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Thursday, November 26, 2015

A new backpack

In Dutch there is a metaphor in which a backpack signifies the load of life experiences or physical complications one carries into the future. Sometimes the backpack is replaced by a suitcase but the metaphor stays the same.

I have been having some real backpack troubles a few weeks ago. 

My favourite backpack was a blue-green one that I bought one or two years ago in a time in which I saw how my relationship with my mother had truncated my own personal development. Now it was time to work on my own life and I loved the coincidence of owning a new backpack while making a new start.
Over time I started to embellish the backpack with artificial flowers.  It was a game with a very simple rule: the flowers should not have been bought, begged for or stolen. I would either have to find them or receive them as a gift. As it turned out they were all single flowers, lost by their owners, lying bedraggled on the sidewalks or in the grass borders along the streets. A colourful mix of rejects showing off their worth on my bag. I fear I identified myself with them.

And now the zipper had given in... just while I had no money to have it repaired and wasn't able to repair it myself....
But no problem... I kept the bag for show and dug up an old backpack I got through the food bank, upon which I depended 5 years ago. Not exactly a favorite, but still pretty good.
That's what the cat thought too, when he used it instead of the litter box, making it totally unsuitable for buying food. Even carrying other stuff in it didn't sit well with me...
In only a couple of days I had lost two backpacks. My shopping tour for an affordable one did not pay off, so I settled for using my other bags instead. Who needs a backpack? 

A little while later.... just when I was not looking for a backpack, but only for comfort by visiting a dear friend and going out shopping together... did I run into it... the perfect backpack: the right size, beautiful color and a not too common design. All this and still fitting well within my budget. I took it from the shelf thinking how I didn't need it... I was doing pretty well using my shoulder- and handbags... but suddenly my heart leaped and I saw Serendipity smiling at me from behind the store's rack, whispering that it had a different value... worthy of a new blog post.

I saw what she meant. A new start. Letting go of old views and values. Even better: a backpack is not for carrying around old pain, it's for carrying what you can use to build the best possible future. It's a tool bag!

No longer asking Why but How...
For so often I have analysed why I have stranded in the here and now. I think I did find the answer.  But it's only of use if I see its lesson, get off my ass and walk again. Carrying only the new wisdom, not its history, with me.
I shouldn't put my dysesthesia and tinnitus in my backpack and definitely not the story of how I got them.. But the new life style, the techniques and list of good foods that are beneficial in my current physical condition.
And I have a lot of new 'things'  -sorry folks-  to put in my backpack: from dog walking and yoga to a whole bunch of new friends. 
The hike would no longer be about looking back to see which stone has "made"  me trip (huh huh.. I tripped over it) but about looking around to enjoy the view and  looking forward to see what should be my next step. 

If you pack your backpack that way, you are traveling as light as you can.

Hm, wonder what the beautiful cognac color of this new bag might signify :)

 Here -in Dutch- the solution Brigitte Kaandorp found for her life's suitcase ... leaving it behind. If you like it, you can keep it, but you'd better not.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Teaching Social Skills

Alan Rewines sighed mentally, facing his class. It was the 6th and final grade of his primary school. 28 pupils who formed quite a manageable class, the usual mixture of popular kids, easy going boys and girls and the few odd ones. 28 pairs of eyes were looking at him expectantly, some were even bursting with tension. No wonder, two days ago over half of the kids stayed after school to do a test for joining the team that would represent the school in the game show “Runaround”. A large number of multiple choice questions and the 5 pupils with the highest score would form the team.

“Runaround” was a TV show in which two schools would compete by answering multiple choice questions. There were things to be won for the school and each team member could take his personal Runaround T-shirt home as a trophy. There would be the returning guests: a magician and the curator of mammals of “Animal park Wassenaar”, bringing in one of the zoo's animals and interesting special guests. The show was immensely popular. Alan's class of two years ago had applied and finally the school was number one on the waiting list.

