I believe old demons have returned, but this time I’m more prepared
I’ve been struggling with a decision for a few months now and I’m hoping one of the following happens:
The answer suddenly comes to me with clarity and full resolve.
I decide to allow for an organic resolution; time sorts it out.
Something way bigger than me, decides.
This is one of those situations where anything is possible. I already went from A to B by running my situation by a friend. I carry shame with me on this one; not typical for me and very uncomfortable. I am usually quite clear in my thoughts when I have a personal dilemma. Not this time though, this time I haven’t a clue. In the past, my decisions may have been hasty; I cannot afford a hasty decision this time.
A recent example of hasty: I’m going to London at the end of the week and I have tickets for two plays — two plays that I know for certain I have not seen. I will only be in London for four days, therefore, my time there is precious and limited. I don’t get to see much theatre these days and the idea of getting a ticket for the third day seemed like a good one. I looked at all of the plays currently on the West End and didn’t see any that were appealing. Much like Broadway, unfortunately, the West End has become another home for flashy Disney productions, not my cup o’ tea. But two days ago I received an offer for Indecent, a Paula Vogel play. I got all excited because I’ve admired her work for thirty years. I purchased a ticket using a mobile phone app. I smiled all the way home thinking I’d scored something good . . . not. I got home and read about Indecent and realized I’d seen it in New York. If it was the best thing I’d ever seen I would have remained excited; however, if I recall correctly, it didn’t thrill me. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised and this performance will blow me away. I’ve also decided that if I have a lot going on, I’ll just skip the performance and accept the financial loss. Had I done a bit of research first, I wouldn’t be in this position.
I should state upfront that this issue I am grappling with is not a bad problem to have. I should also share that when I have been in a similar situation in the past, the direction I chose ended up coming out well for me. Unfortunately, every situation is different; therefore, what might have worked in the past may not work now.
I need to come clean with you: I wrote several paragraphs about my situation, went to bed and slept on it. When I woke up this morning, I walked Paco, brewed some coffee, opened my laptop and erased what I had written. For the first time since I started blogging almost four years ago, I decided that what I was sharing was too personal (if you’re curious, contact me privately).
The Real Issue
The problem, as I see it, is that I am often not happy with accepting the status quo. Things can be going well for me and for whatever reason, I seem to have this strange need to shake things up. I know that I can overanalyze, over simplify, and take far too many things for granted. What I have found helpful over the last few years, is patience is a good alternative. Sit tight for a while and whatever it is that is making me crazy, will sort itself out — of course this is only 95% true.
In the spirit of making life easier on myself, I am going to stop here. Rather then bore you with details and make myself cuckoo, I will leave it at this:
My goal this week is to leave this decision up to the universe. With enough time and patience, it will sort itself out. In the end I will be fine; no doubt I will also be better off financially and happier for having not rushed to a hasty decision.
Bond, James Bond
Yesterday I saw, No Time to Die, the new James Bond Film. I’m usually not a big fan, but I caved to peer pressure. It’s fabulous: the acting, the music, and the cinematography — all incredible. The bonus was that I had just firmed up my trip to Cuba in February and about 20 minutes of the film takes place in Havana. That made me feel so good about this long awaited adventure. I wish I was flying there today.
I recently read an interview with Gabriel Tallent who wrote, My Absolute Darling (an incredible must-read novel). He shares that a friend gave him the advice to write with unimpeachable integrity. I love this advice and will from this day forward try my best to write with unimpeachable integrity.
An Aging Man’s Rant
I hate that it’s so hard to pee in the middle of the night. I hate waking up at 2:00 a.m. and feeling wide awake. I hate the achiness I feel most of the time. I hate the that the indentation under my eyes is more pronounced than it was two weeks ago. I hate that when my cell phone rings, I wonder if someone died. I detest strong odors and people who create them. I’m tired of listening to everyone’s opinions about everything. I deplore my own reflection. I abhor people who use Christianity as a rationale for hate and lies. I long for intimacy without feeling self-conscious. I want to live in a world where people care more about the planet than their miles per gallon. I want to hear more talk of love, cooperation, and the power of education. I want to see and feel compassion and care. I want women to feel safe. I want women to be equal. I want women to feel that they can choose what they do with their bodies. I want women to enter a true partnership with men and for men to see women. I need to celebrate and be celebrated. I admire and respect the young and I want the young to admire and respect me. I don’t want to be blamed for the mistakes others made or make. I want to be visible. I want to be seen as authentic, not congratulated for it. I want to shower without fear of breaking a hip. I want to eat without worrying about gas or obesity and the toxins added to my food. I want to be seen as sensitive and empathetic, not weak and pathetic. I want someone to listen to my words and respond to them with their truth. I need to choose my leaders wisely and I need for them to lead with strength, truth, and grace. I want to know that death with dignity is an option I can call upon if I need to do so. I want to dance in the rain and not be judged. I want to laugh more, cry more, and embrace the man I face in the mirror each day. I want to want.
It’s not a lot to ask of myself or others. I posted this on Facebook yesterday and got a ton of sympathy.
Have you ever heard anything that even remotely resembleds the following?
You’re as old as you feel?
You certainly don’t look your age.
Age is a state of mind.
Aging means the loss of a number of skills over time. Julie Bishop
Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.
We age not by years, but by stories.
Aging has a wonderful beauty and we should have respect for that. Ertha Kitt
Aging is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Young at heart, slightly older in other places.
Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength. Betty Friedan
You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. George Burns
I don’t know about you, but to me, this is all wordsmithing, mumbo jumbo bullshit meant to inspire you or make you feel better. I am somewhat cynical, it’s true; however, I also know enough people who are struggling with aches and pains, loss of flexibility, invisibility, and the wretched indecency of misplaced judgment. And of course, one or two of these quotes makes sense to me as well.
They Say Accepting Getting Older is a Process
I accept this as truth and I’m sure that at some point I will accept old age, but what happens in the meantime? Is this emotional and psychological pain really good for me in the long run?
I will continue to explore these questions as I grow older. I’m certain that I will have good days and bad days. I know that the good days make it worthwhile. I believe there is a reason we start out young, knowing little to nothing. I also believe that wisdom brings freedom and revelations. There are people around me who have found peace in their situation. They sort of glide through life with ease and grace. I want to be there, but I want to get there with little effort or pain — that isn’t likely.
