Monday, August 3, 2009

On the Importance of Friends:

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. 'Which road do I take?' she asked. 'Where do you want to go?' was his response. 'I don't know,' Alice answered. 'Then,' said the cat, 'it doesn't matter.' Lewis Carroll

Last year I sort of went off the deep end here in Amsterdam. It’s something that I just can’t shake off of me. This month, a bunch of Americans from my past–a bit of a blast form the past–visited me here in Amsterdam. My city. The city I now call home, and subsequently identify with–even though my Dutch is a bit rusty (though I can be found speaking Dutch; when forced, or when I know that I have the sentence right–down to the grammar, but I’m learning mistakes are cool also. Moving on.) Friends are essentially a mirror in which you see yourself. When that mirror is suddenly gone–well, so goes all the voices that give you continuous feedback on your life. And listening to the voice inside your head, without bouncing that voice off anyone else, is like looking through a one-way mirror at times.

Looking back at the last year of my life, it is strange. There are just parts I don’t remember. But of course, I do remember them–it's just that last winter was rough. I got really sick at Christmas–and it was also my first winter in Amsterdam. It was freezing.

Then again, this is the first full year of my life where I haven’t been moving every three months, and have actually had a chance to watch the season change around me. It’s beautiful (and there was actually a period of two years where I missed winter, because I kept moving back to California).

This is also the first full year of my ‘all-grown-up’ life, where I haven’t lived by the rules of ‘quarters’ (as my university was on the quarter system–unlike the rest of American universities, which are ruled by semesters). I no longer anticipate ‘fall quarter’, ‘spring quarter’, etc. My life is now ruled by the seasons–minus the 'quarter' addition on the end. The real seasons, I guess you could say.

One of the greatest things about knowing someone for a sizable chunk of time–is watching them grow alongside you. This is hard to do from afar, and thank you, social media. Without it, my researching abilities would likely be less developed–and consequently, the people in my life who I care about would only slip from my grasps.

But of course those who truly matter will always be in touch–and stay in touch. But it’s just different; being away from them. (Please take note of the lack of the words that could have easily replaced the word 'them' in the last sentence: home, America, the USA, etc. My home is Amsterdam.) Of course the people I care about back on the other side of the ocean will always be there for me when I need them–and vice versa–but, they’re not here. Lots of other people are–happy Dutch people even–and they are my future. They are my right now. And I’m loving this as the revelation becomes more and more pronounced.

A friend just left my house yesterday for Nice, where she’ll be studying for four weeks. The people who’ve touched my life here in Amsterdam–well, to be quite honest, have touched my life in ways that some of the people I met in America could have never achieved. There’s just something wrong about feeling trapped somewhere–and that’s one reason the USA and I parted ways. There was just no room for personal growth–given the situation I was in at the time. And honestly, I just don’t feel (Midwest) Americans are just ready for the types of architecture and design that pumps out of Europe (though I know there are pockets of the USA who are desperately thirsty for it).

I’ve had three different visitors this month on three different weekends at that. Which probably explains the lack of writing on my part–and is partially part of the reason this is all bursting out of me at the moment. My old roommate stopped by my city for a weekend, two friends who I’ve known since 2004 (which is a long time considering my current situation), and a great great friend who I can be around and say absolutely nothing, and yet we know exactly what the other is thinking. It was great seeing them all. And it’s friends like these that provide that mirror for you to look in at your life–and look at yourself, through a completely different set of eyes. It felt really nice. Without this mirror, self-destruction can set in. And I’ve self destructed too many times here, to let it happen again.

With the brigade of Americans running through my life these past few months. It just makes me realize that, I do indeed I have a past–one that extends beyond my time in the Netherlands.

The John that’s totally down for that extra piece of cake (referencing my dire lack of eating last autumn), that extra mojito (referencing my dire lack of drinking last year–borderline keeping myself from letting loose and having a fun night out... because as much as I support the fact that alcohol’s just poison–it’s a socially acceptable poison that’s not going anywhere anytime soon. And sometimes it’s nice. As is being a product of your time–and in this time, alcohol is OK. So I guess I’ll live in the moment...). That spontaneous, anything goes John, is resurfacing. That fearless, driven, happy-go-lucky guy that could make anyone smile, the one who loves life–is back. He was gone for a while. And I really missed him. Hello again, sir. Hold your head high!

When my friends where here, they told me things about my life that I would have never began to think on my own. They placed their mirror in front of me. One said something like, 'You just disappeared.' (Referencing my abrupt absence from peoples lives in the USA). Another said, 'You’re all grown up. You’re a real person!' (With some sarcasm, and some seriousness–referencing the fact they’re still in school, and I now have a non-academic life–and am not). Another, 'You’re so lucky.' (Referencing the fact that I live in Amsterdam; said to me as we were having a canal-side drink while watching the fabulous summer sun set).

And yet another, 'I’m really proud of you.' (Referencing everything I’ve accomplished thus far). As much as these simple words of affection–and wonder–are obvious to those on the outside–to me, they never are. And they were all–including every conversation my friends and I had–were incredibly nice to hear. Sometimes, as simple as it is, hearing the words ‘I’m proud of you’, from someone you care about–feels really really nice. And maybe I should work on telling myself that more often.

I’m growing up. And I’m aware of the changes. And it makes me really happy. Because I didn’t come to Europe for the delectable cheeses and wines; I came for the adventure and thrill–the history, culture, and countless travel possibilities for adventure and unknown. I'm in the center of the world, or at least my version of it. (And I might have possibly been motivated by the super architecture that comes with this continent, on the side). I'm going to Italy tomorrow, and I expect to do nothing but read, write, drink, and eat, and lay on the beach, all, day, long.