Mind Cleanup: April 2018

April has been a good month.

Sunny weather

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We had a some real, genuine sunshine that lasted for almost a week, including a weekend. It’s amazing what sunshine does for one’s spirits. Or at least for mine.

It was also during this beautiful sunny weekend that I sat in my garden for the first time. I mean, I’ve been living in my “new home” for over a year now, so I’ve definitely sat in my garden before, but that was different. Last weekend I just sat there, not to eat, or light a barbecue or whatever. I just closed my eyes and sat in the sun, with my sleeves rolled up and with my blindingly white legs exposed, like fresh solar panels, to charge my batteries. Such bliss!

In our first year, we just let the garden “be” as it felt kind of impolite to just barge in and start pulling out plants, root and all, without getting to know them first… I know, I’m silly that way. But this year, when the sun came out and plantlife started to explode, I decided to be a bit more assertive. So, I’m growing some stuff inside now that will be move to the garden soon.

Also, a nationwide initiative called “mission Stone Break” is encouraging people to take out a row of bricks / tiles in front of their houses and grow something there. It’s a really fun idea, so that is also something I’ve been doing that has been making me quite happy, as well!

In the Lyme Light

Lopen voor Lyme logo

Another sunny day earlier this month (the 14th of April), which luckily wasn’t quite as hot as the lovely garden-sit-Saturday a week later, had me tying up my sunning shoes for “Lopen for Lyme”, a walkathon to raise both money and awareness for Lyme’s disease.

I have half a blogpost sitting in my drafts file, where I explain more about how the day went, which I will try to publish soon. But the short version of the story is: our team raised over 5.000,- and had a wonderful day in a beautiful area. I ran 14 km and felt it in my thighs for three days, but it was totally worth it!

Chance encounters

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Another cool thing that happened this past month was an encounter I had on a Saturday at work. Contrary to my usual office duties, I had been assigned a shift in “the store”, which was kind of nice but also something you have to do regularly in order to be able to bring your A game.

So, as I had let my colleague do most of the harder stuff that day, when a guy walked in asking for advice on what to buy for his son, I volunteered. We walked around the store and I did the best I could to help him out and we ended up having a fun chat.

When he had collected all the stuff he needed, I walked him to the cash register and asked if he was a member so that I could give him a discount. He wasn’t completely sure, but he thought he might be, so I offered to look him up in the system. I asked him his last name, and to my complete surprise he said MY NAME!

And to people called Jansen or de Jong (two very common names in the Netherlands) that may not come as a surprise but my name is really uncommon. I have never met another person with my last name that wasn’t a family member, so you can imagine I was dumbfounded, when I heard my last name come from the mouth of this comeplete stranger (and pronounced “the right way”, and everything).

And when I looked at him again, suddenly he reminded me of my uncle. So yes, this guy was a distant relative, who just happened to walk into the store on that one day that I was assigned that shift and that one minute that I decided I would step in to play “personal shopper” for a random customer to alleviate the weight on my colleague’s shoulders.

Luckily it was a really nice guy and when he left the store we agreed we should meet again for a cup of coffee.

Cosmos, you be funny!

Music

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I’ve been enjoying new music a lot as well, but there is really only one artist that I want to talk about: Janelle Monae.

She is such a force. I can’t even….

I mean, I already loved her “old stuff”, like Tightrope (see below), but the stuff she’s doing now has really carved her name deep into the history books.

Make me Feel, Django Jane, Pynk and I like that are all really different songs but they’re all revolutionary in some way. She reaches back to styles we know well but mixes them up and melts them down to something uniquely hers.

And don’t get me started about her looks. She’s gorgeous, isn’t she?

Yupp, I’m a fan.

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You say “lack of ambition” like it’s a bad thing…

Last week my aunt Nikki came to visit. She’s the type of family member that asks how you’re doing and really wants to know the answer, whatever it is. Also, with a background as a councilor at a local university’s student services division, she always knows which questions to ask to get you thinking.

