Friday, August 30, 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

So This is Love:

I'm on a train to Maastricht, at this moment, and somehow this trip to the southern tip of the Netherlands always tends to send me into a state of total-tranquil relaxation. That is, when the train is devoid of people, as it was this morning; few people brave the train at such early morning hours, except myself, and perhaps a few others. Luckily, the early morning sun, and its nurturing rays, have gained a momentum as the day begins to become alive, as the sun rises higher above the distant horizon, made so readily visible by the vast expanse of polders laying just outside the slightly concave window, to my left.

As the summer winds down and slowly preludes to ushering in autumn, I'm beginning to feel a restlessness that comes with, I believe, growing up. The past five years of my life in the Netherlands has been so nurturing, insightful, and profoundly enriching–in regards to my personal development, and professional development, as well.

One of the most troubling points of my new Dutch life that I came to terms with after some time, concerned my daily schedule; upon accepting my first gainful employment offer in the Netherlands, my days were suddenly fully booked, every Monday through Friday, for more or less the key hours of each day–that is, from 9-18:00 (and often beyond). That's a lot of days. And a lot of time. And a lot of energy has been spent during those days, working for others, to make a living. Most of us are, in fact, working class; we work to make a living, as opposed to being landed gentry (a class of which I formerly fantasized about belonging to, should today have been set within the context of late nineteenth century England). But landed gentry I am not. And so the swirl of life continues, propelling forward as I often glance backwards; where am I, how did I get here, and what, exactly, is it that I wish to achieve? Goals, I find incredibly important to my mental well being; without one, it's difficult for me to score. What is it that I wish to achieve? I'm learning to respect what I have achieved, and to build upon that, moving forward.

At the end of the day, when everyone living now, is dead, including myself, and a new generation nervously (or is it anxiously?) grabs the reigns, directing their world's carriage, called Earth; I'm not sure that achievements are the driving factor of my life; what have I achieved that those taking the reigns will remember; what actions that I take now, will affect those driving the carriage later? The joy is in the doing, I've come to understand (thank you, Dominique Browning). Thankfully, I have, in fact, achieved most of what I had hoped to achieve, upon moving to Amsterdam. I was married in this stunning city, just less than two months ago. So then, this is what love feels like? Indeed it is. And I believe that Cinderella sang it best, when it comes to her understanding of what, exactly, love is:

So this is what makes life divine;
I'm all aglow;
And now I know;
The key to all heaven is mine;
My heart has wings;
And I can fly;
I'll touch every star in the sky;
So this is the miracle that I've been dreaming of;
So this is love;

The song, and its text, sends shivers down my spine. It was played at my wedding.

As the days begin to darken, the sunlight becomes weaker as the world turns. The wrought-iron and maroon painted lampposts that adorn Amsterdam's streets, have begun their flicker earlier each day, instantaneously igniting themselves into their state of graceful illumination. This whole performance of 'turning on the lights', is progressing at an alarmingly rapid pace. Every night, these same lampposts combat the darkness that falls over Amsterdam's streets. There is light, in darkness.

This weekend, tomorrow in fact, I'll be seeing another type of street lamp, just as I observed another today, in Maastricht. I'm jetting off to Berlin, again, for a housewarming party of a friend. Berlin: who would have thought that that city, or any European city, would have ever become such a commonly occurring backdrop for the succession of events–poignant as they tend to be–that is my life? Certainly, not me. Yet I should. It was my dream to move myself to Europe. And I did. Without anyone's hand holding my own. Just as Carrie Bradshaw states in Sex in the City: 'I wanted to be a writer, I made myself a writer.' I arrived in the Netherlands alone, on a mission to enjoy life, and done that so far I have. Except now, like Cinderella, I'm able to touch every star in the sky. I could have, if I reached hard enough alone, touched those same stars, before–I'm very capable, and I shouldn't forget that. But why touch stars alone, when the sparks that flower down from them, can flood those same skies, when touched by the same love that showers between two people?

Since writing the above text, about nine hours ago, much has happened. I am now sitting on a train between Maastricht and Amsterdam, in Limburg, and the train is currently stopped. Someone has just jumped in front of the train. That is very sad, in very many ways. Sitting in the first car of the train, I felt us hit something; the train screeched to a forced halt. A life is lost; and somewhere, tears are being shed. It's moments in life like these that offer to me a friendly reminder, every now and then, that there is much more to life than work, and money, and uncertainty; there is–I would argue more importantly–love, and family, and friends. Life is precious, and I'd like to keep living until I'm ready to leave. I'm not sure that I will be ready to leave, when that day finally comes; I'd like it to stay at bay, for quite some time. Hopefully, no trains hit me anytime soon; or busses, or bikes, or worse–cars. I'l be ready, when it's time.

Life is so precious. And I must remember to respect mine, and that of others, at all times.

Bodies are beautiful, and so is mine. It's taken me a very long time to reach this conclusion.

