Routine Versus Spontaneity

Jazzing Up Your Day

Spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art.

— Oscar Wilde

Ho hum versus devil may care

Spontaneity is a goal I have been striving to achieve since I could spell the word. Seriously, I could teach the armed forces a thing or two about order and precision. I want to be unpredictable, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Why Routine and Checking Boxes Works

We are creatures of habit and we find great comfort in routine. For me, it’s waking up, playing torture Paco in bed, and quiet time with my morning coffee on the terrace. It delights me so; it gets me out of bed in the morning excited to start the day. I add the gym and a trip to the market to the mix and I am thrilled to be alive, but that’s not good enough.

My “To Do” list also offers great comfort. Chores and projects I am eager to check off as completed. It provides a sense of accomplishment and a satisfying feeling. I don’t like how good it makes me feel because like any addiction, it’s hard to stay away.

Don’t try this at home: I actually fill my hourly calendar with small chores (i.e., feed Paco, tighten eyeglasses) so that it makes me feel like I have a lot going on. Throughout the day I delete these items and each time I remove something from my date book, I get a little adrenalin rush — sick right? And I’m only sharing part of it.

The Benefits of Spontaneity

I have been telling myself that being more spontaneous and less scheduled, is good for me. When I have been able to break out of my daily routine and do something just because I felt like it or because someone called and said let’s do xy or z, it was more often than not, very satisfying.

There have been several unforgettable moments in my life that I can happily recall; the irony is, many of these moments were unplanned. If this is the case, why do people like me spend so much time mapping out every minute of their lives. The satisfaction I get from checking boxes on my to do list doesn’t come close to the positive feelings I have taken away from an unplanned outing. The only explanation I have is that the routine is daily and the unplanned is rare. The mind is so powerful, it forces your “go to” behavior right back to the safe, the familiar, the known. Like any other thing in life you are committed to, you have to work hard to change it.

What I force myself to focus on:

  • The feeling I have when a surprise is exciting and new.
  • What occurs in my life when something unexpected changes my day. The snowball effect of positivity.
  • How changing things up takes your mind away from the small/minor things that bog you down.
  • How short life truly is and how the mondaine can eat up your time.
  • My desire for adventure and change.
  • How much I believe other people enjoy my spontaneity.

Coloring outside of the lines can be risky because you never know what the outcome might be. This makes whatever it is you are doing that much more exciting. The unknown can be titillating and growth fostering.

A short story: A few years ago I was riding the subway; the same train I squeezed myself into daily. After another horrendous day at work, I got home and thought something has got to give. I called a friend who had joined me on a couple of adventures and asked her if she might like to meet me in Belize. Without hesitation, she said yes. There was a Madonna song that I heard in my head a thousand times; the lyrics went like, “. . . last night I dreamt of San Pedro,” and that’s where I had to go. San Pedro is a small island. You can get to it by ferry from Belize City — it’s a very pleasant two hours heading to paradise.

This trip was without a doubt one of the most memorable getaways of my life. I only had a short time to plan and hardly any of the details were mapped out (eg., excursions, meals). I decided to allow my days in Belize to be organic; to wake up naturally, to eat when I was hungry, and to do basically nothing unless I was moved to do otherwise. For the most part Kathy, who is much more relaxed than I am, and I, stuck to our plan. The resort was fairly quiet and clearly, this is an island you go to to chillout. This was a time in my life when chilling was medicinal and restorative. Keeping my mind and days uncluttered allowed me to think freely. I was able to take long walks with Kathy and spend quite a bit of alone time on an unspoiled, virtually empty beach. I returned home enlightened and resolute. It was during this time that I made the decision to resign from my position at The International Culinary Center and leave New York City. Possibly two of the best decisions of my life.

This is one of the many reasons I am convinced that spontaneity provides a space for out-of-the-box thinking. I believe we schedule ourselves to the max in order to avoid organic thinking; our fear of the possibilities life might present bog us down and keep us from truly being free.

Ways to Get Yourself to Loosen Up

Here are some of the the things you can do to be more spontaneous:

  • I know this will seem crazy, but you can pencil it in. Don’t write what you will do, but when you might do it. Say you open your date book or laptop calendar on on Thursday morning you’ve written “do something you’ve never done before.” It will force you to think of something on the spot and then follow through and do it.
  • Tell your friends you are trying to be more spontaneous and have them call you when they are about to do something fun or different.
  • Allow yourself days where absolutely nothing is planned.
  • Talk to yourself about the pleasures of discovering the unknown.
  • Wake up, pack a bag, and take a trip to a place you’ve never be.
  • Throw away the leftovers and go to a new restaurant (call someone and ask them to join you and then treat them).
  • If you have a guest room, do something as simple as sleeping in a different room in your own house.