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When I told her how I was doing at work, I had to admit I had just gone through a challenging period, coming to grips with the fact that bars and expectations were being raised, as more experienced colleagues moved on to new jobs and I was now often the most experienced person in the room.

Of course Nikki knows of my “lack of ambition” and / or “fear of responsibility” and presented me with the following riddle:

When you say you see the absence of ambition as a strength and a tool to protect and guarantee your own happiness, it sounds like it all stems from a fear of failure; either in the eyes of others [aka my parents] or your own. To what extent is this a twisted attempt to regulate the expectations of your parents?

Now… obviously… you know… it’s clear that… stuff is just not… sometimes, you see… yeah. no.

whut potc

Let’s just say there’s a reason why it took me over a week to put this thought process into words.

Growing up as a third culture kid, I always had ideas about having a job later on that would take me around the world. I remember loving the idea of being a stewardess, and at some point dreamt of being a “Flying Doctor”, a development worker or a diplomat.

This last idea was mostly my mother’s. It was something that she started saying jokingly, especially when I tried to negotiate myself out of a sticky situation. Up to this day it’s something she says to me every now and then, as an afterthought; “you really would’ve made a good diplomat, you know…”.

It wasn’t until I started studying at Leiden University, – which is close to the Netherlands’ diplomatic center: the Hague – that I really realized how wrong she really was.

women-competing

I so clearly lack the cut throat mentality it takes to even get into “het klasje” (meaning “the small classroom”, the term used in the Netherlands to refer to the diplomatic training institute), let alone to ever hold a position as diplomat. Also, the fact I suck at small talk and always forget to ask crucial questions such as “what does your father do” and “which university (and fraternity) did you attend”, doesn’t help.

I admit that when I go to work in the morning (in the Hague) and I hear the tip-tapping of hurried high heels walking behind (and all around) me, I get really annoyed. In my mind, that quick paced person is “one of them”; an ambitious self-proclaimed Barbie feminist. She’s probably overworked and on the verge of a burn-out, but is comforted by the idea that she’s “made it”. She looks herself in the mirror each morning and reminds herself this government job is exactly where she has always wanted to be. She just finished reading Ivanka Trump’s book.

WOW! This was a really round about way to arrive at the point… I apologize… Are you still with me?

I think the point is: I really don’t like those people and don’t want to be like them.

I’m actually really pleased I came up with Ivanka Trump as a reference. I don’t know how I would’ve explained this, without her and the video above. (honestly though… Is she for real??)

So yah… In my mind being ambitious has become synonymous to become an Ivanka Trump category person.

What I still have to figure out now, is if I can really answer my aunt Nikki’s question with “no, this has nothing to do with my parents”, which I would very much like to do.

I admit that my logic is still a bit fucked up and perhaps something I should work on. I would really like to be able to say that all though my lack of ambition may be based on silly reasoning, it’s definitely more than just a lingering rebellious spasm of puberty.

It’s driven by more than just my inner-child saying “I just don’t feel like doing what you want, mom”.

whut loki

Right?

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Getting rid of the rooster

According to the Chinese calendar, we are currently wrapping up the year of the rooster.

Chinese zodiac rooster

I think following the Chinese calendar might be just what I need, considering the first few weeks of 2018 have been a little un-fun for me.

The first week was actually pretty OK. 2017 ended on a hopeful note, with my father recovering well from a stroke he had suffered in the late summer and my brother taking back control over his life by deciding to move back to where he grew up, in Ireland.

The idea was that he would re-connect with his younger self and the values he had been instilled with by his mother (we are step-siblings). It sounded like a good idea at the time and I was especially happy he was choosing where he wanted to go himself and going through all the motions (and paperwork) to make the move abroad possible.

Sadly, his addiction got the better of him quite quickly and quite heavily, causing him to be involved in an accident, probably caused by him (all though I’m not sure he sees it that way just yet). Any progress he had made in recent months was destroyed, and more, he has to face all sorts of financial, social and legal consequences. In short: stressful.

