Thursday, 2 January 2020

My year

2019 was not an easy year for me at all, which is one of the reasons I haven't been active on my blog all year. Last year near New Year's Eve, I was extremely anxious, because I was terrified that my grandpa would pass away in 2019. In addition, I had a feeling of dread in my gut, as I felt like my then boyfriend would leave me, too. The idea of two of the most important people in my life leaving me ... oef. Usually, or at least prior to 2019, I would tend to get overly worried about the turn of the year (even more so than usual). However, this time, I was right. Both things happened within a month and a half. On the 20th of January my grandpa passed away and about 3,5 weeks later, my boyfriend of four years broke up with me. And all of that after I finally quit my anti-depressant medication in December of 2018 (it took me way longer than expected and it made me a bit anxious). Needless to say, I did not have a great start in 2019. I was supposed to start writing my Master's thesis in February, but instead I spent most of February in bed crying and puking (because when my mental health dwindles, so does my body's ability to deal with sustenance).

I was really depressed. Who wouldn't be? I didn't even celebrate when I published my very first article. My world had been turned upside down. I'd been fearing my grandfather's death for over a decade already. He was in his forties when he had his first heart attack (somehow, he was able to double his age after that) and the last few years of his life he was hooked on oxygen as his lungs could not function properly on their own anymore. I knew it was coming, and yet it still happened so sudden. Four days before his death, I sat next to him on the couch and we talked about my studies, my life, his life, and everything. Like always, he waved at the window until I was out of sight with the sweetest of smiles on his face. Then all of a sudden, he was in the hospital. We all raced to Amsterdam to visit him. By the time I got there, he was awake again, thankfully. I held his hand.
When my parents and I decided to get some stuff for grandma so she could spend the night. Grandpa stroked my cheek and I told him I'd see him soon (or actually, I said 'tot zo'). By the time we got back, he was vast asleep. When we came back to the hospital the next day, he was already unconscious. I spent more than 6 hours next to his bed holding his hand, feeling him get cold, watching his breaths become shallower as time progressed. When he passed on, I didn't even notice. It happened so peacefully. He was surrounded by his wife, his two sons, daughters-in-law, and one of his grandchildren. My grandmother was holding him while her head was resting on his shoulder, comforting him, letting him know it was okay. I was still holding his hand and I was watching my grandmother because I feared she might break; they'd been married for more than 60 years. I only realised it had happened when my dad started to cry and said: he's gone. I didn't allow myself to sob until I was in the shower the next morning, as it was the first time I was alone. I'd never lost someone before, he is the first grandparent to pass. I realise how lucky I have been, I had so much time with him, especially considering he had his first heart-attack at such a young age. But I was so, so scared. Next to being extremely heart-broken, I had absolutely no idea how I was supposed to deal with this kind of loss. 

I decided that I needed to be there as much as I could. I needed to help, what else was I going to do? So I stayed in Amsterdam and helped my grandma, parents, aunt and uncle with organising the funeral. It was tough, but it was important. In addition, I decided I needed to give a speech, even though I hate public speaking with a passion. But for him, I'd do anything. So I did. I also wrote my speech in a letter (together with my Aunt's speech, who lives in Australia) and put them with grandpa in the casket. While I regret seeing him after he died, I needed to give him a version of my speech. It felt wrong not to as it was about him, meant for him. In hindsight, I feel awful for not having been able to share the speech with him before he passed. I wasn't able to tell him I loved him, because I assumed I'd see him awake again. But I didn't. Last thing I'll ever say to him is: see you soon. And while of course, that seems lovely, especially considering his religious beliefs (even though I do not share them), I really wish I would have had the chance to tell him I loved him, at least once more.

Needless to say, I needed my support system after my grandpa passed away. But my then boyfriend was on a school trip in Costa Rica (he'd left the night before my grandpa got submitted to the hospital). Initially, I didn't want to tell him it had happened, because he wouldn't be able to be there for me anyway and I feared it would ruin his trip, or worse, that he'd insist on coming back. But his mother did not think that was fair, because it would just hurt his feelings if he found out later, knowing I'd kept it from him and had to deal with it on my own. She was completely right. He'd feel guilty, he was sweet like that, and that was not what I wanted. I needed him to know. We called a couple times, which helped me a lot. But unfortunately, soon after he got back, he broke up with me and took the most important part of my support-system with him. This was a tough pill to swallow so soon after losing my grandpa. I was traumatised. It wasn't anyone's fault, life doesn't stop when you're in a state of grief, but it was really unfortunate timing (again, no one's fault, things just happen) and it really changed me. In addition, my best friend had been travelling the world since November, which was a bit unfortunate also. I felt really alone. I lost about 20 kg in 2 months due to my inability to keep food down. I was a shell. Fortunately for me, my brother moved into our student house the day after the break-up, which allowed me to spent some time with him, which really helped. Plus, my best friend reached out to someone really, really great, who's known me and been there for me for the past decade. He allowed me to lean on him, which I really needed.

