Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Just Ask

I'm a whimsical person. An emotional person. A person on the edge. Most of the people I've met in the past years have seemed like such neatly sewn packages compared to me. People with everything in order. Their houses are in order. Their jobs or careers are in order. Their education is in order.

A Dutch word comes to mind: "Stipt." The translation is "punctual," or "accurate," but I like the Dutch word better. It has a kind of pointiness that reminds me of life here, and what it all seems like outside of my little world, pointy, and pointed, a clear and clean, but very tight field.

I guess you could say that my life seems like the opposite of that. Things tend to multiply in my house. There's rarely a single clear, open, flat, uncluttered plane anyplace, on any surface, which seems very contrary to where I've been living for the past 9+ years. Not that the streets are clean. They're a mess. What people don't throw around in their houses here, they go out and toss on the streets. Oh well. Here I am talking about pointedness, and I'm getting myself all worked up.

Lately I've spent some afternoons on Yahoo Answers. It can get addictive. I start answering people's questions, and I can't stop answering. It can be interesting. I'm not much into asking. I can never think of anything to ask.

I've helped some people. There was a woman who'd put some nude photos of herself up on a website, only to take them off, and feel very shameful about it later. I told her she was just being curious, which is totally okay, that it was easy to click that button, only to regret later, but that it didn't matter a bit. In all likelihood, no one will know it's her, and she shouldn't worry. After all, there are billions of photos on the Internet, so what's the likelihood of anyone finding out it's you. She was very relieved to hear me let her off the hook. I think I was the only one who answered that way.

These are things I've stumbled across by accident, after doing one of my many, many searches for things. I'm a total Internet junky. Then, most recently, I stumbled across Cary Tennis's advice column on Salon.com, Since You Asked. I've read it in the past, but only coincidentally. Today I got more into it, my interest in advice having already been piqued. It's some good stuff. He's very good at straight talk, and what the English might call "de-whinging," I think, or debugging people. It's refreshing to read. I wish I could have him as an editor in my head. :-)

I came across the strategy of "dewhinging" on Moodgym, which is a worthwhile online therapy "course" that's worth a look, if you have the time and interest. Although, I could be wrong about the term.... I'd have to go back to it, but I'm pretty sure. I've heard English people say they were "whinging" about something, and then I saw the word on this Australian website. The English have such funny words.

I like the idea of "dewhinging," though. It's like all the weird, paranoid thoughts you can get on a daily basis. The kind of thought pattern that can trip you up for years if you're not careful, but if you have a strategy to keep that pattern in check, you can escape them. You can learn to "dewhinge."

Then maybe you can become like the people I meet who have everything in order. Their shirts are always perfectly ironed, and they haven't got any "bugs" in them to "dewhinge." ;-)

Just kidding around.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Head Gear

Speaking of religious garb (see previous post, Yesterday's Buddhist), I conducted a minor experiment two weeks ago when it was very cold on the school playground. I had forgotten my hat at home, and my head was freezing, so I tied my black velvet scarf around my head.

It's funny that wearing a scarf on one's head was once a chic and respected fashion statement. I recall silk scarves and sunglasses as being glamorous. Now, in present day Netherlands, it's become a political, or religious statement.

Anyway, I put my scarf on my head, and felt people sort of looking at me perplexed. Some people, anyway. Parents of children my kids go to school with. I'm a freak to most of them, so what does it matter.

A little bit later on on the Metro some Moroccan youth were friendly toward me, laughing and relaxed, not in a threatening way, but in a nice way. I was a little taken a back by their attitude, and I knew it had something to do with the scarf on my head.

It's too bad Islam can't get back to its more purist roots. Of course, Islam as a whole is getting a bad wrap. There are many fine Muslims who are out there suffering as a result. However, I think there are incidents of benevolent, highly cultured Islamic societies in history. I wonder why there isn't a greater discussion of this heritage in the media. Maybe if there were a greater awareness of this past people might start making minor alternations in their own lives. They and we would see another aspect of Islamic heritage. It could be like a ripple effect that might eventually spread across continents.

Yesterday's Buddhist

Yesterday I finished reading Pankaj Mishra's An End to Suffering, The Buddha in the World. It was an interesting book. It's a good review of the Buddha's life, Buddhism's waxing and waning development since its inception, including its disappearance from India, surrounded by political events at different times in history. He covers Buddhism's rise in the West, and it's relation to Western philosophy. Woven into this is personal reflection, his rise from obscurity into the meritocracy, and a discussion of the usefulness of Buddhist practice today. I was hoping for more insight into Buddhism as practice, but instead got a lot of contemplative, meditative history. The book is well-written, and covers a vast subject matter in relatively little space. As a result, it felt summary and fleeting. I enjoyed reading it, and definitely got something out of it, but I still don't feel like I learned enough about Buddhism as practice. I was hoping to be instructed on applying Buddhist practice to my own life, but was disappointed in this. Perhaps that's something I can only learn through personal investigation.