My brother called me a week or so after all this happened and confessed most of the story to me. He sounded angry, sad, disappointed and confused. Making excuses and simultaneously admitting and denying the one thing I have been waiting for him to say: I need help.

He asked me to not tell my parents about what had happened, but added “all though they expect me to fuck up anyway…”.

Drowning

Then, after not having heard from him for several days (and me not reaching out) an uncle of his called me and asked me how much I knew about my brother’s situation. After I told him what I knew, he asked when I had last heard from him, which turned out to be about the last time he had been in contact as well.

The additional info I got from his uncle: My brother had bought a crappy old car and told people around him he was heading back to the Netherlands to get professional help. The fact that he had not told anyone here that he was coming and the fact that nobody had heard from him in several days made all the alarms go off.

For the first time in my life I felt my heart quiver out of control, while sitting motionless on a chair. I sent him a message and went through every possible scenario. For about two hours, I thought my brother was probably dead….

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Even when he texted me back, my mind raced on. The reality of his re-existence suddenly felt more complicated than the momentary possibility that he might be gone forever. Needless to say, that realization made me feel horrible…

I felt guilty (which is one of my talents, I must admit).

  1. I felt guilty for feeling that nano-sliver of disappointment when he turned up.
  2. I felt guilty for not being able to run to his aid, but not really wanting to either.
  3. I felt guilty for forcing other (extremely sweet and good hearted) people to deal with him.
  4. I felt guilty for keeping it a secret from my parents.
  5. I felt guilty for telling my mother anyway, forcing her to lie to my dad and adding more things onto her list of things to lie awake over at night.
  6. I felt guilty for not offering up my house to my brother as a landing spot, when he let me know he might be coming back to the Netherlands.
  7. I felt guilty for implicitly asking my boyfriend to carry the load of my family drama.
  8. I felt guilty for hardly having the head space to listen to the answer to my “how was your day?”; especially when the answer was more complicated than “fine”.
  9. I felt guilty for emptying out my brain sewage on the laps of my favorite people in this world; people with so much empathy in their beautiful hearts that it is almost inevitable that my state of mind also affected them negatively.
  10. I felt guilty for losing control and not being able to fake it.

So, forget the Gregorian calendar. Enter Chinese year 4715! And the year of the dog is coming up. I like dogs. Dogs like me. I understand dogs. Dogs are fun. Dogs are goofy and bring out my inner clown (in a non psycho kind of way). This is good!

chinese zodiac dog 1

So, I’m gearing up my backpack for the adventures the year of the dog might throw at me and filling it with:

  • A compass, that points towards what is good for me.
  • My journal,
    • to be filled with small and frequent brain dumps, as to not fill up the brain buffer and empty out the cache.
    • to plan my life better and have (the possibility to create) more order in the chaos.
    • to keep the blog-juices flowing.
  • Scooby snacks, to keep myself and the dog smiling.
  • A lot of room for new experiences and lessons.

mindfuldog

I have a little rebel in me

John Oliver’s recent “last week tonight” episode reminded me of a blog idea that has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. Let’s start with the clip that triggered this:

At the 7:07 mark, a man steps up to defend confederate statues by speaking about his family heritage at a community meeting in North Carolina. He says he always felt proud of his great grandfather’s involvement in the American civil war. His ancestor had stood up for his rights and was willing to fight and die for them. The man says it reminds him that he has “a little rebel” in him. You can tell he feels he is being robbed of this feeling now that the confederate statues are being shown in a different light.

As much as this makes me giggle, roll my eyes and shake my head, I do get it. Profoundly more so than I may care to admit, at first glance.

My own heritage is filled with adventurous globetrotters, standing for what they believed was right in the context of their time.

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My great grandfather, for example, was a preacher from the rural North of the Netherlands who travelled to the Dutch colonies (in current day Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century for what I imagine would’ve been missionary work. I know very little about him or what he did there exactly, but as a colonizing power, you can imagine we Dutchies do not have clean hands in every aspect.

I hope to be able to find out more about him and what he did, some day. I am proud to be a descendant of a man willing to venture into the unknown. I can only hope he did more good than bad for the people of Magelang.

