Isn't It Pretty To Think So?

Dispatches on life, love and the human condition by a wanderer and hopeful romantic

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The Importance of Challenging Yourself Through Fear

I’m no stranger to being single—having lived that way for many years–but there still has been a period of adjustment after this last break-up, perhaps because I had tucked in nicely to the idea of having a boyfriend and wasn’t expecting to be thrust back into my solo lifestyle so soon.IMG_8277

To help myself get my ex out of my head and distract myself from any negative thoughts, I’ve been trying to stay busy. So when my friend Emma spontaneously said she was going to the local wakeboarding park in nearby Lagos last Saturday, I decided to go along as well—although I was slightly groggy and hungover from a party the night before.

Although I am a surfer and relatively physically fit for my age through jogging, yoga and other activities, I don’t have a super-sporty figure, and I’m not particularly coordinated. I tried wakeboarding once about 15 years ago behind someone’s boat on a lake in Maine, with pretty much zero success, and didn’t really fancy trying it again.

However, surfing and yoga have given me a lot of core strength since then, and I have a far more adventurous spirit now. In fact, a surfing friend has been trying to get me to the wakeboarding park—which consists of a reservoir and a cable that pulls you along instead of a boat—for several years, insisting I would enjoy it and may even want to replace my passion for surfing with wakeboarding.

Wakeboarding, in my opinion, is far more similar to snowboarding than surfing. When I lived in San Francisco many years ago, I tried snowboarding for two days over a weekend with friends in Lake Tahoe, California. This was not long after the failed wakeboarding attempt and, like that experience, it also did not go well. (Try snowboarding, they said. It will be fun, they said.)

What I remember mostly from that trip is falling hard and repeatedly on the cold, icy snow, at one point literally crying in pain and exhaustion as I tried to make my way down a beginner run on my last day in a complete whiteout. (My friends, all better than me, abandoned my novice ass very quickly on day one–who could blame them?) Perhaps feeling guilty and imagining me lying in a broken heap somewhere off piste, one of them was waiting anxiously for me at the end of that final run, looking quite worried–as well he should have been–until he spotted me limping toward him.

After a brief instruction on land of what to do in the water, it was time to do this thing for real. I was understandably super nervous–shaking, my heart pounding, bile in my throat, that whole shebang–as I awkwardly edged my way off the dock on my ass into the reservoir where I would give wakeboarding a real try in front of a small group of onlookers.

I tried to console myself with the knowledge that water is an element I understand far better and in which I am far more comfortable than snow. It also typically a more forgiving place to land (though, not always, as I would find later.)

My first few attempts to get to my feet on the board were a bit more successful than my previous experience–ie, I got to my feet. The problem is, I didn’t stay there long, promptly face-planting into the water as I went boobs over board. So much for a soft landing–that shit stung! The water also, as I was warned, is unusually salty, leaving me sputtering the bad taste out of my mouth.

After a few embarrassing and somewhat painful falls, however, I started to get it. By taking my time as the cable began pulling me forward, I learned how to slowly rise to my feet and began to feel the groove of the glide over the water. It felt both similar and very different to surfing, but with that same rush of energy and adrenaline that surfing so satisfyingly provides.

By the end of my two 15-minute sessions, I was successfully getting to my feet and boarding from one end of the cable to the other, even sometimes with only one hand on the bar. My first attempts to turn were unsuccessful and ended with more ungraceful splats in the water, but I didn’t care. Expecting too much of myself is not my thing these days.

As I finished my second session and mustered my last reserves of muscular energy to pull myself onto the dock like a beached sea lion, I felt a mix of elation and pride. The thing is, even if I hadn’t gotten to my feet that day (but thank fuck I did), I would have something to be proud of–I, at nearly 46 years old and newly demoralized by yet another failed relationship, had the courage to try something new that I was quite sure would make me look like a giant asshole.

I also conquered some fears that might have prevented me from even trying in the first place. One was my concern that I would twist my already weak knees in the wakeboarding boots or otherwise injure myself, and the other was the much more common fear that we all have when we try something new–that I wouldn’t be able to do it, and people might laugh at or otherwise ridicule me.

