Sober spirituality

When my brother decided to get professional help last November it felt like he really wanted it. I base this mostly on the fact that he was so bloody afraid. Booze had become his friend and his enemy. His crutch and his agony. His relief and his disease. If you’ve lived with a habit for so long it’s hard to remember who you are without it. Or so I imagine.

To get some insights into the process he would be going through, I started reading up on the Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve steps. For some stupidly naive reason I thought that for me, as a non-addict, it would be easy to relate to the steps. After all, me being so sane, sober and smart, the steps shouldn’t need to be much more than a summary of what I am already doing. Right?

I guess I’m not so smart after all.

So, fellow ‘sane person’, how about we walk through the first couple of steps together?

Step 1: We admit we are powerless over alcohol—that our lives have become unmanageable.

Admitting you have a problem is obviously imperative if you ever mean to find a solution for it. Makes total sense. So I got through this first one just fine. How about you?

In regards to my brother I guess you could say he lives in this step. Booze is something he runs to to escape a feeling of despair, only to wake up the next morning with even bigger problems than he already had. He calls alcohol his ‘mistress’ ; one that keeps coming back (or rather, that he keeps going back to) and always leaves him behind with a feeling of regret and an even bigger hole in his soul.

Step 2: We believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

With this second step the spiritual element enters the scene, in somewhat vague terms.

My brother has a complicated relationship with the spiritual realm. I mean, he has complicated relationships with just about anything in life. But I guess I could sum up his stance towards all things godly by explaining that he rebelled against the teachings of his parents on the one side and his school’s on the other. I don’t think that he ever really constructed a world view of his own to replace the one he rejected. He is AGAINST a lot of things, but I’m not quite sure if he knows what he is FOR.

With a bit of effort I can conceive how accepting a higher power could be wholesome for him. For people in general. The feeling that we are a part of something greater than us, can help put things into perspective. The idea that there is more to life than our suffering. There is a whole realm of possibilities that we can tap into. Something like that?

In my opinion that ‘power’ can be nature or the cosmos as much as a deity. Having faith in a traditional god may be easier though, because it might help you believe that there is some point to all of this. Realizing you are but a speck in the immensity of the universe can be unsettling. It takes more effort to be OK with the apparent pointlessness of it all.

Personally, I find it very relaxing to accept that the world is nothing more than what my senses tell me it is. But then again, I realize that is also my privilege talking.

Step 3: We make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

As we stroll into this third step my mental machinery is starting to screech and grind with objection. I usually make a point of not spelling this word with a capital G, as I don’t consider it to be a given name. Just a noun. In that same spirit I would also really want it to say “a god”.

But OK… I really want to give it an honest try here.

So, let’s just pretend for a minute that I do accept there is an Almighty Father, and that his name is God with a capital G. If I were to turn my will and my life over to his loving care, what would that look like? How would that change my decision making?

… dot dot dot … I pretty much just stared at my screen for ten minutes straight.

As my boyfriend walked by I asked him to close his eyes and pretend he believed in God for a minute. I asked him what he would do if he “turned his will and life over to His care”. Luckily, my boyfriend is used to me asking him weird hypothetical questions out of the blue, so he got into his role right away.

What he said is that he could imagine it would give him a sense of confidence in the face of life’s challenges. When I told him it was one of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous he added that it might also make it less scary to stop seeking out ways to numb life’s pain. If you know there is a benevolent force there to catch you, you may be more likely to take that leap (of faith).

The AA website explains their take on step 3 quite well, so I recommend people struggling with this one to browse through that one.

All though I realize a lot depends on the councilor, coach or therapist guiding you through the steps, I must say I’m not entirely sure I would have made it through this one. And I’m not even really that much of a rebel. So how was my dear obstinate brother ever going to work his way through these?

Conclusion: He didn’t

All though I haven’t gotten around to asking him to which step he actually got during his 2 months in rehab, it is clear that he didn’t manage to stay sober for very long after his release. One of the first things he said was “it felt like a convent”.

I guess there is always next time.

One song for the rest of your life

Stephen Colbert periodically confronts his most celebby of guests with the fifteen carefully selected questions of “the Colbert Questionert”. See Bradley Cooper’s answers below:

So, I’ve watched pretty much all of the episodes in which these questions are presented to some superstar and there is this one question that bothers me every time I hear it:

You get one song to listen to for the rest of your life: what is it?

That’s such a confusing question. The answer most people give, reflects what their favorite song of all time is. But that’s not the question at all.

Also, I feel the question is carelessly phrased. Are we talking about a situation in which you would hear the song 24/7? Or is it simply the only song you can put on when you choose to press play on the jukebox of life?

Hearing your favorite song played back to you over and over again would turn into torture real quick, don’t you think? In this case, the song you should really want to choose shouldn’t be your favorite song at all, but rather one that can blend in with the background, like a trickling stream, without distracting nor annoying you.

If on the other hand you are granted silence throughout your life but allowed only one song to choose from on at your moment of choice, then maybe yes it should be the most complex and awesomely inspiring thing you know. Right?

So, in either of these scenarios, what would I choose?

