Tuesday, September 6, 2011

After Dark

Reading Murakami's 'After Dark', which takes place during one night, in one day, put me in a diary mood. This is a book in which almost-strangers have intimate conversations with each other. Not dramatic, confrontational or needy, just intimate.
I was watching Ze Frank's videos in the past couple of days, and the same kind of sadness struck me as I had in high school. Back then, I was unable -and didn't even try- to share my love for strange books or movies with anyone beyond my family and Philip. It's hard to accept that what touches you on a very fundamental level means nothing to most other people. The same is happening with Ze. I'm sure Sonja won't get it, and doesn't want to get it, but to me, Ze means something. He's the reason I started vlogging, and that means something. Sonja gets that a little, but not really.
This is one of the things we both find hardest to accept: the fact that we're different from each other on a very basic level. The things that move her, make her laugh, make her turn up the Yugo songs at full blast and close the door on me, are not the things that move me, make me laugh, make me steal any minute of alone time to read a book.
And yet this difference is also the basis for our relationship. We love the other one exactly because the other is different. It makes the relationship hard many times, but also alive at other times. We appreciate and hate the ability in the other to change us, to make us do things we don't really feel like doing, like move to Holland or take driving lessons. We're both unhappy a lot of the time, but we don't want to be without the other person.
We're happier when we're apart for a while, and we know it. I just hung up on Sonja, and she was laughing. She had her friend Ursa over and it sounded -through the 985 kilometers separating us- like she felt good and relaxed. At the moment, she likes me. Should the way our relationship began -exchanging pieces of text on a computer screen, leading up to our actual meeting- be a hint of what we're like: best when separated by geography, communicating only through mechanical devices? Maybe so, but that's not an option. This relationship is a job, but then everything is a job, as David Byrne put it.
I like to write, and blog, and vlog, and read, and watch movies, and learn Japanese. How can I hold on to these things while still meeting the obligations of this relationship? How can I be a good boyfriend and pursue these solitary activities?
It occurred to me today that you could rationally calculate how many books you are likely to read in your lifetime. Just keep track of how many pages you read for a few weeks or months, and then extrapolate to how old you think you'll be. I'm afraid to do the math, but the realization that your amount of books left is limited makes you consider what to read more wisely.
The same goes for your lifetime in general. Art is long but life is short. It's best to make the most of it, and making the most of it means caring for the people you love. Learn to drive. Dare to dance. Get married. Have kids. Buy a house. And don't approach everything, or rather anything with dread and self-pity. Only assholes feel sorry for themselves.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Slovenly in Slovenia

