Missing in Italy

Sometimes I shake my head wondering: did this really happen?

Advanced Italian Cuisine
Alma, an Italian Cooking School outside of Parma, Italy
Education Fee's

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.

Flag of legion.svg
The French Foreign Legion Emblem

Friendship

VACATION REBLOG (worth revisiting)

Who are your true friends and why are these friendships so important?

Friendships come in all shapes and sizes and it would be difficult to share my thoughts on all of them; therefore I will focus on just a few for this blog. I will cover these five:

  • Friendship with a life partner
  • A close friend
  • A sibling who is also a friend
  • Your parent as friend (I do not feel equipped to write about this matter from the parent’s point of view)
  • A co-worker who is a friend

My friends are extremely important to me. I hold my true friends near and dear and would do just about anything for them. The friendships I cherish the most were established many years ago, but having said that, I do have several friends that I only met recently. Six months ago I left a city I resided in for less than five years; yet several of my close friends live in Maine. You can gauge some friendships by communication (although some friends are better than others at this). When I moved overseas, there were individuals I expected to never hear from again and some that I thought would communicate regularly. As with many things in life, what I expected, has not panned out. Several people I thought would reach out, never have and others I that I thought were acquaintances have been great about staying in touch. Some people work hard at developing friendships and their persistence can pay off. These days you have to factor in social media, because it doesn’t take much effort to drop a line or two. I truly miss the days of letter writing; writing a letter took time and thought.

To be clear I am not writing about acquaintances (see 2.2 below): acquaintance əˈkweɪnt(ə)ns/ noun

  1. 1. knowledge or experience of something. “the pupils had little acquaintance with the language” synonyms: familiarity, conversance, conversancy, contact, acquaintanceship; More            
  2. 2. a person one knows slightly, but who is not a close friend. “a wide circle of friends and acquaintances” synonyms: contact, associate, connection, ally, colleague;   confrère “Mr Barnet was no more than a business acquaintance”

I am certain you all have many acquaintances; if you had an expectation that they would all be friends, you’d be in big trouble and extremely disappointed.

Friends With a Life Partner

This type of friend is quite unique due to the intimacy factor. Once you have been intimate with someone (and I don’t mean sex), it’s a game changer. I’m talking about a deeper emotional commitment where there is love and affection. Hopefully, because it matters if it’s true or not, you and your partner have shared moments, where at the time, you cannot imagine a deeper connection. Whether it’s a secret or a thought or a revelation, this kind of sharing creates a bond that can and often does, last a lifetime.

Even when there is a breakup, this close bond will ensure a lasting friendship — if you allow it to happen. Unfortunately, new partners are often intimidated by this kind of friendship and will not allow it. If you’re able to see past the jealousy, permitting your partner to be friends with ex-partners can enhance a current relationship. Your partner will see you as open and caring and trusting — all wonderful beliefs about your partner.

Keep in mind that none of us can be all things to all people. Your partner has limitations and expecting this individual to meet all of your needs is unfair and impossible. This is why it is dangerous not to have close friends outside of your relationship. Lean on others occasionally, it will make your relationship lighter, freer, and healthier.

Keep in mind that if you are outside of a relationship looking in, what you see from the outside is not always a complete picture. Couples have their own way of loving one another. Aside from physical and emotional abuse, which is never good, disagreeing and gentle prodding can be the sign of a healthy partnership.

A Close Friend

Your best friends (yes I believe you can have more than one) deserve a category all their own. Because we all know that if you have a life partner, that individual cannot and should not be able to fulfill all of your needs, emotional or otherwise. A close friend can provide an outlet for sharing and a different kind of important intimacy. It can be someone to talk to about your life partner or boyfriend/girlfriend (finding the right pronouns isn’t easy). With a close friend, no topic is out-of-bounds.

We all go through difficult periods in our lives (having just lost a dear pet, I’m feeling deep loss right now). A close friend will sometimes know you are in distress even before you know it. This person will be there to help you get through whatever difficulty you are experiencing. Refusing the help of a friend or pushing a friend away is never a good thing. A true friend is a beautiful gift and you can be sure that this person sincerely wants to help. Let this individual know that you appreciate that they are there for you and that you need them and want their love.

I like my privacy and I tend to grieve when I am by myself. A good friend will always allow you “alone” time. If you gently let your friend know that you just need a little time, they will give you what you need.

Caution:  Be careful to make sure that  sharing is reciprocated. There is nothing more annoying than a friend who only wants to discuss his or her own woes. Ask questions; show genuine interest and it will elevate the friendship.

Also, do not abuse the generosity of a close friend. Leaning on someone in a time of need is fine, but pick and choose when to lean. Being a constant burden will make a friend second guess the sincerity and value of the relationship. We are only human and all of us has a threshold. Keep your relationships strong by being considerate, nurturing and compassionate. Communicate your needs; assuming your friend knows, is an unfair assumption.

A Sibling

Who knows and understands you better than a brother or sister? Unless you were raised in a different household or there are many years between you and your sibling, this person can be a very close friend. I should not rule out a half-brother or sister who is a great deal older or younger. I had a half-brother who was 20 years older and before he passed away, we became very close. He was actually as much a mentor as a friend. I could share anything with him and he “got” me. The relationship was different from that of a parent because he didn’t feel the need to discipline or direct my behavior; it was all about the freedom to be who we were.

A sibling who doesn’t judge you, who accepts you for who you are and who provides a level of trust that is achieved in no other relationship, is a treasure to hold dear. I’m a lucky guy because I have a number of siblings I consider close friends. Unfortunately, I have also lost several siblings; these individuals have provided strength and love well beyond their passing.

Your Parent as Friend

It’s not easy being friends with a parent. Very few people I know are friends with their mother or father. When you are young, your parents are disciplinarians and when you get older they want what’s best for you and that often causes conflict. Being friends with your parents can be fulfilling. Practicing patience and forgiveness is key. If you keep in mind that your parents want what is best for you because their love for you is strong, you can be very close friends. You can confide in your parents, you can lean on your parents and you can usually trust your parents. Having a sit down after a disagreement can help both parties achieve a higher level of trust and understanding.

Of course there are always exceptions. My mother always told me that everything was her fault. She’d say this with a half-smile,

“Chris, save yourself money on therapy. I am to blame for all of your issues. Yell at me, lash out, be mad; then think about how much I love you and move on.”

She was a smart lady, my mom.

Friendship with a parent can go through stages of strength and at times this strength may waiver and that’s okay. Keep in mind that your parents won’t always be around. Bringing you into this world and keeping you safe are not easy tasks to manage. They want your friendship and they deserve it.