I recently did some damage to the top of my head; as usual, I wasn’t paying attention. It made me think it was time to revisit some thoughts concerning the distractions of the mind.
Here’s how the conversation in my head might go on any given day:
5:15 a.m.: Good morning! Where’s Paco (my dog)? Paco! Paco(out loud)! Come and say good morning because I have to get up to pee. Did I set up the coffee last night? You need to brush your teeth. Hey Paco, good morning, what a good boy, yes, yes, yes, yes (out loud). No tongue, I told you no tongue (out loud). Okay let’s get up. What are you going to do today? I need to blog. It’s Monday, I need to start my blog, but what the fuck do I write about (I have a potty mouth when I talk to myself)? Call Angie to wish her a happy birthday. Oh shit, my back hurts. Stretch stupid, stretch! Paco are you hungry? Shit, I forgot to set up the coffee maker.
Later the same morning. Observations as I look back: I don’t stop. I move around a lot. Sometimes I think I’ve done a lot and other times I’m pretty sure that I’ve done nothing.
6:00 p.m.: You didn’t get everything you wanted to get done, done, but it’s 6:00 p.m. and time for a cocktail. The good stuff? Cheap stuff? Oh what the hell, go for the good stuff. Self-denial of indulgences is not one of my issues.
9:30 p.m.: Did you floss? I don’t remember flossing? I should floss. I should go to bed. Come on Paco, let’s go to bed.
2:00 a.m.: get up to pee and try not to wake up. Crap you’re up. Careful not to hit the bowl; aim Chris, aim.
[Talking to your pet is more like talking to yourself and that’s a good thing. This is my way of justifying odd behavior.]
“We actually talk to ourselves silently all the time. I don’t just mean the odd “where are my keys?” comment – we actually often engage in deep, transcendental conversations at 3am with nobody else but our own thoughts to answer back. This inner talk is very healthy indeed, having a special role in keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions.” (The Conversation, May 3, 2017)
It’s not like people have not written about this topic before, it’s just that it’s very personal and I want to add my two cents. We all process these kinds of things differently. Some people have always talked to themselves and couldn’t imagine any other way of life. The other end of the spectrum is those who believe you have to be clinically insane to carry on a conversation with yourself. Like most things, most of us are somewhere in the middle. In order to prepare yourself for this behavior, you have to be:
willing to accept that it’s okay; normal even.
open to whatever comes to mind and pour out of your mouth.
prepared to answer back.
present (I added this one because I’ve noticed that when you’re present, you’re also listening).
Give it a try, what have you got to lose.
Out Loud Conversations
There was a time when I would not have considered having an out loud conversation with myself. I would have been way too self-conscious and afraid that I might do it in public. Now, I couldn’t care less. I’m fairly certain that at this stage in my life I’m not going to humiliate myself. But if I’m in a car and I’m by myself, I’ll probably have a little talk. Things like, be careful, don’t go too fast, what are you forgetting — you see where this is going.
When you live with other people and you’re unsure about something, you can just casually mention stuff in passing. When you live alone there is no one around to run things by. So why not ask yourself? The answer is more than likely inside that brain somewhere. When you’re bold enough to practice this behavior, you’ll notice a higher level of self-esteem and a certain pride in your own independence.
Trusting yourself is important for this practice. Do you believe your own words? Do you practice what you preach? Do you follow your own advice?
Singing to yourself can be very calming. I had a boss who sang gospel songs to herself all day long and she was very centered. So much so that I resented it. I honestly didn’t realize she was doing something healthy for herself. Don’t be your own worst critic — this isn’t a live concert with a sophisticated sound system, belt it out.
Have you noticed that people on the street and in their cars all seem to be talking to themselves these days? Most of them are on their cell phones. Bluetooth devices have made it easy to speak hands free. Now it looks like we’re all talking to ourselves, making it easy to do so with judgment from most.
What People Might Think
We humans care way too much about what people think of us. It’s not an easy thing to dismiss or ignore. Have you noticed how many older folks just don’t care? It seems to be something we learn to do over time. When you’re working on providing for your family or building a career, it has to matter. Still, there are things you can do that make little difference to anyone else; talking to yourself might be one of those things. When you come to the realization that what others think no longer matters, it is extremely liberating. I’m getting there . . .
A good exercise might be to give it a try. Talk to yourself out loud for a solid week and see how it feels. Are you able to respond? Have you worked out any unresolved issues? Do you feel better? I’ve never been one to feel lonely, but my guess is that if you acknowledge what great company you’re in when you’re in your own company, you’ll feel better and make better decisions. Gaining more self-esteem and holding your head high only makes you more attractive to the world. Tell yourself, “Shoulders back, chest out, stand tall and be proud. Show the world who you are.”
When Something Good Becomes a Habit
Humans have a lot of bad habits; I won’t name mine here, but if you’re curious, most blog posts reveal a few. The thing is, we can have good habits too. Do it once and it’s just a one-off, do it twice and it’s a repeat, do it many times and it becomes a habit. Make talking to yourself a positive habit (like going to the gym, dressing up and eating superfoods).
A StoryAbout Mindfulness
I like trying out new ways of being; let’s call it experimenting with life.
I woke up in a loathsome mood not too long ago. It’s actually not my way; I’m usually cheerful in the morning. It might have been the number of flights and holidays that had been kiboshed that week — none of them my choice. I had one of those affirmation moments and I actually thought that perhaps my mindset could change the course of my day and thus, put me in a better frame of mind.
From this moment forward, all of your thoughts will be positive. I know it’s seems trite and ridiculous, but I actually looked at myself in the mirror and said it out loud. This is one of those new agie tricks that actually works. Tell yourself it’s going to be a good day and it will be a good day. Manifesting what you hope for and what you know is good for you, works more often than not.
I wore brighter, more vibrant colors, I held my head up, when asked about how I was, I was upbeat and positive. The decisions I made that day were made with a positive outcome in mind. I took care of myself, looked out for my own well-being. I treated myself the way I like to be treated.
I went on-line and booked a week overseas. I picked seats on the plane with more leg room. I chose hotels that were not three stars, but four. I made a couple of high-end dinner reservations. I felt great about what I had done for myself and I spent the next couple of weeks anticipating a luxury vacation. From start to finish, this was one of the best experiences I’ve had since the start of the pandemic. The moral of the story for me, was simply: no matter what your mood, if your mindful and good to yourself, things will turn out better for you. I can’t say it will work every time; however, I know from experience, my success rate is better than average — no harm done.
