Fix yo life

It’s been one of those years. You know the type. When you’re like, “Oh, I’m gonna get this super duper important thing done in February, after I recover from the holidays.” Then you’re like, “Oh damn, it’s already April? I gotta get that pretty important thing done next month.” Next thing you know, you’re like, “What month is it now? July? Time’s passing quickly, huh?” Then finally you’re like, “I never got that thing done, and it’s November. It was somewhat important, so it’ll definitely get done after the holidays.”

Is this a thing? Or just me?

So, what’s that important thing that I keep meaning to address?

Fix yo life. Continue reading

The opposite of dormant

I’ve been working on my online life, improving and monitoring my use of the sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. With a budding business, I’m finally starting to take all the social media advice seriously (apparently the craze has some staying power). And since all of these sites have the power to be linked and synced – to a creepy, “I’ll Be Watching You” degree, it made sense to toss my personal accounts into the revamped and monitored mix.

After signing up for one of the social media usage/measurement programs, most of sites reported decent effort, as if they said, “We see you’re trying. And we appreciate the effort.” But my dear, sweet blog – the one that’s been with me longer than most – sat at the end of the report: “Dormant.”


“Not true,” I thought. In fact, I think about the blog almost everyday. Continue reading

Feeling pretty damn satisfied

I have this “I can’t wait until…” thing. Like, “I can’t wait to go home for Christmas break;” “I can’t wait till graduation;” “Oooh, I can’t wait to take a break from working;” and the most recent biggie: “I can’t wait to finish this damn thesis.” I’m constantly looking forward to something. Relatively happy, but for this one nagging circumstance that stands between me and ultimate happiness. When the objectives are achieved, I think there’s usually a moment (whether that’s actually a moment or several months) of celebrated achievement. Graduations from both undergrad and law school were acknowledged by spending a couple of months in Ghana, for example.  But for the most part, I spend my time anticipating something better.

The school I couldn’t wait to get into became the school from which I couldn’t wait to graduate. And the city to which I couldn’t wait to move became the city I couldn’t wait to leave (I’m not talking about Amsterdam here, promise). Kind of like a traveling version of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

But I think most of my anticipated next steps were actual upgrades, whether strategic or indulgent. And after getting through the recent full-time student dysfunction, I think I reached a real clearing.  Maybe there really was some sense to my madness.  Nowadays I’m spending about 90% of my productive time on turning my nonprofit fantasy into a real thing, splitting my time between research in the archives, meeting with remarkably brilliant and inspiring people, and doing laptop-type work from home – oftentimes outside on the porch  (maybe another 5% of productive time is spent on naps – I have no reason to be dishonest).  This was definitely the outcome I couldn’t wait for as I drudged through every forced word of my thesis (about a topic I love, mind you).  But could this also be one of the main points I’ve been anxious to reach all along?  

Living in a place I genuinely enjoy and feeling entirely on purpose, I’m finally feeling pretty damn satisfied.

Not to say I’m not still looking forward to the day I don’t have to worry about money. And absolutely by no means has everything fallen into place seamlessly.  I just have to remember to enjoy those challenges.  These are the types of problems for which I’ve been waiting!

And now, since I’ve been silent for an extended period, I’ll share a mostly unrelated story:

A few nights ago I went to an event in the center of town.  I walked the half mile (or so) to the bus stop.  And I took the bus (1.60 SRD).  The buses are essentially vans – if you appreciate a Ghana reference, they’re like decent tro-tros without the mates.  Vague stop locations, uncomfortable middle seats that require constantly lifting your seat to get out of the way, and a relatively cheap fare paid when exiting. Everyone seems to know what’s going on, even when it’s completely unclear.  And I always feel like the only one anxiously looking over my shoulder when an unexpected turn is made, strategically plotting my exit strategy.

But anyway, there are a couple of bus routes that now make me feel like a local. So I was relatively confident on this night, flagging the poorly lit and barely distinguishable bus after dark. Although sometimes I get on and sit down in one of the awkward middle seats before I realize that I’ve walked irrevocably far from a preferred seat, this time I got a window seat in one of the ideal rows – right by the door and only an arm’s reach from the driver.  But as I settled into the best seat I had ever gotten, I became aware of a strange silence. Everyone was super still, looking forward. It felt kind of eerie – too calm.

