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Dec 2019 mind cleanup

It’s a crispy cold day today, which is my favorite kind of weather to be sitting in a train as it makes for beautiful skies and landscapes.

The month of December was actually quite a good one for me. I managed to keep my schedule quite empty during the christmas holidays (which in my case was just two days, but still…). I’m so chilled out, I hardly feel I need a mindcleanup at all, but I’ll give it a shot!

Headphone Sessions

After running into some of Amber Run’s collaborations with a choir called London Contemporary Voices I ended up on a YouTube channel called “Headphone Sessions”, which I thought was quite awesome. This in turn brought me to Sam Brookes, who has a very Decembery vibe, imo. Click play below (but also cruise through the songs on the Headphone Sessions YT channel).

the Witcher

I just finished watching Netflix’ series called the Witcher, based on a bookseries, written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski. My bf told me he also knew and enjoyed the accompanying videogames.

Without having any of the context (didn’t read the books, didn’t play the games, never heard of the author) I actually very much enjoyed the first season. For a Netflix series the acting was quite good and the special effects were not disappointing or distracting.

I definitely recommend the series to anyone who’s slightly into sci-fi and fantasy and look forward to the next season (which is expected no sooner than 2021).

the Dutch King’s speech

Of course a lot of impeachy things happened this last month but I don’t really feel like reflecting on any of that.

An interesting news moment this last week was the message my nation’s king presented in his annual christmas speech.

Photo by: Arenda Oomen

The first part of his speech was mostly an optimistic enumeration of our country’s qualities. The king reminded us that “freedom” is one of the terms most frequently used to explain what defines us as a nation, but that freedom does not come without a price.

This last year we commemorated the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, which means we have had three quarters of a century of peace. The people that fought for our freedom are in their nineties and soon there will be no one left to tell us first hand about the price of freedom but also the weight of the lack thereof.

The king pointed out that in order for freedom to thrive, we must put trust in one another and let our personal bubbles overlap a bit. He emphasized the importance of tolerance:

If we start threatening people with different opinions, we undermine exactly what we hold dear. To be free, we must allow contrarious thinking; in ourselves and in others.

King Willem Alexander – 25-12-2019

I loved this part of his speech. It is always valuable to be reminded that other people’s opinions are allowed to differ from ours. Even more valuable is to be reminded that it’s OK to have an opinion that differs from the rest.

Small sidenote: the king used the term “dwarse denken” to refer to the type of thoughts we should be accepting of. Dwars is another one of those wonderful Dutch words with no English equivalent, that can mean all sorts of things. You can say one street runs ‘dwars’ in reference to another street, meaning they intersect. It can also mean diagonal, skew or wayward. When used as a word to describe someone, dwars can mean ‘contrarious’ but also ‘tenacious’ and ‘obstinate’. It’s usually not said as a compliment, even though it’s a trait most Dutch people seem to have…

The king went on to remind us that we are really doing very well as a nation, but that in our ambition, we can sometimes be to hard on ourselves.

This part of his message seemed to be aimed at people who thrive for instagram-perfect lives, but crash and burn in the process. We all know the kind. He described how he often had to remind young people that it is OK to be imperfect. I mostly hope he also tells his daughters this, who seem to get all the troll shit of the world spilled out over their heads every time they appear in public.

The king then ventured onto thin ice, saying that happiness is an elusive thing that can not be obtained by force. Sure. And that’s when the most privileged person of our nation made me cringe; he said happiness comes “suddenly, as a gift from heaven”.

Oooooh, no you didn’t just say that did you, your majesty? I mean… Yes, I also wish life got better for everyone who channeled their inner Elsa and just chilled the fuck out, but you know how life can be… Hold on, no you don’t (and no, I have no clue what kingness is like either). And yeah… about the heaven part… I don’t know why you had to drag that into it, man… Bad idea.

But OK. I forgive him. I know what he was trying to say. Sort of. And the sentiment is nice.

Oh wow. It turns out I did need a mind cleanup after all. HAHA! Who knew?

New year’s wishes

I hope you all had a beautifully imperfect December month. For 2020 I predict the heavens will rain down all their happiness on you and your loved ones!

Peace out.

Lifetip 1: Believe in goodness

Rutger Bregman and Jesse Frederik are the hosts of my favorite Dutch podcast: de Rudi & Freddie Show. They discuss all sorts of topics, which at one point ventured into their disdain towards self help books. But, as is typical for R&F, they decided to investigate the popularity of the genre and then ended up coming up with their own list of life-improvement tips.

