If it Were My Last 24 Hours on Earth

“No one here gets out alive.”

— Jim Morrison

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not to worry, not checking out anytime soon, just reminding myself how fragile life can be. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone; therefore, I think it’s best for me to respond in the abstract and not name names.

What if you knew that you were going to die and you had 24 hours or less left to live? Would you want to be surrounded by those you love? Would you run away and hide from everyone? Would you tell people you cared about? Would you share things you have been holding back? Would you look back at memories? Would you end your life sooner in order to control the situation?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when considering just how finite life is.  And by the way, the questions come up occasionally, not every day. There are statistics that guide us when we consider our lifespan. There are formulas based on how long your parents lived. Then there are calculations based on lifestyle. Genetics sometimes come into play. However, an accident may make all of those theories insignificant and irrelevant.

I had a pretty bad accident a couple of years ago that made me question life, death and how I feel about both. Up until the accident, I was fairly certain that I would grow old and cranky. If I’m going to be honest, I have to say I’m well on my way.

I attended a dinner party a few days ago and raised my blog topic for this week. It’s interesting to hear what people have to say in a relaxed social setting. I don’t usually share my own thoughts until after I’ve heard from others. As with any difficult subject, some people prefer to avoid the matter altogether and this time was no different. One of the things I love about people is how very unique we all are. It’s for this reason that I try my best not to judge. Our prospective can be polar opposite based on things like upbringing, religious beliefs, the truth we hold on to, and so forth. I would be untruthful if I didn’t admit to feeling strongly about my own beliefs; the power of personal conviction is essential for many reasons. Keeping that in mind, I don’t claim to be right, but I do think that what I am espousing is true for me; sometimes, that’s all that truly matters.

I posed the question to a small group of people sitting at the table after lunch:

If you knew you had 24 hours or less to live, what would you do? 

The answers I got were interesting and understandable:

“I wouldn’t change anything; I’d want it to be a normal day.”

“I wouldn’t tell anyone because all they would do is cry and pity me.”

“I would be with a very small group of people I love very much.”

“I wouldn’t do very much because I would want time to slow down. When you do a lot of things, time speeds up.”

“I might consider ending my life sooner — when I decided it should end.”

“I would have a couple of conversations I have been avoiding.”

“Why, do you know something I don’t know?”

The thing is, do we truly know how we would behave until we are actually in a particular life altering situation? I could easily say I wouldn’t tell anyone that I was going to die, but in truth, if I knew it was the end and I became extremely emotional or scared, I might need to tell or want to tell someone.

What follows are some thoughts on why we live our lives as if there is no expiration date:

I love this poignant comic included in Brian Lee’s piece on living life as if we’re never going to die at Lifehack. Check out www.zenpencils.com.DALAI-LAMA-answers-a-question

We are complex creatures with hopes, fears, frailties and misgivings. Our highly developed brains allow us to tuck away thoughts and focus on things that make us feel good; I should note that some of us are better at this than others. We often behave as if our daily actions do not have consequences for the future. Vices and health related toxins are often imbibed or eaten without concern for longevity. It’s a curious human occurrence considering that most of us would like to grow old. So what drives us to recklessness? It’s as if there is a little switch in our brains that we choose to turn off when desire overpowers restraint.

It is no accident that the precise timing of our death is unknown. Imagine the chaos and emotional instability that would ensue. I think that animals have a better sense of death and what it means than we do and, therefore, have better dying coping skills. I’ve been with several dogs at the end of their lives and the sense of peace and acceptance I felt from these animals was both life affirming and beautiful. We live and we die and that is the true miracle of life.

As I consider complicated mechanisms for denial and delusion, it once again brings me to how I might deal with knowing when my own demise is just around the corner. Here are some thoughts that come to mind (not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. There is no doubt in my mind that I would want to truly enjoy the wonders of the earth. The sunrise and sunset continue to amaze me and I take both in as often as possible. The smell of flowers and the feel of earth between my fingers, gives me great pleasure. I can only imagine that knowing these wonders would no longer be accessible would heighten my desire to experience them.
  2. The people in my life who have shown me love and devotion would be on my mind at the end; I would hope that these cherished few would be nearby. I would want to let them know how much I love and appreciate them. I still do not know that I would share the inevitability of my passing. We all know that we should be showing our love and appreciation often, not waiting until we are sick or dying.
  3. I have loved food since I could smell my dad’s pizza in the oven when I was a wee toddler. My relationship with good food has never waivered and I hope I remain true to my passion until the day I die. I have been reading research about taste buds and how our sense of taste diminishes with age. I refuse to believe that this applies to me. My father and aunts and uncles on my father’s side, all enjoyed savory dishes well into their 80s. If I knew that my death was near, I would want to devour my favorite foods:  shellfish, pasta and cake and a nice red of course. I know that knowing it was almost over would probably have an effect on my appetite; however, knowing how I sometimes eat and drink to feel better, I imagine I’d be hungry and thirsty. A very expensive armagnac would be a must have.
  4. Being present and cherishing every moment of what life I have left, would likely be my mode of thinking and feeling. I have never feared death, therefore, I’m fairly certain i would be at peace with it.
  5. I would want to be comfortable; the right temperature, the right place, and the right people around me.
  6. I would probably want to be on a good dose of xanax.