“My childhood was very colorful, and I am close friends with both my parents. We have no secrets.”

Rebecca Hall

A Co-Worker Who is Also a Friend

This can be an incredibly satisfying relationship because you often share so much in common with a co-worker. When you’re together socially it can be fun to gripe about your hours or your boss or your salary or your work environment or your benefits or your co-workers or all of the above.

Careful what you say and to whom at work; a true friend will be discreet and he or she will keep what you tell them to themselves. Such a friend is not easy to find; when you do, try your best to hold on to them.

There are those who believe you should not become friendly or be friends with someone who is higher up or subordinate. I have never felt that way. I think as with most things in life, it depends on the person. If your friend is mature and trustworthy, you’ll have nothing to worry about. If others at work have an issue with who your friends are, let them know (in a kind way of course), that it is not really their business. Still, perception and appearance are both important considerations. Managing all of this at work can be challenging. I believe it all boils down to personal integrity. You know who you are. If you are honest, thoughtful and appropriate, you should have nothing to worry about. Always remember that at the end of the day, the only person you truly have to answer to is yourself.

Separation from a Friend

As it goes with relationships, sometimes they go south. Of course it’s always better if you can repair the damage; however, that is not always possible. Some friendships grow toxic and if that becomes the case, I think it’s better to walk away. If you make that decision for yourself, it’s best to come clean with the individual. This business of just disappearing isn’t very fair to the other person and often, closure is necessary. Otherwise, you have this unpleasant, unfinished business hanging over you.

Call me a coward, but I often put my thoughts into writing and send an email or letter. This way I can be clear and provide the other person an opportunity to think about what I shared and respond. You can tell a great deal about a person by the way they reply. If they become very defensive, angry, and lash out at you, it validates your decision. If the person sincerely apologizes or asks to see you, it shows that they value your relationship and that they would like to patch things up. I find that the other person often feels the way you do and the friendship will come to an end. If you can work through it as mature adults, you’ll be happy you did the work.

For some, my desire to shed toxic individuals will come across as cold and dismissive. I have decided that I only have time for friends who are loving, forgiving, true, and real. I value my time on our planet and I’d prefer that my relationships be authentic and fulfilling. Divorce, partner or friend, is never easy, but sometimes it’s the only healthy solution. Don’t judge others or yourself, judging makes life burdensome.

Reconnecting

Sometimes years go by and you do not hear anything at all from an old friend and then suddenly, there they are sending you an email or calling you on the phone (a call is less likely these days; texting is safer). You wonder of course:  1) why you are hearing from them now? 2) should you respond? and 3) if you don’t respond will you wonder what it was he or she wanted?

People lose touch with one another for all sorts of reasons. Often, time goes by and one feels reaching out would be awkward and often it is. Be open-minded; reconnecting may be the best thing that ever happened to you. I have had former friends I was upset with contact me and frankly, I couldn’t recall why I was angry with them in the first place. That tells me something: it might have been something very small and petty and perhaps it’s time to get past it. Forgiveness has enhanced my life in so many ways.

I am not claiming to be a “friendship expert.” What I do know is that I have had a lifetime of meaningful friendships and without my friends, I would be a lesser person.

“No better relation than a prudent and faithful friend.”      

Ben Franklin 

“The best mirror is an old friend.”     

George Herbert 

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”     

Thomas Aquinas

Next week: Medeira, Portugal. I am excited to share this travel experience.

Do you have a story to tell or would you like to share some advice? Please add your thoughts in the comments section. Thank you.

Never Settle

A Look Beyond the Tough Questions

Quotes About Settling In Love

Our Current State

Being isolated has had different effects on different people. Some of the people I have a good deal of contact with have spent the last three months taking inventory of their lives — easier to do when you’re alone. We rarely have this many consecutive hours to just sit and think. Contemplating the decisions you’ve made and where you are in your life can we frightening and sometimes easier to avoid. Do you ever look at your friends and/or family members and think, so and so has settled?

Over the past few months I’ve had several people in my life say, “I don’t want to settle.”

It seems to be a common theme of late and I think it has a lot to do with control or a lack thereof. I’m certainly feeling it. Can’t control the virus, the economy, the media, big business, family situations and so forth. When this happens, you look for aspects of your life you can control. I’ve always been super neat and clean going way back to my childhood. When crazy things were happening all around me, I realized the one thing I could do was create an orderly physical environment. I noticed that people all around me noticed.

I liked when people said, “Christopher, you’re so neat.” I still do; it’s one thing I know to be true.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Everything has a place and there is a place for everything.” I know I can take that cliché to the extreme, but I enjoy order.

I have to be careful not to be that way with my dog Paco. I know that over-grooming him will make him very uncomfortable. I have to remind myself that he is a dog and dog’s seem to like being a little unkempt sometimes. I can keep up with his teeth and shots and Frontline and allow his hair be a bit messy. I know, very devil may care of me.

Settle for What?

You have to ask yourself why you are settling. I have actually heard people say (out loud): “I cannot imagine finding anyone better.” No wonder divorce rates are so high. Here’s another one I’ve heard: “I’m not worthy of better.” I’m not sure which thought is more damaging to the ego.

Many people hate their living situation. They piss and moan about the location or their rent or the size of their place, but they stay right where they are and settle. You’ve heard all of the excuses: too busy to move, can’t afford to pay more, the schools are good here, my parents live nearby, I’m close to my favorite shops, I have a lot of closets, and so on.

What about those who settle for less from themselves?

“I’m not going to quit this job, I’ll never find another.”

“College is too expensive and I don’t have the time anyway.”

“I have to put my kids first.”

“I’ll never be good enough.”

The Life You Choose

The reality is that we are the rulers of our own universe. Excluding those who live under lock and key and have no choice in matters. You get to choose how you live and who you live with.

You get to decide if your good enough, old enough, smart enough, worthy enough, healthy enough. All you. Shit or get off the pot for gosh sakes.

Regrets

Regrets are such a waste of time. We can’t change the past; however, we can learn from it. Repeating the same mistakes over and over are nobody’s fault but your own.

Some Words to Live By

  • Always listen to your own inner voice.
  • Never blame anyone else for your mistakes.
  • Set goals for yourself and assess those goals on a regular basis.
  • Treat yourself the way you want others to treat you.
  • Don’t pay attention to what others think about you.
  • Money does matter; however, it is not your only consideration.
  • When someone tells you that they no longer want to be with you, they are probably telling you the truth — let them go.
  • You will never know unless you try.
  • Nobody is born great, greatness is achieved.
  • Kindness and gratitude will come back to you.
  • Give yourself a day off now and then.
  • Travel the world.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Be spontaneous.
  • Dream big!
  • Be bold!