Imagine a Life Where You Do What You Want, When You Want

Use your imagination to consider a world where you are free of the bondage you have inflicted upon yourself. We lie to ourselves to keep from doing something crazy. We tell ourselves we’ll get into trouble, that we have no money or that we’ll lose all of our money, that freedom will make us seem undisciplined, hard work is the only way to achieve happiness, that minor indulgence leads to frivolity and a loss of control, and on and on and on.

I will, no doubt, continue to plan most of my life going forward. It’s not even about teaching an old dog new tricks, it’s about comfort — the older you get, the more you seek comfort and stability. Still, I figure if I keep reminding myself about Belize, I may occasionally surprise myself by choosing the road less travelled.

Resources:

How Not to be Boring

True Happiness . . .

Why Most Unplanned Adventures Are Often the Best Ones

An Aside

I don’t know about you, but I watched the first presidential debate and found myself angry, disgusted, and fed-up. I sat down with myself and wondered how these emotions were taking control of my life and why it had to stop. I believe that allowing myself the freedom to just be, is a useful tool going forward. There are things happening all around that I can change or control; however, what I can control is my own life, my own behavior, my own path.

The President’s COVID-19 status is a topic I am choosing to stay clear of.

Being Less Cynical/Shiraz Has Arrived in Faro

This week, I would like to explore the topic of cynicism.  I hear this out of Chris Cuomo’s mouth as I type, “You are so cynical.” He’s talking to Stephen Colbert on The Late Show. They’re in the middle of a playful repartee about the impeachment trial. I turned up the volume to hear what they had to say. Two intelligent and refreshingly sane men, talking about the current state of political affairs in the United States. Americans, people in general, have always been cynical, however, it feels as if cynicism is currently at an all time high. I’d like to explore my own cynicism and how I might become less so.

sky clouds cloudy earth

 

This is a difficult time for many of us. Sorting through truth and lies is never easy, but it seems as if conflicting news dominates the airwaves. Listening to individuals you thought you could trust, spin lies, makes it difficult to believe in justice and honesty. Trying not to be political here, because in truth, I’m not certain this is about politics. I think the problem is systemic and I can’t help feeling like we might be headed for the moment in time when it all comes to a head. I ask myself if what I am feeling is cynical or mistrust and what is the difference.

cynical
/ˈsɪnɪk(ə)l/
adjective
  1. 1.
    believing that people are motivated purely by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity.
  2. 2.
    concerned only with one’s own interests and typically disregarding accepted standards in order to achieve them.

I cannot help feeling that a lot of what I’m hearing from our leaders is rhetoric which promotes a personal agenda. I don’t want to believe this; I want to see the best in people and believe they are sincere.

Image result for cynicism quotes

 

Why I Care 

When people say derogatory things about me, they probably say I’m controlling, opinionated, way too liberal, stubborn, talkative, dismissive, and possibly that I am self-indulging. I’m not sure I could argue about these character traits when they are applied to me. I’m being honest with myself; it’s not cynicism, I know who I am and I know that I can be controversial. People cannot truthfully say that I am cynical and I’d like to keep it that way. And I don’t mean occasionally cynical; there is a difference.

I am concerned about my own health and wellbeing. Doubting other people’s intentions stresses me out. It causes worry and anger and none of that is good for me. When I erase these doubts and tell myself that people are inherently good, that we all go adrift or make mistakes, I tend to feel better. It’s obviously a defense mechanism, but we possess these tools so that we can work on ourselves and be happier people.

When I start to think unpleasant thoughts about friends or family members, it changes how I feel about food, drink, travel and the rest of the things I love — my taste buds are soured and all things become tainted. I’m not as profoundly affected when I’m cynical about politicians; these days I almost expect them to lie and push their own agendas, no matter what the cost.

 

How Do I Prevent Myself From Becoming Cynical

If I have learned anything since I relocated overseas, it is that I need to be patient with myself. With good intention, I’d like to think that I can be a better version of my former self, if I truly put my mind to it. What it takes is practice and patience. When you repeat a behavior or practice over and over, it will become part of your automatic, natural reflexive, go-to, inventory of responses.

For example:  I’m at a dinner party and a friend announces that she is going to organize a fundraiser for children with cancer. She talks about a grand venue and the “who’s who,” who will be invited, the table centerpieces, etc. My mind might go to the reason she is planning this event. One might cynically believe that she’s doing it to make herself look good. It’s unfortunate that this is where your mind might go. In truth, does it really matter? If the end result is that a million dollars will go to help those children and their families, how you got there (as long as it’s legal) is irrelevant. I’d like to instead, go straight to the positive and praise her for her good work. We never truly know what motivates people, so why not think the best of them in all most cases.

