Monday, January 31, 2011

Slowing Down Everyday Life:

As I get older, it becomes clear to me that some of the most beautiful ideas and events in life are some of the simplest. Some of the most interesting and exciting moments of my day are those whose emotions and surroundings never stop short. They persist and linger. Continuously revolving in and out of my life–allowing a constant visual flood of ever so slightly changing stimuli. Sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and emotions–all swirling, all the time.

What I note in myself these days is a constant need to break life into fragments. Be that through a short series of photos, or an obnoxiously long text that expresses one feeling–of one second–pulled through pages and pages of text. For all the interconnectedness of today, life still can move slowly. I enjoy that fragmentation of moments. I can also be deeply interested in movements, periods and styles of (mostly European and American origin), which in reality are microscopes on top of very small events and slivers of time in history. But the idea of a style or movement in itself is odd to me, too.

For a period of at least all of last year, and still to this day, I was/am absorbed with the ideas of the Situationists International from 1950-60s–most importantly, their idea of a dérive, which I used as the basis for some of the greatest self-initiated adventures in the city last summer and autumn (in the Jordaan). If I was going to walk around the city and let it lift and guide me subconsciously–why not follow a set of rules and give it a name?

Let's take a closer look:

'In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones...' Guy Debord, 1958

'The dérive (with its flow of acts, its gestures, its strolls, its encounters) was to the totality exactly what psychoanalysis (in the best sense) is to language. Let yourself go with the flow of words, says the psychoanalyst. He listens, until the moment when he rejects or modifies (one could say detourns) a word, an expression or a definition. The dérive is certainly a technique, almost a therapeutic one. But just as analysis unaccompanied with anything else is almost always contraindicated, so continual dériving is dangerous to the extent that the individual, having gone too far (not without bases, but then again) without defenses, is threatened with explosion, dissolution, dissociation, disintegration. And thence the relapse into what is termed ‘ordinary life,’ that is to say, in reality, into ‘petrified life.’ In this regard I now repudiate my Formulary’s propaganda for a continuous dérive. It could be continuous like the poker game in Las Vegas, but only for a certain period, limited to a weekend for some people, to a week as a good average; a month is really pushing it. In 1953-1954 we dérived for three or four months straight. That’s the extreme limit. It’s a miracle it didn’t kill us.' 

Ivan Chtcheglov, excerpt from a 1963 letter to Michèle Bernstein and Guy Debord, reprinted in Internationale Situationniste #9, pp. 38

The longer I live outside the States, the more interested I get in the world at large. And its history. I've noticed a stronger interest in the history of civilizations, lately, namely Dutch history and South East Asian history, with the rest to follow soon. Maybe that's the reason I'm so suddenly aware of time. Time can move so slow. But also so very fast. I'm coming to think that time is only an idea. Your hours can be full, or empty, of anything in the world, as long as you dream it/see it/(or) do it. And why fill your life with anything less than love and beautiful moments, at every moment of the day? I am really realising that no matter how fast we can globally communicate today, there is so much more to come in terms of technology and global interconnectedness in the future. Exciting.

I'm curious as to how humans will adapt to whatever situation they may find themselves in in 2,000 years from now. Too bad we can't find out. We're a fascinating creature, making whole markets, professions, crafts, and industries of out–nothing, if we want. We make our world go round. Artists and creatives have an important place in the past, filling in the lines between reality, life and survival, usually inscribed as a reflection of the culture of the moment. 'Art' always occupying a small sliver of 'history'. 

The longer I live in Amsterdam, the more interested I get in exploring the slowing down of selected events of my life, through various media forms. I'm not sure if it's the city, or life that's churned this interest to fruitation. There have been times when writing an online 
publication and I think to myself: this is so self indulgent. Why, why? But I like the fact that it slows me down, and forces me to reflect. It fragments my life through text through media. And I like that.

And so, I continue to wonder the world may bring, reading history of times gone by (The Embarrassment of Riches, about why the Dutch are so embarrassed of their glorious past), while living in the moment, immersed in environments that were conceived in the past (because buildings are never a reflection of the time, because they take time to build and are outdated before they're done), while reveling in the most beautiful moments around me.

About a month ago I locked myself out of the house. With no one was around to let me in, what was I to do, but dérive?

Friday, January 28, 2011

John does Maastricht (Again!):

I have regularly travelled to Maastricht for about two years. The first time I visited the city I had to ask myself (in amazement), 'Is this really still the Netherlands?' Turns out, it is. It's just so very different from the land of polders and windmills that I've grown accustomed to–that is, North Holland. Maastricht, is the opposite of Amsterdam. As are the people. And the architecture; here it feels 'heavy'. Those in the south of the Netherlands tend to enjoy, and flaunt, their ties and historical-cultural connections to ,Belgium, Germany, and nearby France. Chauvinism is perhaps the name of the game; the people here don't necessarily identify themselves as 'Dutch'. And I think that's so very strange. And while Maastricht is not my home, I do enjoy visiting. As the city, is quite quaint.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Now that the snow has melted...

