Change is coming…

About two years ago, I decided to change my life: moving from London to Lisbon and focusing on more on creating a different life all together, from leaving the “rat race” behind to spending more time listening to my inner self. One of the things I kept constant though was the environment in which I live: a fairly big, capital city.

Since being a teenager, I had tacitly accepted the idea that, as a gay man, living your life freely was only possible in a big city. I’m not sure I ever gave this postulate much though, I just accepted it as truth and let it guide some crucial decisions I made: For example, when choosing a place at university, I decided against an offer I had from a really nice university in Wales, and instead opted to study in London. Not so much because I liked the university in London more, or was more into the subject, but simply because I assumed happiness and fulfillment as a gay man was definitely to be found somewhere where the lights of the city sparkled.

Of course, that was then and now is now. And over the last year or so, I have increasingly looked into setting up a place where LGBTQ+ folks can connect on many different levels. Of course, my first intuition was to look for a space somewhere in a big city. Again, the assumption being that, in a big city where queer folk are more numerous, there would be more space to build such a community.
Eventually, however, I looked beyond the gay community and found that alternative living and social communities are not confined to the big cities. Instead, many seem to thrive away from the city, in the very places I would have expected to “outcast them”. On the contrary, with only a few exceptions, many spaces that try and create community beyond commercial interests, seem to struggle in urban environments. Not because there is a scarcity of attempts to create them, but often simple economic realities, such as sky high property prices, make such attempts not viable.
On the other side, even with many places, apps, clubs and other offerings to connect, especially for gay guys, gay loneliness is a big part of reality.  Especially, among gay men living in urban environments. Discussing the many reasons for this phenomenon would probably fill more than a couple of books, but in short, it seems having 200 gay guys in a 500m radius around you looking at their smartphone, twenty gay bars to choose from or even the possibility to attend several “social” groups. Ironically, all this choice seems to make us lonelier.

This thinking let me to develop the idea of the Quinta Project (‘quinta’ is Portuguese for farm). In short, a sort of rural, residential “community centre”.  A place I envisage to be inclusive for all queer folk, where the focus is on creating real, social connections – away from the city. The Quinta Project website contains some more information about it, but I will also come back to some of the thinking behind the project in later posts here.

Of course, this means actually moving to a farm,  transforming the farm into a place where the project events can take place… but also, and importantly, running the farm around the project. In other words, my future plan doesn’t just involve me setting up and running the “community centre”, but also looking after over a thousand olive trees, reviving several currently unused fields, caring for a mature fruit orchard and creating a vegetable “garden” that can supply produce for the Quinta. In short, transiting from the “urban gay” man, with no idea of how to prune a fruit tree, to becoming a “gay farmer”.

How will it all work? Or indeed, will it work at all? I have no idea. At the moment I have more sleepless nights thinking about what it will be like. And other moments, where I just can’t wait to wake up every morning and hear bird, rather than buses. Will it be great? I don’t know. But I know it will definitely be an exciting journey! And I’m really glad that I can share this adventure with you!

 

Urban flight: Is the countryside the new cool?

From London to San Francisco, from Sydney to New York: living in big cities has become increasingly stressful and expensive. But is urban flight, especially beyond suburbia and into the deep countryside, a real alternative?

By chance I recently came across an interesting talk by German politician, self-declared nerd and big “urbanite” Simon Kowalewski. Hardly the sort of guy you’d imagine that starts advocating leaving the city. During his talk at re:publica, a leading tech and digital culture fair in Berlin, he offered some interesting insights into why he is thinking that the future could be in the countryside.

Unfortunately, the full talk is only available in German (YouTube). But here are a few points he covered, upsides first:

1) Prices. The obvious one, of course. In his talk he notes that  the price of buying a square metre in a rural part of Germany is less than renting one in Berlin for a month.

2) Environment. Another obvious one, maybe. The environmental impact of living in the countryside can be much lower than in the city. Why? Because it is much easier to install environmentally conscious solutions, such as solar panels.

3) Health, above all mental health.  According to his talk, all sorts of mental health problems are much more common in cities. (This is actually a well documented phenomenon, with a variety of reasons)

The downsides?