 

Next Steps

Mindfulness — awareness of a problem or issue is a huge part of correcting the problem. Now that I am aware of my unintentional cynicism, I can work on moving toward a different way of being:

  1. Identify the pattern that causes a cynical thought or response (e.g., questioning another’s motives).
  2. Break down the cause. Did you ever discover that someone you cared a lot about, had self-serving motives? Did those motives affect the final outcome?
  3. Explore your feelings. Not as easy as it sounds; it means facing your skepticism and demons.
  4. Try out alternative responses and find one or two that serve you better; cause you less heartache or discomfort. Create a toolbox and learn how to retrieve those tools.
  5. When you immediately go to cynicism, push that thought away and use one of your new tools or thoughts. This tool is extremely effective — give it a try.
  6. Practice this over and over again until you go in a positive direction without having to think about it. Practice, practice, practice.
  7. Take inventory of your responses every so often. Sometimes we take two steps back without realizing it — as you well know, old habits are hard to break.
  8. Consider how your positive outlook and behavior has influenced others. How has this new way of looking at life affected your health and well-being? How has this affected your relationships?
  9. Celebrate your success.

If you have another way of dealing with this issue, I’d love to hear about it.

 

When People Are Just No Good

Sorry is that sounds cynical. Seriously though, there are people in this world that are just plain evil. I’ve come across a few in my life. When you discover this to be the case, my advice is walk away and don’t look back. We are sometimes cynical for good reason. Bad actors usually show their true colors over and over again. Cynicism can be a useful mechanism for defending yourself against these individuals.

 

Shiraz Has Finally Opened and You’ll Want to Visit

Shiraz Restaurant in Faro, Portugal (Pre-opening visit previously blogged)

Just a reminder that I am not a food critic and that my intention is only to promote good food.

I love the food in Faro, however, I often complain that there is not enough variety here. Prior to eating at Shiraz, I had never eaten Iranian (Persian) food; or at least I don’t believe I have. I have eaten dishes from that part of the world; however, as you well know, each country has its own unique cuisine.

Shiraz adds another interesting dimension to the Faro food scene and that makes me very happy. When the Portuguese locals experience how good it is and see for themselves the number of tourists eating at Shiraz, they will be more open to other ethnic cuisines coming onto to the scene (e.g., Korean, African, Malaysian, Turkish — to name just a few).

Shiraz has been plagued with issues that prevented an on-time opening. I have heard that it’s difficult to open a new restaurant in Faro:  work permits, old infrastructure, contractors, etc. Mr. Thomas, owner, persevered and I belief his tenacity will pay off. He recently shared that it took him three years to make it happen. I only met Mr. Thomas a few months ago, however, I find his patience and positive attitude refreshing. He is pleased to be working with Chef Ram.

Chef Ram specializes in Kababs and there are several to choose from on the menu. There are a few different preparations and meat choices featured. Simple dishes such as basmati rice topped with saffron are delicious and beautifully presented. I had a Kabab Negini (pictured below) which is made with chicken and grilled tomato sauce. The Baklava, which I learned is made with 21 layers of puff pastry, was the best Baklava I have ever tasted. Toasted almonds, pistachios and a caramel sauce made this delicacy a standout dish.

Chef Ram is extremely talented and has a smile as big as his heart; stop by the kitchen and say hello.

 

Social Media Has Me Flummoxed

It’s nice to know I’m not alone. And now you will know everything (well, almost everything).

 

As I grow older and hopefully wiser, I cannot help but contemplate the impact social media has had on my life. I am a frequent user; very frequent. Daily. Always before 6:00 a.m. and sometimes after midnight. Not the kind of addiction that might send me to rehab, but when I add up the hours, it does give me pause. Outlining the benefits, the pitfalls, the pros, the cons, and the dangers, is a good exercise for any addict.

The Good

I’ve said this before and I feel it in my heart and soul, I love social media simply for the fact that I can easily keep up with friends and family all over the world. A quick text, an email, a post or even my blog, allows for contact that keeps us connected, however vapid a connection it might be. I truly hate being on the phone for more than a few minutes; therefore, the thought that the telephone might be our only means of staying in touch is not even a remote possibility. For this, I am grateful to social media. I’ve had over twenty friends and family visit Portugal and I am certain that social media helped make that happen. I’ve only posted the best of my newish home; I keep the unsavory parts to myself. Deceptive? Yes, but effective nonetheless. Once you get here, you’re free to see for yourselves.

Another great love of mine is photography. True enough that these days almost anyone can take a good picture; actually I’m okay with that. There are still creative and talented photographers out there that blow me away. Still, allow us amateurs to have our fun. I for one enjoy seeing what people are up to; it allows for a glimpse into the lives of the people I care most about and it’s a bit of fun to be a voyeur; a sneaky voyeur at that. Our smartphones enable us to take some pretty cool photos. The professionals will continue to dazzle us with their talent.