The past four days have a been a typical roller coaster ride between Sonja and me. We've been together for nine years now, and still communication breaks down at the most basic level at least once a week. It's not likely to be any different 3 years from now, although I expect that we'll be threatening to divorce one another then, rather than threaten to break up.
It's hard for me to say how much of this long weekend was planned by her, but if I believe her it was all spontaneous. Still, it was a test or at least a tryout. The thing is, she's been torn between two countries in the past. In the west, there's Amsterdam, a nice city with friendly people and (for now) a lucrative if very boring job. And there's me, of course. In the east, there's Ljubljana, a town she may not love to death, but still considers home in many ways. Slovenia in general offers many things Amsterdam does not: natural beauty close by, a language she's fluent in, family and friends. And there's not me, of course, which is a relief at times.
This holiday has been an attempt of Sonja to bring these two worlds together, and the frustration over the difficulties surrounding this brought her to fury and tears on separate occasions. For one, I'm not terribly enthusiastic about living in this country. For two, the lack of a car (neither of us are driving at this point, and I recently spent 18 months being yelled at by a driving instructor on the verge of a nervous breakdown) is a big impediment in these parts. For three, having me over more often would mean letting go of her 'third place', the place to get away from it all, 'it all' including me.
Although she mentioned in the past that 'you should come with me to Slovenia more often', I was little prepared for this test, and displayed my typical passivity, mild enthusiasm combined with noncommittal agreement. In many situations, this posture -which Sonja often confuses with hypocrisy or lack of initiative- has served this relationship well --more than she's willing to admit to me or herself. But now, it was a large nuclear device of obstructionism, obliterating any can-do attitude in its deadly path.
Poor Romina was caught in the middle, confused as usual, but more and more confident that when we say we're breaking up, we're not breaking up. When we were sitting inside a cloud on a mountaintop and I drove Sonja to tears, Romina drew us some ladybugs (her signal that we should stop fighting), two clouds falling in love, and a calendar on which we should mark unhappy faces (for days we have fights) and happy faces (for days we don't).
In the end, I think I made Sonja realize some fundamental truths about how I see myself in this relationship. Yes, I lie to her (although we agreed that from now on, on Tuesdays I would be honest), but I'm moving toward an attitude where I grow up more so I have to lie less. I was careful to stress that this change is not martyrdom or self-pity, but an honest desire to become the man she wants me to be. As always, Sonja is the one who believes she gave up everything while I am still living the comfortable life I lived before we met. She's dead wrong: yes, her sacrifice has been huge, but so has mine. The difference is that what I lost or gave up is nothing concrete or tangible, but a certain lightness to life, a sense of humor and optimism, a Western innocence if you will.
I could write several screens more, but let's not focus on the navel-gazing. I enjoyed Bled and Bohinj, two lake areas surrounded by mountains, as well as the warm weather in Ljubljana and the encounters with Ursa and Branka. I enjoyed spending all this time with Sonja --when we weren't fighting.
But I hated the moment when I spoke my mind, commenting how beautiful Bohinj was and how I even wouldn't mind biking from Ljubljana to here, which Sonja immediately incorporated into her plan, going off about how essential driving a car was if you want to see all this. She doesn't realize that this way, she'll get less and less spontaneity from me, partly because her reaction hurt me deeply, but also partly because I'll have less spontaneity to impart.
There's a preciousness that I feel I can't share with her, not now nor ever. She minds that she seems not to be a part of it, even though she is. The reason I don't open my heart to her is not, as she thinks, because I have no heart to open, but because I'm afraid of having it ripped to shreds. She's hurt me in the past, unwittingly and through no fault of her own, but hurt me nonetheless. She wears a protective shield that attaches itself to nothing and nobody. She holds nothing dear in the deepest, suicidal sense of the word, not even me. Romina is the only exception, I would say.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Can't blog for several days; off to Slovenia.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I drove with Sonja in a taxi to the airport this morning. She's always taking taxis, because the boss pays, and I can't help considering it an unnecessary luxury. The Indian or Pakistani taxi driver was very talkative. After he told me (only me; he spoke Dutch) that 3 people died yesterday in an accident on the stretch of highway we were driving on, he almost made a repeat by narrowly jumping out of the way of a car as we entered Schiphol.

Sonja and me had a hurried goodbye. I looked for a post office on the airport but found none. Drank a Starbucks tall latte (at the moment, the Starbucks on Schiphol is the only one in the entire country -- I'm sure that's changed in 2011) and caught the train to work.

I'm getting obsessive over building our new R6 interface, spending almost no time on what my job title says I should be doing (tech writing). At lunchtime, I speedwalked to the post office and back to run an errand for Sonja: delivering gifts for the newborn baby of one of her business associates, the Dutch lawyer in her arbitration case. Good exercise, we're trying to lose weight.

At the end of the day I saw a demo online for Ubiquity, an exciting new add-on for the Firefox browser (does that still exist?). I mailed it to Ingrid, my former fellow tech writer turned marketing person, but she didn't respond. I wonder if she's OK, I could swear I saw her teary-eyed while talking to our colleague Otto.

On the way home, I read Dictionary of the Khazars (almost finished, will probably finish today).

I tried to eat healthy but ended up eating too much. I'm still below my daily calorie intake according to a Dutch site.

Haven't heard from Sonja since she called me from takeoff. Will call her soon.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hello future me

Today is August 27th. 2008 for me, 2011 for you. You (I) won't see this text until three years have passed. I wonder what you will still remember from three years ago?

The idea for this blog came to me when I was reading the book 'Dictionary of the Khazars', in which a characters writes letters to herself.

Just to fill you in on what's going on in my life at the moment.

Sonja and me are living together in a rented apartment near Amstel station in Amsterdam. I'm working as a technical writer turning into a functional designer/usability expert at SDL Tridion. Sonja is working for KD Group as a corporate lawyer. She's currently representing her company in an arbitration case.

We're getting serious about buying a house in the West of the city, where we used to live, and are taking concrete steps, talking to mortgage people. We've recently taken Romina to Paris, where both she and Sonja had a rotten time, and me too, to be honest. Sonja is reading a 1000-page biography of Hitler: the Holocaust and the nazis continue to fascinate her.

As for my family: my dad is his old, unchanging self in Den Haag; my mother is living in Apeldoorn, giving money to the offspring that needs it; Jessica is living in Amsterdam, fairly close to us. DB just moved up one floor in his Rotterdam apartment.

Have to stop now: Sonja is packing for Ljubljana, I'll be following her at the end of the week.
DB has just moved