But I wasn’t finished reflecting on the weird quiet people before Pebbles started singing “Mercedes Boy.”  It turns out this bus had driven straight out of my 80s-music-loving subconscious.  And it took every ounce of power I had not to dance through the whole ride. Eventually I reached my stop and had to leave the most favorite-weirdo-80s-bus-of-my-dreams during “Don’t Disturb This Groove.”  Bizarrely, it was the first stop the bus made since I had gotten on.  And when I got off, the bus waited at least 45 seconds before pulling off. I could still faintly hear the music as I turned the corner.

After the event, I hoped to retrieve my 80s-dream-bus bliss on another reasonably priced ride home.  But someone offered to drive me.  And for a second I actually thought, “damn, I couldn’t wait to take the bus.”

Everybody loves the sunshine

It’s true, right?  Sunshine is just absolutely necessary.  Even the most committed grumps must grow exhausted from the feelings brought by constant clouds and unpleasant precipitation. Even the faithful worshipers of the rain gods must hope their angels take a break for some much-needed beach or park time. Because everybody loves the sunshine, which is my point.

And then one begins life in the Netherlands.  This place is on some other -ish with all the rain and clouds and chilliness.  Days go by.  Days with no sign of the sun.  A break in the rain is a blessing.  A break in the clouds is unlikely. A break in the chill is a holiday.

So far this “summer,” high temperatures have lingered around  63 degrees (Fahrenheit –  sorry, haven’t caught up to the Celsius train yet).  It’s usually cool enough to justify a jacket and covered legs.  And you don’t question those who continue to wear those big scarfs along with their denim jackets, for that’s appropriate attire for the chillier among us.  If the day is warm enough to justify shedding a layer, it’s an absolute must to be prepared for the evening.  It will be cold, oftentimes dipping into the 40s.

Once you master the art of dressing for perpetual late-Fall, you’ll soon realize none of it really matters.  Because more often than not, the looming clouds give way to rain.  It can creep up in the middle of the night, become incredibly heavy in the morning, linger throughout the day, and only ease up a bit in the evening to gather its energy for the following day. No matter what you’re wearing or which umbrella you carry – you’re likely to get wet.  The rain is running things.

Or perhaps it’s just running me.  If I don’t have anywhere I must be, and it’s raining on the levels of torrential downpour, I’m quite likely to veto any plans of leaving my apartment.  To do what? Stand on the soaked, abandoned streets? No, thank you.  Confined to the indoors and clinging to faint memories of sunglasses and flip flops, I go all types of crazy.  Lazy, sad, unproductive, angry at the strange selection of “entertainment” on Dutch television.  You name the unimpressive emotion – I was probably experiencing it one afternoon in mid-June.

Ah, but cue the sunshine! Over the last couple of months, it’s made a few rare, yet celebrated appearances.  I usually hear rumors about it days before: “Its supposed to be really nice for a couple of days next week!”  Or, “I hear it’s going to be summer on a Thursday this year.” The expectations get me through the remaining days of chilly clouds. I play with the idea of wearing skirts and sandals.  I dust off my sunglasses and place them next to my keys.  I consider summer playlists.

And when the sunshine comes, it doesn’t disappoint.  I and every other poor, chilly soul in the Netherlands is drawn outside.  Everyone’s arms, legs, and toes enjoy some fresh air.  People ride their bikes more slowly, no longer rushed by unpleasant conditions.  Neighbors celebrate by stating the obvious, “het is warm!” And the parks are flooded with (in some cases too many) people.  Everyone smiles, as we all suddenly seem more likable.

So I’m happy to say we’re having an entire week of such wonderfulness.  That means it was nice on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  And they’re saying it will last through Friday.  Say whaaat?  Temperatures in the low 80s, clear skies, and a relentlessly shining sun.  And five straights days of it?  Ooooohhh shoot!  What have we done to deserve this?!  I’ll tell you what: we suffered through endless days of cloudy misery.  And we’re going to enjoy every warm, jacket-free minute of it.

We’re back in the 60s and ushering in a few clouds this weekend – or so say the gods of the weather channel.  But it’s okay.  We know we can get through it with the memories of this delightful week, and the hopes that another few days of summer will come.  Maybe we can get some summer in August, too? I don’t think I’m asking for too much.

24 hours of mood swings

A couple of days ago I was sleeping hard.  Like that painful kind of sleep.  It was my recovery from a Tuesday/Wednesday emotional roller coaster that wouldn’t quit.  It. just. wouldn’t. quit.

