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

Permission to Forgive Granted

If you’re anything like me — and God help you if you are, you’re fairly hard on yourself. You can spend a lot of money trying to figure out why you’re like this, or you can just accept it as fact and use it to your advantage.

black and white business career close up

 

Self-Evaluation

People who are hard on themselves usually spend a lot of time thinking about the way they did something or said something, presented themselves, worked on a project, planned a presentation; pretty much scrutinize every aspect of their lives. You go over it in your head a dozen times. This process, although it can keep you awake at night, is not necessarily a bad thing. My suggestion is to force yourself to come up with an alternative that would be more productive the next time you do whatever it is that you’ve done.

For example:  You decide to confront a friend who has been consistently late for a dinner date. Your friend gets to the restaurant 30 minutes after your scheduled meeting time and you’re angry. As they approach the table at the restaurant, you stand with your hands on your hips and you make certain to tense up your facial muscles and you stare her down. She apologizes and you say, “I’m tired of your excuses; if you cared anything about me and my time, you wouldn’t do this to me.” Your friend gets defensive, tells you that you have no idea what it’s like to be her and that she almost cancelled because she has so much going on. You both sit down angry, with no appetite, and no resolution. You both leave the restaurant wondering if your friendship can survive this confrontation.

You can stew on this forever or you can decide that there was a better way to approach the problem. This, of course, is only if you value your friendship; some friendships are more work than they should be. Writing down various solutions are “next steps” can help purge the problem and free your thinking up for other thoughts.

You can try calling your friend and letting her know that she means a great deal to you and that you have come to realize that she deserved better. She now knows that you do not appreciate her tardiness and that you had gone past your level of tolerance. Remember, forgiveness and taking the high road are very freeing. You can try saying this:

Jane, I realize that you have a lot going on in your life these days and I really appreciate that you still make time for me. Perhaps in the future we can decide on a time to meet that is more practical for you. For example, if trying to have dinner at 7:00 p.m. is stressing you out, perhaps we can meet for a drink at 8:30 or 9:00 instead. Or maybe a weekend brunch would work better for us . . . or a morning walk.

Your letting Jane know that:  1) you understand her, 2) you’re willing to work with her, and 3) you obviously want to see her. She’ll feel a whole lot less defensive and more understood. I’m pretty sure she’ll be on time in the future. And if that doesn’t last, you need to re-evaluate how important being on-time is for you.

 

Give Yourself a Break

I’m so much easier on others than I am on myself. Lately, I stop for a second after I disappoint myself and I say, how would you have treated your friend David if he had done the same thing? Nine times out of ten the answer would be that I would let it go. Often, it was an innocent mistake or there is a simple explanation and therefore, I let it go. If I can treat a friend that way, I can do the same for myself. You’ll find that when you treat yourself fairly, you will performing an act of kindness and it feels just as good when you do it for yourself. In fact, it really needs to start with you; empathy comes easier when you know how it feels.

 

Worst Case Scenario

By now you know that this is my modus operandi. Consider the worst thing that could happen. You will normally discover two things:  1) the worst thing is not likely to happen, and 2) if it did, you would survive it.

For example:  When I decided to move overseas I naturally experienced some anxiety. What if I hate Portugal? What if the people there don’t speak English? What if my money runs out in two years? And on and on. A good friend realized that I was anxious over the “what ifs” and said, “Chris, why are you so worried? If it doesn’t workout come back to the States. You’ll always be an American citizen and you’ll always have a home here.” Duh, permission granted to stop worrying.

 

 

 

 

 

Treat Yourself the Way you Like to be Treated

Why is it so hard to treat ourselves with love and respect? I know it’s a loaded question and very difficult to answer; however, why not start today. Like any habit, it’s learned behavior — you have to do it and then repeat it over and over again; after awhile it will become a habit. You will see, you’ll do it without thinking about it. Try it one day soon:  look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are not perfect and that’s okay. In fact, it’s even better than okay, it’s the preferred way to be. Perfection is hard to be around; it makes one feel inadequate and less than. You are enough . . . I am Enough.