Is talking to yourself ever harmful?
Talking to yourself is often associated with mental illness, but that is rarely the reason for or cause of self-talk. However, there are some situations where self-talk may be an indication of a psychological problem.
When self-talk is accompanied by self-harm — for example, striking yourself or cutting — then it’s a sign of an emotional problem, Dabney said. As well, if you are engaging in self-talk that involves repetitive phrases, mantras or numbers, and this type of self-talk is disruptive to you or difficult to stop, that can also be an indicator of an emotional problem. In either case, speak to a qualified medical professional for a proper assessment. (Huffington Post, Is it Normal to Talk to Yourself, August 23, 2019
It’s so easy to forget you’re human. I need to revisit this topic for my own sanity.
If you’re anything like me — and God help you if you are, you’re fairly hard on yourself. You can spend a lot of money trying to figure out why you’re like this, or you can just accept it as fact.
People who are hard on themselves usually spend a lot of time thinking about the way they did something or said something, presented themselves, worked on a project, planned a presentation; pretty much scrutinize every aspect of their lives. You go over it in your head a dozen times. This process, although it can keep you awake at night, is not necessarily a bad thing. It might be healthier to come up with an alternative that would be more productive the next time you do whatever it is that you’ve done.
For example: You decide to confront a friend who has been consistently late for a dinner date. Your friend gets to the restaurant 30 minutes after your scheduled meeting time and you’re angry. As they approach the table at the restaurant, you stand with your hands on your hips and you make certain to tense up your facial muscles and you stare her down.
She apologizes and you say, “I’m tired of your excuses; if you cared anything about me and my time, you wouldn’t do this to me.”
Your friend gets defensive, tells you that you have no idea what it’s like to be her and that she almost cancelled because she has so much going on. You both sit down angry, with no appetite, and no resolution. You both leave the restaurant wondering if your friendship can survive this confrontation.
You can stew on this forever or you can decide that there was a better way to approach the problem. This, of course, is only if you value your friendship; some friendships are more work than they should be. Writing down various solutions are “next steps” can help purge the problem and free-up your thinking.
You can try calling your friend and letting her know that she means a great deal to you and that you have come to realize that she deserved better. She now knows that you do not appreciate her tardiness and that you had gone past your level of tolerance. Remember, forgiveness and taking the high road are very freeing. You can try saying this:
Jane, I realize that you have a lot going on in your life these days and I really appreciate that you still make time for me. Perhaps in the future we can decide on a time to meet that is more practical for you. For example, if trying to have dinner at 7:00 p.m. is stressing you out, perhaps we can meet for a drink at 8:30 or 9:00 instead. Or maybe a weekend brunch would work better for us . . . or a morning walk.
Your letting Jane know that: 1) you understand and hear her, 2) you’re willing to work with her, and 3) you obviously want to see her. She’ll feel a whole lot less defensive and more understood. I’m pretty sure she’ll be on time in the future. And if that doesn’t last, you need to re-evaluate how important being on-time is for you.
Give Yourself a Break
I’m so much easier on others than I am on myself. Lately, I stop for a second after I disappoint myself and I say, how would you have treated your friend David if he had done the same thing? Nine times out of ten the answer would be that I would let it go. Often, it was an innocent mistake or there is a simple explanation and therefore, I can let it go. If I can treat a friend that way, I can do the same for myself. You’ll find that when you treat yourself fairly, you will performing an act of kindness and it feels just as good when you do it for yourself. In fact, it really needs to start with you; empathy comes easier when you know how it feels.
Worst Case Scenario
By now you know that this is my modus operandi. Consider the worst thing that could happen. You will normally discover two things: 1) the worst thing is not likely to happen, and 2) if it did, you would survive it.
For example: When I decided to move overseas I naturally experienced some anxiety. What if I hate Portugal? What if the people there don’t speak English? What if my money runs out in two years? And on and on.
A good friend realized that I was anxious over the “what ifs” and said, “Chris, why are you so worried? If it doesn’t workout come back to the States. You’ll always be an American citizen and you’ll always have a home here.”
Duh, permission granted to stop worrying.
Treat Yourself the Way you Like/Want to be Treated
Why is it so hard to treat ourselves with love and respect? I know it’s a loaded question and very difficult to answer; however, why not start today. Like any habit, it’s learned behavior — you have to do it and then repeat it over and over again; after awhile it will become a habit. You will see, you’ll do it without thinking about it. Try it one day soon: look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you are not perfect and that’s okay. In fact, it’s even better than okay, it’s the preferred way to be. Perfection is hard to be around; it makes one feel inadequate and less than. You are enough . . . I am Enough.
A few years ago I was told that my laugh is a little loud. I became self-conscious about it and I stopped laughing. I stopped until a work friend told me how much he loved my laugh.
He said, “Chris when you laugh everyone hears you and we all laugh with you; your laugh is contagious.”
That person who told me that my laugh was loud, for whatever reason, could not handle joy. I can be sad about that, but it shouldn’t stop me from laughing. Think about how many times you were not your authentic self because someone else couldn’t handle it . . . well isn’t that just too bad for them.
Every time you take two steps back, remember that as long as you take three steps forward, you’re making progress.
morally right or justifiable. “feelings of righteous indignation about pay and conditions”
Just as soon as I read “feelings” in the definition, I thought, well, no one can argue with my feelings. But can they? Lately, I’m feeling an abundance of feelings about so many things. I feel like I’m in righteous overdrive. Is it the divided world we live in or am I an angry old man?
Things I Have Felt Righteous About (I typed a list yesterday and it disappeared. Now I’m forced to consider what counts):
Politics (lies and misinformation)
Dishonesty in relationships
Smoking around non-smokers without asking if it’s okay
Recycling (people who act like it’s way too difficult to separate their trash)
Climate change deniers
People who do not/will not listen
Friends, family, and/or strangers who take me for granted. The number of people who think they’re entitled to whatever is astounding. You forget to say thank you the first time you’re forgiven; after that, you’re on your own.