Alan had checked all the test results and was now going to announce who would be in the team.
He had memorized how he would tell the news, because it meant a slight change of the rules. It involved Hannah, the daughter of a military officer whom he had moved away from the left row of seats, along the windows on the right, to the middle row. She was sitting somewhere at the back of the room, just in front of Jack the class' artist while John, the class clown and close friend of Jack, was seated at the end of the row along the left wall with windows. This way Alan could check on this year's odd one's in one glance.
Hannah was taken away from her window seat because … because she was staring out too much, day dreaming no doubt. Not that it affected her work, she had the best grades of her class. But she had been making drawings of the sunset she had obviously watched too often during the first hour in school during the past winter months. And of a dog named Max, who appeared several times per day at the small window of the apartment right across the street, as she had explained. Not to mention -here Alan's nostril's flared with anger again - the wanted poster she had drawn. It read “Wanted, rather dead than alive. Teaches kids all kinds of mistakes.” Between those lines was his head. She had drawn his profile, but the likeness was clear. Too clear. Odd, how could it have escaped him while she had been working on it? It was her father, laughing over it, who had drawn his attention to the wanted poster during an “open night” where all parents were present to look at their children's work. Alan remembered the sting of this moment of public humiliation.
Hannah's father should instead have been displeased with his daughter's lack of respect. The teacher shrugged away the idea. That would never happen because it was the father who was behind the disrespect. At the first parent-teacher conference of this year the man had kept nagging about something that had to do with his, Alan's, geography lessons. Oh yes... Alan teaches his pupils that the inhabitants of Libya are called Libyan or Lebanese. What had aggravated Hannah's father most, was that he had made Alan aware of this mistake two years earlier, when Hannah's brother was in the 6th grade. And the teacher had obviously refused to correct this. As if teachers were to obey every hint of the parents...
So the Wanted Poster was actually the result of what went on at home. Not only was the girl being taught to be disrespectful to her teacher, the headmaster, she also had a violent streak in her... rather dead than alive! Maybe military men should not raise children.

As the teacher's eyes came to the one-before-last desk of the middle row, he adjusted his calculation. 27 pairs of eyes were at him... Hannah, though clearly as tense as the other contestants, had her eyes on her empty desk. Weak in social skills, and he, Alan, knew the root of the problem.
He moved his eyes to the other Hannah. Such a difference.
She came to this school in 4th grade and quickly became popular. Whereas the first Hannah had never been able to replace her friend who left school halfway second grade, due to a move to the east of the country. Now she was chummy with Jack and John. They even made homework together, Alan guessed. The boys showed an unexpected improvement in their homework and he knew they were not being tutored by an official teacher.
The other Hannah, Hannah 2, was on the list of children who were to represent the school in Runaround. Because of her spontaneity and pleasant manners. A pleasant popular pupil, like the other four he had selected. Of course they were, they all came from nice families who taught their children about community involvement by setting an example. The 2nd Hannah's mother was a member of the PTA, together with Angela's mother, who replaced the father of Daniel, a loyal member for 3 years, while his wife was still active for the school in other areas. Of course one didn't have to be a PTA member to teach one's children about commitment and loyalty. One could volunteer for events for instance. Like the parents of Michael, who were around whenever sports events took place and parents were needed as team captains. Or one could help out with the less exciting jobs, like covering the new school books or repairing desks and chairs. Robin's parents managed to turn such an evening into a great get together. Alas, it was a small circle of parents who did this regularly and it was important to reward them. They were like a circle of friends by now and it would be bad for the school to waste such loyalty.

OK kids, I know you are all anxious to hear who will be on our Runaround team. So be quiet and I will read the names.” Mouths tightened in response.
Daniel. Angela. Michael... Robin and … Hannah 2.” Chatter, congratulations and five proud faces, glancing round to classmates.
“Sir, we want to know the outcome of the test. Who was best?” John had permitted himself to raise his voice without even raising his finger. Why John? The boy who would certainly not be high on the list and who only joined in for fun. The curiosity of the class was roused, they all wanted to know who of the team members had the highest score. Alan Rewines cleared his throat. “Ahum. The highest score is Hannah's.” Hannah 2 straightened herself in her seat and admiring looks went her way. “Not Hannah 2. It was Hannah 1.”

Now the girl in question did look at her teacher. In her eyes a mixture of pride, reproach and disappointment. Her mouth opened slightly but she couldn't speak. It was John who did it for her. “Master, that's not fair. You said the best would be on the team.”
“That's true” Jack pitched in. “Hannah 1 should be on the team.” The entire class became noisy, not all of them taking to the view of Jack and John, but they did want an explanation.
Alan decided to speak to the first Hannah directly. “I am sorry, Hannah. I know I said the people with the highest score would be in. But you are lacking the spontaneity the other children have. It just wouldn't look good for the school, you see? So I selected children who scored highly and are open and spontaneous as well.”

