Getting Older

My birthday is in a couple of days. Last year I turned 30. Although I was for the most part pleased to have reached this point in adulthood and, quite frankly, just to be alive, I must admit that I experienced a slight emotional crisis at the time.

Throughout my life, all the way through my 29th year, I put so much pressure on who I should be and what I should have accomplished by the time I reached my 30s. Married – or at least with the man I would marry. No children necessarily, but the groundwork for a family should have been laid. Established in my career, with a significant savings adding up. Own some type of property, or at least seeing it as a possibility. And living in a place I considered home. Not very many of those things were accomplished on the day before my 30th birthday. I’m lying. None of those things were accomplished. Not even close.

Let’s just say I was experiencing perpetual singledom, it having been 3 or 4 years since I had been in a relationship (depending on how/who you count). The angst of living in NYC had already emerged, so I knew I wouldn’t be staying forever. Not too long before, I realized that my job was not my career – great job and a career for some, but not my career. And savings? Not even worth mentioning.

Due to the (somewhat inexplicable) pressure I had put on myself, I reached 30 feeling like I was failing, not doing the whole life thing right. I wasn’t getting what I thought I wanted. And instead of simply revisiting and revising the goals I set, I punished myself. I was dreading my birthday, feeling sad and frustrated. The funny thing is that I frequently find myself complaining about overly ambitious goals for my job, questioning why the organization doesn’t take a step back to reevaluate what’s possible, what’s not likely, and what’s just not necessary. Too bad it’s harder to see the unreasonableness when I’m doing it to myself.

Leaving the country for a vacation on my birthday helped me cope with these feelings. Everything else can be going wrong or feeling impossible. But as long as I have an opportunity to get on a plane and be somewhere beautiful, there’s no way I can deny my good fortune. Last year it was Jamaica. And it was wonderful. All of those concerns about what I wasn’t accomplishing were temporarily suspended as I focused on catching up with friends and getting a tan.

And it was actually in Jamaica, brainstorming new ways to approach life, that I was inspired and motivated to make my idea of moving to Amsterdam into an actual plan. When discussing the unrealistic, silly idea that had recently been crossing my mind, I decided it wasn’t so crazy (with the encouragement of friends who also have nomadic spirits, of course).

Why not set goals that excite me and that I can control? Who says the life I see other people living at the age of 30 is the right life for me? The path I had been on had become so muddied with self-pity and regrets, it was time to find a new one anyway.

So I spent my 30th year trying to put some legitimate plans in place, with less focus on finding a husband and not forcing my current job and city to be the sum of my future. In all honesty, I was derailed and distracted one or two times by boy situations (it’s hard not to revert back to that old wishlist when I think I might have a chance at living that life I originally imagined). But the revised focus has definitely been a step in a very positive direction.

So here’s the deal: a year has passed and as I approach my 31st birthday, I’m sitting in the Dallas airport waiting to board a flight to Mexico. The desire to get away and experience beauty (and warmth) on my birthday still follows me. And I can’t pretend that the unsettled feeling and now 4 or 5 years of singledom doesn’t still bug me. Because it really does bug me. But instead of fighting it, I’m just recognizing it for what it is: a messy and imperfect process of living. I have left my complaints and frustration in NYC to be dealt with at another time. For now, I’m allowing myself to enjoy this escape and giving thanks that I have the ability to escape on yet another year. And hopefully in my 31st year, I’ll see this newer goal of moving to Amsterdam become a reality. Who needs a husband and a house, anyway? I hear it’s all more trouble than it’s worth.

The Waiting Game

The waiting is what’s awful.  Waiting for someone else to make a decision that could potentially drastically change the course of my life.  And I have no control.  I’m just sitting here waiting, pretending like it’s not on my mind.

I’m expecting and hoping to receive a decision from the University of Amsterdam in March.  Judging by how quickly January has gone by, the time may pass in a painless way.  But it feels so far away.  So freakin’ far.  Far enough for me to imagine I may crumble into an anxiety dust ball (whatever that may be) before March arrives.  No, I’m overstating it.  But it is a crappy feeling.  For so long the application was within my control.  I may have procrastinated and wasted tons of time.  But that was my choice.  Now, I have no idea how long it’s going to take or what’s happening over there during this waiting period.