I have had many people in my life pass:  my grandparents (three before I was even born), my parents, several siblings, close friends, teachers, co-workers and acquaintances. My mother’s brother died of a massive heart attack in his 50’s; how could I not consider the possibility of dying at anytime? Personally, I don’t find this morbid or sad.

Long ago I decided that if I had a fatal illness, I would travel (if I could) to a place where you could choose to die with dignity. If this were to happen, I would have an opportunity to decide how I would spend my final hours; all of this provides great comfort. I am not obsessed with dying, I am focused on living and making sure my quality of life is the best it can be.

The purpose of this blog is twofold. First, it is my hope that it will get you thinking about how you live your daily life; what are your priorities and do you consider and cherish the people and things that bring you the greatest happiness. Second, it is my belief that we as individuals have the power to change the course and direction of our lives. I felt stuck, misguided and unhappy in Maine. It wasn’t so much the place or the people, but an environment that was too comfortable and unchallenging. I moved to Europe in order to reboot, recharge, and start afresh. It’s not right for everyone, but it has taught me more about myself than I anticipated. Self-discovery and change can be as exciting as a new relationship; driving gleefully into the future with renewed hopes and dreams. Fear is what usually holds us back. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of death. Put all of your fears aside and go for it. The unknown can be a wonderful and rewarding future. Focus on the image of a door opening to a paradise you never imagined existed; more often than not, we have the ability to manifest our dreams. I choose to manifest those dreams while I am still alive.

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Vanity at Any Age

Before I even type the first word I realize that if I’m going to write about vanity, I’ll have to reveal thoughts I usually reserve for my journal and trusted friends. I will try my best not to rant or overshare.

“The surest cure for vanity is loneliness.” Tom Wolfe

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I’m about 20 pounds overweight and I hate it. What I hate even more, is that I care about it so much. I go back and forth between loving food and wanting to be slender. My weight is about the only thing about my body that I can control and I, like so many others, have very little control. My face is my face and I can’t/won’t change it. I do the best that I can with skincare — meaning that I keep my pores clean and I moisturize. This part all makes sense to me for a number of reasons. First, the minute I let myself go, that’s when it all goes south; drinking too much, spending too much, watching too much television; it’s a slippery slope. It all goes back to moderation; doing most things to excess, is not positive or healthy.

For me, vanity means giving too much thought to physical appearance. I want to care, but I’d like for it to be a healthy amount of caring. For example, I don’t want to be fat, but if I want a slice of cake, I’d like to eat it without feeling guilty about it. A good part of this is looking good for dating. I know how much emphasis I put on potential partners taking care of themselves and I know that others will judge me the same way. Unfortunately, this is how we’re wired.