A few years ago I was told that my laugh is a little loud. I became self-conscious about it and I stopped laughing. I stopped until a work friend told me how much he loved my laugh. He said, “Chris when you laugh everyone hears you and we all laugh with you; your laugh is contagious.” That person who told me my laugh was loud, for whatever reason, could not handle joy. I can be sad about that, but it shouldn’t stop me from laughing.

 

Nova Cozinha

One of the things I discovered when I moved to Faro was an absence of contemporary restaurants. There were a couple of trendy burger places and a fancy Italian restaurant, but no Michelin quality eateries . . . until now.

https://www.facebook.com/Alamedarestaurante.rooftop/?epa=SEARCH_BOX

Alameda Restaurante is a very special place walking distance from my apartment and I’m thrilled. The above link is just a quick endorsement for Facebook. I want them to succeed.

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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.

A Taste of Vienna

 

 

 

 

I’m afraid I may disappoint; not because I didn’t love Vienna, but because I spent three days there doing next to nothing. I love to walk, so I walked a lot. I did some things while I walked and I’ll mention a few. I also ate; I ate well. I’ll tell you about a few of my meals.

 

A Travel Tale of Woe That Ends Well

Allow me to start with a travel story while it’s fresh and still has me a bit shaky. Sunday morning I had a 5:30 a.m. flight. Since I had to be at the airport by 4:15 a.m., I didn’t sleep much Saturday night; in fact, I don’t think I slept at all. When it was time to leave my Airbnb, I gathered up all of my belongings and I placed the key in the lock box. It was about 3:45 a.m. when I stepped outside and called an Uber. The car came quickly. Because I hadn’t slept much, it felt more like an out-of-body experience. I had a very talkative driver from Serbia. While he was chatting I reached into my backpack to check for my boarding pass and passport. I have a deep pocket where I usually keep important things. I pulled out the boarding pass and checked for a terminal number and there was none. I reached back in for my passport and it was not there; shit.

I did what one usually does when they think something is where it’s supposed to be; I checked again, and again, and again. My passport was nowhere to be found in my backpack. My mind started going to dark places:  it’s been stolen, it fell out of my backpack in my Airbnb, the owner of the Airbnb entered the apartment while I was out and took it. I came very close to asking the driver to pull over. I was telling myself to stay clam and tried to consider all of my options. I was inclined to ask the driver to take me back to the apartment, but the keys were in a lockbox behind a locked door — no way I could get back in.  I would have had to call Ben, the owner, and wake him in the middle of the night and ask him to meet me there. I was fully aware that if I did this, I’d miss my flight. On the other hand, I wasn’t going anywhere without my passport. The decision I made was an important one and I hope that I remember to do the same in the future. I decided to breathe. I figured the best thing to do was just stay calm for the rest of the ride and then sort it out at the airport. The driver was unaware of the situation.

He dropped me off at Terminal 3 and that turned out to be the wrong terminal; the least of my concerns.

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Vienna International Airport at 4:00 a.m.

 

We unloaded my carryon and I set it down on the curb. I was going to check every corner of my backpack and my carryon. I unzipped the top zipper of my carryon and to my very pleasant surprise, there was my passport. I must have sat on the curb feeling very satisfied for a good couple of minutes. I had to think hard to recall that I had transferred my passport to my suitcase so that I would not lose it while carrying my backpack around Vienna. I think the incident was a combination of lack of sleep and some “normal” memory loss. I was so relieved that I smiled for the remainder of the day. This was of course, a teachable moment for me:

  1. Always check that you have all of your documents before you leave for the airport.
  2. Keep your wits about you and more often than not, you will find what you’re looking for.
  3. Avoid flights before 6:00 a.m.

 

Vienna On My Mind

I have had to step back to consider what I would tell you about Vienna. I have very mixed feelings about this city. The architecture is amazing and the history is rich. But frankly, it was difficult to be there and not think about the atrocities of the Nazi’s and WWII. The grand buildings and the history of resistance and death, filled me with dread. As I walked through the city I felt all sorts of emotions — mostly anger.