Last night there was a program on the BBC on Chinese and Japanese gardens. Apparently each small stone carefully manicured in a Japanese Zen garden represents a drop of water. Each drop, or stone, creates a ripple and has significance. It's supposed to be a metaphor for the deeds of (wo)men. Everything we do, however slight, creates a ripple effect. Each choice we make radiates out to others in an interconnected web. I wonder. Perhaps I ought to think more this way. Hum, in this light, my life hasn't always been a model of "right action," and I have a great propensity to being catatonically overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all, something that's resulted in a hermit life. Is paralysis a choice? I wonder. Isn't it the fear of making a choice? I wonder again.

Sometimes I think I've been a practicing Buddhist for the past decade, living in seclusion here, thinking, almost in a meditative state everyday. Except that my thought is too scattered. I guess I'd need more discipline for that to be true. Still, it's a mildly appealing thought, and distantly true. Truly successful Buddhists are probably a lot less angry, and a lot more contented than I am. (Buddhists have the great gift of laughter I'm attempting to cultivate in myself.)

I watched a documentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead in which a Tibetan monk says that we can never truly get rid of anger. Our emotions are in constant flux. I guess the point is to become more aware, and to become more disciplined at modulating emotion, or at not allowing every gulf at every moment of the day to rule over us.

I'm definitely going to find out. I know it isn't practical, possible, perhaps even desirable to become a Buddhist Nun in today's world. Sometimes I like to imagine that I'm a defacto nun. In any case, I do believe that I've been on a de facto Buddhist quest of sorts all of these years. My life has been set to the test. This month I intend on embarking on a more concerted path toward becoming a conscious Buddhist, without the robes, and with all my hair intact. I've always liked my hair.

What I Love

Actually, my old sarcasm is returning. I've thought of turning this into a positive blog. A "what's not to love" about Holland blog. But here's the thing. I've begun to tire once again of neighbors using our house and garden as a dog toilet, of late. Really. I'm sure they just about all hate me, and this manifests in hordes of neighborhood dog owners passing by our door twice daily to let their dogs out.

I was out there sprinkling the garden with cayenne when I witnessed a sweaty, grimy, pot-bellied, thick-necked man growling, cigar hanging from his sneering mouth, yank away his similarly, but better looking dog, from our front garden. Yes, this is an area brimming in cultivation. I half expected him to lead his dog up to my leg, but he was kind enough to spare me that indignity.

It's just so stinky and rank.

I read that pouring dish soap and water on the offended area cleanses it of the dog's smell. They'll forget to piss there if their smell is gone. I tried this strategy at 2:30 this morning, then I cut up the rind of the grapefruit I'd just eaten, and dumped it out there, too.

I've put chili pepper, garlic, lemon and orange rinds, ground pepper, vinegar and ammonia out there. I also read that rotting potatoes keep them away. I tried that, too. At least our garden will be well fertilized.

We'll see if the pumpkin plant that grows there every year survives the ammonia. So far, it's been a hearty plant, producing different colored pumpkins every year for years. I would eat them if it weren't for the dogs and cars. To the broad-minded Dutch, pumpkins are an exotic vegetable only the foreigners they all love to hate eat.

I've tried putting friendly and unfriendly signs in our window. Once I put a sign up asking why they didn't allow their dogs to shit in front of their own doors.

A few days ago, the neighbor saw me sprinkling cayenne pepper in our garden, and his response was to let his car run outside of our front door while he washed his windows. I was sitting here with my two children while exhaust flooded our living room. The sidewalk is about two feet wide, and then there's the street. He was attempting to poison us. I've put signs in the window asking them to set their motors out, too. Nothing works.

Just now I had the most brilliant idea yet. We live in a Right Wing, White Dutch, traditionalist, blue collar area. Okay, I admit it, I won't really do it, but my next strategy is this: Keep your dog and running motor away from our front door, or the next people to live here will be conservative Muslims. Okay, okay. I'll forgo the sign....

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ch ch change....

Coming to The Netherlands has either been a prolonged retreat from myself, from my life, from me, or it's been my downfall. The verdict isn't quite out yet. I have the feeling that something's coming on. Something's got to change in a big or small way, and that change will come from within.