What I Have Done to Look Good/Better

  • Denying myself — At various times in the recent past, I have denied myself something I really wanted (e.g., dining out, another piece of cake, buying ice cream at the supermarket). I do it all day, everyday. Monitoring your own behavior and actions is not a bad thing; what is bad, however, is when you impose your own restrictions on others and when you deny yourself happiness.
  • Plastic surgery — I had a nasty scar on my face (under my mouth) that I had cleaned up. I don’t compare this to plastic surgery to rid oneself of sagging eyelids or an extra chin — not judging here, I just haven’t done it and I do not intend to.
  • Laser work — I have had small oily glands zapped on my face over the past thirty or so years. This is a genetic issue I’ve always hated. I’m usually left with a tiny scar and if I cannot see it, I assume others cannot either.
  • Facials — I’ve been getting facials since I was 20 years old. I do them myself now. I once purchased placenta to smear all over my face for deep cleansing (I still have some); it wasn’t cheap. Every once in awhile, an extravagant present to yourself can be a healthy thing.
  • Improving my daily routine — I wish I’d known about toner was I was a teenager. I use face toner everyday and it does close your pores. It also makes your face feel cleaner.
  • Go to the gym five or six times a week — I’ve been going to a gym since graduate school. As an undergrad in North Carolina I mostly ran around the track to keep my weight down, and at that point in my life I was shy about my body. This was when I started running; can’t do that anymore because of a bad knee. When I could no longer run marathons, I lamented running for two years. Running was my emotional therapy and I still miss it a great deal. Yes there are other physical activities that can take the place of running, but a runner’s high is like no other.
  • Had some work done on my front teeth — I was born with a minor birth defect:  my two upper front incisors never grew out. I had caps made to fill in the gaps. Until I could afford to have this done, I could not smile with my teeth showing. I also had surgery at 21 to push back my lower jaw. I had a horrible underbite (lower jaw stuck out further than my upper jaw — I believe Michelle Obama has the same affliction). I saved up to have it corrected. I blame it all on my mother’s smoking while she was pregnant to me. I know that most of what I am describing was cosmetic, but imagine at age 20 looking in the mirror and seeing all of these flaws. I couldn’t do anything about losing my hair, however, I could fix my teeth and improve my skin. I’ve become much more relaxed about my face. At this point in my life, the best I can do is take good care of what I have.
  • Removed a large mirror from my bathroom — I had a floor-to-ceiling mirror that I hated. It took 16 months to have it removed because I couldn’t justify the expense. In its place is a beautiful piece of marble and I love it. Do whatever you have to do to feel better about yourself.

What have you done?

 

What I Tell Myself

Like most people, I have these little conversations with myself that sound something like this:  You need to eat less because if you gain too much weight you’re going to have problems with diabetes or other health related issues. Also, your clothes won’t fit. Okay, go ahead and have that piece of cake, but no other desserts today. Don’t look in the mirror, it will make you feel bad about yourself. You look pretty good for a 60 year old man. It doesn’t really matter because at this age nobody wants to be with you anyway.

People will read my thoughts and say, “Nonsense, you’re an attractive guy and you have a lot to offer.” That’s all well and good, but the truth of the matter is, we feel what we feel and the human condition is unique for each of us.

I keep telling myself it’s all about balance and moderation — the yin and the yang, the highs and the lows, the peaks and the valleys, and the do and the don’ts. Sometimes I feel that I have grown tremendously and at other times I feel that I’ve regressed.

Some of the other things I say to myself — you may or may not relate to this:

  • You’re fat
  • You’re unattractive
  • Nobody wants to be with you
  • You have a double chin
  • Your back looks terrible
  • There is more, but I can’t bring myself to type it

All of these awful thoughts undermine good mental health. If anyone else said any of these things to me, I’d be furious with them, but I take it to heart when it comes from my own thoughts; the dark side of vanity. There is hope for me yet; there are times when I actually feel good about myself.

 

We’re Not Alone

Societal pressure — We feel pressure from all around us; however, pressure from society as a whole is difficult to combat. The pressure to be young, look young, and think like the young, is strong. Many of my friends laugh at me for going to bed at 9:30 p.m. “You act like an old man.” Good night is my reply.

The Media — People in magazines and on television look so freakin’ good. It’s difficult not to compare yourself, but obviously, it’s better if I don’t. A few years ago I started to see bald men modeling. I was pleasantly surprised by this since “fat and bald” are two descriptors that usually go together. I’m hopeful that the media is giving thought to doing the right thing.

How we’re raised — My mother had a horrible obsession with weight. My sisters all had some form of an eating disorder and I think her sons had unhealthy issues with weight as well. Imprinting is difficult to overcome.

Culture — Some pressure to look good is probably a good thing — sort of a way to keep ourselves in check. Unfortunately, some cultures take it too far. I’m not talking about plastic surgery. Although I wouldn’t spend money on major work to my own face or body, I do not judge people who do. What I am referring to is professions where the way you look determines whether or not you are promoted or able to keep your job. The damage this can do to an individual is impossible to measure and sad to think about.

 

How I Can Help Others

Disclaimer:  I cannot and do not speak for everyone. When I share my thoughts, I never claim to be an expert. I write about men as a man; I write about women as the brother of five sisters, as a son and as a friend of many women; I write about gay men as a gay man; and I write about the human condition as a human being. What I write about is also based on what I have read. All of it is either firsthand experience or conjecture; please do not read more into it.

Gay men — It is difficult not to generalize a bit:  gay men are a lot like women when it comes to body image. Could be a feminine thing for some; could be who we identify with? Part of it is the gay culture in the States; gay men tend to want to be with younger men — youth is revered. There are only so many younger men who want to be with older men, so this is an obvious supply and demand problem. You have a good many older gay men trying to look younger and they’ll do whatever it takes to be “young.”  This part of the gay culture worries me. People sometimes take these things to the extreme and the results can be pretty scary. One of the many reasons I love RuPaul, is that he does not take himself too seriously. Vanity is not a bad thing in and of itself; however, issues arise when one’s thoughts concerning body image are imposed on others.