“There’s a problem with wounded birds . . . either they fly away from you one day, or else they never get better. They stay hurt no matter what you do.”

Excerpt from Jodi Picoults, Picture Perfect

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World Youth Alliance | Man's Search for Meaning, a Review

My niece sent this to me this week and it spoke to me. I would replace “a man” with “an individual.”

The Tough Questions

It’s so easy to push those negative thoughts down or out or cover them up with pretty frilly things; things that distract, hide, conceal. The hard questions are just that, hard.

About eight years ago my doctor and good friend, sat me down and laid it out for me . . . if I continued living the life I was living, I would die sooner than later. He prescribed Xanax and gave me very clear instructions on how much to take and when to take it. I’ve always hated taking any kind of medication; therefore, I found this to be extremely upsetting and unsettling; I argued and resisted and refused them at first; eventually caving.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The thing is, I was exercising almost daily, eating healthy foods, seeing a therapist, and talking to close friends. So why was I still so stressed.

“You can play it safe, and I wouldn’t blame you for it. You can continue as you’ve been doing, and you’ll survive, but is that what you want? Is that enough?”
― J.M. Darhower, Sempre

Because I had been in therapy for years and did not feel my life was changing (the way I’d hoped it would), I hired a life coach. Therapy was helping me figure things out and cope with my past, but it wasn’t helping me to see how I might change my current situation.

My life coach helped me to ask the big questions concerning what I wanted in my life and how to get from A to B. She didn’t just ask questions; Betsy was engaging. It was less about figuring out why I am the way I am and more about what I did and did not want out of my life. She was extremely supportive and non-judgmental. Perhaps I could have pulled myself up and out on my own, but the investment in my own wellbeing, paid off.

Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

  • Am I happy?
  • Am I where I want to be?
  • Are people treating me the way I want to be treated?
  • Are people treating me with respect?
  • Am I being true to myself?
  • Is _____________ good for me?
  • Can I change the things I’m unhappy about?
  • What is stopping me from being my authentic self?
  • Is it worth whatever discomfort __________ causes?
  • Does it matter? Does he/she matter?
  • Is there something troubling me?
  • Is it time for change?

Quick Story

I was involved in a toxic relationship about 20 years ago. It was on and off, more off than on. I kept telling myself that he would change — the lies we tell ourselves. I’m sure you’ve been there. One day I was struggling with the stupid little shiny objects that distract us from the truth. I was sitting in a Starbucks hating my burnt coffee, my stale lemon pound cake, my life. A stranger sat next to me and started up a conversation. She was young and pretty and way too happy.

I kept thinking she would go away and let me get back to my misery, but alas, she was determined. I realized after a few minutes that she was a student at the school where I was the Dean of Students.

At one point while engaging in the usual social niceties, she saw someone walk in and she said,”I thought I just saw your wife.”

I was sort of stunned and bewildered. I questioned her about this and she responded, “Doesn’t your wife work at the school.”

After revealing my sexuality, the two of us had a good laugh. I had no idea that the students thought I was married to a staff member. It got me thinking about perception and forced me to ask myself:

How do you want to be perceived? The truthful answer I gave myself changed my life. I wanted to be perceived as an openly gay and confident man. I had a lot to work on and the questions I had to ask myself to get the work done, were challenging.

I committed to doing the work and although I admit to sometimes going backward before going forward, for the most part, I have been doing the heavy lifting for awhile now. It has been worth the effort, because although life is not perfect, I am where I want to be and I am in a good place emotionally. One can only get there by asking the tough questions.

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Questions I’d Like to Ask You

Many of you contact me privately, which is fine; whatever makes you comfortable. I would like to pose a couple of questions — please answer any or all of them. I ask that you comment on my site so that others can see your response. Many will relate I’m sure. Of course I understand if that makes you uncomfortable and you choose not to. Nothing worse than feeling coerced.

  1. Does fear get in the way of making life changes?
  2. Am I putting off life goals for another time?
  3. Are these issues that worry me life and death matters?
  4. Do you feel empowered to make major changes in your life?
  5. Do you feel that you know yourself?
  6. Are you too comfortable to make a change?
  7. Is looking in the mirror just too painful?
  8. Are you making excuses?

And then there is the question I didn’t ask . . .

The Ups and Downs of My Relationship With Food

Who Am I Kidding, I Feel Fat

 

 

 

Eight weeks into quarantine and no surprise that my weight is weighing heavily on my mind. Apparently, one of the by-products of quarantine is a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Out of nowhere you can become all weepy or conversely, elated. This week I was sitting on my sofa and suddenly I was crying. I just let the tears flow and I felt better when it passed. I guess the absence of social human contact is taking its toll.

Eating dulls the ache. With food as a major focus, I have become hyper-aware of my weight. I refuse to get on a scale, however, I know from the tight fit of my pants, that I have gained weight. Yes, I have to wear pants when I walk Paco or go to the market.

I have one full length mirror in my apartment. When I walk past it, I look away. I’ve developed that “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” attitude. I guess it’s a defense mechanism or perhaps complete denial?

I think quarantine is playing tricks on my mind:
Is “walked past” or walked passed” grammatically correct …
Passed” is a verb which is the past (heh) tense of “pass“. So you could say either “walked past” or “passed“, but not “walked passed“. … Walked is a verb. Past is an adverb (we walked past, she drove past).
 

Body Type

I have written about this before, so I apologize for repeating myself. Naturally human beings have different body types, the reality is that some of us will never be thin and some of us could never be fat. Unless I’m very ill, I will never be skinny. All my life I have dreamt of being skinny. I wish I knew why; I don’t necessarily like feeling this way, but it is what it is — the grass is always greener . . .

There have been a few times in my life where due to surgery or stress, I have dropped a good deal of weight. During those times, although psychologically I was happy to be thin, I looked terrible. My face is too long to be thin, my frame is too large and wide; therefore, without meat on my bones, I look sick. One would think that having this knowledge would be enough to settle my mind and I’d just be satisfied with a “healthy” look. One would think.

I have my father’s body and I seem to have a weight my body comfortably settles into. I know I have some control over how big I get, but I also know that my body type is genetic. So when will the mental agony end?

 

The Media

We all enjoy blaming the media for a lot of our issues. We have been looking at beautiful people in magazines and on screen for so long, the ideal body type is ingrained in our psyche. By now we all know that what the media might see as the “ideal” body type is not a representation of how most of us look.