Scenario 24/7

If I could only listen to one single song and it would be played back to me constantly I think I would choose something instrumental. No trumpets, no violins. Something like Agnes Obel. Or some chilled out acoustic guitar song. Preferably a long piece of music, so that it doesn’t get too repetitive.

If I were to choose something with vocals I would probably go for Sade, who I’ve been listening to very often throughout my life without getting bored. Any song from her ‘Lovers Rock’ album would do (and the whole album if I were granted that), but ‘ All about our Love’ has to be one of my all time favorites.

Jukebox scenario

If I were allowed to live my life in silence, with only one song in my playlist, I would choose something quite different.

Coldplay’s ‘Adventure of a Lifetime’ is a song that always manages to pick me up when I need it. Many of Queen’s songs have a similar effect. Other candidates would be songs by Jamiroquai, Sia or Nothing but Thieves.

However a song that never goes by without giving me goosebumps is Stevie Wonder’s song ‘I’m New’:

I don’t listen to it often. But when I do, it gives me all sorts of feels. It deserves more credit and yes, I wouldn’t mind it being the only song I would ever hear again (whenever I press play).

The second song that fits in the same category for me, is Mercedes Sosa’s version of Gracias a la Vida. I think I have shared it on my blog more than once, but here it goes again.

It’s such a tender reminder of how beautiful life is, which in a way is also what Stevie’s song boils down to.

So, looking back, I guess I’m actually not following my own advice at all. I thought I would choose something more upbeat and energizing.

In the end I guess I’m just glad I don’t have to make such a choice and am allowed to cruise through all my guilty and proud pleasures whenever suits me.

Lifetip 8: be the stupidest in the room

One of the things that I did during my time in between jobs was sign up for different courses. One I am still working on revolves around conflict mediation, also known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

The first thing I learned that every mediator needed to aspire to be three things; Lazy, Dumb and Homeless.

  • Lazy, because a mediator must let the participants do the talking and basically sit back and let them take it as far as they can. As long as they are talking, there is progress.
  • Dumb, because making assumptions is often what got the opposing parties in their predicament in the first place.
  • Homeless, because a mediator can belong to no one.

I thought this was inmensely interesting, completely logical and also incredibly difficult.

It prompted me to rewatch a short vid I once saw in which Simon Sinek speaks about how allowing yourself to be viewed as “the stupidest in the room” can be an important skill (and a precious gift for all the other people in the room).

Check out the video below for context (no more than two minutes).

So, it’s not only about recognizing when things are being discussed that you don’t understand, but also having the balls to say so. Even though you may lose some street cred or be considered “the idiot” by some, you will also be doing a lot of people a favor. Especially when there are people present who do have a reputation to protect, your “stupidity” will provide them with “the for dummies explanation”. They may also have needed and wanted it, but were not willing or able to admit it.

This also reminds me of my 16th century compatriot Erasmus’ book “In Praise of Folly”. What I know of this book comes merely from what I remember from the high school history lessons I had. I have never actually read it. What makes this book interesting is that Erasmus does something in it that was unthinkable for that time: namely criticizing politics, church and society. He gets a way with this by letting a jouster be the one to ask the painful questions everybody is wondering about but dares not utter.

So, start practicing your cartwheel and be the fool we all need!

Speech Therapy

In a blogpost I wrote in November of last year I brainstormed about all the different shapes and forms that freedom comes in. I dedicated a segment on freedom of speech, as I tried to make sense of the desire many people seemed to have to use this “freedom” to make other people feel like shit.

Rowan

In a speech from 2012 that only came to my attention in recent days, British actor and living legend Rowan Atkinson defended free speech in a way that gave the little wheels in my mind a spin. His appeal was a response to a British law at the time, that caused ridiculous arrests and offered too much room for interpretation and misuse.

Rowan Atkinson’s full speech from 2012 on the repeal of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986

Insult legalized

A conclusion that the British government was coming to was “that language or behaviour that is merely insulting should never be criminalized.” The fact that this statement needed to be made signals that up until then, insulting an officer (or his horse, apparently) was in fact something you could get arrested for.

In his speech Rowan Atkinson pointed out that “the clear problem with the outlawing of insult is that too many things can be interpreted as such. Criticism is easily construed as insult by certain parties. Ridicule is easily construed as insult. Sarcasm, unfavourable comparison, merely stating an alternative point of view to the orthodoxy can be interpreted as insult. And because so many things can be interpreted as insult, it is hardly surprising that so many things have been.”

Barack

Atkinson proceeded with a proposal: “For me, the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it. As with childhood diseases, you can better resist those germs to which you have been exposed.” He emphasized these words by referring to Barack Obama’s 2012 UN speech, in which the former president said: “We [defend freedom of speech] because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can quickly become a tool to silence critics and oppress minorities. (…) The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression; it is more speech — the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”

The message these two men are trying to bring across is clear. They both stress that, when faced with intolerance and hatefulness the solution lies in more communication and more freedom, rather than the opposite. It may lead to more insults, but it will also lead to more compliments, more debate, more questions and more answers. In Atkinson’s words: “If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue”.

Makes sense, right?

Sacred principle

The motivation behind Rowan Atkinson and Barack Obama’s defense of freedom of speech is one I applaud. It is a sacred principle that characterizes any civilized society. Encouraging and protecting that freedom implies that insults can and will happen. And we need to learn to be OK with that.