Once I dumped all of it into the mailbox, I turned over my fate.  Nothing I do now can have any impact on the decision.  There’s no interview, no follow-up questions.  It’s similar to the feelings in high school when waiting for the letter in response to my early decision application (I also fell in love with one school in that case) and college when waiting for decisions from law schools.  But there are two big differences this time around: first, I’m not going from school to more school.  It felt like I was entitled to more school the first two times.  But now I’m the old lady in the mix, walking away from a job and trying to re-enter an entirely different world.  Way more anxious this time.  And second, I’m not surrounded by other people in the same situation.  It’s not the only thing being discussed in the cafeteria  or by the campus mailboxes.  I’m going to an office with a bunch of grown folks who aren’t considering anything related to school, at least not publicly.  There aren’t very many people to commiserate with.  And there’s something comforting about commiseration, I think.

Fortunately, I was already a nail-biter.  So I haven’t had to acquire any new bad habits as a result of this.  And honestly, my nails should only begin to pray for a respite once I’m on the plane headed to the Netherlands.

So whether it’s functional, relaxing, or simply a distraction, I’ve been doing regular creative visualizations.  I visualize myself opening my mailbox to find an envelope from the University (surprisingly, it’s not a large envelope).  I feel my heart in my stomach and I’m unable to open it until I get to my apartment.  I take off my coat (I imagine it’s still pretty chilly) and shoes, pour a glass of juice, and sit on the couch with my glass and envelope.  Only a sudden urgency gets me to finally open the envelope.  The letter greets me with a “Dear” and goes right into a “Congratulations.”  I dance around, spill my juice, and call my mom.

Here’s hoping!

black girl gone blue

My goodness, last week was a somber one.  I was originally planning for it to be a week of self-reflection, beginning a much needed process of self-prioritization, appreciation, and affirmation.  You know, one of those start the year off right things by recognizing and valuing all that is truly important in life.  I don’t mean to mention it so casually.  It really is a process I’m taking seriously.  And since I’m planning to embark on some serious life changes this year, now seems like the best time to finally start (for real – I’ve taken it less seriously in the past).  Perhaps I’ll get more into that process later.  For now, I’ll just say it can be sobering when taking a look at where I’d like to be personally, professionally, emotionally…and all the work that will be required to get there.

And then as I’m just starting to dig in at the beginning of the week, on Tuesday a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, a country already stricken with more than its fair share of tragedy.  Not that anything is – but all I can think is, “it’s just not fair,” effectively silencing every time I’ve used this phrase in reference to myself in the past.  So many people – black people suffering, dying, dead.  All of my personal struggles are insignificant in comparison.  My heart goes out to Haiti and her people.  I’ve shed tears over the news footage.  I sent as much money as I could afford to yele.org (right choice or not?  not sure: smoking gun & Wyclef defends).  I wish I knew how to do more.

And then my building’s porter made me cry on Friday.  A light conversation while on my way to work led to chatting about the earthquake.  Since my building and neighborhood have a high concentration of Haitians, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear about how deeply affected my neighbors have been by the tragedy.  But when the porter told me that one neighbor lost three members of her family to the earthquake, I just lost it.  There I was, standing by the trash cans in front of a cooky man with questionable social skills, crying over the loss of a family for a woman I don’t even know.  My emotions need some stabilizing.  The semi-started self-reflection combined with a global crisis appears to have left me in a weakened state.

So I’m resetting.  Fortunately, Dr. King’s day was a nice, symbolic day for such a reset, affirming the value of both self and others.  My personal challenges may diminish in value in comparison to what’s happening in Haiti (any so many other parts of the world) – but I’m the only one who’s going to work on them.  So the work must go on…

This was a bit of a ramble.  But hopefully that’s forgivable in reset mode?

Totally Honest Reasons I Chose Amsterdam

Not surprisingly, I am frequently asked, “why Amsterdam?” It’s a fair question. I have no family or friends there. I don’t speak Dutch. There are fewer black people than in Brooklyn. I have no way to make money there. I haven’t spent even a full day in Amsterdam. So yeah, fair question. In fact, it’s a wonder why more people don’t try to talk me out of it.

Here are a few of the most common reasons I typically cite when asked, as well as a few that typically go unmentioned:

It’s Centrally-located

I love to travel. Living in a country that’s a short flight or train ride away from so many others sounds dreamy. I could easily get to other European countries. And I’d be that much closer to anywhere in Africa. Plus, it’s close enough to NY to allow me to visit pretty easily. Never mind the fact that I won’t likely have much spending money. I see myself visiting London, Barcelona, Naples, Greek Islands, Casablanca, Cape Town. No limits!