Social media and the smartphone has given me a gift that I will not take for granted. I have always hated waiting. I’m chronically early for everything, which has meant a great deal of idle time my entire life. Nowadays, I always have my smartphone which means that I can pass the time playing with social media and reading emails and articles.

I am noticing some incredible creativity on Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube, Facebook, etc. The ability to have your work and talent be viewed by so many people is remarkable. This aspect of social media exposure was just not possible only a few years ago. The ability for individuals to shine publicly is a very positive benefit. I am also noticing on Tik Tok and other sites, that people are working together to create content. Since I have always viewed social media as a lonely endeavor, I’m thrilled to see this happening. I think there are and will be more and more applications designed to encourage social interaction and creativity.

Social media has also provided a broad platform for individuals to share their travel and dining experience. Admittedly, you have to sort through the garbage out there; however, once you learn how to be discerning, you will find a great deal of content in this area helpful. There are places I would never have visited had I not viewed a video on YouTube or photos on Instagram. I can now research spots prior to travel, knowing what to do and where to go before leaving home. Magazines and brochures targeted a very specific audience in the past and frankly, I’d prefer to listen to those who are sensitive to my discretionary income.

I recall a while back  when people started having these brief reactions on Facebook. I’m fairly certain I didn’t like it. LOL (which I thought was “lots of love” for the longest time), LMAO, TMI, BFF, and so on, I hated all that; I thought it was all silly and vacuous.  That is until I started abbreviating my own feelings. Suddenly it was fun, cool and easy. I started watching for reactions to my posts — all part of the addiction. Did people give me smiley faces or type little pictures like this: :p? Was it a trap or was it a passing faze? If it was a faze, it sure does have a lengthy shelf life. I bet most people can’t even recall a time when we didn’t have emojis and abbreviations as part of our vernacular.

 

The Bad

I’m going to list these in order of how much these things annoy me, starting with the most annoying first:

  • You’re sitting at a table having a meal with family or friends and they spend most of their time either staring at their phones or texting. Hello?
  • I truly despise dating sites like Match.com or Tinder. The days of having a cocktail at your local bar and meeting someone for a pre-date conversation is long over.
  • People post the stupidest stuff that no one cares about. Sorting through the good and the bad takes time and can be frustrating.
  • There are many lies on social media and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between truth and fabrication.
  • Society’s young people are the most impacted by social media. I have nieces and nephews who spend most of their day locked up in their bedroom.  Social media has replaced person-to-person contact and that’s very dangerous. Texting and playing with Tik Tok, Snapchat, and Instagram, will never replace the up close and personal. I sound like an old person.
    Snapchat and Instagram Are the Most Popular Social Media Platforms among American Teens.
    • 76 percent of American teens age 13-17 use Instagram.
    • 75 percent of teens use Snapchat.
    • 66 percent of teens use Facebook, essentially flat from 2015, when data showed 71 percent of U.S. teens using the site.

I have friends who have given up on their children, claiming there is nothing they can do to stop the behavior. Is that true?

 

The Ugly

  • No matter how you slice it, lies are bad for everyone.
  • A false sense of beauty can damage one’s ego just as easily as a belief that one’s self is unattractive. A person posts a picture of themselves and they get 1000 likes and just as many flattering comments. They walk around thinking that they are superior and that false sense of superiority affects everything they say and do; eventually it backfires and then you have the crash. I’m seeing it with a family member and there is little I can do to remedy the problem. It becomes a perpetual cycle. I think it’s as bad as any ailment or illness.
  • Selfies are problematic. A selfie with friends every so often is harmless; however, I’m seeing individuals who are taking dozens of selfies a day. What are these people looking for?  Is it acceptance, flattery, feedback? Is it narcissism at its worse? Whatever it is, it’s unhealthy.
  • Individuals are losing perspective on life. Some see everything through the lens of social media. That reality is distorted and dangerous because it’s not real. Some individuals get all of their information this way; unfortunately their decisions are based on what they read and see on social media; little good can come from that.
  • Hours and hours of one’s life can be lost surfing the net or playing silly games. People are becoming more isolated and often restless because they are sitting staring at a screen. Like everything else in life, moderation is key. The question is:  what is moderation when it comes to time with social media and how does one cut back or modify their daily routine.
  • Woke (/ˈwoʊk/) as a political term of African-American origin refers to a perceived awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice. It is derived from the African-American Vernacular English expression “stay woke“, whose grammatical aspect refers to a continuing awareness of these issues (wikipedia). When I first heard the term I wondered what could possibly be wrong with being “woke?” The issue seems to lie once again in how we judge one another and this is where it gets ugly. If someone is not as woke as you’d like them to be, does that make them a bad person? How do you really know how woke someone is? Are you judging yourself or others harshly? Social media has sparked this movement and it feels counterproductive.

