Friday, March 30, 2012

The everlasting quest

Someone once said that we are not nouns, we are verbs. Always in constant movement. Another someone also said that happiness is a state of mind. It's not a period of time (however short or long)  where the constants in our lives are aligned in a certain way that makes us happy; being happy at work, with your relationship, with your social life, with your family life, etc, etc, is not just a coincidence - to a greater degree than what most of us realize it's more of a choice than anything else.  But it's also not that simple. In most cases it's not enough to say I think I'm happy, therefore I'm happy (though sometimes it really is a matter of perpective, of trying to see the glass half-full). It takes action. Embracing that we are verbs and not nouns. Happiness is a choice and a quest. It's saying I want to be happy, then analyzing what can be done to improve every aspect of your life, and then it's acting on it. Dreams do come true, but not just because we wish them to; there's always a certain amount of effort that must come from our part.

I have dreams. And because most of those dreams are simple and... halfway done, I fooled myself into thinking I could just sit back and relax and let things run their natural course, since everything was already heading in the right direction. I had already moved to a foreign country, I had an amazing relationship with a great man, I was on my way to being independent and finding a dream-job. I thought if I let it all on autopilot soon the path to the dream-job would reveal itself, the relationship would naturally progress to a home, marriage, family, the whole suburban dream. But that's not the way it works. You can take a break (and Lord knows I needed one at the time), but if you take too long to get back to it, all that you've conquered starts to rust and fall apart. Life is not like riding a bicycle. If you don't practice, if you don't put in some work, you'll forget and things will start to crumble. And that's what happened. I got comfortable. And now that I've opened my eyes and taken a good look at what a mess I've made of things I'm determined to change. To do the work and get it right this time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The portable book nook

It's no secret that I love books. And even though I have no trouble reading pretty much anywhere I've been feeling the need for a special place for my readings. Somewhere comfortable where I could open a book (or turn on my kindle) and read to my heart's content. Much like Goldilocks I tried every spot in the house to no avail. The two-seat sofa wasn't cozy enough and I couldn't get into a comfortable position. The chair-bed didn't have armrests, so my elbows just stood in the air, holding the book until my arms got tired. And reading in bed always led to unwanted naps and made my days so much lazier. And it was a little sad that in my own home I couldn't find a place to read to my taste. So, the moment I had a little money burning in my pocket I decided it was time to fix this.

I knew what I wanted but I also had some limitations: I didn't have a lot of space and I was on a budget. So, after a long, long search on the internet I came across something called a moon chair. It had great reviews on amazon and so, since it was extremely affordable, I decided to buy one. I wasn't completely prepared for what followed. The delivery was surprisingly speedy (barely 48 hours) and when I got the enormous box inside the house I discovered layer after layer of goodness. The moonchair was easily folded and kept inside its own carrier bag (plastic with handles and very easy to put under the bed). I unfolded it and sat on it. I grabbed a book. And I couldn't believe it. It was heaven. The chair was low, so I was sitting close to the floor (which is a plus for me, being a short person). Being round it provided the perfect support of my elbows and arms and the level of inclination was perfect to that I didn't have to put too much pressure on my neck.It was if the chair was hugging me, like it was a coccoon, perfectly fitting my body. It was also very light and I could easily move it around the house and fold it again when I didn't need it. Which is never. I am always there now, every scrap of free time I get I grab my book or kindle and that's where you can find me.

I am beyond happy. Before I purchased the moon chair (or, as I call it, my portable book nook) I didn't even realize how antsy this lack of a place to read made me. How much I needed it. It might seem like it's no big deal, like I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but it turns out this was of the uttermost importance. Now I feel so much more at home. Because now there's a place for my readings (which are a significant part of my life), a place that is mine, created by me (well, bought, but you get the point) and for me. A place in this land where I belong completely. And I am happy!

Who knew a simple foldable chair could make such an impact on my life!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Right here and a world away

The weather is warming up. In the past few days since Spring began there's been a lot more light and sunshine and even some warm gentle breeze. There's tiny new leaves on the trees and on the ground it seems an immense garen has burst to life. It feels a lot closer to home, and that somehow makes it bittersweet. My heart getting giddy feeling I'm back home, only to realize a breath afterwards that I'm still here. No don't get me wrong; I'm thrilled to be here and I intend to stay put for many, many years. Still there are moments that take your breath away and - in a single moment, triggering one single sense - can bring you close to tears. Happy tears, mind you. The seagulls' cry on a sunny morning takes me back to our yearly family vacation in Algarve. The smell of a random barbecue in the air transports me to downtown Lisbon on a regular 13th of June. The taste of a lamb and mint pie is the taste of childhood dinners in Alentejo. And - for the most part - it always takes you off guard. You're walking down the street and bam! something transports you in time and space back to where you came from. To all those happy memories and places (and people) you left behind.

