Sarah Turner from Bend, OR Coming to Europe!



I have this close friend Sarah Turner* from The States who keeps saying she wants to come visit me in Europe. Sarah’s a high school counselor in Bend, Oregon. She’s totally into hiking and running, has been happily married for over a decade, is close with all of her siblings, enjoys her job. In other words, she has a great life.

But then her husband cheated on her with one of her best friends who happens to be the wife of her husband’s boss. It’s a total cluster f*&k, as you can imagine, not to mention humiliating. So there she is, 36 years old, suddenly divorced, betrayed by not only her best friend, but her husband (I never really liked that guy to be honest). Did I mention that her mom passed away not long ago? I’ve been worried about her because these are big, disruptive life changes all at once.

X003Most of our communication about all of this has been through email and PMs on Facebook. But she called me up at 4:00 in the morning (forgot the time change) to tell me something totally out of character; she left her job and has just embarked on a solo-trip through Northern Europe to rediscover herself! At the end of her trip, she plans to visit The Netherlands for some appointment she has scheduled in Amsterdam, and will have time to visit me in The Hague!

I’m really impressed. It’s pretty gutsy to travel all by yourself through Europe; especially for a woman who’s never left the continental U.S. and has a hard time picking up foreign languages. As I recall, she’s also a bit afraid of the dark and she became a vegan a couple of years ago. Hmmm. Not sure how traveling in Europe will work out for a vegan. That’s got to be hard.

I’d love to introduce Sarah to some of my single friends, because she really is quite a catch. But it’s obviously too soon. I wouldn’t say she’s in a man-hating phase, but more like she just needs to be totally on her own and remember what it’s like to be an individual.

I hope Sarah doesn’t mind me sharing all of this personal stuff on my blog.

Want to get the full scoop on Sarah Turner, then you might want to click here. I understand you can read quite a few intimate details about her.


Nadja Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot visits The Hague


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Last week my British friend invited me to see Nadja Tolokonnikova speak at Border Kitchen. Nadja reached international fame in 2012 when she and her feminist Pussy Riot bandmates were arrested on charges of “hooliganism” when they gave a spontaneous performance at a Moscow cathedral.

She served two years in a Russian prison for her act of hooliganism. During her sentence, she worked 17-hour days sewing uniforms. But that’s not what she wanted to talk about with the interviewer and audience at Paard van Troje. She wanted to talk about starting a revolution. I could almost hear  a punk version of Tracy Chapman’s famous song playing in the background. Yet at the same time, Nadja’s approach to starting a revolution is much more in your face.

When she first started speaking, I was put off. She dropped the F bomb like a rapper, she didn’t always answer the interviewers questions and she made a lot of generalizations. It didn’t seem to be a matter of stage fright. On the contrary, she seemed quite relaxed and content to digress from the topic if she so desired. I thought I was in for a long, awkward evening at the hands of an anarchist.

I soon realized it wasn’t her who was undergoing a bout of awkwardness; it was me. I was in an adjustment period. Nadja’s presence and her way of thinking were foreign to me. As I let go of whatever preconceived notions I might have had, she emerged before me as a true revolutionista, or in this case a  революционер.

She wasn’t interested in being in the spotlight for the spotlight’s sake. She didn’t care about fame. She knew that she was risking her life just about every time she partook in acts of rebellion in Russia. But she just chose not to think about it. No point. We all die. And better to live your life fully engaged and stand up for what you believe in, then living in fear. Not exactly her words, but that was the sentiment she conveyed.

The more she talked, the more I realized that Nadja is a unique brand of brilliant. She is strong, optimistic, driven, detached. When she talked about celebrities and politicians she’s met from Madonna to Obama, I didn’t get the idea she was name dropping. It was more like telling it as it is.


Here is my attempt to summarize some of the best insights I received from her talk. These are not her exact words, and could very well misrepresent what she said. But they are my attempt to recall from memory what she said over a week ago.

