The A-to-Z Blogging Challenge started on the 1st of April. A Wednesday. It was not convenient for me. I saw the first few days of the month pass me by and decided I would catch up in the weekend.
By Saturday, April 4th, I saw I could no longer sign up, at least not officially. And then it dawned on me… It did not need to be April. Posting one blog a day following an alphabetical chronology can also be done in May! Besides, May starts on a Friday; much more convenient…
So, today I start my own A-to-Z challenge.
I dedicate my first blog, the letter A, to the Axolotl. I realized it must be so when I saw this T-shirt being recommended to me on social media. And I desired it deeply. I still do.
Have you ever seen an axolotl? They are fascinatingly odd.
And if you think they look odd, then wait until you learn more about their physiology.
Axolotls are actually salamanders. Salamanders hatch from eggs. They then grow into limbless larva, looking very similar to tadpoles. Then they start growing limbs; first the front legs appear, then the back ones. Up to that moment all salamanders are fully aquatic and therefore have cute frilled gills adorning their faces.
Your regular salamanders then proceed to grow into boring adults. They develop lungs for breathing above water and lose the frills. When they’re ready, they just walk out of the water and never look back.
Axolotls are rebels though. They hang on to puberty, stay in the water, singing Under the Sea all day, I assume. They successfully reproduce without ever morphing into the adult stage.
And it’s not that they have lost the ability to do so. Noooo sir. If the water they live in no longer suits them or if it dries up for some reason, they do what they have to do.
It must be said, they look really gross as adults. Because I wan’t you to keep the cute image you have of them and also don’t want to embarrass them, I’m not going to include a picture of an adult-stage axolotl here.
Axolotls don’t only stay young because of their youthful souls. They possess the freakish ability to grow back limbs and tails. But that’s not all; they can regrow whole organs, including their BRAIN!
That is why every scientist has an aquarium these days with a couple axolotls in it. They hold the secret to immortality! OK, maybe not immortality but they could definitely teach us more about healing processes.
We’ve understood the basic process of regeneration in axolotls for a while now. After a limb is severed, for instance, blood cells clot at the site, and skin cells start to divide and cover the exposed wound. Then, nearby cells begin to travel to the site and congregate in a blob called the blastema. The blastema then begins to differentiate into the cells needed to grow the relevant body part and grow outward according to the appropriate limb structure, resulting in a new limb identical to its severed predecessor.
Since humans possess the same genes that enable axolotls to regenerate, researchers are optimistic that one day we will be able to speed up wound healing or even to completely replicate the axolotl’s incredible ability to regenerate organs and limbs. With continued research such as this, it’s only a matter of time until this strange salamander gives ups its secrets.
All of this may have you wishing for an axolotl aquarium of your own, but don’t let their cute faces and quirky features fool you; these guys are dangerous!
Luckily, I learned about the fatality of axolotls in my early twenties and can therefore still walk the earth on two legs.
If you ever run into an axolotl; just don’t look it in the eyes…
You can read Julio Cortazar’s story here or listen to a lovely lady read it aloud in the video below.
The short TLDR-version of the story:
A man living in Paris becomes fascinated by an axolotl, a creature that he observes in the aquarium of a botanical garden. He visits the exhibit every day and feels a growing bond between himself and the creature. One day, as the man is pressing his face against the glass, looking into the eyes of the axolotl, a bodyswitch occurs. Stuck in the body of the axolotl, he sees his own face looking back at him from outside the aquarium. The aquarium is now his home… until some foolish visitor walks by and decides to look him deep in the eyes…
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.
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.
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.
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”.
When I was in my teens, K’s Choice was one of the bands I listened to religiously.
My love for this band was recently revived after a friend had posted singer Sarah Betten’s singing one of their best known songs earlier this year with one of my other teenage heroes: Skin.
The album Cocoon Crash includes so many songs that I felt very much intertwined with at the time and that still speak to me. I think “cocoon crash” is probably a very appropriate way to describe puberty in general, and mine was no different.
One of my absolute favorite songs, despite its slightly confusing lyrics is Now is mine.
