Finding the Right Balance/When Loneliness Strikes/An Act of Kindness — Reblog

man walking on train rail
Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.com

 

Hard to imagine doing anything these days without feeling some guilt. An overwhelming number of articles, television shows, religious authorities, relatives and so on, telling us what’s good for us; who knows what’s best anymore. Truth be known, most of us know what’s good for us. We don’t need a know-it-all “expert” to share their opinion on how to live. Lately, I find myself almost offended by every Tom, Dick or Harry who tries to influence my next thought.

And it’s not just experts weighing-in. Social media are awash with opinionated people who get angry when you challenge their opinion; I’m not making this about politics mind you; I’m talking about every day thoughts, opinions or advice. It’s terrific that people are willing to share their good fortune or experiences, but one needs to accept that not everyone cares or wants to know. As a blogger, I think about this every day. I’m fully aware that a reader can skip over a line, disagree with a thought, or challenge an opinion. In fact, I welcome it. Like anything else, there are appropriate boundaries and we’re all guilty of occasionally crossing them. The art of discourse is a lost art and I for one would like to champion its return.

You have to find a balance between what you listen to, who you listen to, and listening to the voice within.

 

Loneliness

As trite as it sounds, I enjoy my own company. I’ve always secretly been critical of people who claim to be lonely — I just didn’t relate. Truth is, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning feeling very much alone. The difference is that the Atlantic Ocean lies between me and all the people I love. I didn’t imagine this move would be any different than any I have made in the past, but yes, it is far from the same. When you can’t just jump in your car and see someone in a few short hours, that’s a huge difference. The feeling didn’t last long mind you. I thought about a number of friends and family members who will be visiting soon and I felt better. I also thought about how I take those I care about for granted and of course, I now have a better understanding of what it’s like to be alone.

Lots of lessons here and many ways to cope. Revealing these thoughts to you is a first step. When friends and family told me that I was brave to make a move like this, I shrugged it off. I still don’t consider it brave, but now I know what they meant. So the next step is to search for meaning. I have been trying to protect myself from feeling love, empathy and sorrow. If I live in the moment and fully experience these feelings, what will they teach me and am I ready to learn?

Here’s what I know:

  1. Loneliness is temporary.
  2. There is truth and meaning in the exploration of our feelings.
  3. Strangers can help fill a void.
  4. Memories are powerful.
  5. Loss of any kind hurts.
  6. Accepting your truth is to be fully aware of who you are.
  7. You may not always like what you learn, but you have to forgive and embrace.
  8. You have to put yourself out there.
  9. Be prepared for change.
  10. Books can be delicious company.

Prologue:

I wrote this piece a few hours ago and decided that a cloudy, muggy day is a great day for the mercado (market). I walked in and the first face I saw was Myriam’s. I met Myriam my first week in Faro. She was born in Venuzuala, but she has lived in the States and still has family there. In fact, she just returned from visiting her daughter in Miami. Myriam lives about 30 miles away in Tavira and she has not been in Portugal very long. She manages a Brazilian owned coffee shop in the Mercado — great coffee by the way. Her warmth and smile were what I needed today, but what she shared with me, I needed even more:

Myriam asked me how I am adjusting to life here in Portugal and I told her what I was feeling this morning. She said, “I want you to read what I posted on Facebook this morning.” Reception is bad at the mercado and we both just about gave up on logging onto to Facebook and then this appeared on her home page:

La soledad espeligrosa y muy adictiva. Una vez que te das cuenta de cuánta paz hay en ella, no querrás lidiar con las personas.

– – Paulo Coelho (click for wikipedia biography)

 

Translation:

Lonliness is very addictive. Once you realize how much peace there is in it, you will not want to deal with people.

Me:  Enough said.

 

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Friday on the beach with a good book and the sound of the ocean.

 

When you’re looking for reasons to be grateful and there it is, staring you right in the face:

As is to be expected . . . I’ve been second guessing my move to Portugal. I don’t mean that I lie awake at night regretting my move or wondering, “What did I do?” What I mean is that this is still very new (10 weeks) and I sometimes ponder if this huge change was the right thing to do. I think it’s perfectly natural to wonder and then this happened:

I bought a piece of artwork that needs framing and I asked a friend here if he knew of a frame shop. Funny thing here in the Algarve, when you type “frame shop nearby” into Google, it only lists a select few options. I’m not sure I understand why, but perhaps that will be another blog. Of course Pedro knew of a place, Pedro always knows. He didn’t know the name of the shop, but he pulled out a map and pointed to where it was. The smart thing to do would have been to take a picture of the map; however, I am not a Millennial (not by a long stretch) and so I often forget that I have that option — there is a probably an app that will link the map location with the type of shop and tell you the name of the shop, but alas, I wouldn’t know how to find that app.