Well, I did do it, and there was a lot of laughing that day, but mostly it was coming from me. My friend Emma even commented after that I was extremely good-natured after each fall I took, rising to the surface giggling at myself and making jokes and promises to my instructor that I would do better next time.

There are always things to be afraid of in life. But what I’ve found over the years is that most of them are illusions that we invent in our own heads.

I mean, sure, if you are in the African bush and you encounter a lion, it’s normal to be fearful that you might be eaten alive. And if you or someone you love have been diagnosed with a terrible disease, of course it’s normal to fear your own death or the loss of that person.

But most of our daily fears are much less dramatic than that. Some people are afraid to leave their job when offered a new one. Others are afraid to move to a new city or country even if the opportunity arises. Still others won’t leave a relationship in which they’ve been terribly unhappy for many years for fear of being alone or that they won’t find someone else to love.

These fears are not quite the stuff of life or death, but they are valid. However, most of the fear of these changes is not connected to the action or situation itself. It’s really the fear of the unknown that stops people from changing their lives by taking on new careers or adventures, making new friends or new lovers, or even doing something as simple as trying a new dish at a favorite restaurant or walking up to a stranger and saying hello.

I didn’t know what to expect that day at the wakeboard park, and so I was afraid at what might happen. Yes, I could have been injured. Yes, someone could have (and, let’s be honest, most likely did) laugh at me. Yes, I might have swallowed some salty water and made myself sick.

But none of those things happened (really). What did happen was that I walked out of there feeling good, a mix of adrenaline and pride coursing through my veins. (The full-body pain that the exertion of wakeboarding causes would come later, oh yes it would.)

I even felt, for the first time in the two weeks since my gut-wrenching break-up, one of the first glimmers of that carefree feeling–you know the one–that  everything is going to be OK.

But best of all, I didn’t feel so afraid anymore of the uncertainty that lie ahead of me. I mean, walking out of there, none of the circumstances in my life had changed–I still hadn’t heard from my ex, I still was back to ground zero in terms of my love life, and I still faced the prospect of another lonely night crying into my pillow.

But somehow, I felt changed, just by facing some small fears that arose at the prospect of strapping my feet to a board and being pulled by a tow cable to cruise over some water. I could still try new things that challenged me both physically and mentally, and succeed. I still could face uncertainty, breathe through it and come out the other side no matter what the outcome.

I was still strong, still capable, still smiling and still very much me, even if someone I loved didn’t love me back in the way I wanted him to. In that moment I felt so good, so capable, so thoroughly strong in body and mind that no one–not him nor anyone else who’s every rejected me, laughed at me, or told me I couldn’t do something that I thought maybe I could–could take that away from me. Nor, I vowed, would I ever let them again.







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Why My Mechanic Is One of My Favorite People In the Universe

Photo Disclaimer: This is not me, nor my bus, but thanks for thinking so…

Since being an expatriate in Portugal I’ve forged the most unlikely of friendships. In fact, if life has taught me one thing up until this point, it’s that connections between people are often found in the strangest of scenarios, and shouldn’t be so much questioned as treasured.

For me, one of the brightest and most consistently positive relationships I have here in Aljezur is, unexpectedly, with my mechanic, who I’ll call Luis (not his real name). In Portugal unless you have a lot of money (I don’t), your car—or in my case, a 1999 Volkswagen Transporter bus—is usually either really old, in a constant state of disrepair, or both.

A good mechanic here is worth more than gold–“good” meaning one you can trust won’t rip you off or overcharge you, while still doing a decent job to ensure your automobile of choice stays on the road and passes the yearly Portuguese vehicle inspection that fills most residents with dread (and usually requires a monetary bribe).

I completely lucked out with Luis, a tiny Portuguese man who comes up to my boobs (I’m nearly 5’9”) and—while only about 10 years my senior—seems more like a wise and kind uncle than a contemporary.

Luis speaks—in addition to Portuguese—perfect English, German and Afrikaans, the last from a long stint living in South Africa; has been married twice; and used to be an avid motorcyclist who at one point suffered a severe accident that not only nearly killed him, but changed his outlook on life and his behavior forever.

