I’m Tired Of Waking Up To A World On Fire

You know those pictures of cute little raccoons in big fluffy blankets? I feel like that raccoon.

So small, in a world so large.

Only the blanket is on fire and I am in a state of paralyzed distress.

There we go.

I’m finding it hard to write these days. Well, that’s not true, it’s more accurate to say “this year”. I’d been blaming it on personal issues in life, but I no longer think they’re the culprits alone. Yes, work has been hectic, with enough change and uncertainty to make even the most risk-seeking individual take pause. Yes, this means my mental fortitude is shakier than a game of Jenga played by black-out drunks during an earthquake.

But, it definitely doesn’t help that every day I wake up to some new awful thing happening in the world and go to sleep with the same grim outlook.

I’ve been trying to avoid the news, but it feels inescapable. Since the beginning of this year, it looks like we’ve gone from one terrible “once-in-a-lifetime” situation to a few terrible “hmm-maybe-it’ll-actually-be-twice-in-yours” situations. We started off well, with outright war breaking out at only a stone’s throw away. Just when I finally stopped being anxious about that (tuck those thoughts away, lock them up, then swallow the key), and then BAM, hits the news that we’re headed towards the next big recession.

Even if you rarely leave your house, all you have to do is go to the grocery store – previously what I considered a “comfort” activity during Covid lockdowns – to be hit in the face with how bad inflation is. Don’t worry, you will definitely convince yourself this is somehow a you problem, for not budgeting for the inevitable consequences of global instability.

Pair all of that with the difficulties that come with reintegrating into “normality”. Question: was the world always this fast-paced? I don’t want to go places or do things. Beyond the fact that everything’s become exorbitantly expensive, it’s tiring to meet with people and go to the office and do and do and keep on doing. I don’t want to do anymore. Existing is a challenge in its own right, and I was barely succeeding at that.

When I do choose to scroll on my phone aimlessly or engage in any other “mindless” activity to shut off my brain for a little while, I start feeling guilty for not doing. With so many potential problems creeping up on the horizon, it feels selfish to not do anything at all.

But, if I choose to be productive instead, my brain’s firing on all cylinders, with those same problems gnawing at the back of my mind, like a hamster trying to get out of its cage. Plus, am I then not just playing into the late-stage capitalist mindset that I should measure my worth by my productivity? The Catch-22 comes when I start debating with myself that if I don’t work towards making something or working on myself or exploring potential business opportunities, then how will I get through a short-term future of hyperinflation and shortages and and and… Oh, the cognitive dissonance.

Top all of these thoughts off with the knowledge that in the last days, I now know everyone and their goat’s stance on female reproductive rights – and I’m officially exhausted. Always nice to be reminded that a not-insignificant portion of the population doesn’t believe you should have rights over your own body. Plus, now I finally know what Airbnb’s stance is on abortion!

Even LinkedIn’s become an even bigger cesspool of unwanted opinions. A week ago I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which of my colleagues – past and present – see women as autonomous beings, and which see us as breeding fodder. How things change in a week’s time. Of course, I’m probably expected to keep this information stored deep in my psyche, never to bring it up in person. I wouldn’t want to come across as unprofessional, even though people are choosing to share their dehumanizing views on female reproduction rights on a professional social network.

All this to say that I don’t know how to not be overwhelmed. It’s a lot. It’s a lot that feels like a lot and I need it to be less.

I am but a sad little raccoon, paralyzed under a big, fluffy, burning blanket, trying to find solace in the fact that at least I’ll be warm at night.

Like what you see? I usually post less dystopian blogs where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

An Honest Tenancy Application To A Potential Landlord

Application letters are nerve-wracking, especially tenancy applications. Writing a half-page introduction that’s meant to persuade a person you’ve never met that you are equal parts capable and likable, is a nightmare to get right.

Because, up until recently, I was in the unfortunate situation of searching for an apartment in Amsterdam, I’ve had to write quite a few tenancy application letters. And because I’m tired of playing the balancing act of being both personable and respectable, I’m writing an honest one that more accurately reflects my thoughts on the subject.

Hi hopefully future landlady/landlord,

It feels weird writing to someone I’ve never met and being expected to introduce myself without knowing anything about you. It feels kind of unfair that you get to know everything about me and I get to know nothing about you. And yet, I’m still expected to give this whole spiel of why I deserve to pay your mortgage for you, only for you to possibly reject me without even an explanation of why you chose someone else over us, beyond their vibes being more of a match. See, if I knew you personally, I could mention the things that you’d like. I like a lot of things and we’re bound to have at least one of them in common so please, it’s only common courtesy that you’d help a girl out with a wishlist of requirements or list of interests or something.

