The Things I Fear

When I came to Amsterdam, I sold most of my possessions, or put them on the curb to watch them all be picked through by my neighbors. It felt rather freeing, actually: to be so free of material possessions. It may be a bit cliché to say so, but it’s really how I felt. I even sold my car, the symbol of American freedom and independence (ironically, my symbol was Swedish). And I left for Europe and a new direction.

There were of course a few collections of things I just couldn’t rid myself of, and too big for a passenger plane: my collection of old vinyl records, my books (even the infamous National Geographic collection) and a collection of art that I’ve collected over the years. I came to Amsterdam with bags that I could move myself, and a satchel packed with the tools of my trade, a computer and some cameras. I think the satchel was twice the weight of my other personal possessions.

Today marks three months to the day that I arrived in Amsterdam. I’ve registered my new business with the Chamber of Commerce, and things are slowing falling into place. And how does it all feel? Well, “straining” to put it simply. My acid reflux returned today for the first time since leaving Portland. I haven’t had a significant paycheck put into any bank account on either side of the Atlantic in four months. That nest egg created from selling most of my possessions is painfully depleting. And I haven’t paid my visa fees, law fees. And what else? I was told my computer needed replacing on my 32nd birthday in an Apple Store full of an unnatural amount of polished glass and metal.

So, what do I fear? There’s a lot one could fear in moments like these. Last night, I told a couple friends about the quickly depleting funds, which I felt was a sign that even my past possessions no longer have a record of their existence. And I doubted what I’ve done with my time here in these months since leaving my home of almost ten years. That’s the beginning of some of the fears, the normal ones most people feel.

a good job, a cozy home, a love — guaranteed? 

“Entitlement” is the name of a struggle I have. Growing up in America (or any western nation), we feel entitled to so much: a good job, a cozy home in a hip neighborhood, a lover to guide us through times of doubt. Am I guaranteed any of that? And yet what I fear most is a boring life, a boring job, and any place where people have forgotten to ask questions. Am I guaranteed that I will be doing something better than I am now? What is better? It’s laughable to write this, from an apartment on a canal in central Amsterdam. Money is an easy enough thing to feel nervous about. But I’ve felt its effects enough before, and I always came through well enough. What I fear is the simplest route, one with ladders, and corporate performance reviews with bonus pay.

Yet, I told those friends at the same time that those possessions didn’t hold an identity over me. I was there in a cafe, an hour from midnight, having wine and Dutch bitterballen with two new friends, and that’s what seemed most important. I was still me, and that wasn’t depleted — quite the opposite. The experiences I live (and share) with others are what I valued in this miniature crisis.

I know it will all come together. I’m sure, in American terms, it may seem bad, but I’m feeling faithful with my future. Do I have any more answers now? Any better direction for my career and my art? Any five-year plan? Any one-month plan? Nope. This seems to be my constant circle of thought. Life’s all about improvisation, and even without many possessions, my progress still feels tangible.


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