Older men — There are a good many men out there, gay and straight, who struggle with body image issues and the challenges of being seen. We get older and become invisible. Invisibility is tough on the psyche. Self-worth does just disappear when you hit 50; we need to feel good about ourselves until we no longer can feel anything.

Women — Women (from what I have been lead to believe) are expected to do whatever it takes to look good. Look good to whom? To their husbands, their bosses, their fellow passengers on the train, to the person in the mirror? I have seen that kind of fierce pressure make a person do horrible things; hurtful things to one’s body and damage that is irreversible. I know that this is a problem that has existed for centuries, but I still have hope that woman will take control of their own lives and do what is best for themselves. I admire woman who are strong and determined, despite the men in their lives who believe that they are second class citizens. Sure there has been progress in progressive societies, but as long as one culture on earth minimizes the equality of women, all women are adversely affected. The same is true of humankind in general.

 

 

Goals

Weight — A constant struggle because I love food; sometimes rich food, sometimes sweets, and pasta. I’d like to lose a few pounds. I don’t believe my current weight poses a health risk; however, losing some weight would satisfy the vanity box.  I haven’t been able to check that box for 20 years.

Diet  — Always trying to eat more fruit. Otherwise I eat fish, lean meat, vegetables, whole grains, maybe two beers a week, a glass and a half of wine in the evening, and too much hard alcohol. I currently average about six cocktails a week and I’d like to cut back to three.

Sleep — When I sleep well, I look better and when I look better, I feel better. There are things that I do that make for a poor night’s sleep (e.g., alcohol, staying up late, worry). My memory is short when it comes to vices.

Disposition — When I’m upset about something or worrying, I look awful. I’m often upset about the smallest, stupidest, silliest things. I want to have a sunnier disposition.

Open mind — An open mind and an open heart, is so important for how you look and feel. I want to be less judgmental.

Writing — Writing about superficial matters (i.e., being bald), helps me keep my life in perspective. I need to keep writing.

Be Present — I’ve written about this several times. Let me just say that when I practice mindfulness, I am a much happier person.

 

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I had this tattoo done this week. I associate tattoos with youthfulness, so I guess it’s making me feel younger. I now have two tattoos and I intend to stop there.

There is a tiny thread hanging off of my sock (see photo above). You have no idea how much that loose thread bothers me. That pretty much sums up my life.

Doing the Right Thing

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I’m not sure when it was that I started feeling the pressure of doing the right thing. I do know two things:

  1. I spend way too much time thinking about this. The right thing for me or for others; I think about both.
  2. When I do the so called “right thing,” I sometimes spend time wondering if the right thing was the best thing.

Breaking down the issue, I think I can safely assume that #1 will never go away. There comes a time when you just have to accept who you are and what you can or cannot change. I live with a lot of guilt:  gay guilt because I was closeted for the first 28 years of my life and I lied to a lot of people; Catholic guilt, having been raised Catholic and forced to spend too much time with authorities from the church; sibling guilt, being in the middle of 10 whole, half and step siblings; and DNA guilt — I am certain that I got the guilt gene, perhaps more than one.

When you put it into words, no wonder you find it overwhelming. Fortunately, I have found a way to tuck most of it away in little boxes that I can set aside and keep closed.

 

Gay Guilt

If you truly believe that people no longer care if you’re gay or straight or transgender or how you define your sexuality, do not read any further or even better, read with an open mind [There are actually people who have said to me, “Things are different now, nobody cares anymore. Right.]:

I count myself as one of the lucky ones because I came out at 28. I know gay men well into their seventies who are still closeted. I cannot imagine that kind of pain. So when I talk about doing the “right thing,” I mean what is right for you, not what others think is right for you.

I continue to feel that people look at me differently because I am gay. I know that I have family members who have very little to do with me because of my sexuality. Anyone who says they don’t care is lying to themselves and others. Yes it makes me stronger and more determined to be my true self, but it can also sometimes make you feel as if you’re living on an island. The messages on television and magazines have changed, however, we continue to live in a heterosexual world and I cannot imagine that changing anytime soon. Navigating that world can be exhausting and troublesome.

What does doing the right thing look like for you straight or closeted folks?

