Friday, June 18, 2004

Predictable Calls.

The difference between a friend and an acquaintance is that although you get along with both of them, you wouldn’t trust an acquaintance five minutes alone with your cell phone. When someone loses their credibility they either become an outcast or they’re anointed as an acquaintance. These acquaintances are the people you wave and greet when you see them in the street, perhaps even chat to at social gatherings but keep them at a distance from your personal life. If you don’t see them in the occasions mentioned above, chances are you will only hear from the in the following circumstances;

a) Somebody died.
b) They wanted to call someone else but dialled your number by mistake or…
c) They need something from you.

“Hi! How are you doing? I know it’s been a while, I’ve been busy… do you think you could help me out with something?”

Most phone calls from acquaintances will begin this way. They are usually unexpected and leave you pondering the above motives in the first few seconds of answering the call. The first question that will cross your mind when receiving a phone call from the acquaintance will be “I wonder what he/she wants this time”

The scenario:

Picture an office where there are three clients in the waiting room; five phones are ringing; the stock manager is on vacation; your other colleague is off sick and the new girl panics while asking what she can do to help. This of course isn’t mentioning the deadlines, the pending faxes that keep accumulating, the contracts that need signing and the paperwork that hasn’t been taken care of and properly archived. At times like these, you try not wishing that you had an automatic machine gun and try concentrate on the anti-stress breathing techniques that you learnt with yoga and meditation. While trying to decide which emergency to deal with first, your cell phone rings and you answer it trying to ignore the fact the number on display is from a different operator than the one you work for.


When not hearing from someone for over three months you might fail to recognise the sound of his or her voice. In this person’s case, it was the first phone call I’d received in what must be over a year, if not more. So it took me a while to figure out who was calling. When I eventually figured out the identity of the caller, I immediately went through my three options. Fortunately everyone that we both knew was in perfect health and considering that nothing that sounded like an apology popped up in the first two sentences, it dawned on me that the caller could only be contacting me for the third motive. It’s only obvious that the person couldn’t have guessed the chaos that I found myself in at that moment but then again, he hadn’t bothered to ask, “Is this a bad time?” Instead he went on to asking me the information he needed and not waiting for my response he asked me not to switch off while putting me on hold…

Staring at my phone, I wondered why it was that I was surprised that I was put on hold by an acquaintance that only called me when he wants something. Even though it was my help that he needed, he conveniently put me on hold while my job was begging and demanding my immediate attention. Looking at the caller ID of my landline, I recognised the number flashing as belonging to one of my most important clients and was left with a choice. I would’ve probably stayed on the line for a friend, but I’m also sure a friend wouldn’t put me on hold. So without giving it a second thought I continued with the job that guarantees the income I need to pay off my loan and grant me independence. In simpler words, I cut off the acquaintance’s call.

I didn’t think of him until the end of the day and just as I expected, he hadn’t bothered on calling back. Perhaps he found a solution to his problem, but just as I doubt it, I’m also willing to bet the reason he didn’t call back has everything to do with bruised, male pride. Then again, if he was truly proud, perhaps he’d be too ashamed calling me in the first place considering he’d treated me like “someone not worth his time” on the last occasion that we’d spoken. I confess that for a minute I felt mixed feelings about switching off the phone, they sway between guilt and anger. Perhaps a while ago disappointment would’ve been the result of watching someone deliberately use you but I guess it’s true what they say about growing a thicker skin with time.

Am I prepared to help my acquaintance? Why not, we live in a world where we need to help each other to survive. The difference is that whilst for a friend I’d be willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to help, for an acquaintance I’m only prepared to do what I can. Which is probably a whole lot more than what my acquaintance would be prepared to do for me. To survive in life, you eventually learn not to give more than you get and to keep low expectations of the people around you. Although I don’t expect my acquaintance to call in the near future, I’m pretty sure that if the problem is bad enough he’ll use my number again. In the meantime, I think I’ll concentrate giving some of my friends a call, especially those that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. In a phone call from someone you haven’t heard from in a long time, the difference between the caller being a friend or an acquaintance lies in that the acquaintance will always have an ulterior motive other than simply making contact.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Message in a bottle...

Needing some time to myself, I took on a good friend’s advice and did something I’d been longing to do from many stressful afternoons at work. Instead of staying home and reorganizing my apartment as I’d initially planned, I grabbed a book, my keys and my bag and found myself sitting under the shade of a big tree that belonged to Parque Santa Catarina: a beautiful garden just a block away from my work.