  1. On Trump. Yes he’s an ugly fascist pig, but it’s a good thing to have that ugliness out in the open where we can all see it. He’s in your face and you can’t ignore him and his ugly attacks on women, the environment, muslims and immigrants. These policies are not hidden and happening behind doors. You are fully confronted with what he’s doing right out in the open. The question remains, what are you going to do about it? (Start a revolution, perhaps?) We can all do something, no matter who we are. We can all take action and stand up for what we believe in. You can see Pussy Riot’s Make America Great Again Trump video here (not for those under 18, or with delicate temperaments).
  2. On communicating with ‘the other.’ When she spent time in prison, she met people with whom she would have never come into contact in her life outside bars: pro-Putin Russians and other people who had completely different opinions than her on almost everything. But they all became friends. How? Surprisingly, she referenced  Acts Chapter 2 of The Bible, to explain her approach to communicating with those who don’t agree with you.
    Acts discusses people speaking in tongues during Pentecost and suddenly being able to understand each other. I don’t think it was about all of these people suddenly speaking Polish and French and all of these different languages. I think it was about people actually being open to ‘the other’ and listening with their heart to one another, being willing to step inside their shoes and see the world from their perspective. That’s what I tried to do in prison. I walked in their shoes. And from there, we could communicate and understand one another. Damn. Nadja has a good point.
  3. On humor: I was one of a half dozen Americans in the audience who raised my hand to ask a question. I notice that I often seek out humor as a way of dealing with the disaster that is Trump. (Think Borowitz report from The New Yorker, or most Late Night shows). Afterwards, I feel a release of pressure, but also a release of the desire to take action. Does humor make us passive?
    Nadja’s answer to my question was also a relief. Here’s my summary of her response. I have activist friends who think humor detracts from activism. But I believe that we do need humor. In fact, humor makes life better, both in and out of prison. It’s hard to listen to people who are serious all of the time. Humor is a way of connecting and taking a serious problem and making it approachable. In other words, humor is a valid tool in starting a conversation and a platform for taking action.

I should probably also mention that Nadja Tolokonnikova wasn’t just there to talk. She has authored a book called: How to Make a Revolution. She’s also started a prison reform project and a media website, Mediazona, with the idea of keeping the world informed about human rights abuses in Russian prisons and calling for prison reform.

“I’m just a damned Russian peasant,” she said as she finished up her presentation to thunderous applause. She might very well be a damned Russian peasant, but she’s a damned impressive Russian peasant, fueling the fires of a revolution in her wake.




Compost and Marches


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Today, while I was at a composting workshop, women all over the world were participating in Women’s Marches, standing up against racism, sexism, all sorts of isms, speaking out for our health, our equality and forming connections to forge a new beginning. I would have liked to be marching with you, but I had a previous commitment. Yet, I think the compost workshop and the Women’s Marches have something in common: Both are addressing the garbage out there and are figuring out what we can make of it.


Women’s March Amsterdam. Photo:

Composting takes time. All of those bad apples (corrupt politicians), rotten tomatoes (evil corporations), banana peels (unethical policies and laws) and lemons (need I go on?) need to be broken down to size, mixed in with leaves, hay (common sense) and earth (a dose of reality) and given time to just sit, stew and rot a little further.

You could just leave that garbage all on it’s own for a year and it would eventually break down of its own volition (impeachable actions, poor performance and caught in the act of breaking the law), or you can poke it with a fork (put on the pressure), turn it over (make them accountable), expose its underbelly (self explanatory) and all the heat and gases building up in there and the process of break down and transformation speeds up.

Women of the world and all others who support us, through our combined efforts, patience and collective work, we will transform that waste into a thick and nourishing soil in which to plant new seeds and grow new crops. Together, we can turn garbage into gold.



I’ve done myself a favor this year and skipped the resolutions. Or more honestly, I’ve had too much going on in my head to give this New Year’s tradition even a fleeting thought. So when a perky woman far fitter than me struck up a conversation on the topic in the gym locker room, I was surprisingly honest and fessed up to my ‘resolutionless’ state.

“Do you have any resolutions?” I returned, expecting a conversation about fitness goals.

