The Ugly American

Portugal, 2022

I knew our return trip from Portugal would be difficult for me, just as our return from Germany and France had been a few years ago. Walking through small towns and larger cities in Europe filled with coffee shops, interesting people going here and there, and old historic buildings along beautiful rivers makes me joyful. I am at peace.

Not so in this country.

Don’t jump down my throat. I know the United States offers much good not evident in many other parts of the world. I’ve just not been seeing much of it lately. The politics. the violence, the stupidity of people running for office, and the disparity between the rich and poor make my blood boil. I seem to say over and over, “what’s wrong with people?”

I also know that spending a week traveling in Portugal doesn’t make me the expert on Portugal. One of our guides mentioned the 48% tax residents pay (to cover education, health, and infrastructure). Someone in our group gasped. But I nodded in full agreement with the payment. What I don’t know is how our two systems compare. Would I be willing to pay half my salary for a system like theirs? I’d like to think I would, if only to even things out.

I can’t help but think we could learn something from this culture. But we can’t if we continue to put America First and wear blinders blocking our understanding of the rest of the world.

So I am trying to be gentle with myself. I’ll visit a local coffee shop and order espresso. I’ll make sure I keep up with my walks and my writing. Avoiding large crowds helps, as does keeping my schedule as simple as I can.

Yesterday, I called out “Bom Dia!” to someone walking his dog. I’m sure he thought I was a nut, but I don’t care. I’ll pretend I’m there for a while longer.

To Read or Not to Read

I hope Jenna doesn’t mind me using her photo from last night here. She was amazing, as were all the other readers at the Water Street Writers open mic event.

I’d brought three poems to read, just in case. But I had a feeling I wouldn’t read, beginning a few days ago. I spent my life in front of people: teaching, talking to parent groups, and speaking at technology forums. Presenting seemed easy, natural. Then I went through some life changes that, well, changed my life. Suddenly, I experienced anxiety, gut issues, and sleep problems. I ignored them for a few years, but then realized I needed to learn how to manage them.

After two or three years, I do feel like I *can* manage (not fix) them. And one way is to honor what I am feeling. I try to say “yes” when I mean yes, and I say “no” when I mean no. I knew if I read, I would feel the flutters in my stomach turn to waves. Then I’d have gut issues that wouldn’t subside for days. And I probably wouldn’t have slept last night.

I *chose* not to read. Instead I totally enjoyed sitting outside in the freezing weather listening to my Water Street writers read. The evening was relaxing!

I have become more introverted as I age. I crave solitude. Nothing makes me happier than writing, listening to podcasts, walking on the beach, or sitting in a garden. That’s not to say I don’t love my friends. It was so good to see the writers whom I usually only see on Zoom! So many smiles, so many hugs.

The past few years have taught me to honor my feelings and do what is important for my body. I don’t always make the right choices, but they are choices. That feels right.

What I’m reading/learning:


A Simple Movement for Joy

Start Where You Are

The Loveliness of it All

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

I was never much of a hugger. Being a New Englander, and earlier having all ancestors from England, I tend to be a little stand-offish.

But I’ve had a few hugs lately that have warmed me from the the top of my head to the tip of my toes. Coming home from Rhode Island means seeing friends after months away. And after Covid (and now double boosted) and not hugging at ALL, I find a need to grab friends and hold on for a few moments.

This morning I had one of those hugs from someone I don’t see very often. After a long squeeze, we caught up, and I found myself answering her questions about family, Rhode Island, travel, and poetry. It was so affirming. I ended the quick conversation with “Life IS good.” I hadn’t said that in a while, and it felt almost overwhelming to admit. I can wallow around in dark places for too long when I start thinking about my health/aging/loss issues.

Landing back here in Virginia was hard. I missed Rhode Island desperately, and being here felt strange and awkward. I mentioned to David how loud it is. We live on an emergency route, so we hear sirens all day and night. People walk home from bars and restaurants late at night and laugh- loudly. Dogs bark. Cars and motorcycles roar their engines. It’s almost too much.

I do berate myself for getting mired in this– after all, I have two really cool places to live, food to eat, heat for my houses, and children/grandchildren I visit with regularly.

But it was good to feel like I was getting over the hump this morning. It was good to realize again what lovely friends I have here. I could feel the weight lifting.