All you need to know, really, is that I always pay my bills on time because I’m too nervous and overly-cautious to ever allow myself a late payment. That anxiety also extends to any paperwork or legalese. I’m correct about things to a fault, because the fear of accidentally doing anything illegal keeps me up at night. Not that there’s any track record that would substantiate this, my brain just likes to keep things exciting by plaguing me with irrational fear sometimes.

You also won’t have to worry about doing your landlord-ly duties unless the house caves in on itself. I hate confrontation, am known for never asking for help, and feel like everything is my fault, so if anything breaks, you can guarantee that I’ll fix it myself. My sense of responsibility brought on by misplaced feelings of excessive guilt and shame will make sure that your apartment is kept in tip-top shape.

Ok, ok, I guess I’ll tell you a little bit about me because that’s what’s required. The living situation, the jobs, the hobbies, all that. Although why it’s encouraged to include the last one is beyond me. You’re not planning on living with us and if I did have any potential un-neighborly hobbies like playing the drums, tapdancing at midnight, or screaming at the top of my lungs every morning due to the state of the world, I definitely wouldn’t share them with you anyways.

Don’t worry, I actually have quite boring hobbies. Growing up, I was the kid with her nose stuck in a book or the one doodling non-stop in class, and nothing’s changed since then. The most trouble you’d have because of me would be if the neighbors have sensitive noses and hate delicious cooking. I’ll probably tell you I love traveling, because it makes me sound more exciting, but really, I love being left alone at home more than anything else.

On to my living situation. I have a fiance, G, and he’d be the one living with me. Our story banks on getting people emotionally invested by saying we used to do long-distance and that he moved here for love, so I really hope you’re not one of those single people that hates hearing about happy couples. G and I are also international – we need to mention this because this letter is in English, not Dutch. While mentioning our sore lack of Dutchness, I can assure you that I am worrying about whether you’re one of those people that think expats and immigrants are taking over the city and that we should go back to our own country. Technically, I have four countries I could go “back” to, including this one, but it’s all a bit too complicated to explain and honestly, makes me sound anything but relatable, so I’ll forego that.

We also have two cats. When talking about my cats, usually I could go on for hours about them. If I knew you liked cats, I’d give you at least two or three paragraphs on them. But, because I’m not sure about your stance on them and I am aware they’re a divisive animal, I will refrain from telling you about my proto-children (yes, I am one of those). Instead, I’ll mention them briefly and joke about them being well-behaved. This last part is the only lie in this letter. My cats are dickheads because all cats are dickheads. That is why we love them.

To round off this introduction, let’s talk about work. Where G or I work is irrelevant to you. We do not have the type of impressive or fancy job that would impress someone’s parents. It is a boring office job with a vague title that sounds professional, but that doesn’t fully make sense to anyone outside of its sector. It is neither impressive in salary nor reputation. I have now learned that the latter also matters because in our last application we lost to a couple who were both doctors, because they were doctors. How were we supposed to beat that? Both of them healthcare workers during a pandemic? We never stood a chance. All you need to know is that I make enough to pay rent and afford the basics (and even some impulsive shopping on top of the basics). Also, I’m planning to stay employed for as long as possible, and it seems like my company has the same idea.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: why I want to live in this particular apartment. Here are the top 5 most compelling reasons I want to live in your apartment:

  1. I like having a home to live in. The idea of living in a home and not being homeless is very appealing to me.
  2. Your apartment is in the city I work and currently live in. I would like to continue working and living here. Also I am lazy and don’t feel like commuting, finding a new job, or making new friends anytime soon. I like the ones I have.
  3. Your apartment falls within my price range. I do not have a lot of money (see: lack of impressive fancy job above) and this city is expensive, so I am looking forward to being able to afford rent and food at the same time.
  4. Your apartment has a layout that feels like it was built with people’s daily needs in mind. It does not feel like it was designed by a chaotic 8-year-old in The Sims.
  5. Your apartment is available before I have to move out of my current apartment. See reason 1, re: avoiding homelessness.

All this to say: please let me live in your apartment. I’ll pay my bills on time, keep the place nice and tidy, and behave, I swear. Plus, the search is exhausting and I’m ready for it to be over.

Thanks!

Update since writing this after countless rejections: WE FOUND A NICE PLACE, Y’ALL!

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Apartment-Hunting in Amsterdam: A Day In The Life Of A Disillusioned Renter

Apartment-hunting in general is a tedious task. But apartment hunting in Amsterdam specifically, sucks.

If you’re looking to rent an apartment in Amsterdam, you’re dealing with sky-high prices, fierce competition, impersonal real estate agents, and inflexible viewing times. Unless you know someone who knows someone who can hook you up or you’re willing to pay an extra month’s rent to hire an agency to help out, you’ll have to get your hands dirty and accept that finding a place to live will become a part-time job.

With the lease to my current apartment expiring too soon for comfort, what started as casually looking for a new apartment to rent has turned into an intense sprint. To give you a taste of what this looks like, here’s some insight into the bleak state of the Amsterdam rental market.

