Kat, an old roommate of mine who is an adult with A.D.D. once explained what every day was like for her. She hears and notices everything –each sound amplified and recorded in her mind, demanding equal attention. Her life is rich with detail, but such richness has a downside.
“It can be overwhelming,” she said.
In my New Year’s quest to be more present and aware of my surroundings, I had a semi-Kat day this past Sunday.
After church, still dressed in our finest, we decided to head to the Gemeente Museum. There is an exhibition called “Mondriaan en de Stijl,” in which two of my favorite Mondriaan’s were on display: The Red Tree and an the Windmill in Sunlight.
I stood before these paintings transfixed. I stepped closer to take in the brush strokes. Stepped away to see the whole. Their unnaturally bright hues cracked open the color palette of expectation, and created a jolt in me, as if someone has snuck up and scared me. But instead of fear, the shock that coursed through my body was one of anarchistic excitement. He dared to paint a windmill blood orange and red, a tree crimson with cobalt underlining.
I lingered before the paintings, waiting for the shock of excitement to dull within me. My son and husband had moved on to the Museon, an interactive children’s museum attached to the Gemeente Museum by an interior corridor, and I longed to find them, bring them before these paintings and see if they had the same experience. But the museum was closing in half an hour.
A third painting also pulled me in. Its familiar to me, as if a friend had a poster of it on a wall at some point in my past. In person, it dazzled me in its snapshot of raucous joy; ladies and gentlemen dressed to the nines, dancing beneath the swirling lights–lights so brilliant and abstract that they could be candelabras of the Aurora Borealis interpreted in whites and golds.
I realize art is a personal thing and affects us all differently. I mentioned the Sluijters painting to my husband, who had seen it many times, and his shrug-of-the-shoulders indifference grated against my enthusiasm.
The clock struck five. We bundled up in our coats and hats and headed for the tram, waiting with all of the other museum goers who had stayed until closing time. While we waited, we watched an elderly couple step into a silver BMW roadster. The woman drove away carefully.
When the tram arrived, we boarded with the other museum goers, filling up the tram.
“Just be honest with me, damn it! Can I really fly to Indonesia for € 480? Come on, don’t lie to me! I’m sick of all the lying from the telemarketers! You look like you’re from there. A good lie will do too.” His voice boomed from the last car in the tram. People turned toward him, pulled by the loud intrusion of his voice. I glanced too, catching his clear, wild eyes, his dark hair, before looking away. A man in his thirties speaking Dutch with the accent of a foreigner who has somehow come to stay here too long. I didn’t see the person next to him, his current prisoner, as he kept yelling.
“And all those refugees! Giving them food, a place to stay, allowing their homosexuality! What a bunch of bullshit our government! How can we allow it!”
People stopped turning toward him. Even the children on the tram instinctively knew not to make eye contact. We made eye contact with each other instead; strangers glancing toward each other, as if to say, “It’s rather sad, really. Just ignore him. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
He finally got off the tram, and the whole car decompressed, as if we let out a collective breath. The driver came out of his cabin and walked all the way to the back in search of the offending man, but he had already departed. What would an abstract painting of this man and his crazed negativity look like?
In the evening, I suggested an activity for my family: a happiness jar. Each evening, we write down something that made us happy that day and put it in the jar. They both looked at me over the leftovers on our dinner plates in true Dutch fashion: slightly annoyed, yet lackadaisically tolerant.
“I need an unhappy jar, too.” My husband said.
“Yeah. Then I would write I’m unhappy because there’s a happy jar,”my son added, a devilish grin on his face. They laughed together at their own cleverness. I set jars before them, cut up an old envelope for pieces of paper, gave them pens. Everyone wrote something and placed it in the jar. I’m not sure if it made them happy or not, but we’ll carry on.