Sunday was day 0 in Amsterdam. I never count the day you arrive as a full day. You’re lost and disoriented, cars and trams beep, bikes plink bells at you, men seductively catcall in multiple languages, you’re surrounded by hordes of idiotic bumbling tourists, and you hate yourself for being one.
Stumble along on the sidewalk. Clouds of marijuana smoke explode in tufts from the mouths of eager testosterone-ridden men. They leer through the haze of the window and the weed.
Dragging my stupid suitcase, squeezing myself through narrow spaces between tourists, flattening myself against buildings to avoid bikes. I’m squinting into the sun and scuffing my sneakers on the uneven pavement. Bakeries are abundant and fragrant, and there’s music and movement everywhere.
I’m dazzled at this new, different city.
That feeling is reserved for Day 0. There’s none other like it.
Memories, circa 1995.
I had an “overactive imagination” that fed ravenously on anything mysterious or taboo.
I was morbidly fascinated by the true-crime and conspiracy programs my dad would watch late at night. I’d sneak out of bed and get a peek of the television; wide-eyed, I’d take mental notes about potential warning signs: creepy white guys and alien tracks were at the top of my list. Did you know that a distinctive stone is produced in the spot where an alien falls to the ground?
(I just tried Googling “alien leaves stone on ground where it falls on its butt” to find the original clip on Youtube. No luck.)
I would get a cold thrill when I heard the dramatic music of America’s Most Wanted. John Walsh’s composed newscaster-like persona told sinister murder stories with a detached, factual demeanor that totally creeped me out. I was haunted by the composite sketches and mugshots they’d display at the end of every dramatized murder re-enactment.
Immediately thereafter, I’d run to the bay window overlooking our front yard and rip open the heavy curtains to look outside. All I would see was the same orange streetlight glow reflecting off car windshields. Quiet suburbia. A little too quiet, if you asked me.
Thus was born the conspiracy-driven investigative fixation of my childhood.
I was ever-vigilant, on the lookout for crazed murderers in our suburban cul-de-sac. I also set intricate traps in my bedroom to thwart potential extra-terrestrial room invaders. Webs of yarn strung like a spiderweb, marbles on the carpet to make an intruder slip and fall, my toys placed with painstaking precision so I’d spot any slight disturbance or irregularity in their arrangement. The only intruders I ever caught were my poor parents trying to tuck me in.
Fast-forward to adulthood.
I’m a notorious fraidy cat. I don’t enjoy watching horror films, or any media with extreme, graphic violence. However, I’m still fascinated by grisly stories, true-crime cases, and creepy unsolved mysteries.
Hearing a true scary story around a campfire is way creepier than watching fictional dramatized storytelling on a big screen. A mental image is vibrant enough, and even more terrifying than someone’s attempt to visualize a “scary” image. Our imagination fills in the dark cracks with those terribly personal innermost fears, those secret things that take hold of us in our nightmares. Our own intimate fear triggers that make our pulse quicken and give us chills when we’re alone in the dark of night.
As for me, I don’t set alien traps or supervise neighborhood surveillance anymore. But I always lock my doors, keep my eyes open, and take an extra cautionary peek over my shoulder. Just in case.
I land in Japan. I’m 20 years old and it’s my first time outside the United States. I’m nervous, lonely, and feeling out of place. Realizing that I’m not sure who I am.
In due time, I am to learn that this uncomfortable feeling is what leads to growth. Unfamiliarity is exciting. I meet new sensory experiences, and a glimpse of my true self. I learn to welcome them.
Japan is where I discover the joy of solitude. I can experience inner calm, the joy of independence, and the freedom to follow my own rules. It has become one of the core values of my life.
Things feel stagnant. Unmoving. Static. Gray. My life feels like short bursts of excitement that punctuate my cycle of reality: home, work, home, work…
I scan the coming months in the calendar, biting my thumbnail. What do I have to look forward to? I live from crescendo to crescendo; I ride the upward crests, and feel exhilarated when I get a peek at what’s to come. I feel aimless when I don’t have that joyful anticipation.
I crave something different.
Oh, I recognize this feeling. Wanderlust. I don’t need to do anything drastic; I just need to shake off the dust and move.
Walking is moving meditation.
Time spent alone is truly free.
It’s okay to get lost, I know I’ll always find my way in the end.
Time to find a new notebook and book a train ticket. I’m already feeling more alive at the thought.
How much of what we do is dictated by this ugly feeling?
Shame on you, shame on me. Shame on others for making us feel weak, and shame on us for believing them. Shame on you for having needs and feeling vulnerable. Shame on you for vomiting your pain onto others and paying it forward. Shame on those who discourage you out of their own fear and intimidation. Shame on us for being blind to suffering, for choking down our words in favor of silence, for making mistakes. Shame on an education system that stripped you of the joy of learning and the faith in your own abilities, glossed over your needs, or never allowed you to nurture your talents.
Shame on us for dividing ourselves with invisible barbed wire.
Shame on us for being afraid of the Other, and clutching to Fear. For cannibalizing and self-dividing when, in fact, we yearn to find our place and some semblance of order in this hazy landscape.
When it’s now, more than ever, we need solidarity and love. Love for each other, and love for ourselves.
Long time no see! (Wokka wokka… Ugh, what a way to begin. Let me break things down for a minute.)
(Where have you been?) In response to that little voice in my head that masquerades as my conscience, I could say I’ve been occupied with schoolwork and my job (which is true), I could say that I’ve been out enjoying the seasonable French spring weather (also true), and I could say that I feel guilty for neglecting the keyboard all this time. This blog is meant to be my canvas, my own personal workspace to express myself and add my tiny droplet of a voice to the ocean of chaos in the vastness of cyberspace.
But that little voice in my head knows those excuses are complete bullshit.
No, there’s a voice that keeps me away from this space, which should be consecrated to ME and MY thoughts, a place where I can be as selfish or selfless as I please, where I should feel free to mold my thoughts into little pieces I can be proud of. My little blog entries that I can bottle up and send out into the ocean, perhaps never to be found or read, but that made me happy just to write them out.
That voice that I think we can all relate to. The voice that tells us that we’re not good enough, we’ve never been good enough, we never will be good enough. The voice that tells me it’s in my own best interest not to write, not to be myself, not to speak, because then I’ll be exposed, left open and defenseless against the barrage of negativity that I’m convinced is around the corner. “If people found out who I “really” was, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.”
Sometimes, it’s easier to pull away and hide from that big, bad world. I’ve got enough on my plate already, why try to practice an art and put my feeble attempts online, where there are endless hordes of sharks out there, ready to rip me apart?
The scary thing about practicing an art is that you never know if it’s good enough. There is no prescribed path, no sure-fire way to improve except to do it: to try, to fail, to learn, to try again, and continue as such until the end of the road. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from artists I admire and respect.
But every day that I don’t write, I feel like I’ve lost something irreplaceable. My fingers itch and little ideas float down into my brain, but still I prefer to rest invisible. Because over the course of much of my life, I’ve learned that to be invisible is to be safe. But I’ve grown more and more discontent with being invisible. It doesn’t have to be this false dichotomy between being invisible or expressing myself and being a disappointment, and therefore destined for rejection. For many of my almost-29 years on this planet, I’ve been caught up in the black-and-white, the this-or-that, the good-or-bad. Since I’ve come to France, I’ve become more interested in the rainbow of colors in between.
Will this post spur me into action? Perhaps not. I’ll leave this up here for my own future reference, at the very least.