Other personal faves are Butterflies Instead and Believe. Oh yeah, and If you’re not scared. (Choosing, not my strength…)
A song that still gives me crazy goosebumps every single time, is the live version of Shadowman, one of the few K’s Choice songs attributed fully to Gert Bettens, instead of his sister and lead singer Sarah Bettens. It’s a long version, but I recommend you watch it. It’ll hit you right in the feels.
After having gone their own separate ways for a couple of years, K’s Choice, has reunited and is making music again and I think they’re even doing some tours. So glad to hear that (and not only because it makes me feel young).
My daily routine has been pretty routine lately and it’s really been bothering me that this is also reflecting in my blog. I’m afraid I may be following Discovery Channel’s trend, broadcasting more and more uninteresting zombie-fodder and less thought-provoking, self-exploring opinion pieces.
The other day, though, I finally found myself staring into space, probably looking kinda dumb but feeling pretty darn philosophical. How nice it was to have those wheels turning again!
This pensive mood emerged after I re-watched an interview with a Belgian writer, Griet op de Beeck, of whom I had never heard but was captivated by from the first moment she started speaking. (Thanks again Zeef, for recommending it (and for the readers who understand Dutch here is the link to the interview in question).)
The interview is from a Dutch show called Zomergasten in which the interviewer and the guest sit at a simple table in a large room, decorated according to the wishes of the guest. Griet chose to emphasize the beauty of decay and set the stage for an evening of pretty deep psychological reflection.
Besides setting the mood by decorating the stage, the guest also gets to choose about a dozen film fragments that are shown throughout the interview (which lasts for about three hours). The interview can therefore be partially steered by the guest and Griet seemed to have thought this all through very well.
All though the interview contained many many moments that blogs should be dedicated to, I decided to focus on one specific storyline. I only sort of decided up to what extent I actually agree with Griet in the process of writing this though, so forgive me it’s not completely coherent…
You see, one of the videos that Griet had requested, was about a young boy, aged nine, who had been forced to return to Kosovo after his family’s request for asylum was denied. The whole process had taken six years. Six years in which the kid (let’s call him Vasili, I can’t recall what his name really was atm) and his sister had learnt to speak Flemish fluently, in which they had made friends and had built the foundations of who they now were.
Vasili broke into tears when he was asked to explain why he wasn’t enjoying life in Kosovo thus far. Griet felt this boy was scarred for life by the trauma of being ripped away from everything that felt safe and familiar to him. She emphasized the need for professional help and that he may otherwise never overcome this. She expressed her anger towards the deportation policies that Belgium, and pretty much every other European country for that matter (with the exception of Germany perhaps), were executing. She blamed them for ruining the life of this young boy and thousands of others who were being forced to leave.
And all though I feel Griet underestimates the resilience of a child’s mind here, it did bring back some memories of my own…
I was forced to move at the age of twelve myself and was angry and sad and yes, maybe traumatized for quite some time. By “forced” I mean, my parents decided it for me. There were no politics involved (all though people that know my parents and their marriage may beg to defer). There was no government decree hanging over our heads, nor had the country we were heading back to ever formed a threat to our existence. Even more so, the country I was leaving was a struggling development country and the one I was heading to was wealthy, clean and full of opportunities. So yes, the comparison is crooked in many ways, but I do feel I can relate to Vasili’s fate up to some degree…
At some point Vasili says something along the lines of “the kids are kind of crazy here”. A line I probably said in my first months back in Holland as well. All though, in all honesty, I remember being much less polite and using much unfriendlier adjectives to describe my new classmates. I could hardly handle their stupidity (they hadn’t seen a mountain in their LIFE and only spoke ONE language, and I probably even spoke that one better than they did as well…)
In the absence of a time machine I made it my mission in life to see the Andes again ASAP and I did so every time I closed my eyes. It was the age in which internet was just barely emerging and even though my dad was quick to bring it into our home most of the people I missed so much did not have access to it yet or I had not been able to find them. I wrote notes to myself to remember the things I was afraid I would forget. I rode my bike around my former hometown in my daydreams and drew mental maps of the area in the process. I forced myself to speak Spanish to myself and grew extremely anxious when I couldn’t remember a certain word.