Hannah 1 didn't protest, she just grew pale and took her away from him. As she didn't seem to object, the class grew quiet again except for some suppressed protests from John. Ignoring those, Alan went on explaining the procedures sent to him by the makers of Runaround...

Alan congratulated himself in silence. This was over and done with much easier than he expected. Since this was not about learning material, Hannah's father was not likely to protest and everybody else, including the PTA, was happy over this selection.
As for the lesson Hannah learned today? Well, that was her problem, not his.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Desperately Seeking ...

I have written an article for the Los Angeles Argonaut, but it wasn't published. So I'm publishing it here.
Anyone who can help me, please leave a comment or send a mail  (be creative, check linked-in or my website or  ...)

You have given me hope”

It's not just long term friends who can change your life. A short exchange of words with a stranger can be enough. You may gain a new insight, or new strength to hang in and fight some more. Helping you win that heartfelt battle. Those strangers, popping by just once at the right time seem God sent. Stand-in angels.
Is it thwarting Fate, our Creator, karma, to try to get in touch again if such an encounter is etched into your heart?

I'm thinking of one young man I met on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd and the 3d Street Promenade in Santa Monica, May 2013. He was in a wheelchair, at his feet a cute dark gray little dog and a cardboard with a lengthy text. No doubt explaining why he was asking for money.
When I see words, I must stop and read, so I walked over, my son in my wake. Yet my eyes never finished the first line. The dog was already between me and the cardboard, begging to be petted, tail wagging like mad, eyes glowing with friendliness. Dogs being more interesting than written words, my son and I went down on our knees to rub and pet and compliment her owner on having such a happy dog.
“I call her Love Bug” the man explained. Was he in his early thirties, or am I wrong, do I remember a few lighter hairs in his short, well groomed beard? “She means a lot to me, giving me so much warmth.” I saw gentleness and warmth in his eyes as well. He thanked me for the banknote I had kept hidden in my hand until then and started telling us why he was begging.

He's had epilepsy all his life, severe grand mal seizures with a very high frequency. Debilitating and life threatening. Only recently had he ran into a specialist who discovered something vital: the seizures could be kept under control by a diet. It was all just starting up, the diet not completely worked out yet, but already the young man had profited from regaining some strength. No longer losing energy in an endless row of convulsions and tremors he had managed to obtain a new and better suited wheelchair and GR. However... the benefit was insufficient for the special dietary food. The money he got from begging allowed him to buy that. Not begging meant going back to daily seizures and tremors.
As he gave me details of the diet I noticed how well spoken he was and beyond his poverty and desperate state I saw an intelligent and sensitive man. In a flash I saw him in a suit, working at an office. It could be true if only...

If only he would meet that one employer who did not only hire risk-free people. People who are guaranteed to show up at their contracted hours, predictable, available. Yet can one be sure they will perform so well in unexpected situations, situations that require real originality or remarkable tenacity?
I am only an intelligent and highly sensitive person and this condition alone has taught me most employers prefer to hire workers who come by the dozen.
I told Love Bug's owner how I, in The Netherlands, had been receiving my food from the food bank for three years, getting desperate about ever finding work again. But here I was visiting L.A. because I had ultimately managed to get a job. I will not forget the change I saw in his eyes. “Thank you, You have given me hope” he said, from the bottom of his soul. With that he gave me hope in return... that I, my life, does matter to others. Don't we all doubt that at times?

Once I got back to The Netherlands I wondered if there could be a way to do more. I have a masters degree in Biology and though I've never worked as a scientist, I still read articles about neurology and behavior. Proper information might add to the quality of his diet or result in a more affordable version. I might get in touch through the staff of the nearby Italian restaurant whose staff members I've seen spoiling Love Bug with attention and a treat while sharing a joke with her boss.
The result of my internet research for anti-epileptic diets was somewhat ironic.... A very good, if not the best source of information was an organization founded in 1994 to advocate the ketogenic diet for children with difficult-to-control seizures: the Charlie Foundation. Located at 515 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica. One mile from where we had our talk.
Did Love Bug's owner know, was his doctor somehow linked to the Charlie Foundation, or did he choose that corner at the 3d Street Promenade by chance? Odd, to be so hopeless and yet so close to a solution -geographically.