Then I watched the students march to express their anger concerning climate change; this shifted my thoughts to hope. Apparently, the march was happening throughout Europe and has been a regular Friday event. Encouraging thoughts replaced the dread.

 

 

 

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic. It wasn’t that long ago when horrible things occurred in this part of the world. It became more and more obvious that the Viennese are well aware of their horrific history and that they are remorseful and have, along with other parts of the world, righted their wrongs. Still, we should never forget.

 

A Few Excellent Meals

I travel in order to find foods that will delight and satisfy. I’m constantly in search of the meal that will blow me away. Both of these restaurants made me very happy in my quest for creativity and perfection:

 

Otto e Mezzo

I have complained about this before, but it is unfortunately true:  there just aren’t that many good Italian restaurants in Faro. Portuguese people love their own dishes and I can’t say I blame them. Since Faro is not much of a tourist town compared with the rest of the Algarve, excellent Italian is scarce. Therefore, when I travel, I look for good Italian food.

I hit the jackpot with Otto e Mezzo. It’s the real deal. A classically trained chef, simple and elegant aesthetic, outdoor dining, and an uncomplicated and delightful menu. I was so pleased to have done my homework and found this gem. I had a simple garden salad that was perfectly dressed; incredible cherry tomatoes and mixed greens. For my entree, I had a pasta dish that has always been in my top three:  penne arrabbiata (click for recipe). It was so perfect, I sat with it for a long time and savored every bite. The homemade pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce was spicy and memorable (I’ve thought about this pasta a lot since returning home). The meal was accompanied by an Italian house red that was a good value and paired well with the pasta. I believe my server was the chef’s wife and I knew I could trust her right from the start. I was way too full for dessert, but I am certain they would have all been delicious. I thanked the chef on the way out; his obvious appreciation made the meal even more satisfying.

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Penne Arrabbiata

 

Yong Street Food Kitchen

A varied menu of Asian street food that was worth the wait. The chef had gone out for 30 minutes so I had to be patient; not one of my best assets. Bibembap is one of my favorite Korean dishes, therefore, it was a must and it did not disappoint. I also had a couple of delicious pork belly buns, filled with all sorts of savory additions and oozing hoisin sauce. It was one of those menus where I wanted every dish on it and I had to control myself. I spied a lemon soda I haven’t had before (didn’t write down the name); not too sweet and paired well on a warm Viennese afternoon.

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Bibembap (click for fun video)

 

Vienna is a progressive city filled with street food, art and 200,000 university students; the largest number in Austria. Wherever there are universities and young people, you will find contemporary design and creative dishes — this aspect of Vienna made me very happy.

I had some fresh oysters at the Naschmarkt and if I’m going to be honest, it was because of the display. It was a beautiful outdoor space, on a perfect day and that made it special. Pricey and poor service nearly ruined it for me.

 

 

 

Don’t eat a meal at the Naschmarkt unless someone directs you to a special place. It’s better to snack at some of the smaller stalls.

 

Coffee/Breakfast

 

 

Breakfast at Vollpension was perfect after extensive travel the night before. I was thirsty, hungry and tired. This relaxing spot (looked like a Bohemian living room) was exactly what I needed early the next morning. I got to watch them set up and put all the cakes out. I had a traditional Viennese breakfast:  soft boiled eggs and brown bread. This was my first Viennese coffee and it was strong and creamy.

 

Sites Worth Seeing

Most of what I saw while in Vienna was on my walkabouts. I wasn’t really in the mood for museums because the weather was exceptional. I did walk into a few buildings just to see part of the interior. Many of the buildings were blocks long and very garish.

I went on an Airbnb tour:  The Hidden Gems of Vienna, the guide was knowledgable and he spoke English well. The tour was three hours long and we were shown beautiful courtyards, passageways and permanent artwork.