Even after puberty stopped throwing fuel on my anger it took me many years to be at peace with where I was. It took a while, but I am now not only aware but also willing to admit that this is a good place to be, economically, politically and socially. I am also well aware of the fact that this is an after thought that kids like Vasili won’t always be able to fall back on in their new home countries.
So what would I say to Vasili?
I would tell him he is allowed to feel angry and that venting is good. If this involves screaming and slamming doors at first, that’s fine. Putting his feelings into words at some point is crucial though, even if there is nothing more to say than “This sucks”.
I would also tell him that it will get better.
Something I may not tell him right now but that I would want him to know later on in life is that at some point he will have to move on.
And if he manages to shake off that feeling of victimhood, his burden may become a strength. The curveball that was thrown at him as a kid could be smashed out of the stadium later on in life.
A home run, if not in the literal sense than surely figuratively speaking…
Not only is this blogpost extremely long, it is also another one of those posts that is bound to offend some people. I considered changing it up to make sure I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings but there’s no point in being disingenuous. This blog is supposed to help me figure out what I feel and think about things and if the conclusion turns out to be that I am a horrible person then… well… I’ll have to deal with that another day…
So, the other day I saw Hanna. Hanna, the movie I mean. I had seen it before but sometimes you need to re-watch a movie to truly let it sink in.
The part that had seemed sort of irrelevant the first time and that really stuck out to me the second time was the role of Hanna’s friend, Sophie; a slightly annoying British girl racing through puberty with hormones flaring all over the place, both confused and intrigued by modern day concepts of gender and sexuality.
I remember sort of rolling my eyes at the stereotypical girl Sophie represented, which ironically is something she does constantly as well (rolling her eyes, I mean). She’s the kind of girl that wears ass-showing shorts with an air of cluelessness that makes it both endearing and incredibly dangerous at the same time. The wise-beyond-her-years kind of adolescent that claims independence while sitting on her father’s lap. The kind of girl that sees an interview with Miley and decides she’s “gender fluid” and wants to kiss a girl to taste her cherry chapstick.
For a second I was tempted to say it’s “a thing kids these days do”, but as I was typing it I realized that’s not really true at all. Adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality. Is it more frequent nowadays? Or more evident? Or is it just the fact that we have all these new words like bi-curious, gender fluid, gender queer, lipstick lesbian, etc and that glossy magazines like throwing them about randomly when discussing the red carpet outfits…?
It confuses me if the above is good or bad for the acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream society. On the one side it is great that LGBT issues are being dragged out of taboo-constricted closets. That we are having these talks out in the open is great and hopefully it will help us all to feel comfortable with each other’s preferences and most of all: ourselves. However, if people start declaring themselves bi-curious as a display of their rebel heart and naughty spirit I’m afraid the Michelle Bachmanns of this world will have a field day.
These ultra-conservatives will raise their intolerant voices, quoting scriptures and handing out tea party sponsored leaflets for their delusional “counseling center” to cure you of your abomination. And sadly, they could use these hipster bi-curious kids to back up their claim that it is not natural nor something people are born with. Worse even, they would say is a condition you can be cured for and have proof to back that up.
I can imagine it must be frustrating for those still struggling with their coming out to see youngsters play around with the concept of sexuality and gender and go back and forth as they please. Gays and lesbians must have been told “it’s just a phase” by friends and family (and themselves) a thousand times before they dared come out for the fact that these feelings are here to stay. The fact that there are people running around all the time demonstrating that for them it is in fact just a playful phase that you can laugh about later on in life, isn’t doing much good for true LGBT-ers.
And then yesterday I saw this Frontline documentary called Growing up Trans, that in turn made me feel like a conservative bag of bones. It startled me especially when I heard myself yelling “but it’s just wrong!” at my TV screen. That’s the type of thing an ultra christian hillbilly would yell at a picketing, right?
The premise of the documentary is that it is becoming more and more accepted for people to come out for their transgenderism and not only that, but the possibilities to actually do something about it are also becoming more easily available. The documentary follows a bunch of kids varying in ages, the youngest being about nine. These kids have voiced their unhappiness with their bodies to their parents and have been supported in this in different ways and degrees.