Sit at an airport lounge when things get back to normal. You will see every type of shape imaginable. The vast majority of people in our world do not look like the people in magazines. There has been an effort in recent years to change that, however, it’s a slow process and we’re a long way off. It is a known fact that seeing a likeness of yourself depicted in the media, helps you feel more comfortable with your own body type.

A piece on body type worth looking at.

I loved it when I started seeing bald male models. Unfortunately, overweight middle aged male models are a long way off; probably not in my lifetime. When you do see it, it’s Joe Middle America in a sad sitcom or a reality crime show.

 

Health/Exercise

Good health is linked to good eating and exercise. I embraced this fact many years ago and I attribute my excellent health to living a lifestyle where nutritious fresh food is paired with daily exercise; providing for a better quality of life. However, because I am human and because I have weaknesses and character flaws, I often veer off course. This pandemic has been a good excuse to sit or lounge a lot more and therefore, gain weight from being sedentary. And then there is the baking . . . just because. I am exercising several times a week, but not moving nearly as much as I usually do. The age factors in and metabolism is the enemy. Cookies and cake and ice cream and rich savory dishes and trips to the grocery store as my only activity; all leading to weight gain. It’s a downhill spiral with no end in site.

People all over the world are experiencing the same problem, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Please allow my gym to reopen soon.

 

Letting it Go

Often, when you share these thoughts of being overweight or out-of-shape with friends or acquaintances, their first reaction is to say the following:

  • “You are not overweight.”
  • “You are the healthiest person I know.”
  • “Are you kidding me?”
  • “Are you fishing for a compliment?”
  • “You have nothing to worry about.”
  • “You should see a professional.”
  • “We all feel that way.”
  • “Have you looked around these days.”
  • “You know it’s not true.”
  • “You look great for your age.”
  • “This is a temporary situation.”
  • “Just buy new jeans.”

What people do not always understand, is that in no way do any of these statements make you feel better. You might be flattered for about three seconds, but the reality is, if you feel overweight, than nothing other than weight loss can make it go away.

 

Mind Games

Talking yourself into believing something, is common practice. I tell myself that everything in life is a trade-off. If I’m going to eat the things I love, I’m going to have to deal with a few extra pounds. I also tell myself that at my age, being slim and toned is not as important as it was in my 20s and 30s; after all, no matter what I do I will not have the body I once had. To be honest, I give up on dating at least 100 times a day.

I tell myself that what matters now is that I remain healthy so that later in life, when my body continues to age, I will maintain a good quality of life. For example, if you exercise and stretch your muscles, they will continue to help you move without pain and discomfort. Healthy lungs, a healthy heart, a stimulated brain, and so on, will all insure ease of movement and a sharp mind later in life. I’m not in a hurry to experience this, however, it is a motivator.

When the elderly are asked what they would have done differently, they often say the following:

  1. They would have worried less
  2. They would have exercised more
  3. They would have taken better care of themselves

 

An expert speaks:

Older people who smoked, didn’t exercise or became obese were regretful about it, but the issue wasn’t only about dying.

“Many people will say to themselves, ‘I enjoy smoking’ or ‘I don’t like to exercise’ or ‘I just like to eat — who cares if I die a little sooner?’” Pillemer noted.

“The problem is in this day and age is you’re not going to die sooner; you’re going to be stuck with 10 or 20 years of chronic disease as modern medicine keeps you alive.”

Their advice: Pay attention to your health and change your lifestyle if it’s making you unwell, otherwise the incredible burden of chronic disease will make your life miserable.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

I just keep telling myself that this will end soon and life will go back to normal. The truth is, because of my lifestyle and my love of rich foods, I will never be thin and that has to be okay. I’m grateful that I’m not diabetic, not obese, not addicted to sugar, not lazy, and not an alcoholic. I do consider that any of these issues could become an unwelcome reality.

 

Ina Garten is one of my favorite television personalities. She has been overweight since I started watching her cook. She wears clothes that are flattering, she never apologizes for her weight, she has a beautiful genuine and hearty laugh, and she seems to truly enjoy life. When she had the gourmet food store, The Barefoot Contessa, in the Hamptons, New York, I would marvel at her magnificent displays and incredible food. I always wanted to buy and eat everything. If I could spend a day with any celebrity, it would be Ina. She made a quarantini on social media recently, and it went viral — everybody loves Ina.

Right Where I am Supposed to Be

Accept, Adjust and Adapt

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There have been many life lessons learned over the past couple of months. I can’t speak for those of us who were/are in quarantine with others and in fact, I cannot speak for those spending this time alone; I can only speak for myself. Clearly, this is and has been a unique experience for all of us. I have been alone in a foreign country since the lockdown began and it is surreal at the very least.

It’s difficult not to be confused about exactly what is happening with COVID-19. It depends on who you’re watching or reading and what you choose to believe. There is a reason most people no longer have faith in the media or their government. I only allow myself a few minutes of news a day. It doesn’t matter when you turn on the television, it’s one big loop of sensationalism and half-truths. For the most part I choose to read a couple of sources and form my own opinion. I do what I have to do to stay within the law as we battle the unknown. Since fear is a major motivator for government and the media, I refuse to get sucked into this toxic vortex. I rely on facts as much as possible and I leave speculation to others.

 

Once You Discover Who You Are . . .

When you’re alone with your thoughts, you come to realizations and you make choices. Do you dwell on the negative? Do you get angry? Do you find yourself escaping? What mechanism do you use to cope? You probably have an arsenal of weapons on hand to deal with reality. Choosing healthy tools is the best way to go, however, that’s not always possible. So how do decide the route to take? First, do you know who you are?

There are things I have discovered about myself that help me develop the tools I need and make the right choices:

  1. I do not like for anything to interfere with a good night’s sleep (about 7.5 hours).
  2. I do not like paying for my bad choices the next day.
  3. I do not like how it feels when I beat myself up.
  4. I love how it feels to be well rested.
  5. I do not like how my stomach feels when I have overindulged.
  6. When I have the discipline of going to the gym five or six times a week, I never contemplate not exercising. When that option is not available, one out of two times, I will not exercise. Even writing this down helps to motivate me.
  7. There are times when I’m stressed and concerned and in complete denial about my state of mind.
  8. As I get older, I have less tolerance for many things.
  9. Food has become my primary motivator.
  10. Having a pet helps with self-discipline.

It all seems pretty straightforward and normal. So why am I still uncertain?