In March, I started my internship at Moon, which publishes both Children's as well as Young Adult literature. Honestly, this dragged me out of my bubble. I couldn't focus on university stuff, because my field of study has always required me to be inside my head (obviously). But my internship allowed me to be active most of the time. Plus, it got me out of the house, gave me a purpose, allowed me to spent a lot of time with books and exposed me to happy people, which was really important. So when my best friend got back at the end of April, I was already doing a lot better (even though she still freaked out when she saw me because I weighed about 86ish kg when she left in November 2018, and in April I was only about 64 kg). I hadn't been myself really. Before I'd always been somewhat of a house mouse (at least for the past few years), in the sense that I enjoyed spending time at home. But in March, April, May and most of June, I tried to be home as little as possible. Or at least, never alone. I spent two nights a week at my grandma's place, because it was closer to my internship, but honestly mostly because I just did not want her to be alone. I'd joined Tinder so I could date (I'd always been a relationship kind of girl, but I didn't want to be that anymore. I'd just get hurt again). I had a few one night stands (which I'd never done before), and I was drinking quite a lot. It seemed like I was finally a 'student' in that sense. But in all honesty: I was waiting to finally hit rock bottom.

About three days after my best friend got back, I went on my first date with Jordy, whom I'd met on Tinder. We'd been talking non-stop since we matched (seriously, it never stopped). And it was my very first tinder-date ever (excluding the nice meet-up I went on with a friend who I 'ran into' on Tinder). I fell in love with him about two weeks later, when a Friday-night date turned into a weekend slumber party, but denied it for the longest time. I never ever thought I was going to fall in love again, let alone so soon after the break up, because I thought I'd just lost the love of my life. And then it turned out I was wrong (I realise this is what people always say about past relationships, #hindsight, so yeah don't judge me for that). But this man is extremely rational, which is not necessarily something I'm used to, because I am not always rational when it comes to my own life (#understatement). Plus, he's got his life together, which was new, because I do not (which might just be part of the student-life). It took me a long time to allow him to get close to me. I pretended that it was never going to turn into a relationship because we were so extremely different. Mostly due to where we grew up (very different experiences) and our differing lifestyles. We are in different stages of life, since he has a stable job, owns a house, has a stable sleep rhythm, whereas I'm a student, living with 3 other people, who never sleeps, who has a mental health history I didn't think he would want to deal with. But I was very wrong, again. Turns out all of that stuff doesn't matter when you agree on the most fundamental issues, have a connection and can truly be yourself around each other.

I also did a couple crazy things that were extremely out of character while we were already dating, like going to Disneyland with him for his 30th birthday about a month after we met. We hadn't met each other's parents, friends, or anything yet. In fact, I told my family (save for my youngest brother who is also my room-mate) that I was going to Disneyland with three friends (sorry Mom and Dad), which might have been a tiny bit irresponsible, I just wasn't ready to commit. But it was a very good trip which made me realise that, in fact, this man is extremely kind, really understanding, an excellent listener, very great at planning a trip and good in a crisis.

And then, it finally happened: in June I hit rock bottom, not once but twice, in two extremely different ways. The first time, I truly hurt Jordy. The second time, I really upset my grandma. Neither deserved how I treated them, especially my grandma, who obviously has her own sadness to deal with. It was hard and I feel extremely guilty about it, but I found a way to make it up to them, or at least they found it in them to forgive me. But it needed to happen. I needed to get smacked in the face to get out of my self-destructive bubble, in which I didn't really care about my future, my health, or what happened to me. And when I finally hit rock bottom, I realised I needed to stop drinking so much (on an empty stomach) and start eating and sleeping properly again.