People who use religion to explain away their bias or hate
Laws or rules that make no sense or serve no purpose
People who fight socialism who do not even knowing the meaning of the concept
People who see others in pain and turn the other way
Abusers of all kinds
I’m going to stop there because I’m getting fired up.
Using That Energy
The simple truth is this: if you have anger, rage, resentment, fury, it has to go somewhere or it ends up sitting in your internal organs and festering. Should it go unchecked, it will fester to the point of severe damage. The best thing you can do for yourself is to channel that anger toward something positive. For me, writing is my outlet, my escape valve. When the pressure builds, I write. The other method is to exercise patience; patience takes a lot of energy. If your deliberate in your practice of patience, that energy will become something fruitful and thought provoking.
Case in point: I get angry with a sibling who calls me on a regular basis and talks and talks and talks, but doesn’t bother to ask how I’m doing. I let that steam build this week and I was going to let this family member have it. A piece of my mind was appropriate and there would be no holding back. (This individual does not read my blog, but I still feel compelled to keep his or her name to myself — family will know).
The phone rings and it’s the culprit. I listen. I seeth and I wait for the right moment to pounce.
I’m about to unleash the kraken and my sibling says, “What’s happening with you these days.”
If that lesson is not convincing enough to keep me from jumping the gun, coming out with my fists clenched and my chin out, I don’t know what is. Patience Christopher, patience.
Whether this individual listened to my reply . . . well, that’s a whole other matter. The other life lesson is this: we humans are only capable of so much change. The higher your expectations, the greater the likelihood of disappointment. Baby steps are all we can hope for.
What Do Others’ Think?
Like most, I pay way too much attention to social media. Whenever I’m feeling particularly righteous about something happening in the public arena (i.e., politics), I notice a post gets a lot less attention than say, a cute picture of my dog Paco. Or perhaps, people notice my outrage and agree with me; however, they made a vow to stay away from politics on social media and they’re sticking to it. That sort of gets under my skin. Waiting for a big election to come around is not the time to protest. Right now is the time to counter the false narrative.
The other side of it of course is that I am preaching to the choir: the people in my life who are my tribe . . . the people in my life that I respect and admire because they agree with me. In truth, there are a few people in my orbit who are on the fence; these people are not 100% one way or the other. These uncertain few are my audience when I go off on a rant. I know of two people in my close circle of friends who have come over to my side. It is for this reason that I will not stop putting the facts out there and presenting a raional, truthful, common sense perspective; in my opinion.
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
I was raised in a home where you said what you had to say; you got it off your chest and then you let it go. By the time I got to kindergarten, I learned that the rest of the world didn’t operate that way.
Along the way, I received lots of reactions to my “Brooklyn” bravado. I had to hide my sexuality, therefore, it was act tough and survive or whimper and be bullied. I developed a thick skin and a look that said, be real with me or get out of my face.
And then this happened . . .
I was a candidate for a really great position on campus at the University of South Carolina. It was my second year of a two-year Master’s degree program and I had spent the first year validating my candidacy for a coveted position. At the end of my second semester, I met with the director of the Living & Learning Program and discussed my future. I remember a smirk on his face I didn’t appreciate. He told me that there had been a couple of complaints about my direct nature — an interesting way to put it. He further went on to tell me he had observed it himself. What he said in not so many words:
I appreciate that you’re from New York and that New Yorkers are known for speaking their mind. It’s not how we conduct ourselves in the south. We tend to start with some small talk and then we sugar coat our words a bit. That’s how we succeed in getting what we want. You might want to consider changing your communication style while you’re in South Carolina; maybe tone it down a bit (source is now deceased, 1983). I guess I might have been reliving this horror in the middle of the night last night, because I also recalled that he said that I was a “primadonna.” At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant.
To say that I was devastated is a gross understatement. I spent the next two months questioning everything about the way in which I conducted myself. I cried a lot, I was angry, I hated that creep, and I went from deciding I would change everything about myself to being determined I would stay true to who I am.
At the end of a long and tortured summer, the director called me into his office; I almost refused to take the meeting, but I knew he had a lot of influence at the University. He asked me if I’d thought about what he’d said in May. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that I was tormented by his feedback. I responded:
I thought about what you said and I agree with some of it. I went on to tell him that I could be a bit less crass and a bit more tactful. I also stared him straight in his eyes and told him that I liked my own sincerity and direct approach; bullshit was not my style and being all nice nice without feeling it, wasn’t ever going to happen.
He listened with what seemed like an open mind. I asked him if there was anything else and he said,
“The position is yours if you want it. There are a lot of people on campus who are rooting for you, don’t let them down.”
He shared his own reservations and I sat there acting all smug and self-satisfied. I wanted that job more than anything and I was determined to prove him wrong.
So what is the point of my telling you this tale of woe? There are a few reasons actually:
His words stuck with me more than any others that I have heard in my life. I didn’t like him, but I respected him and I came to believe he was sincerely trying to teach me something.
In many ways he was right. I was overly confident and way too direct.
Had he not shared his observations with me, I may never have been told that I needed to lower the volume. I still resent his harsh and hurtful approach, however, he managed to get me thinking about how I communicate with people and that is never a bad thing.
I have mentored several young people throughout my career. I have been in the position to share my thoughts about character flaws I thought could be altered or corrected. I am thoughtful about the way in which I phrase my criticism or feedback. I can always tell when I may have pushed too hard or said too much. I recall how much I learned from my critic and I accept the anger directed toward me. My own saboteur reminds me that I am vulnerable and imperfect.
And Another Thing . . .
My neighbor has decided to make his condo an Airbnb; it’s his place, I guess it’s his business. Personally, I think it’s an ugly dump and I’m not sure why anyone would rent it. It’s probably cheap, so it’s attracting young party people.
Yesterday, my new, not-so-friendly Airbnb neighbors were getting on the elevator to go to the beach and I introduced myself:
“Hi, I’m Chris, if you need anything please knock.”
They looked at me like deer in headlights and I very gently said:
“Do me a favor, when you close your door, please do it slowly. When your door slams my apartment shakes.”
Seriously, it sounds like a bomb has hit the building when the wind is strong.
You would have thought I was asking them to go to bed earlier. The look I got was of utter disgust and resentment. I promise you, I was pleasant.
What I said to them was not even criticism mind you. Would a big ugly sign outside my door asking for consideration be better?