From the first moment I met him, Luis gave me a calm, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it for you” feeling, something that—let’s be honest—is incredibly desirable in the guy who’s going to make sure your shitty van isn’t going to suddenly fall apart or veer off a cliff. I’m a generally nervous person (in case you haven’t figured that out yet), so this type of demeanor is not just something I value in a mechanic, but also in my friends.

Luis, in the five or so years that I’ve known him, has become just that. Lately, he’s also become a relationship counselor of sorts, listening to me sound off about my now ex-boyfriend (who he’s met a couple of times) and our troubles, and sharing with me his views on marriage (ie, if he had his life to live over, maybe he’d leave out that part) and how ridiculously sometimes people act in intimate relationships.

Today I had to meet Luis to get a couple of new tires put on my van. Rather, I had to pick him up at his shop and then have him drop me off in Aljezur to run errands while he went to another mechanic shop to fit the tires—which he’d gotten nearly new at a bargain especially for me. He was then going to pick me back up in town and I would drop him off at his office, which is just on the outskirts.

These types of arrangements are typical with Luis. In fact, the last time I had tires put on the van, he drove his motorcycle to my house to pick it up, drove it to have the tires installed, and then drove it back and picked up his motorcycle to return to his home in the nearby countryside. He didn’t even make me pay in advance, just asked me for the money after he’d finished the job.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had this type of relationship with a mechanic before. In fact, Luis sometimes even refuses to fix things because they will cost me TOO much money rather than fixes things needlessly (or breaks things so they will need fixing), like many mechanics. (This, in fact, was a running joke between my ex-boyfriend and me after Luis explained to him the seemingly infinite number of things that were wrong with my van but said he didn’t want to fix them because they would run up a huge bill.)

Luis greeted me with his typical, “Hello, beautiful.” He never misses an opportunity to tell me what a lovely woman I am (I suspect he says this to all the ladies, but no matter) and always greets me kindly and with a warm embrace in addition to the customary two kisses that is the Portuguese way.

We proceeded to drive into town, where I planned to run some errands while waiting for my tires. We joked about if I would be safe alone on the streets of Aljezur—a tiny village with little petty crime and a murder rate of about zero. As he dropped me off, Luis asked, teasingly, “What would your (insert ex’s name here) think about you walking around alone in dangerous Aljezur?”

I told him that he would think nothing of it, as he abruptly dumped me by WhatsApp message and hasn’t spoken to me in a week and a half. I tried to make light of it and we didn’t speak more about it, and I headed on my way.

Later, though, when he picked me up and we drove back to his office, the discussion got a bit more personal and intense. Luis, as I mentioned before, has been married twice, and it seems the first time was a rather painful experience.

We talked about the toxic cat-and-mouse game that exists in many relationships—including the one from which I just emerged–with one person doing the chasing and the other running away. “That’s what all the songs are about,” Luis said, alluding to the myriad pop songs about not knowing what you have until it’s gone (including the one very obviously titled “Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone” by the legendary hair-metal band Cinderella) .

“In my experience, when something becomes broken, it gets cracked and is impossible to put together again,” he said. Luis told me he tried very hard with his ex-wife but still couldn’t hold on to her. However, she came back to him later when all was said and done and told him that once he was gone, she idealized him and their relationship.

“I have a feeling that if you give him the cold shoulder, he’ll come back to you,” Luis said of my ex, thinking of his own experience. I mulled this over as he prepared to leave the car and said, “Well, if that’s the case, I absolutely won’t take him back unless we acknowledge this unhealthy dynamic and work on it. I’d even go to therapy.”

“Speaking of that,” I continued, “what do I owe you for this session?” Luis laughed, and said, “Nothing of course, my dear. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.”

Then, he stepped back and took a long look at my van, which he’d also fixed to the tune of 1,000 euros several months back. “I think your van is in good shape for awhile now,” he said, knowing that this also meant we probably wouldn’t see each other for some time.

“Muito obrigada, Luis,” I said to him. “And thanks again for listening to me. I’ll let you know what happens.”

I started to drive away, and he watched me for a moment before, his mind already on other things, turning back to his shop and the business of the rest of the day. I watched him in my rearview mirror for a second before stepping harder on the gas—a small, late middle-aged man in a blue mechanic’s uniform, shuffling peacefully back to his life’s work of repairing the problems that other people can’t fix.