 

Tools & Rewards

One of the tools I frequently use is the weighing of pros and cons. Yes, that second Marguerita would taste really good with my Mexican food, but what price would I pay? When I do this simple assessment, nine out of 10 times, I will decide to pass on the second cocktail.

I live for rewards. I find them to be a positive way to live a healthier life. If I do blank I get blank as a reward. This has been my MO for a long time. During this time — the lockdown, I have noticed this happening more often. If I complete my language lesson, I can read my novel for an hour. If I climb the stairs in my building for 30 minutes, I can have some chocolate and on and on. It seems to be the only thing that motivates me, but it works.

 

What Matters Most

What matters most in my life has been the greatest lesson learned during this time. I thought about this prior to the virus, but sorting it out has become a much greater priority. My family has always been important to me and that will continue until I die. A trip to the States this week was unfortunately cancelled. Now that I am a resident of Portugal, I cannot fly to the States at this time; my legal address is here. I need to be certain that I am okay with this situation for at least the next five years. Selling an apartment in Faro is not going to be like it was in the States — I sold my last three apartments in less than a week. In Portugal, your place can easily sit on the market for up to two years. That’s fine, it just means planning a bit further into the future.

The good news is that I have come out of this knowing that living overseas is definitely what I want and remaining overseas is a certainty. I have come to realize that there is another move left in me and it will more than likely be Italy. I ultimately want to be where my father was born. I am Italian after all. Now that I have my father’s birth certificate, I can begin to look into dual citizenship. The coast of Croatia is also a possibility — all options are currently open. It’s a big world out there isn’t it?

 

Noticing Changes 

It seems that people are more grateful now than they have been for a long time. Grateful to others, grateful for their own good health, and grateful to be alive. I remember how people in New York City were after 911. I rode the subway watching strangers who would have never considered giving up their seats, stand for older people or the disabled. I saw people smile at one another for no other reason than to show gratitude and solidarity. This was a New York City I could love. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. We slowly slipped back into our everyday, former routines.

I suspect the same thing will happen with this pandemic. People will be more grateful for a short while and then we will all go back to “normal.” Even if we have to socially distance ourselves from one another for a long while or wear masks when we get a haircut; we humans adapt pretty quickly. If we’re conscious of our nature, is it possible to change? I think it is very possible. Your new normal can be based on what you learned from past experience. If you took up running while in quarantine, then continue to run. If you started eating healthier foods, keep it up, if you called people you care about more often, and so on.

The hardest thing for me has been isolation. I enjoy being out and about. I’m not sure it’s in my nature to spend a lot of time at home. I currently do not have a lot of choice and I’m hoping that will change sooner than later.

Life Goes On! | Change my life quotes, Go for it quotes, My life ...

 

Growing Up With Broadway

Too shy to be on stage, but happy to watch and dream.

​​”I got a feeling there’s a miracle due gonna come true, coming to me. Could it be? Yes it could. Something’s coming. Something good, if I can wait.” – West Side Story

I was watching an interview with Dame Judi Dench, an actor for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. She was asked about her favorite medium and she replied, “The stage.” When pressed for a reason, she explained that it meant a great deal to her that in order to see her perform on stage, people had to actually go out and purchase a ticket and then they have to actually go to the theatre. She wanted to perform her best for these people because they truly made an effort — makes a great deal of sense to me. Watch Dame Judi perform “Send in the Clowns,” and you’ll see and hear why she’s a national treasure.

60 principais fotografias e imagens de Judi Dench - Getty Images

 

The Impact Theatre Had on My Development

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York with Broadway as my playground. My father was an Italian immigrant with a blue collar job, but he loved the theatre. My mother, on the other hand, barely tolerated it. Her indifference made no difference to me.

There was a time when I would have chalked my infatuation with Broadway up to my sexuality — that was societal brainwashing. Obviously, people of all sexual orientations, ages, races, and cultures have an equal love of the theatre and for good reason.

My first Broadway show was The Wiz. It is an all black version of the Wizard of Oz. My father took me to see it for my ninth birthday. Stephanie Mills played the lead and she was brilliant — a performance I still consider to be one of the best I have ever seen. The show blew me away; over 50 years later and I still hear the songs in my head. I believe my life lessons mainly came from theatre. The visual spectacle helped me to escape the reality of my own unfortunate childhood.

The second play I went to see was A Chorus Line. There are a dozen themes in this play and each of them spoke to me. I may have been 12 years old when my father took me. I remember my father wiping tears from my eyes during the performance. He had huge, strong hands and I loved when he did that. “At the Ballet” hit me hard and I was never good at holding back my feelings. I wonder to this day if my dad realized I knew I was gay and how ashamed I had been; I hope he knew.

Dozens of shows seemed to have been written with me in mind; at least that what I thought. What it said to me was simply that there were more like me out there and for that I was and am, grateful. It was a lonely world, but at the theatre I felt safe and understood; I still do.

While other teens were saving their money for clothes, video or baseball games, I saved for the theatre. Back then TKTS was a real bargain. I recall seeing Broadway plays for less than $10. It’s unfortunate that young people today, for the most part, cannot afford Broadway theatre tickets. I know there are programs designed to expose young people to the theatre; however, like most things these days, theatre is big business and only the elite can afford it. Fortunately, there are regional theatres all over the States that are much more affordable than the Great White Way (Broadway).  —

In my early twenties I met a New York City couple who attended Broadway shows weekly. They were members of the Theatre Development Fund (TDF). As educators, Ann and Aaron were able to purchase a group of ten tickets at a large discount. Their circle of friends included dozens of people who would buy tickets from them on a first-come first-served basis. It took a lot of time and energy to organize the selling of these tickets and they did it without taking a dime for themselves. We had mutual friends who brought us together often and over the years we became very close. Aaron passed away at age 95 not too long ago. Ann has dementia, but we had a Skype call a few months ago and there were moments where she was her old self; funny and smart. My friendship with Ann and Aaron started at the theatre, however, it extended far beyond that for over 30 years. The common denominator was our love of the theatre; for a long time our lives revolved around shows and eating out. I’m fairly certain I would have only seen a fraction of the shows I saw had it not been for Ann and Aaron; two of the loveliest people I have ever known.

 

Times Square in the 70s and 80s

70s times square | Tumblr

The Theatre District (Times Square) in the 70s and 80s was a pretty scary place. In fact, when I was a teenager, a stranger pulled a knife on me only because I was walking in his path. There were sex shops everywhere and drugs sold on every corner. However, that’s where the Broadway theatres were and nothing could keep me away. I would get a ticket for a show and tell my mother I was going to a friend’s house for dinner. It was a secret world I was reluctant to share. I worked hard for spending money and I didn’t want my mother to know where my money was going; unfortunately, she often took money from me, charging me for room and board when I was a teen. I guess it taught me to be fiercely independent and for that I am grateful.

