What's your dream?
life: examined is an invitation to get curious—a collection of ideas, and thoughts about living a creative, intentional life—written from my perch in Portugal.
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Last week I met up with a new friend who recently moved to Portugal from the States. She was having lunch in the main praça accompanied by her sweet dog, Luna.
Praça do Bocage and its towering central monument are in honor of Manuel Maria Barbosa l'Hedois du Bocage—or Bocage as we know him. He's that guy immortalized in stone in the photo above.
Bocage (1765-1805) is one of Portugal's most famous poets from the neoclassical period and one of Setúbal's native sons. He's best known for satirical poetry, sonnets, mainly, and his saucy, sordid life.
Before I get carried away about Bocage and turn this issue of life: examined into a book report, let's return to the story.
A Minha Pequena Casa
My new home is just three leisurely minutes from Praça do Bocage.
It's nice to have Setúbal's living room, with its cafés and bustle, right around the corner (ask me about that again in summer). Meeting friends in the praça is easy; a landmark for everyone.
After finishing her lunch, my friend told me more about her life and family and what she left behind to be here.
Everything is a Trade-Off
People who move abroad often make significant sacrifices.
At the top of the list are leaving family, familiar surroundings, and one's native language.
Some people think those who move away from their country of birth are traitors or abandoners—and that the person doing the leaving is unwavering about relocating. This is rarely the case. Every foreigner I know who's moved here had to relinquish something to gain this new thing—this immigrant life.
Leavers are not unencumbered by leaving; the decision to do so weighs on most of us.
The emotions come in waves. Whether knowing that a relative is sick and several thousands of miles away or the logistical impossibility of attending all the events, weddings, graduations, etc. The emotional toll is not just paid by those who stay on home turf.
We, too, grieve and miss our people. But most of us need to make this move—we need to live in the liminal away space to be whole and authentic.
Back to the story: After my friend finished her lunch, we set off to find a hardware store.
Dreams of Hardware
I knew the locations of two small hardware stores on the secret back streets of the historic district or Baixa, so I took her to them. Surprisingly, at 6pm, they were both still open. Baixa is like a village within the city; small businesses often close early.
The friend wanted to purchase screening material to keep her cat from plummeting off the balcony, so we used charades and sound effects with the proprietor to ask for what we needed. You should have been there to behold my audio-visuals for zip ties. Definitely an Oscar-worthy performance.
As we walked away down a cobbled pedestrian street, my friend interrupted her monologue to ask, "what's your dream?"
I thought about it for a moment; ideas and activities—things I'd like to do—came to mind, which I considered for nanoseconds before saying, "I'm already living it."
I felt calm—like I spoke the truth (I did). Despite my reply's potentially facetious or cocky nature, that's not how I meant it.
I explained that my long-running dream has been to live in Europe.
So, nearly 20 years ago, I set out to create a livelihood that I could do from anywhere. And here I am—somewhere I always wanted to be, living a simple and satisfying life in a small city I love, surrounded by fabulous friends and acquaintances.
How could this not be the dream?
Although there are things I'd like to do—slow travel adventures, learning more about, and trying new things that interest me, I'm not seeking peak experiences.
No Everest or Kilimanjaro—real or metaphorical—no bestseller list, no external acclaim. These are not my quests.
I like where I am right now. Not just geographically but also who I am and what I'm doing with my finite time on this planet.
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I have enough. I want for nothing.
The few material things I want are modest and within reach. This is not self-congratulatory; it's a bit of a surprise.
It's taken me decades to get here, but I live my life according to my values and on my own terms, not by the capitalist ideology of never-ending growth and consumption of stuff model. This is a big deal!
To be comfortable with my particular brand of weirdness and not worry if other people notice is some sort of victory, don't you think?
It's the rare occasion that I've done what society expects of me when I'm supposed to be doing it.
I didn't have kids (no regrets). I was married but waited until age 30 to do so. I knew it wouldn't be for me, but I'll try almost anything once. Or I would back then, anyway.
I did get a college degree (high honors—not bad for a high school dropout), but not until I was 40 years old. Unfortunately, I didn't grow up in a college-going household, so it was on me to learn how to access and participate in higher education.
Although I was on the pay-as-you-go twenty-year-plan, I did it. And with just a few thousand dollars in student debt (another anomaly). Mostly, I finished at university to be done with it, and for the part of me that believed I would never complete the degree.
So, what's my dream?
To live a creative, honest life, always stay curious, and be true to my ever-evolving self. To not compromise my integrity and be a good friend and human. To know when ideas and concepts have run their course and be willing to change—always change.
That I'm living the dream at this moment is a revelation, and it may not hold, but for now, I'm delighting in it and feeling like the luckiest person alive.
So, what's your dream?
Favorite Portuguese to English Auto-Translation of the Week:
It is, deep down, a program that is not very advisable for chicken fathers and mothers.
Straightforward, simple advice. Ignore at your own peril.
Thanks to Bryan & Leil for supporting life: examined through Buy Me a Coffee. I appreciate it!
Whether a coffee, a comment, a like, or a share—I’m grateful for your support.
Until next time —> stay curious, eat your veggies, and thank you for reading life: examined
Bravo Shanna, well said!
It is interesting how much we have in common. Both from Ca., been here in Portugal about the same amount of time, I married at 30 too, after my old geezer of a neighbor in Burbank was calling me a spinster for months! We have hung in there, still married. (I was lucky to marry one of the last of the good guys, a prince most of the time and a mensch to boot! ;)
Come what may, I would not do it again (marriage). Said no to kids too, Graças a Deus! Although our aging fur child at 15 feels like we have a baby at times. :(
While I still have many things I would like to accomplish, we are living the dream here, A vida portuguesa. We also want for nothing and feel incredibly fortunate to be here.
We were featured in the Portuguese Time magazine, Visão about a year ago, and the title of the article was O Sonho Português Que Atrai os Americanos - The Portuguese dream that attracts Americans. We are thankful to have got here when we did! Because I am betting that it is harder than ever to get that coveted resident visa to live the dream in Portugal.
Stay well and viva Portugal!
Hi Shanna, What a lovely post. It's so inspiring to read how you are living your dream life by living authentically in a way that truly makes you happy; a life that isn't predicated on misguided societal notions that happiness is achieved by the accumulation of money and material possessions. We had a moving to Portugal consultation over a year ago. I'm still about 1 year and 8 months away from the big move, but I'm getting ready per your suggestions! Thank you so much for the great advice you provided!