The Forgotten Dialect of the (Tattooed) Heart
I’m finally feeling settled enough to write. I’ve been in Amsterdam for almost four months, which was mostly consumed with my frantic efforts to establish the basic things a person needs to exist in a place: apartment, utilities, bank, phone, transit card, etc.
All the important things are taken care of now! I’m sleeping & eating well! I have waterproof outfits for my daily bike to the office! And soon my books will arrive on a barge (and all my other possessions too), and I can truly celebrate.
New day, new blog
The big question, and one that’s kept me from updating since I arrived in Amsterdam, is—what is this blog now? I started it with the purpose of recording my progress learning Jekyll (its tools, languages, & processes) and troubleshooting my way through the booksite. Now that TGP is complete, what do I center my posts around?
Well, I imagine this will become a sort of travelogue. …I know—American exploring Europe. Boring. Done to death. But I promise this won’t become a series of “X is different in Y-country than in America” posts; or, god forbid “Everything is better in Europe”. (Even though…) Actually, I envision these to be much more mundane observations; for example—
Houndstooth is really popular here. I don’t know that I’d ever seen anyone wear the pattern outside a tailgate on the 3rd Saturday in October, but I see it on a skirt, purse, coat, scarf, or hat almost every day here.
Seeing it outside the SEC context, I guess it is an attractive pattern. Though it’s interesting that it’s also almost exclusively worn by woman here too. Obviously a pattern can’t be gendered, but anecdotally I don’t see men wearing it anywhere (outside of, I assume, Alabama frat boys and Bear Bryant, who’s been dead for 40 years).
I also have a new Tech Writer job at a FinTech company. Our Doc team uses a Docs-as-Code approach and publishes through a static site generator called Grav; I’m familiar with a lot of that from maintaining this site and building TGP, but there are a lot of new concepts to learn that should eventually allow me to experiment with new features here.
And of course, I’ll still write about poetry, poems, and the Amsterdam arts scene I’m only just starting to explore.
Normally, stressful life events make it difficult—if not impossible—for me to write. But I suppose all the new experiences & imagery have been too insistent for my poetic sensibilities to ignore. I’ve drafted several new poems since arriving, and they’re very good.
When I was an undergrad, Art Smith told our class of impressionable aspiring poets that (I’m paraphrasing) “a poet loses the lyric voice by 25 if he hasn’t developed it.” Which really scared me.
Even though I’m well past 25, Art’s voice creeps into my mind when I go a stretch without writing. Have I lost my voice? Can I create anything better than a pastiche of my favorite poets? I don’t believe writer’s block is a thing that exists, but I do believe you can lose the desire to write and the ability to be satisfied with your writing. Thankfully, neither is the case today.
The Great Permission
The booksite has been live for almost five months now. Notwithstanding my lack of skill in publicity & promotion, I’m a bit disappointed with the book’s performance. Only 440 visitors in total, with about two-thirds coming in the first week.
Again, I did not know how to effectively get the booksite in front of the eyes of people who could have shared it with a wider audience. But I thought I knew enough writers & editors who would be willing to click the Share button for a free collection. That didn’t happen. The same is true for my two-time alma mater, which ignored my submission for the departmental newsletter that routinely features the accomplishments of alumni. Goodreads won’t even list the book—not because it’s self-published, but because it’s a website. I already knew to temper my expectations, but I’m still frustrated at how it’s played out.
On the other hand, my friends, family, & members of my community of Nashville writers did come through. They enthusiastically read & shared the booksite, and attended or shouted out my final readings in Nashville. In a year of significant personal turmoil, my gratitude for them helped keep me going.
I dream of lost vocabularies
I’m finally scheduled to get the tattoo I’ve wanted for years! Back in Nashville, there’s a very popular watercolor artist whose books I couldn’t get on, three years in a row. After searching a bit here in Amsterdam, I found Nina. We had our consultation last week, and I’m already scheduled for a revision and the actual session later this month.
The tattoo is the one I mentioned last year—a half-sleeve representing the final line of this poem:
It’ll be pulling double-duty as as a celebration of the completion of my book, and the transition to the new phase of my life in the Netherlands.
Several online sources (mostly Reddit) warned me to prepare for the grinding & overbearing Dutch bureaucracy: long waits, lack of communication, errors.
Wrong. Entirely wrong.
All my interactions with the Dutch government & my local municipality (the gemeente) have been quick & easy. The government has a program called DigiD—a digital method of identifying yourself. Instead of entering your national ID number, an OAuth mechanism connects you to a government database that verifies your identity. DigiD allows you to manage a lot of bureaucratic matters online, like registering with your municipality, managing your pension, or applying for healthcare. Very convenient!