Times Square today is not what it once was, it has lost it’s grit and unique appeal. I’m afraid Disney has cleaned it up and made it shiney and safe for middle America. It’s probably for the better, but I can’t help being nostalgic. It’s become overcrowded and commercial and no longer appealing to me.

 

Meeting a Famous Composer

The following is a secret I’m not sure I have ever told. I haven’t shared this because I was closeted for many years and I was ashamed of the life I lived prior to coming out. Today, I am way past worrying about being judged.

When I was a young man I went out on several dates with a Catholic priest named Peter — I often wonder what became of Peter. I was a minor, but I knew exactly what I was doing at the time. There may have been an element of the forbidden fruit, but I’ll leave that for another blog. This priest led a double life in New York City and some of his friends were famous in the theatre world. Peter was young, attractive, and flirtatious. He knew how much I loved Broadway musicals and he surprised me by taking me to the home of a world-renowned, Greenwich Village composer. I remember walking down to this composer’s sub-street level apartment and shivering from head-to-toe. I knew at the time that this would be a memory I would hold onto for life. There is a part of me that would like to be more innocent and less jaded.

Peter knocked on the door and this larger than life man invited us in. I recall a large piano in the center of a small living room. There were Broadway show posters everywhere and most of them were his shows. I’ve had natural highs many times throughout my life, however this one, sent me soaring. I could not speak for fear of saying something stupid. I accepted a glass of wine and blushed over his shameless petting. Up to that evening I had never had a stranger show me that much attention, let alone someone famous. Peter knew it was harmless and he knew that he was the one who’d be taking me home.

 

And Then There Was This:

Stephen Sondheim

I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen Sondheim when I was working in Student Affairs at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. He is, hands down, my favorite composer. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without his music and lyrics. This is not hyperbole, I mean every word of it, he is like no other songwriter alive or dead. The MMC theatre department brought him in for a Master Class. I normally do not approach celebrities because I know that no matter what I say, I’m going to sound stupid and behave badly. But in Sondheim’s case I made an exception because of the direct impact he had had on my life.

I asked one of our professor’s to introduce me and she said she’d be delighted. I shook his hand and I said, “Thank you for the many times your music has spoken to me and brought me joy.” Sondheim held my gaze for a moment and said, “It’s been my pleasure.” If there is a God, he resides inside the heart of that man.

Many songs featured in musicals were moving and played a role in my life; however, none as much as “Being Alive.” Raul Esparza played the role of Bobby and sang it in the 2007 Broadway production of Company. These are the lyrics:

Being Alive
Someone to hold me too close.
Someone to hurt me too deep.
Someone to sit in my chair,
And ruin my sleep,
And make me aware,
Of being alive.
Being alive.
Somebody need me too much.
Somebody know me too well.
Somebody pull me up short,
And put me through hell,
And give me support,
For being alive.
Make me alive.
Make me alive.
Make me confused.
Mock me with praise.
Let me be used.
Vary my days.
But alone,
Is alone,
Not alive.…

Coincidentally, a 90th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim aired a couple of days ago. What a gift to all of us; you can watch it on Youtube:  #Sondheim90Concert 

 

Theatre’s Impact on Me Today

Broadway and the West End, by way of musicals and dramatic productions, will a destination for me for as long as I can travel. It’s like a dangling carrot I can never imagine going away. These plays speak to me in ways no one can. It’s as if the writers are inside my head and my heart. Whether it is a time of happiness or sadness, I turn to lyrics and dialogue for hope and consolation. It seems unfair that there are many people in the world who will never experience Broadway the way I have. I have to assume that people in other parts of the world have their own Broadway; it is in that truth, I find pleasure.

www.astep.org — A not-for-profit organization designed to introduce and connect underserved children to the arts.

 

“So much of me Is made of what I learned from you. You’ll be with me Like a handprint on my heart.”  — Wicked

A Wicked Story

A number of years ago I was in a relationship with a Spaniard living in Zaragoza, Spain. Alejandro would travel to New York to see me as often as he could. Alex’s plan was to move to New York to be with me when he finished med school. We shared many things in common, however, one of the many things we joked about was his disdain for musical theatre. I would tell him that I was seeing a musical and he would just laugh and tell me to have fun. I have a good friend who invested in Wicked and she invited me to the opening on Broadway; certainly one of the most exciting nights of my life. We attended the after party at Tavern On The Green in Central Park and I got to sit alongside Sarah Jessica Parker, Carol Burnett, Michael Hall and many other big stars. I was euphoric, star struck, and in many ways it felt magical.

I called Alex to share the experience and he said, “Honey, if it’s that good, you have to take me.”

A couple of months later, Alex told me he’d be coming to New York for his birthday and to spend some time with me. I was able to get center orchestra seats for Wicked on his birthday. I made a reservation at a restaurant I knew he would enjoy and kept it from me until the day of the show.

When I told him over dinner, Alex was excited because he’d heard a lot about the show and he knew how much I had enjoyed it. I was fully conscious of his feelings about musicals, but in my heart-of-hearts, I knew this musical would bring him over to my side. Throughout the performance I would glance over and see Alex smiling from ear-to-ear and every so often he’d squeeze my hand or bump knee. His tears and laughter throughout made it even more special for me. During a long standing ovation, Alex whispered in my ear that this was the best birthday of his life. He grabbed my head, turned it with both hands and planted a big kiss on my lips. I was out of my mind elated.

As we continued to stand and applaud, a woman sitting behind me with her ten year old daughter, tapped me on the shoulder and screamed above the applause, “My daughter did not have to see that.”

Of course I knew she was referring to the kiss. Understandably curious, Alex asked me what she’d said. I told him and that’s when I saw his Latin temper unleashed. He held nothing back; letting this woman know what he thought of her and her biased, toxic rage over a kiss. I said nothing. I watched and listened to this man defend our love to this vile stranger. I knew that I loved Alex, but that moment, that night, that unbridled valour, sealed the deal forever.

 

Times Square Today

Dialogue With Yourself

 

Here’s how the conversation might go on any given day:

5:15 a.m.:  Good morning! Where’s Paco (dog)? Paco! Paco! 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. No tongue, I told you no tongue. 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! Paco are you hungry? Shit, I didn’t set up the coffee.