7:00 – You wake up, and start checking your email for updates on new properties. You realize the email updates aren’t including all properties that fit your criteria, so you take out your laptop, proceed to be blinded by it because you never turn down the brightness, and continue looking.

7:15 – Have 24 tabs open with potential new apartments. Go through them looking for a decent place to live.

7:18 – Be confused about the listing that has the shower in the middle of its only bedroom.

7:22 – Be confused about the listing that states two bedrooms, but clearly shows one bedroom, separated by a curtain.

7:25 – Be confused about the listing that looks like it’s in a prison complex.

7:27 – Find the perfect place. Realize it’s only for residents that are 50+. For half a second, think about falsifying documents to age yourself up by 25+ years and learning how to do elderly costume makeup. Move on once you realize that’s too much effort.

7:45 – Out of curiosity, check how the state of the market is in other cities. Realize that in any other city, for the price range you’re going for, you’d get more than a pimped-out shoebox and a space that’s built with modern needs in mind. Remember you hate commuting and all of your friends live in this city and also you don’t know how to drive despite almost being 30, so you rely on public transport for everything. Debate starting your own company to work remotely forever and live in an affordable, well-laid-out home. Realize you’ve gotten sidetracked once again and continue searching in Amsterdam.

07:55 – Apply to the apartments that fit your lofty criteria: minimum one bedroom with a real door separating it from the living room, 50+ m2, under 1,700 euros, some storage space, with a balcony or garden, and pets allowed.

08:00 – Answer any emails from realtors because all the emails go to your email and not your partner’s, G. G has tried applying to apartments but you’ve both realized that coincidentally, your Dutch last name gets triple the responses his English last name does.

08:15 – Get ready for the first viewing of the day. You spend 30 minutes trying to choose an outfit that makes you look reliable but also helps you stand out. You settle on mom jeans and dad sneakers, hoping to invoke the essence of parental reliability.

09:15: You’re at Apartment #1. The realtor is 10 minutes late and you’re somehow viewing the apartment with 2 other couples, despite the real estate agent stating in their email that due to COVID regulations, only one person could come per viewing. Nobody else is wearing masks except for you. The agent does not apologize for his tardiness.

09:16 – You’re in the apartment. While you walk up to the fourth floor, you wonder why the Dutch, despite being the tallest nation in the world, decided to build the smallest, most narrow steps in existence.

09:20 – The realtor recognizes one of the couples. He stares at them and says: “still looking, eh?”, without an ounce of empathy. You have now unlocked a new fear.

12:30 – You’re at Apartment #2. Once again, you’re with another couple. The couple runs in and tells the real estate agent that they’re actually 15 minutes early for their appointment, but that should be fine, right? The real estate agent said it is. It is definitely not fine in your opinion, but nobody asks for your opinion, so you spend the next ten minutes shuffling around the apartment, avoiding getting too close to the other couple.

12:32 – The living room and kitchen look promising. You ask for where the bedroom is and realize what you thought was a roomy closet with a sink is actually considered the bedroom. You ask if there is separate storage since there is no space for a closet. There is not.

14:30 – You finally have some time to check your emails. Out of the 18 you applied to in the last couple days, 5 get back to you. It looks like a good day.

14:31 – The first email sends you to a site where you have to pay to apply for the chance to view the apartment. You do not apply.

14:33 – The second email asks if you can do a viewing tomorrow. You say you have a work meeting that overlaps and ask for any other time. They say it’s their only time slot and that if you can’t come, you’ve lost all chance of seeing it. Oh, and considering the state of the Amsterdam rental market, you should be more flexible. You wonder how they expect you to be able to come to a viewing at a moment’s notice while holding a well-paying enough job that allows you to be eligible for said apartment.

14:35 – You open the next email. It says there’s a viewing option for today at 13:00. You check the time and realize you missed it. You check for when it was sent. The email was sent at 12:43 today.

14:45 – After answering some screening questions, you finally have two viewings planned for the next few days.

15:40 – You’re at Apartment #3. Although it’s almost in another city, you like the apartment. When you ask them about the length of the contract, they remind you that the contract is only for 2 years max. because otherwise, you will have too many rights as a tenant. You shudder, dreading the thought of going through this process again in 2-year’s time.

15:52 – You check your email and see one from one of the agents saying that, unfortunately, even though the listing says nothing about pets and is an actual house with a garden in a quiet neighborhood, no pets are allowed. But, if you’re interested, you can come to the viewing. You email back jokingly, saying the cats are non-negotiable and you wish them luck finding someone. They email back reiterating “NO PETS” (all caps), but you’re still free to change your mind about the viewing. You email them back one last time, reiterating that you will not be putting your cats up for adoption for this house, but thanks for the offer.