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My Heart Is on the Mend…Again


When I’m heartbroken, I take solace in doing the smallest things. Drinking a cup of tea. Putting diesel in the tank. Hanging the laundry on the line. I find that by focusing on the little things that take up a lot of our practical time in life, I am soothed, somehow, in knowing that I am taking care of business. Step by step, day by day, if I don’t let these things fall to neglect—these simple acts of self and household care—it means that I am on my way to healing.

I’m heartbroken again, for nine straight days now. I didn’t choose to be this way, not on any surface level. But I know deep down–and all the psychology website and YouTube videos tell me so–that it’s essentially my fault.

I find myself heartbroken all too often, so much so that it must be my comfortable state–incurable love addict, hopeful romantic and general emotional basket case that I am. Although I wouldn’t call the catatonic way I can stare into space these days for what seems like hours on end; the unexpected and sudden crying when someone asks “How are you?”; and the nights spent in my bed staring numbly at TV-series episodes exactly the most “comfortable” mode of daily existence.

My nearly year-long relationship with a man I thought might finally be a good candidate to be a life partner—the longest relationship I’d had in, I’m not kidding, something like 14 years—ended with two simple WhatsApp messages. Then…silence so loud it’s been deafening.

Without getting too personal about what happened, my last ex is the latest in a long line of failed relationships, mainly because I usually find myself barking up the wrong tree when it comes to getting what I want—a stable partner with whom I can spend my life.

I also am not the type of woman who is very good at playing the “game” all the self-help books tell you that you need to play to keep a man—I tend to show my hand of cards far to quickly, speak my mind too easily, and imagine my ever-after far too soon–things that tend to kill most relationships before they even start.

However, I thought I did everything right this time and took it slowly. I didn’t even really like this man that much at first, but wanted to give him a chance because he was attractive enough and we had nice conversations. I also live as an expat in a rural Portuguese coastal town, so the availability of single men my age (mid 40s) is limited. Any man with decent looks, similar interests, a job and a pulse is potential life-partner material around here. Even some of those without a job or decent looks can be negotiable–teeth, however, are a must.

I ignored early red flags that he might be the noncommittal type, something we women like to do when we want very badly for something to work. Now nearly a year of a roller-coaster ride of push-pull with this guy—me being clear that I wanted a relationship and more time with him, him alternating between resisting (even once, for nearly two weeks, basically ignoring me) and meeting my needs in what seemed like sincere and even rather extreme ways that led me to believe he was in this thing for real.

Now, quite abruptly, I find myself alone again, dumped after a ridiculous argument only a day after he finally hung out with some of my friends and was asking me what I wanted for my upcoming birthday.

I’m stunned and incredibly hurt, of course. But when I look under the hood it’s fairly obvious that I should have seen it coming—that I was on thin ice the whole time, if not already kicking and thrashing in neck-high freezing water. This guy was never going to commit to me because we were playing out our respective roles in a toxic pattern of an avoidant-anxious attachment relationship. (Again, this is what the Internet tells me, so it must be true.)

He repeatedly told me he would never change when I would point out his clear resistance to a real relationship and to evolve as a person, and said that I also should not. I tried as best I could to accept him for who he was and adapt accordingly as best I could, telling myself this is what you do in a relationship.

I also carried on being exactly who I am and being perfectly honest, not playing games or holding back the less attractive parts of my personality—which inevitably led to his WhatsApp break-off of the relationship and respective refusal to speak to me. (Great idea that was!)

I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to move ahead, know I am better off without him and get on with my amazing life—which includes but is not limited to surfing, freelance writing, continuing to work on home improvements to my Mediterranean-style bungalow, yoga, drumming lessons, potentially interesting projects on the horizon, and lovely group of friends. I should be planning my next solo surf vacation. I should be working to learn from my mistakes and heal myself from my anxious attachment patterns and get ready to meet someone secure who is far better-suited to me and can meet me halfway in a relationship.

A bit more than a week after the shock to my already well-scarred heart, I’ve started slowly and gingerly resume doing all of these things. I planned a redesign of my garden BBQ area earlier today, and have plans to meet a friend for surfing later. I continue to diligently do the requirements of my freelance job every day. Tomorrow I’ll go to my mechanic to fit my van with new tires.