Rutger Bregman’s first tip, also stars in his most recent book “De meeste mensen deugen”. The title is kind of difficult to translate as there isn’t really an English equivalent for the word “deugen”. The noun “deugd” means “virtue”, and the verb means something along the lines of “to be virtuous”, but it’s used in a much more casual way than the English version makes it sound…

Someone could ask me if I’ve met my brother’s new girlfriend. My answer could then be: “Ja, ze deugt”, which is just basically three words to say that I have indeed met her and that I give her a thumbs up.

Long story short, Rutger’s newest book title translates to something along the lines of “Most people are cool”.

The accompanying tip boils down to:

Always assume good intent.

There will always be moments in life when you are not quite sure what “the other” thinks, feels or might do. When you find yourself in such a situation, you can assume the worst and start preparing (mentally) for somebody’s anger, stupidity or deceit. You can also chill out, assume all is well and nobody is out to get you.

Why would you give people the benefit of the doubt?

  • Because it is most often right.
  • Because it is less stressful
  • Because you avoid making it a self fulfilling prophecy

Rutger insists that trust is the water that we swim in. Having your trust broken (by being set up, robbed or swindled out of your money) is collateral damage. The price you pay for mistrust is not worth the amount of negative energy it brings into your life.

True story

A while ago, somebody knocked on my door. The person at the door was a stranger. He told me he lived down the street from me and that never did this kind of thing but that his sister had just been hospitalized and that he needed a couple of euro’s to fill up the tank of his scooter to go see her.

So what were my choices? I could assume the worst and let my fantasy freak me out:

  • He’s a junkie who is going to use the money to get high.
  • He’s never going to pay me back.
  • Next time he knocks he is going to rob me.

The alternative was to assume he was telling the truth and help the dude out.

In all honesty I did a bit of both: I assumed he was telling the truth, but didn’t count on seeing him or the money back ever again (even though he assured me several times he would be back the following week).

I dug through several bags and pockets to collect all the bits of change I could find (because really, who still has cash these days?) and told him it was not necessary to repay me but that he should pay it forward to somebody else some day.

So yah, I may have “lost” 4 euros. Or did I?

  • Maybe he really did come back with the money but I wasn’t home.
  • Maybe the handful of change is still being handed down to people in need, spreading kindness and smiles across the country.
  • Maybe he was really planning on coming back to rob and kill me, but changed his mind after my kindness (or when he glanced into my house and saw that my house was a trip hazard).

Hold on… That last one doesn’t sound quite right. This positive-assumption thing takes some getting used to, I guess…

Society and politics

Let’s try applying the same logic to a larger scale.

Because if we trust the people right in front of us, we can trust people a bit further away as well, can’t we? And if we do that, we can assume whole groups of people consist solely of good-intentioned folks.

What could we achieve as a society if we put full trust in each other? What would our laws look like if we weren’t always basing them on the assumption that people want to take advantage of the system?

That is some radical thinking, I’m telling you…

Trust your friendly neighborhood charlatan

Have you ever been cheated? Good! That means you put trust in someone. Keep it up!

If you haven’t been scammed at least a few times in your life you may be missing out on the good stuff by being too mistrustful.

Mind Cleanup Nov 19

The “wiggle room” I was anticipating in my previous mind cleanup didn’t fully materialize yet, but I have good hopes it is on its way (all though I do realize chilled-outness is not what Decembers are usually known for…).

Bee Family Day

November started out with a family reunion, thought out and partially organized by my dad. His health and energy level didn’t really allow him to be as involved as he might have liked, though. I did all “the online stuff”, prepared the slides for the presentations and did some of the small logistical stuff.

Because my name was at the bottom of all the invitations, confirmations and additional info I got a lot of credit for the whole day, which was nice, but perhaps not entirely justified. I just played along though. 😂

In the end, the day was a success and my dad was super happy. I met a lot of new family members and had a chance to re-evaluate some of our “typical family traits”.

After my father welcomed everyone, my aunt held a presentation about the family tree and what you can see on the My Heritage website. An uncle / cousin (several times removed) played a classical guitar piece he had composed himself. He also held a short speech about the finances of the family’s foundation that takes care of the family graves.

My hope that a third family member would come forward with some cool family stories, didn’t really come to fruition… so I decided to do it myself… which is actually atypical behavior for me… but it went well and it also means I get to strike “get better at public speaking” from my bucketlist. YAY!

Bolivia

Bolivia is the heart of South America and a notoriously complicated country. I lived there for eight years as a child and always joked with my brother that I would be the president one day, but that he had to be my front (as he was born in the country and I was not).

The current state of the country really breaks my heart. It angers me that Evo Morales clung to power in the way that he did and that he did nothing to make a smooth change of power possible. It saddens me to see the country so terribly divided (which in all truth it always kind of was).

