About love

In 2010 I wrote the libretto for an opera. It was called “The woman without bagage”. Just over a week ago I flew to the Netherlands to perform it for the first time.

I wrote about a woman who changes her favorite colour every day, who likes to walk on her toes, who doesn’t understand fear, who decides to embrace it, a woman who wanders the streets collecting things other people leave behind, who leaves herself behind in order to be taken by others. A woman who practises being happy and becomes so good at it, only to realise how unhappy this makes her. A woman who slips into the future and lets the outlines of a dusty life fade into black, lets it be transformed into dots, dots like stars, sending out a dead light forever. A woman who leaves her name behind, her relatives, her loved ones, her home, who tries to buy a suitcase in a colour with an unfamiliar name, only to be able to say the name, the word, before she puts all her words inside the suitcase and walks out of the shop speachless. A woman who becomes unable to see anything bigger than her dreams, a woman who gets rid of her dreams, who looses her eyesight. A woman who arrived somewhere but didn’t know where it was. Only that it was. That she was. A woman who invented herself. Everything apart from her nose, because that was already invented by her father and his father before him. A woman who likes to stand on one leg, a woman who enjoys smelling the rain, a woman who becomes silent when she sees the sea.

When I was a kid they always told me I had the “Besten-nose”. Everybody in my family from my father’s side had that nose. I didn’t mind. I didn’t like it, I didn’t dislike it. I just had it. Like my father.

My father died last December. One moment he was still there, the next moment he was gone. He disappeared from his bed in the hospital where we tried to keep him alive by forcing the digits on the monitors to stay under a specific limit only by the power of our thoughts. We failed. We never had any chance. He slipped from under the sheets, out of the sexy t-shirt that was too small for him and showed how well-shaped his 63 year old body was, he slipped into his favorite jacket, his jeans and a comfortable pair of shoes and walked with me forever, in my memory of the last day I spent with him. The smile he carried that day, the day he walked through Germany with my mother and me, was the same smile he carried when we buried him. Slightly amused, slightly cynical, a man who enjoyed himself, a man who believed in himself, didn’t let anybody tell him anything. I smile when I think of his smile. It is a different smile though. I share a nose with him, some characteristics (not all favorable ones) but not his smile. I don’t know anybody who smiles like he does. Like he did. And does.

Two days before my father went, the morning of the day he was rushed to hospital, I said goodbye to the man I had loved for more than 17 years. I still remember the first time I thought “I love you”, how I hesitated to say these big words, how we both thought them at the same time and one of us said them first. I don’t remember who. In seventeen years I learned how easy it is to say these words. Not just to him. Because love is applicable to many people. To many things. The words aren’t so big, it is our fear that they will be misinterpreted that is big. They make the words sound enormous and in a way they are but they are light as a feather, you can balance them on the palm of your hand, let them float in the air. They can be heavy, but heavy like a warm winter coat. A woolen blanket.
For the last two years we had tried to create a space in which we could both prosper but we hadn’t succeeded. We fought like lions, we loved each other even more but when we started to fight each other it was time to say goodbye. It was time to let the space create itself so we would be able to return there. To meet again.

We said goodbye and I started packing, I had already arranged to do a residency in a gallery in Barcelona. To leave my home in Amsterdam forgood. I wasn’t planning to take much to Spain. I was going to do an art project about how to walk through your life with simple means. A project about being in the moment, about being inbetween things. I had planned to only bring one suit to wear. A suit like the ones I’ve been wearing during all my walking projects. That afternoon I brought my suit to the tailor and on my way home, home?, my sister called me to tell me my father was in hospital, a two hour drive from Amsterdam. His situation didn’t seem to be that urgent though so I agreed to be there the next morning and continued finishing things off until at 23.00 the hospital called to say I had to come as quickly as possible.

I like driving at night. I like the night. It is night now, now when I write this, drinking Ukranian wodka from my father’s hipflask. The hour of the wolf. The hour when most babies are born and most people die. He didn’t die that night although while driving there, I thought I wouldn’t see him alive and in a way I didn’t, not with all these machines keeping his body functioning as good as possible. I drove saying goodbye, letting him go but when I arrived he was still there, and of course I should have known better, my father doesn’t like loosing, he never gives up, I don’t know anybody who is a bigger fighter than he is. Than he was. And when I saw him just after 1, in the early morning of a beautiful Sunday, I believed he would survive. We all did. We believed fiercely for more than 30 hours, we believed without a doubt, but all the time I knew. I knew he would die but it didn’t keep me from believing he would live.