Slowly, after a week of being fairly useless, I am returning to the business of living and managing my life alone again, trying to push out of my mind the fact that I won’t have my boyfriend around anymore to support me and to do all the practical things I’m so inept at doing.

I’m also trying to wrap my head around the fact (without bursting into tears) that i have lost his companionship and my partner-in-crime for hiking, dining, swimming, boating, laughing, dancing in my kitchen, late-night grocery shopping, sex, wine-drinking, cuddling, movie-watching and the myriad other fun activities we used to share together. Because, aside from our opposite relationship styles, I can’t say that we didn’t have a shitload of good times together, and that I was hoping for a hell of a lot more.

I am slowly putting one foot in front of the other, it’s true, but all through a huge veil of sadness and heavy feeling that threatens to topple me when I stand up, so much so that I find myself feeling physically dizzy, the earth unsteady beneath me. I’ve certainly been through worse than the thoughtless dumping by a narcissist (the death of my mother the day before my 33rd birthday comes to mind), so it can’t be this singular blow that itself is such a knock-out punch.

What I think, though, is that for some reason, each new heartbreak, instead of getting dimmer with age and familiarity, seems to get more difficult. It as if all the heartbreaks of our whole life gather into a massive ball of emotional twine that gains momentum and rolls down a great hill over you, leaving you flat out on the ground. And when you do get up, it’s slowly, with much staggering and confusion, to a world that has been–without your knowledge or consent–irreversibly altered.

Time tells me wounds heal, sadness passes, people come and go. The spiritual teachings I read and witness tell me that the universe has a plan for me; that some relationships are not meant to be forever; and some people are put in our lives merely to teach us something or point out things we need to change.

I find the same solace in these existential things as I find in feeding the cats and taking out the garbage, knowing that with every day my head will get lighter, the sun will shine a bit brighter and I am one step closer to being back to not just my old self, but an even wiser version of me.

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Sunset Surf

I sat on top of the sea tonight as
the last light left the sky
and made my wishes to the universe:
A house with an ocean view
and a bathtub big enough for two;
and someone to share it with who is crazy
in the same way as me and, like me,
just wants to surf, love and be loved.
How to describe what it feels like
when you’re falling down the face
of liquid, but landing on something
more sure than the earth. The sea makes
sense to me. I am far clumsier on land,
my body out of sync with terra firma,
too soft and heavy to find surefootedness
on solid ground. But in water, I find
grace, acceptance for all the things
I can’t accept in myself.
The quiet lap of water around my legs;
The distant rocks at cliff’s edge laid out
against orange sky in a most
unbelievable way, one seagull etched
against the horizon as if painted there
by the world’s most obvious landscape
artist. This is my church. This is what
I believe in. This is why I wake up
every day in a mostly empty bed,
and carry my tired body out the door
and down the ocean road, rattling along
from pothole to pothole past fragrant
euchalyptus and spring’s colorwheel
of wildflowers, to the end of dry land
where the ocean claims the sand,
to the one place where I feel safe,
whole, with even the broken parts
of me if only for a short time put
together exactly where they should be.

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Alive and kicking (it) in Lagos

I can’t believe it’s been more than five months since I’ve posted — more or less the same amount of time I’ve lived in Lagos, Portugal. The town, it seems, has consumed me, for many reasons too numerous to name.

I will eventually get around to describing the turn of events that have kept me insanely busy since I moved here, although some of them are not fit for publication (at least, not in this venue, stay tuned for the tell-all memoir!). But until I can get my head around it all — and believe me, it may take a lifetime to absorb it all — I wanted to provide at least a quick update on my expatriate life as it is today.

I’m still living in a beautiful little house on the edge of Old Town in a primarily Portuguese neighborhood. I have finally become not just acquainted with but friends with my landlord and sorted out a year lease for the house, and its interior has been freshly painted and cleaned and is looking pretty snazzy.

How this all happened is a long story in and of itself, and at one point seemed like it might never happen. But it did, and I’m happy to have finally — after months of uncertainty about my living situation — settled into a home.

