Okay Alone

Being alone is not easy. I don’t know anyone who would tell you otherwise (other than maybe someone who has never been alone?). Perhaps some moments are more difficult than others. But in general, it’s just not easy. Yet in seven months I’ll be living in Amsterdam…alone. Although this would never frighten me, it would normally raise some flags of worry. Moving to a city where I know no one and where I don’t speak the national language is setting the stage for a pretty lonely situation.

First I should clarify what I mean by “alone.”  I’m not referring to a life of complete solitude. Family and friends matter a ton, and I have the benefit of both. Amazing friends and an incredibly loving and supportive (though small) family. Living in Brooklyn has even brought the benefit of living closer to family than I have in a long time. And that has certainly made a difference in my happiness factor. What I’m talking about when I say I’m “alone” is defined by the time of day when I get home and there’s no one looking forward to seeing me (my cat, of course – but no human), no one to ask about my day, no missed calls, and no one there to make things even slightly easier. That feeling actually lasts all day. Of course I enjoy socializing and doing whatever I want to do without having to check-in with anyone. But I can’t deny that it would be nice to know someone cared enough to ask me to check-in. And when extraordinary circumstances arise, like sickness, moving, or trips to the airport, being alone becomes most apparent and even hurtful. I love to travel and appreciate every opportunity I have to get on a plane to somewhere else. But when I drive myself to the airport, park in long term parking, and have only my car to greet me when I return, that’s just awful. I have actually returned home from really incredible vacations, picked up my luggage, taken the shuttle to the parking lot, and cried in my car before focusing on paying and driving myself home. Been gone for over a week, had a great time, dragging heavy bags to a dusty car, tears streaming down my face, and no one there to give a shit. That’s what I mean by being alone.

Being alone got old for me way back in 2003. And I’ve been fighting it, resisting it, and denying it ever since. So why in the world am I now embracing this potentially exponentially lonely situation without hesitation? Well, I think I finally get it. Or rather, I think I’m finally okay with it.

Not only have I recently stopped fighting the lonely bug by searching for a relationship, but I’ve actually felt just fine alone. I know, it sounds like I’ve been reading the self-help books about embracing the power within myself and rejecting the notions that happiness comes from external sources. And while that may be the case, it’s not really about any of that. It’s more about time and breathing. You know how sometimes you’re in a stressful or uncomfortable situation, whether it’s an interrogation by the FBI or some really serious stomach crunches, and you realize a few minutes into it you haven’t really been breathing? That’s essentially what I had been doing for the past few years. So anxious about solving this “problem” of being single and alone, never realizing I had been denying myself some basic, personal happiness…like air and peace of mind. After I had my heart broken (again) late last year, I decided to take a step out of the struggle and ignore the pains of being alone. It was an incredibly painful time that brought me to this, and I didn’t quite know what I was hoping for. And initially it was all talk: “I just want to be single for a while.”  I was mostly trying to convince myself that it actually was okay that I wasn’t in a relationship. And also trying to avoid the questions of who I was looking for, and how I was looking for him. And even worse, the looks of pity and dry statements of false encouragement, like “don’t worry – you’ll find someone.” I used to entertain these conversations. But now that I’m not trying to find someone, they just make me cringe.

So it took some time to grow into the role of being happy and single. And now, after that time has passed, I have actually stumbled into genuine peace of mind.  I no longer catch myself counting rings on fingers on the subway (am I the only one who does that?). I don’t want to talk or think about boys all the time – though I’m happy to talk about the ones in my friends’ lives.   And I’m no longer offended by the sound of most songs (even some Tracy Chapman songs had begun to grate on my nerves).  It just seems to come up less and less.  Folks have graciously removed all or most curiosity about my love life from their thoughts.  And who knows what kind of pity they may hold for me in their hearts?  I just sincerely appreciate their silence on the subject.  I have been allowed to experience being alone without having to constantly explain myself and justify my (lack of) actions.

But the true test of my satisfaction with just -me- came earlier this week when I got really sick. The kind of sick that even made my face hurt. The kind of sick that made me irritated with my typical homeopathic remedies and yearn for the real drugs. The kind of sick that typically would make me sick of not having someone to take care of me. But only after two days into crazy sickness did the thought of someone else being there for me even cross my mind. I had been irritated by having to make myself food, clean dishes, and all of that. And of course it would have been nice to have someone swoop in and solve all of those problems. But I never had that, “oh whyyyyyy meeeee???” moment.  So there actually is a place in my brain that allows me to function through a ‘better-suited for a couple’ situation without obsessing over it.  Incredible.  Moving to Amsterdam will likely force me to face tons of situations like this.  My newly found skills certainly will come in handy.

So that’s where I am right now.  But not where I plan to be forever.  In the meantime, at least I’m living on the bright side of whatever they call this place…a queendom of one?


