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How I found my Joy and why it’s so important to me to share it with others

In the beginning

Syracuse, NY 2010.

I don’t especially know why this year was so pivotal for me. It wasn’t a “big” birthday year. My twin sons had gone off to college a couple of years before and perhaps it was what all empty nesters go through. It was the introspection about what’s next.

I do recall waking up one morning clearly having and understanding exactly what mid-life crisis was.

It wasn’t the Hollywood stylized outburst like going out and buying a motorcycle or having an affair with a woman half my age. No, this was real and it was a deep understanding that as far as viable years on this planet, I now had fewer ahead of me than behind me. I had always used 80 as my target age for viability, and by that I mean I could easily live longer than 80, but my physical and mental facilities would likely be challenged after that point and so 80 was my number, but it wasn’t until 43 that I had this epiphany.

Perhaps I was too busy, or not paying attention, regardless, it happened and there I was. Shortly after that moment as I was now mentally working on what this all meant I was on a cross country flight. It was one of the older planes where you had to watch whatever was on the screens hanging from above your head. This particular flight was playing “Eat, Pray, Love”. I had heard of the book and the movie and while I hadn’t read or viewed either, I had nothing better to do on a cramped flight and so I leaned back the 7 degrees my seat would allow and took it all in.

I distinctly remember being enthralled by the film not because it was a great film, it was widely panned by critics, but because the message was something I had not considered for myself for a very long time. That I was worthy of my own love for myself. The realization made me extremely emotional and I started to cry in the middle of the plane, surrounded by strangers. At the time, I was in a 18 year marriage where my feelings and desires had been largely subjugated in order to maintain the “happy wife, happy life” mantra that had become so fashionable at the time. This awakening didn’t cause me to have ill feelings toward my wife, but rather it caused me to focus on the person I had become and how I felt about me.

That’s when I realized that I didn’t like, let alone love, the person I had become and this was all my responsibility. I came to the realization that I needed to use all of my energy to become the person that I wanted to be, and I had to do it alone. 

Portlandia

I moved to Portland in 2012. Two years after I had started down this new path, I was starting to make bold changes in my life.

I had first visited Portland in 1997 and had been visiting the city for work off and on ever since. Portland was not just conveniently one of the farthest places in the continental US from my soon to be ex-wife, but also a mecca of authenticity that had become something of a beacon calling to me. I romanticized the Oregon Trail and how many settlers had come from the Northeast US out to OR as I had just done, albeit with a little more comfort than a covered wagon, but that it represented a new start.

On a slight tangent, I later learned how many French Canadians had settled in Oregon during the Westward expansion and were instrumental in the fur trade. This felt like serendipity to me that not only had I found a space that called to me, but that my ancestors had helped forge the economy that built this land.

I settled in NE Portland for a number of reasons. Primarily it was one of the few areas in metro Portland that had true racial diversity. Secondarily it was home to many established and even more up and coming food and beverage establishments. It was the experimental nature and the fearlessness of the food scene that was exciting to me. Food is almost a contact sport in Portland, meaning that anything was possible, encouraged and applauded. I recall many times that I had to google ingredients because I was unfamiliar with them.

A year after I arrived in Portland I purchased a small bungalow on NE 33rd. I hadn’t intended to buy so early after arriving but had the good fortune or meeting a mortgage broker at a local bar. It was late 2012 and we were talking about real estate and specifically NE Portland. He said to me that if I intended to buy in NE Portland I had better move fast. He had been doing real estate mortgages for over 30 years and he was seeing the signs of recovery and predicted that 2013 would start an upward trend in housing prices and that it would happen faster than anyone was anticipating.

His advice to me ended up being true and not only did I have a home but I had a project to start expressing myself again. I have renovated a number of houses and it’s one of the things that brings me joy. Taking a space and remaking it into something that combines personal creativity with functionality is something I’ve always found to be personally rewarding. I tell people that I don’t renovate to resell, I renovate to live the life I want to live in the space. It just so happens that when I finally do sell a property, that other people see and appreciate the combination of beauty and utility.

The house was small (650 sq ft) but also perfect for a bachelor who was constantly traveling, and had a massive backyard for entertaining with an extremely large raised-bed garden. This is where I started to make the real turn.

I now had a space that I designed to live the way I wanted to live and could share it with new friends. It was in mid-2013 that I was starting to really love myself again. That’s when I began to live my best life, cooking with ingredients from my garden, sharing them with new friends. I began to build a life and a network of friends that were all centered around my desire for honesty, authenticity and trust.

These were the moments of joy that had been missing from my life for so long.