Some of what I captured for my memory of Vienna:

 

 

Not to be missed:

Karmelitermarkt — outstanding outdoor farmers market, food stalls and artists

Stephansdom — a gorgeous catholic cathedral with art installations

Naschmarkt — flea market on Saturday and food stalls and restaurants seven days a week

Heeresgeschichtliches Museum — impressive architecture

Karlskirche — beautiful structure

Secession — gold globe art at the top of the building

Leopold Museum, MUMOK and Museums Quartier

Parlament — wow; very big

The Danube — beautiful river through the city

Augarten — Porcelain Manufactory

Staatsoper — Opera House

Akademie der bildenden Künste

Haus der Musik

 

It’s a long and certainly not all-inclusive, list. Honestly, the buildings are massive and go on forever. The city is clean, safe, and walkable. The metro system is easy to navigate and reasonably priced (2,40 Euros). There are outdoor cafés and bars everywhere. Innenstadt, City Center, can be easily located and trekked.

 

New Vienna: 

On the outside of the inner city is the new Vienna you’ll want to see (my guide pictured below). Modern architecture, new hi-rise buildings and an expansive university. I also walked through an amusement park that boasts the largest ferris wheel of its kind and a couple of a casinos (for a change, I stayed away). This park is over 100 years old and was filled with happy Viennese families. It was only six stops on the metro, outside the city centre.

 

My Airbnb host, Ben, wrote to tell me that it rained the day that I left. Apparently, it rained for three weeks before I arrived and then they had sun for three days. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I must have done something good.

Estelle flew home with me. I met the gentleman who painted her and I could not resist. She is now part of my collection:

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Wide Awake in the Early Morning

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One of my recent early mornings — coffee time on the terrace

 

Early morning defined:  the hours between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.

I have been a morning person my entire life. My mom always reminded me that I would wake the entire household when I got out of bed. I don’t get out of bed at 5:15 a.m. because I have to; I wake-up early because I choose to. I haven’t used an alarm clock for 40 years (unless I have a 6:00 a.m. flight). Here are just ten reasons I love the early morning:

  1. It may just be the quietest time of the day. Night owls have finally gone to bed.
  2. You can watch the sun come up. For me this represents hope, change and a boat load of energy.
  3. That first cup of coffee. I drank decaf for years; it’s never been about the caffeine.
  4. It’s when my energy level is at its highest and I’ve tested this.
  5. I feel like I own the world (sort of grandiose I know).
  6. I feel like I can do just about anything.
  7. I’m usually the first to get to where ever I’m going.
  8. By the time I get to the gym — usually empty in the morning, I am fully awake.
  9. No one calls me before Noon because of the time difference between Europe and the U.S.
  10. “The early bird catches the worm!”

 

Knowing When You Are Most Productive

For the most part (there are exceptions), I wake up fully energized in the morning. I have a mental ‘to do’ list and I’m eager to start checking off the boxes. I know that by a certain point during the day, my energy level will begin to wane. I discovered my peak period during my freshman year in college. I was forced to register for a couple of 8:00 a.m. classes because they were the only classes with spots left by the time the juniors and seniors registered. Not sure how it’s done these days; back then Freshman got whatever scraps were left. Did not matter much to me, the courses I liked were not the popular choices (e.g., wellness, sociology, black studies).

I often found myself sitting in a nearly empty classroom. Most of the students who had enrolled, could not get their asses out of bed. I would arrive early, eager to learn — haters, stop hating. My instructors were often impressed with my attentive behavior and I was usually rewarded for it. My Pavlovian inclinations and ‘aim to please’ character traits were a recipe for success. You have to become aware of your assets; mine were always charm and being upbeat. I’m not ashamed to admit any of this. It was never about superior intelligence; lucky for me common sense and ambition were appreciated.

Throughout my college career, I continued to take morning classes, followed by library time and mental exercise (leisure reading, etc.). Whenever I started to get sluggish, usually after lunch, I would go to the gym to re-energize my battery. Fortunately, I had a part-time job that required me to work early evenings. I was reliable and dependable and I sucked up to authority. Say what you will, but my debt was minimal and for the most part, I was allowed to study at work.

 

The Advantages of Getting There Before Anyone Else

Markets:  Food markets usually get started early; often by 8:00 a.m. When you arrive early you get first pick of all the fresh food. Depending on how you get there, the earlier you arrive, the more parking there will be.