I like the seagulls' cry, just like I treasure everything that takes me back, even if only for a second. Even if it hurts a little. Because it's all part of my heritage, of who I am. And I can't (or even don't want) to simply ignore it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The meerkat report # 6

or Learning how to drive in the UK

Today I had my first driving lesson in the UK. Two full hours of driving on the left side of the road and with the wheel on the right side of the car. Yep, it was quite the suburban adventure! You know what they say that doctors make the worst patients? Well, it turns out the same can be said of drivers. It was the most surreal experience! Because I drove my own car for three years before switching countries, I knew what I wanted to do, I knew how to do it instinctively, on a subconscious level, but now I had to actively do it in reverse.

First there's driving a car that runs on petrol, instead of diesel, which makes it a little bit trickier to handle the clutch. Then there's changing gears and signalling with your left hand. The first few times I kept going for the windscreen wipers instead of the indicators. Also, do you remember that feeling when you first start driving that you're in the middle of the road and that you are going to crash against the cars on the opposite lane when in fact you're just not used to looking at the road from the driver's seat? Well, when you first drive in the UK that feeling comes back again and you have to struggle to keep "in the middle of the road" so that you don't accidentally step onto the curb and run over mothers with buggies. Not to mention that every time the instructor said "Look in your mirrors" I didn't know which ones he meant (there's all sorts of new blindspots now that I'm sitting on the right seat), so I kept looking all over before moving an inch. Oh, and you have to remember that the lane to your right is the slowest, and the one to your left is the fastest. Then there's roundabouts and junctions, what a nightmare! Thankfully the instructor kept saying "danger always comes from the right", which helped enormously! And to top it all off there's national differences! In Portugal we are royally told off if we turn the wheel with our hands still roughly in the 10 and 2 o'clock position (as if I were pulling on a rope), instead we're told to do it crossing our hands. Here it's the opposite. Which, to my mind, seems completely idiotic. So, because I kept turning the wheel the way I was taught to, I kept hearing the words "you drive like a lorry driver". Which I guess wasn't meant as a compliment.

Anyway, I'm glad I booked that class, because as it turns out driving "in reverse" is not as easy as I inicially thought, so I'll be sure to book a few more before venturing on my own. Anyway, at the very least, it makes for a funny story to tell your family and friends back home!

It's Spring, all bets are off...

... and the sky is the limit!

The changes of Spring

Winter is over. Spring is here. It starts today. And just like with the seasons, so it seems to be with my life. The new year brought great changes, sure, but it's now, today even, that my life seems to blossom once more. Today it all starts changing back to the way it was before I came here, and yet nothing will ever be the same. It's not just going back to the past, rather it's bring the bits of it back and incorporating them in my new life. Today I start driving again. I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. To drive again. To get that little piece of my old life back. And that seems to be only the beginning.

Yesterday, as I was making my way home from the city centre, I noticed a new bar that just opened. To my surprise they have salsa nights and kizomba nights. I was gobsmacked! That was simply godsent! To have a bar close to home that just happens to have nights dedicated to the two major dance styles I used to dance back in Portugal... it hardly seems coincidental! But again, it doesn't stop there. It so happens that a dear friend of mine stumbled upon a website of a dance school in Brum. Not just a dance school, a dance school with loads of open classes, with loads of styles (jazz, broadway, bollywood, pilates, etc, etc) AND with a pay as you go payment option, meaning I would pay only for the classes I'd attend to and I could just pop in any time I'd like, which is perfect for someone who works shifts.

Yes, everyone. It seems this is it! If I'm mindful and treat all these blessings with care I can make myself happy and whole again and use them as fuel to help me achieve whatever is left on my list of dreams and resolutions. Spring is only the beginning!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The wise man's fear # 2

"It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he'll look for his own answers."

Patrick Rothfuss

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The lost self

Since getting to the UK I feel I've somewhat lost my independence. I know it sounds weird, that's it should be the other way around, but stay with me! Moving to a foreign it's like going back in time; suddenly you feel you're five again and can't even be trusted to cross the street safely (which, by the way, is not an original idea; I've read it in one of Bill Bryson's books). Practically everything you had is lost or left behind in your home country and even your hard-earned life-long knowledge of how things work may not be applicable where you now live. So you have to start over regaining every little bit of that independence. Getting yourself into the system (national insurance, bank account, national health services, council tax, etc), getting a mobile, getting a job, learning how to navigate your area of residence, understanding the local accent, making new friends and, to people living in the UK such as myself, re-learning how to drive.

