I forgot how to write

Yeah, I forgot how to write.

No, I never knew how to write. I used to know how to think, I think. But writing thoughts down – that never made any sense.

Words, yes. I know plenty of words. Sentences, yes. I can make those – an occasional gem among the basics. Ideas, sure. I can come up with a few. But writing, no. No.

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What do these buttons do, huh?

Even in response to basic emails, requiring little more than a simple reply and maybe a time or date confirmation, I drain myself to ponder word choice, tone, and all of my childhood insecurities. Because, quite unfortunately, everyone I email has the potential to be the one who exposes me as the phony I hope I’m not. So tread lightly, I tell myself. Take your time and choose wisely. Will it be “Best regards” or just “Best”? Delete. Delete! “Love always.” Continue reading

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Plane tickets and pressure

It’s official that at the end of September I’ll be heading to Suriname. For two months. That means I have one month to get myself and all things related in order, then two months to tear into some serious research and writing, and altogether three months to ponder options of stability upon my return to Amsterdam.

I’m 80 percent excited.  The excitement includes the opportunity to experience a new country – a new continent, actually.  I’ve never been in the vicinity of South America.  So the visit feels overdue.  And since I’ve been discussing and reading about Suriname’s history and identity politics for months now, I’m looking forward to digesting some of it firsthand. On a more shallow level, I’m looking forward to trading the Dutch chill for some Surinamese warmth (feel free to interpret that as a commentary on patterns of weather and/or social graces).

I’m 20 percent nervous.  I considered writing “anxious” here.  But I just looked up the difference between the two words.  According to wiki answers, anxiety comes into play when you have no control over a situation that may or may not happen.  And that’s the opposite of what I have going on at the moment.  The outcomes of my time in Suriname are entirely under my control. Whether or not this trip turns out to be a trailblazing success or a complete waste of time is up to me.  I can do it right.  Or I can do it wrong.  And when I give that nervous 20 percent any attention, doing it wrong feels like a legitimate possibility.  Two months in a completely unfamiliar place, with completely unfamiliar people, under the guise of completely unsettling circumstances called academic research – I wonder if I can pull this one out of my ass.  Yeah, I think I can.  I have every reason to believe I can.  But sometimes I’m not so sure.

As this blog indicates, I have a habit of jumping around, from place to place, looking for something that feels right and pursuing my own happiness by any means necessary.  But as I approach yet another big journey, and as I watch my age increase almost as quickly as my money decreases, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve mistakenly chosen a life of instability and uncertainty.  I wonder if the simpler and more straightforward path that I’ve walked away from (more than once) would have been the better option, even if a bit less thrilling.  Could this crazy, fun, and exciting path be leading from the Netherlands to Suriname to nowhere?

Well, regardless, I have no time or patience to start over again. So to verify the validity of my somewhat questionable life choices, I need to leave Suriname with some solid research, a solid (hopefully almost finished) thesis, solid personal and professional connections, and a solid plan for launching my organization shortly thereafter.

Okay, so perhaps I’m 25 percent nervous.  And perhaps I’m placing undue pressure on the next few months.  But as I’m taking these immediate next steps quite seriously, perhaps I can be forgiven for not being 100 percent thrilled about an opportunity to do (and be) something incredible.

75 percent excited and 25 percent nervous.  Knowing myself, if not for the presence of some nervousness (and fear and anxiety and whatever else), I may not even realize this is worth doing.  So I’m not allowing the jibber jabber in my head to get the best of me.  And I’m certainly not denying the fact that I’m absolutely, positively, without a doubt 100 percent grateful for the path I’ve chosen and the life I get to live.

A secret tentative plan

I tend to be secretive about my most sacred and valued hopes and dreams. I’ll quietly decide to try something days or months (or never) before telling anyone about my intentions.  The less everyone knows about what I’m doing, the less everyone will be disappointed by my inability to accomplish whatever it was that I probably shouldn’t have told them about in the first place.  And trust me: I have not accomplished plenty.