Later the same morning:  It’s 11:00 a.m. and I have accomplished absolutely nothing. What is wrong with you, go for a walk.

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. Good stuff? Cheap stuff? Oh what the hell, go for the good stuff.

9:30 p.m.:  Did you floss? I don’t remember flossing? I should floss. I should go to bed. Goodnight Paco.

2:00 a.m.:  get up to pee but don’t wake up. Crap you’re up. Why aren’t those pumpkin seeds helping my prostate? I’m sweaty? Why is it hot?

[Talking to your pet is more like talking to yourself and that’s a good thing.]

“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 could not 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 between. In order to prepare yourself for this behavior, you have to be:

  1. Willing to accept that it’s okay; normal even.
  2. Open to whatever comes out of your mouth.
  3. Prepared to answer back.

Give it a try, after all, what have you got to lose. Don’t worry, we’re all crazy and the sooner we accept that . . .

 

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.

Trust in yourself is important for this practice. Do you believe in 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.

 

The Benefits

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, every blog post reveals 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).

 

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)

 

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Next Week:  Growing Up With Broadway

Caring Too Much or Too Little

Developing a balance between empathy and good health is a formidable goal and this is a good time to work on it.

 

65 Compassionate Empathy Quotes (2019)

 

I have always been a bit too sensitive. I was bullied as a child because I cried easily (and I liked playing with girls . . . and I hated sports). I get the crying part honestly, my dad wept without shame. The problem with feeling intense empathy is that you often feel as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Managing these feelings and mitigating your health and well-being are essential.

 

What it Feels Like

I have been reluctant to look at the number of deaths around the world due to the Coronavirus. Denying a problem exists or refusing to acknowledge it, has long been a defense mechanism. However, in this case I believe empathy matters. I need to be able to experience what is happening all over the world so that I can do my part to help. I’m forcing myself to look at the numbers and think about what people are going through. It’s surreal, it’s painful, it’s difficult and it’s morbid, but it’s necessary. We’ve been told what we can do and we need to listen, learn, and hold ourselves accountable. Doing your part helps you to be empathetic without drowning in sorrow.

A brief story of too much empathy — very recent and still fresh:  When I adopted Paco in January, he had only been found on a country road two weeks prior. He weighed just over five pounds and his bones were protruding everywhere, his fur was extremely matted, and he was deathly ill from a virus. When I saw him for the first time, I wept. Each time I thought about him fighting for his life, alone and abandoned in the woods, I wept. Admittedly, this extreme sensitivity went on for weeks. This is the reason I had to leave my volunteer position at a pet shelter; I had too much empathy. Learning how to compartmentalize my feelings and thoughts was and is, necessary. By the way — Paco has fully recovered and he’s out of danger. I still worry, but it’s under control. The crying has stopped.

 

 Family

The reality of family members who are not as strong as I am or who might be struggling with emotional and/or financial issues is ever-present. How much of their worries are my worries? How much of their suffering can I or should I take on? What can I do to ease the anxiety I impose upon myself? There are a number of considerations when discussing problems with family members. First and most importantly, in some cases, they have families of their own. Therefore, when you get involved, there may be others in your family that are also affected and that complicates matters further. There is a risk of alienating family members who may be embarrassed or who may see things differently.

Most people prefer privacy, even if it means not sharing with their own family. This could be the topic of a whole other blog. I’ll leave it at this:  there are times when it is best to keep family problems at arm’s length. You may have to be clear about that when approached. “Sue, I think it would be better to discuss that with Greg; your husband is my brother-in-law and one of my favorite people in the world, I don’t want him to be angry with me for taking sides.” Sue doesn’t exist. Just an example of the language you may have to call upon when communicating. Remember, most people prefer candor and authenticity. Those who don’t may not deserve your time or energy.

There is always the advice that is unwelcomed. Family members who are not ready or willing to face their problems will sometimes push you away and resent you for getting involved. In these situations, you have to be either willing to handle the confrontation or in some cases ignore the radio silence.

 

Friends

Our friends are our chosen family. We love them dearly and sometimes that love might cause us great pain. When you see a friend in trouble and you cannot help them, it can tear you apart. Two of my friends are alcoholics. One of these individuals will no longer speak to me because I tried to help and he does not want to acknowledge his problem. The other is in treatment and doing well so far. The only way I can live with myself in situations like this (be it a friend or a family member) is to try to help in some way:  support, resource, friend, caregiver, etc. Doing nothing makes me feel useless and more like a failure. On the other hand, if I reach out numerous times and the friend refuses my help, I have to be able to accept that I’ve done all I could do and walk away. Speaking from experience, I’m not insinuating this part is easy; in fact, it may be one of the more difficult things in life you will have to do. Friendship is like any other relationship, empathy is imperative and it must be conveyed delicately. People who are suffering emotionally cannot always handle empathy when you’re feeling it, they may need time to process and prepare. As a friend, you need to understand boundaries and know when it’s the right time to help.

 

Our World

We live in complicated circumstances with over seven billion people inhabiting the planet.  Unfortunately, 734 million of the world’s dwellers are considered to be living in absolute poverty (wikipedia); that’s a lot of people. Horrible reality like this can keep you up at night. The number of people with cancer and no access to care, the number of people in abusive relationships, the number of children without food, the number of refugees without a home, self-serving politicians, and on and on. It is important to consider the difficulties all around you and do what you can to help; however, it is equally important to consider all that you have to be grateful for.

 

How to Manage it So that it Doesn’t Take Over

Meditation is a self-help practice I mention regularly. People often think of it as a waste of time or new agie. For me, it is a way of keeping things in perspective. Sometimes I make life too much about me and I have to remind myself that it is not at all about me. At other times, the weight of everything around me is so difficult to manage, I have to shed some of it by logically thinking it through.

Exercise is one of my top three ways of sorting through life’s difficulties. When you’re overly concerned about everything, you have to have a way to balance the gravity of all of these concerns or it will consume you. Exercise is like a release valve. There is no doubt in my mind that I have developed an addiction to working out. Exercise and chocolate are the only two addictions I can honestly say I embrace without guilt or self-punishment. I do not often give myself a free pass to indulge; therefore, I am grateful for the freedom to just enjoy these two gifts.

Volunteering your time is not a panacea for solving the world’s problems. However, it is a way for you to feel empowered. Everything you do to help will yield rewards.

“Volunteers are not paid — not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless.”