I ignored the lovebirds and the morons who tried their luck, keeping my nose glued to a book that I had bought more than a year ago and never had gotten around to reading. The book is called Message in a bottle by Nicholas Sparks. Although I’m aware that there’s a movie about the book, I’ve never seen the movie and experience has left me with the opinion that the book is always better than the movie. The book was bought on a cold Sunday night in one of Lisbon airport’s bookstores. Romances were books that I stopped buying sometime near the end of high school, but this one was bought with the intention of reinforcing the idea of love and it’s obstacles. Perhaps reading the novel, a message of hope and strength would be found to rescue my soul in its turmoil. My concentration only allowed me to read two pages in the boarding room whilst my own melodrama kept my mind occupied for the rest of my trip back home. The ending to my own short-lived love story wasn’t the kind that you’d hope for.

They say that everything happens in it’s own time and place and the sensitive dreamer in me says that the book was meant for this exact time in my life hence the reason it was bought and not read.

Visiting the marina more often than usual, those who know me well would know to find me there. All my joys, all my sorrows, all my doubts and fears go to the pier to be discussed with the ocean. As clichéd as it may seem, the waves of the ocean soothe my pain and heal my hurts. They listen to my thoughts without me having to utter a sound and it’s where I go whenever I need to be alone. A romantic, yes I am… often I accuse myself of feeling too much or living in a reality that no one else lives in. But I can’t deny my soul the pleasure of being true to itself so I allow it feel every emotion that life has to bring. Looking at the marina and the boats, I recalled all the amazing moments I’d lived linked to the ocean. Just last year a family of sailors had changed my life with their entry into Funchal bay and the most wonderful beginnings seemed to start right there. I couldn’t help smiling at the memories and even remembered with disappointment that once a woman had predicted that the day I met the man of my life, I would walk with him near the water. I had always imagined that the pier, or near the ocean is where this would happen, for it’s my favourite place in the whole world and that only destiny would manage to take someone that special to that same place. Even though I don’t believe in such predictions, it would be nice to imagine such a fate especially since everything else she had said at that point had already come true. Even so, it was something I’m incapable of believing in.

Ironically, my book involved the ocean, a boat, loss and love… the eternal kind that I had never managed to erase from my heart’s beliefs. Although the fiction of the book was nothing more than the diction of someone else’s imagination, there were important life’s lessons to be learnt. One of them being that precious miracles are lost when we don’t give life a chance and another that if you’re incapable of being sincere with yourself and the person you’re with, you risk destroying what love can build.

Halfway through my book, something that sounded like someone calling a cat caught my attention. Right in front of me, sitting on a bench has a man with a camera trying to catch my attention with “pssssstttttt”. Irritated beyond words I ignored his calling and returned to my book. A voice inside reminded me lost opportunities that don’t come around twice, the man in front of me was near his thirties and even though he wasn’t that great looking, he was well dressed and charming in his own way. At the same time a loud protest that seemed to come from my heart reminding me that fate didn’t work this way. It took me ten minutes to decide whether I would put to end the ceaseless “psssting” and educate at least one man about how to charm a woman. I stood up and sat right next to him. The expression on his face changed immediately to one of self-satisfaction like a little boy who had just managed to get something he wanted. I looked him directly in the eyes and told him that a real man doesn’t sit on the sidelines “psssting” and hoping that a woman will come to him, a real man would stand right next to her, introduce himself and ask permission to sit next to her. Shock registered on his face and before he could find words to respond, I stood up turned around and walked across the park. That one was for my girls! and just as I expected… half way after chasing me across the park, he stopped, gave up and turned around.

The book was basically about a message in a bottle found on a beach by a lonely woman. She had been alone since her divorce and had since avoided relationships. The letter she found was from a man who wrote about his love for a woman who had left him. Moving her beyond words, she used her column to publish the letter in the hope that it would touch her readers as much as it touched her (Ironic, I know!). After getting a response from another reader and a little research, she found herself with three letters, a name and an address to the writer. Not knowing what quite to expect she took her chances and flew to meet him. Fate worked its magic on the two and unaware of her findings the two fell in love. To cut the 301 page story short, he ended up finding out that she’d found the letter he’d written to his dead wife and after a good discussion they both had come to the conclusion that the reason their relationship would not work is that he was still in love with the ghost of his wife. The story ends with three letters. One to the woman he now loved telling her that he had finally let the past go and that he loved her and wanted to be with her and the second to his dead wife telling her that he was letting her go and wanted to be with the new woman in his life. The first was put in a bottle and mailed the good old-fashioned snail-mail way, the second had to be thrown in the ocean like all the others. This is where our hero gets caught in a storm and dies putting the heroine in the same position as he had found himself when they’d met. After half a kilo of cherries and various tissues later, I was moved with the last letter that ended the story. After a year of his death, she wrote to him telling him how she understood his pain better than before and thanked him for teaching her to survive and move on. Although she loved him, she would eventually move on.