16:01 – You receive a call about the apartment you applied to yesterday. You assume good news since they usually email rejections. You get your hopes up. You did not get it. When you ask the real estate agent as to why, they say it was down to the wire, that you’ve been great candidates, and it’s really nothing personal, but that it just came down to the landlord’s personal preference.

16:13 – It’s time for Apartment #4. This one is it. You’re happy you didn’t give up on the apartment that only had blurry pictures of the windows with subpar views. It’s been recently remodeled, the layout makes sense, and the rooms are actual rooms, separated by real walls and doors. On top of that, the real estate agent referred to you by the right name, asked you about your background beyond the tenancy requirements, and tried to crack jokes. For the first time all day, you no longer feel like crying.

17:10 – You run to the last viewing of the day, Apartment #5. You get your numbers mixed up and stand in front of the wrong apartment 6 doors down from the one you should actually be at for 5 minutes, before realizing your mistake.

17:13 – The landlord is at this listing. They see you struggling to open the balcony door for a good 3 minutes, that feels like 3 hours. They stare at you and mention they won’t fix that. They also mention they won’t fix anything else that’s broken or will break. You wonder whether they realize that part of a landlord’s job description is to fix the broken things in the apartment and not only to allow someone the privilege of paying off their mortgage.

17:58 – Get a call from a realtor. One of the apartments you applied to has already been rented out but, for a finder’s fee equivalent to one month’s rent, he found you a similar one – one that’s not even on the market yet! Without asking, he’s sent pictures to your Whatsapp. It’s the apartment you viewed (and rejected) yesterday with another realtor for free. You ask for the price of the rent out of curiosity. It’s 50 euros more expensive than the one initially quoted to you.

18:00 – The day is done. You go through the listings one more time. You start looking at what it would cost to buy a house. You quickly remember that you’ll never be able to save enough for a house because the prices are going up by 20% every year, so each year you’ll fall further behind because you spend all of your money on rent.

18:05 – Pour yourself a glass of wine and begin the application to the one place with potential. You try to write a convincing letter to the landlord, letting them know all about you, your life, and why you deserve to live in their apartment more than the eight other applicants. You attach all the documents needed and feel weird giving all your personal information to somebody you just met today, for less than fifteen minutes.

Oh, and be sure to have it in before 9:00 tomorrow. Because the Dutch love taking their time with everything except matters of real estate.

Positive update since the time of writing: the sprint was all worth it! We found a place! I might have aged seven years in three months’ time but we’ve got it!

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Realistic New Year’s Resolutions I’ll Be Making This Year

Adjusting My Expectations Based On My Overly Optimistic Resolutions in 2021

I love New Year’s resolutions. I love how, as a society, we’ve embraced the concept of reinventing yourself on what is essentially an arbitrary day of the year, allowing for you to be your ideal version of self for exactly one week… until you remember why you didn’t do any of the things you set out to do in the first place.

Before New Year’s, you’ve most likely spent the last weeks enjoying the holidays, eating, drinking, and lounging as much as you like. Because we live in a late-stage-capitalist dystopia where you’re nothing unless you’re productive, you’ve also most likely felt guilty about doing nothing. But no fear, the promise of the new year as a blank slate makes it all acceptable since you no longer have to be that person…as of next year, of course.

Having achieved none of my 2021 resolutions, I’ve decided to take a more realistic approach for 2022. This year, I’ve reworked all my failed resolutions of yore into something more achievable.

Instead of…

…shopping less, I will be buying more storage to neatly fit all the stuff I’ve accumulated in the last year, so that it at least looks like I didn’t buy as much as I did.

Last year, I made the resolution to go on a no-buy for the entire year. After 4 months, I caved after I realized none of my jeans fit me anymore and my options were to either fight with my jeans (and vanity) every morning, or swallow my pride and get a size that fits. I could have only bought the jeans, but once the no-buy was broken, the itch to shop came back worse than ever before.

Now, I am left with too much shit in the house. To combat this, I’ll be focusing on now buying all the storage accoutrements needed to make it look like I didn’t raid a tasteful flea market. This way, I can make my shopping feel useful and hide away the evidence of my failure in one go.

…trying out new healthy recipes, I will be making a Pinterest board of all the recipes I want to cook this year and proceed to forget about it.

They say being well-prepared is the key to success. What they don’t say is that the amount of time spent preparing can be as tiring as the actual doing. There should be a formula that calculates when you’ve gone too far in researching and planning, and are actually wasting time and energy instead of saving it. Proactive, hustling business students of the world, I’m leaving this in your hands.

By making a Pinterest board of all the healthy recipes I want to try this year, I can hide under the illusion of productivity instead of admitting I’m procrastinating. And because that took too much mental effort and I deserve a reward, I’ll just order some pizza instead.