My father went and we took his body with us. He smiled as if he didn’t believe it himself, as if he knew better than all those people who came to say goodbye.
We dressed him in his favorite clothes, we put him where he had always been sitting, on the far end of the living room. His grandchildren tried to open his eyes, they touched his hands, they pinched his nose, my nose, our nose. They watched tv while leaning on his arms, they covered him in drawings and soft toys. We laughed, we cried. We spilled wine on his shirt and put bags of crisps on his feet because they were situated where normally the side table had been. Suddenly there were thousands of things we had to do, never had there been so many deadlines in a week, what a terrible word, deadline. Newspaper adds and flowers and church services and invitations and choosing a place to dig a big hole. We checked out the grave yard and the kids already started digging to make sure nobody else would take the place we had chosen.
We ordered a simple wooden eco coffin. Well-made, a coffin for a man who had built anything you can imagine. We decided on funeral meals, we made coffee for the neverending stream of people, we shook hundreds of hands, we ordered candles to light the road to the church, we decided on music and last words. We became experts at being sad and we comforted other people who were new at it, who saw him in his new dead state for the first time. Sometimes we were so busy we completely forgot that he was dead. But then we saw him from the corner of our eyes, smiling as if he thought “what is all this hussle about?” and the sadness embraced us again, like a huge pair of strong hands. The coffin arrived and the kids drew flowers and hearts and his name and their names and dragons spitting fire, they drew in the reddest red and the darkest blue. They put glow-in-the-dark stars on the inside.  
There was too little time to say goodbye but there was no way to say a proper goodbye anyway. It was more like a “see you!” which made sense. I see him now. I hear him.

It is hard to let go of one of the most important men in your life. It is almost impossible to let go of the two most important men you ever knew at the same time. Almost. I love that word.

In the week my father was smiling his smile silently, more silent than he had ever done, I was with my husband again. You could call it my father’s last gift. The realisation that only one thing matters. One thing connects death and life. There is only love. All the rest, all the human struggle, everything we fight for, everything we are afraid of, is unimportant. You could call it my father’s last gift, but it isn’t really. It was his first gift. He gave me life. He gave me death. And inbetween he gave me love.

When you let go of somebody the love remains. The most important thing remains. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the feeling of sadness, by the struggle, the suffering. There can be no love without sadness and suffering. I said it before and I’ll say it again until I understand it completely: “... love does not fill anything, not the hole you have in your head, not the abyss that you have in your heart. Love is an absence much more than a fullness. Love is a fullness of absence. This is, I grant you, an incomprehensible thing. But this thing that is impossible to understand is so very simple to live.” (Christian Bobin, the Very Lowly)

When my father had died, my mother -struggling with things she felt guilty about like we all do when somebody dies, struggling with him leaving her at the moment when he, the man who had loved his work and probably had spent more hours there than he had spent at home, was about to retire and was looking forward to spend more time with her- told me I was doing the same thing to my husband as my father had done to her at times when she wished otherwise. I was putting the things that weren’t part of my relationship in the first place.

It hurt when she said that. And I understood why she needed to say that. And I didn’t agree. But maybe she was right in a way.
I always realised you can’t make another person happy. You can spend time together, you can help each other find the best way to go but it isn’t necessarily the same way. You can walk alongside each other for a while, maybe even your whole life but you should never forget your own direction. If you can’t walk next to each other anymore you have to go in different directions to be able to meet again. When I made a promise to my husband it wasn’t a promise to live with him forever but to love him forever. And the only way to do it is not only to go my own way but also to let him go his own way.

A good friend wrote me tonight, to apologise that he never contacted me after my father had died. He asked for my my understanding for having taken some distance because he found it hard to deal with the fact that Albert and I were going in different directions, initialised by me.  Seeing my husband struggle and suffer was a difficult thing for him.