In addition to a fear of expectations, there’s also the jinx factor.  If I fill others in on a plan, the plan is then doomed to failure.  For example, after telling everyone that Savion Glover would one day be my husband – it’s almost 20 years later and well, obviously no Savion. That’s because I jinxed it.  That apartment I deemed perfection, the job I thought would guarantee happiness, or the man I was sure was him – it rarely ends up being what I said I wanted.  If I’m honest, in most cases, it ends up being something better – something I didn’t imagine for myself.  But when I set my sights on something I really, really want (like the Savion thing), I don’t want to tempt fate into finding something better – or worse, more challenging than what I actually want.  So while I try to get between points A and B, if B has any level of significance, I won’t be saying too much about it.

I started the blog when I began to realize how terrible this strategy could be.  As much as I’d like to believe it’s possible to do everything for and by myself, I know it shouldn’t always be that way.  Support and guidance can be wonderful things.  But I’ve recently fallen off the blogging thing – writing altogether, really.  And I’ve caught myself a couple of times thinking I have nothing to write about.  Nothing worth sharing.  So I’m a “black girl”and I’m “gone.” Yeah, now what?

Truth is, a lot is now.  I’ve just been backsliding into my old, secretive, suffer-in-silence ways.  As the comforts of my student life appear to be approaching an end quite quickly, a number of grown-up realities – big girl decisions – have come into play.  Money, career, home…scary-type stuff.  The stuff I was temporarily happy to set aside.  And no offence, or anything, I just didn’t feel like sharing the next steps with you.  What could your knowing offer other than a jinx on an already tenuous situation?

Yet, although I still mostly believe that, I need to get over it.  Particularly because I’m about to be getting “gone” again.  And that is what this blog is supposed to cover, as the title would suggest…

Black girl gone…to Suriname – in (about) two months for (about) two months.  I’m dragging out the fieldwork and writing process for my Master’s thesis to incorporate the research I’ll do over there in the coming semester.  So this means I will remain a student for just a bit longer.  A bit like cheating, perhaps. But you would do it too.

And while I continue with my thesis research, and as I work through the logistics of a temporary move from Europe to South America, I’m working out a business plan.  Because in 2013, I have no intentions of working for the benefit of someone else’s mission. My mission is to introduce young (and all) black people to our histories by paying tribute and learning the stories of our ancestors, beginning with their own ancestors.  And I’m really excited to turn that into a full-time gig.

It will look like a nonprofit organization, based in the U.S., with a branch office in the Netherlands (ahem).   Partnerships between schools and local genealogical societies (read: young and old) will provide young people with African ancestry in the Americas with personalized research into their family histories, enhanced by their own culturally and historically-relevant experiences and research. In the long-run, we’ll provide the young people with travel opportunities.  But at the moment, my priority is just to clarify and prove the concept.

Yeah, and that’s where I draw the sharing line.  And that just left me pretty uncomfortable.  We still have some issues to work through.

So here’s hoping I didn’t just jinx the isht out of myself. And further hoping that I can find sources of support and encouragement among you, in addition to a willingness to hold me accountable!

A story

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there is to do in order to be where, what, and who I want to be. And strangely, the feelings of anxiety have become more pronounced as the plan becomes more clear. Now that I know happiness is attainable, and it’s actually all under my control…well, it seems like a lot more pressure.  As the universe seems to declare, “sure, you can have whatever you want,” all I seem to say is, “but wait, you want me to do what first?” That looks like a whole lot of scary work ahead.

In the midst of one of my more unproductive and (somewhat) irrationally overwhelmed times, I stood on a NYC subway platform.  Transferring from the C to the A, I was headed to the airport – back to Amsterdam.  In my mind I listed the number of things I needed to get done approximately weeks ago, preoccupied by creeping self-doubt.   When I briefly returned to the present, I took inventory: suitcase, laptop bag, something’s missing.  My leather jacket. My most favorite.

