Affection

We all crave for some form of affection. We all want somebody to accept us the way we are – to realize our faults and put that realization away in the darkest corner of their mind. We all want somebody to make us feel as if we’re enough, and not too much. If we’re too much, even this big world might explode with the effort of keeping us.

She wanted that too. She craved for passion more than I crave for ice cream at two AM. She pretended to be skeptical of affection, to not need it, but she was just fooling herself. Only people who believe in love post pictures of waterfalls and starry skies on Instagram.

 

Once, an acquaintance, someone I barely knew, came to my gig and stood lonely by the entrance. He had friends but claimed that none of them had been able to make it. He was funny and easygoing, so I liked him, even though he put gel in his hair (always a bad sign). She was there too, always supportive of my music. She sat at the table in front of the stage, humming along and smiling.

After the show, my friends suggested we’d go somewhere for a drink. I invited the guy because it seemed impolite to brush him off after he’d come to my show. She started talking to him in that cheerful, too innocent to be flirty way of hers. They stuck together the whole night. In the bar where we listened to a rock concert, during a walk through town, and while sitting in the grass in the park.

“Goodbye guys, see you later!” I called as I was leaving, but they barely answered. They were too absorbed in their own conversation. She had already forgotten his name, so he was pretending to be mad. When I saw them there that night, I realized they would soon have sex.

 

“It was so romantic,” my friend recalled. “We were standing by the river, with the moonlight shining. He grabbed the belt loops of my jeans, lifted me up to my tiptoes and kissed me.”

“I thought you didn’t do romantic. I thought you said you were taking a break from guys,” I said. We were sitting on my bed, with our legs propped up.

“I know. But he’s so cute. And we’re not in a relationship anyway.”

“What do you mean? You see each other all the time.”

“He has second thoughts because I’m so much younger. And to be honest, I’m not really in love with him either.”

“So it’s just sex.”

“It is.”

 

I’m sure that everybody gives in at some point in their lives. We just can’t deal without affection. Sometimes waiting for the somebody becomes so tiring that we settle for a somebody. And she did too. She talked about him every time we met. He was boring, or shallow, or prudish. Why did she keep on seeing him then? I always asked. Sex, she said. Or sometimes she just shrugged her shoulders.

One night I got a text, saying:

he just called us ‘friends with affection’

She thought it was funny because she thought he was too uptight to admit that they were sex buddies. At the time, I thought she was right. But now, I think that maybe he didn’t call her that just because he was conventional. Maybe it was because he knew that the reason they were keeping in touch wasn’t purely physical. He understood that they both craved for love more than anything else.

Eventually, they have stopped talking. They were unsuited despite their mutual needs, a fact they had both realized at the very start. Even the darkest corners of their minds couldn’t blind them enough for each other’s shortcomings. But now my friend, and thanks to her, I, know that the need for affection can’t be satisfied by just anyone. So I won’t just settle. And neither will she.

Roots

“Every flower stands for a person I’ve lost,” she explained, pointing to the tattooed daisies on her shoulder. We were sitting on a stained, pink couch in my brother’s living room, drinking tonic and gin. With her red hair, pierced nose, and torn up jeans, she looked like a wild child.

 

The night before, my brother and I had been sitting in folding chairs, eating pasta. My brother was studying at the film academy in Brussels and I was considering studying in the capital next year too, so he invited me to stay with him for a week. Actually, I pretty much invited myself. But we’re family, so it’s allowed.

“I just don’t want to leave my friends,” I said. We were talking about my plans and how I was still not sure whether to stay in Ghent or go someplace new.

“You’ll make new ones,” he answered. “It’s not that your friends are the only people you will ever get along with.”

“They are the first ones, though.”

“Look, tomorrow, I’ll invite my friends over, and you’ll see that it is possible to start a new friend group in college.”

