Friday, April 6, 2018

My Future & Frans Hals:

Today I cycled to Spui–a square in this fine city of Amsterdam; going through the Rijksmuseum’s tunnel for bicyclists, then passing Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, and Herengracht, along the way. As the sun sparkled in a perfectly cloudless blue springtime sky, I let the wonderful weather pull me toward Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum–my favorite magazine shop in all the city. Every Friday at Spui there is a book market, which is composed of about 20 stands set up by various antiquarians from around the city. It’s like a fabulous exhibition at a museum, except it’s outside, and the objects on display are able to be bought, and taken home with you. In 2014 I was floating through the same book market, as I waltzed from the former art history institute of the University of Amsterdam, on Herengracht, toward Rokin. I happened to spot a book on Frans Hals, which turned out to be the 1989-1990 catalogue, of the last major Hals exhibition, which took place in Haarlem, Washington D.C., and London. I would have no idea that when I bought that book that day, it would lead me to writing two MA theses on this most celebrated of seventeenth century Dutch painters. Walking through Amsterdam, as opposed to cycling through it, enables the experiencing of the city at a slower pace, literally. And because of that, new things are seen by the eye, that are not seen when passing the same places and spaces, on a bike. Today, while strolling through the same book market at Spui, I spotted the same book on Hals. In some ways I have come full circle from where I was when I first saw this book in 2014. When I found that book at Spui, and bought it, in 2014, I had no idea that it would lead me to spending the next four years of my life, contemplating Frans Hals within the framework of academia. Seeing that same book again for sale today, at the same book market, four years later, made me cement my decision to continue contemplating Hals, his paintings, and his fabulously mysterious family, for many years to come.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

What A Life:

It has been a very long time since I have actually written anything, for myself. And an even longer time since I have written anything on this website of mine, which, indeed I do still maintain. Since last writing, truly writing–about my life in Amsterdam–I made the awful mistake of joining Instagram. And now I spend far too much time scrolling through countless people’s lives, arranged in tiny grids of images and moving pictures. It’s seductive and engaging but, whenever I come up for air, after getting lost in Insta-land, I realize just how little I’ve taken away from the experience. I may have seen intoxicating images of nearly all my varied interests, neatly arranged for me to explore further, based off other posts I had previously engaged with. So far, Instagram has even shared a few clothing labels whose goods on offer fit my life’s aesthetic; so it’s not all bad. I have clothing I never would have had the chance to buy if I had never joined and interacted with others on its platform. Such a positive. What Instagram does help to do, much like magazines did in the past, is to help one create an ideal visualization of something, or of someone–including one’s self. Instagram is the ultimate tool to temporarily enter new worlds, try on new personalities, and equally as desired, discard those new sides of our selves, before we’ve ever truly adopted them. Because we never took the ‘new’ us we idealized out into the world. All this, happens in the mind. For me, it often happens while staring into my phone while standing in my living room. All this trying on of new shades of meaning in life; new ideas and new aesthetics; and most importantly, new people. Yes, this is what the superficiality of Instagram offers. But it’s also possible that the platform’s superficiality has depth, once connections are forged in the physical world. My self, my internal world, my inner me; he’s quite fragile these days.

I wonder how much of my self has been lost, by joining Instagram, and what new sides of it have emerged, since doing so. Much of my self has been lost, it feels. Somehow, the internal monologue that has always kept me going and made me love me, has dimmed over the past year and a half. And, I finally now know why.

Growing up, I remember learning about mental health, in elementary and middle school, where students begin to be exposed to social issues as parental emotional neglect, physical abuse, and even drug and alcohol dependency, by parents. When I look back to my memories of learning about these things, I can’t help but remember thinking at that time, ‘What… How… Why would a parent ever do one or more of these things to their children!?’ It just did not make sense in my mind, coming from the very loving, supporting, and emotionally healthy childhood. My physical, emotional, mental, nutritional, and creative needs were all met, and able to be openly discussed with my parents and extended family. No cobwebs. No dark corners. No pretending of what’s happening to our family, actually isn’t. Recently I have come into contact with all of the above named psychological disorders, through secondary contact with someone who has experienced all of them firsthand during their childhood. Only more recently did I learn, through tertiary voices outside of my own home, that the traumatic residue from those experiences, as experienced by the only other person living under the same roof as myself, were passed along to me. It has a name: Covert emotional manipulation. And unfortunately, it is completely invisible.

As an empath with a serious weakness for not asserting myself enough when needed–for self protection–I have, without even knowing it, experienced the prolonged dismissal of my emotions over the past two years, in my own home.

Once the mask is pulled off an abuser, it is difficult to see them and one’s self, and the relationship, too, in the way that it was viewed by both individuals within it.

I have, only since December of 2017, learned I am far too willing to stay engaged in conflict filled situations–because I have enormous amounts of equanimity. But someone with infinite amounts of this much valued of psychological state, placed in a room with someone who possesses little of it, will eventually succumb to the continual imbalances created by the other. It’s like a game of tug of war, with the ropes: one person pulls one end and the other person pulls the other. As long as the forced of the pull on both ends remains the same, the rope stays in tension. Within a healthy relationship, when two people of equal capabilities exercise their choice to pull on one end of the rope, a symbiosis will occur that, at the end of the day, ensures that each person on each side of the rope, remains standing. Strengths are equal; life is balanced. But what happens when the other person can no longer hold up their end up of the rope? And what if that person, doesn’t give you a warning before they realize they’re not going to be able to hold the rope any longer? What happens when they let go of the rope? Will I–one of the people playing tug of war–stay standing? Will the other person fall down? Is it possible that I might stay standing, even if the other person lets go, and gives no warning before doing so? Indeed it is possible to stay standing, I have learned. Just as it’s possible for the other person to let go of the rope, give no warning before doing so, fall down, and then… get back up and blame you for making them fall down. It’s also possible, that as the one who fell, slowly succumbs to mountains of unresolved childhood trauma, the blaming of that trigger for the trauma to have resurfaced, can be displaced onto the person who didn’t let go of the rope, to begin with. It’s possible that the person who remained standing, rope in hand, sees the situation as it occurred so clearly, that they do not let this blame be displaced onto them. An empath and a covert abuser, in such a situation; it is a recipe for disaster, in the form of circuitous conversations of empathy and blame.

I went dancing this weekend with friends. Around 4:30 in the morning, a friend leaned over to me and said, ‘You have such a sense of calm to you.’ I know that.

I am indeed that person who, when surprised the other has let go of the rope, remains standing, stoic, and calm, and full of equanimity. But I am learning that having too much empathy that allows myself to understand the actions and the choices of others, also comes with a lack of empathy for my own self. Rarely have I placed myself first, in the sense of first asserting my own needs, before tending to those of others. That is more difficult to do, with love clouding the equation. I must learn to define my own personal boundaries with others. Borders, are healthy.

But I can feel my inner monologue returning. Trauma tends to cut people off from their bodies, as a way to protect themselves from having to relive those memories of the past. Having only ever dealt with trauma once, in the context of a paper about the topic, inflicted upon Dutch cities by the Spanish in the late sixteenth century (hello, Haarlem!); I can now say with certainty: trauma is real, and invisible, and its effects on individuals and their psyches, lingers in the mind. Someone recently told me that I am a very strong person, for having experienced all that I have over these past few years, and not having a nervous breakdown.

1. I didn’t know it was happening. 2. I was too busy studying Frans Hals, to know. What steps then, do I take, going forward? Put me first, and Frans Hals second. It is time to put me first.