My letter to the restaurant, asking if they could help me get in touch, wasn't answered. Maybe it got lost? Or perhaps ... ? I know epilepsy is a dangerous disease.

I still think of Love Bug and her owner, wondering how they may be doing. This article is my second try to hear about them, hopefully from them. I don't know that I can be of real help, but a little attention is like passing on a bit of love. And thereby hope. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Is Hope Enough?

Hope is the greatest gift is what Danielle Steel cites in her -autobiographical- book about Yo! Angel! her organization for supporting homeless people in San Francisco.

I know that hope gets me sitting up again, when I'm lying on the bottom of a well.  But is it enough?

A faint flicker that things may turn out right in some distant future, that life does have nice things in store, not just pain and loneliness... Personally I don't think it suffices. I've lived with hope all my life and it made a nice umbrella to keep away the raindrops. But now that I must weather a storm the umbrella is useless.

Hope may make me sit up again, crawl around a bit ...  but I still have to wait for someone to lower a rope into the well.
I need something that makes me climb out of the well all by myself. Something that makes me lean against the storm and walk through it, no matter how slow the progress may be.
What I need is Belief !  Belief that my life will  -not: might -  turn out 'all right' if I work on it.  Belief that my struggle is justified. 

Where is the fire of the blacksmith to forge my Hope into Belief ?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Suicide is not a choice

   Suicide, some religions or cultures forbid it. Saying it's a sin to take away a life before God says it's time.
   Yet if an animal is suffering we condone having it put to sleep. We call it "humane" and tell ourselves that an animal should feel good, have joy in life.
   What, pray tell, is the goal of a human life?
   Are we obligated to live, no matter how rotten and painful it gets?

   Anyway, let's go back to the subject:  when someone, a human(e) being, commits suicide it's called a "bad choice".   I question that.... 

   My son and I have been going through a rough time simultaneously when my son was 10 years old.  One problem led to another, a lot of dominoes falling down.... matters taken out of our hands by powerful people who didn't understand shit of what was going on.  They wrecked our lives and we had to try to repair it behind their backs... a very difficult task.
   We both used to sigh often "I wish I was dead."  and the next moment felt guilty.... That line must be an insult to the ones who try to support you. It sounds thankless and selfish. Like "my pain of living is more important than your pain in reaction to my death".
   So we made a deal: it was alright to use that line,  since it seemed to help to let off steam. But the other, who heard the line, had to translate it:
"I wish I was dead"  =  "I wish my life was different".
By and by I noticed I made the translation before sighing.... uttering the line  "I wish my life was different".
   That line points out that there are choices and change is something a person can pursue. It puts your life back into your own hands and makes it look like a painting or some other art work of which you yourself are the creator.

   Beautiful words, right?  There is a catch however. We live in a complicated world, sharing it with many others. Rules, regulations, dependencies...  we are never for a full 100 %  the painter of our own lives.
   We are bound by limits... a disease that can't be cured, financial limitations due to lack of schooling or lack of jobs. Not having the support you need in your network... You are never independent, other factors, people,  have a say in how you paint your life's picture.
   Sure, if you don't like the directions given to you, the boundaries you run into... there's the choice to try something else...  like walking down a corridor with many doors.
   If one door doesn't open, you try the next door. With trying I don't just mean trying the handle, but  fidgeting with the lock with all your intelligence,  throwing yourself against the door with all the power you have, hell use dynamite if you must....
Suicide is always one of those doors. That doesn't make suicide a choice. Not for me.  It's the last door I will go through.  The door carries the sign "No Entry".
   But when all other doors have been tried, really ALL... and you cannot stay in that corridor because the water is rising and you are drowning... You will open that door at the end of the corridor, not by choice but by instinct. To save yourself form drowning.
   Drowning? Yes, when life is more hell than you imagine death to be.  When your fear of life is bigger than your fear of death. Suicide is what is left when you ran out of life affirming options.

   I'm not the only one who looks at suicide this way, I have people backing up my ideas.... here's an article on animals committing suicide and the idea that suicide is not a choice is backed up by the researchers:
Animal Suicide Sheds Light on Human Behavior

   Don't look down on people who tried to commit suicide, failing or not.  They were fighters who gave their all. You don't want to know the hell they went through before they opened that final door.