That is not to say that the rest of the year was easy. I have yet to find a way to deal with my abandonment issues that were activated due to what happened in January and February (not that they weren't there before, but to a lesser extent). Plus, while getting into the RMA Comparative Literary Studies was an amazing achievement, something I'd been working towards for about 3 years, it also brought a lot of stress and insecurities with it. Because, next to feeling like I couldn't trust anyone to stay, I also felt like I was not good enough to stay around for. This got transferred into my academic capabilities as well. Or at least, that's how I felt: like I was not good enough to be in the RMA (still haven't beat this completely, but getting there). In order to motivate myself, I wrote "You are good enough" on my mirror as a daily reminder. I changed it to "You are worth it" a couple weeks ago, because "good enough" no longer covered how I felt about myself. This might not seem like a big deal - it is only a slightly different phrase after all - but to me it really is. Other achievements of the year are that I've become more comfortable in my own skin (I wasn't one to wear crop tops before, for example), I've become comfortable cooking for a group of people (like making dessert with Christmas and two quiches for NYE), and I've grown a lot as a person in regards to my mental health.

Phi is missing in the pic, a mission for 2020.
Now, I am left excited for 2020. And I can honestly say I don't remember the last time I was excited about going into a new year. In addition, celebrating NYE has never been this chill. It was so lovely. I am excited about 2020, to experience new things with Jordy, spend time with my family, to go out with my girls more, and everything else. If anything, I have learned so much about myself over the past year: I thought I'd die of sadness if I lost a loved one, but I've found a way to remember my grandpa daily, and work through the grief. Of course some days are harder than others, but I'm managing. I'm also learning to trust someone with my heart again and I've never been this serene in a relationship (though there are still ups-and-downs of course. No one is perfect), but this probably also has to do with the fact that I've developed as a person. I've gotten so much closer to the important people in my life. And, with the help of my person, I've now found a group of gorgeous, extremely loving, encouraging, intelligent, ambitious and badass women, to lean on and cheer me on. Thanks Lea, you're the best!

Saturday, 1 December 2018

In Time Review

It's been years since I last watched In Time. I enjoyed it then, as Amanda Seyfried is in it. I of course watched it as soon as it came out. She has a certain quality (maybe her eyes, or her cute disposition, or the way she always makes me root for her, even when we are not supposed to). I always thought it was an odd film, ineffective in its message. For example, why is Sophia (Amanda) always running in heels, for the entire film? Who, realistically, runs that way? Maybe it is because she’s tiny, and that way Seyfried and Timberlake fit better together. Maybe it’s to make her more feminine (if such a thing exists), or to make her appear wealthier?

 Similarly, I thought Timberlake was an odd choice for the hero of the story, especially with so many popular, good actors in the film (such as Matt Bomer, Olivia Wilde). But upon re-watching it, I noticed that younger Alyssa may have missed the clue.

The rich use one single excuse, over and over, for their wealth. They use it to excuse why others are living is such horrible situations just so the rich can live comfortably, without worrying about dying of old age, or running out of time: "For a few to be immortal, many must die." We can't all live forever. Where would we put everyone?

I always assumed the film was trying to tell us that the 'system' we have now is better. Everyone lives and ages. We are initially given the same prospects, we are not born with a time clock that will start running out as soon as we turn 25. Assuming we die of natural causes, of course, which we all know is not generally the case. But theoretically we would have more equal chances with the 'system' we have in place. That way there is more 'justice'.

But really, how is it different? How is the 'time system' displayed in the film different from the world we live in? For a few to live comfortably, many must die. So is the film one big allegory for life as we know it, for our world.

Sophia’s father in the film states that you cannot mess with the system. Handing out time, giving people more equal chances, "it could cripple the system." But that is the point, as Will (played by Timberlake) points out: "No one should be immortal if even one person has to die." I've often wondered how it would feel to feel immense pride for your home country, to be a proud Dutch girl, since that is what I am. But what is my country but a set of systems and a border surrounding it. Why are we so set on defining ourselves with hierarchical systems. With boxes. Why can't we be people. But who am I to say such a thing. I'm a western, white, woman in a hetero-sexual relationship. What do I know.