…waking up at 6AM every day, I will be setting my first alarm for 6AM and subsequent alarms at every 10-minute interval until 8:00AM

2022 will be the year I stop snoozing. Instead, I am coming to terms with my inability to get up early in the morning on my own and relying on the power of peer pressure. I’m taking advantage of the fact that I share the bed with my partner and that eventually, I’ll either start getting up in time, or he’ll dump me for putting him through this. There are three ways I foresee this going:

Option A: the guilt of having to put my partner through an endless onslaught of alarms every morning will eat me alive and I will get up on the first alarm.

Option B: the fear that my partner will eventually leave me for someone less annoying in the morning will motivate me to jump out of bed from the get-go.

Option C: I end up single.

…no longer sleeping in on the weekends, I will be online shopping every Friday and Saturday – ordering stuff with next-day delivery only.

I’m taking the hotel wake-up call and bringing it home by unwittingly involving the Dutch postal service in this resolution.

Since we’re the first stop of the day, the delivery man will be my wake-up call between 7 and 8:30AM. Not only does the heart-attack-inducing buzz of the doorbell wake me up better than any alarm, but the sleep-fueled stumble to the front door to croak out a mumbled “I’ll buzz you in, please leave it downstairs” forces me to get out of bed.

Add on to that the panic-dressing to run quickly downstairs to get the package, before any of the neighbors kick it down the hallway, and there’s no way I can sleep in after that.

…no longer using my phone in the evenings, I will be only using my phone to message other people about how I really (but really) should stop using my phone in the evenings.

Misery loves company, and if I lack the self-control to get off my phone in the evenings, then I’m bringing everyone else down with me. There are few bonding experiences that can beat out that of sharing your failures with another human being who is failing at the same thing. And I’ll know they’re failing at the same thing the moment they text back.

In an effort to make sure I follow through with this resolution, I have prepared a list of riveting conversation starters:

  • “Ugh, I really need to stop being on my phone so late. I should be reading or something, lol”.
  • “Do you ever have it where you’re just scrolling through Instagram for hours and are like, what am I even doing on here, your lives aren’t even that interesting? Because that’s me rn”.
  • “Man, I’ve been trying the whole “no phone at night thing”, but am failing SO HARD lmao”.
And if all else fails, I’ve even prepared a relatable, outdated meme for good measure

…exercising more, I will finally give in to the trend of athleisure and start wearing my exercise clothes in public to deceive people into thinking I’ve been working out.

Since I don’t trust working out around other sweaty, possibly contagious human beings anytime soon and most at-home workouts make me paranoid that my downstairs neighbor will get closer to plotting my murder with each lunge jump, I’m giving up on physically exerting myself. In an effort to not let the workout outfits that have been gathering dust underneath my bed go to waste, I’ll be wearing them out in public.

Up until now, athleisure never interested me. Something about it screams “I think I’m better than you because I not only work out, but I’m so active that I make sure my attire shows you that I could sprint off into the sunset at any given moment”. Although I might be projecting, the air of superiority and put-togetherness of regular exercising is the only thing that attracts me to it. So, this year I will only be embracing the clothing while avoiding the hard work.

…learning the guitar, I will be shifting my daydreaming from being scouted, published, and unxpectedly becoming the author of a bestseller, to winning my first Grammy.

Is it just me, or has it felt like manifesting has been everywhere last year? Maybe the combination of the weight of 2020 with the brief moment of light in the middle of 2021 made everyone latch onto a concept that’s all about thinking things into being better. Well, an important step in manifestation is visualizing, and I’m hopping onto the trend by daydreaming visualizing myself being such a talented guitar player that I win a Grammy for my gnarly guitar-playing skills.

This will be disregarding the fact that I’m better at collecting dust on my guitar than picking it up, better at complaining after 10 minutes of practice because my fingers hurt too much, and better at not understanding chords, even if the concept has been explained to me by multiple people on separate occasions.

Nope, I’m ignoring all that and I’m relying on the power of manifestation to magically motivate me to become a God at guitar.

…keeping up with world news , I will be doubling down on my time ignoring as much of the world news as possible, instead focusing exclusively on the happenings of cute animals.

In 2021, we saw a glimmer of hope with the roll-out of the vaccine and the global lifting of COVID restrictions. For a moment, this year did not seem to be turning into the dumpster fire of the last, and all was good. Unfortunately, we’re ending it on full lockdowns in parts of Europe, increased travel restrictions, and a hyper-contagious variant that sounds vaguely like a Transformer (side note: can we start naming variants after Transformers instead of Greek letters? It might make this whole situation at least 21.7% more amusing).

Based on this, I’ve come to the conclusion that hoping has become tiresome and escapism is the way to go. In 2022, it’s all cute animal videos, all the time. Unless your news article involves a pair of unlikely furry friends, I do not want it.