Mr Atkinson addresses snowflakeism by bringing up the influence of social media on the way we communicate and our ability to take a joke: “The storms that surround Twitter and Facebook comment have raised some fascinating issues about free speech, which we haven’t really yet come to terms with. Firstly, that we all have to take responsibility for what we say, which is quite a good lesson to learn. But secondly, we’ve learnt how appallingly prickly and intolerant society has become of even the mildest adverse comment.”

Rowan Atkinson: “Feel free to insult me”

Clearly bothered by the rise of this phenomenon, Rowan Atkinson spoke his commentary on the troublesome British law with two banners beside him reading “Feel free to insult me”. This type of freedom is essential for comedians, as their craft lies in seeking out truths in the realm of the absurd (or absurdities within the realm of truth). Aren’t the best jokes the ones that bring a smile to your face and a slight sting to your conscience?

Bullies

Not only comedians hold freedom of speech in high regard. It is highly appreciated and respected right here within the blogger community as well, as it is pretty much what it is all about. It grants everybody equal amount of time at the microphone and once there, it ensures that every individual can speak their truth fully and fearlessly.

But in the defense of free speech, people on the receiving end of bullying, hate speech and threats are told to adopt every elementary school’s mantra “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. So we all cultivated some hard leathery skin to protect our souls from the ugly byproducts of freedom of expression.

However, what Atkinson doesn’t mention -because we never thought it would be necessary to do so-, is that even though speaking your mind can be felt as an insult to some, inflicting pain should never become a goal in itself. The tragic train wreck that was Barrack Obama’s successor demonstrated what that looks and sounds like. Also, it showed us what abuse of this sacred right can lead to.

That the solution for this cruel tendency is actually “more speech” still rings true in spite of all of this. Something I have found to be especially challenging in upholding this ideal is that those individuals that insist freedom of speech must be utilized to verbally crush their self-appointed opponents seem to have only limited patience with communication. They sling their intolerant words into the world like children send anonymous spitballs flying around from the back of a classroom. Further communication about the matter is never really possible.

Speech impairment

So, let me stress again that I really, totally, full heartedly encourage and support more dialogue within our societies and especially between people with opposing opinions. However…. It is not enough. Instead of teaching people on the receiving end of hate speech to toughen up, we also need to start asking the mudslingers WTF is wrong with them.

Not by going back to throwing bullies in jail for their assholery, like that former British law did.

What I would suggest is helping these verbal thugs to find other ways to express themselves. And by that I don’t mean they should just yell into a pillow every time they feel their inner douchebag playing up. I mean they should actually look into why they feel so uncontrollably angry, sad, afraid or threatened in the first place.

And yes, refraining from calling them thugs, degenerates, douchebags (or any of the words I may have used in this blog to refer to these people) would also be helpful…

Psychobabble

We are complex beings with incredible brains (and souls, I guess, if you believe in that). We are capable of thinking such deeply perplexing thoughts that we don’t know what to do with them ourselves sometimes. On top of that, the times we live in and the technology that dictates our every day lives, let’s us feel all the feels all the time!

Do you want to wallow in the pain of heartbreak? Spotify has playlists at the ready for you. Are you in a cute and cuddly mood? The Dodo channel on Youtube has an endless source of videos to match that! Angry and destructive? I’m sure Steven Seagal is still making films in some dark corner of the internet to quench that thirst.

Anyway… What I am trying to say is… Our brains need a break sometimes. Also, we need to learn talk about our feelings. For many that also means learning new words to verbalize all the things we can feel. There are so many ways to express one’s feelings!

Encouragement of expression

A thought that has been going through my mind ever since that Rowan Atkinson vid appeared on my screen is that it’s not “freedom of speech” that we should be promoting and protecting per se. Or, I mean yes, we should also be protecting that, but “speech” is just the bare minimum of what we need to master.

“Freedom of expression” comes closer, because yes, there are more ways one can express themselves than with speech!

But how about not only granting people freedom of expression but actually encouraging people to use it. How? I’m not sure how to fix the current generation of people with a “freedom of speech impairment” but maybe we can start offering lessons at elementary and secondary schools to make sure kids acquire a vocabulary to express their feelings? And let’s not forget empathy lessons, so we can use our fancy feely words to help and comfort others that are struggling to do so.

This idea is (obviously) a work in progress and I can use some help. Who’s with me?

Mind Cleanup 2021

My 2020 plan to bring some structure and continuity in my blogging seems to have backfired on me. Instead of posting one blog a week as I had in mind, I ended up not posting anything for a year. Woopsie!

At first I thought I was just struggling with finding a topic that coincided with the letter G, in accordance with my own personal A-to-Z challenge. But then again, I had set aside my alphabet theme before when more interesting topics came by, just to pick it up again at a later point. So the letter G is off the hook.

For a while I thought it was just the fact that it was winter. My inner couch potato does always seem to be a bit more dominant when temperatures drop and the sun makes itself scarce. Then I thought it had to do with my desk, or my internet, or some deadline at work.