I’d pray my heart out for Bolivia, if I believed in such things. It’s a country that has so much going for it but always relapses into self-destructive behavior.

Lines from the country’s national anthem have been ringing in my head the last few weeks (like a prayer?):

Al estruendo marcial que ayer fuera y al clamor de la guerra horroroso,
siguen hoy, en contraste armonioso, dulces himnos de paz y de unión.

The martial turmoil of yesterday and the horrible clamor of war are followed today, in harmonious contrast, by sweet hymns of peace and unity.

Vamos Bolivia, you can do it. I believe in you. I know you don’t need a white European girl telling you how to fix your shit but at least take the message in your own national anthem to heart and look up those sweet hymns of peace and unity!

Music

This new Jamie Cullum song struck a chord.

Rudi & Freddie Self Help tips

Earlier this year I heard a podcast episode from one of my favorite Dutch journalists that I have been recommending to anyone who might be (slightly) interested.

The podcast show is called the Rudi & Freddie Show, staring Rutger Bregman (Rudi) and Jesse Frederiks (Freddie). Officially they are a historian and economist but most of all, they are two smart dudes that can’t help but ask “why is that?” at every corner they turn.

Absolute facts make them suspicious and their skills as academics and modern day journalists give them the tools to disentangle the facts from the opinions, gut feelings and bullshit arguments. They don’t always agree with each other. Better even, they don’t always agree with their own (past) selves. I have tremendous respect for people that are able to admit they were wrong when presented with new facts or experiences and are willing to change.

I am sad to inform the majority of the planet that their podcasts are only available in Dutch, but if you ever needed a motivation to learn our impossible little language, being able to understand their discussions should help.

After having made fun of (the popularity of) self help books, they decided to embrace the “if you can’t beat them join them” philosophy, and come up with their own recommendations for a better life. In an episode that was posted online last April they discussed their ideas.

Starting in December I want to share a few of the R&F Self help tips. I will share one per post, perhaps continuing with the tradition with tips of my own, after the R&F ones run out.

Farmers know their shit

My very first stereo was bought with the money I earned during a summer’s work on a potato farm. I must have been 13 or 14 years old.

I loved farm life and took great interest in everything that went on there. I learned about how to recognize specific diseases and pests. I learned about rules and regulations. I moved to “the west”, as urban Netherlands is often referred to, but still returned in the summer to spend some time on the big harvesting machines.

I went abroad and learned about methods and challenges for farmers in the tropics and ended up writing my thesis on agrarian reform in Bolivia. The farmers I worked for back home were thrilled to hear about what I had seen.

I still love farm life, but I don’t think I love it in the same way that I used to. I am not without critique and I don’t think all farmers approve of my slight change of heart. Where my allegiance lies exactly has become relevant again, now that farmers have been making headlines in the Netherlands.

As I mentioned in my most recent mind cleanup blog, October was the month that Dutch farmers stormed the political capital, the Hague, to protest new laws meant to lower the emission of certain harmful gasses, in particular nitrogen and phosphate.

Farmers feel they are being unfairly constricted in their work, while other sectors (such as the air travel industry) are not suffering the same limitations, despite being equally harmful.

Their demand for respect did not go unnoticed, as thousands and thousands of tractors from all over the country made their way to the Hague. Many were underway for more than a day (which in our tiny country is hard to imagine). As more and more gathered, traffic suffered the inevitable consequences, bringing parts of the country to an absolute standstill. They managed to catch our attention like few protests in recent years have.

As has often been the case when facing complex topics in recent years, our country was very much divided on this matter. Supporters of the farmer protests were the most visible (and audible).

A lot of the signs and banners that adorned the protesters’ tractors were related to a demand for respect and recognition for farmers’ role as the ones that produce the food we put on our plates every day.

This conservative urge to protect and preserve what we have, was fueled by a modern day fear that societies seem to be experiencing that we are losing our identity.

The fact that farmers were protesting measures to protect the environment was clearly leaving sustainability freaks a bit confused. After all, of all our nation’s professions, shouldn’t farmers be the ones to care about this the most?

Environmentalists emphasized that it was right wing politics that should be protested. In their eyes, it is precisely the conservative and liberal parties that ignore the real threats to rural life, being climate change and the wealth gap.

Left wingers concluded that people were being misled and were now angry on the basis of misinformation. This is obviously not a very easy point to make when farmers are already complaining about not being taken seriously.

Also, a lot of people just thought the sight of all the heavy agrarian machinery on the highways was pretty funny/cool. It had a bit of a festival parade feel to it and a lot of Dutch people can’t help but applaud for spectacles, no matter what the idea behind it is.