New Year’s Day is the Monday of the year – magnified. You know how every weekend, particularly those filled with laziness and debauchery, you tell yourself that Monday you’ll be better? “I’ll start exercising…Monday”. “I’ll journal every day… from Monday”. “I’m eating healthier… as of Monday”. Monday is a magical place of promise, where you’ll become the best version of yourself. The self-disciplined, well-rounded version of you. Not the hungover you, who just ordered McDonald’s, and will stay up until 3 in the morning watching Emily in Paris.

Even if I never stick to my resolutions, I can’t stop making a new list of goals each new year. Prone to sentimentality, I’ll jump at any chance for a symbolic empty slate and a fresh start.

If you’re also a sucker for new years resolutions, let me know what overly-optimistic, unrealistic goals you’ve set out for yourself this year, and how you plan on reworking them for peak realism.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week (except for the holiday season it seems – usually I’m pretty good with keeping up with it, I swear) where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

Why Growing Up In A Small Town Isn’t Boring

Finally Answering the Question “What Did You Even Do For Fun?”

If you’ve ever grown up in a small town where nothing ever happens, you know what it’s like to have to get creative with your free time.

Until the age of 24, I never lived in a big city. My parents, ever the introverted hermits, loved being left alone, far from civilization. There were varying degrees of middle of nowhere. From a lack of paved roads with farmers as neighbors to having a playground to terrorize and a Chinese restaurant that we were pretty sure was a front for some illicit activity because no one we knew ever ate there, but no high schools or supermarkets.

Growing up in small towns in Europe in the early 2000s, meant growing up far away from the trend of helicopter parents who thought that children needed to be kept busy every single moment of the day. The statement “I’m bored” was never met with a suggestion or eagerness to entertain, but instead with a “What do I look like, a clown to you?”. Our Internet connection was as unstable as my slightly psychotic ex-stepfather’s moods and our TV maxed out at 10 channels – all public broadcasting, of course – with only two for children. While some channels provided the option to view the programming in English instead of Spanish or Dutch, this did not extend to cartoons.

My siblings and cousins did our best to fill our free time with creative and chaotic activities that I’ve only realized in retellings during adulthood were maybe a little strange. Here are the highlights.

Find the source of the river

The premise of this game was simple: we live next to a river, therefore we must explore the river. Because neither my brother nor I paid much attention in geography and had little to no understanding of how far away it could be, we were convinced that if we followed the river upstream, we’d eventually find its source.

Every weekend, we’d take our German Shepherd and Boxer mutt with us for protection in case of wild boars – an actual threat to be wary of – and head off to the river bed. If we got hungry, we’d eat the blackberries growing everywhere. If it got too hot, we’d jump fully clothed in the water to cool off. On two occasions we were chased by river snakes, leading to a cacophony of panicked screeches echoing across the valley.

Parts of the riverbed were dry, which made for easy trekking. We’d hop from one patch of dry riverbed to the next, dogs trailing behind us. Bamboo grew on the sides, framing the river, making it even more secluded. The bamboo turned out to be multipurpose: they made great walking sticks and impromptu dueling swords.

Unsurprisingly, we never reached the source of the river, although in our tiny child brains it felt like we were close. This was definitely not the case because in reality, the source was a 23-hour walk and 117 kilometers away.

Dirt track racing (for kids!)

When my little sister and cousin each turned three, they were gifted a motorized plastic car they could physically ride, each. They never got to play with them though, because my older cousins found that it was much more fun to use these cars to propel themselves all the way down a steep dirt road.

Always the worrier, I proceeded with caution. There were enough reasons to be worried. There was only one place to safely stop the car at the end of the road. Thorn-filled blackberry bushes flanked both the sides and the end of the slope. And if you avoided these, you could still drive straight into the river. All this, with your only brakes being your own two feet. Considering this was early summer in Spain, this meant shorts, tank tops, and flip flops so forget about padding.

We’d race each other to the bottom, purely for bragging rights. By the end of the day, our shoes were covered in dirt, tiny thorns sticking out our arms and legs, and half of us were caked in mud, hair dripping. We did not succeed in avoiding any of the obstacles but kept on going at it, again, and again, and again.

Unfortunately for us (and fortunately for the neighbors hearing our shrieks of joy for hours straight), we had to stop once the toy cars got trashed. Once steering wheels began disconnecting during descent and wheels falling off, we accepted it was time to let go.

Corn wars

To this day, nothing has given me as big of an adrenaline rush as that prepubescent scream of “DE BOER!” (“THE FARMER!”) rippling across the cornfields during a heated corn wars battle.

Corn wars combined “capture the flag”, with the potential wrath of a disgruntled Dutch farmer, and the heavy bruising of paintball. Far away enough that the adults couldn’t see what we were doing, but close enough that if we got into serious trouble we could run home, the cornfield was the perfect battleground for our ragtag group of neighborhood kids.