The preacher had a son, my grandfather, who was born in Palembang, Indonesia in 1915. All though I’m not sure about when exactly they returned to the Netherlands, I do know my grandfather was attending University  in the Dutch city of Delft, when  the Second World War was at its peak.

I can imagine his international upbringing made him more conscious of global issues and the miles he must have made at sea as a child traveling from Indonesia to the Netherlands, would have tempered his fear of open water. So, when faced with a possible Nazi labor deployment, he decided to flee the country by boat with two companions and his Belarussian wife, who refused to leave his side. Across the North Sea, in England, they joined our queen and the allied forces to fight fascism across the globe.

Foto+van+de+Dag++vaarkrant+2As I wrote a few years ago after my own tribute to their voyage, the so called “Engelandvaarders“, or England sailers, are an important part of Dutch WWII history and even have their own museum in the seaside town of Noordwijk to commemorate them. So yes, I am proud to be able to call myself a descendant of theirs.

At the same time, I know my grandparents chose to join the KNIL, or Royal Netherlands East Indies Army, a military division that is not without controversy. As with my great grandfather’s deeds and position, I do not know the details of my grandparents’ role here (yet). What I do know is that following World War II, “the KNIL was used in two large military campaigns in 1947 and 1948 to re-establish Dutch control of Indonesia. The KNIL and its Ambonese auxiliaries have been accused of committing war crimes during this “police action”.”

So yes, still proud… but very conscious of the fact that the reality they were facing and that facts they were presented with at the time, must have made them feel the cause they were fighting for was a just one. If this is still the case today, now that we can zoom out and look at the end results, remains to be seen.

Next in line is my father, who was born in Indonesia in 1947 himself and has travelled the world during much of his life, doing development work in South America and the Middle East. How many people’s lives has he actually improved? How many people learnt how to fish themselves thanks to the projects he led and how many “merely” received a charity fish? How much money was wasted on corruption and how much was actually spent effectively? How many projects brought people what they really needed on the long term and how many were merely set up as short term tools in the Dutch political agenda?

So… I guess my point is, I am proud to say that I come from a lineage of adventurers and people wanting to make a difference in the world. If their cause or methods were always good, is up to debate. A debate I am willing to engage in.

“Give me a piece of your mind”

My parents are honest people with strong opinions for which they sometimes need loud words.

Even now that they have grandkids, I have seen them explaining matters of the world in a way some others may feel is not appropriate for such young kids. Some kids dig it and others zone out when being spoken to in this manner, but I always thought it was kind of cool that my dad never “dumbed things down” for me.

A request I got from my father on several occasions (and far too often, as far as I was concerned at the time) was “give me a piece of your mind”.  You can imagine it was something he did to get a sense of what his sulky adolescent daughter might be thinking. I never really knew what he meant and my answer never seemed to be what he was hoping to hear anyhow.

You could say honesty was valued highly in our household. And to express your honest opinions it was required to be eloquent. “Just because” was never a valid explanation for anything and I was allowed (up to a certain extent) to expect the same from them.

I remember my first boyfriend was quite overwhelmed by the in depth conversations we had over dinner.

The biggest liar and most truthful person, all in one

A line that I wrote down in my “ideas journal” the other day, is that my father is “one of the most honest people I know, as well as one of the least”.

He is one of the most honest because he doesn’t seem afraid to have an uncommon opinion. He will stand up for his beliefs, at the cost of being “the odd one” in a crowd. He is also unwillingly honest, as his face just gives away what he thinks about you and your explanation.

At the same time, he is one of the least honest people I know because as much as he tries to uphold the idea that he doesn’t care what others think of him, his fear of appearing to be weak always wins. He will say everything is going splendidly and that he has never felt better, until he reaches the point that the only one buying it is him.

Then again, does it count as lying if he lied to himself about it first?

Also, his stubbornness sometimes reaches truly absurd levels. He will stay on a chosen course even after being disproved by someone. Adjusting your course would be admitting you were wrong at some point and that apparently is not an option in his world.