Things I Keep In Mind When Offering Criticism/Feedback
Will I ever see this person again?
Will my words make a difference?
How am I being impacted by their approach or style?
What words can I use to make a difference?
Am I being honest or mean?
Do I really know better?
Is my honesty a way to sabotage a relationship?
Will they hear me?
Are they open to feedback?
Why am I doing it?
I know that I don’t know anything about most things, but I sure do know a little about some things. Keeping my opinion to myself isn’t easy, so listen up:
Men of Portugal (you know who you are), stop dousing yourself with buckets of cheap cologne, you stink and you’re making me sick! People, when you’re in line at the supermarket you need to stay in line; continuing to shop and expecting to keep your place in line, isn’t cool. And to the young men who own motorbikes in my neighborhood: I know that having a small penis makes life difficult; however, taking your muffler off of your motorcycle or moped won’t make that little penis any larger. You’re just making people angry and the girls don’t think it’s cool. Spend more time on your hair, it’s quieter. And I’m sorry to judge, but young gay men are not driving their loud motorbikes all around Faro.
Note: I’m just guessing about penis size.
When people are not willing to speak out for fear of repercussion or alienation, they become angry, resentful, and complacent. Keep this in mind when someone around you is feeling stifled or worse, gagged.
Travel: Time on the Spanish/Portuguese border in a Pousada next week; they can’t cancel that on me. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to go on my trip to Stockholm in August. And maybe even a booked trip to Lyon, France in September. I don’t count on travel anymore, I just have to wait and see.
Castles, Palaces, Monasteries, Halls of kings and Rooms of Queens… The Pestana Pousadas de Portugal offers the ultimate immersive Portuguese experience in some of the country’s most historical and iconic properties.
Note: Check out Wanda Sykes who is hosting for Jimmy Kimmel this week. She’s doing some kick ass truth tellin’.
Let’s face it, we all have demons. Mine always choose the worst time to enter my consciousness: sometime around 2:00 to 4:00 a.m. Between having to get up to pee numerous times and these visitors, I get out of bed exhausted. These are people that were either a part of my past or live among the present. The frequent visitors are those I did not have closure with. Death, a major blow up, or fear that any sort of interaction would make things worse, keeps these demons around.
Whether in dreams, semi-consciousness, and/or periods of being fully awake, these wandering spirits, cause much consternation.
The Main Reasons These Nighttime Visits Occur
Therapists I have engaged throughout my life have told me that these visits are normal and a healthy way of coping. What they really mean to say is that approaching someone you’re angry with wielding a knife, is not good. Your mind is a complex organ where your thoughts are not always easily explained. Many of my conflicts play out in my dreams. Usually not a pleasant or productive dream, for the most part, it’s usually more of the same.
How These Conversations Usually Go
So you’re back?
I didn’t choose to be here.
Then why are you here?
You summoned me stupid.
Here’s the thing, I don’t remember asking you to be here and I’d rather you just disappear. I hate how you treated me all those years, but there is nothing I can do about it now.
Oh geez, let it go. I was an egotistical maniac and I treated everyone that way; you need to move on.
But you fucked-up my head. I have all sorts of anger bubbling up because of you. I alienate relationships, hide out for long periods of time, shut down, and sometimes blame others for my own bad behavior.
That’s not on me. Whatever I did, I did it because I thought it was right at the time. You can’t blame me because you kept it all in and never confronted me. And don’t make excuses like: “I couldn’t find the right time” or “You would never have listened,” it’s all nonsense. I’ve been your scapegoat for too many years. I’m tired of repeating myself — you are your own worst enemy.
That makes me feel so much better. Now get out and don’t come back.
[Cold sweats and a sleepless night are almost a certainty. Alcohol and other substances only makes things worse and pushes thoughts down temporarily.]
Recognize the endless loop of outrageous verbiage? It’s exhausting.
Getting Rid of the Demons for Good
As if getting rid of them is even remotely possible (the cynic in me).
I have found that there are very few ways to purge these demons.
Closure — confronting the individual and either receiving an apology (unlikely) or sorting it out.
Working it out in therapy. A good therapist will engage you in role play. Here you have an opportunity to say what is on your mind and purge your thoughts. You must be fully committed to the process.
Time — hopefully, a long period of time will help you to eventually let it go.
Holding on to resentment or anger is never good. It does awful damage to your psyche and your internal organs. The quicker you can work it out, the healthier you will be. I’ve been working on this for years and I can only report a slight improvement. It’s something to strive toward.
COVID-19 strikes again and Lyon and Bristol are not happening . . . now. Instead I am booking a shared cottage on the Island of Farol. I’ll get there by ferry from Faro in about 30 minutes. I booked it for July and I’m fairly certain it won’t be cancelled. This should be a unique experience that I will be excited to tell you about.
Just about everyone I know is living through relationship difficulties during this divisive time in our country’s history. In my house any conversation was fair game at the dinner table. We fought over politics, race, religion, and just about anything you can imagine. In the end, there was so much love between us, it never got in the way. Maybe that’s why despite our political differences, I am still very close to several of my family members.
Our homes are not always reflective of the rest of the world. When I was a young and I attended dinner parties, it was made clear that certain topics were taboo. My guess is that the host did not want to deal with yelling and screaming at the table, people possibly walking out, and even worse, some people never coming back. People are often hellbent on winning arguments. We’ve all been to at least one of these epic dinners.
For many of us, it’s all about winning. It’s one of those things some of us were taught growing up: “Winning is everything.”
“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”
“The person that said winning isn’t everything, never won anything.”
It’s Okay Not to Win (here comes the list):
When you’re having an argument with your boss
when you’re playing sports with your child
when you’re playing for a charitable organization and it’s more to do with making a donation
when make-up sex is on the horizon
when you have a disagreement with someone who care about
when you may never see the person you disagree with again
when getting to a win will cause health issues
when winning means losing your integrity
when you would have to lie in order to win
when winning means losing a friend
when winning means cheating
when losing means keeping your humility
I have this little voice in my head that tells me: winning comes at a cost and that thought stops me from doing many things — good, bad, I’m not sure.