1) Transport, at least sustainable transport. Of course this is an enormous issue in the countryside, where buses and trains don’t run on two minute intervals. No easy solution here, unfortunately… at least not until electric cars get better!

2) Internet…actually, not so much according to him. Although I guess German connectivity might be particularly good in the countryside/bad in urban areas. While there are certainly solutions, connectivity can be a problem in Portugal (and other countries).

3) Health… or maybe not. Another one where the apparent downside might be more of a myth than a reality. Busy inner city hospitals and doctors with lists covering many thousands of patients are indeed something more common in urban areas.

4) Politics… or rather the legend of the “backward countryside folk”.  Here, he makes an interesting point during his talk: he notes that at least as far as serious and organised right wing politics is more common in urban areas. On the contrary, in rural areas, while people may feel “left out”, they are less likely to be hard core xenophobes.

So, does rural living really present an alternative for him? Well it certainly seems so. As at least in his conclusion the positives outweigh the negatives, and many of the negatives are more myth than reality.

What do you think? Would you consider living in the countryside?

Things I’ve learned from staying in an AirBnB

Since I moved to Lisbon a few weeks ago I lived in an AirBnb/shared apartment. Basically, it is a large apartment which is subdivided into three bedrooms and my two rooms (one bed room and a “writing room”). The owner lets out the three bedrooms via AirBnB, pretty much exclusively to short term visitors – so mostly they stay two days or so in Lisbon to explore the city. That makes it a really interesting place to “people watch”… So here are a few of the things I encountered or learned….

  1. Some people are there – but never to be seen
    This probably falls into the “strange guest” category…  one girl rented one of the rooms for almost a week. During the entire time you could hear her in the room… but she was never to be seen, nor seemed to venture out much (if at all). I only ran into her when she left the place, with her bags packed… I asked her a little cynically if she enjoyed Lisbon, and she said “yes, very much”. I’m still puzzled what she was doing here, and I really wonder how her stay in Lisbon has been…
  2. Some people bring food from home…
    OK, there are things I totally understand one can’t live without (yes, I sort of like Vegemite if you want an example). That said, I’ve been quite frequently confused by the food some people seemingly bring with them when traveling: In just a bit over a month I have encountered sugar from Brazil, Dutch cheese bought in Germany … and something that looked like bacon from I think Poland (which ironically made it’s appearance in the fridge in a sealed packet – and then also disappeared without being cooked as far as I can tell).
  3. Some people love to party… some people stay in
    … but it’s not whom I thought it would be. I’m not really able to generalise here, but for a three days there was this a young couple living next to me (my guess would be very early 20s). Every day, they would go out at 8 or so in the morning, and return together around 5. No, they weren’t working, they told me every day what they had seen. Then, at 6:30 they cooked dinner, ate – and spend the rest of the evening in their room.  Similarly, two guys stayed here… I don’t think they were gay (though my gaydar is fabulously crap) – and they did the same. Just that they cut down the time spending visiting Lisbon, and spend more time watching movies in the evening (quite loudly), drinking beer and eating pizza. If they would have appeared to be romantically involved, fair enough… but I really don’t think so (or maybe that was why the movies were so loud?)….
    On the other hand … One couple seemed to have a fantastic time: My room is next to the main door, and I heard them coming in nearly every morning while I was in bed debating with myself if it was a good idea to get up …  they would then seemingly go to bed, though not before engaging in some fairly active pre-sleep exercises, then sleep and next day repeat what they did. On the third day I eventually bumped into them: let’s just say they were at least 20 years older than me. Just goes to show… you can have a party at any age! (#lifegoals!)
  4. Some people adore talking, asking and interacting…
    Talking about wide variety of people: One girl seemed to assume that, presumably because I has just moved here, I was the fountain of all knowledge… I have no evidence she was actually listening at the door of her room for when I’d pass, but a few times, she just opened the door at exactly that moment when I was passing to go to kitchen or bath,…and immediately asked if I knew a local bakery, a restaurant for tonight, the time table of the streetcar, how to get to Estoril… Good news, I knew most of it. But I got a little weary of passing the door (as discussing ways to go to Estoril with just a towel on isn’t my idea of morning fun…)
  5. and some just say a single word…
    An other day, I came into the kitchen and there was a guy there whom I assume must have just moved in. So I said: “Hi! I’m Stephan”. His response was: “ah” – and he left the kitchen. I saw him once or twice after, and he never greeted back…

Well,… so far this has really been quite entertaining to live with so many people coming and going around me. I’m planning on staying a little longer depending on when I have found a good place for me… so let’s see what other curiosities may come up. So far, I have to say, it almost beats sitting in a café and watching the world go by – especially as, as a fellow resident, it is quite easy to talk to the people (well, to some anyway) . It’s almost a shame I haven’t got a fiction book contract lined up..