That sinking feeling when you realize something is lost – some/anywhere in NYC. It hurt. I briefly attempted to acquire some sympathy from two ladies standing beside me by sadly declaring, “I just lost my jacket.” They kindly obliged with sighs and looks of pity. As I stood there with a big ‘ole suitcase and various other bags strapped to me, I had no option to go back and retrace my steps. We all knew that jacket was long gone. So I began working on getting over it. It’s just a jacket. I probably wore it too often anyway. Perhaps its replacement will bring me even more joy.

During the following (excessively) long train ride, I kept thinking of the stairway at the first train station.  Although I hadn’t been paying attention, and I had no idea the jacket had fallen, I felt strangely certain of when it must have happened.  A glimmer of hope remained with my friends who would follow me to Amsterdam just a couple of hours later.  Perhaps I could catch them in time, get them to follow the route I had taken, and maybe they would even find the jacket at the station.  A laughable long-shot. Grasping at straws might make the recovery period worse. But it’s worth a try.

I arrived at the airport about 10 minutes after my (typically timely) friends planned to leave, after anxiously watching the clock tick away on the super-duper slow air train shuttle-thing. If I missed them, it’d be over. Without a U.S. cell phone, I asked the security woman taking bags where I could find a pay phone.  I would have to go far, to the other side of the large airport area. “Or, you could just use my phone.” Seriously? “Why look for a pay phone when you could use this?” Exactly.

Several hours and an Atlantic Ocean later, as I expected, Amsterdam was cold and drizzly.  I wore only a sweatshirt that was insufficient and also seemed to regret my careless disregard of layering and, well, decency.  This discomfort marked the beginning of a new life without my leather jacket. And, considering the circumstances, I think I was coping quite well with the unexpected hardship. Too many other things are competing to cause me worry. A well-liked, but forever lost leather jacket cannot be one of them.

Two hours later, I met my jet-lagged, weary, and appropriately-dressed friends at Centraal Station.  We exchanged hugs and stories of our respective overnight flights.  Leading them to my place, it was pretty clear the glimmer of hope I had maintained was no longer.  With the intention of sparing my feelings, they didn’t even bring it up. But I needed to close the chapter. “So…you guys didn’t find the jacket, huh?”

“Oh no, sorry.” Sad faces. Agreement that it was a long-shot and reassurance that they tried.

How incredible it would have been if they had found the jacket. This would have meant a kind someone had picked it up and handed it to the station attendant. And my friends, who I narrowly caught on their way out the door, would have followed shortly after to retrieve it from likely the same attendant I had earlier asked to buzz the door open for me. And these friends also just so happened to be on their way to Amsterdam, reuniting me with the completely lost jacket in just a few short hours. How charming of a scenario that –

“Dana, we tried to pretend for as long as we could. But, we actually found your jacket.”

A bag unzipped. And emerged the forever and completely lost red, vintage, most favorite, leather jacket. My already loved friends became heroes. Heroes.

But what are the chances? The question kept coming to mind. The strong feeling about where I dropped it, the kind person who handed it in, the security lady with the cell phone, my friends and their plane, the timing, all of it seems so unlikely, even as individual scenarios.

Getting to some kind of point: I believe in signs. And this sure felt like one. As if I received some direct communication from someone or something that knows more, and perhaps knows why.  It’s a sign of what, I’m not sure. But strange things seem to happen more often these days. And I suspect that’s because I’ve finally started listening. Paying attention and listening. And with this, I’m making no exception. That leather jacket was not lost and found in vain.

Forget the doubt. Do the work. Trust the process. You’ll get what you want, dammit.

