 1941. It is regarded today as one of America’s greatest Art Deco buildings (Wikipedia).

 

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The Brooklyn Museum houses over one million pieces of artwork. I had no idea how important the museum was when I was growing up.

 

Prospect Park

The 585-acre green heart of Brooklyn, is arguably the best park in New York City? Even its famed designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert B.Vaux, considered it their masterpiece (more fun Wikipedia facts). But Central Park in Manhattan casts a very large shadow over Prospect Park; doesn’t matter it was my playground as a child. We lived only a few blocks away and the sleigh riding in winter was awesome.

The Framer’s Market

There is so much about Brooklyn that I can opine about and I would bore you and sound boastful, so I’ll only mention one more magical place:  there are many farmer’s markets in Brooklyn; however, none are quite as vast as the market at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park. From Grow NYC:

“Founded in 1989, Grand Army Plaza is Greenmarket’s flagship Brooklyn market, and the second largest market in the program, behind Union Square. Located at the northwest entrance to beautiful Prospect Park— and just steps from the Brooklyn Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. This community destination brings together a mix of shoppers from the nearby neighborhoods of Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, and beyond. Runners, dog-walkers, families, singles and foodies all converge to buy from the huge array of farm fresh products, and to participate in the programming and cooking demonstrations that take place every Saturday all year-long.”

My apartment was one block away (5 minute walk) from the market in North Park Slope. I would wake up at my usual 5:15 a.m. (except when I went clubbing), have my coffee on my terrace (which faced the park — couldn’t see the park through the trees) and then walk over to my market to buy greens for the week. I never bought bread because I got the most amazing bread free from The French Culinary Institute bread kitchen. Well, it wasn’t really free because I worked my tooshie off for it.

The Landscape (Demographics)

Map of Brooklyn

Population trend[1]
Year Inhabitants
1731 2,150
1756 2,707
1771 3,623
1786 3,966
1790 4,549
1800 5,740
1810 8,303
1820 11,187
1830 20,535
1840 47,613
1850 138,822
1860 279,122
1870 419,921
1880 599,495
Year Inhabitants
1890 838,547
1900 1,166,582
1910 1,634,351
1920 2,018,356
1930 2,560,401
1940 2,698,285
1950 2,738,175
1960 2,627,319
1970 2,602,012
1980 2,230,936
1990 2,300,664
2000 2,465,326
2010 2,504,710
2015 2,636,735

Neighborhoods

Brooklyn, like many other cities, is divided up into many neighborhoods. Each has its own identity and culture. I spent a lot of time exploring before purchasing my very first apartment. I didn’t have very much money at the time, but I begged, borrowed, and sold my life insurance policy for a $9,000 down payment. Park Slope was one of the most beautiful areas I had ever visited and prior to a colleague showing it to me, I had no idea it existed. I was very fortunate to find a tiny one bedroom with a fireplace and terrace just one block from Prospect Park and only a few blocks from the subway. It was a four floor walk-up in a beautiful 1880s brownstone. While I was living there the economy improved and Brooklyn as a brand, took off. I took advantage of the boom and sold my place to upgrade to a two bedroom in a dicey section of Fort Greene I knew would become more desirable; after all, Manhattan’s desirable housing inventory was expensive and not easy to come by. the downtown Brooklyn Fort Greene area was right next to the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges with amazing views of Manhattan and easy access to the city — it seemed like a good move. All of these real estate decisions were fairly impulsive. I keep telling myself that I must have been thinking about the economy and the times, but I can’t recall when that thinking might have taken place.  It was certainly not happening at work or at the clubs. Perhaps I just got lucky.

Brooklyn has been good to me my entire life and I consider it my home. I will return to my roots for the rest of my life and I will never take Brooklyn for granted.

 

Diversity

Without going into specifics about the enormous diversity that has always existed in Brooklyn, let’s just say that living side-by-side with individuals from all over the world teaches a child a great deal about similarities and differences among individuals. I recall racial tension in Brooklyn around the issue of busing kids from one neighborhood to the other. It wasn’t pretty; there were walkouts and boycotts and a lot of angry people, but in due time it was sorted out. After awhile, people learned how to be with one another. I am certain that racism and religious bias continues to exist in Brooklyn; however, I am also certain that there have always been progressive individuals who were and are willing to do the work that needs to be done. As a child, I lived on a street with Italians, Hasidic Jews, Reformed Jews, Chinese, Irish, Greeks, and I’m certain, other nationalities. We held an annual block party where nearly every family put out food and danced in the street; it was honestly an international festival.

I believe that people from all over the world are moving to Brooklyn partly because they know that they will be embraced and provided with opportunities to earn a living and live their dream. I know this sounds “pie in the sky,” but I truly believe my thoughts have merit.

 

Why Brooklyn is Celebrated Everywhere

When I travel and meet new people, the first question is always, “Where are you from?” I was always proud to say, Brooklyn, New York. The reaction I got 20 years ago, even ten years ago, is not the reaction I get today. Today, people say, “Really, I want to go there.” For a Brooklynite, this is music to my ears. Of course you want to go there, it’s like going to Venice, except that there are no canals (that’s not entirely true) and/or stunning architecture (of course some will dispute this as well).

 

Brooklyn Today

I have to be very careful here. If I say anything disparaging about Brooklyn, they’ll come to Portugal to hunt me down. It’s easy to look back at the past and say things like:  things were different back then; it was safer and it was a more innocent time. Every generation perceives their particular generation to be smarter, innocent, and more fortunate.

I left Brooklyn to Move to Manhattan because I took a position at NYU that included housing. When it was time for me to purchase an apartment, I realized I could get more for my money there and it was before it became trendy to own or live there. In Brooklyn I could own a car and park on the street, drive to restaurants, drive into Manhattan or the other boroughs and eat at ethnic restaurants offering world-class cuisine. Again, to be sure, I had no idea what I had when I had it. I will always be grateful for the Brooklyn of my youth.

 

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The Brooklyn Brige. Clearly one of the most magnificent bridges in the world (USA Today photo)

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The block I grew up on in Bensonhurst. I am in the back on the left; always photo shy. My friend Joey is the one holding the bat. He was the alpha male of 66th Street  ca. 1967