To get into the cornfield, all we had to do was hop over the waterway next to the bike path. Once in, we’d split up into two groups, make a base each by patting down the corn stalks, and stockpile the rest of the corn as projectile weapons. From there, it was divide and conquer – half roaming to capture the other’s base, the other half ready to defend it. In a rudimentary and brutish effort to echolocate where the others were, corn would go flying in the air until you finally hit something. If you followed the “OWWW!”, you’d find your enemy… or your ally, it was hard to tell who was who.

The farmer found out what was happening after the first few editions of the corn war. Understandably, he was not thrilled with us turning his crops into a playground and would chase us out. We’d dart in every which direction, like rats being smoked out of a cellar, trying to catch your breath because you couldn’t stop laughing as you ran. That sort of delirious laugh you get as a kid when you know you’ve done something naughty and are on the verge of getting caught.

Years later, when talking to the adults about the corn wars, they confirmed that the farmer did confront them, trying to convince the adults to punish us. Unluckily for the farmer, the reason they didn’t stop us is that many of them had dealt with the same farmer when younger, during their own corn wars. Apparently, we weren’t the first generation to duke it out by chucking corn at each other.

LEGO creations and invoking the wrath of God

Not all our activities had an element of danger to them. On rainy days you had to find what to do inside, and sometimes you’d already read every book in the house. For times like those, LEGOs were a surefire hit.

My brother and I were always making up characters and stories. Instead of building the LEGO kits as instructed, we made strange dog-inspired characters who went on a myriad of adventures. Of these adventures, I only remember two details:

  1. One of the characters we made had legs that were too tall and skinny, making him too fragile to play with after we built him. Instead of redesigning the character, or inventing any other excuse to keep him in the story, we murdered him in a ski accident instead.
  2. We had so many characters to keep track of at one point (a good 36) that we killed them all in a freak accident. This freak accident was caused by God wiping them out, as well as their entire world.

God was our Deus Ex Machina. A beat-up Husky plushie with scratched-out eyes that we’d stolen from our older sister that doubled as an erase button. Any time we thought that the story was becoming too complicated, instead of paring it down, we’d smash God into every character, effectively murdering them all.

This was around the time we were foraying into becoming Jehova’s Witnesses and our understanding of God was not per se as a benevolent creator. Morality did not play a part as to why this big reset would happen. Rather than taking the lessons learned during the congregation sessions to create a just and fair God, we thought it much more convenient and accurate to have a random and chaotic one, guided more by whims than morals.

Both of us grew up to identify as atheists.

Filmmaking savants

Hollywood’s recommendation to “never work with children or animals, if you can avoid it” doesn’t apply when you’re halfway through the summer holiday, running out of ideas, and are a child yourself.

The summer we became filmmakers was a grey and bleak one, like many Dutch summers. We’d cycled through the usual card and board games, even coming up with new ones, but needed more. As a last-ditch effort, we asked one of our parents if we could borrow their camera and they relented. Over the next weekend, we’d gather the rest of the neighborhood kids to film “Twinky Gets Kidnapped”. In this riveting tale, Twinky, my cousin’s dog, has been kidnapped by an unknown entity and needs to be rescued. Despite what started off as a straightforward plot, we had a vision that descended it into chaos. We had plot twist villains before Disney was pulling plot twist villains, and tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaks.

This was also the first time we tried our hand at video editing, without actually editing the video through a computer. In a now-iconic-amongst-the-family scene, the villain and hero were negotiating how much the ransom would be. We sat each character in a different room and ran back and forth, filming their parts one after the other. No re-takes. We thought we were film geniuses. Only once we played it back, we realized half the dialogue was cut off. Instead of “one million euros”, the new answer to the question “How much do you want for her” was just “-euros”.

By the end of the filming, we all got bored with the script and ended up improvising most of the last scenes, including a sprawling fight scene and a song break. That video still exists somewhere in my aunt’s storage and we talk about it often. Part of me wants to see it, while the other hopes it never sees the light of day.

For years, I hid these stories because I wanted to fit in, to be normal, to have regular childhood experiences – whatever those were supposed to be. Experiences like going to Starbucks with your friends or to the mall to kill time or having sleepovers where you watch scary movies and try to stay up all night. Ignoring the fact that even as an adult I hate scary movies, all-nighters, being too long around fluorescent lighting, and think Starbucks coffee never tastes right.

As an adult, I’m happy I had the hands-off, learn-to-entertain-yourself childhood I did. We weren’t always technological Luddites. We still watched cartoons and played shitty Flash games, but we weren’t pawned off or pushed in front of a screen by the adults. They didn’t plan out every second of our day, to make sure we were kept busy or productive. If we were bored, we were responsible for figuring out what to do ourselves.

That might mean you end up scraped, bruised, running away from river snakes, or questioning God.