(spirit speaks to me with sass)

Here’s What I Don’t Like

The number one question I get from almost everyone while I’m visiting the States is “so how do you like Amsterdam?”  And I almost always say, “I love it!”  And I do.  I love it.  But sometimes I have to back up and remind people, as well as myself, that it’s no utopia.  Although it comes close for me, not even Amsterdam can be perfect.  So while I’m away, I figured it would be a nice and cowardly time to mention a few things I don’t like about the Netherlands and (some of) her people.  This way, I won’t have to look anyone in the eye right away.  It’s not a lot.  Just a few things.

1) Say “excuse me”

Dutch people will bump the shit out of you and just keep walking.  It’s never or rarely intentional.  But it can hurt, emotionally and physically.  And they never seem to care.  On a tram, in a bar, on the sidewalk, in your house.  Saying “excuse me” just doesn’t seem to be a thing.  At first I found this shocking and incredibly rude.  I’m the type of person who will apologize for just about anything.  Even if I bump into a table, I’ll thoughtlessly say “I’m sorry.”  My father tried to break me of this habit with little success, other than making me conscious of my craziness.  So from my place of crazy, I probably overreact to inconsiderate Dutch bumping.  But is this what it’s like when at one point, hundreds of years ago, you briefly ruled the world, Dutch people?  No one matters but you?!  Not impressed.

One theory I’ve heard about the lack of “excuse me” culture is due to the fact that it’s a peaceful, non-confrontational society.   Since everyone is aware that no harm is meant by an unintentional bump or entrance into someone else’s personal space, there is no need for apologies.  Alright.  I get that.  But as a sensitive American who bruises easily, I’m going to need you to say “excuse me.”

2) Forget about Sundays

Unless you live in central Amsterdam, you can forget about finding a store open on Sunday.  There are a couple of exceptions I’ve found in my neighborhood.  But since store and restaurant owners seem to operate on a whim, no guarantee ever exists that something will be open this week simply because it was last week.  Don’t get me wrong.  Lazy Sundays are great.  But I also have a tendency to have lazy Saturdays.  So more than once I’ve failed to get things accomplished earlier in the weekend, leaving me without many options to get things done until Monday – or even Tuesday if I’m counting on one of those places closed on both Sunday and Monday.  That’s annoying.

3) Politically incorrect

Don’t tell a Dutch person what can or cannot be said.  It seems to bring up the strongest emotions they can muster.  “Hell no. I won’t succumb to being politically correct!”  Calm down.

I believe this resistance stems from a time in the ’60s and ’70s when political correctness was almost a mandate.  And now the concept of political correctness is despised because it implies a lack of critical and/or independent thought.  That alone I would accept if it was accompanied by some critical thought about the issues at hand.  But instead, it usually just seems like an excuse for being inconsiderate of historical and social matters, and just plain rudeness.  Offensive depictions of people of color on television as childish, stupid, and/or uncivilized are pretty common and unquestioned in the name of “humor” (these stereotypes are clearly understood even when the language isn’t).  I’ve heard countless hateful remarks about Muslims immersed in anti-immigration debates.  And let’s not forget my favorite annual blackface tradition.

I’m sorry, Dutch people.  But it’s not funny and it’s unacceptable.  No, f* that.  I’m not sorry (my dad would be proud).  You’re just wrong.

4) Ignorance is bliss

So I hear schools in the Netherlands only recently began teaching students about the history of Dutch imperialism, slavery, and other shameful aspects of their past.  And I’m not sure what they’re actually teaching young people now.  But this explains why folks my age and older seem to be oblivious about matters of race and how they actually ARE relevant to the Netherlands.  “Racism doesn’t exist here” is such a common phrase.  It would be nice if it were true.  And it would be true in the absence of all history.  But it’s just not.  When the majority of non-white people in the country have immigrated from former Dutch colonies, where white social, political, and economic power have dominated for generations, and they continue to hold a subordinate position in Dutch society, the effects of history are undeniable.  But when you don’t know anything about the history of Indonesia or Suriname, for example, it’s easy to genuinely believe that everyone’s equal, opportunity is available for all, and those who live in poverty have chosen to do so.  Must be nice to live in a bubble of equal opportunity and color blindness.  But the rest of us live in a much crueler reality.