I think it was only recently that I realized I was simply exhausted. Not physically per se, all though my stamina had definitely seen better days. Not even mentally either, I was functioning perfectly fine in every sense. If I would have to describe it I would say I was worn out on a deeply spiritual level, or as a certain hobbit once put it: sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

If writing would have been my profession or if someone (other than myself) was actually awaiting my next blogpost, I’m sure I would have been able to produce something. But, as I mention on my blog’s homepage, first and foremost blogging is something I do for myself.

In hindsight I realize that I probably would have benefited from a ‘mind cleanup’ or two along the way. However, the idea of sitting at my desk after a long day at work, just wasn’t appealing to me. So I didn’t. At all.

But what DID I do?

January 2021

My mom’s chemos and immunotherapy, that started in October 2020, continued well into 2021. The treatment weakened her to the brink of her existence. There was very little I could do. I prepared her food that she didn’t want and brought her newspapers and magazines that she couldn’t read.

Also, I worked. My employer was amazingly accommodating and I was given a lot of flexibility to fill in my own time. The more freedom they gave me, the more I felt obligated to put in the hours. I’m weird that way, I guess.

February 2021

In February I started an online course on vegetable gardening and permaculture. It was inspiring and fun and I fully intend to submerse myself in more of that. I do admit that if the pandemic had not forced the course to offer an online version, I would not have had the time or headspace to see it through.

A memorable moment during my mother’s illness, was when her eyes (or rather her eyelids) starting to bleed. Her eyes had been irritated ever since she lost her eyelashes, causing a rash. Of course, the crying didn’t help either. The fact that she looked liked something out of a horror movie is something we can laugh about now… but… no… wasn’t actually funny at the time…

To complicate things further, my father in law was admitted to the hospital (on the other side of the country) a day after my mother was. He had suffered a perforated gut aside from the chronic case of stubbornness. My boyfriend and I did our best to be there for each other and show honest interest in the unique situations our parents were facing. Luckily, our foundations are strong and we don’t always need a lot of words.

March 2021

March was the month in which my mom underwent surgery to remove the tumor from her breast. It went well. Also, the fact that it meant the chemo phase of her treatment was over, was an enormous relief. I have never hated a cure for a disease more. That stuff is horrible.

March was also the month that our country held parlementary elections. As we are speaking, that is nine months later, we still do not have a new government. Don’t ask me why. I guess its complicated.

April 2021

In April one of my best friends was suddenly abandoned by her husband. All though the administrative process surrounding the divorce went relatively smoothly, she was left in absolute shambles emotionally. We spoke about it a lot. We also went for long walks without really speaking much about it at all. She’s not there yet, but she is starting to regain some belief in her ability to survive…

This was also the month that I officially quit my job. That is, I put in my three month notice and announced I would be leaving the company. It made me sad, without ever doubting it was what I needed to do.

May 2021

In May I was vaccinated. Pfizer. Sore arm, but that was it.

June 2021

June was my last month with my employer of six years. It’s the longest I have ever worked for any company. I did my best to document everything I knew and did, even though I knew my method of working was a thing of the past and the company would be moving on quickly after my departure.

July 2021

July was my first month of unemployment.

Also, it was the month that my mother finally got her invitation for the hip replacement surgery she had been craving for for years. Her painful hip was actually the reason she went to the doctor in the first place, more so than the lump she felt in her breast.

August 2021

This summer month felt like a necessary breather. My mother was healing well and I gradually learned to let go as well and let her do things on her own again.

September 2021

The death of a friend’s mother gave September a strange mixture of feelings (gratitude, grief, guilt, joy, love). Her mother was diagnosed with cancer a few months before mine. While my mother was making plans to travel and cook again, her mother was deciding how she wanted her funeral to go.

It was also this month that my father stepped into the spotlight during a week long exhibition of his paintings in a local art gallery. I have never seen him prouder. He sold several paintings and received more compliments than he had imagined he would. He needed that! And for my sweet short haired mother, it was her first time out in public without her wig.

October 2021

In October I started to feel restless. Even though I had not exactly put my heart into the job hunting process (can you ever really?), I really began to miss feeling useful. I did participate in a 5km race and did OK.

My brother let me know that he was ready to seek help for his alcohol addiction. He changed his mind about this at least a hundred times after that, but the wheels had been set in motion…

November 2021

My brother finally went to the rehab clinic in the second week of November and is still there now. I hope to see him in February, after the program is finished. I’m tremendously proud of him!

December 2021

And now it is December. I can’t quite summarize this month just yet, but I can tell you that I got a new job that I will be starting in January. Exciting!

I once again have plans and aspirations for my blog for 2022 and am looking forward to getting started on those in the upcoming weeks. I hope all of you in the WP community have a wonderful last few weeks. Whatever you do, stay gentle.

Faith

The next letter in the alphabet is G, but I can’t come up with a word starting with a G yet that inspires me enough to write a blog about it. Hoewever, I did hear another F word yesterday that triggered me:

Faith.

In all truth, it is a word that gives me the shivers.

Faith is an optimistic word though. It’s just been taken hostage by people that have worn out its meaning and rendered it useless for the rest of us.

Also, what makes me feel even more pity for the word, is the fact that it is often used in combination with an obligation: You have to have faith.