A half hour later I found myself once again at the place I always go to when my heart speaks louder than my head. As I walked by the marina I looked at the grey skies and told no one in particular that love doesn’t stand a chance. Not in this world, not in the reality we live in. The people I know are incapable of risking their hearts and loving one another without doubts or questioning each other’s motives. It’s not that romance is dead; it’s just that people are incapable of living it, of feeling it… even though they don’t stop dreaming about it. Even I have gotten to a stage where trusting someone with my heart is almost near impossible. It’s not the fear that prevents me from doing so; it’s the knowledge that person would be incapable of doing the same. We live in a world where feelings need to be protected from others not to be hurt, and so we allow the best things in life to pass us by. Guilt is what I was left with after reading this book, not necessarily because of my fears but mostly because I had given up on such feelings that are the core of me just like of everyone else. I could think of more than a handful of people who were probably sitting in their rooms, in their offices or in their cars wondering if that love that they dream of truly exists. I’m guilty of doing something I swore I’d never do. I allowed myself to believe that all it took for two people to be together was understanding and mutual trust and although I know that the person I’m with could never be referred to as second best, I also know that with him, I’d still be looking beyond the horizon for something more. Does true love truly exist or is it just a fiction of our imagination and our deepest desires? Looking around me, the evidence is demoralizing, and although I cannot blame my parents for the poor example, looking at my father’s fate, I sadly conclude that true love doesn’t stand a chance. If it’s true what they say, that love cannot be found where it does not exist, nor hidden where it does, I’m faced with a destiny of solitude. I guess because I would rather be true and lonely, than to subdue to living a life where I would have to convince myself everyday that the care and respect that I had for the person I’m with is good enough. It isn’t, it will never make me a fulfilled person. Not having much to say or teach, I simply share with you in this column the message I found in my book. Let not my words of resignation also make you surrender your hopes. Hope is the last thing to die and no one reading this is dead yet. But to those of you, who also have someone in your lives: be sure that the one you hold is the one you want. Any other option is considered soul suicide and for those too lazy to read, go hire the movie.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Back on the horse...

In a certain stage after you reach your twenties, all the aunties start asking you the dreaded question: “So when are you going to get a serious boyfriend?”
In the beginning you might choke or stutter and mutter something about not finding the right person yet. And although after a while you learn to avoid the question, change the subject or give premeditated lame excuses… it never ceases to bother you that you can’t simply answer “I already got one”… and then stick your tongue out at them.

There’s an ocean of “men” out there but very few worth fishing… And it might be all easy to say that you’re on the market and looking… it’s much harder actually finding someone worth keeping. Especially since most people out there are into “open” relationships or colourful friendships and no one really wants to take time off their busy schedule to work on something that “might” just develop into something more serious and worthwhile.

And then you find someone worth dating…

You didn’t meet him at a nightclub; he isn’t someone you work with or a member of any gang. In fact, he’s the kind of guy you could take home to meet your mother… and grandmother. He doesn’t dress funny, use foul language or talk about himself non-stop and eventually he finds the courage to ask you out. You feel comfortable around him and talking to him so dating should be a piece of cake right?

Not! No matter how much you try to see dating as a natural encounter, you will still take extra special care on your appearance… to the point of trying your whole wardrobe at least twice and end up wearing the first thing you put on. This wasn’t just on the first date… you find yourself wanting to make the effort each time you go out together.

After the initial break-the-ice conversation you begin enjoying each other’s company and find that he might be more than the cute face you first noticed. Conversation sways from interests to likes and dislikes and after a while you find yourself talking about what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship. When you’re aware of all that’s happening you realise that you’ve actually set the ground rules for something that’s developing into what your parents have been praying for.

Where’s my suitcase???!!!!!

On contraire to what most men think… women don’t run from nice guys. No, this isn’t another case when the girl passes on the nice guy on a white horse for Mr Muscles on a bike. Sometimes the right opportunity comes at the wrong time. Sometimes people enter your life too early… or too late. It’s like that promotion that you really wanted but you know you weren’t qualified for. You bide your time trying to gain ground but you know that it will take time before you’re ready to fill those shoes.

I’d describe this situation more as the test of the desert. When you’ve been walking for a long time in the hot desert, you sweat and you hurt and you dream of a cool oasis to fulfil your every basic desire. You begin imagining an oasis just a mile away but when you get there all you find is what you’ve seen everywhere else… dry, hot sand. The disappointment is heart wrenching and soul degrading. The illusion of an oasis, these bittersweet mirages always seem more real than the last one but after many disappointments you learn to walk past them so not to waste any more time and energy. There will be times when one will really look like the real thing and it is punishment to an exhausted soul to have to keep walking past it. You can’t deny the truth that you might be walking past the real thing, but you can’t afford to risk another disappointment that could potentially mean the life or death of your soul.

