40. Stranger in my own land

I cycled along the Rotte at a snail’s pace. As long as it lasted, I took the most of it. The lost son was home once again. Bloody great to be back. Back at those familiar cycling lanes, windmills, pancake-flat landscapes and skyline of Rotterdam. I enjoyed the picturesque inner cities, delicacies, cultural trips, architecture and history. Hail the down-to-earth coziness and smartshops rule okay. In many ways, the Netherlands is an excellent base. This is my nest to fly out from. It’s my island in the ocean, my dock to drop anchor at. It doesn’t matter how many trips there will be, how long they last, or where they lead. All the memories of big and small events come along. As does the place where you’re born and raised. That makes the script of the daily grind all the more comforting. Especially when everything seems the same once you return. Yet appearances are deceiving. Even known territory offers no guarantees in the end. Change is the only constant, as it turned out once again. What I saw before looks different now. Something felt different. Something essential, something I couldn’t put my finger on.

I smacked my bike against a lamppost and went for a stroll. Some people-watching and stretching the legs. Just because. Hearing those noisy market salesman. Watching the drunkards of the Oude Haven. Looking at photographing tourists in front of the Markthal and possessed consumers in the Koopgoot. I strolled through the hustle and bustle of the Witte de With, Meent and Lijnbaan attentively. Most people seemed to have it all figured out in life. Everything on track and in order. Plenty of savings, a well-thought-out career and a home packed with sleek furniture. Loved by – if lucky enough – close friends, a loving partner and offspring. Tanned by frequent holidays, gadgets in their pockets, stylish outfits and up-to-date with the latest trends or social media feeds. They might even earn a living by something truthful to themselves. Yes, I wish them the clarity of a mapped-out life path. I wish them the givens of the white picket fence existence. Many thrive on the foundation of comfort, stability and so-called certainties. But that autopilot paralyzes my wings. The sea of routine and predictability is too calm for me. Deep down, I knew it. What I could do with it remained a mystery though. So I kept walking in circles, hoping for a brilliant idea or something similar.

I roamed the streets in a daze. A runaway train of thoughts swallowed me whole. A bakery’s hot air popped the bubble. After some sniffing, I sat down on a bench to satisfy my appetite. The Grand Show passed by as I gulped down those fresh Eierkoeken. It was a flawless performance with a lot of buzz and fuzz. Everyone was busy. Busy with jam-packed agendas and the issues of the day. Busy with ‘having to perform’ or climbing an invisible ladder. Always rushing from one (self-imposed) obligation to the next. I sat and watched. Okay. This – is – IT. This is the seemingly rushed normality of today, the fleeting zeitgeist of this place and time. I studied the extraordinary scene in awe. Observe those scenes, always and everywhere. All the traveling left their marks. I realized that culture can normalize ANY kind of (ir)rational behavior or belief. Or, more importantly, that life – despite all its difficulties and contradictions – is quite simple in its essence. But why keep it simple if it can be difficult. Open the cultural bombing hatch for indiscriminate bombings. Stir up those ever-smoldering hotbeds. Motives are overrated. Just do it; perpetrators are humans as well. 

 I briefly slipped under the press of modernity as I digested those Eierkoeken. A latent aversion surfaced. I despised a world which – in my viewpoint – is becoming more commercial, demanding, unfair, impersonal, superficial and harsher. A world in which patience is becoming scarcer, attention spans shorter, tolerance less, egos bigger, the tone louder, the short term more decisive, the (collective) memory more selective, the course more unclear. A world which rewards elbowing, greed, lies, facades or loudmouths more than introspection, vulnerability, compassion or honesty. A world with excessive consumption, materialism, hoarding, control, division, individualism, fears, inequalities and pigeonholing. A world full of preventable misery, meaningless distractions, chronic dissatisfaction and (un)intentional ignorance. A world bogged down by rigid systems, astronomical debts, conflicting interests, unbalanced powers and limiting worldviews. A world exploding with corruption, manipulation, norms and traditions that I simply don’t understand. An upside-down world that feels increasingly weird to me, a crazy world from which there’s no escape. That, too, was a clear lesson of the wanderlust. It’s what it is. What I aspire is neither for sale nor to be found in education, professions, ideologies, institutions, courses, relationships, bank accounts, possessions, skills, groups, doctrines or status symbols. Something authentic, autonomous, pure, passionate, unconventional, raw, deep, worthy or call-it-whatever attracts me. That undefined layer does much more to me than anyone or anything.

Rain poured down. I put on my hoody and walked off. An inconvenient truth grabbed me by the throat. I tried to live “normally” against my better judgment. An imaginary sense of urgency prevailed Instead of full conviction. Secretly I longed for diverse experiences, for the unknown’s surprises instead of what was expected or ‘sensible’. What I wanted was more spirit and spunk, more open-mindedness and unpredictability. I wanted more flexibility and simplicity, more customization and abnormal antics. The overgrown path is just irresistible. It’s a remote path of alienation and misunderstanding. A path in which the rules, tactics, labels, prizes, tricks and peer pressures of the popular game are useless. Monopoly money, score sheets and made-up laws go back in the box. Put a lid on it and shove that bore-out aside. Far out! Bloody great that the genie is out of the bottle. Drawing beyond the set lines is fantastic. I’m all gone from faltering tapes or conveyor belts. Not truly belonging anywhere is fantastic. But oh well. Now what? Where does this strange way of thinking and warzone-resume lead to? Well… I called my mate and went to him. Blowing off some steam and laugh about the madness. Trying to share the mess in my head and shed some tears. Genuine tears of confusion, frustration and relief. Then back to bed. Sleep tight and sweet dreams about the “real” life.

They say there’s a sock for every old slipper, but a genie that’s out of the bottle doesn’t really fit anywhere.  

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