 

The Future

Self-discipline is difficult. I’m experiencing it right now as I try to learn Portuguese. It’s so easy to play with my phone or laptop instead of focusing on learning. I can justify idle time to myself in a million different ways:  my brain needs to rest, I have all the time in the world to learn a language, I need balance in my life, I have to stay fresh and relevant and social media can help me do that, and so on.

No “smartphone” zones are already a thing, but I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg. I imagine a world where it will almost be like “no smoking” areas and they’ll be everywhere. I have made a habit of leaving my phone at home when I am going out to dinner with friends. There has been a time or two when I couldn’t get an Uber home, but I can think of worst things than having to walk off a meal.

I have mentioned creativity a couple of times throughout this blog. I’m certain that what we have seen on our tiny devices is just the beginning of a creative and cultural revolution. I’m looking forward to this part and I hope that you are too.

New ways of reigning in young people and their use of social media is a big consideration. I don’t know where society is going with this, I only know that it cannot continue to move in the current direction.

 

adventure backlit dawn dusk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Resources:

Is Social Media Bad for You? The Evidence and the Unknowns

Eight Dangers of Social Media We Are Not Willing to Admit

Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society?

 

PACO

For those of you following Paco’s health issues, his red blood cell count is now normal and he’s gained some weight — the antibiotics are working. He’s nearly out of the woods and I couldn’t be happier.

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Paco already has his favorite spots for relaxing at home

Tips From A Seasoned Traveller — Part I

Tip #1:  If you can fly non-stop and it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg, do it.

These days connections are killers. A delay in your first flight can mean hours of stressful time spent in an airport; sometimes even overnight or if you’re lucky, in an airport hotel. Keep in mind that the airline will not put you up overnight if the travel issue is beyond their control and just about everything is beyond their control.

 

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I recently acquired this Pan American Airlines  (iconic airline that went under in 1991) travel guide published in 1970 (7th ed.). Fun reading.

 

It’s good to be home after several weeks away. I had a five city, three country holiday and it was exhilarating and exhausting. French air traffic controllers and French metro workers managed to mess up my travel on two separate occasions; not in a minor way. These days travel can take its toll on the body and mind; add disgruntled workers to the mix and you’re in for some major stress.

How airlines, hotels and Uber, handle these delays and glitches is key to how well we cope. I thought I might share some stories:  how I reacted to people along the way and how they responded to me. I’m going to name names because I think you should know how some businesses handle customer service. In a couple of cases I believe my reaction was justified and in other cases, I may have overreacted. I tend to judge myself harshly.

Tip #2 — You have to be your own advocate.

Being quiet and meek is not the way to go when you’re either on a schedule or you have been treated poorly. Many airlines or countries today have rules about delays and compensation. The airlines are responsible for providing “passenger rights” either in writing or on-line. It is well worth your time and energy to become familiar with these.

 

Prior to setting out for my long journey, I decided that I would not blog about the cities I visited — sometimes it’s more fun to just experience a vacation and keep the memories to yourself. I’m going to stick to this decision, however, there were some highlights that warrant mentioning. I also captured some moments on camera that I am pleased to share.

Tip #3 — When you travel by plane or train, always have your confirmation/reservation numbers handy. The same is sometimes true for hotel reservations.

If you need to rebook, revise, reschedule, or reference your booking, it’s a whole lot easier when you have this number handy.

 

My journey began in Lisbon with a text from British Airways sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I usually fly in and out of Lisbon because it is cheaper than flying from Faro; 3.5 hours away by train. The BA text let me know that I might have flight delays due to the French air traffic control strike. I was unaware of this strike because my news is all Trump, all the time.  Sleep was impossible after reading the message and so I decided to be proactive and call the airline. I was able to connect with a customer service representative fairly quickly due to the hour of the morning. I explained that I would like to be rerouted in order to avoid flying over France — it was after all east of Lisbon and I was headed west to Baltimore. The very cordial representative explained that she had limited options for me. She told me that the best she could do would be to put me on a later flight from London’s Gatwick airport. It would provide a cushion in case I missed my connection to Baltimore. She was fairly certain that I was not going to make the connection. I would have booked the later flight, however, that flight would take me to Dulles airport in Washington, DC; a minimum of 80 minutes by car to Baltimore. She informed me that I would have more options working with an agent at the airport. I thought there might be a more direct option. In fact, I knew there was, but would I get it.

