# 8. Oh hi, it’s been 10 years
On hitting the same walls ‘till you learn & how 10 years and a pandemic changed my relationship with Amsterdam
By the end of November last year, I wanted to write about heartbreak. I started and then it felt way too personal and scattered and difficult, and I gave up halfway. Then I decided to write about covid conspiracy theorists, and I did type up a text that I kept on my Notes app. I just needed to be in the right mental space to publish something like that. Then, via DM, I had discussions with anti-vaxxers who say that they are not anti-vaxxers, and - surprise, surprise - I felt the overwhelm that I was trying to avoid by keeping the text on draft. Then I thought of writing about procrastination and self-sabotage but that felt like I was repeating themes on my newsletter so I got discouraged. Then I started thinking that I was actually avoiding relevant topics and that was even worse, and - surprise, surprise - I felt even worse about myself. Then it occurred to me that I was keeping away from writing altogether because of perfectionism. Last year I wrote a few newsletters that I’m really proud of and it got me feeling like I couldn’t possibly match their quality this time. I could try, but thinking of what it took of me last time (the sheer number of hours and stress) to write just one of those, I couldn’t bring myself to go through the same thing again. That led me to the conclusion that I’m not made for this. Writing for a living. Who am I fooling. Clearly, I don’t have the resilience to do that. How do I expect to get paid for writing if can’t even put out the writing I said I would when I said I would. Welcome to my brain, friends.
Old lessons: a refresher
Obviously, after all these hours spent ruminating instead of taking action, sitting down to write A N Y T H I N G at all was looking more and more impossible. I was feeling increasingly anxious about it. My self-confidence going down the drain. Then I remembered 2013 when I felt stuck and depressed. I had this idea for a blog but just fiddling with it in my mind was overwhelming enough. Then I remembered 2019 when I felt stuck and depressed. I had a blog with traction and had started a career in writing, but had been dumped by a moron for the first time in my life and had no clue how to heal from that. Or how to go back to writing for that matter. Then I mulled over what I would have done differently on both those occasions if I was there now. For starters, I would have been gentle with myself. I would have validated my own experience of things, unconditionally. I would have nudged myself to write, no matter what. I would have written about what I was going through, even if the writing was bad. Because it doesn’t really matter how great the writing is, does it? Not in the long run. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that what counts, truly, is the process. The process as in the motion forward, every little bit of progression, the mini bits of relief, the tiniest, most granular, minuscule tastes of breakthrough. Those are the moments that stay with me.
These were the moments that stayed from those difficult years: When I mustered the courage to buy the interrail ticket for my first solo backpacking trip and decided to depart by the end of February 2013. The times leading up to the trip, when I managed to take myself for runs in my neighborhood in Sloterdijk. When, a few months later, I asked my friend to open a website on WordPress for me, and when I wrote the first blog posts on it and uploaded the first pictures, that nobody read and nobody saw, but that became so precious to me as documents of a blossoming. When I decided to organize an Amsterdive meet-up in 2019 which worked so smoothly, uplifted all the participants, and brightened up my day. When I read my poems aloud at the open mic at Labyrinth, felt my voice shake but did it anyway. When I signed up to tell a story about my grandpa at Mezrab, and rehearsed it going in circles on my bike at the Westerpark, and had a blank halfway through the performance but found a way to go back to the thread, and people were smiling while listening to me, and I was making meaning of everything with my embodiment of my grandpa’s words ten years before. Because my paternal grandpa was the one who knew. Whether a writer, whether a painter, he repeated with his coarse tobacco voice one afternoon in Lisbon to an incredulous twenty five year-old. That’s what you said you wanted to be when you grew up, remember? In all these moments, I was trying. I was mustering courage. I was starting again. I was getting back up. I was finding a way out. I was experimenting. I was regaining some hope. I was planting seeds. I was taking agency of my life.
The continuum is what matters. The iterations are what make the path interesting. The adventures. Every time that things didn’t go according to plan are the stories we tell each other. The hardship metamorphosed in learning. The first rays of light illuminating a pitch-black room. This could also be the sum of the last ten years because, a few days ago, I celebrated my 10th anniversary as an Amsterdammer. It’s been the most intense ten years in terms of inner growth, which fills me up with pride and joy.
Ah, Amsterdam, the dream.