And it's all so sudden! One day you're packing to move to a foreign country, at the peak of your independence, visualising all the wondrous adventures you'll have and how great it'll all be, and the next day it's all gone. Of course, at first you don't even bother with it, you're so excited. But once all the early frenzy wears off you start to feel all that has been lacking in your life. And this is where I am. I've been trying to fight it off with denial, and lets just say it was a rotten plan. I have left behind so many people and so many hobbies that practically defined the person that I was that I now have trouble recognising myself when I look in the mirror.  I don't dance. I don't sing. I don't go to the movies. I don't drive. Instead I do all sorts of things that I didn't before. I cook and tend to the house. I travel by train. I get happy when the sky is only partly clouded. It's like Joana ceased to be in August 2011 and now there's Jo. Yep, that's what everyone here calls me. Jo. And I can't live like this anymore. Being just Jo isn't good enough. So I'm going on a rescue mission and I'll be damned if I don't bring part of the old me back! 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Week one report

So the first week went by in a flash, and here are the results! Diet-wise all was peachy fine for three days until I got back to work, by which point I fell miserably off the wagon. Exercise - none, though my legs have been killing me from working so much. Stress - a lot! Always on the run, always exhausted. On the new projects front nothing happened as well, but that was to be expected, what with all the stressful, stressful days! Morale - high, which is quite a good thing, all things considered.

So it wasn't the shiniest of starts, but I'm okay with it. I knew it was going to be hard and the thing is, I held the boat for three days, and that's something (little, but still something). Now all I have to do is learn how to keep things going whilst I'm at work, if not to keep it going forwards, at least to keep it going backwards! And lets have faith! I'm going to get there, even if it takes me a long time to do it!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Coming clean

Lately I haven't been feeling very well. Well, actually, not lately; it's been going on for almost six months now. Since I moved to the UK my life changed a great deal, and yet somehow it's like I'm waiting for it to start. And I don't really know why. Maybe it's the slow start at my new job, but it kind of feels like not much has changed. There's plans and things I want to do that, at the moment, I can't start yet. And I'm so tired of waiting. Then I'm missing so much from my old life that at times I don't even recognize myself. I miss my family and my friends. I miss the sun and the city where I lived all my life. I miss going out. I miss singing and dancing and being on stage. I miss going to the movies. I miss my stuff. And all that is taking its toll on me. It's like a big chunk of my life, my routine, my personality, the person that I was is gone and I haven't figured out how to fill the empty spaces yet.

Right now I feel sparkless. Like I have no drive, nothing that compells me to move forwards, to be better. I have come up with plans and goals to keep myself entertained and moving on some sort of direction. Exercising, watching my diet, doing yoga, reading and doing some serious house work. Still most things I can't keep them up for more than a few days. It's as if my spirit is broken and all my best efforts come tumbling down like a house of cards at the first breeze. And part of me can't understand. I should be happy. I'm living with the love of my life. I moved to a foreign country and started a new life here. I didn't think I had the guts to do it, but I did it. I have conquered so much. Where has all that strength gone?

I have tried letting things run their course. I have licked my wounds. But still I don't feel my energy coming back to me. Every passing day my eyes look more and more empty as I look in the mirror. And it's begun to affect my relationship as well. I don't feel like the person that I was when all this started. I feel tiny and weak. I know change is inevitable, this still doesn't account for all the wretchedness, for all the numbness I feel inside. It's like I've fallen into a well and I'm scratching and clawing at the walls but I simply can't get out.

I don't even know what to say anymore. Tomorrow's internal assembly day. A day to detox, refocus and come up with another new plan. And then lets start over. I won't delude myself into thinking I won't fall off the wagon. I'm just hoping this time I'll get farther down the road and that whenever I fall (inevitably we all do) I'll take less time to get back on track again. I think I'm ready to start again!

Friday, March 02, 2012


Yesterday was World Book Day and I thought it shouldn't go unmentioned. In my opinion, it's been long overdue! It's a shame that we've been celebrating books for only fifteen years.

In my personal experience, books have changed my life completely, to a point where I can't even conceive the person that I am today without their influence. Every step of my life, through good times and bad, books have always been there. From a very early age they've provided a portal to countless realities and times. Books have taught me so much of what I know today. They've made me laugh, cry and think. Some have made me question my own humanity, posing hard questions to which all answers are impossible. They have stretched my boundaries and definitions of what is good, bad, moral, ethical and have shown me time and again how the world can be all sorts of different shades between black and white. I have traveled in space and time, guided by countless minds and voices. I am what I am partly because of the books I've read so far. And I believe I'm a better person than I would've been otherwise. And I intend to keep getting better and better, and reading more and more. After all, books make for extraordinary companions!

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Mas o problema é que você, meu caro, nunca há-de saber, nem eu lhe poderei nunca comunicar, como se traduz em mim aquilo que você me diz. Não, você não falou turco. Usámos, eu e você, a mesma língua, as mesmas palavras. Mas que culpa temos, eu e você, de as palavras, em si, serem vazias? Vazias, meu caro. E você enche-as do seu sentido, ao dizer-mas; e eu, ao acolhê-las, encho-as inevitavelmente do meu sentido. Julgámos que nos tínhamos entendido; não nos entendemos de todo.

Um, ninguém e cem mil, Luigi Pirandello