Since sleep was elusive, first because of the possible delay and second, because I had discovered I had brought the wrong computer charger and I was wondering how I was going to be away for over two weeks without use of my laptop. I packed up and went to the airport, arriving at about 7:15 a.m. A very kind British Airways agent informed me that the agent I needed to speak with would be at the counter at 8:25 a.m. I took a deep breath and waited. At about 8:20 a.m. the original agent walked over to me with good news. He said the delay to Gatwick had been reduced from two hours to 45 minutes and that I should have no problem making my connection. He said that I would be landing in terminal 3 and I need to go to terminal 5, but I “should” have enough time. Minutes later the check-in desk opened and I handed a different agent my passport. She called her supervisor over and told her supervisor that she was concerned that I might miss my connection because I was landing at terminal 3, not 5, where my connection would be.

The supervisor said, “No, you will be landing at terminal 3 and your connection will be at terminal 3.”

I replied, “Are you sure because your agent (I pointed to him) told me my connection would be at terminal 5.”

She said, “He doesn’t know.”

I walked away confident that even with a delay, I would make my connection. You know what I’m going to tell you next, don’t you? The pilot came on the loudspeaker and greeted us warmly. He said that he was glad that we had received an opening to depart and that we would be leaving soon. An hour later he greeted us again, telling us that he was cleared and then uncleared, three times. I was concerned at this point, however, I chose to remain calm, knowing that being anxious wouldn’t get me there faster. The flight finally took off about an hour and 15 minutes after it was scheduled to leave. When the pilot spoke to us again, he told us that we were landing in terminal 3 (by this time I had learned that my connecting flight would be at terminal 5). The flight attendant calmed me and said that I needed an hour to make the connection and although it would be tight, if I was fast, I’d make my flight. For the next hour I took about a hundred deep breaths. Just before the plane landing the flight attendant came over to speak to me, informing me that the pilot had contacted the connection flight’s pilot and that the Baltimore bound pilot would wait for me. I was impressed with how I was being treated and sat back and relaxed. Planes that were landing in London were backed up and we were an additional 20 minutes late landing. At this point I had exactly one hour to make my flight. I hustled, followed the purple signs to “connecting flights,” and made it to terminal 5 in 30 minutes.

When I got to terminal 5 I had to use my ticket to gain entrance to the terminal’s check in area. I attempted to gain entry and was denied. The readout said that I needed to see an agent. Two minutes later I was speaking with a British Airways agent and I explained what just happened. She informed that I was re-booked on the Dulles flight. I pleaded with her to allow me to try to make it to the gate. No can do, there are rules you know. She told me that I needed at least 35 minutes at that point to make the flight and that I only had 30 minutes. I put on my best “you cannot do this to me face” and told her that I had to get to Baltimore in time for dinner. She handed me a meal voucher and apologized.

Curious to see whether or not I would have made it to the gate for the flight I was originally booked on, I headed that way. You guessed it, I made it to the gate with time to spare. I didn’t even approach the desk knowing that my luggage was on the plane going to Dulles. The gate was open for at least another 20 minutes. One more reason to do carry-on if you can. I’m not sure they would have reticketed me anyway.

I proceeded to head toward my new gate. I wanted to drink alcohol, but I thought it might prevent me from getting some much needed rest on the flight. The departure time was “on time” and so I waited at the gate. Just when they were about to board the computers went down and they were forced to board manually; more delays.

I landed in Dulles three hours later than I would have landed in Baltimore. The passport line was over an hour long and I knew a car was waiting for me on the other side — dollar signs flashing before my eyes, I was beyond exhausted. My friend Adam had said he’d pick me up, but he wisely sent a car instead; he had three days of his daughter Emma’s Bat Mitzvah festivities ahead of him.  I stupidly totalled the hours I had spent getting to Baltimore and it was just under 24 hours. I cursed the French, British Airways and my anal retentive personality. I walked into the arrival area searching for my name on a big card. The area was swarming with people waiting for their loved ones and there were many men holding up cards with last names on them . . . none of them mine. I was about to contact the car service, but decided if I didn’t pee first, I would wet my pants. Standing by the bathroom was a massive human with my name across his tiny iphone — I should add that my name was spelled correctly for a change.

I said, “Hi, I’m the guy you’re waiting for.”

His reply, “I’m Nick, can you wait right here while I go pee. I’ve been standing here a long time.”

Of course I let him go first. You know when you’re weary and angry and blurry eyed and you just want to go to bed; decisions are never easy — we could have peed at the same time. The 90 minute trip to Baltimore is just a blur. It was 4:00 a.m. back home and I couldn’t keep my eyes open in the car.

We arrived at the hotel and I asked Nick if I was supposed to tip him. He smiled and said it was all included. I didn’t want to think about what “all” meant. I dragged my bag and backpack to the hotel door and the door was locked. I looked for another entrance and that one was locked as well. I stood in the cold — a lot colder than what I am used to — and started thinking about how I might contact the hotel desk. I had no phone service in the States and I didn’t know if I’d find an internet supplier out on the street. Defeated and at a loss for solutions, I was about to sit on the curb when a gentlemen opened the doors and invited me in. They could have stuck me in a closet or office and I would not have noticed. Fortunately, it was Hotel Revival (a Hyatt property) and the room was very nice.