There are times in our lives when the simplest of decisions can tear our hearts apart. The decisions we make are part of the people we become and define our characters. They are compulsory factors of our lives. Even the most successful executive businessmen that makes dozens of important decisions a day will have times in where they’d wish they didn’t have to make a decision. A decision goes hand in hand with responsibility, the minute you’ve made one, you become responsible for it. Life would be easier if you were told what to do. You wouldn’t be forced to make them or to assume responsibility for them and could always blame someone else for those that go wrong.

No matter how much you run; there are decisions that are inevitable. You can avoid them but at some point you will have to make them either way. For someone who’s used to his or her own company and enjoys spending time alone, dating is a hard challenge. You become aware that you are no longer just responsible for your feelings but for the feelings of a second person as well.

Getting on the horse is easy. Getting back on after you’ve fallen is hard but getting back on after you’ve fallen many times is mental and physical torture. You see the horse as a potential enemy with the power of seriously hurting you and even though you cannot blame it for all the other times you fell off, you can’t help but fear the repetition or pain. But no matter how many times you fall off, you eventually get back on… Why? Because life is simply not worth living unless you can ride it for all it’s worth, feeling the wind in your hair and riding into the sunset is what makes life worth living.

Taking a look around.

The lights are dim; I sit in front of the computer screen with a cup of tea to go along with my sigh of relief. It’s been a long, hard week and this moment that I’m using to type these words must be the first free time I have to myself this whole week. I try to block out all the things that I still have to do and file them safely in the back of my mind… Problems, questions and doubts have been saved for later and I run through the week’s events, picking out the things I hadn’t had the time to think of:

There are times when life seems to be running at full speed and you feel you can’t keep up. Pressure builds up from every corner and you find yourself wishing that someone could clone you! At times like these, we invest our concentration on the most important areas of our lives and switch to automatic pilot on everything that is considered minor routine. This pressure is usually so intense that we are forced to evaluate our priorities. For someone who has more than a few important issues at hand, this can become a complicated process and to someone as myself this means sitting down, looking in the mirror and asking myself what it is that I consider most important.


At lunch a colleague of mine asked why it was that I was so quiet, she was worried that perhaps there was something bothering me. My answer was
“Shh… I’m listening to myself”

No one can answer to my needs and values better than I can. Only I can define the boundaries, goals and limits set for myself. Recently reading an excellent blog about “disequilibria” or being “unbalanced”; my opinion is that everyone needs to have doubts or uncertainties in order to have space for evolution. Nobody’s perfect but if you think you are you eliminate the possibility of evolving. It doesn’t mean you should feel that you’re not good enough; it just means you should be aware that you could always do better. The purpose of introspection is just that, to re-evaluate your priorities and see where you can improve. No one can help you come to these conclusions, you simply need to sit down and discover them for yourself.

The beauty of introspection is that while you’re taking the time to define the image in the mirror, you start to see others around you through clearer glass. When this happens, most people think more carefully about the people they wish to be associated with and give more value to the true friends around you. Past disappointments have often led me to this stage but at this point I’m not led to changes; just deeper awareness.

From the corner of my eye…

When people don’t notice and when they least expect it, I observe them. It’s amazing what you’ll learn from the people around you if you look closely. Even from a distance, you can pick up a lot from someone who doesn’t know you have your eye on them. For a while I’ve been watching someone who I can only describe as a scavenger. I call her a scavenger because she knows to feed off other people’s hard work. An expert at creating compromising situations, I can only conclude that she must have years of practise at manipulating others into fighting her battles and always coming out as an innocent victim. It shocks me that those closest to her are so unaware of the scheming that goes into her character. At the same time, I begin to understand why sometimes strangers give the best advice.

Ignorance is bliss.

Many have been the times this week that I felt like switching off the phone, closing my inbox or simply blocking my ears. The less I know, the happier I’d be. Gossip and criticism seem to flood from everywhere and there are days where you simply can’t hear another word. The more you know, the less you wish you knew. The world is full of opinions and stories searching for an ear to listen. Most of what you hear nowadays contributes little or nothing to your happiness and has more capacity of hurting you than helping you. With so much talking going on, world hunger and terrorism should be topics with solutions. Lately I find myself switching off from conversations where there’s nothing to learn from.

If advice was that good, it would be sold instead of given. Although I love comparing ideas and opinions with the people around me, at this phase the only person’s opinion that I’m interested in is my own. Call it self-definition, auto-discovery or inner analyses… I call time out and I’ll recommend it to anybody. I forgot how good company I am and wonder why I hadn’t spoken to myself sooner. I find that I already possess most of the answers I search for and looking around me… things seem a whole lot clearer.