Since I last posted I’ve also opened a boutique/art gallery just around the corner from my house. It’s called Pogo Gallery, and it sells mainly handmade items — clothes, jewelry, bags, textiles, photographs, paintings, organic food and soap — sourced from the local area.

As you might imagine, it was a load of work to put it all together, and it’s been slow going in terms of business (let’s not even talk about profitability), but I have learned immensely from my experience, and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

The photo is of the interior of Pogo as it is during my first summer holiday season here in Lagos. I designed much of it myself, though I had friends help me with painting and building the displays and furniture for the shop, nearly all of which was custom-made for it.

Being a local business owner has also helped me become a real part of this community of people that call Lagos home year-round. Last week I went to an annual music festival near Zambujeira do Mar and camped with a bunch of them, another one of memorable experiences I’ve stacked up in the short time I’ve lived here.

Lagos is primarily a holiday town, with a lot of transient 20-somethings working bar and restaurant jobs for the summer to earn money on their way to their next destination — many go to ski resorts in the Alps to do the fall/winter holiday season there.

August is the busiest month in Lagos, when tourists from around Portugal and Europe invade the town, crowding restaurants, bars and beaches. It’s a bit insufferable (not to mention wicked HOT), but having survived nearly two years living in NoLIta, in the heart of downtown NYC — where it’s rammed with tourists for months on end, not just a few weeks of summer — Lagos doesn’t seem all that bad.

There are, however, a group of people in Lagos and its immediate surroundings that have made a conscious decision to call this quirky little town home. For better or worse (and believe me, I could argue both sides), I have become one of those people. I’m not sure how long I will live here, but I am committing myself to the place for at least the next couple of years, even if I take some time off in the winter — like many do — to go traveling for awhile.

Because this picturesque little town isn’t such a bad place to use as home base, and now that I’ve finally made the move to Europe, I honestly don’t have any desire to return to the U.S. — at least not on any permanent basis — anytime soon. And while I may not stay in Lagos forever, it’s certainly been — with its staple of English-speaking expatriates, all of us bound by a desire to escape whatever life we left behind — a soft place for me to land on a new continent.

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Because sometimes it rains in paradise

I haven’t really felt like writing lately, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I’ve been busy living and processing and trying to feel at home here in my new town, and I really haven’t had much to say.

I’ve spent the last few days surfing as much as I can when I’m not working. I’m really addicted to it again, and as I’ve seen noticeable improvement in my skills in the last week or so, there’s little else I feel like doing right now.

I’m beginning to understand that surfing is a disease, an addiction. Except for caffeine, I’ve never really had an addictive personality for the things people usually become addicted to, like cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. I’ve considered myself pretty immune to being an addict.

But surfing is different for me, and I understand now how it inspires people to pack up their lives in a minivan and go off traveling for months just to catch waves. Surfing not just a sport; it’s a mindset, a way of life, a personal philosophy. It sounds pretty stereotypical and stoner-y to say such a thing, but as someone who has been surfing on and off for almost a year now, and quite regularly for the past four months, I can tell you it’s totally, 100-percent true.

It’s a chemical thing, too — I think you become addicted to the adrenalin rush of being in the ocean and standing up on a wave. I find myself needing to get wet, needing to be in the ocean, feeling depressed if there are no waves to ride or if I don’t have the time to go surfing because of work or other responsibilities.

I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to. And at least surfing is somewhat good for me.

To be perfectly honest, I feel like it’s pretty much the best thing I have right now, living alone as I am in a foreign country where I still feel somewhat out of place and am still fumbling my way through new friendships, a new language and a whole new life. Getting in the ocean and standing up on a surfboard is mostly what I have to look forward to these days, so it’s no wonder I need it like a junkie needs heroin.

Other than surfing, I’ve spent my first couple of weeks in my new town of Lagos getting acclimated to my new surroundings.

I’ve realized that in the different places I’ve lived I fall into familiar patterns when I have just arrived. I explore by taking long walks or jogs or hikes in the area immediately surrounding my new domicile, taking photos in my mind of places of interest so I will know to return to them.

I note the closest restaurants, bars, stores and services of interest. I find new paths and routes that are relatively traffic-free and jogger- and walker-friendly. I quietly observe my neighbors to see what they’re like and if there’s anyone I think I should try to get to know.