Government Offices:  Being one of the first to arrive at a government office has several advantages. I usually take a good book and try to get there an hour before they open. Government staff are dealing with some crazy stuff and the later you get there, the more agitated they are — not always the case, however, in my experience . . .

Doctor’s Offices:  Doctors get backed up. Sometimes appointments are scheduled every 15 minutes. If the first person takes 30 minutes, everything gets thrown-off and it only gets worse as the day goes by. I always ask for the first appointment if I can get it. Even if it means I have to delay seeing the doctor for a few days, it’s usually worth it.

Early Flights and Tourist Destinations:  Earlier flights have a better on-time record. As the day goes on delays can pile up and cause travel nightmares. If you’re going to a tourist destination, people with small children usually arrive a lot later because kids take some time to get ready in the morning. Get there early and you’ll surely have a more peaceful experience. I love kids. Did I tell you that I love kids?

The Road: Getting on the road early will save you lots of time and aggravation. I think traffic is on my top three list of things I hate most. I have always done everything I could possibly do to avoid traffic.

Bakery:  Baked goods right out of the oven are worth getting up early for . . . enough said.

Early Morning Sex:  You have more energy and you can see your partner in natural light. Don’t laugh; it’s true.

Write me if you think of others.

A good piece on early morning productivity (click).

 

You May Have to Put Your Phone On ‘Do Not Disturb’

Most of my friends and family know that I’m in bed by 10:00 p.m. — at times, much to their dismay. But because they’re human, they forget, and I occasionally get a text or telephone call that gets me out of bed. On nights when I need a solid seven hours, I put my phone on ‘do not disturb.’ There is a small part of me that feels guilty about this, however, there isn’t enough guilt to stop me from doing it.

 

Disadvantages

When there is an upside, you can be certain that there will be a downside. The following are several issues related to being an early riser:

  1. Most of the people in my life (nearly all in fact) are not morning people. You know who you are. You like to stay up late watching television/Netflix or reading or being out on the town or passing the hours waiting to be sleepy enough to hit the sack. There was a time in my life when saying goodnight to these folks was embarrassing for me. I would sheepishly walk toward the bedroom and feel guilty for calling it a night. That’s a thing of the past; however, I do sometimes go to bed and miss a really good conversation and/or a bit of juicy gossip. The wine flows and the guard comes down and I’m already two hours into la la land.
  2. There are genuinely times when I would like to go out dancing. Most dance clubs don’t get going until way past midnight. Staying up that late is very difficult for me. I force myself to do it occasionally because I believe being a social animal is important for my relationships and potential dating life. It’s way too easy to crawl under a comfy blanket. Especially after discovering Portuguese cotton; life changing, trust me. A disco nap (you may not know the term if you’re less than 40.
  3. People do get annoyed with you when you say you’d like to have dinner by 7:00 p.m. The problem with retiring early, is that if you eat too late, the food just sits in your stomach and can be disruptive to sleep. Again, most of my friends put up with me. I like giving dinner parties; this way I get to decide when dinner is served.
  4. Speaking of dinner parties . . . I am so glad that I do not live in Japan. In Japan, if you host dinner guests, you cannot call it a night while said guests are enjoying your hospitality. When your guests decide to go home, then and only then, can you say goodnight. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked my guests to leave my apartment. In fact, when I host guests overnight, I almost always go to bed long before they do.
  5. When I am an overnight guest in someone’s home, I do not hesitate to ask them to grind their coffee beans and set up their coffee maker before they go to bed. Conversely, when I have guests, I grind my beans the night before so that I do not wake them at 5:00 a.m. — it’s the little things that differentiate one from other hosts; good hospitality means letting your guests sleep-in.
  6. No matter what time I go to bed, I usually wake up at the same time every morning. It’s not a good thing, but I’ve learned that there isn’t much I can do about it.
  7. It’s not good for dating.
  8. If you like award shows, you’re screwed.

 

You’re not a morning person but you’d like to be? I know people who have successfully made the change. For the rest of you, stay who are and keep the morning quiet for me.