  1. Show some interest, ask questions.
  2. Ask to be a part of someone else’s world. My brother asked me to take him to a gay bar about 10 years ago and I was pleased and excited to show him a part of my life.
  3. Read articles and books on the subject matter.
  4. Be an ally whenever possible, it truly matters. It’s the reason we have come so far.
  5. Just be with someone who needs you, often that’s all they need.

 

Catholic Guilt

If you were raised catholic (I cannot speak for other  religions) there were clear messages about the sins of the world. I went to Catholic Catechism and was basically taught that it wasn’t evil to think about someone of the same sex sexually; however, it was a sin to act on those thoughts — how’s that for a scary and confusing message. Too many mortal sins to worry about when you’re Catholic. A clear way to push someone into swearing off (sorry) one’s religion.

 

Sibling Guilt

I have a number of half brothers and sisters and I have a step brother. I have a good deal of guilt about being a brother and not having a closer relationship with several of my siblings. We tend to want to spend time with people we connect with and we don’t always connect with our siblings. In some cases, it might be their spouses or partners that are problematic. Nobody wants to be put in the middle, therefore, I personally do not confront siblings about their problematic partners. Then there are partners that are more pleasant to be with than your siblings, best to stay away from that one. It’s difficult not to feel alienated and judged when you receive feedback about something said about you by a family member. The right thing for me is usually distance; stay clear of conflict, it’s painful and impossible to mitigate. Is this the right thing to do or is it the smart path? I admit there are times that I choose the easy way out.

 

Baby I was Born This Way

This is not just about sexuality . . . telling someone that you were born this way is often an excuse for explaining away a personality flaw. For example, I have a relative who is a compulsive gambler. He claims that he was born with a gene that makes it impossible for him to stay away from gambling. I can’t argue whether or not there is such a gene, however, I do know that when someone has a gambling problem, there is a way to get help and overcome the addiction. In some cases you have a choice about whether or not you care to address the problem. I am sympathetic about addiction (I have my own), but I also know that if you care about yourself and the people around you, you can seek help. For me, admitting that you need help and getting help can be the definition of doing the right thing.

 

Miscellaneous Guilt

The guilt one feels which cannot be named. This kind of guilt causes self-doubt, anger, pain, loss, poor decision-making, unhappiness, regret, and so on. You have to ask yourself difficult questions about why you feel guilty. Guilt is often an indication of a problem you may be having around a moral dilemma; did I do something wrong? How do I make it right? If you are the kind of person who lives life without guilt, well then, you needn’t concern yourself with it’s symptoms. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people.

 

What is the Right Thing?

The “right thing” is different for each of us. We each have our own moral compass, our own values, and our own personality. Most of us know the difference between right and wrong; that might lead one to believe that doing the right thing would be easy, but we know it’s not always easy. When making big decisions, consequences are usually at play. Dealing with those consequences, is usually a better alternative than doing something that might not be right, which usually comes back to bite you in the ass.

 

A short story:

Many of us can recall a situation at work where the environment became toxic and difficult to endure; this has been a lifelong issue for me. For reasons too complicated to outline here, I tend to link employment with self-esteem; specifically personal failure. Rather than admit the time had come to walk away, I stayed and endured a great deal of emotional instability and pain. In several cases, I stayed for years. What this does to one’s physical and psychological well-being cannot be measured; however, the damage was greater than I care to admit. Had I cleared my conscience and walked away sooner, I might have saved myself from having several surgeries and the work of repairing a lost sense of self.

I am aware that doing that repair work is part of life and growth; however, I also believe that we often do damage that is beyond repair (i.e, divorce, in my case). Another life can be greatly impacted by your deceit.

What I have learned is valuable for me:  think about possible outcomes before making a big decision; think about how it might impact others; think about the worst case scenario; and think about what is right. Some people just go with their gut feelings. That may work sometimes, but I have found that my gut is not always right. I may be so wrapped up in the desired outcome, that I’m not thinking about the process. The way we go about achieving a goal is as important as winning. You might not be happy with yourself if you got to goal by hurting people or being dishonest — we don’t always know the truth about ourselves and we have to face that truth.

“You know you have made the right decision when there is peace in your heart.”

— Unknown

 

 

Thank you Linda Halasa (a good friend) for proofreading this week. I will be reblogging next week due to family visiting Portugal. The following week will coverage of Eindhoven, Netherlands.

Letting Go Can Be Difficult

It’s been a difficult week of reflection. I imagine some might say that every week in one’s life is difficult; however, I would argue that there are times in one’s life when thoughts are more negative, more self-critical, and harder to sort out. Sometimes the yin & the yang seem out of balance and it has more to do with your brain doing a number on you than anything else. Rebooting only works some of the time. Sample thoughts like:  am I enough? What do I want for my future? What role am I playing in somehow making the world better for others? These are all normal thoughts for those who think and have a conscience. For me, at least at this point in my life, what I choose to let go of versus what I hang onto, is taking up more thinking time than usual.