First Week in Lisbon

Yes… Today marks exactly one week since I arrived in Lisbon. The first week went seriously fast… I imagined it to be quite slow, and I would have lots of time to do things … but things didn’t work out quite that way.

I spent the first week volunteering at a film festival, which was exciting in some ways and interesting in others. It was fun to meet different people, including some who moved here from abroad and made Lisbon their home – and to hear what tips they had for settling in and their impressions. What struck me was that all of them appeared very positive about living here, and all were glad they made the move – even if it mean much lower wages than in Northern Europe. But everyone commented on the much better quality of live, the vibrant cultural scene and generally amazingly friendly reception they received. The only “downside” was the complexity of Portuguese… nothing surprising there (it really is a complicated language to learn!).

I’m currently living in São Bento – close to the Parliament building, and next to Bairro Alto, Chiado and Principe Real. This is very much central in Lisbon – and close to almost everywhere. The film festival is in Avenidas, the main Avenue on the other side of these three areas. I decided to walk a different way to “work” every day, walking though various backstreets of Principe Real or Bairro Alto: Of course, while Lisbon isn’t a large city (or at least nowhere as big as say London) I still haven’t managed to see many parts… but at least this gave me chance to explore the neighbourhood and surrounding areas I’m in in more detail.

I also had three friends visiting briefly from London, so there were a few opportunities to catch up – and it was great to see them. The common thing everyone remarked was how (positively) surprised they were about Portugal – and how Portugal is really underselling itself abroad. It was quite interesting that all of them talked about this as a major point… and all of them have sworn to come back and explore more. So there is definitely something there.

The festival is still on until Saturday – so I’ll still be working a bit for the rest of the week. I’m looking forward to watching a few movies and working – and then hopefully I’ll be a bit more settled next week to write again more regularly and work more on the projects I have lined up.

Four Alternative Ways of Meeting New (not only gay) Friends

Moving to a new city is exciting. And it also means having to find new friends… which can be a daunting task – especially as an adult and working from home… I know from my SWIPES analysis that friends and an active social life are very important to me… I literally get grumpy when I’m left on my own for too long. So I need to address this as a high priority point as soon as moving. Thus,  I came up with a few strategies I’ll use when getting to Lisbon (of course, you don’t have to move cities to use these strategies – they work just as well “at home”). As some of these strategies have already worked well in London for me, I’m quite hopeful I can do something similar in Lisbon. Though first, two strategies which seem popular and easy… Continue reading “Four Alternative Ways of Meeting New (not only gay) Friends”

Lists and SWIPES: Getting towards a clear vision and designing goals

After completing the “list task” from yesterday, I achieved both a clear vision of where I wanted to be – as well as a concise list of things I liked, I was good at – and what I was proud of/had achieved.
The next step now was to map this onto the SWIPES framework. To do this, I used a simple table, allowing me to write the main goal (or goals) from the vision I created in the previous step next to each of the SWIPES dimensions.

But, of course, the purpose of this exercise was not just to create another list, but to create the outline of a plan moving forward and identify potential ways how to move forward:
To do this, I started to “rank” each goal from the vision: I decided to do this by using the following questions for each goal:

  • How close am I at the moment?
  • How important is this to me?
  • What is my ability to generate change (quickly)?
  • How confident am I in achieving change?

The first two questions allowed me to look at areas that were far, far off: For example, I had this vision (ever since studying in Southern Europe) of returning to live there. This was obviously very far off the mark (I was living in London), but it was something that I decided was important to me. I also realised, that at my age I was probably just about young enough to still do it (other than maybe retire there) and would still have the chance of building a “new life” there. Once I figured that out, other areas became a bit more relative to this very important goal: I could start to figure out what impact such a move would have, and how I could make these other goals reality while also moving.

