Archive for January, 2009

17
Jan
09

The Neverlands

Straight On Til Morning by Amanda Visnell

I bought a goldfish this week. His name is Captain Hook.

This came about because I’ve had a bumpy time getting back into the swing of things while combating jet lag and yet another cold, so one gray morning a few days ago, I wandered into a pet shop and promptly decided that a small swimming companion might be just the ticket. In the past I’ve named fish after characters in whatever book I happened to be reading at the time, but I’m currently in the middle of two very depressing books (Richard Wright’s Native Son and Diary by Chuck Palahniuk). So instead, I chose a book that I hadn’t even realized I’d been reading so much of: Peter Pan.

Three-year-old Alex is completely and hopelessly fascinated by Peter Pan. And not just Peter; in fact, his most extreme obsession is with the relationship between Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile. He is at once horrified and mesmerized by the fact that the crocodile wants to eat – yes, eat – this man. He can’t stop talking about it. At any given moment he is either pretending to be the pirate or the hungry beast. All he does as Hook is say, “I’m Captain Hook!” and all he does as the crocodile is say “tick tock tick tock!” and pretend to bite me. Stunning performances on both counts.

This only began about a month ago. Tired of the previous favorite¬† – some awful Mickey Mouse book about alphabet soup – I switched his interests over to a lovely storybook adaptation of the Disney film. Alex was hooked instantly. And I, as though teaching him the alphabet, had him repeat the names back to me: Tinker Bell, Wendy, Mr. Smee… After the second read, he’d already committed to memory the names of every character and place. It got in his head. In the middle of totally unrelated activities, he’d randomly look up at me and say, “Where’s Captain Hook?”

Since then, his generous parents have also gotten hold of both the Disney DVD and an audio version of the original by J. M. Barrie. Now, my previous knowledge of Neverland and all its wonders was quite extensive due to my own earnest Disney upbringing – for example, I couldn’t stop singing “You Can Fly” the whole time I was in London with Big Ben staring down at me – but after the last few weeks, I now call myself an expert. And I am in no way complaining, only looking forward to whichever Disney delight he chooses next.

It’s funny, the places we end up that we could never have imagined when we were younger. I remember myself as a kid on the couch fixated by the mermaids and the children soaring through the air, or singing the soundtrack by heart, or standing for too long in the cramped line for the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, the one that lets you sail over Neverland and London in your own flying pirate ship.

Now I sit in the playroom of an old Dutch house on a quiet block lined with streetlamps glowing orange underneath the magic moon. A little boy standing on the furniture holds a tiny plastic retractable telescope to his eye and, his every nerve poised and tingling, announces that a pirate ship and a crocodile and mermaids are in the canal just outside. He can see them in the water. It’s all play, of course, but who knows? Imagination is a powerful thing. And although “all children, except one, grow up,” I’m sure if we all looked a little closer through our tiny plastic telescopes, we’d be surprised at what we might see.

When there’s a smile in your heart
There’s no better time to start
Think of all the joy you’ll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye

You can fly.

15
Jan
09

Who, me?

As I sit here in Amsterdam, the first month of 2009 quickly carrying on, I can’t help but contemplate the 8 months I have ahead of me – the 8 remaining months in my year of living abroad, of taking time for myself after college, of just getting away from my old life and trying something new and foreign, of doing the only thing that serves as an acceptable replacement for immediately entering the work force.

In other words: my year off.

When I’m feeling down, wondering what the hell I’m really doing here, I like to tell myself that I’m unique, that I’m doing something that most people don’t have the guts to do, and that the whole experience is adding valuable goodies to my character. And this evening, right in the middle of one of these half-assed mini personal pep talks, I came across one of those much needed reminders – the kind that drop in on you like bird shit – to stop taking myself so seriously.

So thank you, Christian Lander, for the reminder.

06
Jan
09

Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

A California flower getting an early start.

Our New Year’s celebrations have come and gone, leaving both tired nostalgia and brisk promise in their wake. I’ve never much enjoyed New Year’s Eve, always succumbing to the dangerous lure of high expectations only to be inevitably let down as soon as the clock hits 12:01 and we remember that it’s just another day. We’ve been told it’s important to get piss drunk and jump around shouting, lighting each other on fire, and trying to match the rubber smile of Ryan Seacrest as the enormous ball drops on the forgotten remnants of another year.

And after all this? The moment fizzles within seconds, our legs grow tired and our voices hoarse, and what are we left with? The crushing questions that come with any life landmark. The questions we all ask ourselves in some variety, as we settle down on the couch, the cold sidewalk curb or the foot of the cheap hotel bed, waiting glumly for the answers. As hard as we try to look 2009 in the face with determination and a newfound purpose, we all deflate a little under the pressure of New Year’s resolutions. Will I actually manage to finally pay off my debts this year? Lose weight? Take my vitamins? Stay in touch with friends and family? Participate in a healthy adult relationship? Give my time to charity? Fix up the house? Go to church? Read more? Learn another language? Find a cure for cancer?

Clean up the messes I made in 2008?

No wonder everyone takes January 1st off. It’s exhausting. And while I do hop on the self-improvement train with most others, I’m trying not to put myself under too much pressure. Perhaps I’ll take the suggestion my mom read in the paper and make a “3-month resolution,” reevaluating my progress in April. I’m being vague this year and vowing simply to take better care of myself. That includes a healthy diet, exercise, and strengthening my immune system, but it also includes babying myself when I see fit. I’ve spent 4 months taking care of other people, and it’s easy to forget yourself in a role like that.

And really, what’s so bad about an excuse to decide to better yourself or the world? Or even to think about it? There are certainly worse things than resolutions, but what I’ve realized I really love about celebrating the start to a New Year is the undeniable universality of it. Some may mark it on a different calendar day, and certainly there are varying ideas of how to celebrate, but everyone, all over the world, in every region and time zone, observes the coming of another year with significance. In spite of any painful disappointments or daunting resolutions, the one thing we can each stand up and say is “I survived.” Time has swept on with or without our consent; we may not be where we thought we’d be by this point, and we may not even be happy, but we’re alive. And we’ve been greeted by a new year.

After spending the holidays with my family in California, I returned to Amsterdam ready to take on what I’m sure will be one hell of a year for me. The first in my life that the majority of which will be spent outside California, and the US. The city here is moving on as well. Dried up, discarded Christmas trees litter the sidewalks, slumped on the ground like sleeping drunks thrown out of bars. It’s still getting colder in Holland, but the days already seem longer and brighter; and although we have a ways to go, I’m really looking forward to Spring.




"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
January 2009
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