 

 

I know that I write about “letting go” often. At different times in my life, letting go has been my biggest challenge. There are numerous reasons that this particular defense mechanism is important to me. When I have something weighing on my mind, it tends to be all consuming. I find it difficult to focus on other things in my life and it disrupts my sleep and interferes with my desire to be in the moment.

Getting older has been a gift in a way, in that maturity has helped me put many things into perspective. Things such as what is most important in life and why hanging on to things or people we cannot change, is destructive. When you have a fair amount of success “letting go” of a thing, an idea or a person, it helps you to see how freeing the process can be.

At one point in my life I was quite certain that I could never live outside of New York City. I could not imagine leaving the people and experiences I loved most. I forced myself to relocate by telling myself that I could always return to NYC if that’s what I truly wanted. Because most of us can adapt to almost anything, once I was in my new environment, I was able to see the benefits of being in that place. We tell ourselves that we’d miss certain “things” and that’s why we should remain. Then there is that other voice that tells you that if you leave, you are running away from something. In my case the theatre was keeping me in New York. I have always loved Broadway and could not imagine living far away from the Great White Way. In reality, even though I left New York almost seven years ago, I have returned to New York to attend the theatre every year. Now when I get tickets for a play, I am much more thoughtful about what I see and because I’m making a special trip, Broadway has become even more precious to me.

[I could go off here about how Disneyfied Broadway has become; however, I think it’s best that I spare you the rant. It only forces you to be more selective about what you choose to see. Most things can be traced back to the almighty dollar.]

Now that I am living much closer to London, I feel as if I get to enjoy a bit of both theatre meccas. The point is, when you care a great deal about something, it should not prevent you from letting go of something else; one does not preclude the other. There were of course factors tugging at me to remain in New York; I cannot same the same for Maine.

People are more complicated and that presents greater challenges. I met an older woman here in the Algarve who was originally from Ireland. She lives about 30 minutes west of Faro. She’s worldly, smart, loves food, and we got along fairly well. At one point in our friendship I realized that she was putting me down quite a bit. It was subtle, but she would often be condescending or passive aggressive. She a tiny woman, however, she’d raise her voice to speak over me or she’d tell me that something I felt or vocalized, was nonsense. I decided that I did not have to tolerate such behavior just because she’s older. I spent a good deal of time on a letter explaining how I felt. I thought a letter would be more effective because she could read it and consider my words (I know a lot of people prefer in-person conversations, but I believe that particular method is sometimes better as a second step). In the letter, I was careful not to generalize and I was clear and kind. I told her that I cared about our friendship and that I was hoping she would consider changing the way she sometimes treated me. One has to be very careful not to use absolutes in these situations. She responded fairly quickly, however, she did not acknowledge the contents of the letter. She basically told me that she was leaving town and that we would speak when she returned. I accepted her email as a positive sign. I thought this would give her time to consider my words. Obviously, it goes both ways and I was willing to listen and alter my behavior as well.

And then nothing happened.

It’s been eight months and I am not caving. This is the letting go moment when I say to myself is this woman worth my time and consideration? I tried and failed. There are times in your life when you just have to walk away and cut your losses — sound a little harsh? I think it’s a defense mechanism I have developed over time. The former me would get all worked up, make an angry phone call or send an angry email. I would beat myself up for saying anything at all in the first place. Then at some point I decided that if in fact I was going to be true to myself, I would have to come clean and say something. Keep in mind that when you are living in a foreign country, there are a limited number of people who speak your language and truly understand your culture. This sort of empathy is important for social interaction. I do enjoy having people around I can share experiences with.

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Journaling your feelings helps when putting situations and interactions into perspective. It provides the ability to step back and process.

One of the things that I have starting doing is to cultivate good relationships and show gratitude for those that are nurturing and positive. For example:  I have been in the process of getting a tooth implant for a year. There have been complications that are too boring and tedious to discuss here. Through it all, my dentist and her assistant, have been patient and supportive; I am beyond grateful that I found them. I’m a month away from getting the actual tooth, which I know will improve my life — chewing is essential. I have a visit today and I plan to bring flowers to both my dentist and her assistant. I’ve known them long enough now to know that they will not misinterpret this gesture. They will know that I am showing them my gratitude. Letting people know that they have had a positive impact on your life and that you do not take them for granted, is essential for building strong relationships. Replacing hurtful and toxic relationships with rich, fulfilling ones, helps in the letting go process. For some people it’s almost like getting over the loss of a pet, some people go right out and get another. It’s not something I personally can do, however, I do appreciate that for some people it is a way to let go.

