A house is a house is a house

Once upon a time there were two people who thought it would be fun to buy a house built in 1924.

Those people were my parents, and that house is the house I moved back into after graduating college. It’s a fine house, a big house, but allow me contextualize that year. 1924. That’s before ballpoint pens were invented. Before the legendary Leonard Cohen graced this earth with his presence. Perhaps most shocking of all, it’s before IKEA was founded. How does one even furnish a house without the help of IKEA?

Old houses have got their charm, but they require upkeep. The only act of home improvement I personally find absolutely essential is getting a Wi-Fi system that doesn’t conk out whenever it feels like it, with a signal that reaches every remote corner of the house, i.e. my room, preferably all the way to my bed. Alas, my parents consider matters such as painting and gardening to be of more pressing concern. Continue reading

The curse of constant connectivity

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It’s a truth universally acknowledged: we’re addicted to our smartphones.

We’re slaves to Twitter, ensnared in Facebook’s mighty jaws. We Instagram every meal we eat. The instant our attention wanes from a task at hand, every second we spend waiting for our train to show up— we grasp at every opportunity to grab our cell phone. We wake up to blink blearily at the WhatsApp messages our friends send us at 3 AM. Maybe they’re out drinking; maybe they’re in a different time zone. Hell, maybe they just felt like texting us in the dead of night. “It’s always beer o’clock somewhere,” has turned into “It’s always social media o’clock somewhere.”

Sources in support of this claim are everywhere. Can’t turn on the television without stumbling straight onto a heartfelt complaint about the superficial and misrepresentative quality – or rather quantity – of communication in this age of constant connectivity. See also: YouTube.

ImageAnd sure enough, on my daily commute to university I spot many more people with cell phones than without. Sure enough, I’m one of them. Sure enough, when we go out for dinner as a family I make a point of either bullying everyone into leaving their iPhones at home or collecting them once the menus arrive, stashing them safely in my purse so my brother can’t pull up a Google page to prove his point in the middle of a conversation (he’s usually right anyway).

We’re all turning into self-centered, attention-thirsty, shallow creatures, and the smartphone is at fault. WhatsApp is at fault. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter are at fault. Above all, we are at fault. We who have collectively grown dependent on the instant gratification of messages and likes, mentions and retweets. We who so value the constructing and maintaining of an online self that our interaction with the real world continues to dwindle.

But.

Hold up. Don’t nod emphatically just yet. Continue reading

The stubborn language whore in the attic

Here in the Netherlands you can take virtually as long as you like to finish university. Where I live, it’s not unusual to run into guys – they’re usually guys – in their late twenties who’ve been studying for eight years and still haven’t gotten their bachelor’s degree. (They get beer bellies instead.) The Dutch government tried to do something about this by implementing a langstudeerboete, a fine for students with a study delay, but it got dismissed almost the minute it went through.

This reminded me of the following. In the center of my hometown, there’s an alley which used to be a no-bike zone. The Dutch are big on cycling, obviously, and when it comes to cycling, traffic laws tend to be ignored. Red lights? One-way lanes? Ha! Similarly, the idea of a ‘no-bike zone’ simply does not exist in the Dutch conceptual system. Flocks of school kids, students on rattling hand-me-downs, mothers with toddlers front and back, elderly couples on tandem bicycles; everyone cycled in the no-bike alley. Cops used to guard it on either side to fine every culprit, but to no avail. We persevered in our fundamental right as Dutch people to turn the world into one big bike lane until, one day, the cops were replaced by this sign:

Cycling permitted; bonus points for not knocking pedestrians off their feet.

There’s a Dutch proverb, de aanhouder wint – literally ‘the one who persists wins’. The Dutch are stubborn. We do not bend to legislation; legislation bends to us.

To return to the topic of studying:  Continue reading

Curriculum vitae imaginationis

#5 on the list of Required Documents for Application to this Master’s Program is an updated curriculum vitae (résumé). According to the explanatory note, a curriculum vitae is “an overview of your personal details, and your educational and professional background”.

I wonder: should someone who doesn’t know what a resume is even be allowed to apply for a postgraduate degree? Also, why specify that the resume has to be updated – isn’t that kind of obvious? No, prospective student, don’t send us the Comic Sans MS document you wrote in Microsoft Word 97 with nothing but some babysitting to boast. We want experience! We want extracurricular activities! We want sweat, unpaid internships, after-school jobs in shoe stores and downtown cafes—anything to prove your dedication to responsibility and hard work!

When I was five or six years old, it was my life goal to own a petting zoo. I wouldn’t stop penciling meticulously designed floor plans into the margins of my primary school notebooks. Rabbits would go here; goats there; horses would get a pasture of honor in front of my house. Countless drawings and frustrated teachers later, I had perfected the farm’s architecture to a point where I had no idea what else to add. Continue reading

Five favorite movies of 2012

While the world is celebrating the birthday of Baby Jeebus, as my brother calls him (merry Christmas everyone!), I’m secretly looking forward to New Year already. New Year’s Eve is the holiday for people who like lists, clean slates, and philosophical pondering. In recent years, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing an ‘end of year report’ just to have a coherent overview of what happened my life over the past twelve months. This report invariably includes an ‘art’ section – hey, I have to live up to the Bachelor of Arts title I’m receiving in a few weeks – with my favorite movies and books of the year. I thought, why not share?

1. Intouchables
Back in March, I called Intouchables “the most hilarious and heartwarming movie I’ve seen in 2012 so far”. And when I go through the list of movies I’ve seen in 2012, this was the one that really called out to me. It’s just so good. Everything about it is right – the story, the cinematography, the acting. It’s fantastic.  Continue reading

Brand new shoes

It’s a string of loosely unrelated bad decisions that lead up to this moment: you sitting by the side of a bicycle path one warm summer evening, shaking rainwater out of your new pair of shoes.

It hasn’t rained all day.

Figure that one out, you silently challenge the people cycling past you—an old couple, a man and his safely helmeted daughter—who stare in puzzlement at your bare feet and the drenched sock in your hand. You cast them an insipid smile. What do they make of it, you wonder; a prank? An act of bullying? A girl steering into a ditch because she was distracted by her iPhone? Their minds’ attempts at working this image into a coherent narrative could very well be more imaginative than what actually occurred.  Continue reading

What’s in a name?

This is Tow Truck Pluck.

The peculiar thing about names is that they are often a perfect fit for the person they belong to. Take my little sister, Faye. ‘Faye’ derives from ‘faith’ and is pronounced like the Dutch word ‘fee’, which means ‘fairy’. Though I would not exactly consider her fairylike, my sister—despite being almost fifteen and therefore having every developmental-psychological right to be terrible—is one of the sweetest people I know. (This is not me being biased. This is me divulging a fact.)

Another example: my cat, Pluk. We named him after the main character of the children’s book Tow Truck Pluck. To us, ‘Pluk’ seemed perfect for a cat; cute, innocent, and a little dumb. And he is exactly all that. Especially as a kitten, Pluk was in a constant state of great confusion, stupefied by virtually every single aspect of life ranging from stairs to the wind to his own tail (he kept sweeping himself off his tiny paws). I once said, “If reincarnation exists, this must be the first time Pluk has incarnated.”

The thing is, we decided on ‘Pluk’ half a year before we came across the shy handful of fur to which we attached the name. Who was to say its receiver would not be a soul that had traversed the reincarnation cycle a hundred times before? Also, no one could have guaranteed that Faye would turn out to be such a lovely girl. Yet their names suit them. Continue reading