That might also mean making great memories, a lesson or two learned, and one-of-a-kind stories to share later on.

Like what you see? I post a new blog every beginning of the week where I talk about… whatever THOUGHT interests me that week. Expect a bit of books, travel, beauty, life lessons, and taking pop culture way too seriously.

I’ve Never Been Good at Sticking with Things: The Lifecycle of an Abandoned Hobby

As you get older, you begin to accept parts of yourself that you used to be delusional about. At the ripe old age of 26-going-on-27, I’ve already come to understand a few things:

  • Bangs in any way, shape, or form do not look good on me,
  • I will never be the “chill girl”, because I have never been chill for a second of my life,
  • And I have never been, and probably never will be, good at sticking with things.

I could blame the last one on an inability to stick to routine, an ego that can’t handle not being perfect at everything immediately, or an attention span that rivals that of a coked-up squirrel. But instead of taking responsibility for my actions, I’ll just blame my parents. It’s their fault for being too supportive of their children, encouraging us to be independent and take ownership of our hobbies. Instead, they should have been over-invested in what we were doing and set up unrealistic expectations that we’d never meet. Like normal parents.

Despite this dilemma of nurture or nature, the result is the same: I have more abandoned hobbies than I can even list. While I can’t remember each reason for picking them up or why I abandoned them, at this point, all I am sure of is that they all go through the same cycle.

Phase 1: The Epiphany

It starts innocuous enough. Your friends are doing cartwheels around the schoolyard and are talking about the new gymnastics class they all signed up to. No, you watched a YouTube video on nail art and realized you can walk around with ladybugs on your nails all the time. Wait no, your sister came back from her tap-dancing class in a leotard and tap shoes and oh look, everyone’s looking at her, and doesn’t that look really fun?

And then the thought creeps in….

“I could totally do that.”

Phase 2: The Honeymoon Phase

You’ve now done it a couple times and it feels a-ma-zing. You’ve convinced yourself that this new thing you’re doing is going to change your life. The stars have aligned, and you’ve finally found your calling.

Although you’ve just started – or not even that yet – you’ve already told every person you’ve met about the new coding app you bought (even though just the thought of anything too detail-oriented and logical makes your eyes glaze over) or shown them your brand-new rollerskates (even though you’re terrified of going faster than walking speed or doing any tricks without at least 7 layers of padding on first).

It’s all uphill from here, bay-bay!

Phase 3: The Struggle

It turns out to be good at things you have to actually be consistent… and slog through the rough parts… and you’ll probably most likely suck in the beginning. And it turns out you won’t be an amazing superstar/professional athlete/X-games winner/yogi instructor/coding genius after a month.

Although this happens every time, you are both shocked at how hard things can be and disappointed at the lackluster results. This time was supposed to be different. You saw how it was all supposed to play out (ending with you being awesomely amazing at everything, naturally), and now see your half-baked dreams slipping through your fingers.

And all you have to show for it is a malformed vase your ten-year-old hands made in a community center basement, surrounded by sexagenarians.

Phase 4: The Bargaining

You know what? Who even has the time and energy to do something every few days for a limited amount of time to get better at it? What do you mean spending an incessant amount of hours in a short time isn’t sustainable?

You’ve tried to see it through and still, things don’t seem to be getting much better. Your fingers still hurt from playing the guitar those three times for like 15 minutes and you’re still unsure if you’ll ever be able to pick and strum at the same time. Ignoring the fact that every 20-something year old guy with a beanie can do it, you’ve convinced yourself that people who can do this must be multi-armed wizards.

And since you’re not an appendagely-gifted wizard and honestly, it’s getting kind of boring, you quietly give up.

Phase 5: The Shame

Here’s the thing with quietly giving up: it doesn’t really work when you’ve announced to the whole world that you’re seriously – but like, seriously this time – taking on a new hobby. That unlike last time, this time you did the research and bought all the right stuff for it. And yes, I know I quit the other thing but this time I made a PLAN.

You want to disappear as soon as someone starts asking about how your YouTube channel’s going and when you’re going to post your next video on how to quit shopping for a year. You want the Earth to swallow you and the over-stuffed Zara bag(s) hanging on your arm. But since it won’t, the best thing to do is just accept the shame, own up to your flakiness, and mumble something about a completely unrelated topic to distract them.

Plus, I just saw this other thing that it turns out I really want to do, and I think I could be really good at it? And if I was doing the first thing I just gave up, I’d have no time to do this new thing! I’m not actually giving up, I’m just prioritizing. Look! I’m making a plan and everything!

Was this entire blog a long-winded way to say that I hope this lasts but that my track record isn’t exactly stellar, so please, set your expectations accordingly? Maybe.

But hey, a few things have stuck along the way. I still make art and love to read and even write every so often. You try so many things out, something’s bound to stick.

Let’s hope this one does too.