When Winning is Fun
Winning is fun when you’re enjoying yourself; when it’s not life and death or having to go to prison for the win. I love winning a game of cards. I love when my party wins an election. I love winning at the blackjack table. I love winning a bet. I love winning a scratch-off lottery ticket. I love winning board games. I love winning a big Supreme Court Case (eg., gay marriage). I love when winning is followed by a celebration. It’s true, I love winning.
A Personal Story (I apologize if you’ve heard it)
When I worked for Dorothy Hamilton, owner of the French Culinary Institute, we used to enjoy playing Scrabble; obviously not at work.
Dorothy invited me to her Connecticut estate for the weekend. We sat by a warm fire for several hours playing Scrabble. I was a better player, but I held back because I knew how much Dorothy liked to win. Although I am very competitive, there are times when winning must be less important. About halfway through the game she misspelled a word. I looked at it and thought it best not to challenge her.
It was getting late and we had plans to go out to dinner. Dorothy excused herself to change for dinner. She told me that a friend of hers would be joining us and to answer the door when she arrived. A few minutes later the doorbell rang and when I went to the door, it was the actress Christine Baranski. She was gorgeous and gracious; it took every ounce of restraint not to gush. I welcomed Christine into Dorothy’s home. She asked me where Dorothy was and walked over to the fireplace where our Scrabble board was set-up.
“Playing Scrabble?” She uttered.
“We are,” I replied.
“Well, one of you spelled a word wrong.” Christine pointed at the board and sucked her teeth.
I told her that I knew that it was misspelled; however, I requested that she keep it between us. She asked me why and I told her that I didn’t notice it until it was too late and besides, “I work for Dorothy.”
Dorothy called Christine’s name from upstairs and runs down to greet her. It didn’t take long for her to confront Dorothy.
“Dorothy, you spelled a word wrong and Chris is afraid of you.”
I kept my mouth shut and Dorothy looked at me and said,”Why didn’t you challenge me?”
I lied and told her that I didn’t realize it was misspelled while we were playing. I’m fairly certain she didn’t believe me and she teased me about it for a long time. About a year later we were at a Manhattan restaurant and she brought it up.
“Are you afraid of me?”
“Yes,” I said, “you can be intimidating and besides, you’re my boss.”
I promise you she said the following:
“It’s okay with me if I intimidate you.”
I believe that sums her up. I stand by my decision to sometimes allow Dorothy to win.
By the way, Christine Baranski was charming, funny and great company. I believe she kept Dorothy honest and that was a good thing for the rest of us. (A tragic car accident took Dorothy a few years ago.)
An aside: Joan Rivers joined us at our table at the restaurant that night. I loved Joan Rivers, so that was a huge thrill. I just have to say, in person Joan’s plastic surgery made her pretty scary to look at — her face like a porcelain doll; the rest of her old and wrinkled.
I am booked on a trip to Cuba beginning February 18; five days in Varadero and four days in Havana. I’m not sure the trip will actually be a go, but it’s insured, so I’m not too concerned. It will require that I take the COVID-19 test a minimum of three times, but I think it’s a small price to pay. I’ve been trying to get to Cuba for quite awhile. Now that I have a Portuguese visa, I am able to go. “If not now, then when?”
Planned Trips: Toulouse in April, the United States in May, Lyon in June, Bristol in July (rescheduled from March), a Mediterranean cruise in October, and five Asian countries in January 2022 (rescheduled from January 2021). Sometimes I choose to fly to places that I can get to on one plane from Faro. I’ve been to Toulouse and fell in love with this city — the UK is easy to get to from here and never disappoints. Asia is elusive. For some reason it is taking me ages to get to this part of the world. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that maybe I’m just not ready. I do love a carrot and I know it will happen soon enough.
I woke with a bad headache today. Of course I believe I may have the virus. Don’t dare read a list of symptoms. Very early on, perhaps last February, a friend of mine said, “Before this is over, half the world will get it.” I thought to myself, how ridiculous! Now I believe she may have been right.
I bought this authentic Gabbeh (Turkey) rug on the Facebook Marketplace this week. I made a little adventure out of retrieving it. It’s a funny thing about a rug, I think you have to live with it awhile to learn to appreciate it. Paco liked it right from the start. It’s the green that has me concerned; fortunately it’s a muted green. Dark grey/charcoal would have been better, but I don’t think those colors were used 60 years ago. My Portuguese tutor looked at it Tuesday and she said, “It’s really old.” I do realize that I’m giving this rug too much attention.
Repeat after me: I like my new/used rug, I like my new/used rug . . .
Counting My Blessings
I cannot imagine what it must have been like to live overseas 20 or more years ago. Staying in touch with loved ones back home must have been very expensive and difficult. Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, and other forms of social media have made communicating and keeping up with friends fairly easy. Meeting friends through expat sites and Meetup groups is also a terrific and easy way to connect — sometimes too easy (update).
When you’ve been around the block a few times, you become more discerning. Picking and choosing who I spend my time with and how I spend my time has been of greater importance since moving abroad. It’s easy to regress back to my old ways; I have to remind myself that “my truth” is ultimately all that matters. As your truth should be all that matters to you. I needed a constant reminder, so a few years ago I stopped into a tattoo shop in Soho (Manhattan) and asked for this:
Last year I had a palm tree tattooed on my ankle. It was done to mark my new life in Portugal.
Update: when I went back to buy this piece I noticed it was damaged so I didn’t get it. However, I did buy two others that are in the first photo above (over the sofa). The artist lives in Lisbon. I never get tired of them.
The decision to relocate abroad was an opportunity to take stock of how I was living my life; the food I am eating, the amount of alcohol I am drinking, and how I am spending my time. The mind, body and spirit; holistic approach to living, seems like a better way to live in the present and think about the future. A philosophy that would be difficult to argue; especially in my own mind.
What role does social media play in my life?
I love social media. I enjoy keeping up with friends near and far, I enjoy the posted photos, I like how upbeat most of the postings are, and I even enjoy the occasional not-so-positive back and forth disagreements. That being said, I think some people take it a bit too far. I have learned rather than getting all pissy about it, I have several options:
I can just quickly skim through postings and ignore the stuff that doesn’t speak to me.
I can follow certain people on Facebook. This is different from unfriending, which I have also done on occasion. I have to admit that it is a very empowering exercise.
I can stay away from social media for a few days and take a breather.
I can counter with overwhelmingly positive posts and impart guilt on others.
I can include my thoughts in my very subjective, highly personal blog.