I did, however, set out to find the frame shop. I got the general vicinity right (I could feel it) but after 15 minutes of going back and forth on the same three streets I finally gave up and went into a hair salon to ask for directions. The owner knew instantly that I was not a customer (stop laughing, it’s not that funny). I asked her if she spoke English and like most Portuguese people, she responded, “A little.” I joke about this because most people hear will respond that way and then speak beautiful English. I’m not yet at a place in my studies where I can even attempt to have a conversation in Portuguese. I asked her if she knew where the frame shop was and she seemed disappointed. Then she shouted to someone in the back room of the shop. A young woman stepped out and asked me what I was looking for. I told her and she said, “Come with me.” At this point I thought we’d step outside and she would point toward the shop. That is not what happened, instead, she crossed the street (I followed close behind sort of amazed) and then she crossed a second street (I was baffled), then she turned left and then right and there we stood in front of the frame shop.

As I said, earlier, I have been daydreaming about life back in the States; however, today I realized that I am home. I’m not sure I could be living in a friendlier, more welcoming place. A small act of kindness was all I needed for a lot of reassurance.

As my friend John always tells me, “Palms up to the universe.”

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

A Note to Today’s Youth

To those out on their own paths, setting little fires.

— Celeste Ng

 

 

 

I have to state right up front, I am not bitter nor angry. I like young people — don’t judge, I mean in a healthy way. Lots of 60 year olds are jaded and set in their ways, so conversing with a hopeful, energetic young person can be refreshing. I’m fortunate to have many great-nieces and nephews who are willing to talk; conversation being such a rare occurrence these days. [Note:  One has to be cautious because that the media has painted an ugly portrait of gay men who spend time with boys; I am sadly acutely aware of this perception. I am also aware that the same taboos exist for straight men and girls. In our society, perception is everything.I proceed cautiously.]

The good thing about how I prepare these blogs is the spacing between thoughts. As I think about this entry, I realize that I know nothing about what is on and in the minds of our young people today; therefore, I am making a lot of assumptions and I hope to be forgiven for it. I’m also aware that much of how we behave is developmental and in reality, some of us develop more quickly. But the nature versus nurture factor has a large baring on how the young mature and therefore, it is the nurture part I will address.

 

My Observations, Some Speculation and a Lot of Darts in the Air

Lately, rather than sit in rage and stew about global matters, I have been directing my attention to our youth. I live just feet away from a high school in Faro, Portugal. Some of what I observe on a daily basis is disturbing and confounding. I cannot imagine how any young person today could smoke that first or 100th cigarette. Even if parents and teachers are not educating children about the dangers of smoking, there are an abundance of warnings put out there by media and the government. Still, during their class breaks, I see hundreds of young people outside smoking cigarettes and marijuana. I’m concerned about their health and the economic future of our planet. Smoking is the number one cause of our escalating healthcare throughout the developed world. The role models these kids look up to in Europe, are unfortunately,  not very heathy; the amount of adult smoking is astounding. To those young adults smart enough not to smoke, I say, good for you for taking care of yourself.

I’m starting with the negatives, however, there will later, be a good deal of positive observations to share.