Because it’s southern Portugal and it’s all about the stunning natural scenery, I’ve already explored the four closest beaches to me — Meia Praia, a long beach to the northeast that stretches toward Portimao; Praia Dona Ana, slightly to the southwest and probably the closest beach to me; Praia do Carilo, a little further to the west of Dona Ana; and Praia Porto de Mos, which is somewhere in the middle and is the only one I’d ever been to before.

One night last week also took me to cliffs hugging the coast and eventually to Ponta de Piedade, a point with a lighthouse perched on one of those cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful night — for once it wasn’t raining, and the air held that heavy early-spring wetness that held promise and mystery instead of dread and misery.

With all the rain Portugal (much of Europe, actually) has had this winter, I’ve been quite sick of everything being moist since I’ve returned, and my short time in Lagos has been no different. This week the sun has finally broken through two days in a row, but mostly it’s been wet and generally horrible, and everyone here in the Algarve has been trudging along in a collective foul mood.

As I take predictable routes to try to make myself comfortable here, still I struggle with the same emotional and existential questions I’ve had my entire life. Luckily for me, there have been some unexpected surprises since my move that have once again reminded me that I am here for a reason.

Those surprises came in the form of people. One is C, the Dutch girlfriend of the first friend I made in this area, D. (You may remember him from previous blog posts.)

The other are R and my temporary flatmate K, who two days ago moved to Lisboa but became, to my surprise, a friend and confidante in the week that we lived together.

R is a 50-something Venezuelan man who was K’s boss at a tapas restaurant just down the street from our house, and K is a 29-year-old Hungarian woman who reminds me of a younger version of myself in style, temperament and life philosophy.

All three of them have helped give me perspective on my life — in particular on the fact that I came here to live on my own, something that continues to both terrify and thrill me — in just the short time I’ve known them.

I am learning to take what life gives me and listen to my intuition, but it’s still a struggle to trust that there is a bigger plan at work, and to trust that my own instincts and intuition are leading me in the right direction.

There already are things here I long for, situations that haven’t worked out as I expected, desires that my Buddhist-trained mind is trying to detach from. I see the truth about people I’ve met — or what I believe is “the truth” — and don’t necessarily like what I see.

I get angry with myself for wanting something I don’t have and not being happy for the happiness of other people, because judging other people and misdirected desire are wastes of energy and time and do no one any good.

And still I question my own lifestyle and the choices I’ve made. I question my intensity. I wonder why it is I can never take the path that is easy for me, and why I still feel like it’s such an uphill battle sometime to make authentic connections with people.

I know I am not alone in any of my thoughts, feelings and ponderings. I am not unique in my feelings of discontentment, even when I know in my heart I have a beautiful life.

I will get through this transitional time and find a place of more comfort, and I will someday read these words again and see how far I’ve come from feeling this way.

For now as I sit uneasily and uncomfortably with some emotional challenges, I take comfort in small things. Sitting on my surfboard in an ocean that I have all to myself just after sunset, waiting for another wave to roll in.

The sound of seagulls crying outside my window in the morning, a wake-up reminder of how close I live to the sea.

Buying a gas bottle that will provide me with hot water and stove power for the next month from an elderly Portuguese man at the tiny bar down the street, an activity that very distinctly reminds me I indeed am now living in Portugal.

The strange apparition of a man playing a kazoo and pushing an old rusty bicycle down that same street this morning, a man my new friend C told me is probably the local knife sharpener who comes through town periodically. (If what she says is true it could quite possibly be the coolest thing I’ve ever heard.)

These may be uneasy days but they are also beautiful and pure and full of life. It is my life and for each breath I am grateful, and while there are things I want but don’t have, there is nothing I really need. In fact, you could argue I have far more than anyone can ever need, that I am luckier than most people deserve to be in a lifetime.

Maybe I haven’t been able to write because I’m afraid of what I might say. I’m afraid I might sound ungrateful for not being 100 percent happy all the time in the middle of such an abundant life.

But the truth is, paradise has teeth. It bites. Hard.

Sometimes it rains even in paradise. And not just showers, but Biblical shit that makes you forget not only what it feels like to have the sun on your face, but that there was ever a sun at all.