One of the things I have always loved about Europe is that you can visit a small town and find fantastic food prepared by creative chefs. Carla’s Curve (A Curva) in Mexihoeria Grande is just that kind of place. Carla came out of the kitchen to describe what she had purchased that day and how she intended to prepare it. I did not take pictures of the food because sometimes I feel that it’s better to just be in the moment and fully enjoy everything that comes your way. Carla’s clams were prepared in olive oil with white wine, garlic and parsley and they were so fresh the simple ingredients did not over power the clams; incredible. Then I had beef ribs in a delicious barbecue sauce. I have not been very impressed with the beef since I arrived here, so I was anxious to try Carla’s ribs . . . they were tender and flavorful. People all around me were expressing their satisfaction and raving about Carla; she’s a warm, animated individual. It was a truly wonderful local dining experience and I cannot wait to return. The restaurant is literally located on a huge curve as you meander down the hill. The next time I will take pictures of the food.
There have been a couple of semi-lockdowns in the Algarve; mostly weekends. I have decided it is best to stick around Faro for a few months. I don’t want to expose myself to COVID-19 and I think it would be best to stay away from places that have a high rate of infection.
Faro has a new Italian restaurant and I’m becoming a regular. Forno Nero, excellent pizza and good pasta. Still need Thai, Korean, and BBQ. We have BBQ restaurants, but they’re not the same as our North Carolina or Texas BBQ in the U.S. I guess seeking out the food I love gives me a good reason to travel.
I’m focusing on learning Portuguese, making some home improvements, reading more, experimenting with some new dishes, and spending more time with Paco. He had a most unfortunate haircut in October, but his hair is fortunately growing back. How can you not love that face?
No doubt I miss the States; I miss friends and family, I miss the smell of fall and the changing of the leaves, I miss the food, and I miss the familiarity of it all. I know all this would be true COVID-19 or not. It’s holiday time and it’s all very strange. I also know that what I have discovered in Portugal is very special and extremely beautiful in so many ways. I cannot take it for granted and I will not spend my days lamenting about what I had back home. Yes, Brooklyn will always be my home.
I’ve made some great friends since I arrived here. Also happy to report that a close friend from New York City purchased an apartment in Faro. She won’t be here full time, but she’ll be here a lot and that is making me very happy.
Finally, one of the owners of my croquet club in Tavira, Portugal has been in hospital for a few weeks now. He contracted the COVID-19 virus and became very ill pretty quickly. Unfortunately, he is not likely to survive. My thoughts are with his wife, family and friends. Anyone who still believes the virus is a hoax and that governments all over the world are overreacting, is a risk to the rest of us who would like to remain healthy. Please wear a mask when asked to do so, wash your hands frequently, and remain socially distant. Thank you.
Sometimes I shake my head wondering: did this really happen?
I’ve waited for quite awhile to tell this story. It’s a rather sensitive matter, therefore, I will use almost all fictitious names to protect those involved. There are people in this story who were supportive, sympathetic, and brave and then there are the rest. I should start by saying that the entire matter was surreal for me. As I went through the motions and experienced it, I felt as though I was on the set of a movie shoot; none of it seemed real, and all of it bizarre. What I know for certain, is that it happened and it changed me.
Searching for a Needle in an Italian Haystack
It was an ordinary day at The International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York City when I received the call. At the time, I was School Director and Dean of Student Affairs. The year was the early 2000s. I had worked with others to create an Italian cooking training program in Italy. Students would start their training at ICC and then travel to Alma in Colorno, Italy for the final six weeks of their training. I had traveled to Colorno (by way of Milan) several times. Our relationship with the staff in Italy was solid and the student experience was exceptional. I was proud to be a part of a very unique cooking school experience. Most of the students were in the 20s and 30s; very mature and focused.
We did several rotations a year and enrollment was better than expected. I was the administrator-in-charge of the program; however, there were over ten faculty and staff members doing the real work of executing the experience. The cost of the complete course was close to $50,000 and because part of it was overseas, there were many moving parts. My father was born in Italy; in many ways, it felt as if I had come full-circle in my Italian heritage. While I worked with others to create the program, I learned a lot about regional Italian cooking, its rich history, and I got to try every dish taught. In addition, I was a proud judge during finals in Italy on several occasions.
Francesca (her real name) was my contact person at Alma. What we were about to experience created a bond and lifelong friendship born out of a terrifying situation. Francesca’s call about one of our students in Italy, continues to make me anxious all these years later. There are deeply felt emotions that are never lost and never leave us.
“Chris, I need to tell you something, but I don’t want you to worry too much.”
My body tensed and I stayed quiet and I listened.
“One of your ICA (at that time we called the program Italian Culinary Academy) students has disappeared.”
Francesca was not an alarmist and she took care of nearly any incident on the Alma campus, so I knew this was serious. Sal was gone for two days and no one had heard from him. His passport and toothbrush were still in his room and there appeared to be no foul play. Administrators at both schools agreed that he had probably met a girl and he was with her on a sun drenched beach. Sal’s friends and classmates didn’t believe that was the case and this caused great concern. Apparently, there were witnesses to an argument outside of a bar the night before he’d gone missing; in fact, the last time Sal was seen. The argument was between Sal and several locals. Some students speculated that the argument was over a Russian girl from the bar, but no one was certain. Francesca and I agreed that Sal’s parents should be informed. She was also going to call the Colorno carabinieri (local police).
I quickly booked a flight to Milan, packed a small bag, and headed for JFK. Alma had a car pick me up in Milan and I attempted to rest my eyes and calm my brain on the 2.5 hour drive to Colorno. It had been 16 hours since hearing from Francesca and by this time, I imagined all sorts of horrible scenarios. Growing up in Brooklyn during the 60s and 70s made me tough, street smart, and terribly jaded. Film and murder mysteries didn’t help.
Riccardo (head of the school) and Francesca met me at the school when I arrived. There was no news from Sal and everyone was thinking the worst. Sal’s parents were on their way from the States and Francesca was arranging their accommodations. Jet lag was helping make a bad situation untenable; my thoughts toggling between despair about what might have happened to Sal and dread concerning meeting his parents. A living nightmare and nowhere to hide.