  • I have to be careful not to make sweeping generalizations here:  I know there are young people who are employed; however, I also know that one of the reasons it has become very difficult to fill physical labor and entry level positions, is that young people are not entering the work force until after much later in life. In the past, parents had their children work while in high school and college in order to teach them the value of money, independence, and self-discipline. Parents today are afraid to take the focus away from studying and extra-curricular activities. I believe it’s important to make a little money and learn how to manage one’s time. I strongly recommend that young people have a part-time job as early on as possible.
  • Our youth are obviously frustrated with politics. Considering old white guys have, for the most part, been running the show for a long time, who’s to blame them. Being frustrated is no excuse for inaction. Change will never take place unless our young people start to question our political leaders and en masse, take them to task. I see some of this, however, not nearly enough.
  • Social media came on pretty quickly and I know it’s done more good than damage; however, what I have seen is a change in the way people are communicating. Since I am focusing on the youth, my biggest concern is the amount of time young people are spending locked-up in their bedrooms face timing, texting, and surfing the web. Face-to-face, human-to-human interaction has to be better than cyber communication.
  •  I’m going to blame the parents for problems we are having with young people; there is no one else to blame. From where I’m sitting, it seems to be an issue around respect. Now of course this is not true of all parents, but in general, parents seem to have lost control over their kids. I’m not a parent and I don’t have the answers; however, what I’ve noticed over the last 30 years or so, there is too much freedom given to children. Kids want discipline in their lives; it’s a way of saying I love and care about you.
  • Those who teach young people have a huge role to play in how they behave, their self-esteem, and the life choices they make. It’s not fair to put it all on the teachers. They now have the added fear and responsibility of dealing with guns in schools and I’m not sure any of us can imagine what that must be like. In reality, this too is an opportunity to shape the minds of our young people (example of students rising up and demanding change). It’s easy excuse to complain about student apathy, paperwork and low salaries. Teachers need to remember why they decided to teach and they need to begin to work together more to bring about change. Again, we are at a place where frustration and anger are getting in the way of process. Clearly, those emotions are being projected on to the children. I imagine my words will anger many teachers. I was a college instructor for day years and I know from experience that when you show interest and make connections, it makes a difference. It means more time, energy and dedication, but even if you make a difference in one life, you have done a service to that individual and society.

“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
― Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider“

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward

 

What Makes Me Hopeful

So much is happening all of the world that makes me feel hopeful about our future. Young people protesting gun violence in schools, young people marching against climate change, young people turning out to vote, and young people inspiring adults. It’s not all doom and gloom — I just want to see more of it.

I was more involved as an activist as a young person. I has energy, ambition and drive; then I became jaded and judgmental. We all go through different stages of our lives; we all look back and have regrets; and we all have opinions. In my opinion, the youth of today is smarter and more mature than we were 30, 40, 50 years ago. Social media has made it easier to spread the word and light a spark, the likes of which we have never witnessed in the past. We are experiencing such polarization and global awareness and I believe our young people have taken notice and are finally coming to terms with their power, obligation and their ability to make change with a sense of urgency and real impact.

 

A quick Message to Our Youth

  • Take to the streets, Have you seen what is happening in Hong Kong and extradition to mainland China. I am inspired by this uprising and I am certain that this very large group of protestors are making a difference. Venezuelans, Europeans, Argentinians, and citizens throughout the world are coming out in massive numbers to show their opposition and initiate change. Empowerment is powerful.
  • Use social media to make your message clear and you thoughts/feelings known. Spend less time on selfies and superficial matters and more time on social change and shaping the future.
  • Stop smoking and start taking better care of the vessel you have been given to live a meaningful life. Your future will be better for having done the work now.
  • Live in the moment and savor every second you have to enjoy nature, human imperfection and one another. Our capacity for depth and meaning knows no bounds.
  • Guide adult behavior and action. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and it’s never too late to learn. Adults are often at a loss about how to treat you, what to say to you, and learning more about who you are. Share what is in your heart and on your mind; the revelation will astound them and you will benefit from their response.
  • When you get older you will realize that the gift of youth is energy, passion, fearlessness and the ability to make mistakes — you have some time to correct those mistakes and learn from them. Embrace all of those things while your young and you will be a better person for having done it. You will inspire your peers and set an example for the rest of us; God knows we need inspiration.
  • Be yourself and resist the urge to conform.
  • If you feel different inside, allow that difference to shine through in self-expression. People will embrace you for your authenticity and courage . Those who cannot because their minds are small or their own experience is limited, should not be regarded; focus on yourself. What others think of you is none of your business. Worry more about what you think of yourself. Once you have learned to love yourself, all the other love in the world will come your way — you will be a magnet for positivity and healthy love.
  • Talk to one another face-to-face and share your feelings. We all have insecurities, self-doubt and pain. Sharing it makes it so much easier for coping. You will find that being human means we share similar thoughts and feelings and that are dissimilarities are beautiful.
  • Physical love and affection is another one of our many gifts; however, impulses and hasty decisions often lead to pain and regret. Caution is good and learning to say no is empowering. Be your own person and don’t let others tell you how or should feel or what action you should take. Being your own person means making your own decisions, learning from failure (don’t be afraid to fail), and starting again; sometimes it takes several tries before you get it right — this is how we learn.
  • Don’t be afraid to debate adults; however, diplomacy and empathy go a long way. Human beings are fragile, resilient, and long for acceptance. The amount of time it takes to process varies for each of us; give adults time to absorb your words — your patience and understanding will be greatly rewarded.
  • Embrace your youth with joy and zeal. There is a reason we are given the gift of growth. Be young with enthusiasm and grab life by the balls. The amount of power and strength you have is limitless and setting your sights on achieving all you desire will make the journey fruitful and meaningful. There is a reason adults often wish they could return to their youth. Know that this is your chance to shine and change, for good, the future of the world.
  • Dance as much as you can and continue to do so for the rest of your life.
  • Tell those around you that you love, why you love them and then show them that you love them.
  • Give back to the children who will determine the quality of your future. Paying it forward is gratifying and mutually beneficial. We own nothing; it is only ours to temporarily borrow. It is our responsibility to return it in better shape. The gift of life is the greatest gift we were given. The gifts of nature, the planet, the animal kingdom, time, the universe, food, and love, are all lesser gifts not to be taken for granted or abused.