Chemistry

I visited central Amsterdam while on a layover, returning from Ghana to NYC. Got off the plane and hopped on a train into the city. It was super early on a Sunday morning. As soon as I stepped out of the train station, I said (out loud), “I could live here.” Before I even laid eyes on some of the more beautiful parts of the city, I could sense its charm. It felt comfortable and strangely calming. No one rushing around and very little noise on the street. And on this Sunday morning, I appreciated the sleepy nature of the city. Very few stores were open and even fewer people were out (and some of them were clearly the previous night’s leftovers). The hours posted on most businesses indicated a much later opening time on Sundays. I can get down with a place that sleeps in on Sunday. Now in fairness, this actually did bug me a bit at the time because I was desperately searching for a meal. I was having more luck finding coffee shops than bagels. One coffee shop advertised “Free Breakfast!” Upon inquiring, the really nice man told me, “Oh I’m sorry. We’re all out of breakfast. But we have weed.” Regardless, I was charmed.

Coffee Shops

And yes, speaking of coffee shops…they are definitely worth considering. I’m not ashamed to admit that I happen to enjoy an herbal refreshment on occasion. It would be nice to live in a place that isn’t so uptight and paranoid about it. I imagine myself with a Sunday afternoon routine, including a bike ride and a good newspaper or magazine.

But I don’t want people to assume that this is the primary or only reason I would want to live in Amsterdam. Hopefully I get more credit than that.

English Friendly

I have the best of intentions to learn Dutch, I promise. But I fear it won’t come so easily. As I’m learning, language barriers won’t be an issue. Instead, I should be able to get around and involved pretty easily.

Bikes

I love the idea of bike parking lots. Amsterdam is, by far, the most bike friendly city I’ve ever been in. When I was a kid, I used to love riding my bike. But as an adult, I’ve never owned one. Living in a city where I would basically be peer-pressured into owning a bike would be a great influence on me. Exercise, fresh air, environmentally friendly…that’s the way to go. And everyone seemed so happy and calm on their bikes. This could, perhaps, be the solution to my road rage.

Flirts

Okay, this one is going to make me seem really shallow. But I’m being honest here, right? Although I constantly complain about being harassed by strange men on the street, I’d be lying if I said it’s not kinda flattering. Turning heads is not necessarily a bad thing. Feeling exhausted and dressed like a bum, several black men in Amsterdam still took notice. I remember thinking, “hm, they like black women with nappy hair here.” And since I’ll be traveling single, I’d prefer to live in a place where I am considered attractive. Wouldn’t anyone?


Spoiled Animals

Chubby cats on windowsills, dogs with fancy collars jogging alongside their owners’ bikes, and pet boutiques abound. I can vibe with any city that respects its animals. My spoiled cat and I could do pretty well in a place like that.

Favors for the Forgotten

I tend to think of myself as pretty forgettable. That sounds awful. And I don’t necessarily mean it in every context. But I sure do often feel compelled to re-introduce myself to people if I believe they played a more significant role in my life than I did in theirs. Teachers, professors, supervisors, elders…these people are unlikely to remember me by name or face. They’ve got more important people and things that occupy their time and memory. Self esteem issues to work on? Maybe a little. But I like to think it’s not so uncommon. Besides, this isn’t the right time to be distracted by what will (I’m sure) one day be discussed in therapy. We’re focusing on important people and my presumed forgettable nature among them.

For this reason, I always swallow a horse pill of dread when I read an application for something that requires references, whether academic or professional. Understanding the requirement means preparing to contact some important people in my past who likely will need to be reminded of who I am and why they should say positive things about me.

“Hi. Uhhhh. Remember me from like 10 years ago? Yeah, I was in your such/such class. It was super. You gave me some good grades and we had some interesting chats back then. Sorry about not being in touch since I graduated – or maybe you got that one email I sent about 8 years ago? Right, well anyway, can I ask you for a favor?”

Fortunately the need to request such a favor does not arise too often. But when it does, I become angry with myself for not maintaining these important connections. Not only could these former professors (and even former bosses) be providing me with recommendations for my occasional efforts to try something new; they could be advisers and mentors throughout the process. But no. I don’t think about that until there’s an urgent need to get that letter from them.

So when it came time to request 2 academic recommendations for my UvA application, I held onto that nervous feeling for a couple of months, procrastinated for a couple more, then finally swallowed my pride and reached out to one professor from undergrad and one from law school. Two of my favorites, actually. The undergrad professor was my thesis/project adviser. And although I hated law school, I admit that I had some professors that made it worthwhile. And shortly after I graduated, this one promised me “references for life.” Regardless, I convinced myself that they wouldn’t remember me after all this time.

I got the first response from my undergrad professor, which was incredibly enthusiastic. And although I have no idea why this would be the case, she said, “I was just perusing your fabulous senior project!” How strange and flattering! And the law school professor expressed similar excitement to hear from me and about my intentions to pursue this program in Amsterdam. Sigh of relief…I was dreading the task for nothing…application complete…almost.