The documentary presents us with the dilemma: These kids have found their voices and are clearly much happier if they can dress and act as the opposite gender. In a child’s body it hardly makes a difference. But as puberty sets in, these kids are disgusted by their bodies that are transitioning into what they feel is the wrong direction. So do you start giving them hormones at such an early age, so that they don’t need to go through the trauma of growing breasts or getting facial hair? Or do you wait for puberty to pass and then check again when they are adults to see if they still feel the same?
At some point an expert in adolescent medicine says:
The majority of children with gender dysphoria will not grow up to be transgender adolescents or adults. But I think the challenge is that we are not able to definitively predict for whom gender dysphoria will continue and for those that it may not continue.
Early intervention does make a huge difference. Once some physical changes of puberty have occurred […] they are irreversible. So really starting puberty blocking medications as early as possible is really important for some people who are really experiencing distress.
We slowly get to know several kids and all seem to know very well what they want and don’t want. They all describe their changing bodies as horrifying and want the process stopped before they become the one thing they do no want to be.
We are introduced to Kyle, aged thirteen, that is on meds; anti-depressants that is. He has dealt with the psychological consequences of feeling trapped in the wrong body and not being supported in this by his parents, most of all his father. Kyle is past the phase of puberty blocking and wants to go straight to the cross sex hormone therapy.
Kyle’s father really struggles with the decision he faces and that is when I surprised myself a little bit, when I felt I actually agreed with him for a great part. During a meeting with a doctor about the testosterone treatment, he hears what all the consequences are of going down this road. The upsides and the downsides. The perks and the risks.
After the doctor’s explanation Kyle admits he does wish he could have kids of his own some day, something that shows you the immensely difficult decisions you are asking a thirteen year old to make. Decisions it is hard to believe such a young human being could grasp the full scope of. That is why I totally got it when his father said:
Up till now it’s been things that were reversible: we change your name, we refer to you as he and him, sure fine. But at thirteen […] you need to think a little bit more about that. And those are things that your parents should be there for; to help you be as certain as you can when you make a decision that later in life could have a huge impact. So there’s a lot to think about.
Contrary to the other kids in the documentary Kyle is lucky enough to have a friend going through the same process, John. It is endearing to see them talk and philosophize about their parents and the effects their decisions and feelings have on them, fathers in particular.
John is very eloquent and comes across as smart and very sane. He tells us how he came out as lesbian at the age of seven and then as a transgender in his freshman year. John’s father is not going along with the transitioning process at all. He wants to support his kid and he wants him to be happy but he is incapable of seeing John as a boy. He refers to him as “G”, the first letter of his birth name and has not changed the pronouns to male yet.
The dynamics in this family are what got me all fired up and what made me want to write a blog about it. Just like John, his father comes across as someone who thinks before he speaks and is honest and clear about his feelings. He is also very religious and fears John is choosing the path of eternal suffering. He hopes and prays for his child to find his way back to “what is right”.
Despite me not being religious I do see that the underlying sentiment this father has is one of pure love and care for his kid, even though his wife questions this at some point. It was really heartbreaking to see. The stakes are so incredibly high here it just blows your mind.
Imagine John’s father worrying about the fate of his daughter’s soul. How do you make a decision if that is on the line? Imagine having to choose between your child’s eternal soul and his happiness on this earth.
At the same time John expressed feelings of extreme depression and besides suicidal thoughts even homicidal ones towards his family. At some point he even asked his mother to check him into a clinic so he would do no harm.
That was the last drop for her. Unlike her husband, John’s mother let go of her faith and the biblical teachings she grew up with to fully support her child and provide him with any possible means to find the way back to happiness. In turn, this created a void between her and her husband. Imagine having to chose between your child’s sanity on one side and your marriage on the other. Your love for your kid versus your love for the man you made that child with.