Tuesday – 4pm.  Confidence wavering.   I think this is a good place to start.  I had been working in one of the University’s basement computer labs for most of the day.  And I was in the process of cutting a class for the very first time this semester.  An assignment was due on Wednesday morning – quantitative data analysis using SPSS, a computer program.  I was feeling pretty confident about the statistics stuff.  So although I could have started working on it last week, I thought Monday and Tuesday would be plenty of time.  But after spending the vast majority of Monday trying to install SPSS on my computer (a shockingly long and lost battle), I was left with far less time to finish the thing.

Since I needed SPSS to even begin the assignment, I would have to start and finish it at a computer lab on Tuesday.  So I worked on it, experiencing some setbacks and breakthroughs along the way.  But by 4pm, I was beginning to realize time was going by faster than I was working.

Tuesday – 6pm. Irritated.  Apparently the University thinks 6pm is an acceptable time to close a student study center.  I was on the hunt for another computer with SPSS on it.  I knew of two more labs.  The one I chose would close at 7.  I was limited to one more hour on SPSS.  I would have graphs and tables all ready.  But I would just have to analyze them on my computer at home.

Wednesday – 2am. Agitated and nervous.  Although I expected a smooth process once I opened up the graphs on my computer, the computer’s temperamental personality made an appearance.  The charts and things wouldn’t open.  And on top of that, the computer was freezing every 30 or 40 minutes.  But as long as I could get to the earliest opening computer lab at 8:30 am, I could make it.  But at the rate it was all going, I wasn’t sure if I would sleep.

Wednesday – 5am. Tired with acceptance.  After an incredibly painful process with my computer, I was finally finished – long after I expected to be.  Although I knew I would only have a brief nap before I would have to rush to the computer lab, I was just happy to have completed the hard part.

Wednesday – 8:45am.  Completely panicked.  After arriving at the library at about 8:35, I was facing the absolute slowest computer start-up in history.  I was literally sweating and shaking.  I would describe it as a mini breakdown.

Wednesday – 8:59am.  Relieved.  After a magically speedy editing job, I was finished.  I handed it in electronically.  And I was calm.

Wednesday – 9:15am.  Furious.  The perfect way to celebrate would have been to purchase tickets to one of the Prince concerts in July.  They went on sale on Tuesday.  I was worried they would be sold out.  But no. They had tickets.  They just wouldn’t let me pay for the purchase.  I tried everything.  Imagine my rage.

Wednesday – 1pm.  Ecstatic. After getting some work done and attending a class, I finally got through on the phone.  I had a ticket to see Prince.  To know me is to know how happy that makes me.

Wednesday – 4pm.  Like I’m the shit.  Not only was I still awake and functioning, I was wrapping up a perfectly awesome meeting about my internship.  They gave me really positive feedback on my proposal.  And after dragging our feet to really get started, we’re making a big push to make it happen over the next couple of weeks.  I’ve already been introduced to some dope historians and genealogists who are teaching me a ton, and enthusiastically offering to provide support throughout the projectWe talked about the significance of uncovering the stories of Surinamese families, including the challenges of enslaved people and some interesting trends among free people.  They seemed as anxious to get started as I am.  Overwhelmingly exciting. 

But while I was having some type of conversation about genealogy, as the meeting went along, all I could think about was my excitement to get home to tear up some sleep.

Awkward Pause

Sometimes I can be socially awkward.  Although I think I’m getting better at socializing, I still have been known to find myself in some awkward pauses.  And so it was inevitable that black girl gone would go awkwardly silent for a couple of weeks. If this caused you anxiety of any sort – well, first of all, that surprises me – but more importantly, I’m very sorry.

The most shameful thing about my silence  is I left with my “grievances.”  I suspect this may have given the impression that I went into complainy mode, which quickly sucked me into a deep and dark place of unhappiness in Amsterdam.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  It’s actually been quite the opposite.   Almost immediately after writing that last post, things started falling into place.  All of the cable and internet equipment was included in the cable company’s shipment, allowing me to get online from my apartment the next day.  A day or two later I purchased a tv, washer, and dryer – I figured if I’m going to live the life I choose, why not do laundry at home.  I was spending less time on silly logistics and able to get into something close to a routine.   Life just seemed to get easier, almost as if I finally stopped driving with the parking brake on.  And since then, it’s been nothing but goodness.  Good classes.  Good people.  Good connections.  Good cookies.  And even some good grades.

But maybe I shouldn’t have said life got “easier.”  Between writing papers and reading lots of big words, I have little time for gardening and watching Dutch Sesame Street.  And considering I spent lots of time watching Dutch Sesame Street and gardening this past weekend, time management is my biggest challenge at the moment. That’s never going to be easy.