Looking back, way back, I distinctly remember a time, during my youth, in which I purposely ignored the mirror before me–disgusted and unconfident of the person staring back. Was that me, with the short hair and puffy cheeks? Why didn't the person before me, reflect the image of who I felt I was, inside? But who was I at that time? And who did I think I was? Who did I want to be? I didn't know, but I knew that fantasy, mystery, and theater were all elements of life that I loved. Without looking in the mirror, I let those who surrounded me, be my mirror, instead. My family and my friends formed my identity, if only for a short time. I was who they wanted me to be. Who was I to enjoy staring at my own reflection? Who was I to boast about my appearance? That person is still there, of course, deep down; the one who circumnavigates the mirror, slightly afraid of his own self, yet at the same time attuned to that self's self confidence. Most of my primary school years were spent longing to be who I knew I was, or wishing that I possessed the qualities of those around me whom I admired. Who, exactly, was this unfamiliar person before me? I now know. And once I inevitably mustered the courage to look into my childhood homestead's bathroom mirror–oversized and obtrusive as it was–standing there before me, was John. I didn't truly see myself, again, until the age of 22. I continue to see myself, the self that I am, and the self I have grown to love.

Lately I've been, once again, avoiding that self in the mirror, on occasion. Who is that person standing before me, I ask? But unlike my youth–which was filled with love, and happiness, and home–I no longer sneak a glance at that stranger in the mirror with contempt. That stranger before me, is me. But am I, now, the me that I wanted to be, during all the occasions that the mirror was there, yet I chose to look away? Am I now, today, who I wish I were to be then? Without a doubt, I am every bit of who I wish I were then, now. But who is it that I will become, to be? I'll have to continue gazing at my reflection, those both in mirrors, and my heart; they'll allow me, to see.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

Visserijdagen in Den Helder:

While in Den Helder this past weekend, the annual Virsserijdagen (fisherman's days) festival was taking place. Having grown up absolutely no where near any ocean (in the middle of America, to be precise), fish has never been a favorite food of mine–though I am slowly acquiring a taste for its many flavors. The whole affairs was a swirl of textures and colors not commonly occuring within my field of vision.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gardens in North Holland:

Last sunday I spent most of my day in a sunny garden in Den Helder, a small town located at the very tip, of the tip that is North Holland. When I wasn't in the garden, I was cycling alongside the ocean, at the confluence of where the sea meets the Netherlands. Stunning is it in its natural splendor. The natural world, and the gardens we carve from its foundations; alongside the actions that take place within these gardens; as well as the thoughts that tinker through their caretakers' minds when flitting about to make amends; are all reasons to garden. Gardening, is grounding. Digging in the earth literally loosens one up, as does pruning, as does watering. A connection is formed during this process between one and another living, non-speaking, entity–flowers and plants. Most likely this newfound passion of mine is very directly influenced by spending a bit too much time steeped in the pages of Dominique Browning's memoirs, both of which I have previously mentioned and both of which I recently completed. Poignant gardens are, when bundled with the stories they contain, a refuge for the senses. Every rustle of every leaf, every flower's uncurling petals–silent in their undoings, and every bee's buzz, add mystical layers to gardens throughout this wonderful world. What's often left unspoken, concerning gardens, is their nocturnal lives; just what exactly are all these plants up to, once the sun dips below the horizon and the fireflies come out to play? Den Helder, where the garden pictured above has been carefully cultivated, is in very many ways much less formal than, say, the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. Yet this particular garden is equally as charming as those flanking that expansive palace just outside Paris. Though grand it is, just in a slightly different way. Dutch gardens are, for all their lusciousness, an ordered overflow of greenery in which loose ends are often encouraged and even allowed to grow astray. There is no need to maintain a rigid order in all endeavors, within the gardens blanketing the beloved Netherlands. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

(the) Weekend:

The weekend came, and went, and sunny it was. Cocooned by the stillness of the overflowing flowers and grasses of my balcony, this past weekend was spent with my nose in a book. Or two books, shall I say. Gone were the oversized periodicals that most often consume my time on this balcony, and present were these two books. Both authored by the ever so poignant Dominique Browning, who just so happened to be writing about plants, and gardens, and life. I was hopelessly lost deep within their pages, alternating one for the other. One of the most wonderful aspects of writing and gardening, is the way in which they complement one another, unbound in their intertwining possibilities. Gardening is a metaphor for life, or so it can be, I'm learning. And as the garden grows, so too do its plants, and so too do I. It was in this very garden that the weekend hours slipped me past; the breeze drifted eastward and the clouds piled high in the air above. Within this tiny garden, my mind tends to expand, jumps up and onto the clouds rolling past, and suddenly, I'll transport myself to another world, one that I happened to create: a soothing oasis of clam within Amsterdam, my neighborhood, and my home. Transcending is my garden. A refuge for recharging, the garden has only now fully bloomed.

Monday, August 5, 2013

On a Hot Day in Amsterdam...

Why don't you: pull back your hair, and cool off, from summer's hot-hot heat?

Friday, August 2, 2013