He can also be very arrogant, in the sense that he will easily discard your idea as a lesser opinion if it is not in line with his. And not only is the opinion of low quality, so are you for coming up with it. He will use big, aggressive words to make you feel unsure about your line of thought, and make you back down. You might even accept his own idea at some point, just because he presents it with so much self confidence.

Intellectual & Emotional Honesty

What I figured out only recently is that the type of honesty I was taught to express was purely intellectual. That is the type of honesty that researchers and journalists apply in their work. It is the type of honesty that is based on logic, historical facts, knowledge, vocabulary and grammar.

This type of intellectual honesty is something that comes natural to me. I have never had trouble forming my opinion or pointing out to someone when they set off my bullshit radar and why.

Apparently the invisible, irrational, uncontrollable concepts of feelings are something you can be honest about too… You apparently don’t even need words to express them! Mind. Blown. And when it comes to being honest about those, I suck. I wonder why?

A child’s tears

This brings me to the final clue to my father’s dishonesty; he has never been able to handle my tears.

…Not that I even know how to cry anymore…

Unless some plant or tree is in bloom, or something.

And there’s some snot involved during these pollen allergies, as well.

But maybe they don’t actually qualify as tears.

Anyhoooooowww, see how awkward I get from talking about these things??

…where were we?

Ah yes, me crying.

Far before I reached an age that this was reasonable for, I was expected to be able to explain my behavior, especially when my behavior included tears. If I couldn’t come up with a “good” reason for my eye leakage, I was simply asked to stop doing that. And so I did.

All though my father told me years later that the crying prohibition was one of the few things he regretted in life, it did teach me to express myself pretty well. I know what I want and don’t want and am more capable than many others to express where my boundaries lie.

After analyzing the heck out of it during my long train ride home last week I came to a new theory. He saw my tears as criticism. Honest little wet mirrors rolling down a child’s cheek. And he couldn’t deal with that.

Time for a new lesson

Don’t get me wrong. My childhood was actually pretty awesome. Part of it was thanks to my parents, other parts were great despite of them. I hold no grudges. Or I try not to.

I am definitely thankful towards my parents for giving me the ability to discuss every possible topic, be it social, political or cultural in any crowd. When it comes to other forms of honesty however, I think I may have a lesson or two for them.

Musical first aid

Last weekend, while visiting my parents I put on some music on their way-too-high-tech audio system and motivated my dad to cruise through the wondrous world of YouTube.

My daddio goes through phases of extreme innovation and radical conservatism; wanting to be ahead of the rest with the newest-of-the-newest technology and gadgets on one day, and only wanting to purchase things from “people you can look in the face and shake hands with” on the other. Sometimes both at the same time. It is possible. But it’s confusing sometimes. To me, I mean. To him it makes perfect sense.

Anyhow, my dad was going on a fanatic musical-melancholy tour through YouTube, watching old Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan footage and was about to go into his “they just don’t music like this anymore”-rant. Luckily, I came prepared and presented him with First Aid Kit, the wonderful Swedish duo that can restore your faith in humanity and modern day music in one sitting.

 

Oh, how I hope to get the chance to see them live some day. I’ll be heading to Roskilde festival again this year… Fingers crossed…

 

 

 

Derailed thoughts

train-tracksMy parents live in the rural North of Holland. It’s a 2,5 to 3 hour train ride to get there. Not long, for some countries’ standards; pretty bloody long for Dutch ones. I have a love-hate relationship with this train ride. I hate it when the train is overly full or when I need to pee or when one annoying person decides to sit nearby on the one day that I forgot to take my earphones with me. I love it when I have a quiet seat by the window, when I have a good book with me or the skies treat me with pretty sights (rainbows, sunrises, thunderstorms, etc).

It can also have a very philosophical effect on me and my thoughts.

Last weekend for instance, I had decided to go up North after a long week of work and a slight flu. I decided to leave early in the morning. I ran into a co-worker, who was actually on his way to the office that very morning. He told me one of the software systems the company runs on had been down all night and he wasn’t particularly looking forward to this day, as it was bound to be chaotic. I felt lucky it was not my turn to work the weekend and smiled as I soaked up the morning sun.