— Sherry Anderson

 

You know as well as I, that no matter how thoughtful you are or healthy you may try to be, your emotional state of mind (mood), often determines how you feel. You might have a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling so much better than the night before. On the other hand, you might do everything right and have a restless night’s sleep and wake up angry at the world. I have learned to just go with it. If you try to push it away or sweep it under the rug, you are likely to either experience it with greater angst or have it rear its ugly head at the most inopportune time. If you breathe and treat yourself kindly during these difficult periods, you will come through the difficulty with less collateral damage.

 

Talk Through it With Someone You Love and Trust

For some, talking through your worries is a learned behavior. Some of us are hesitant to burden others with our problems or confused thoughts. We’re quick to want to help others, but when it comes to our own issues, we retreat and suffer in silence. I’m a big fan or running things by people who are not directly involved and I believe, can be objective. Be sure to ask if it is okay to share. Do not judge or dismiss an individual’s thoughts. You can be certain that if you disrespect a generous listener, you will never be able to solicit advice again.

 

 

“Empathy is the medicine the world needs.”

— Judith Orloff. M.D.

 

Resources:

How to Be More Empathetic (NY Times)

Importance and Benefits of Empathy (Very Well Mind)

 

I hit a milestone with 100 blog posts last week. I wish I had been aware of it, I would have celebrated sooner.

Feelings Reiterated

Reblog — difficult time to write and some things require reiteration

 

 

Your State of Mind

One of the many things that happen when you grow older is coming to terms with your feelings (if you’re lucky). Coping with your feelings, identifying your feelings, sorting out your feelings, embracing your feelings, allowing yourself to feel, projecting feelings; you can see where I’m going with this.

Why Your Biology Runs on Feelings (click for more)

Feelings are complicated and so is being human; it comes with the territory. Some people are so wrapped up in themselves, they neglect to consider the feelings of others. Is it social media, the pressures of life, family, coping skills, socialization? What is it about the world around us that has made us less empathetic? Some would argue that humans have always been this way. I’m not sure about that. I recall a time when people had more time for one another and seemed to care more; I could be wrong.

I’m sure the news media has something to do with it. Around the clock news covering the world. It’s easy to become numb. The “this doesn’t affect me” attitude is also pervasive. I certainly do not have the answers; I only know how I feel.

Anger
I hate it when I get angry. Mostly because I feel that it could have been avoided. Harnessing my anger has been a long-term goal. When I’m well rested and relatively happy, any anger I feel is short-lived and can be sorted out. On the other hand, when I’m tired and things are falling apart around me, anger becomes a ball and chain around my ankle; impossible to get rid of. I can usually take a step back to process my anger and that seems to help; however, let’s be honest, sometimes the stepping back part just doesn’t happen. When I react based on emotion, it’s usually an outcome I regret.
Not long ago I was having lunch with a friend and she started spewing what I thought was bigoted hate speech. You’d recognize it in a minute; when the words come from privilege and a lack of empathy. No matter how hard I sit on my hands and push the anger down, I find myself gritting my teeth and becoming righteous. I don’t like it one bit. The person sitting across from you does not hear the words you are speaking, they only experience the anger. What it does do is justify their feelings. What they hear in their head is:  it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, he always has to start an argument or why does he think he’s smarter or better than I am? None of this is productive; in fact, it is counter-productive. Now we’re both angry and not speaking to one another and we both feel justified in our feelings. I shouldn’t speak for this person, let me say, I feel justified.
We seek out like-minded individuals in order to avoid this kind of anger, but you have to ask yourself if avoidance is the right way to go. I’m not providing answers, I’m merely asking questions; processing for myself and hoping it helps others.
Tears
I am often moved to tears. I cry while watching movies, I weep while reading novels, I’ve been known to shed tears in the middle of a conversation with a friend, I cry in my dreams and at poetry readings, and I have cried myself to sleep a time or two. My father was a big man and he cried; he taught me that crying was okay and I am forever grateful to him for this. I feel sorry for people who cannot cry. I highly recommend it.
Loss of Control 
I have come to terms with being a control freak. I like to be in control. If something bad happens and it is beyond my control, I get angry. I have a difficult time processing:  how did this happen, why did it happen, who made it happen? I guess I believe that if I were in control, bad things wouldn’t happen. This is of course, untrue. Many bd things have happened while I was in control. The helpless feeling that I have when something is out of my control is unpleasant and frustrating. I am learning how to “let go” of situations, events, and reactions that are out of my control.
Pain
The hardest thing about pain, emotional, physical or psychological, is coping — not denying it, but feeling it. Let’s face it, pain in any manifestation sucks, but it’s unavoidable and must be felt. Make yourself as comfortable as possible and wait for it to pass. Unless we’re talking about a terminal illness, it will pass, and you will more than likely be stronger for having dealt with it.
Happiness
I hear about and read about happiness a lot lately. I was watching an old episode of the Good Wife last night and Stockard Channing (love her — did yoga with her in NYC once) was the guest star. Her character said this, “When you get older, the only thing that matters is your happiness.” I guess it struck me because I was in the middle of writing this blog. I don’t think it’s true. Life is so much more than my personal happiness. Yes, lots of things make me happy and I do often pursue my own happiness, but I also spend time thinking about the world, friends, family, cleaning my apartment, paying bills and none of that is necessarily about happiness. A good deal of the day is spent just doing what needs to get done. What makes me happy is just that, getting stuff done — it’s that sense of purpose I’ve discussed in earlier blogs.
Joy
I have to give myself permission to feel joy. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is what it is. After a while, if you’re watching, you get to know yourself and your limitations; your proclivities. I can hear this little voice in my head reminding me to smile and enjoy the moment. I have stopped questioning why this is so. As with any habit, good or bad, you do something often enough and it becomes part of your everyday life. It’s a good habit I am striving to teach myself . . . live a life filled with joy.
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.”
Kevyn Aucoin
Gratitude
Feeling grateful is powerful. Replacing feelings of pity, blame, resentment, anger, heartbreak, and regret, with gratitude can be more powerful than just about anything else. Sweeping feelings under the rug doesn’t work. Taking pills or drinking alcohol is temporary relief at best. Sitting quietly and thinking about or even writing about, what you are grateful for, helps you to feel more joyful.
Tools
Tools are helpful when feelings become difficult or painful. Some tools/coping skills have been discussed in this blog or past blogs. What I have learned is that tools are at our disposal and can and should be used as often as possible — not as a way of hiding or denying, but as a way to guide us, comfort us, and teach us.
What’s Next for me?
This is the six million dollar question I often ask myself. The answer is:  I have no idea. For the first time in my life, I am not thinking past the next few months and I have to say, I like it.

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