Francesca drove me to the police station for a conversation regarding next steps. I sat with several carabinieri officers asking every question I could think of. Francesca was interpreting for me and I could tell she was exhausted and worried. The carabinieri would not confirm or deny a street argument or that there might have been a Russian girl involved.
After hours at the police station and talking with students, I headed for my hotel room to close my eyes. Francesca agreed to contact me with any news.
There was one particular bar not far from the school that was popular with the American students attending Alma. Colorno is a very small town and everyone knows everyone. There were rumors among the students a number of Russian woman were available for hire and that Sal might have owed money to one of the handlers of these woman. Administrators at Alma seemed genuinely surprised to hear that prostitution was taking place under their noses. My mind took me to dark place; imagining Sal buried six feet underground somewhere outside of Colorno.
Sal’s parents arrived the evening of my first day, however, they did not show up on campus until the following morning. By then, I had slept a few hours and I was more prepared to meet with them. Alma was very sympathetic to their anxiety and did everything possible to make them comfortable. Looking back, I was actually quite surprised by their calm and decorum. They too spent time with the local police. They also took several students close to Sal for lunch and tried to better understand where he might be.
At some point at the end of our first full day, we all met to discuss what we might do next — parents intentionally left out. Alma seemed reluctant to contact the press, for fear the school’s reputation might be harmed. I believe we were secretly hoping Sal would turn up on campus behaving as if he’d done nothing wrong.
As time passed, the street argument became more of a factor; all involved were called in and questioned by the police. The carabinieri were convinced that there was no there there. I started to feel as if there might be a cover-up and Sal’s parents were skeptical as well. Although his parents and I were in communication throughout the day during early days of the incident, I felt fairly distant from them; detached. They were understandably frustrated, tired, and concerned.
On the fourth day, none of us believed Sal would just reappear. If he had run away with a girl or decided to bail from the program, he would have taken his passport at the very least. We were all fairly certain foul play of some sort had taken place. The Italian state police were brought in after Alma’s administration began to feel as if the local police were not doing enough. Word got out to the press and just about every local and regional news outlet was covering the disappearance. When word got out that an American student was missing and there was speculation that the Russian mafia might have been involved, a search party was dispatched and the rivers and lakes in the area were dredged. I silently hoped Sal would call us to say that he’d see the reports of his disappearance and wanted to let us know that he was fine and that he was sorry for all of the trouble he’d caused. That didn’t happen, but all I had was hope.
I wasn’t sleeping very well and couldn’t help thinking that this would probably be the last class studying at Alma. One incident, completely unrelated to the cooking experience could threaten the viability of a program we worked on for two years. The pubic relations machine at both schools was working hard to highlight how positive the Alma experience was and that this was an unfortunate one-off situation. Sal’s parents were angry that the Italian police and government were not doing more to locate their son; we were mindful that they alone could potentially raise enough concern to shut us down.
His parents decided that a trip to the American Embassy in Milan might help get the Italian government to take this more seriously. I regretfully volunteered to drive them to the embassy. They sat together in the back seat; Sal’s father consoling his mother most of the way to Milan. Over two hours in a vehicle with someone crying hysterically is not easy for the person at the wheel. I didn’t say much for fear of saying the wrong thing. I tried my best to be supportive and reassuring. I didn’t think the people at the embassy would help, but it wasn’t my son who was missing.
When we got to the embassy it was a well-guarded fortress. I dropped them off as close as I could get to the entrance and parked the car. Just as I arrived they were being escorted in. The guards told me that only the parents would be allowed. I called for Sal’s father and he walked over and apologized. He knew that I would be staying in Milan that night and flying back to the States the next morning. It had been a full week since Sal had gone missing and there was nothing more I could do in Italy. Sal’s father agreed to call me if they needed anything and we said our goodbyes. I felt very sorry for Sal’s parents and I was exhausted.
I recall making a call to Gary, ICA’s president, that afternoon and becoming emotional on the phone. The fear of learning that a dead body was found was becoming more and more real. Gary, as always, was extremely supportive and grateful. He and the rest of the staff at ICC were hoping for the best. He asked me to remain calm and to get home safely. The administration at Alma was also very supportive and assured me that they would do everything possible to find Sal. I flew back to the States the next morning.
Time passed and still no word from Sal. His parents stayed in Italy for a couple of weeks and then returned home when hope of finding him had diminished. They became angry, resentful, and blamed both schools for gross negligence. They claimed that we had placed their son in an unsafe environment. Sal’s brother publicly posted a scathing letter, claiming the school was completely negligent. Threats of a lawsuit were being bandied about. The students in Italy had gone on with their studies hoping to complete the program. I had all but given up hope.
Graduation at Alma was scheduled a few weeks out; I knew it would be best for be to return and attend. When I arrived on campus, the students, whom I had stayed in contact with, greeted me warmly. They all assured me that the ICC was not to blame for Sal’s disappearance. We all wondered if this great mystery would ever be solved. I met with the local and state police for an update — there was none. Still much speculation that there was foul play, however, the guilty party or parties, had not revealed themselves. I returned to New York having lost quite a few pounds and feeling like I’d let a lot of people down.
Thanksgiving came and went. Each day brought less talk of Sal’s whereabouts. My emotions had gone from remorse to sadness to anger; acceptance was not within reach. Then, out of nowhere, shorty before Christmas, a call from Francesca in Italy, Sal had been located. He had joined the French Foreign Legion. Apparently, when you join, you leave behind the material world and those you once cared about; some join to escape their lives. Sal somehow managed to slip a note with his parents telephone Number to an Asian guy who was leaving the Legion and had agreed to make a call. It was the best Christmas gift of my life.
There are several takeaways from this life event that are forever etched in my brain. First, Sal’s family never apologized for their treatment of the two schools. They blamed us for Sal’s disappearance for months and when he turned up, not one of them came forward to acknowledge they were unfair and had hurt several good people. Lastly, when Sal left the French Foreign Legion he did not contact me to explain himself, apologize or thank me or the ICC for trying to find him. Oddly, I didn’t care. It bothered others at the school and it made several people in my life angry, but I had something far more important to me, I had peace-of-mind and Christmas that unfortunate year.
Disclaimer: This incident occurred over ten years ago, therefore, I cannot swear by every detail outlined in my accounting of the story. Due to the seriousness of the situation and my own personal involvement, I can only vouch for my own recollection of what took place.