An increasingly common experience these days is that when one specific topic is being protested, deep down it is actually about something else.

In this case, the protest wasn’t solely about the new law. It was actually about rural Netherlands feeling disrespected, disregarded and misunderstood by the media, urban hipsters and big city lawmakers. The fact that leftist city dwellers based their arguments on the idea that farmers simply didn’t know the facts, didn’t help.

In the days after the protest there were some who said they felt this type of protest was actually not as charming as was being portrayed. After the massive protest on the first of October and a second one two weeks later, the big tractors started to feel as an unfair advantage during protests and quite a threatening one when combined with anger.

All though all these contrasts are not new, they are definitely sharper than before. So here I am wondering once again where my position is in all of this.

How much of my criticism is really just a leftover from puberty making me oppose anything that reminds me of my roots? The degree that I let my annoyance build up to is quite unnecessary and unproductive, but I guess it is also quite telling. At the same time, I refuse to believe it’s just pure and unbridled juvenile defiance that fuels my -eeummm- disappointment…

If I dig really deep down into the crypts of my thoughts-and-feelings-storage I guess I can say I do feel resentment towards the people “back home”. There was very little room for being different and me-at-my-most-normal never really managed to fit in the average mold.

And I guess moving to the city made me realize my attempts at being normal were really just holding me back from being abnormally awesome.

So every time I recognize a pinch of that smothering conservatism in anybody’s rhetoric I guess I can’t help but call BS…

But yeah, farmers really do produce the food we put on our plates and they really do know their shit.

Literally.

Mind Cleanup – Oct ’19

October was an intense month, not only because I spent two weeks across the pond, in Montreal and Quebec City. I also had a couple of new colleagues that needed to learn the ropes and several events that I had volunteered to help organize. All fun, but I must say I’m looking forward to have a bit more wiggle room in my schedule in November.

While putting this mind cleanup together I realized I had way too much to say about many of the topics, so I’m guessing they will turn into blogs of their own. I’ll do my best to keep it short now.

News

Angry Farmers

The beginning of October was marked by farmers protest in the Netherlands. They stormed the political capital, the Hague, in their tractors to protest new laws meant to lower the emission of certain harmful gasses, in particular nitrogen and phosphate.

The protest wasn’t just about the new law. It was actually about rural Netherlands feeling disrespected, disregarded and misunderstood by the media, urban hipsters and big city lawmakers. It was about protecting what we have and fear of losing our identity.

Leidens Ontzet

An event that takes place in my hometown every year on the 3rd of October is Leidens Ontzet. I wrote a blog about it a few years ago, called Hutspot, Herring and Happiness, that you can read for a quick impression.

This year G and I were hijacked by our neighbor, who caught us just before we fell into full couchpotato mode. It was good fun!

It was also the first year that all the bars in the city made use of so called “eco cups”, for which festival goers payed a 1 euro deposit. The cups could be rinsed and refilled and at the end of the day everybody could get back their deposit, if they returned the cup. The city was so much cleaner than in previous years, which makes the eco-cups an absolute success!

Marieke Vervoort (May 10 1979 – Oct 22 2019)

A lady I have a great deal of respect for passed away recently on her own terms. I dedicated a blog to her three years ago, after she won a silver medal at the Rio paralympics. She was quite a controversial figure, due to her strong opinions on euthanasia. May you rest in peace, Marieke.

Family of hermits

It’s not very easy to get lost in the Netherlands. Somehow though, a family managed to stay under the radar for almost a decade “awaiting the end of time”, according to sources.

A lot of confusing and contradictory information has come out since then, all of which I don’t find very interesting, to be honest. It caught the world’s attention though, so that’s why I thought it was worth mentioning here anyway.

Self reflection

Facemask

Any time I visit a tourist destination there are bound to be flocks of Chinese visitors as well. After a run in with such a group I am often left pondering one the origins of and reasons for their protective facemasks. Questions I ask myself:

  • Is it a personal choice, or government advice?
  • Is it meant to be a protection against disease or pollution?
  • Are they wearing them to protect themselves or the people around them?
  • Does it work?

Conversation – view in e-mail

I mostly read my e-mails on my phone, but recently I logged into my mailbox on my PC and was immediately struck by the odd way my e-mails were being presented to me.

The default view for e-mail services these days seems to be the “conversation view”. This means your e-mails aren’t in chronological order anymore, but grouped with other e-mails from the same thread.

I HATE IT! (I changed it, so it’s fine now, no worries)

Why does this option even exist though? And even if there were people that actually prefer such a layout, why make it the default setting and not just an option? It’s super confusing!