I realized this when I saw the documentary “Down to Earth” (It can be viewed in full on YouTube). In it medicine men and women, shamans and spiritual leaders from all over the world are given a stage to share their wisdom. The film was constructed in a smart way, slowly massaging in the message of spirituality in between scenes of friendships being formed, nature being admired and meals being shared. It managed to hold my attention until the end, hardly bothered by the heavy Dutch accents of the makers.

In one segment, a Native American medicine man called Nowaten, describes how united he feels to the visions he has. Despite never having met the figures from his dreamtravels in the real world, he is convinced that they are out there somewhere. He described this irrational conviction by saying: “We can create faith on our own, without going to any book. There is nothing that we can not do, with that ability. It’s a natural ability that we all have.”

There was no doubt in his mind that the all-knowing man he had encountered in his vision was real. He didn’t intend to find him, nor would not believing in him make him any less true. It was what it was. He had seen him, just like you see the cashier at the grocery store. And then he moved on.

Towards the ending of the documentary, Nowaten explains how he believes in a form of collective consciousness, a sort of cloud memory where we are all one, regardless of gender, nationality or age. Because of this and because his spiritual experiences have allowed him to glimpse into “the other side” he felt no fear of dying. He even expressed a certain degree of eagerness to explore further what was on the other side of the curtain.

Shortly after that, the spectators come to realize that he has indeed passed away during the making of the film. We hear his partner (?) saying she enjoyed his company on earth but is still comforted by his spiritual presence now that he is gone. She explains that if you believe the spiritual world and the tangible world are connected (as she clearly does), there really is no reason to be sad.

I understand how that idea can be comforting. I can even imagine how a gust of wind or a glimmer in a lake can feel like a form of communication. I say that with no sarcasm or skepticism. I actually truly do feel that. I mean, not in the sense that I feel my dead grandmother is trying to tell me something when there is a rustle in the treetops… But there are definitely moments when I tap into ‘the circle of life’, so to speak, and let go of my personal identity and blend in with a greater whole. This happens mostly when I am in a natural setting, where my senses are not overloaded by urban cacophony and my thoughts get the chance to die down.

What struck me about all of this is that it made me realize I had come to associate the word “faith” with blind and unreasonable trust in something non-existent. A delusion used as a bribe. “You must have faith, otherwise the cure won’t work.”

But Nowaten’s words made me realize that faith is something that can give you peace of mind, but is completely irrelevant in every other sense. If your house is on fire, saying you don’t believe in the fire is not going to stop it from destroying everything you own.

As a species we have developed our vocabularies so far that we can make distinction between things we ‘believe’ and things we ‘know’. But what can we really truly know? Not as much as we claim, that’s for damn sure. We go through life deciding which ideas we are going to put are faith in and then start referring to them as facts. And lately, we have been getting that process aalllll kinds of mixed up…

In that sense, I guess you could say we need more people of faith and less less people of facts.

Now that I come to think of it… I actually published a blogpost about that very thing not so long ago

Man, I love how blogging works! I promise I did not intend to ping back to myself when I started to write this blogpost. But it is kind of cool to see how blogging has once again helped me finish a train of thought that I started months ago.

And now, I am going to put an end to this entry and applaud myself for resisting the temptation to make a George Michael reference…

Mind Cleanup oct / nov 2020

Because some days just don’t seem to have enough hours in them, I wasn’t able to complete my October mind cleanup last month, so I decided to fuse it with November. And then November came and went, and suddenly we’re halfway through December.

Still, I think it is OK to share my Mind Cleanup for the past two months now. There is a real chance December and January will get to share a blogpost too.

About care

October was a month that was characterized by a period of intense interaction between my parents and myself. I stayed on their premises for a few weeks and helped put some structure into their days, that were being dominated by ugly things like cancer, corona and quarantines.

They were very grateful. I felt useful and was glad to help.

My parents’ household has never been super tidy or clean (and that’s an understatement), but the different C-words made a stricter regime necessary. I managed (better than I thought I would), but did not enjoy.

That whole episode made me realize the luxury of the life I live: an easy house, a laid back partner, enough financial wiggle room to be able to order take out several times a week (or semi-prepared food with minor work involved).

Taking care of my parents also gave me a small peek into the life of family life. My mother in particular was quite “needy” making me feel the type of responsibility I imagine a child might also have. It is not something I want in my life.

At the same time I realize that if my parents did not have me, they would have had a very hard time getting the help they needed. So… what does that mean for the care I may need when my bones go brittle?

About luxury

While caring for my parents I stayed in their guest accommodation, which is a cabin with a small kitchen, shower and toilet downstairs. Upstairs there is one room with TV and wi-fi, so comfortable enough. Heating comes from a woodstove, which was nice for the first couple of days, but at some point it started to bum me out.

Particularly on days that I was physically exhausted or emotionally drained, the idea of having to fetch wood from outside was quite a hurdle.

I would have been able to deal with it for months if needed, but after almost three weeks I decided to take a break and headed back home for a couple of days of simple urban life. If I hadn’t realized it before, I sure did now; I’m a pampered wuss (but I can deal with shit if needed).

About love

The complicated relationship of my parents is something I will never understand. I was raised by them, so their idiosyncrasy shouldn’t surprise me, but it still catches me off guard sometimes.

