It usually hits me when I’m cycling. The physical motion is inviting to a state of mindfulness and, from there, this inner-awareness often arises. It starts out with this feeling that there’s something I need to get rid of. As if I were carrying too many things on me, things that ‘don’t belong’. I might be tired, feel spaced out, or unsettled.
“Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do so you apologize for the truth” // Benjamin Disraeli
“I am afraid I can’t fall in love anymore”, my friend tells me, with a smartphone in hand, his Tinder account left open. The shiny screen he holds so tightly is a promise of happiness in the form of endless beautiful faces smiling at you, stating availability, opening a passage to something greater than the dullness of everyday life, the loneliness most of us know all too well.
It all started like this. He shuffled up the cards and suggested I picked one. SO… I did. I read the question. I sighed. Here comes a hard one, was the thought that crossed my mind. I wouldn’t have been able to answer this question, in all honesty, ten years ago. Now I know that it’s important that I do. When we’re sincere and open about our struggles, we help others feel less inadequate and less alone. If not for you, do it for them.
In August 2017 I wrote this little piece on feeling sombre while I was house-sitting at a friends’ place in De Pijp. I had no house of my own at the time and that might have contributed to the gloominess that took hold of me. However, I believe that this could have taken place on a regular day, on regular life circumstances, and I want to share it with you today. “Sad is bad” is how this piece started. Well, let’s move on to the text and you’ll probably see what I mean.
I have found the workshop “Meaningful Work and Money” while researching cultural events and activities in the city of Amsterdam. First liner: “How to do what you love, contribute to society and make it your living?”. In my head, a bright light immediately went on. THIS IS WHAT I NEED. Just a little context for the ones who are here for the first time: I am at a turning point at Amsterdive. I want to continue writing and creating content for this beloved platform of mine, but it is time to take it a step further. I want to make it my job. I already spend the majority of my time over here, which means that I do need to start translating this work into money. But how?
Every now and then I am walking around the city – wait, who am I kidding?, I never walk – I am cycling, cycling around the city -, and I get struck by this feeling that we are all so disconnected from each other. Which is ironical given the fact that we are also living crammed to each other and yet emotionally so far apart, always busy, never really paying attention to what’s happening around us. Then I can’t avoid my mind to wander to a place where it all was different, where connecting was the rule and not the exception. Where everyone smiled at each other, where people acknowledge each other’s presence, where interactions with other human beings were easy, simple, and free. This description might sound like a mere utopia to most of us. But the cool thing is that there are places like this in the world: not many, that’s true, but they exist.
Six years: still no house
Right now, all the things I own are stored in three different houses in Amsterdam. Most of them are housed in a storeroom of this couple friend of mine who lives in Ijburg, in the large house they own. Then I have some other stuff in the Westerpark area, at the place of another friend who has also been the caregiver of my cats while I can’t have them with me. He also owns his house. Finally, I have one piece of luggage and a backpack which I carry with me everywhere, with the essentials for everyday life. Currently, I am staying in the area of Museumplein (I know, I know). This other couple friend went on holiday and offered their home for me to plant sit while they’re away. Thank god they are not like most people in Amsterdam who will Airbnb their place at the first opportunity. If they had done that they would be now basically enjoying a free holiday. Airbnb prices here are similar to hotel ones so it is easy to understand why people do it so massively in this city. This also helps explain why, from a market point of view, is it not the first time that I am in the ‘homelessness’ situation in the almost six years I’ve been living over here.
Some expats say the problem is “the Dutch”, some Dutch might say it’s “too many foreigners”, and we all generally like to blame it on the tourists. It is a well-known phenomenon: Amsterdam’s population is not exactly welcoming. Maybe the tourists don’t notice it that much, but when living here you might start feeling this sort of tension building up. Let’s start with the obvious: the cycling culture. Bikes are all over the place and have a general disregard for “rules”. There are bike traffic jams, the cyclists are stressed, they have this habit of overtaking each other, they ring their bells furiously. They also run over anyone who attempts at crossing the cycle path – sometimes even when it’s red for bikes. Above all, they like to frighten tourists to death (other than this, we are all very normal, and we all act very normally).
Yesterday I was thinking of the downs of living “abroad”. I must say I very rarely put myself this question, but I know that this is a very relatable topic to most expats. If you are one, you might immediately have a whole spectrum of ideas on it. Things like the absence of friends and family might automatically pop into your mind, or the missing of certain foods, your hometown, the weather, or a type of human warmth very specific to where you come from. Personally, the following sentence immediately banged in my head:
Allow me to go straight to the point. Does Amsterdam need someone else making yet another photo of a canal house, dissecting its every inclined building, stripping off every single of the city’s hidden facets? Does the city need someone else attempting at getting hold of the essence of its people just to overly simplify everything into “Six things that annoy me about the Dutch”, slurping every of its characteristics only to digest them into a two-minute read entitled “Ten things you cannot miss in Amsterdam”? Do we really need to know all about yet another restaurant / bar of which interior recreates the hortus-botanicus with an industrial feel? I haven’t been able to avoid struggling with these questions since I started blogging.