Is my extreme dislike for the conversation view in mailboxes a sign that I am getting old? I find it reassuring that I still know how to switch it back, but I have this feeling they’re going to be calling it “the classic view” at some point.

If anybody reading this actually enjoys the conversation view, do let me know. I have decided these people are unicorns (and trolls).

Happy November, all!

Mind Cleanup – Sept ’19

NEWS

  • All though I have been trying (again) to lower my intake of Drumpf related news, I would be lying if I said the anticipation of a possible impeachment has not been on my mind. Small as the chance may be that he’s actually kicked out of office before his term ends, I do applaud the effort. At the same time, I also realize it will fuel an already polarized situation, with potentially violent outcomes.

  • Another news story I’ve been trying to keep track of is the Saudi Arabia – Iran conflict. This could possibly be the start of something major. I don’t want to say WWIII, but…. The additional tragedy is (once again) Yemen, that never seems to be taken seriously; not when they say they are starving and beg for help, nor when they say they have taken matters in their own hands and have bombed Saudi oil supplies. They are the angry child that quietly turns into a psychopathic killer while the parents are too busy making each other’s lives miserable…

MUSIC

Mayra Andrade is a fascinating singer. She’s from Cape Verde. As a Spanish speaker, I can understand a bit of Portuguese but when Mayra mixes it up with Cape Verdian creole all I have left to go on is the melody and her voice. And Oh my goodness, she is so pretty!!

Because I listen to her regularly YouTube recommended the above video to me, which in turn introduced me to the COLOR channel… which indeed added a bunch of colorful new tunes to my playlists. Look up the Teskey brothers, for example, that bring some pretty convincing blues from down under! And what about BJ the Chicago Kid (I’m guessing he’s from the windy city), Brazilian Luedji Kuna, French Angele or Cameroonian Blick Bassy. The list goes on and on!

MOVIES / TV

I started watching a Danish series called Rita. Remarkably entertaining. I’m not hooked in a way that I want to binge on it, but definitely amusing.

FOOD

Even though I am nearing the age of 35, my mother still doesn’t believe I can cook. I don’t blame her. Until quite recently, I didn’t believe I could either. Life is funny that way.

When I told my mom I wanted to cook for her for a change, she couldn’t help but laugh at me. Even when I started chopping away at her kitchen counter, she shook her head at me in affectionate ridicule. My dad was a bit apprehensive as well.

The sweet potato curry won them over in the end (even though my dad felt the need to mention it looked like something that had already been eaten and eeummm regurgitated by someone else).

The ingredients (for 2p):

  • 1 onion
  • grated or chopped ginger (approx 3 cm-ish)
  • 2 small (or 1 larger?) sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons of currypowder
  • tomato paste (I must say I have made this recipe several times, with different amounts of tomato paste each time and it always turns out OK. All I can say is that it should be somewhere between one and four tablespoons)
  • 250 ml of coconut milk
  • red lentils (again, superbad at estimating the right amount… but eummm… somewhere between one and two handfuls. :P)
  • fresh spinach (as much as you (and your pan) can handle)
  • fresh koriander
  • pumpkin seeds

It’s just a matter of chopping, mixing and cooking all of the above in one pan until everything is soft and yummy. The last two ingredients are nicest if you add them as a garnish.

Eummm yah, reading that back does explain why my mom was laughing at me, I guess… 😛

TV Hosts debating obesity

Bill Maher must be one of the most controversial TV hosts of this moment. He has never been known for mincing his words and his latest controversy is one he must have seen coming from miles away…

It has to do with obesity. If you’re up for it, give it a click below. If you don’t feel like listening to his slightly annoying voice and arrogant demeanor, skip the vid and read my summary further down.

So basically, what Bill Maher is saying is that we should not be making fat people feel OK about the fact that they are overweight. He literally says “fat shaming should make a comeback” and that telling people otherwise is sending them to an early grave.

Enter James Corden, who was having none of Bill’s shit. He manages to make some good points as well as some self deprecating jokes, without watering down his message.

I thought that was awesome. And true!

But still… Hurtful as his choice of words may be, I do think Bill Maher has a point. Not in the sense that I feel we should be pointing and laughing at our large boned friends and family members (obviously), but I do feel that there is a growing acceptance that may not be as right as we are letting ourselves believe.

Actually… This is pretty much how politics (should) work, don’t you think?

Someone pinpoints a problem and offers a solution. Insiders and experts pitch in, creating nuance and a more complete understanding. Empathetic outsiders step in to find a place of mutual understanding and consensus.

From there you build a healthy and balanced policy that is satisfying (enough) for all parties involved.

Ah yes… I remember those days…