The purpose of the last two questions was to start identifying areas I can focus on of achieve quick hits: For example, I know I’m quite an outgoing person, I have generally the ability to create social networks quite quickly and I’m quite confident about this. This worked well with my “top” goal of moving to Southern Europe again – though at the same time wasn’t something I could do something about immediately. Rather, I would have to wait until I had moved, but in the meantime I could explore options and think of ways of making new friends (and keeping old ones) after moving. As you can see, the questions, and the table started to clarify necessary actions, almost a timeline, in other words: they brought the somewhat abstract vision I had developed in the previous “list steps” to live, and allowed me to plan ahead.

SWIPES also helped me to see that my current vision had no mention for spirituality: I occasionally used meditation before, especially at times when I was really stressed. But to be honest, I hadn’t been consistent with it, only used it on/off – and couldn’t really say much apart from that I quite liked it and found it relaxing. But it just never played a role in my life, let alone was anything I would do habitually.

The result of all of this was a very, very clear vision of how my ideal life would be: And this allowed me to almost see a clear path to this. Why is this so important? Well… you could argue from “The Secret” version of the world: I have a clear vision and the universe will deliver.
Maybe less spiritually, I now had a perfectly clear vision not only where I wanted to be, but also started to be able to identify how I could get there.
In other words: I had the foundations and a vision of the house… and now the hard work could begin building it. Amazingly though, thanks to the clarity I had gained out of the planning process, I knew that every step I would take could be measured easily against it being effective as a way to achieve my vision. Thus, I could minimise distraction and wasted energy – and fully focus on moving ahead.

1 Month to go…

Finally.. the count down is now on in earnest… after 5 weeks in June/July, I returned to the UK to sort everything out and … get ready to move. With the date now set, and a one way ticket booked… the last month has now officially begun. This means, of course, many See you soon” dinners with friends still here in Britain, and two weeks in Germany as friends of mine are getting married and visiting my mother. At least Continue reading “1 Month to go…”

Decluttering … Moving Madness

I haven’t moved in a while. During my twenties, I moved every two or three years to a different country. So I guess things just got totally organised every now and then. But since settling down in London in my late 20s, I only moved from a smaller place to larger place…

Letters. Lots of letter.

A photo posted by Urbangay (@urbangayblog) on

… and at the time I really didn’t clean stuff out. I know the claims supporting clearing out and decluttering… and I liked the idea for a while. But seriously… just thinking about it made me prefer washing dishes.

Now the good thing is that I will move. No buts, no ifs. So… things have to get tidied up. And I don’t want to move to Portugal with a van-load of stuff. Now for many things this is pretty easy. After a few days of doing it, … I can say throwing out stuff is quite easy. Yes… I still had some jeans from the 1990s, … and those are now on the way to a charity shop. Books… similar. Yes, they were amazing to read at the time. But really, text books from the 1990s about internet are not the most useful stuff nowadays. So… charity shop, too.

But now I have hit a bit of an obstacle. I have a massive box full of stuff from exes. All sorts of stuff. Love letters, letters when we were fighting (we wrote letters!), small things, emotional things. To be honest, I hadn’t looked at them for quite a while. But… it feels strange to think about letting go of them. In a way, they tell stories about the journey I made, or we made (whomever it was at the time).

As a friend of mine is also moving, I asked him for advice. My first instinct was to clear it all out. I thought, what is the point of bringing all this baggage into my “new life”. In some ways, that makes sense, I guess. But he actually came up with a much neater suggestion: Leave it to last. Then take each item and ask yourself: Does it remind you of something happy? If so… keep it. If you don’t remember, don’t really know – or especially if not, throw it away. I think it sounds like the most sensible solution.

Yes, going through the piles and piles of letters and putting them all in one place, small notes and cards brought back some good memories. And also some bad. At the moment, they now sit, as a big pile, in my living room. And I will keep just a few of the items (mostly letters), ones that remind me of a person in a positive way. And all the others,… well… it is time to make space for some new experiences in my life.