In these ten years, every time I was away from Amsterdam, I longed for it. Amsterdam was my bubble of happiness and the safe space where I felt like I could be me, unconditionally. It was also the place where I healed, in every sense of the word. Coming from a Latin culture where everyone feels entitled to an opinion about your life, where the appearance of things is paramount to everything, - even the thing itself, - living in the Netherlands with its mentality of ‘dat moet jezelf weten’ (that’s your own business) was complete personal liberation. Until the past summer being back in my hometown - where I lived until I was eighteen, - felt stiffling. That place screamed trauma. I liked being in Lisbon, which was my home before Amsterdam, or in other parts of Portugal where I had no past, but I liked being there on holiday, exclusively. After roughly a week in Portugal, I’d long for Amsterdam, for my space, for my chosen family, for my life, unconstricted. In 2012, I left behind all domestic conventions and everything that didn’t serve me from my culture of origin. For ten years I did not spend Christmas with family, something very unusual where I come from. Instead, my mom would fly to Holland and join me for quality time together. Together, we created our own traditions and a new way of relating to each other, a new way of being mom and daughter.
I have always equated the Dutch capital with freedom, possibility, a mentality of openness, and disregard for the status quo. Typically, Amsterdam felt like a safe space where I was cared for and free; my individuality was respected. It was wonderful: a city where people got together to take care of communal gardens, where they kept the neighbors pakketje's safe when it got delivered by the postman, where one got to vote on how municipal money gets spent. Live and let live! Community in perfect harmony with respect for individual choices. The dream. That was until 2020 when the tale of individual freedoms has come to bite us in the ass.
And now, for an unexpected twist of events.
In some of my social circles, the talk has become sour with conspiracy theories. What started out with a fellow losing his shit at having to wear a face mask while in line to get his flat white at Lot61 (did the baristas there also believed the hoax?!) turned into a rhetoric of THEM wanting to control us (who THEY are is to remain perpetually unclear.) How unfair to have to sacrifice individual freedom in the name of some invisible threat, or the vulnerability of others. The virus could certainly not be as bad as authorities say because remember, THEY want to control us, plus some people did not get affected personally so, most likely, the threat doesn’t even exist. Moreover, - unbelievable! - there were economic interests involved! (Could it be that we had just started living under capitalism???) Plus, the media was the problem, MAINSTREAM MEDIA, which was now any and ALL MEDIA that reported on coronavirus. Except for thE grEAt AwAkEnIng, the YouTube channel that reports mostly on the deep state and is saying things as they are. On top of that, one could not be expected to make sacrifices in the name of the old, chronically ill, or overweight. Excess weight was now particularly sinful because it makes people lazy and negligent by nature, - and anyway people get what they deserve - so why should one bother? Sing along with me, I trust my immune system.
Welcome to the capital of Conspirituality
While I deeply love the city that enabled me to bloom into myself, dealing with local anti-vaxxers and conspiritualists during the last two years has showed me a disturbing side of the culture: the entitlement to personal freedom at the expense of the collective, the selective distrust of science, official data, and public institutions. The lack of mental flexibility to integrate the gray and very abstract areas that Science, Epidemics and Public Health policy entail (Yes, of course people can still contract the disease even when they’re vaccinated; yes, IC units are a finite resource because the highly specialized Human Resources that they absorb can’t be created out of thin air; yes, it does take more than 10 years to train a nurse specialized in pulmonary diseases; and yes vaccines work and this is the exact same technology that has kept you alive, darling.) It’s disturbing to see left-wingers coalescing with the extreme right, and oblivious to what that says about their movement (and the repercussions that that has in society.) The protests against covid measures just brought an extra layer of doom to an already burned-out society. Not only do we have to find energy god-knows-where to keep braving lockdown and everything else, but we also need to protect ourselves from the hysteria of people who choose to believe their local influencer more than they trust researchers and academia. Amsterdam doesn’t quite feel like a safe space at the moment. Not when people refuse to enter public spaces with a face mask on two years into this shitshow. Not when people see a piece of cloth - intended to protect against contagious diseases, - as a symbol of oppression (facepalms with noise.) Not when people feel like the most pressing issue of their time is the outraging covid restrictions they have to face as free citizens of the western world. Not when people don’t question their privileges. There’s a moment when ‘moet jezelf weten’ is not liberation anymore as much as it is navel-gazing hyper-individualism. It’s perhaps unfair to equate a whole city to a part of its population but, after two years of *this* I’m coming to terms with the impact it had on the way that I relate to Amsterdam. I can’t wait to be in Portugal again, and saying this still makes me incredulous.