Savings: Status Check

A few weeks ago I decided I would start saving money for the purpose of living a decent life while in Amsterdam. No matter how I do the math, I’m going to have to take out some loans – at least for the first semester (before tons of miraculous scholarships and grants come through). So accepting the seeping-further-into-debt scenario, I want to at least be grown up enough to pay for my basic monthly expenses on my own. If I can put enough money away, I might actually be able to live like a normal person while I’m there. The alternative will be to live on crackers and Ramen. And I won’t say I’m too old for that…but I’m definitely too tired.

So anyway, I officially started on my savings plan a little over two weeks ago. The first few days were just warm-up. I was paying closer attention to my spending habits, but not really curbing them. Each day went something like: “okay, it’s crazy that I’m spending $9 on lunch today. I’m gonna have to cut this out.”

Last week was the first full week of what I now see is an entirely new lifestyle. It was like I started on a new workout plan after never having done so much as a stomach crunch in my entire life. Each day felt like I was doing chin-ups. It became harder and harder to sustain. And sure enough, by Friday, I fell off the bar.

I started out the week by making dinner on Sunday and packing a sandwich for lunch on Monday. On Monday night I made dinner again (and please keep in mind we’re already over my typical cooking capacity for a week), expecting to have enough leftovers to create lunches for the rest of the week. Not quite – I barely had enough for Tuesday. So there I was on Tuesday night, cooking again. This lasted me through Thursday. While all of this cooking and lunch packing was going on, I was also actively resisting all urges to make impulse purchases throughout the day. Small stuff calls me more than I realized. A lemonade here. A used book there. A delicious cookie on the way…you get the gist. But come Thursday evening, between smarter eating habits and partaking in only free events, I had managed to avoid pulling out my wallet once all week. Not once! (Never mind the fact that I treated myself to a couple of very cheap happy hour drinks on Thursday night to celebrate my accomplishment.)

Despite my hope to make it through the entire week without buying my lunch, I couldn’t do it on Friday. My savings muscles were simply exhausted. My compromise was to buy a relatively inexpensive sandwich without any frills in the form of juice or dessert. I didn’t feel like I had failed by any means. But it was made clear that getting through the rest of this year on such a tight budget is not going to be easy.

This week has actually been a bit easier. Perhaps because I now know what to expect. So far so good on lunch everyday. And thoughtful grocery shopping has also helped, though I still need to work on the coupon thing. I opened my wallet a few times for some essential purchases – like cat food and a cupcake from Cake & Shake. But I think I’ve almost hit a stride.

Slowly, but surely, my savings grows. Here’s the latest.

Mean Politics

Have you been losing much sleep over the current political climate in the Netherlands? Well, I hope not. I’m still trying to keep up. And though it’s seems pretty concerning, I also haven’t been losing sleep over it (yet).

Remember back in February when the government collapsed? The main issue there was Afghanistan. Should the troops extend their stay or return home, already later than originally planned. At the time, the party that was center right, the Christian Democrats, had the majority of seats, with the center left Labor Party at a close second. Out of 150 seats in Parliament, they had 41 and 33 respectively. It was a coalition government, meaning despite opposing politics, issues were only resolved with consensus. The system seems to work most of the time for the Dutch. But obviously when it fails, it’s a really stinky (read: shit) storm. They decided emergency elections would be held in June. And I imagined a better, stronger, and much more liberal government would emerge – just in time for my arrival.

I guess I was naïve to think the Dutch were all on board for a move toward left of center politics. In all of my time romanticizing Amsterdam and its illusions of freedom, I failed to consider the other side of that coin. And isn’t there always another side to these coins? How would they have even survived in the EU if they weren’t bringing fair representation of the conservative folks?

So anyway, much to my surprise, the emergency elections, held last week, resulted in a rise in power for a far right party, the Freedom Party, and a slight drop in power for the Labor Party. That means the somewhat liberals are still ahead in the game, but the over the top conservatives just scored one or two surprising points. And the Freedom Party really is over the top with it. The leader, Geert Wilders, is anti-immigration (uh oh), and generally anti-Islam – to the point of wanting to ban the Koran and proposing a special tax on wearing head scarves. He’s made it clear that the Netherlands does not necessarily have to be a welcoming place for “others.”  Now I know there are always a few who will insist on promoting hate and discrimination. But who would have thought such an extremist would gain a legitimate following? To the point where there’s a (slight) possibility that the Freedom Party may be a part of the newest coalition government?

Last week’s election not only led to a surge for the Freedom Party – the Christian Democrats took a crazy hit, falling from 41 to win only 21 seats. So they’re not even a factor anymore. And coming out of nowhere (well, as far as I’m concerned), the pro-business Liberal party ended up with the most popular support. And now due to the close race between the Liberals and the Labors, with the two parties earning 31 and 30 seats respectively, a power struggle is still at play. The less than friendly “i-hate-everybody-else” Wilders is insisting that his Freedom party is included in the coalition to be formed by the Liberals, saying “one-and-a-half million Dutch voted for us and for more security, less crime and less Islam.” Reading his poetic words, I see why so many had trouble resisting him.