Nevertheless, more about the goings on shortly…promise.


We’ve all had crushes, right? You see someone from far and s/he’s totally dreamy. You get close enough to exchange the appropriate contact information of that era (facebook, phone, p.o. box), allowing you to confirm that the attraction is just as strong up close. You go out once or twice with starry, glazed-over eyes. L.L. and Boyz II Men sing in the back of your mind…”this is more than a cruuusshh.”

And then round about the third date you notice he ends most of his sentences with prepositions? Or her inside voice is not clearly distinguishable from her outside voice? Or he checks his work email more than once while you’re out? Not so much deal-breakers. But enough to raise an eyebrow and think, “really?”

Yeah, that’s where I am with Amsterdam right now. Please know that I’m not complaining. I’m still totally crushing. In fact, I see long-term potential here. I just uhhhh, have a few grievances.

It starts with the bank account. Hardly any stores accept the debit card that we hold so dear in the united states of america. And even though the visa sign shows up on various windows and cash registers, they don’t mean any kind of visa card that I’ve ever had. Unless you have a bank card that has one of these chip thingies, you need cash. Cash for everything. So I quickly learned that I would need a bank account in order to fully function here.

But I couldn’t apply for a bank account until I had an immigration/registration intake appointment with the university. 2 weeks – fine. After that, with a passport and student i.d. in hand, I walked over to ING, thinking I would walk out with a special place in the back to keep my money, like a bank account. But instead, I walked out with a one-page form letter explaining that it would take up to two weeks for them to review my application. I was instructed to wait for a letter in the mail that would provide further instructions.

Meanwhile, classes started and life continued to expect me to function. And as you may remember from earlier, existing in Amsterdam without a bank account is quite difficult. Professors expected multiple articles to be printed, which would require use of any of the printers in university buildings. And that would be fine, except those printers require one of those damn chip thingies found in bank cards. Another option would be to spend a bunch of money on a special card (with less value than what I would have paid) just for the priviledge of printing.

And as I’ve navigated around my lack of printing abilities, I’ve come home every night to an apartment lacking in both cable and internet (and a tv, but that’s clearly irrelevant). Although I found it to be annoying to be without the internet for a couple of weeks, I’m finding it harder and more irritating each day. Why haven’t I just contacted the cable/internet people and told them what I want? I tried. But without a local bank account number, I couldn’t even ask for an appointment. No one cared how much money I may have had in my U.S. account.

A letter and bank card arrived in the mail about a week later. I rejoiced. It was official, including a bank account number and everything. Since the guy at the bank told me I would take this letter to the nearest ING bank/post office (not sure why they’re often combined) as the next step, and since I couldn’t read any of the letter written in Dutch, I went to the post office first thing the next morning. I even had an extra pep in my step. But with a blank stare, the lady looked me up and down and said, “did you get the second letter telling you to come here for your pin code?” I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t. And it wasn’t funny anyway.

I walked home in defeat – yet still happy that the bank/post office was in short walking distance. I would have to wait a few more days for the next set of instructions to arrive. In the meantime, I went to an internet cafe to sign up for internet and cable. With a bank account number, I could at least get one thing accomplished. Going back and forth between their website and google translate’s version of it, I managed to get through 4 or 5 pages of the online form, ending with a confirmation page indicating I would receive an email. Well, I didn’t get the email until several days later – in my junk mail, and only after I had submitted a brand new request. Both follow-up emails basically said “thanks” and listed what I requested. Okay, now what? Do I get an appointment? Can you give me the internet now?

Meanwhile, the second letter from the bank did come. So three days after my first attempt, first thing in the morning, I was back at the bank/post office. The guy did something mysterious that may or may not have involved a machine. Then he handed me a bizarrely sealed envelope on what seemed to be carbon copy paper. This, he assured me, was what I needed to make my account official: my four-digit pin code. Okay, thanks and all. But why couldn’t I have just chosen my own pin code about 2 weeks ago?

Great, with a bank account, I was on the road to normalcy. Now I just waited for information on when/how the internet would arrive. I couldn’t call because the customer service charges 10 cents per minute, and I’ve been holding off on settling my phone matters until I had a bank account, of course. Then just yesterday (Friday), I received a notice from the post office that I had a package. I tracked it from my phone to learn it was from the cable/internet company. What could be in this package? A letter explaining what to do next? Are they just sending me the stuff to install myself? I was instructed to be at home between noon and 6pm today (Saturday) to receive the delivery. I planned my day around receiving this package. I refused to miss it. Yet, when I walked by my door this morning, around 10am (obviously before I was on alert), there was another notice that I had missed the delivery. My whisper of a doorbell and the lies of the previous notice conspired to leave me without a clue for at least another weekend.

