We said goodbye to Boston, and hello to windmills.
This isn’t our first rodeo overseas. We’ve lived and worked, together and separately, in a dozen countries. We are dangerous, or at least belligerent, in a variety of languages. We hiked up a volcano under armed guard in El Salvador. We bribed our way out of danger as a train we were on crossed war-torn Serbia. We have used the Brussels metro. Extensively.
More importantly, though, we know that such exciting moments are just punctuation marks between the long, dependent clauses filled with the excruciating minutiae of everyday life. It’s all the gray days between the cherry-picked, romanticized moments that will undo you. If you don’t learn to muddle through them, culture-shocked and ignorant, far away from friends, family, and familiarity, then you’re toast.
Most people don’t want to hear about these mundane parts of your life abroad, but the truth is that for every Instagram-worthy hike up a Central American volcano there are a dozen trips to a local hardware store because you still can’t figure out the conversions to centimeters, grams, and liters. For one successful Serbian bribe, there are 20 days lost to waiting in a municipal government building for an obscure residency stamp. For each triumphant navigation of Brussels’ transportation system, there’s a train clearly marked “Almere” that you misread as “Alkmaar” and now you’re on the wrong side of the country. Seriously, people are too quick with their “God, we envy your expat life!” emails.
Here’s something else people don’t want you to say. You can love a place, but hate yourself in that place. You can love the people there, but hate yourself. That’s where I am right now. The Netherlands is an easy place to like. The people are loud and a bit judge-y, but friendly and accommodating when it comes to my ignorance of them and their ways. But I myself am broken here. In a land full of boats, I’m unmoored. In a country full of logistics experts, I have no idea where I’m going. Windmill building, cheese mongering, and tulip growing hold no interest me.
I thought I could chart a successful new path here, but that hasn’t happened.
I’ve been trying to reinvent myself, at age 50, as something more than just a hack. I’ve dabbled in fiction, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, even rhyming couplets. But it’s proving difficult to reach that lucrative “millennial market,” or any market at all. I get a lot of rejections amounting to “nice try, old man.” I came across a link while I was sitting, and thinking, on the toilet. “Ageless Authors.” Finally, I thought, a chance for those of us with a few miles under our belts! But when I clicked, it for people 65 and older.
Just 15 more years!