The next day I wrote to British Airways needing to share my story. It was a two paragraph complaint and I included every reservation number, flight number, times, details, the size of my underwear; hoping for some compassion. The reply was laughable, but expected. “You’re flight delay was due a problem with the handicap ramp.”  What? I wrote back and asked if they had even bothered to read my email. The second reply was a bit more thorough, basically informing me of time restrictions and airport travel time, yada, yada, yada. I wrote a third email and finally got somewhere. Even though “it was beyond our control” they were willing to reimburse me for the car service to Baltimore. I did not know that an airline can redirect you up to, I believe, two hours from your destination airport without being responsible for getting you to your original destination.

I got the receipt for the car service from Adam and I discovered why Nick did not expect a tip:  $211 for my ride to Baltimore. The receipt has been submitted and a reimbursement is in the works . . . pending any unforeseen delays.

None of this was made up. Well maybe the underwear comment.

Tip #4 — Unless you want the added expense of a rental car or lots of taxis/Ubers, choose a hotel in the centre of town. If you can avoid a main street or bar/restaurant street, you’ll have a quieter night.

Walking around a city or town is the best way to get to know the landscape. I use Hotels.com and they do a good job of sharing which sights they are close to and how far they are away from the airport and other forms of transportation.

Tip #5 — It seems as if delays are inevitable these days. If you are checking your bags, make sure you have a carry-on bag which will have your necessities:  water, snack, phone charger, laptop charger, lip balm, travel itinerary, passport, make-up, reading glasses, a good book, a small pillow (there are some nice inflatable pillows on the market), etc.

Purchasing some of these items can be expensive (an Apple laptop charger can cost you up to $80). The more you have at the ready, the more comfortable you’ll be.

 

Baltimore was my first stop. Emma’s Bat Mitzvah, good eating, time with friends and family, two very nice hotels, a bit of gambling, and my delay a distant memory; all made for a very pleasant first five days in the States.

Next week:  London, Bath, Paris and Bordeaux. Stories to share from the same holiday.

 

Sharing:

I am not opposed to sharing recommendations for hotels, Airbnbs, airlines, restaurants; however, I prefer you send me a message with any specific requests. I did not keep copious notes this time, but I’m happy to rely on memory and an internet search or two. As always, I must mention that these are only recommendations and my needs may differ from yours.

What in the World?

How does one reconcile, in one’s mind, the hate and corruption one sees throughout the world?

The sad answer is that it’s almost impossible to make it right and all you can do is your best.

 

This past week was a difficult one for me. I wonder if I should even write while I’m feeling so much rage. I don’t consider myself any more virtuous or high minded than anyone else, but I do have a moral compass and it is definitely searching for my true north. I am aware that many people are sick and tired of hearing about corruption and don’t want anything to do with partisan politics. That’s not a good reason for me to shut-up about it. World leaders everywhere are making decisions that affect the lives of many in a truly destructive way. I’m not so naive to think that it is any better or worse than it has ever been, nonetheless, I am discouraged by what I see and hear.

Leaders have been corrupt for centuries; most likely since the very beginning. What I find difficult to swallow, is the absence of concern from the people who are affected by their decisions. We work hard, we take care of one another, and we attempt to create a future for ourselves and our families. However, what we are seeing more and more, is greed and dishonesty among the politicians we put our trust in.

 

What I see

  • I think that as long as these bad actors continue to get elected, apparently by whatever means it takes, this virus will grow bigger and will cause greater harm to the world.
  • Local grassroots leaders may also be corrupt, however, keeping a watchful eye on these politicians is somewhat easier when you can look them in the eye and hold them accountable.
  • We often use the “holidays” as an opportunity to tuck these issues away while we celebrate and escape the news. Taking a break from harsh reality is a good thing, however, politicians count on times like this, hoping we might forget our grievances. Our current administration uses news cycles to deflect from big issues, creating new fires and attempting to bury important stories.
  • The media has always manipulated the truth, spun lies, distorted facts, etc., but lately it seems more like a competition for who can do be better at this game.
  •  I recently decided to listen to those for whom I care a great deal, to hear their point of view and try to better understand their perspective. Their truth is just that and I find it difficult to argue with someone who firmly believes his or her truth.
  • When you feel marginalized, patronized, ignored, and lied to, it’s easy to understand why you might look to a different source for salvation.
  • There have been many studies done (WSJ piece) on the psychological toll the current environment is taking on our lives. The inability to do anything about the chaos and lies, leaves us feeling hopeless and lost (US News piece). Depression, a lack of sleep, anger, hopelessness; it all eventually catches up with you.
  • People have justifiably stopped watching the news or listening to the media. The average person doesn’t know what to believe anymore, and therefore, chooses not to believe anything.