A very long story just to say I’m annoyed. With so many things figured out, balancing the fine line of freedoms and regulations in a way that seems to mostly fall on the side of the people and happiness, how can this place tolerate such frustrating absurdity? I’m comforted by the fact that these are one-time issues. Once they’re resolved, I shouldn’t have to go through any of this again. Or at least I learned enough about these Dutch processes to have clearer expectations in the future.

And don’t worry. Although I’ve just noticed this minor flaw, when I think of Amsterdam, I still hear Dwele singing, “I know it’s early…I know it’s soon…but truth be told…I think I looove you.”

Moments in a Week

Monday. On the evening of my (and the Queen’s)birthday, I sat at the cafe across the street from my apartment, sipping red wine and eating pasta with fancy mushrooms and a light cream sauce. As in most Dutch restaurants, the lights were low and candles were on every table (a general and cosy approach to life that the Dutch refer to as “gezellig”). I sat between two large groups, one a family including a baby and perhaps a grandparent, the other a gathering of about six friends. The mood was quietly festive. Jill Scott played in the background. And the woman who helped me with the menu (who I assume is also one of the owners) periodically checked to make sure I was enjoying everything. Although she and I didn’t discuss that it was my (or the Queen’s) birthday, she and her sweet cafe certainly contributed to my private celebration.

Tuesday. Due to a somewhat spontaneous appointment to meet my new favorite contractor to get started on the garden makeover, I found myself in a gigantic home depot-type of store early in the morning, sleepy and freezing. But since this was our third shopping trip together, the almost three-hour process didn’t seem quite as painful as it could have. We discussed the vision for the space, which started out as a dead and unattended garden and has plans of becoming my outdoor sanctuary. As I chose a water pump for the fountain (I’ve been so serious about this fountain), a cat in the store casually drank water from one of the big model fountains. Even the gigantic home depot-type stores can be gezellig at times.

Wednesday. Cold sweating and on the verge of tears at 9am. I was up and ready to go by about 8am. Since I had no clue where my 10am class was located (I had a building name with no address), and since I still could only use very basic internet on my phone, I needed to act first thing in the morning. At 8am, the university information center was closed and wouldn’t open until 10am. There would, however, be a phone line opening up at 9am. This meant it was pointless to go anywhere on campus if people wouldn’t be around until later. So although 9am put me a little too close to the time of the class, I waited. And at 8:59 I spoke with a man who knew nothing of this mysterious building. He gave me a vague idea of the location of the complex it was likely a part of. In the end, he wished me good luck.

I was panicking, picturing myself in front of the academic probation board explaining why I hadn’t shown up to any of my classes – shrugging, “I just couldn’t find any of the buildings.” But then I finally thought to call my department. After a couple of tries, I finally found someone who knew. It was nowhere near that complex the first guy mentioned. And it also had nothing to do with the building listed for the class. So fortunately, by 9:15 I was out the door, and the woman from the department was just emailing the rest of my class.

After much confusion, by 9:45 I was in the lobby of yet another building, along with about 40 percent of my classmates. None of us could find the damn class. And once the professor joined the search crew, we knew it would eventually be gezellig again. The class didn’t fully start until about 10:30. Some people came about an hour late. And some never showed up at all. But in spite of the drama, it was a great class. I’m looking forward to going straight there next week.

Thursday. Meeting two new professors, my classmates and I introduced ourselves. Many of us had already met. But a few were new. And since I’m shameful with remembering names, the re-introductions were helpful. Dutch, German, French, Costa Rican, Greek, American, Chinese…people in the program are from all over the place. Pretty diverse academic backgrounds as well. But the things that stand out to me the most: I’m the only black person and (I’m pretty sure) the only one in her 30s. I need to get over my issues, I know. But they’re being nice to the old black woman. And I find them to be quite charming. That also goes for the professors who seem to be quirky and intense smartasses. One an anthropologist and the other a sociologist, they each described research interests and general backgrounds that made me want to grab a beer with them. Sitting among colleagues and beginning to learn from some pretty dope academics on subjects that directly relate to my life plans – in spite of the awkward seating and terrible lighting, I would still say it felt pretty gezellig.