I was completely relaxed. Something that would prove to come in handy later on…

ns storing.jpgWhen I got to the station I saw something was up. The train schedule screens were lighting up and I saw grumpy people walking away from the info-desk. I asked what was going on and found out a combination of planned and unplanned issues had disrupted certain routes, including mine. It would take a bit longer, but as far as I could see, it only meant one extra change of trains and not too much delay. It was still early, so no prob.

By the time I got to my first stopover a new issue had arisen and it was announced that I would have to take a bus for a part of the way. Bummer. I don’t like buses. At all. The sun was still shining though, and I had a newspaper with me, as well as my earphones so I wasn’t too bothered. I walked to the busplatform and sat on my bag, which was soft and comfy as I had taken some dirty laundry with me. I sat there, just soaking in the mid day sun. It was surprisingly warm, which reminded me that Spring had definitely made its arrival.

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When a big object suddenly blocked my rays, I knew the bus had arrived. When it rolled to a stop, about 200 people ran towards it. I moved myself out of the chaos and back into the sun and decided to wait for the next bus. Soon after, several buses arrived all at once and I shook my head, witnessing the shamelessness with which people pushed and shoved themselves towards the entrances.

A guy tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I could see if the bus in front of us was already full. I was already starting to say something along the lines of “I know as much as you do, dude”, when I realized the guy was blind and that he was the only one who actually didn’t have a clue. I asked one of the orange-vest peeps to help the guy onto the next bus, which they said they couldn’t really promise and he seemed to be OK with that. He disappeared into the crowd at some point and I guess he found his way.

I watched several more buses come and go. More people were now waiting on the platform and I realized my chilled out mood wasn’t going to get me a seat on any of these rides. I decided I didn’t really want it anyhow. Not like that. So I called my parents and told them I was going to get a bite to eat in whatever-town-I-was, and see if things would be different later on in the afternoon.

So, I walked back to the train station and, to my own pleasant surprise, saw a train that was about to leave in precisely the direction I needed to go. It was pretty much empty. Ah, how I love my guardian angel!

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And as the train snaked it’s way through the Dutch fields, my own train of thoughts went back to the rowdy crowd that I had witnessed earlier. The way they ran towards an arriving bus… It was just so strange… And kind of funny too… I envisioned what it must have looked like; me sitting there, squinting into the sun, hardly moving at all… And then this same plump family running by, every couple of minutes; first to this bus, then to the next, to the left, to the right. It was just so silly; fit for a Laurel & Hardy sketch…

I reminisced about how little respect there had been for the elderly and handicapped. At the same time, I thought back to how unapologetically some of these elderly citizens had driven their strollers into the crowd to get through. I thought about how organized we always claim to be, as a peoples, and how primal people were reacting to this situation. I pondered about food aid trucks in war-stricken zones and how ruthless people could be in their quest to get their hands on a cup of rice, a piece of bread, a can of condensed milk.

police-dogs-waiting-food-china-1.jpgI reflected on how ugly this side of mankind was and how I could pour this situation into a blog. I said to myself “it shows what an inferior species we are” but I immediately realized that isn’t true at all. The fact that we sometimes share our food and belongings and can do this very selflessly, is actually what makes us special as a species. Fighting over territory and food (especially when it’s scarce) is a very instinctual reaction that is displayed by pretty much every living thing on earth.

And then it hit me… I was actually portraying anti-evolutionary behavior, despite often proclaiming to be a supporter of Darwins “survival of the fittest” theory. In that particular situation I was clearly not the fittest. I just gave up, hiding behind an excuse of being too polite… Or was I just too lazy to get down and dirty?

The fact that I ever got where I needed to be, was more luck than anything else.

I told myself that my attitude would most likely be more feral if my life really depended on it. Or that of my family’s. I don’t really know though. And I guess that only demonstrates how lucky I really am.