I learned a great deal about my own misgivings and perspective writing this blog. In truth, I am enough and so are you.

 

 

 

A few days in Tavira was restorative (40 easy minutes from home). I did not take a lot of photos, I resisted spending too much time on twitter, and I laid off the keyboard. What I can tell you is that I have discovered a place close to home to clear my mind and cleanse. It beautiful, quaint, excellent food, and a great value.

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Tavira, Portugal at dusk

 

From Troubled Boy to Troubled Man

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Me when I was two years old (I know, I was adorable). That’s my baby sister Debbie on the right.

I am not writing this blog so that you will feel sorry for me. In fact, I am only able to write about this chapter of my life as a result of having learned lessons and having done the hard work of self-reflection; by all accounts an on-going process. One big lesson:  do not dwell on who is to blame for your misfortunes. It’s all about looking toward the future. I am happy, looking forward to new adventures, and a hot mess — yes, it’s possible to be all these things at the same time. My hope is that I might help those who feel psychotic, lonely and lost. There is of course the added bonus of empathy from those who know me well or are just getting to know me.

 

Looking Back

Do people tell you not to worry? “Oh you’re fine; you’ll be alright” I think I may hate that more than people telling me I’m too sensitive. We all know people say stupid things all the time and I’ve learned that, for the most part, they mean well. Self-reflection may be more productive then listening to the advice of people who do not know you. Reflecting on what I was like as a child has always helped me to appreciate where I am today.

As I boy witnessing chaos all around me, I was always certain that it was all happening because of something I had done. I’d like to say that I grew out of that way of thinking. I would like to tell you that my mother sat me down and told me that none of it was my fault or that an elementary school teacher gained some insight into my family life and whispered that I was not to blame. I’m afraid that didn’t happen. Deep down I knew that I was a horrible little boy whose sins were the cause of all the terrible things happening around me. Some kids believe this and they cut themselves; some kids start taking drugs when they are nine years old or drink booze till they’re inebriated at eleven. Some kids take their own lives. I retreated to dark places and hid my shame. I bargained with God so that it would stop.

God, if you make my mom love me, I’ll be good for the rest of my life.  If you’ll just make the noise stop, I’ll clean the whole house tomorrow. God, if you make me stop thinking about men, I’ll go to church. Growing up Catholic was confusing; I found myself wanting to repent.

The chaos continued and I continued to find reasons to blame myself and hate myself even more than I already did. This self-loathing went on throughout my childhood. I’ve shared an incident in a previous blog that I frequently recall just to remind myself how much better life is today. On my 10th birthday, before blowing out my candles, my wish was to die before my next birthday. I was too afraid to kill myself, but if I wished hard enough, I was certain I would die. I thought about death a lot when I was a child. In my mind, it was the only way out. I firmly believe that children should not be dwelling on death.

For the longest time I thought it had something to do with my sexuality; or at least that’s what I told my therapist. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a need that was not being met. As a child, I needed to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved. I’m certain most children feel this way. What was different for me, and I’m sure others, was that since not all of my basic needs were being met, I carried that longing into adulthood and continued to search for belonging, acceptance and love. Often, I looked in the wrong places. There were times when I was so desperate for it, I put myself in a compromising position to have it. What followed was self-loathing and a lot of pain.