I am totally ready for Spring.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Life as it Goes:

Moving to Amsterdam has been quite the experience thus far. Looking back, it's quite interesting how I arrived. I literally just hopped on the plane and said 'peace-out, America-land!'. And then I stepped foot on Dutch soil. If I look back at my first posts on this publication, I was quite the sprite-y guy upon my relocation. I had absolutely no idea what to expect upon landing. But I knew that it would amount to one big adventure, full of surprises, trips and travels, new languages, new people, new faces and new encounters. I guess you could say that I thrive off the thrill of the new–while simultaneously seeping in the memories and emotions of moments past. I just, really enjoy my emotions. (Update, May 2014: And I have come to understand that while they underpin most of life, they themselves are fleeting, while the actions that they propel, are not.)

I'm also learning that I, almost always, exist in some form of extreme. These are extremes of anything and everything and the highs and lows are both felt. I guess I enjoy that, but of course, the lows can fool you. I try not to let them. Because at the end of the day everything is ok. But what's the point of experiencing life you don't relish the emotions of it? It's sort of like sitting in a hot bubble bath–with the bubbles instead being emotions. You could say that's the one constant in my life–happiness. There's no reason for it not to be that way. And at the end of the day I did move to Europe to be happy. And I used to be so proud that I moved here completely alone, no lover, no company to support me and my move, or much of any material possessions along with me. I gave up everything and everyone I knew, for the Netherlands. I used to think that made me different than most expats. And in a way, I still think that makes my story unique. I moved to Europe alone and on a mission to enjoy life as much as possible. However, it would have been great to have a company transfer me to the Netherlands, for instance. Or have someone by my side to support and help me through all the challenges that moving to a new country entails. And there are many.

But I'm glad I did it alone.
In the end it only made me stronger.

It's always funny to read other expats publication. Some I love, (like this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one too–a recent addition to the Netherlands' digital publication scene). And others not. I find publication about 'how to move to the Netherlands' (or any country) a tad bit boring. I want emotion. What do you feel? I want (to read) that. This is not a 'how-to', nor a food publication  This I know. It's become a very visual publication, in some sorts. And I don't like that.

But if this publication becomes anything,
I hope it becomes a resource of information on Amsterdam.

This was originally a publication for me to share the emotions and imagery that constitute my life, with the world. And I think that it will stay that way for quite some time. This publication is an emotional purge. And it's good fun. Very therapeutic. And for anyone who's never visited this publication before (or if you want to look back), these are my favorite posts, so far: '

Amsterdam: I live here' (the beginning of it all)

I never really imagined anyone would read this publication. But according to my 'visitor-tracker', quite a few people do. A lot actually. From all over the world. And this always surprises me. But I'm glad that people enjoy reading what I write, and that my words can show another side of Amsterdam that most casual visitors to the city, would never see. Looking back it's not that I wasn't happy in America-land. But in my eyes–(following my desire to always exist in an extreme), happiness can always be amplified, now, can it not? I can imagine it's a bit like constantly chasing an unforeseen high. Because just high, is never enough for most. There's always another drink or hit, yet to be had. Another unseen state of ecstasy yet to be felt.

One of the many people that have walked into my life since moving to the Netherlands that I never could have predicted, is my boyfriend. (Update, July 2013: Husband!) With whom I have made a wonderful life with, in our new house, in Oost. (Or anywhere we would go or live, for that matter!)A life together that can, and will, only get better in the time still yet-to-come. And a life together that's full of love and happiness. And love, above all, is the most important thing. Is it not? For the past two years, I have been working (quite hard) for one of those small Dutch 'boutique' design studios, dealing with English and imagery, and I enjoy it. I enjoy editorial-ism, and the media. Work in Europe–especially, I think–in the fields of architecture and design–is quite desirable to have on your CV/résumé in American circles. But I am now over that stage of my life. I have no one to impress but myself.

And I'm so happy of my accomplishments so far.

My best friend told me before I left America, that if I moved to Europe, I would probably 'be there for the next five or ten years.' Five or ten years...

I'm now at a point in my stay in Amsterdam where it no longer really feels like a stay. It's more like my home. But then again my home is Amsterdam, and not the rest of the Netherlands. They are two different worlds–Amsterdam, and any other Dutch city. But one thing almost all Dutch cities share, is a sense of place. But then again I have to ask myself what exactly constitutes a home. Or more specifically, one's own home–my home?

The longer I stay in the Netherlands, and the more Dutch culture and daily life I absorb, it becomes clear to me that there are similarities to America in many aspects of life here. (Thanks, Marshall Plan!). And then again, many that are not. One is that, just like in America, you have those people who grow up, go away to university (or a local college), and then resettle in the same city where they're from, live life, marry someone from their hometown–or one nearby–and give birth to a whole new generation that will repeat the same set of actions.