By the way, I am not advocating for simply dismissing people in your life. Communicating, giving people a second chance, making sure you did not misinterpret someone’s behavior or words, and being aware of your own behavior, is very important. Letting go should happen when all else fails and the level of toxicity or pain is hard to bare or out of balance.

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

At times the thought of walking away from a relationship is much too difficult to even consider. It might be a parent, a sibling, your boss, a long-term friend; you get the point. In a case like this, you might have to let go slowly. Putting distance between yourself and another can be a good first step. If you normally speak to someone daily, you can try skipping a call here and there. If you go out every Friday night, you can suggest cutting back due to schedule conflicts. This is not dishonest. There is nothing wrong with protecting someone else’s feelings or being kind. Some people have no sense of self and others cannot see what is right in front of them.

 

What Happens When You Walk Away

A friend once told me that when you walk away from someone or something, the shadow (memory) of that person or thing is left behind. This will have a lasting impact. She used a wart as an example:  if you have a wart on your hand for 20 years and you have that wart removed, your memory of that wart will be so strong it will feel as if it’s still there. If you choose to let go of a relationship, you will occasionally think about that person; in this way, you’re not totally letting go, but is it possible to completely erase someone from your mind and would you want to. If you believe as I do, that all of our life experiences and relationships are necessary in order to grow, then embracing that they were a part of your history and therefore, a part of who you are at this moment. It’s better to be grateful that you one, have the ability to learn from a person or thing and move on, and two, that our past leads us to the present.

 

Grieving Loss

Sometimes letting go of a person might be the best recourse; however, be prepared to grieve the loss. Even if the relationship was highly toxic, if it’s been a big part of your life for a long time, you will miss aspects of it:  routine, company, validation; whatever it might have been, you will lament the loss. Allow yourself the time to grieve and know that when it’s over, you will be far better off. Congratulate yourself for taking care of yourself and for enriching your own life.

 

Side Bar:  I have been enjoying a new show on Netflix called Terrace House. It’s a reality show, however, what makes it different is that it takes place in Tokyo and you get a sense of Japanese youth and the culture. I find myself laughing a lot and wanting more. Check it out.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7776244/

 

A Kitchen Accident on Thursday

Thursday evening I decided to have a big salad for dinner. It was a beautiful night and I wanted to eat out on the terrace facing the water. I opened a local red wine I had not tried before and I noticed the bottle seemed heavier than usual. I thought that maybe it was larger than the normal 750 ml and I did not think about it again. I poured a glass and put the bottle in the refrigerator on the side door. During the warmer months I refrigerate red wine so that it will last longer. When I’m drinking it, I take it out about 30 minutes prior to pouring so that it’s just a little cooler than room temperature.

After dinner I decided to have another half glass instead of dessert. I opened the refrigerator to retrieve the bottle and the entire shelf went crashing down. There was wine everywhere; the walls, the cabinet doors, the refrigerator — everywhere. The cabinet doors had just been painted last week and I was concerned that the wine would stain the doors. I acted swiftly and cleaned the cabinets first. Next, when I started picking up the large pieces of glass I discovered that the bottle of wine was not larger, but thicker. This explained why it was so heavy. Two things happened to my new kitchen:  first, the bottle put a chip in the tile floor below the refrigerator and second, the refrigerator shelf cracked in six different places. The cleanup took me over an hour and I was sweating from head to toe. I walked into the living room, sat down and thought about the incident. It started with:  why did I have to put the bottle into the refrigerator? I was fully aware that this was about to become a “let’s beat the shit out of Chris” session. I decided to practice what I preach and to let it go. I showered, read a bit, and went to bed. I slept like a baby. My kitchen is no longer in pristine condition and that’s okay. It’s sort of like the first scratch on a new car; you just have to accept that it happened and move on.

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My new urbano azul cabinet doors; they survived the crash without red wine stains.

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

Co-workers Pushing Your Buttons

I hated several of my co-workers with a passion . . . no doubt they knew it.

 

 

 

Now that I no longer have co-workers, it’s been easier to step back and examine their impact on my life . . . then and now.

Keeping in mind that my thoughts are completely one sided and that time may have altered my perception, I believe that my personal experience with co-workers is fairly universal. I acknowledge that I played a part in the dynamics of these relationships. When money and power are entered into the equation — as they are in the workplace, people behave in certain predictable ways; and some unfortunate, despicable ways.