   Someone you know is suicidal? Open doors. Doors that suit that individual, not doors that you like!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Broken Heart

The plant that's flourishing most abundantly in my garden is a "Broken Heart".
The memories connected to this plant I prefer to forget. But the fact that this plant is doing so well after recovering from neglect and next survived -unintended- mistreatment has symbolical significance: A broken heart can recover ! Not just once.

I just wonder how...

For days I'm wrestling with the notion, that my dearest dream just cannot come true, that it is silly to invest all my reserves in it and waste what I have here.
Letting go of a dream that runs so deep is as heartbreaking as losing a loved one. I navigated by it, it gave meaning to all I did.  Now every movement I make seems useless, dispirited .... and it drains my last bit of energy.
I wish I could go underground, like the Broken Heart did, to heal the roots I've severed.  Hibernating until the pain is over, or at least bearable.

Even before the heart breaks, the tears are already there.
You can see them in the white part

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Afraid to let go of your fear?

  Odd ... I was waiting for the bus home from work, in the fading sun light, looking at the tell tale signs of spring all around me... and I felt happy. Not just inebriated by spring, but with a strong sense of belonging. Free of fear...

    That is odd, I thought . I'm counting down the number of days I still have my job and soon I'll be unemployed. I'm not supposed to be happy, I'm supposed to be sad and afraid of this new episode of being poor [according to the standards of my country] and stuck, looking for work. And a line came back to mind, a line I recently picked as new column theme: "Are you afraid of letting go of fear?"

    The general thought is that we fear fear. This tight circle can cause panic attacks.  And the best way to deal with it is to tell your panic wave to just come, knock you out, because you know you'll survive it.     Not giving in to your fear just dis-empowers it.
    So, we all dislike fear, right? At it's worst, we are afraid of it. We'd never love it. The catch phrase "Are you afraid of letting go of fear?"  makes no sense at all.

    I dare you... to entertain the idea that we have learned to love our fears. We're clinging to it, thinking it protects us from danger, from doing stupid things. It taught us how to behave and the reward was being accepted by others.  Fear is being rewarded!! Fear creates safety, which is valued highly.

     Fear is the fence along the path of human civilization, keeping weed and dirt off our footpaths, so that we can walk safely and cover greater distances. But we walk within boundaries, away from the perfume and colors of flowers and the invigorating scent of healing herbs.

    We use fear to structure the way we connect to one another It begins with the popular ways of raising our children,  by reprimanding, rebuking, isolating, withholding rewards. And we even have universities for it. Where we study law, our venerated consensus about the proper punishment for misbehaving.
    Having punishment advocated by our educational system and the law means we accept the use of fear as a tool. how can we ban 'terrorism'  when we use fear ourselves as the base for structuring our society. It's a contradictio in terminis.

    I'm not advocating that we live recklessly and give room to boundless selfishness, but that we replace fear by Joy, Love and Respect. This is what gives strength to our wings, the wings of our hearts, imaginations and souls. It's the root of sharing and helping,
    I'm not alone in this, thank God, and I hope that the "Army" of those who live without fear, and full of compassion instead, will grow in numbers all over the world.


“Being empathic means: "To be with another in this way that for the time being you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another's world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside your self and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to his own world when he wishes. Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, strong yet subtle and gentle way of being.”
Carl R. Rogers  (quote from

Our Greatest Fear —Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, 
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking 
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory 

of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

—Marianne Williamson

Return to Love, Harper Collins, 1992.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Change of Address

I have moved, exchanging my spacious home for a small apartment, just big enough for myself. Because of it I had to leave many things behind, but that's no problem. Or rather... that was the whole point!

My spacious house held many visitors. With the abundance of empty space they felt free to drop off their belongings, causing a cacophony of opinions, demands, constraints, rules and reprimands. So loud it became impossible for me to hear my heart song or find my own authentic voice.

Now I snuck out and moved into this teeny tiny apartment, overlooking the city, with a gorgeously wide open sky above it. I'll be staying here alone for a while, to find back my own voice, but soon the door will be open again. For my real friends. 
 They won't mind the stairs are too narrow for their suitcases, because they don't want to drag it all upstairs to leave it for me to tend to. Or to open it up and spill the unwanted content over my living room floor. 
My friends just come for exchanging ideas, comparing experiences and sharing laughter and tears.

I hope they will smile and hug me long and honestly as I -and I alone- will open the door for them. And that when we part it will be to live through new adventures to share.