This was never really my idea of a good time, and maybe it's because I'm gay, and because having babies has never been one of my priorities. Ever. When visiting friends in New York City during August–a few of them, just out of college, and fresh on the yuppie dating scene told me their stories of dating in New York City. After listening to their stories, it became a big more clear what separates the gays from the non-gays in terms of relationships (and this of course, does not go for everyone). Girls who are dating, simultaneously factor this question into their standards when looking for a mate:

'Is this someone I want to have babies with?'
Whoa. This had never even occurred to me before. Ever.

I have never judged a 'potential candidate' based off this criteria. And I couldn't imagine it ever being a factor in my life. Not that needs to be or is, for everyone, I'll repeat. (Because clearly not all heterosexual couples have babies, either. Just as not all gay couples don't have kids–some do.) But it was fascinating to think about at the time. I'm not sure if I'll ever have kids, but I think not. I enjoy my own life too much without having to care for a wee one. Selfish? I think not. No. This baby-mate-finding mentality also happens in the Netherlands, of course. and I'm always shocked. Especially because the Netherlands is the size of a matchbox. It's a big world. I've always known this, and have never been afraid to go out on my own and see it. I'm proud of myself for that. But now that I have my degree, have a a path set out in terms of my professional goals, and have ushered in the beginning of a new phase of my life, I find myself asking, myself, 'Am I where I want to be at this moment in time?'

I'm pretty sure the answer is yes.
But everything can always be amplified. Can it not?

Living away from friends you've known for a long time, as well as family, and having a whole new country, language and culture around you, can amplify aspects of life that shouldn't be amplified... If I were to juxtapose these tid-bits onto an 'imaginary-life' that I could be having in the States right now, that is. As of lately I have been day-dreaming about San Francisco. I lived there for six months and loved it. Almost moved back, in fact. Namely, I dream about how everyone speaks English and how easily I could make lots and lots of money there and have a stupendous life–complete with a granite counter topped kitchen, a car, and other luxuries of modern America. It's funny how Europeans often criticize America for many aspects of the way of life there. With most people though, as I have deduced, it boils down to intrigue and envy. I sometimes find myself intrigued and mesmerized by American commodities that would be considered rarities in daily Dutch life, and I'm American!

Funny how I moved to Europe with a romanticized view of riding my bike around all day, sitting next to beautiful centuries old architecture, while sipping a cappuccino by a canal or in the park. Well, everything I fantasized about Amsterdam, has come true. And then some.

The thing this: everything that I ever could have wanted o expected out of my life in europe manifested and materialized itself. Everything that I wanted out of Europe has already begun happening or has happened. Which is great, because that can only mean there are more great things to come that I could have never predicted or expected. Which, to someone who lives in a constant state of extreme, is, extremely stimulating. One of the most important, if not the most important aspect of my life in the Netherlands, is my boyfriend, whom I would have never predicted meeting in a million years. But I guess that's life for you–somehow it will always be hard to 'see around the corner'. Unless you have a mirror of course, but, hypothetically and metaphorically speaking, it's quite true.

I recently paid a hefty sum to have my Dutch residence permit/verblijfsvergunning changed, to being based off relationship with my boyfriend, rather than that of the studio. And that in itself marks the beginning of a new era in the history of my relationship with Amsterdam. I can now apply anywhere I want in the Netherlands and/or the EU, and work, work permit free. Meaning, I'm just like a Dutch person, as far as paperwork goes, minus the fluent Dutch, of course. But it's getting there!

In addition to moving to the Netherlands at the ripe old age of 22, I also started my first 9-6ish full-time salaried position. Starting your first salaried position, in any first world country, is probably a growing-up step of anyone's life. But doing it in a different country than your native one. One where the language and business customs are highly different than your own, is, at times, challenging. Especially when business meetings are fully conducted in a language you don't know fluently. That language being Dutch. At this point to truly make Amsterdam my home, I've gotta get down with the Dutch. I'm pretty good, but no where near fluent. I understand about 70% of the conversations around me. And I can respond! But the best part?

I can still, in my head, while being surrounded by Dutch conversations, say: no thanks! And turn off the Dutch, just like that. And be in my own little world. This is one of those unique traits of my character, and one I wouldn't have developed, had I stayed put in the USA. There, I would be able to understand almost everyone and everything around me.


Here in the Netherlands, I am amble to sit back, and take in a whole new world, each and everyday. Everyday my sense are flooded with a constant stream of (yet unfamiliar) visual imagery consisting of new objects, new shapes, and new colors, new words, and new people. And I like that. I like the constant culture exchange that I'm immersed within. I like always taking in new information. It forces me to be a stranger. I will always dream, and shoot for the stars in everything I do–while simultaneously understanding the people around me are just as important as my dreams, and that I have to keep two feet on the ground, at all-slash-most times.

The best part about knowing Dutch is the ability to: 'take-in-the-swirl-of-audio-around-you', and, 'hear-people-speak'. (Or we could just call this what it is and say that I now enjoy: eavesdropping, in a whole new way.

Life begins to feel a bit more homey and a bit more at ease with each passing day. Which is great. Because somehow, all my life events, have lead to Amsterdam becoming my home.

And that, is heel-super-mooi, leuk, en heel, heel lekker.