Here is when you add what you see. This is the part that is most interesting. We all see something different because we have different perspectives and histories. Thinking your own perspective is the correct one, is dangerous. It will leave you feeling angry and frustrated. I feel this way almost every day and I have to remind myself to take a step back and breathe.

 

Where It’s All Going

  • Hate to say it, but I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The greedy, lying, SOBs, have far too much to lose and they won’t stop until they get want they want; often at our expense.
  • Authoritarian power mongers are winning elections in many countries; their collective power and clout is helping to put them in office and keep them there. Then of course there are the dictators who gain power by other means. I don’t necessarily see these men as more dangerous than those who are elected.
  • Some leaders use fear, lies and deceit, to get elected and stay in office. It appears that facts and truth is not enough to disprove their rhetoric.
  • There are movements all over the world to stop these hacks. There are also people and organizations putting millions of dollars into the hands of smart leaders who can, at the very least, slow down corruption.
  • Young people, in greater numbers, seem to be joining the conversation lately and that’s a good thing.
  • Sometimes we take three steps forward and six steps back.
  • I truly hate feeling this way, because it’s already pretty dire, but I believe the worst is coming. I don’t believe we are at our breaking point just yet. I don’t think we are capable of wrapping our heads around just how bad it can get. Our optimism can blind us.
  • I think climate change will be more catastrophic than we ever imagined. The rain forests, our oceans, oxygen levels, fossil fuels, dwindling natural resources, garbage, plastics, etc. — way too complicated for the average person to comprehend. We are at a point in mankind’s development where facing the reality of the damage we are causing to our fragile planet, is imperative. Denying, defraying, and hiding the truth, will only hasten our demise. I’m not so much worried for myself, but for our children and their children. Closing our eyes and ears is not the answer; the next generation will pay the price. In the past, the cost was not quite so clear. The world population is higher than it’s ever been and getting bigger.
  • Optimism is a good thing, but using it as a way to deny reality, is dangerous. It is human to be hopeful. It is human to see the good in people. It is human to protect and preserve one’s self, and it it also human to repeat history. We need to wake-up and consider the future.

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Being in Portugal, where they naturally do not celebrate Thanksgiving, was not a good thing for me. Next year I need to either be with friends and family or create a Thanksgiving feast in Portugal. I find myself going down a rabbit hole of negativity and deep concern.

 

Sparing You and Me Both

I’m going to stop here and state, that I am aware that what I am writing about is fairly negative and seemingly fatalistic. I am normally upbeat, positive and hopeful. I hate that I don’t feel that way lately. I’m not depressed, unhealthy or lonely. I’m sensing a great deal of concern from average people who feel that their hands are tied behind their backs. So the big question is, what can you do to change the world so that it’s a better place for our children? I’m in awe of Jane Fonda who fights for all of us each day. At 82 years old, it would be easy for her to enjoy her wealth and abundance. She and others like her (i.e., Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter) inspire me and move me to action.

A friend of mine has being doing his part to lift the spirits of those around him by posting positive quotes on his Facebook page. I came across this one just the other day:

“The biggest obstacle to changing the world is the believe that we can’t.”

— Marianne Williamson

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Photo by Rebecca Zaal on Pexels.com

If it Were My Last 24 Hours on Earth

“No one here gets out alive.”

— Jim Morrison

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answers I got were interesting and understandable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Vanity at Any Age

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

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

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

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

What I Have Done to Look Good/Better

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

What have you done?

 

What I Tell Myself

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

We’re Not Alone

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

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

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

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

 

How I Can Help Others

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

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

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

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

 

 

Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Doing the Right Thing

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

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

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

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

 

Gay Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

 

Catholic Guilt

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

 

Sibling Guilt

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

 

Baby I was Born This Way

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

 

Miscellaneous Guilt

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

 

What is the Right Thing?

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

 

A short story:

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

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

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

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

— Unknown

 

 

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

Letting Go Can Be Difficult

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then nothing happened.

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

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

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

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

 

Practice, Practice, Practice

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

 

What Happens When You Walk Away

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

 

Grieving Loss

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

 

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

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

 

A Kitchen Accident on Thursday

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

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

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

Co-workers Pushing Your Buttons

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

The Leadership

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

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

 

Jealousy

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

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

 

Rumors

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

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

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

 

How to Deal With Rumors in the Workplace

Nine Ways to Get Rid of Workplace Gossip Immediately

 

 

Stupidity

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

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

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

scenic view of thunderstorm
Photo by Amol Mande

 

Ways to Rise Above and Thrive in a Bad Work Environment

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

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

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

Your thoughts?