The contrast in John’s family couldn’t be bigger than with the family of Ariel; a kid that completely rubbed me the wrong way, no matter what gender or sexual orientation se has. The high “like” frequency in her sentences, the vocal fry, the neurotic body language, the Kardashiany tears-on-demand… just annoying. Don’t get me wrong, she has enough to be nervous and teary about and I do see her life hasn’t been easy, but she’s just chosen the wrong version of girl puberty to go through, if you ask me…
Anyhow… After seeing the heartbreaking struggles in John’s family and then switching over to this kid… I guess that’s when I started yelling at my TV… Ariel was going to get her hormone replacement therapy, despite being only thirteen (instead of the usually required minimum of 16). Her therapist felt she was ready. I don’t know this kid. I have never met her. I know I have no right to judge. But… still… just seeing her and hearing her with that all-over-the-place energy really made me feel she was not done with therapy yet.
(If you are curious to see just this part of the documentary to understand what I mean, go to this linkand fast forward to minute 54, and watch about five minutes from there)
Actually no, maybe that’s not it… I don’t think she needs more therapy. She clearly knows exactly what to say and what it all means, in theory. But she sure as hell is not ready to make decisions about cutting off penises and growing breasts. Her idea of transitioning into a woman consisted of picking out pretty clothes, playing with make-up and finally growing up and marrying prince charming. She may not need more therapy but she definitely needs to grow up and experience a little bit more of life before being allowed to say yes to this…
And when I heard the therapist going along with her clear inability to grasp the true and real consequences of the hormone treatment…
ARGH, it’s just WRONG!
And by golly, I hate extremely long blogs and this one has definitely turned into one, even though I still feel I have not fully explained my point of view… So I’ll just leave it at this for now and maybe come back to it on another day…
Feel free to bite my head off in the comments below.
Inspired by today’s prompt on Daily Post, I am going to write my fourteen year old self a letter. But for any of this to make sense to you guys, you need a little bit of background information first. Let’s make it a sweet little list with bullet points, shall we?
I lived in South America for eight years
I moved back to Holland at the age of twelve
I had been a fanatic horseback rider in Bolivia and continued with this in Holland.
I got a horse for my 13th birthday.
I see my fourteen year old self:
A skinny girl with sloppy blond hair (to my mother’s horror). Not a loner per sé but completely fine with just her own company. Friends tend to invite themselves over, as she never does. Mom and dad are still together even though dad is abroad a lot for work. Mom and her have a complicated symbiosis.
More than a decade and a half have passed. What do I tell this teenager? Not sure yet, but here I go:
This is your future self. I know the answers to many of your questions, but I can’t tell you the answers. You have to find your own way. Your soul, mind and conscience are sound and will guide you well. Trust them. I know you do. So much so that some people might call you arrogant. Maybe you are.
You have seen so much more than your class mates. You have traveled the world and speak three languages fluently. Enough to make any young adolescent big-headed, right? In some ways you are much wiser than the kids your age but as far as academics go: you suck. Sure, the school system is different and yes sure, the teachers seem to be out to get you but that lazy attitude of yours isn’t doing much good either. Be honest to yourself.
You still have one foot in the past. Fearless as you are, I know that you are afraid of forgetting your previous life. You might be even more afraid of being forgotten, all though you must know it is bound to happen.
You know how fast things change at international schools. New kids come and go every year and it won’t be long before your best friends make new alliances, start new adventures and enter a new phase that doesn’t include you.
You are somewhere else. And it’s beautiful too, in its own way. Focus on that! You are making new friends. Friends for life, even! I know you feel this new crew of friends is special, even though you are not ready to admit it. You have vowed to return to South America as soon as you can. You are determined to leave this place and never return, but I think that might just be puberty talking…
I won’t give it all away but I can tell you that things didn’t go as planned… But I have watched far too many sci-fi movies to be telling you to change your course. This spot right here is my reality. My here and now is your future. Many of your “what if”-s and “I wonder”-s have played out and have been answered.
From your point of view I am probably an old boring fossil now, but I still feel the kid in me is alive. And there is still a great big empty canvas in front of me! I’ve started painting the corners but we still have quite a way to go, you and I. There are still new adventures and experiences for us to encounter. And we are going to do great.
You have become a part of me and I thank you for all the mistakes you’ve made. It taught me a great deal. Never stop being you. I know you won’t. 😉
Lot’s of love.
Your’s truly (no really totally truly, I am yours….),