How they manage to always rub each other the exact wrong way makes me laugh and cry at the same time. They step into every single trap the other sets up and constantly feed each other with ammunition for the next pointless discussion. And sometimes, one or the other just completely and unreasonably looses their temper… and then… nothing… they just go on with their lives…

After being in their presence for more than a week, I felt myself slipping into their pit of confused structures and engaging in conversational swamps that made me want to pull out my hair (or theirs).

Passionate. That is what I used to call it. “High peaks, deep lows” and the like. It has a romantic feel to it and I may even have believed that was actually the case at one time. I could fill several books with my analyses of what I think they do wrong and how they have gotten to this point (and which lessons can be learned).

It just takes so much patience. So much clarity of mind. So much time. And love.

Love.

Such a slippery concept! If you’re plugged into it, you can move mountains without even causing a tremor. But if its light gets cloaked by a cloud of something poisonous (fear for example) it is a manipulative tool and an absolute energy drainer.

About TV

And right in the middle of my stay with my folks, the US elections happened. I was completely over it before it even began. My dad still insisted on watching the news every hour. If only he knew then, it would take another month and a half (and counting) before there would be any definitive hammer blow on the matter.

And I still can’t decide if I should go for “let’s forget this ever happened” or “let’s analyze the shit out of what happened and talk about it extensively for as long as necessary to get tot the (real) bottom of it”. It affected all of our moods.

An alternative we would switch to every now and then was some episode or other of Anthony Bourdain or any other one of my mother’s favorite TV cooks… but watching that during a time that my mother could hardly bare the sight or smell of food was not particularly fun for anyone.

The British detective series which she claims to watch for the cute cottage scenes and sophisticated clothing gave her nightmares.

So, if you ever read this: sir David Attenborough, thank you for all the series you have made. Thank you for your lullaby of a voice. Thank you (and your crew) for the beautiful scenes you have captured and the lessons you share. Thank you.

About my 36th

It was also my birthday! I turned 36. Sagittarius in the house, woop woop!

Oh and remember that T-shirt I said I needed in my Axolotl-post? Well, somebody was paying attention and bought it for me for my birthday. So happy!

And my mother gave me Obama’s biography (part 1, apparently). I think I read about 100 pages so far (700 to go)… and yes, he really is an awesome person.

All the good things

With just a few weeks of twentytwenty-ness to go, let me tell you one thing. You can do this!

I wish you all the pretty colors, all the soothing sounds, all the warmth and all the cosy feelings.

Stay safe. Be kind.

See you in two-oh-two-one!

Freedom

Freedom is such a burdened concept. I guess that’s why it needed such a ginormous statue.

The word means all kinds of things to all sorts of people. It is something individuals construct their lives around and nations promise to their people.

Everybody can agree that captivity is the opposite of freedom. However, poverty could also be seen is an antonym of freedom, as well as servitude and suppression.

In theory, freedom is something we would want everybody to have all the time, everywhere. Sadly, with our species, universal freedom has proven to be an impossibility.

The tragedy is that, when put into practice, complete and total freedom tends to translate into individuals stepping on (and over) the boundaries of others. I teased my brain about this dilemma before, but it is something that continues to puzzle and sadden me about our species.

The chapter in history embodied by POTUS-45 has also demonstrated that freedom in the hands of sociopaths and narcissists is harmful for the collective.

Freedom of religion

Every modern day western society has some mention of freedom of religion in their constitution. With it, people have basically institutionalized the principle of “agreeing to disagree”.

The rule of thumb has mostly been “When in Rome, do as the Romans”. Do not demand pork or lobster in a Jewish household, do not order beef in a Hindu establishment and expect no meat when visiting a Buddhist. As a woman; cover up some what when entering a Catholic church, cover up some more when entering a mosque. Pretty straightforward stuff.

Aside from the five major religions we count today, modern day society has made room for surprising new ideologies like Wicca, Scientology and the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All these things have to be taken seriously in equal amounts because of the structures we have created to protect freedom of religion.

But the 21st century has been an uphill battle in this regard, with radicalism chipping away at the foundations of tolerant ideas. The terrorist attacks on the USA in 2001 were a breaking point that have continued to divide us up to this day.

Because what do you do when you are not only expected to “do like the Romans” when in Rome but also when you’re hanging out in your own house in Paris, New York or London?

Is it fair to be expected to respect the values of a religion that is not your own? How do you react if it doesn’t even matter what you do, but your mere existence is considered an insult? And what do you do when the price you are being asked to pay for disrespect is death?

How do you deal with the contradiction of protecting values like “live and let live” if doing so might mean the end of them?

I feel empathy is a key concept in all of this, but at this point I still only have more questions, and no answers…

Freedom of Speech

This modern era has given certain words meanings, beyond their literal definitions. Or perhaps it is not a symptom of the 21st century, but just the way language evolves… I’m thinking of how referring to someone as “politically correct” has become an insult.

On the other end of that is the way we use “freedom of speech” as a way to justify bullying or rude behavior.

After the horrific series of terrorist attacks in France of the last few weeks, I heard my dad asking the TV: “Why would you use freedom of speech to insult others, particularly if you know how sensitive they are about it?”.