I wish the film had performed better at the time, I wish it wasn’t as cliché and unrealistic in its execution. Maybe then it would have reached more people. I’ve always enjoyed it, but then I’m biased when it comes to Seyfried.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Jack Harries on Climate Change

Don't want to be here
I feel scared
scared of my future
don't want to be part of this,
environmental destruction
"this is ecocide"

We understand the issue
should be angry
should be demanding
but we are scared, overwhelmed
"we're fucked"
"this is genocide"

Our future is at stake
they simply ignore it
we take action, over climate
can't break down,
can't let extinction win, or
"my grandchildren have no future"

This is a poem inspired by an article from The Guardian, on the environmental protest in London earlier today. During a creative writing workshop, organised by my teacher Mia You and her poet friend Obe Alkema, they asked us to write poetry using lines from articles we had read. So basically, I did not write any of the sentences myself. I used lines from the article, changed the order, and adapted some of them (changing the tense and stuff). In a sense it is a response to what Jack Harries said in the article, or the article as a whole (I guess).

I've never done this before. I don't really write poetry, so this is a new thing. But since it's such an important issue I felt like it was sort of important to share with you. Here's a link to the original article: "Social media influencer urges young people to protest over environment: Jack Harries was at protest by Extinction Rebellion aiming to bring London to a standstill."

Here's Jack's reaction to the article on Instagram. Jack also posted a few pictures of the event on his Instagram, among which this picture on the right. I hope you find it interesting as well. I always find his messages quite inspiring. But also rather painful. But I guess that's partially the point. We need to be aware of what is happening to our home. How we are responsible for it (we being humankind). What we can do to change it, or at least avoid it getting way, way worse. As he mentions in the article: "I think we have gone past the point of turning off our light bulbs or having shorter showers. This is an existential threat.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Rushdie: What Were They Thinking?

Utrecht, the beautiful city I live in, is in the middle of a literature festival, also referred to as ILFU (International Literature Festival Utrecht). Book markets, readings, panels, and all kinds of events surrounding literature for two weeks. I decided to attend three events: Humanities night, The Night of the Novel, and the YA afternoon (I mean how could I not!). I will write about all three events in separate posts, as they happened on different dates. 

The first thing I thought when I heard Salman Rushdie would attend the ILFU for the Humanities Night, was: but how? Not because I didn’t think he would be capable of coming to an event, but more because I wondered how that would work, practically, with his security detail, and the chaotic size and layout of Tivoli Vredenburg (loads of different entrances and rooms and such). Upon buying a ticket, it soon became clear that the organisation was taking it rather seriously: no bags, tickets on name with ID, no glasses in the room, metal detectors and everything. I was confused by the fact that the tickets hadn’t sold out yet, because he's kind of a big deal (understatement much). It seemed like they had it all figured out.

That was until the day itself. I realised that the various speakers would be presenting in different rooms, at different times. This meant that I wouldn't be able to see all the speakers. This was the first let down. Rushdie himself would speak in the middle of the event, but the queuing started as soon as the door opened. Well, actually, even before that, to get into the event itself. The other speakers were rushed, only given 20 minutes, and disorganised. With Ann Rigney’s talk, the monitor was not working, while her talk involved the representation of symbols in images. Dan Hassler, while extremely funny, had to talk so fast that it was hard to take notes. 

When Rushdie’s slot rolled around, my friend and I went downstairs to start queuing. But by then the queue was already so dramatically long, that we couldn’t even see the beginning. The security detail was thorough but really slow. I started wondering why they decided to include such a big name in such a night. Why not give him his own night? Or have separate tickets? To avoid the endless queuing, but more importantly to avoid the rushing (pun intended). Rushdie’s presence overshadowed the other speakers. While understandable, the event would have been more memorable had they taken this into account.  

When we finally got into the room, about fifteen minutes after the interview was supposed to start, the auditorium was still largely empty, due to the significant amount of people queuing behind us. This resulted in people silently walking into the room the entire time, which was frustrating for everyone involved. It also meant that the speakers that would talk after Rushdie, had to be postponed. By that time, people were exhausted and not really interested in (or aware of) the other talks. Such a shame.

The interview itself was disappointing as well. Not because of Rushdie, mind you, as he was charming, witty and fascinating. No, it was disappointing due to the interviewer. He came across as unprepared, judgemental and arrogant. He didn’t seem to respect Rushdie in the slightest. His questions were mainly focussed on the contents of Rushdie’s latest book, but even these were slightly shallow. It would have been more fascinating to hear Rushdie talk about his experiences in the literary field, his other books, anything else. All in all, Rushdie’s anecdotes were definitely the highlight of the night. But the night itself was poorly organised and chaotic. I wasn't at all hopeful for the other two events for which I had purchased tickets, but more on that later.