5) Dude, make a move

I’m still single.  STILL.  And now I’m looking to fall in love and marry a Dutch man to help me stay in the country (slightly joking).  But my efforts on this front are going to be harder than I expected.  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with this situation.  What I gather from asking around a bit is Dutch men are less likely to make a move than Dutch women.  But I’m shy.  And I have no moves.  So does this mean I’m out of luck?  Perhaps not if I step outside of my comfort zone and begin approaching the fellas.  But haven’t I already done enough by moving?  This one might be more my problem than anyone else’s.  But it’s my right to place blame.  So in this case, I’d like blame cultural differences for my present single state.

And there you have it.  The things that frustrate me about the Netherlands.   Alas, no place is perfect.  At least I haven’t found it yet.

The Apartment’s Potential

My apartment is taking on a special pursuit – conversion from a ‘student’s two-room apartment’ to a ‘grown-up’s one-bedroom apartment.’ I’ve begun to drive myself crazy with all of the ideas for the makeover.

Before I even saw the place, the guy from the rental company told me to make myself comfortable by painting or doing what I wanted with it. They’ll be renovating all of the apartments in the next year or two. So it doesn’t really matter what I do with it.

With my creativity switch turned to “power,” I saw the place as a solid blank slate. A private entrance leads to a long hallway, which will be perfect for the ancestor wall of photos on one side, and the revolution wall of photos on the other. This hallway leads to the less than ideal tiny bathroom. But it’s all mine. And it has a sink, which the guy warned me it might not. A nice coat of paint, some shelves, and a shower curtain that stays up will suit my teeny bathroom nicely. I’ve already become more used to it without all of those things.

The next door is to the tiny bedroom. It will fit an adult-size bed, but not much else. And without one real closet, my brain has been spinning around the dilemma of storage. Where will everything go? The one closet that is full of shelves can function as a dresser if I add appropriately sized baskets. And maybe I can squeeze in a clothes rack somewhere. Not sure. But after some pretty paint in the red/orange family in there, I’m hoping the bedroom’s smallness issues will matter less.

master bedroom

 

Next is the kitchen, which is huge. A table, chairs, and a dance floor would all fit nicely. With one wall of a bright color in the gold/yellow family, along with some art, the kitchen could be one of my favorite rooms. There’s a connection for a washer & dryer (might I be so bold?). And the treadmill that I just couldn’t get rid of could go in one of the corners. Ambitious, maybe. But it’s my biggest space.

the kitchen

The kitchen has a door to my private garden, which, although it requires some love and attention, is so perfectly cute and much larger than I expected. It even has a little space for a fish pond. I picture it with a couple of chairs and an outdoor table, some of those outdoor lights, a little fountain in the pond, and a better defined fence to allow Zora to walk around freely. This is exactly the type of project that I would normally let slide, never actually getting around to doing one thing with it. But the vision is just too lovely for me to allow my laziness to overtake it.

pre-love garden

On the front end of the apartment, my living room faces the street. It’s a nice size, with a mock fireplace holding the gas heater. I see tons of potential for this room. With curtains replacing or covering the vertical blinds, the windows will look much better. A pale green paint, with a darker green over/under the mantle, will warmify the room. My large mirror, artwork, sofa, and an area rug will make it feel like a living space. In another corner, I plan to have one tall and one short bookcase, along with my tall table and 2 stool-type chairs. (This happens to be the corner in which I’m currently sleeping on the student-size single bed.). This corner has a window that looks into the kitchen. I’ll put some white lights around it, hopefully highlighting the complementing colors of the two rooms. It’ll be my own little cafe.

the living space

To prove to you that I’m serious, I’ve already spoken with a painter and negotiated a price with him. On Tuesday morning he and I will buy paint while his partner sets up. I’ve also requested new quotes for shipping my stuff from Brooklyn storage to here. While the painters work and my stuff makes the trip on a boat somehow, I’ll work on purchasing/making the things that will make it complete. I have no idea how long it will all take. But I imagine that within a month or two I will have a transformed place. Just in time for some guests to stay comfortably.