I wrote something in a blogpost almost 6 years ago, after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo as a soul search of my own, investigating how much leeway should be given to satire, if it knowingly insults specific groups of people. So much has happened since then. In regards to the question my dad asked, seemingly rhetorically, my perspective has hardened.

From my point of view, humor has always been a useful tool to take painful truths out of the realm of taboo. Even back in medieval times we enjoyed the company of fools and jesters to challenge our thinking. The veil of clownish clothing and silly behavior protected them from persecution, in the same way that today TV presenters like Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah (and Arjen Lubach, in my own country) can justify all sorts of statements with the magic words “Relax. It’s satire”.

Given the fact that pioneering comedians (and cartoon shows like South Park) tread on new grounds, they should be allowed to experiment with controversial thoughts and send some gasps through a crowd. Some of those gasps will come from people who feel their values have been disrespected or misunderstood.

What satire does is shine a torch on aspects of our being that have been kept in the dark, either by design or not. The goal is not to insult, but to reveal uneasiness. Sure, it might be embarrassing. Some comedians may take it a bit far, pushing beyond mere ridicule and into the realm of bullying.

But still, I don’t think we should give it up.

If we want to save freedom of speech, we have to continue to make room for each other’s opinions. We need dialogue for that. If there’s an elephant in the room getting in the way of a conversation, no better way to help it move on than to mock someone else’s big buttock first.

Also, from experience I can say that it actually helps your self esteem to learn how to take (or make) a joke about your lesser features. Self-mockery is an excellent tool to help you become more comfortable in your own skin. I truly recommend it.

Freedom to summarize

As this blog has been a long time in the making, I have collected quite a lot of random ideas and unfinished thoughts. The leftover scribbles might get their own blogpost one day, but for the sake of readability I will not elaborate further on them in this one.

Because I do feel it is all relevant somehow, I will just include my ramblings as food-for-thought bulletpoints below.

More on Freedom of Speech

  • When does freedom of speech become hate speech?
  • Should words be punishable by law?
  • Does the expression revolving around “Sticks and Stones” stop applying after elementary school?
  • Has snowflakism broken freedom of speech or are we saying more assholey things to each other?

Freedom of Opinion

  • A modern misuse of freedom is the way groups and individuals are applying it to set science aside as “just another opinion”.
  • There is a contradiction in people using freedom as a justification for gun ownership.

Complicated socio-political screwballing

  • What does freedom mean on a macro level?
  • Do European countries have any right to tell Brazil what to do with the Amazon rainforest (and is that a limitation to its freedom)?
  • Can it be considered “aid” if it is also an encroachment of an other nation’s sovereignty?

Non-freedom / Incarceration

  • Taking away somebody’s freedom is a universal form of punishment.
  • How and why is that?
  • What does the expropriation of freedom do and mean to an individual?
  • And what does it do to the person responsible for this captivity?
  • Is incarceration enough or should a stay in jail be unpleasant in other ways as well (meaning we shouldn’t provide prisoners with TV, games, good beds, etc)?

Like I said, freedom is such a burdened concept.

Also, I think too much.


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far:

The Donkey and the Gremlin

In three words I think I would characterize my current relationship as being humorous, inspirational and affectionate.

We challenge each other on an intellectual level and will leave no stone unturned when we run into a surprising new fact or notion.

I like to go all the way down the rabbit hole with him when confronted with an oddity. We, take our time with our analyses and make sure we understand each other before moving on (as much as our schedules permit).

Also, in the decade I have spent with him, I don’t think we have ever left any uneasy feelings undisclosed nor left to fester into something big and ugly.

Even though communication is super important for us we don’t necessarily have the same approach to it. I guess that might have to do with our upbringing or just simply with the fact that we are different individuals.

The pushy gremlin

If something sparks my curiosity my mind goes into philosopher-mode. I can stare into blank space (or a crackling fire) for hours, drifting off into a maze of thoughts that might take days or weeks to figure out. Blogging helps. So does talking to fellow maze dwellers.

I like to think I always try to understand a puzzling fact by doing my best to approach it from different points of view. I end up making my own opinion but not before giving every idea I come across a fair chance.

G and I have similar ideas about many things. That awesome fact sometimes actually ends up being the problem.

If I notice he is not agreeing with me on something, I tend to think I just haven’t explained my point correctly. An expression of disagreement or confusion turns into a stimulus for me to introduce more ideas and arguments, as I myself have probably also gone through stages of confusion before forming my final opinion.

But as I push my point further to bring him on board I sometimes end up empty handed. My perception of “giving context” ends up tipping the scale towards domineering behavior, resulting in annoyance on both sides.

The ease with which I sometimes dismiss someone’s ideas without giving it a second thought is disrespectful, I see that. I just haven’t figured out how to keep myself from turning into that pushy gremlin yet.

I still need some more time staring into a fire to untangle that one…

The donkey

Geronimo is a self taught intellectual. All though our ideas are often quite similar, he likes to get his information from different sources than I do, which keeps our conversations interesting.

G’s opinions are no less strong or present than mine. However, he does back down from a discussion in cases where I would not. If he feels there is no point to it he shrugs, puts on a certain (slightly dismissive) face and goes on with his day.