Getting an enthusiastic promise means nothing if the letter is never written. It’s important to make sure they come through, especially if there’s a deadline involved. So I quickly went from the woman they likely wouldn’t remember to the harassing micro-manager who keeps making urgent demands. And I feel guilty and insecure the entire time. A lovely picture of emotional torment.

So anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I got all pieces of my application together and sent everything off to Amsterdam – with the exception of one letter of recommendation from the law school professor. It was already written and I was expecting it way over a month ago. But she stopped responding to my emails. And I was beginning to panic (keeping in mind the timeline for working up the nerve to ask for a recommendation is at least 4 months alone – never mind the time it would take someone else to write something). It actually crossed my mind that she may be in some type of danger and I should call the police. But how would I have identified myself? “The woman to whom she promised a recommendation, godammit!”

I sent a final plea on Tuesday, communicating my panic in a courteous way. And then the most wonderful thing happened: she responded. Not only did she respond, she apologized for falling out of touch and explained that she submitted the letter to complete my application. Reading the receipt confirmation email she forwarded from the University, I’m pretty sure I shed a tear of relief. And finally, in her email she reminded me that her offer still stands for life.

I received an official confirmation this morning from the admission’s office that my application is complete and has been forwarded for review. Now that felt good.

I’m so thankful to those professors for the genuine support they showed and for coming through for me. I still just can’t believe they remembered me…

Plan C

It stinks that there’s now an emergency contraception called Plan B. I’m really only onto plotting Plan B. But I feel strangely about using that as the title of the post.

Anyway, I’m looking into programs at other schools in and close to Amsterdam. This may seem like an obvious back-up plan. But I honestly didn’t give the idea much thought prior to today. The program at the University of Amsterdam is just so perfect. It described what I wanted before I even knew I wanted it. The pieces of a mental puzzle started coming together as I thought about what I would learn and where I’d be learning it. UvA is like the person you fall in love with at 25. You’re pretty sure you know what you want. And when you find someone who fits that mold almost exactly, you feel pretty confident in assuming s/he’s the one. And s/he might very well be the one. But if you have an opportunity to keep looking, you realize there are other options that are just as good, if not better.

So yeah. Why not look for a program that’s just as good if not better at another school? I’m still doubting there will be something else so perfect. But how silly it would be not to look. Right? Two schools were recommended to me today. I haven’t looked much further beyond verifying that they are legit options. I need to put in some work here.

The biggest annoyance about this Plan B-C is that it will drag out my timeline quite a bit. But I’m still functioning within a reasonable time frame. No stress yet.

What Am I Doing?

So I think I’m finally ready to jump into this. For about a month I’ve been putting it off.

When I decided to start blogging, I planned to record my journey from NYC to Amsterdam. What I’m most excited about is sharing my experiences once I’m actually living in Amsterdam. So it’s kind of logical that I wouldn’t have much to say at this point since I haven’t quite figured out why or how I’m getting to Amsterdam. That’s a tricky one.

Okay, I’m not completely lacking a plan. I’m just lacking a plan B or C. And just to prove that I want to move there really badly, I’m seeing a need to come up with plans D-Y (if it gets to the point of consulting a plan Z, I’m gonna assume it’s not meant to be).

The primary plan is school. A one-year Master’s program at the University of Amsterdam. I won’t get into the details of it until I’m ready (read: when I think there is no longer any jinxing potential). I sent my application last month. And one of my professors is supposed to be sending her letter of recommendation directly to them. That variable is making me most nervous. But I’m honestly nervous about all of it. What if she never sends the damn letter? What if my application stinks? What if they make copies of my personal statement and include it in future application packets as an example of what not to do? Huh? What if that happens?? I’d be embarrassed…then I’d move onto plan B.

School is definitely the most sensible path. It would be setting me up for what I plan to do next in life, which is start a nonprofit. More details on that to come, I’m sure (this pesky jinx thing, sorry). And it’s also simpler when moving to another country to do so as a student. Without any unique skills or Dutch-speaking abilities, finding a job would be impossible. I also like the idea of being a student again. After law school I thought, “nevah evah again!!!!” But that trauma has passed and I’m down for one more year of learning. So the school thing is perfect…as long as I’m accepted. And as long as I have enough money to pay for it.

And that’s where I keep stopping. I reflect on how perfect the plan is, then panic when I notice its holes. More work on the backup plans definitely must be done. And that’s what I’ll be doing until something comes to fruition.

If uncertainty isn’t your thing, you may want to join me after I’ve figured all of this out. Until then, I’m expecting a bumpy (and emotional…definitely emotional) ride.