Escape came easy during the day; it was at night that the demons were harder to run away from. Looking back, I guess I had pretty good coping skills. I would always tell myself that if I did well in school, my life would improve and it did, by leaps and bounds. I also took myself out of that very negative environment as early on as I could. Being on my own at 16 years old wasn’t easy, but I was free and able to make my own decisions; good, bad or otherwise.

 

The Journey

Getting from point disaster to a better place isn’t easy and there is no formula for making it happen. It’s a combination of exercise (physical and mental), goals (long term and short term), meditation, therapy, gratitude, keeping your eyes on the prize, moderation in all things, forgiveness, listening, letting go, being true to yourself, loving yourself, and looking forward — not an exhaustive list. I’d throw a bit of luck in there too.

You put all that down on a list and it’s daunting to say the least. I also try to congratulate myself when I complete a goal and I start projects by taking baby step. If you try to do anything too quickly, you will either do a half-assed job or you will fail. Take it slowly, do the best you can and pay no attention to those who tell you it’s not possible.

 

Looking Forward

You can’t hear me, but I am sighing. I am constantly sighing. The various meanings are below, however, for me, it has been about relief. I am relieved that I no longer (for the most part) feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I intend to be easier on myself, to accept who I am, to be more forgiving of others, to be more grateful, to spend more time resting, to see more of the world and do it with intention, to care less about the things that do not concern me, and to smile/laugh more.

 

sigh

/sʌɪ/

verb
gerund or present participle: sighing
  1. emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar.
    “Harry sank into a chair and sighed with relief”
    synonyms: breathe out, exhaleMore

 

Troubled Boy to Troubled Man to Loving Myself

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Stepping out on a Friday night. I have to remind myself to look in the mirror and smile; keeping in mind that if you are the best version of yourself you can possibly be, well then, you’re okay. Not quite as adorable as the first photo when I was two years old, but none the worse for the wear.

Publishing when I finish a thought rather than waiting until Sunday. I hope that’s okay with my readers. Happy Gay Pride everyone; we’ve come a long way and have an even longer way to go.

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:

Accepting What You See in the Mirror

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”― Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor seemed to have it together. My goal is to think the way Eleanor thought. Well, we know that’s not happening. I took these selfies recently and let me tell you, I’m not a selfie taker (I read that all selfie takers say that). I’m not sure why I took them or where I took them, but they do pretty much sum up how I feel about getting older.

 

 

Getting older is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think:  it’s not fair that my father was handsome his entire life (he was 87 when he died) or see that wattle under your chin, you deserve it for teasing your mom about hers. I want to love every line on my face and embrace my sagging eyelids and I want to believe that there is a reason there is more hair in my ears than on the top of my head; although I might have to let that one go.

I was coerced and cajoled into going to a Carnival party last night. You know the feeling:  I’m too old, I’ll be invisible. I don’t want to dance, the food will suck, and so on. I pushed myself so that I could prove to myself and my new Portuguese friends, that I could party with the best of them. I decided to wear whiteout make-up in hopes that it would cover my lines, I sported a new t-shirt, newly refurbished black boots and some borrowed red lipstick. I made an effort and it worked. I had a great time and although I wished the party had started a bit earlier, I stuck it out for a few hours and I went to sleep smiling; facial lines intact.

 

 

I know all of this is normal growing older stuff and I know that at some point I will probably embrace it, but that doesn’t mean I should stop trying to be better at it now. In the meantime, I need to continue to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

 

Some Things One Can Do to Embrace the Aging Process:

  1. Take care of your skin — Twenty years ago, I paid quite a lot of money for a facial in New York City just to learn how to take better care of my skin. The biggest lesson I learned was about toner. It’s really important to close your pores after you’ve washed your face or shaved. If you do not close your pores or use toner to close your pores, anything you put on your skin will go right into your pores and clog them up. That’s when you end up with blackheads and pimples; yes I still get pimples — moisturizer is also important for preventing wrinkles; dry skin is more likely to wrinkle. Some men are way too macho to care about this stuff, but for those who do, it is possible to have good skin your entire life.
  2. Take care of your body — We all know that unless you eat right and exercise, your body will give you all sorts of problems. Thirty minutes of exercise a few days a week will go a long way for good health. Eating fresh food and taking vitamin supplements are also essential. I do it all in moderation (or I won’t do it). Genetics plays into aging; however, how well you take care of your body is a huge factor in how well you age.
  3. Stay sharp — Mind, body and spirit are usually the three aspects of your life that experts point to when discussing good health. Keeping your mind sharp means that you have to exercise your brain. Sitting in front of your television can be relaxing and benefit your mental wellbeing, but doing things that stimulate your mind are key to staying mentally sharp. Reading, puzzles, attending lectures, and participating in stimulating conversation, are examples of things you can do to stay sharp. Don’t let your brain atrophy.
  4. Dress Up — This is a difficult one for me. Give me a nice cotton tee-shirt and some soft cotton sweatpants and I’m good to go. That’s okay for grocery shopping or taking a brisk walk, but when you’re going out for dinner or to a concert, make the extra effort and dress up a bit. People around you will show you how much they appreciate the effort. When we get lazy and let ourselves go, it affects the way we feel about ourselves and has a negative impact on the way we interact with others. It can be so subtle we don’t see it, but trust me, it’s there. Experiment with this and wear a sports jacket and tie to dinner; you’ll see a big difference in the way people treat you — you too ladies (without the tie though).
  5. Pamper yourself — vacation, massage, long walk on the beach and so many other things you can do to say “I love you” to yourself.
  6. Be graceful and gracious — Always put your best self forward. Good manners and a positive attitude go a long way in navigating the world around you. We all need one another at one point or another. Show the people around you that you appreciate them; when you need something, people will remember how you treated them or whether or not you thanked them. We all need to be appreciated. I have had to remind several people in my life that I should not and will not be taken for granted. It’s all part of being a good friend or family member — we can all learn from one another. People always say that the world was once a kinder, gentler place. It’s difficult to know how true that statement is; however, it doesn’t hurt to strive to improve; we all benefit from a kinder world.
  7. Volunteer — An opportunity to give back, do something fulfilling and meet new people.
  8. Remember the alternative is not-so-good

 

What to Say to People When They Ask You How Old You Are?

  • I used to add ten years onto my age to see what kind of reaction I’d get. One time I did that and the person said, “That’s what I would have guessed.”  Needless to say, I stopped doing that.
  • You can stand tall and proudly declare your exact age.
  • You can lie if it makes you feel better.
  • You can say, “I’m in my 50s but I feel like I’m 30.”
  • You can tell people what was happening in the world when you were born. There was a major solar eclipse on the day I was born. I like sharing that for some reason. I believe the strength of the sun on the day I was born had a lot to do with my birth. You don’t have to agree with me, that’s okay.
  • I wouldn’t say, “How old do you think I am?” unless you are prepared for the answer.
  • You can say, “Old enough.”
  • Fill in the blank __________________________.

 

How Others Age

Try not to compare yourself to others. Like I said earlier, genetics play a major role in aging. Some people seem to have better skin. Some people have arthritis and some don’t. Some people can build muscle more easily. You get my point; be easier on yourself.

One of the things I love about growing older is that you seem to care less about what others think — it’s freeing to say the least. I’m looking forward to caring even a little less. I’m talking about the divisive stuff, not the loving and caring stuff.

 

A couple of good articles:

Aging in Beauty

Learning to Love Growing Old

Coping with Aging

 

Daylight Savings Time

I received calendar messages reminding me about daylight savings time yesterday. I thought that I was losing an hour, so I went to bed earlier and woke up later (I had changed all of my clocks before I went to bed). When I woke up the time on my phone hadn’t changed, so I did a bit of research. I learned that daylight savings time will not happen in Portugal until March 31. I’m not happy about this. Why do we continue this antiquated practice and why can’t all the countries who still do it, do it at the same time? Just sounding off a bit.

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I’m adding a section to my blog called “Blog Truth.” I will tack this section onto the end of my blog when something is weighing on my mind and I believe it needs to be said. You might ask, “Isn’t that what your blogs are all about?” The answer is yes, except that there are times when I don’t want to write an entire blog about a singular thought. For example:

Blog Truth

I’m fairly certain that I alienated some of my readers by revealing early drug use. I believe this is true because of non-reaction from readers who usually weigh-in. Perhaps I am wrong; perhaps these folks had nothing to say — that is what I hope to be true. Most of the reactions I receive are sent privately. For this particular blog, I surprisingly had very little feedback. Feel free to let me know what you think; publicly or privately.

backlit beach clouds dawn

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

 

Central Branch
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