 

Next Week’s Blog:  I’ll be traveling to Vienna today (Thursday) and I look forward to telling you all about it.

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Blue moon Sunday night

 

Mixed Feelings and Conflicting Thoughts

We live in a time of extreme superficiality and greed.  I watched highlights of the arrival of “stars” to this year’s Met Gala and all I could think about was excess, but who am to judge. Some would argue that the Gala is raising millions of dollars for good causes and I’m sure that is true; however, I know from experience (I ran a foundation for 10 years) that in order to make money, you have to spend money. Charity on that level is extremely complicated. I am certain there were millions spent on this event and I can’t help but wonder how many people could have benefited from that money.

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/video/2019/may/07/lady-gagas-met-gala-transformation-in-one-minute-timelapse-video

I wonder if Lady Gaga struggled with the amount spent to display her dress? For me, there is only one answer to this question and that answer is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is how I live my own life. What I give to the world versus what I take from the world. There has to be a balance. If we continue to take without giving back, our resources will dry up and there will be nothing left to take.

I’m thinking about people who are struggling to pay for groceries or to keep their lights on. And yet, I watch footage of the “Camp” theme and smile. I cannot get enough of it and I feel that I may have had too much of it. It’s these conflicting feelings that drive me mad. Is it okay to admire such excess and be angry about it at the same time?

 

Two days later:  I watched a “Behind the Scenes” video and saw how many people worked to make that red carpet extravaganza a reality. They were all intensely passionate about what they were creating and many were being paid well. Admittedly, this made me feel a lot better.  I had to step down from my righteous high horse; not easy for me.

 

 

 

Side note:  I’m angry about a lot of things lately; in my life, in the world, in my head. None of it is good for me and I struggle with it daily. This morning at 5:45 a.m. (I wake up at about 5:15 a.m.) I was watching an interview RuPaul gave recently. I admire RuPaul because he seems to understand the balance between camp and reality — we should never take ourselves too seriously; however, some things in life are serious. At the end of the interview he was sharing pearls of wisdom, fortunately for all of us, and he said, “Don’t become bitter.”  I turned off the television and thought about his words for quite sometime. I realized that I am bitter about what I consider to be a great deal of injustice that has been put upon me and others. No doubt we all feel this way at one point or another. RuPaul is right, being bitter is bad and it’s a waste of energy. In some ways it’s like a relentless cancer that eats you up from the inside out. My work for the next however long, is to stop being bitter about the past, live in the present, and look toward the future. In some ways, I’d rather beat up on myself about these mixed feelings than to not feel at all or to be so self-absorbed that it’s all about me, me, me.

I’m certain that if you read carefully, as painful as it might be, you can read into my personal conflict. The dichotomy (a division or contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different) between feelings of what is right and wrong, what is just and unjust, and what is true and false, keep me awake at night. I often wonder if that’s just the way I’m wired.

 

Gratitude

I’ve been listening carefully lately. I think as you get older and search for meaning, listening becomes a good exercise for self-discovery. What I hear over and over again, is to be grateful for whatever the universe sends your way. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you that I believe that I have a great deal to be grateful for. Even the bad stuff has in some way or another, provided insight and meaning. For example, my brother Anthony, who was also my best friend, died almost 20 years ago when he was only 38 years old. I wish Anthony hadn’t overdosed and I’d give just about anything to have him back in life, but his death has taught me so much about myself and what is important. Other tragedies in my life have also provided clarity.

Years ago I read a great book entitled, The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. My take away from the book was to start each day writing three pages of whatever comes to mind. What I recall (it was awhile back so please don’t quote me on this) is that gratitude was to be a part of this daily journal. It was the first time in my life that I had to truly consider what I should be thankful for versus what made me angry or resentful. I don’t write three pages anymore, however, I do keep a journal and I do meditate. Gratitude is a big part of me life these days.

For today, and for the purpose of adding lasting meaning to my life, I will say that I am grateful for the opportunity to search — to search for truth, to search for answers, and to search for love. I am learning the hard way, that there isn’t much more to life than that.

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