 

Now we were tomorrow, and I was studying the girl’s tattoo. Next to her, sat this couple that had been together for six years. The girlfriend was flashing a cute, dimply smile, while her boyfriend was showing off the jazz guitar on his forearm. It still had the pink glow of a newly inked tattoo. Then there was the girl that took dancing lessons with my brother. Her hair was dyed black and her makeup was done in that Golden Era style.

“There is still room for more flowers,” the girl with the daisies said. “Should anyone else I know die.” I didn’t know how to react, so I smiled awkwardly.

After a drinking game, we headed out to Madame Moustache – a jazz club at walking distance. The tattooed boyfriend brought his harmonica. While he played, the girl with the black hair made up lyrics. “It’s raining. I hope we’ll get there soon. But we won’t stay long. Tomorrow we have to go to school.” When we got there, we were all soaking wet. All the girls had to wring out their hair. But then they just rushed to the dance floor.

Later that night, my brother tried to teach me salsa but failed miserably. We danced, drank beer, danced some more, and a bit later, we all went home. Exhausted, I collapsed on my brother’s couch and fell asleep.

 

In the morning, I woke up and realized that I was feeling too comfortable. I loved my friends. But I realized that I wanted what my brother had too. I wanted excitement and not knowing exactly what I’d be doing that night. I wanted to feel in extremes. To cry harder and laugh louder. To dance salsa and sing on the streets. And maybe Ghent wasn’t the place. Maybe I felt too rooted there to ever truly feel free. And even though I will always come back, I can’t stay. Because being home feels so good that I might never leave again. And there’s a whole world out there to see.

Self-Love

I remember how I came back after those four days. I was a different person. So much happier, so much more confident, so much more myself. To be honest, I thought that feeling would never go away. It was as deeply rooted in me as my love for you. But somehow, in losing you, I also lost myself. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around.

When I have one of those weak moments – thinking whether I should let you know I’m still alive – I check your Instagram or scroll through your pictures on Facebook. We live in an age when missing someone becomes an obsession. And you are mine. But I can’t possibly take you seriously – your meditation, your journaling… It all seems so fake, as if you want to be inspirational. But if I go back to August, I remember that you were.

Without you, loving myself is harder. Because even though I have read Huffington Post’s articles about how you should love yourself no matter what, I keep wanting to have you to reassure me that it’s the right thing to do. I have one of your quotes written in capital letters in my diary: “Never change. You are amazing.” And it doesn’t mean that much, but you were the first person to ever tell me that (besides my parents, and aren’t they supposed to do that)?

You told me that I would remember the songs we listened to. Sometimes I cry when I hear I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons. But lately, I started wondering who I’m crying for –  you or me. You also said that only I could make myself happy. But the things you said always made me feel better. But maybe it was not you. Maybe it was the loving and being loved.

In Search of Purpose

Everything that I do, I do in search of some hidden purpose in life. I don’t believe in God, or so I tell myself because I was raised on a diet of science and humanism. But I believe in purpose. That’s why I try to learn as much as I can, that’s why I try new things. To find my purpose.

I have always hated chaos. Even though Eve Ensler, my hero and inspiration, tells everybody to embrace insecurity, I have always feared and even despised it. Because when I don’t know what to expect on a Wednesday night or a Monday morning, I feel shivers running down my spine. I don’t plan everything out and I don’t live according to some crazy schedule, but I like to know that I’m being a productive person doing useful things. Like everybody else, I have days off, when I find myself binge-watching Orange Is the New Black, eating heaps of ice cream, or not getting my eight hours of sleep. But in the end, I always go back to my usual state of mind.

This way of living had worked well for me over the past few years. But these last six months, I noticed that the shivers stopped going away – even when I did know what I was doing on the said Wednesday evening or Monday morning. They disappeared sometimes – when I was with friends, or in sunny weather. But eventually, they always caught up with me.

