Posts Tagged ‘Change


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.


Fear of the Unknown

Well, here it goes: in exactly three weeks I will be on a plane to Amsterdam. Where I’m moving. Alone. For one year. To be thousands of miles from anyone I know. In a city with a lot of rain. I sound excited, don’t I?

Now the news is on the internet for public view and has become official. I keep thinking that new developments in the planning process make it more officially official – first it was the job offer in mid-July, then it was sharing the information with friends and family, then it was the flight reservation, and now it’s the debut on my blog. When the news hits Facebook, there’s really no turning back.

If I sound at all like I’m staring doomsday (or, as I like to call it, September 5th when I depart from SFO) in the face, I apologize and ask that you withhold judgement. Exactly one year ago as I was preparing for my semester in Italy, I felt and behaved in precisely this way – except worse. I was depressed and cried for several weeks, imagining a new possible catastrophe every day and assuming all the worst. People probably thought I was getting ready to jump into a fiery volcano rather than spend three and a half months in one of the most popular destinations in the world doing nothing but eating and learning and exploring. But this is simply how I am.

When I graduated and moved away from college (see post: “Coming Full Circle”), I told a few people that I felt like I’d been given a death sentence and was being forced to say my final farewells in the time I had left. I believed I’d never see most of the people there again and kept saying things like “have a nice life” and “nice knowin’ ya,” with only partial sarcasm. In other words, I’m a little bit crazy. But come on, who isn’t? It’s just that I am very nostalgic and get very attached (see post: “Hold for a few breaths”) and have an exceptionally difficult time leaving people and things behind.

But I know it’s what I’m supposed to do right now. And I know it will be great. Every rational molecule of my little-bit-crazy being says that this is the best thing for me, that nothing but good will come from it, and that I will change and grow in positive ways that I can only begin to imagine now. Despite this, I am sad and scared and irritable as my departure date approaches.

This is rooted in my intense love for the life I’ve had thus far, and for an almost debilitating fear of the unknown (though it hasn’t stopped me from doing anything yet). At the end of my time in Italy I thought I’d moved past this silly habit of freaking out every time I experience a positive transition in my life. In December I wrote this in the last post of my travel blog:

…when I’m reading a book, at the start of a new chapter I always flip to the end to see how many pages it is, to see just what exactly I’m getting myself into. But, while I still do that with every book I read, I no longer feel that I have to know how something in my life is going to happen, no longer submit to the anxious need of a clear picture and understanding of what I’m about to do.

Yet, here I am – sad to say goodbye to what I know, and afraid to say hello to what I don’t. My only comfort (and it is enormously comforting) is the knowledge that I am going to live with what I can already tell is a wonderful, loving and interesting family in a place with everything to offer and that I’ll have the opportunity to make a positive impact on their lives (and my own, of course) as an au pair. Just as my trip to Italy turned out to be pretty much nonstop bliss and allowed me to grow and mature unlike anything else had before, I know that this year will surprise and delight me in ways I can’t even predict, that it will certainly be my greatest adventure yet.

Plus, I’ll learn a few things, which is always solid incentive. The other night I went to Barnes and Noble in search of a phrase book to begin learning my Dutch. I couldn’t find anything on the shelves, so I approached the info desk to ask a helpful and knowledgeable employee. The conversation went like this:

“Hi. I’m looking for a Dutch phrase book.”

“OK. So…Danish?”

“No, Dutch. Ya know, the Netherlands?”

“Right, but in terms of the language, you want Danish?”

“Um, no. Dutch, like I said. Dutch is the language.”

They didn’t have anything; next time I’ll take my business to Borders. So, if I get absolutely nothing else out of this experience (which I know won’t be the case), at least I can be happy with the knowledge that I will never, ever be a stupid girl working in a bookstore who doesn’t know that Dutch is a language and that it is spoken by people who are Dutch.

And that will soon, with a little courage and a lot of practice, be spoken by me.


Check back often for posts on my adventures; I’m more than happy to help anyone live vicariously. Look under the Amsterdam category and by all means, leave me a comment.


Hold for a few breaths, and release

Last night I attended a stretch yoga class and the instructor talked to us about the problem with having attachments. Apparently, yoga maintains that having attachments is the greatest source of suffering. The practice emphasizes the process of letting go of our attachments – to things, ideas, people, even time – so as to avoid clouding the ‘true self.’ To be in constant awareness of our attachments means to more easily allow them to weaken, to dissolve. In fact, it’s more than merely letting go; yoga teaches us not to take hold in the first place.

I couldn’t help but relate this to everything in my life that I am in the process of detaching myself from (with more than a little suffering). I’m not doing this to de-cloud my ‘true self’; I’m only doing it because I’m soon moving far away, and I have no choice. As a result, I am suffering. Our most intense and profound attachments are those we have to other people. So when those attachments break for whatever reason, we experience the most intense and profound suffering.

This is a suffering I would rather not go through if I can help it, and if letting go of attachments is the way to do it, I’m willing to try. I haven’t had much luck so far. I try to imagine myself having fun and doing exciting things in the coming year – which I am able to do with relative ease – but when I try to imagine doing them with other people, I freeze and the whole image crumbles. I realized that it’s impossible to imagine the people with whom you will be friends with and the kind of relationship you might have before you even know those people exist.

I can tell myself a million times that I’ll make friends – which I’m sure is true – but it won’t mean anything to me until I meet them. So until that time I will have to do my best to weaken the attachment I currently have to those around me, make my peace with leaving them behind for a while. And when I make my new friends, I can hold onto them just tight enough, but try to remember that at a certain point it will be time, once again, to release.

"Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost!" -Henry James, The Art of Fiction
January 2019
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