In all of this, in losing my father, in my lonely two year path to find my own way again, in all of my sadness, the thing that was hardest for me was the same thing that was difficult for my friend. Seeing another human being struggle and suffer. Seeing it and knowing I had caused it. Knowing that the only way to do something about it was to continue what I was doing. Making myself free. Making him free. Make it possible for the two of us to love each other forever. By giving us both the opportunity to remember who we really are. What we need. What we want. What we love. Leaving in order to make the fact that we lived together for seventeen years credible. Leaving in order to make it possible to stay together forever.

Because that is my goal. To make leaving and staying the same thing.

I will give my friend my understanding. I understand. But I also hope he understands that in all of this I need my friends more than ever. I cherish my loneliness, I embrace it, it has always been a part of life, of being human, something I enjoyed. Sometimes life is tough and a few words, a hand on your shoulder at the right moment can make life so much easier. We can’t do it on our own. And it is so simple.
If you don’t see or feel somebody’s sadness, somebody's struggle, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It might mean they don’t want to burden other people with it. Because there is no use in it. Sadness is best dealt with in silence. Only in silence can it be seen for what it is, a sign of transformation.

I didn't walk away. I just walked. I walked my sadness. It is good company.

Another friend wrote to me, after I sent him an e-mail telling him about my father’s death, that since my e-mail wasn’t really sad and another friend had just written him a sadder e-mail, he would keep it short for now and give his attention to his other friend. And he was right. My e-mail wasn’t sad. But I am not my words.

He is not his words either though. And although his words made me even sadder at that moment, knowing he is there gives me comfort. His words had the power to make me sad because he is a good friend. And that is what counts.

It is only because we love people that they can hurt us. And the more we love them, the more they can hurt us. And the more they hurt us, the more we have to try to love them.

It is scary business, loving somebody. When the woman without baggage invented herself, she invented her toes and hands and armpits first, afterwards nerves and fear and imagination. She imagined her knees somewhere towards the end, in order to give her body flexibility and balance. And with trembling knees she created her heart.

Today her favorite colour is blue. 5.28, time to go out and walk to the sea. It won’t make her silent today. She already is. Today it will make her smile.

And I will leave this here, words like waves disappearing between all the other words online.


More or less

Things are falling. They break easily today. I let them be. Traces of the day.


The sea

And now I will walk to the sea and when I am there I will hear the waves and it isn’t because I now live in a city where you can walk to the sea that I bought and brought Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” and it isn’t because I will see the waves that I will be reminded of the beautifully made video I saw recently, the cruelest video I ever saw, cruel not only because of its content but more so because of the attention and love that was put in shooting it and editing it. A video in which waves feature, one in which 21 people die in a horrible way. 

I don’t have to see the waves to remember. I can already hear the waves now, sitting behind my desk, writing this. I heard them the last couple of days, ever since I saw the video. I heard them in Amsterdam, I heard them in the airplane, I hear them now. The sound of the waves in the video carved itself into my memory and I know that for a long time, whenever I hear waves, I will be reminded of those 42 men. Of the vulnerability of men. Of the extreme cruelty of men.

Before I saw the video, looking at the waves in this new city made me happy. Now it will make me sad. But the waves aren’t to blame. They are what they are. It is being one of them that makes me happy and sad. Being a human being. Being capable of anything.

“But our hatred is almost indistinguishable from our love.”

― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

(the video is HERE)


A Facebook letter to my good friends

I thought of a dear friend tonight. She once send me poem. I thought I’d share it with you tonight, with all my good friends out there, you know who you are, and if you aren’t sure, consider it yours too.

Yesterday I read a comment on a friend’s Facebook post. It described (I quote) “the gap between the 'ordinary life' and Facebook, which is also a a 'reality' in itself, but not when the simple life knocks...”.

I don’t think there is a gap. There is only one world and there are many worlds within this one world. Sometimes they touch each other. Sometimes they overlap. Sometimes they are worlds apart.

Here is where I meet friends. Here is Facebook, here is on the street, in cafes, in living rooms. Here is real life, simple life, complicated life, virtual life.
There is only a gap if you consider it a gap. I consider it space. And in this space anything can happen.


"Love is a door we shall open together."
So they told each other under the moon
One evening when the smell of leaf mould
And the beginnings of roses and potatoes
Came on a wind.

Late in the hours of the evening
They looked long at the moon and called it
A silver button, a copper coin, a bronze wafer,
A plaque of gold, a vanished diadem,
A brass hat dripping from deep waters.

"People like us,
us two,
We own the moon."

-Carl Sandburg