I know why. It’s because I’m in my senior year. My search for purpose has now extended itself to college, and consequently, a job, or even a career. Although I have some rough idea of what I am going to do, I also have absolutely no clue of how to get there. I’m insecure, and I am not embracing my insecurity at all.

Maybe the shivers would have gone away, had I not hated chaos. But the problem is, there is no way escaping it. We are all chaos, and I had ignored that fact for years. I want to be so many things that I don’t know where to look for answers anymore. And now I’m not only talking about careers.

Sometimes I wonder whether that search of purpose is a good idea. I figured out that I will probably never find it. But habits die hard. So I can’t stop looking.

My Week of Walking

My Week of Walking

I usually cycle to school, although it’s only 3 km away. It’s the fastest and the cheapest way. But lately, my bike started breaking down a bit too often. Last week, I was forty minutes late because my brakes stopped working. I almost ran over a kid, so I decided to leave my bike and walk the rest of the way.

Unfortunately, going to the bicycle repairman is just like going to the dentist. You know you have to, but you always find better things to do. So, at the beginning of this week, my bike was still out of order.

When I woke up on Monday morning, I found out that I had already missed my bus. Since there was no other way to get to school, I had to go on foot. I left the house way too late, so instead of walking like a normal person, I had to racewalk.

While walking, I was noticing much more than I did when I was cycling. For example, I saw all the cyclists, whose bikes still worked, catching up with me. I saw the time on all the apothecary crosses indicating that I had to walk faster. But I also saw the churches in the center of Ghent, illuminated by the morning glow. And I felt the chilly, January wind pumping the blood to my cheeks. In the evening, I walked back home again.

I know that for some people, changing their routine in this way wouldn’t have been that big a change. But for me, it was. I love trying new things, but these new things must have a purpose. The way I spend my time must be useful. And walking kind of took away the time to do some of these useful things. The half hour I had to sacrifice prevented me from reading the extra 25 pages of a book, or writing those 300 words, or studying German. That’s why I started to doubt. Maybe next evening, I had to take a bus. And then I realized how much we care about productivity, more than about the quality of life, more than about health. I threw my doubts aside and decided that, from this week on, I would walk everywhere. At least until my bike got fixed.

 

The enjoyment didn’t come easily. I tried walking as fast as I could to lose as little time as possible. At the end, I just ended up exhausted. I also felt kind of laughable because I suddenly remembered my dream of hiking to Santiago de Compostela and realized that to get there, I would have to walk much more than I did.

But I was starting to let go. On Tuesday, I didn’t force myself to finish reading a book. To me, reading is not only a way of relaxing. Throughout the years, it had also become an obligation because I firmly believed that it made me smarter. But on Tuesday, I allowed myself to watch Harry Potter instead. On Wednesday, I allowed myself not to write. And on Thursday, I didn’t make my homework. Although maybe that one doesn’t say much. I rarely do.

I became less productive. But I also noticed that I felt calmer and not on the verge of hysterics, as I usually do. When I did get to reading, or writing, or studying, I was more concentrated and enthusiastic. Instead of counting the hours, I started appreciating them. Meanwhile, I kept walking.

 

Today is Sunday, which means it’s been precisely one week of walking everywhere. My dad fixed my bike, so I didn’t have to go to the bicycle repairman. But I think I will keep walking to school anyway. And in the summer, I might hike to Santiago de Compostela.

Gingerbread Wisdom

Gingerbread Wisdom

What makes us want to get up in the morning? What keeps us up at night? Some people always want to know what makes others tick. I’m not one of those people. What keeps people from never wanting to get up in the morning again? What makes people fall asleep at night? That’s what I want to know. Because these questions are much easier to answer. It’s nearly impossible to find your calling in life. Most of us are just getting by. So better lower your standards when asking existential questions.

Yesterday I found my dad eating a thick slice of gingerbread an hour after lunch. “That slice is way too thick. You should cut thinner ones. That’s way better than eating half the cake in one sitting,” I said. My dad was always after losing weight, but he kept messing up his diet by binge-eating brownies and sweets.