Today I went north to Odeceixe — the town in which I first fell in love with this place — and had tea with C and we discussed how compelled we felt to move here and how, once we did, we mostly wondered what the hell we were thinking. There are a lot of people like us here who are pulled as if by a magnet or that tractor beam from the Death Star in Star Wars and, once here, think at least once nearly every day that they’ve made some horrible mistake.

Because while it is beautiful here, it can also be lonely. And in Portugal if you are foreign, you are *really* foreign. Portuguese to non-native speakers is an especially incomprehensible language that takes years to learn, and the Portuguese, bless them, are not the friendliest nor the most open-minded population in the world.

I really loved Red Hook, Brooklyn, the neighborhood I lived in for a year before I came here. I really felt like I could have settled there and happily become a part of the community, and I fiercely miss some of the people I met there and the feeling of camaraderie that neighborhood more than any other I lived in in NYC has.

The problem is, I moved there when the Algarve tractor beam already had a lock on me and, as much as I could just as easily have built a cozy life in Red Hook and found my own little niche among its infinitely creative and beautiful band of weirdos, I really didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I am luckier than many, and I know that. I have friends here, some of whom could very well be true keepers. I have a place to live, a car to drive, a surfboard to ride. I have a seemingly endless ocean that in the past few days has graciously served up small and manageable waves for me to ride. I have a roof terrace with a view of that ocean. Every day my eyes see something new and uniquely beautiful that I have never seen before.

So while I am not unhappy to be here, nor am I completely satisfied. And that’s OK. That’s pretty damned human, in fact.

And paradise, while quite a nice concept, doesn’t really exist — at least, not in the way one might think it’s supposed to be. It is a hell of a lot more complicated than that.

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This is what I see when I look out the back window of my new (old) house

I’ve found a more or less “permanent” place to live in Lagos, Portugal, living a life full of used and borrowed things.

From my terrace of my borrowed house I can see the ocean, the sun, the moon and the stars. I drank coffee there the other morning and mused about how well things have turned out for me.

I have lived here five weeks now and I have friends, a used car, a used surfboard, a little house in a great neighborhood with a roof terrace with a view of the sea, and possibly even a dog.

The person renting the house, a guy called L, lives in Ireland; the owner perhaps too, or perhaps he’s here. L isn’t sure. It’s also L’s dog that may soon be mine, but that is a whole other story for which I don’t have time at the moment.

I’m paying L to be here and sleeping in a room full of his stuff until his Hungarian friend K moves to Lisbon next week. She is a nice girl very similar to me – arty, similar clothes, a Libra, takes photos – but nine years my junior and as pale as I am olive.

K is freshly mourning the loss of a relationship and nervous to move to a city after three and a half years in this little town, a situation I myself was in three and a half years ago before I moved to New York City. So I sympathize with her, and so far we are getting along just fine.

L is a friend of D’s, my friend whose house I stayed in for a month before moving here to Lagos. As I’ve mentioned before, D is the ex-wife of a man whose surf camp visited the first time I ever came to Portugal, which was also when I decided that someday I would live here.

But I didn’t meet L through D, nor vice versa. I met L through a former friend of mine named Aibhinn who lived in New York but was from Dublin and at one point dated L’s best friend, a guy called Brian, who died not long before I met L for the first time last November.

This is how things go here in this small worth of expatriates in the Algarve. The connections between us no longer surprise me. In fact, I am sure they will start to stack up in undesirable ways.

This town, Lagos, confuses me. It is just that — merely, a town — but always I get lost. I navigated my way around New York City for more than three years before I moved here and yet I still have trouble getting somewhere the same way twice.

I have walked alone through dozens of European cities without knowing the language, armed with only a map and my wits. Yet this little Algarve-ian village puzzles me. I’m, quite frankly, ashamed of my pathetic navigational skills.

But no matter; I’m sure I will learn my way around soon enough. And I am happy to be here, with several beautiful beaches to which I have already spent several mornings jogging, very close by.

It is strange to be so out of my element and my previous life in New York, but I try not to give that too much thought. My daily visits to the sea and preoccupation with logistical matters are keeping me busy enough that I try not to worry about when this life will feel like mine.

Until then, this borrowed one will have to do.