I also read an uncountable number of warnings about Dutch directness/rudeness. Again, what were those people talking about? Maybe I haven’t interacted with enough Dutch people (my company is very international), but at the most extreme, I would say that the Dutch are simply not passive or passive-aggressive communicators. When you ask their opinion, they’re honest; when you make a mistake, they tell you without dancing around it. And thank god! I guess this does contrast with a place like my most recent home in Nashville, where people can be quite indirect or underhanded in their communication.
Like pretty much everywhere you go in this world, the people here are very nice. I think it’s a bit silly when people say the citizens of a particular country are “friendly”, as though that distinguishes them in any way. Divorced from easy labels that group us into political, classist, national camps, I’ve always found that people everywhere in the world are wonderful.
Poets & Writers
I haven’t made it out to many literary events yet, but have found a couple that feel like they’ll become home bases for me:
I’ve read or been told about a few others that I’m looking forward to checking out when I’m more comfortable in my routines. One thing that seems to be true of all these events is that they’re multi-genre. I haven’t found a poetry-specific open mic or reading. Which I think is fantastic. I’ve previously mentioned Dana Gioia’s recommendations for American poetry. Amsterdam is putting some of them into action as a standard. Artists of all disciplines come together to be absorbed in other work.
At BODY ELECTRIC, every event features some combination of poets, musicians, storytellers, comedians, painters, costume designers, or others. Labyrinth is primarily poets & musicians, but just this week we had an American, in town visiting his sister, spontaneously take the stage to talk about realizing his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. It was riveting. He was a natural storyteller, and would have been in equal company on The Moth Radio Hour.
Second language acquisition
Becoming proficient in Dutch is my only goal this year. I achieved all my other goals in 2022. Right know I’m just maintaining my Duolingo streak, but plan to hire a tutor on iTalki.
Honestly, I’m not sure if learning Dutch is worth all the time. I’m doing it because I love studying languages, and as a sign of respect for my new home. But the reality is everyone in Amsterdam speaks English, including everyone at my new company. I wonder sometimes if I should stick with Spanish. It would be more practical for travelling! At the very least, I’ll come back to it when I gain a certain level of Dutch proficiency.
Can a poetry blog examine stale pop culture? Does it change the dynamic of the blog? What if we as readers expected an author to touch on the many facets of a life in their work? Maybe the well worn paths remain the pillars of our zeitgeist.
That’s me Carrie Bradshaw-ing the header. Over the summer, I needed a low-stakes series to play in the background while I zoned out on the couch. So I started watching Sex and the City, finishing a couple weeks ago. I was in high school & college during the show’s run on HBO, but never had HBO or the interest. As a straight teenage boy, I couldn’t have enjoyed it back then anyway (masculinity was, if you can believe, even more toxic at the turn of the century).
I thought it was mostly fun, with fewer cringey moments due to outdated social attitudes than I expected. I came away with some extremely cold takes:
- It’s tragic that Kim Cattrall (who was arguably the most talented actor in the series) never saw her character elevated beyond a woman who weirdly likes sex. In the second half of the final season, they gave her cancer to make up for this, but it didn’t compensate for the fact that Samantha basically looped through the same two storylines for six seasons & two movies.
- I had a hard time settling on who was the worse person: Carrie or Charlotte. They’re both grossly judgmental, shallow people, with (to be blunt) nothing to really offer a friend or partner; and for most of the series, whoever spoke the most recent line is who I thought sucked the most.
- In the end, I settled on Carrie being the worst; Charlotte was a better friend, I think. Carrie was incapable of letting any situation center on any other person.
- What in the world did an intelligent, confident, accomplished man like Aleksandr Petrovsky see in Carrie Bradshaw? THERE IS NOTHING INTERESTING ABOUT HER.
- Carrie & Big ending up together is perfect, because while they’re boring & crappy in different ways, they magnitude of their boringness & crappiness is equal. For similar reasons, Charlotte should have ended up with Trey. I don’t remember anything being wrong with Trey, he’s just a similarly vapid person, and Harry is entirely too good for Charlotte.
- What was happening with Miranda’s wardobe in s1? I can’t decide if the androgynous Bowie look was the show’s indecision about making her character gay at some point (conforming to a straight 90s person’s idea about gayness), or its inability to conceive of a wardrobe for a person who is both a woman and a lawyer.
- There weren’t nearly enough Stanford-Anthony scenes.
- I should have more to say about Big, but there’s nothing there. He’s literally just a human man doing a low-rent Cary Grant impression, in a suit & hair only the early 2000s could have considered appealing.
- The title of this post comes from jack gilbert's the forgotten dialect of the heart