“Better for whom?” he asked, clearly in a philosophical mood. “Is it better for me not to eat a thick slice of gingerbread?”

“It’s healthier, that’s for sure,” I said.

“But what about society?” He looked at me quizzically, waiting for an answer.

“What about it?”

“What if I had to eat that slice for society’s own good?”

“What does gingerbread have to do with society?” I inquired. “I just don’t see the connection.” My dad cut himself another slice.

“Well, maybe eating gingerbread keeps me from buying a gun and shooting people.”

Well, that escalated quickly, I thought. But what if peace really is in the small things like cake?

“Who can say what’s right and what’s wrong?” my dad continued. “Nobody knows what would have happened if something else hadn’t happened earlier. Maybe the things we consider wrong, aren’t that wrong at all. Everything has a purpose,” he said, finished his second slice, and left.

Maybe he’s right and pulling the trigger is not the difficult thing to do. Maybe not pulling the trigger is.

The Effort of Carelessness

The Effort of Carelessness

The first time I had experienced freedom was on my first night in Berlin. I was away from home, not troubled by my mom’s phone calls, my dad’s expectations and my friends’ judgment. For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to fit into the mold I had created for myself and I didn’t have to sustain the image that others had of me. This night offered me a clean slate.

I was not someone who went out a lot, who got drunk or made out with strangers. All my actions had been well thought through. They were not always right, but they were always calculated. And then suddenly the euphoria I was feeling in Berlin made room for carelessness.

That night my new Aussie friend suggested to get cocktails and I drank vodka for the first time. When later she proposed to go to a club, I willingly agreed. There, I ended up kissing the Australian guy I had met twenty minutes before.

“Have you ever seen a sunrise before?” my British roommate asked at five AM. I said I hadn’t.

“Well, tonight, you will,” the Australian guy sitting next to me said.

That night in Berlin set a change in motion that most teenagers go through at a much earlier age. It set in motion the wish not to conform to the image of a comfortable life. It set in motion the wish to live and to be wild and careless. It set in motion the wish to become a different person entirely. Because up until then, I had been someone with rules and boundaries. What I asked of myself now, was to let go of them and let myself be.

I remember a conversation I had with a boy in Prague. He was taking a gap year and ‘redefining himself’, learning how to demand less perfection and be happy with himself. Those were the things I was excruciatingly terrible at. I told him how I wanted to let go too and how hard it was for me. So in Prague, we let go together.

But when I got back home, it turned out that it wasn’t the letting go that was difficult. Disregarding the confines of your comfort zone is simple if you’re in the right environment and with the right person. Principles are much easier to abandon than we might seem to think. But it takes so much effort to maintain that state of mind when you get back to where you came from. Back to the place where you must face the consequences. Back to where every action you undertake, transforms into a statement about your identity.

A couple of years ago, I wore a plaid shirt to school. That was in the time I was considered a hippy. Immediately I heard how the plaid shirt looked OK, but just didn’t match my style. I feared that this time, the change in my way of thinking wouldn’t go unnoticed either. And I was right. After only one conversation with my best friend, she remarked that I sounded different. More optimistic somehow. Later, she added that I had become more adventurous.

Now that people were noticing the difference, I had to live up to it. I had to reshape myself into a spontaneous, careless, confident woman. I had to watch my actions to not contradict my newly constructed self.

It was only after a couple of months that I came to understand how ridiculous this behavior was. I had let go of my rules and my boundaries, only to set new ones. Are we ever truly free if all we ever do or think is based on the image we are trying to maintain? Why do people still take gap years to discover their true selves to come back and realize that they had only found a new fake identity?

I always thought that being careless was easy. Effortless. But now I realize how much effort it takes to sustain the appearance of a nonchalant, casual someone. So I decided that I wasn’t going to be careless. I wasn’t going to be anyone at all. And then, maybe, I would finally become myself.