 

The Leadership

Setting the tone for office politics and co-worker relationships is essential. When you have a leader that plays favorites, gossips, and fraternizes, you’ve got a big problem. It gives everyone else permission to behave badly. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it encourages bad behavior. I have had supervisors who were exemplary leaders and one or two who were poor role models; I preferred the former.

When a leader decides to fire people because he or she doesn’t like their smile, or the color of their socks, or the sound of their voice; this creates fear which in turn pits staff against one another. You have an atmosphere with a whole lot of anger, resentment and anxiety. When this person is the owner of the business, it’s almost impossible to change the environment for the better. When you have a leader who is working for an owner or a manager who is in a mid-management position, you can at least practice some sort of evaluation process which can lead to termination. Individuals who cause chaos in the office or pit people against one another should not be permitted to remain in the organization (even if they’re good at their jobs). Unfortunately, all too often, they are permitted to stay and make everyone miserable. I left my last workplace seven years ago and a couple of these people are still in the same positions; in one case the individual has even been promoted. I think it’s to the detriment of the organization and it validates my decision to resign.

 

Jealousy

Jealousy rears its ugly head way too often in the workplace. It can cause people to do some very hurtful things and be bad for business.

  • outright lie about workplace incidents
  • sabotage a co-worker(s)
  • leak sensitive information
  • force unwelcome policies
  • create secrecy
  • ruin joyful occasions
  • the use of a lot of sick time

 

Rumors

As a manager, I found dealing with the rumor mill to be one of the most difficult issues to tackle. People can be very cruel and unkind. My MO was to try to ignore it as much as possible. The problem is that perception is reality and a lot of people base their perceptions on gossip. When they’re hearing it, they’re not always aware that it’s gossip and they can, in turn, create a lot of problems.

Rumors are spread for many different reasons. Sometimes a lie is told in order to prevent a promotion or to do irreparable damage to a co-worker’s reputation. The bad news is that even intelligent people sometimes get involved in this kind of foul play.

Stopping a rumor in its tracks and speaking truth to a lie, is the way to proceed. If the rumor is true, it should be dealt with appropriately.

 

How to Deal With Rumors in the Workplace

Nine Ways to Get Rid of Workplace Gossip Immediately

 

 

Stupidity

Let’s face it, there is a lot of stupidity going around these days; in truth, since the beginning of time. Not the same as intelligence or a lack of intelligence; stupidity is one’s refusal to acknowledge truth when it’s right in front of their eyes. People make excuses for behaving badly and attempt to take down as many people as possible in the process.

I worked with an African-American individual who cried racism whenever she didn’t get her way. She was a loud, angry, obnoxious person who thought she was entitled; I can’t tell you why she felt this way. She would complain to anyone who listened and she used human resources as her weapon. When you have someone who threatens litigation, it makes for a toxic and fractured work environment. Staff will leave rather than fight for their rights; this unfortunately, fuels the culprits ego and empowers them to continue to push their weight around. You can replace the claim of racism with sexism, ageism, sexual orientation, and other marginalized groups, and find individuals who use the threat of lawsuits and public exposure to get what they want. It’s a real shame because legitimate claims are either ignored or discounted, as managers spend their time dealing with false claims. This work environment is a cyclone of fear and mistrust, and everyone gets caught up in the storm.

Side note:  I think it’s a very bad idea for human resources staff to report to the owner or president of a company. Loyalty and trust will be justifiably questioned by staff.

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Photo by Amol Mande

 

Ways to Rise Above and Thrive in a Bad Work Environment

  • Always have an exit plan. If you have a way out, it makes it easier to put up with a good deal of bullshit.
  • Document everything. If you’re ever wrongfully terminated or accused of false wrong-doing, documentation will come in handy.
  • Use every minute of your vacation time. Being a martyr and working when you should be refueling will only lead to worse conditions. Bad managers do not reward staff for working through their vacations, they take for granted and exploit in any way possible.
  • Take sick time when you need a break.
  • See a therapist. Find someone who will help you keep your sanity.
  • Leave when it’s time to go.

Too often the person who resigns is viewed as someone who is either running away from hardship or escaping termination; it’s an ugly part of our culture. Self-preservation is a very important way to remain healthy and all that really matters is what you think of yourself. As I have said before, “What others think of you is none of your business.” Attributed to RuPaul and others.

We are living in a time when our world leaders are creating chaotic and deplorable work environments and in some cases, living environments. This, unfortunately, empowers people to behave badly and then justify it. It feels like change has to take place before it will improve. Waiting it out seems to be our only option. Never give-up hope.

Your thoughts?

 

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.”