I say that in jest, of course. The more I read about Wilders, the more creeped out I feel. If his party is given just a little bit of a voice in the new Dutch government, I fear the country would be taking a crazily conservative turn. I think the Dutch have a lot more on their minds than whether or not I’ll be able to benefit from their social programs as an immigrant, like maybe their struggling economy.  So I’m trying not to judge too much without knowing enough of the facts and the many layers that must have been considered during the past several months of upheaval.  So perhaps it’s not quite as horrifying a political change of climate as it seems.

But the whole situation is kinda stinking up another storm.  And as a future immigrant, I’ve got my eye on this Wilders character.  That’s for sure.

A Birthday and a Prince

Today is Prince’s birthday.

I know. I know. Since I started this little blog, the birthdays of many heroes have come and gone: Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, and Oprah Winfrey. The anniversaries of significant events in history have passed: the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Dr. King, and Biggie, Ghana’s independence, Brown v. Bd. of Ed. But you can just assume all of those days are significant to me (I remembered and acknowledged most of them this year…promise). What you may not know (if you’ve known me for less than 2 hours) is that I’m a die hard Prince fan. I just can’t help it.

So on his birthday, I figured it only appropriate for me to pay some type of tribute.

52 years blessing this earth with your genius and crazy. In your words, I truly adore U.

Ten Years Later

This weekend is my 10-year college reunion. Former classmates will be gathering to chit chat about what they’ve been up to for the past five or ten years, depending on whether or not they attended the 5-year. Folks will be happy to see old friends and many acquaintances who have been all but forgotten due to the whole ‘out of sight’ phenomenon. Classrooms, cafeterias, and art exhibits will all spark reflections on who we were ten years ago. There will be tons of “oh my goodness!! How have you been?! What have you been up to?!” flying around in high-pitched tones. Good memories relived – and new, somewhat generic memories created in turn.

I’m not going.

Not that I’m opposed to reunions. I went to the 5-year and had a good time. I also planned to go to this one. I even had the budget worked out, deciding to dish out the big bucks for the all-class dinner and a nostalgic stay in a dirty dorm room, sharing an even dirtier coed bathroom. The stage had been set for a delightful walk down memory lane. But once one of my closest friends from school told us she could no longer make it, the plan unraveled.

The question of whether or not it would be worth the effort and money to attend was asked, and the answer was not a definitive yes or no. My friends and I went back and forth for a couple of weeks. But as time went on, the idea of paying tons of money to see a few people I’d be excited to catch up with, and having superficial conversations with a bunch of people I barely remember (I take full responsibility for my bad memory), became less and less appealing. Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it. But it wasn’t worth the effort or the money, especially in light of my aggressive savings plan that officially launched this month. And also in light of Facebook, which makes reuniting every few years almost unnecessary, kinda.

I can’t pretend I’m not a bit disappointed that I won’t have an opportunity to see old friends this weekend. But I also can’t pretend it’s not somewhat of a relief. Although I know it’s silly, seeing people in five year intervals puts on the pressure to have something remarkable to report. Shoot, I feel the pressure on a Monday morning to report to my coworkers on all of my weekend adventures. And when my weekend consists of not much more than a walk from my bed to my couch, I dread sharing my boring response to the cheerful inquiries about what I’ve accomplished over the past two days. So five years of what seems like nothing but walks from my bed to my couch is really just pitiful.

At the five year reunion, I had finished law school, gone through an extended period of painful job searching, recently moved to Oakland, and was working in a miserable, low-paying job. I was completely broke and beginning to pay off tons of student loan debt. I was also on the brink of ending a long-distance, and long dying relationship. But I was feeling good – happy to be alive and feeling fortunate that I was able to be there. I also wasn’t insecure about my circumstances because they were shared by many classmates, or at least many could empathize. Five years out of college it makes sense to just be landing on your feet. But I joked with friends, “if I’m not married and doing something remarkable by the time our next reunion arrives, I’m not coming.” It was one of those serious jokes.

Funny how time flies when you’re figuring sh*t out. A few epiphanies and decisions pass – and it’s five years later.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself. In fact, I’m quite proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish since the last reunion.  So I need to get over that – I’ve got a decent story to tell.  But to be embarrassingly honest, it’s more about the insecurity I feel when hearing the stories of others. “We’ve been out of school the same amount of time. And you’ve managed to start a business, learn another language, find a cure for a previously incurable disease, purchase a home, find a mate, and have two babies? Wow, I’m really happy for you.” And I am! I’m really happy for that person. But how much of it can I take before I begin to feel like the incredible shrinking woman, small enough to fit into a first grader’s pocket by the time the reunion weekend is over? It wouldn’t be thaaaat bad…right?  (right.)  But the thought of it is pretty miserable.

So the thoughtful weighing of options (and life in general) has led to a missed 10th reunion. I’m committing to going to the 15th no matter what. I may be living in Amsterdam with my husband and two babies, writing up my findings to cure cancer. Or I may be living in my sister’s basement in Jersey trying to figure out a cure for an unsightly bunion. Either way, I’ll be there to share the stories and celebrate the growth and successes of my friends and former classmates. Let’s just hope I’ve still got my looks.