A Scam Is Not a Scam Is a Scam

Last week I upgraded my apartment hunting from investigative research to active outreach. And already the scammers have spotted my optimistic innocence. Fortunately, I’m still jaded enough to see reality behind rainbows. Or maybe I’m just too jaded to appreciate the beauty of a rainbow. Honestly, I don’t know what’s what anymore.

Only a few rentals and sublets have begun advertising January availability. So as I comb through November and December move-in dates, my options are still limited. But scattered throughout the various sites are rentals for 2011. Beginning with craigslist, I started reaching out to several advertisers – mostly short-term, furnished sublets.

I didn’t receive any responses for a few days. But on Friday I finally received a response regarding a 1-bedroom for 600 euros (about $850). The price would be perfect – though surprisingly low. And based on the Google street view, the apartment’s location would be dreamy – around the corner from the park and a bike ride from the University. Based on the pictures, it’s super cute, inside and out.

 

The message I received indicated that the place is still available. She just wanted me to answer a few questions about myself, for fear of renting to another bad tenant. She said she’s working for a US-based shipping company, spending much of her time in Philadelphia. She also said a number of other things. But her English wasn’t clear enough for me to get everything. But I took the Philadelphia connection as a good sign.

I responded with my answers. And she wrote back within the hour. I had given her the impression that I would be a good tenant. Her lawyer (in the UK) also agreed that my application looked good. So they were ready to give me the keys to the apartment. Wait, what?

The deposit will be 600 euros. They want me to send this to the lawyer in order to receive the keys and the papers for the apartment. Nope, nope, nope. That’s shady. I told her I would need to see more information, her lease or proof of ownership, the lease she would want me to sign, proof of her id, her lawyer’s details, a blood sample, and her mother’s cell phone number. No way I’m sending any euros to some strangers from craigslist without some assurances in place.

She immediately came back with a copy of the lease I would sign (with my name already typed in), and scans of her passport (she’s Swedish) and her attorney’s passport (he’s British). Okay, that’s impressive. And with this proof of id, she indicated that as soon as I send the money for the deposit via Western Union, her lawyer would send everything to me. But even though I have scans of passports, how do I know these are real people? These could be fake passports. I’m still not comfortable. And Western Union?

I demanded to see proof that she has a right to rent this apartment. Her lease? The owner’s information? Something. And I refused to send the money via Western Union. It’s just like sending cash. No way. I offered to send a certified check once I was comfortable with the situation. At this point, I was confident that it was a scam. She was clearly trying to trick me and would have had me show up with all of my stuff, holding a mailbox key, trying to open an old couple’s front door. Since I was onto her scam, and coming back so intelligently and sharper than any of her previous victims, I didn’t expect her to respond.

A few hours later, she responded with a kind, though slightly more agitated tone. This time she explained that she owned the apartment with her husband. After his death, it became all hers. She attached the scan of a “Proof of Ownership” certificate, including the full address and official-looking signatures.  So now not only do I have two passports and a certificate, I have a sad story about a young woman’s dead husband. But how do I know this is a real certificate? And the husband could be the part of the story that gets someone like me (with a soft spot for dead people) to get up and go to Western Union. Am I falling into her trap?

I haven’t responded to this last message. I’m kind of out of rebuttals. I can’t think of anything else she could provide that would make me feel better. All the while, I’m wondering if I’m blowing my shot at living in a cute apartment, by myself, in a great location, with an affordable rent. Am I going to regret being so paranoid? Or will I end up 600 euros poorer, hating myself for not trusting my inner skeptic?

I’m sending a message to the University to get some advice. I’m also open to feedback from any of you on this. I’m at a frustrating loss on whether or not to proceed.