To him a discussion is pointless if the other is not listening well enough (up to his standards) or if he senses the other is not prepared to change their opinion.

Also G is very wary for signs of manipulation (some would say he is oversensitive). When a question of mine turns out to be a cloaked demand, he goes into full donkey mode.

And don’t get me wrong… I adore donkeys…

So yes, I don’t always agree with his judgements on these moments and sometimes feel unfairly shut down. And that in turn is something I find wildly interesting and am still in the process of trying to fully grasp.

Luckily, in the end, we always figure out which wrong turn we took and like I said, no hard feelings are ever left to fester, which is so important.

We celebrated our anniversary last month and I expect to celebrate many more!

Mind Cleanup – Sept 2020

The “back to normal”-vibe that August had, did not set through into September. If I would have to choose a theme for the ninth month of 2020 I think it would be “Dealing with unpleasant facts”.

The month started out with a visit to the hospital for my mom, resulting in a breast cancer diagnosis a week later and the confirmation that it had spread into at least one lymph node one week after that. On the very last day of the month we heard the first good news in weeks, being that the cancer had not spread into her bone marrow.

In hindsight, I felt like it was the best possible way to deliver such news to a pessimistic person like my mother. After she first heard the word ‘cancer’ she was convinced she was going to die. By the time she heard the bone marrow biopsy did not contain any cancer cells, the tumor in her breast sounded like good news and it completely perked her up.

Self-reflection

People around me reacted surprised/confused to my rational and reserved analysis to my mom’s situation. Perhaps it was a way to balance out the irrational and unfounded convictions my parents were slinging into the world.

I don’t think I didn’t take it seriously or that I was untouched by it. I just didn’t see the point in starting to plan my mother’s funeral if the results of the tests weren’t even in yet.

I considered the idea that I was just in shock and that reality would hit me later, but it didn’t. I checked myself a few times to analyze if I was suppressing my feelings and harming myself in the process, but I concluded that really wasn’t the case.

People seem to interpret my lack of tears as indifference, and I assure you that that is not the case. I love my mother. I’ll do everything I can to be by her side when it matters.

I will say though, that my attachment to my mother is “different” than perhaps many other people’s own personal experiences with their mothers. And that’s OK.

I am blessed with amazing friends that care about me and check my state of mind regularly. I can be fully honest with them and trust they will do the same in return.

Also, I am lucky to have an employer that is understanding to this new factor in my life. They have basically given me full freedom to put my parents first and not worry about the rest. That is not something I take for granted.

Underneath the walnut tree

When I was driving home from “up North”, where my parents live, I was listening to the radio and was thrilled to hear my favorite Dutch hip hop artist (not that I have any other Dutch rappers in my playlist), Typhoon, had released a new song after a hiatus of several years. To make it even better, the song was a collaboration with one of the best Dutch vocalists imo, Paskal Jakobsen.

In that moment, it felt like the song was repeating words to me I had spoken to my mother that very day. If you ask me, it’s about overcoming fear, about seizing the day, valuing life and maintaining a sense of wonder for what is in front of you.

I later heard the song is actually a message from Typhoon to his younger self. Makes sense. For me, it will always be a message from me to my mother.

The lyrics

You’re right on time.
Come lie down on the grass.
You are my guest of honor.
And now I have found you.

You cannot reproduce growth or make the same trip twice.
I’m grateful for who I am, both in my good and bad days.
If only we could look over the fence every now and then.
Although I don’t think we would be able to understand it, if we did.

I see you in the mirror; there’s the first gray hair.
Let just say it’s a sign of early wisdom.
I foresee the best years are yet to come, as if it all has yet to begin.
Don’t worry, I’ll take you along.

I hold you dear, I can’t do it without you, and that’s all I know.
Don’t be afraid to be in love, nor afraid to succeed.
Fear does strange things; it leads you to sabotage
Don’t be afraid to stop searching or to find what you already have.
It’s all right to feel melancholy, when I tell you:

You’re right on time, lie down on the grass.
You are my guest of honor
and now that I’ve found you, you are right on time
For everything there was; my heart, my friend, my guest of honor
And now I have found you

Don’t be afraid to be right. Don’t be afraid to serve.
If only you could see what I see when you smile or feel sad.
Don’t punish yourself for your lightness or happiness.
Just feel it: it’s how it’s meant to be.

And so what: what if it doesn’t work? What’s the worst that can happen?
Don’t be afraid to fall. Don’t be afraid of your success.
Don’t be afraid of ‘the nothings’ and ‘the everythings’.
Never forget how we lie under this walnut tree,
how we look without wanting to see, as in a dream…

You’re on time, lie down in the grass
You are my guest of honor and now that I’ve found you,
you are right on time
For everything there was; My heart, my friend, my guest of honor
And now I have found you

And everything is made for us as new
An adventure especially for us
Everything made anew into a melody,
that I hum every morning when you wake up.
When you wake up, yeah

Diamond droplets on the branches
Made anew into a melody
Diamond droplets on the branches
Like pearls on a clothing line
Diamond droplets on the branches
Don’t be afraid of being afraid
Diamond droplets on the branches
You are right on time.