“No,” she admitted, “But if I were to make one,” she began, slowly thinking about the idea, “It would be to help my boyfriend live through the year.” I soon learned that her boyfriend had been diagnosed with cancer a few years back, had undergone chemo last year. He had been declared cancer-free. Their absolute joy ended when a routine check-up revealed that the cancer was back with a vengeance.

This bright woman before me in her orange tank top, sleek body and model-like face was facing the very real prospect of death taking her partner away from her. Wherever I had been in my head, I was now completely present, listening to her. When she finished her story, we looked at each other in companionable silence. I opened my arms and she stepped into them for a hug.

We talked further as we left the locker room and I shared a bit of what was going on with me. She listened without judgment and one more hug was exchanged before we moved on to our work outs.

I found myself at the gym a week later, planning to run on the treadmill as fast I could to clear my mind of its clutter and address the pent up energy in my body. An employee was cleaning the last two unused treadmills, and I greeted him as I waited. We chatted about the dirt that collects on all of the equipment. He said something else, and I didn’t understand his heavily-accented Dutch.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he said in perfect English with a smile on his face.

“Oh. Yes,” I replied. This was pretty much a conversation stopper. He had moved onto spraying down the next treadmill anyway, so I began my workout.

Did he know he was referring to words uttered during a burial service? Speaking of death? That we are all mortal, that we all return to ashes and dust? Of course he did. I had heard these words so many times in my life, and thanks to Hollywood and my number of years on this planet, they have moved across the scale from profound to somber, predictable to trite. Now they had swung back to profound.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Had this man spoken out of context? I mean, he was simply cleaning dust off of machines at his work place. But no. Not at all. His words spoke of the present moment and the transience of all things: worries, life stage, the windows, the building, the treadmill, you, me. We will all return to dust. I half expected him to disappear, to have been a figment of my imagination.  He had moved on to vacuuming.

Happy Freaking New Year.

I know I sound rather somber, but I’m sharing these encounters for a reason. Here’s some other words you’ve heard a thousand times both on and off the silver screen: Know the value of life; it is a present not to be taken for granted.

Can I do that? Now that would be a hell of a resolution.







My Country ’tis of Who?


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It’s been a hard week: Husband sick, son sick, a friend suddenly taken to the hospital for an appendicitis,  T. winning the U.S. election. Regarding this last sickness, how did this happen and what does it mean for the future of America? The future of the environmental policy, world trade, communication and politics?  The security, rights and liberty of fellow Americans who don’t happen to be white and male? These are the questions on the minds of many.

The shock from the election is so pervasive in The Netherlands that when friends and acquaintances in this multi-cultural country see me, one of the first things out of their mouths is along these lines:

“My condolences.”
“You must be shocked.”
“How are you holding up?”
“How did this happen?”

img_2542Just as this tattered Old Glory is sacrilege, so is the hate, sexism and racism so rampant throughout the Trump campaign. I understand in a way how Trump happened–people are angry and fed up with a system that makes the rich richer and everyone else poorer.  I understand anger, but not the anger that got him elected.

My anti-establishment, no more business-as-usual anger was of the Bernie Sanders variety; an anger channeled into positive change with clear, decisive actions and planning to make it happen. I believe the anger that got T. elected spawns from a darker source filled with fear and hatred of the ilk found in this Facebook collection of posts called ‘Day 1. Trump America’.

Here’s just a few examples:

Not even 24 hours yet. My friend’s sister, who is Muslim, had a knife pulled on her by a Trump supporter while on the bus by UIUC campus. (November 9th, 2016 tweet by Sarah Harvard)

One of the posts also shows a caucasion male being beaten by a group of African Americans. His crime? Voting for Trump.

And on the flip side? How about this photo?


Posted on Twitter on November 10th by Avarice Gambino. Photo purportedly in Durham, NC

According to this collection of tweets and Facebook quotes, Latin American children, Muslim women and African Americans are being threatened and told to ‘go home.’

Yet America is their home. Their country, your country, my country, just like the song goes: My Country tis of thee. Sweet land of liberty. Of thee I sing. But in the current state of affairs, I wonder. My Country ‘Tis of Who? I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump, and I don’t recognize the America that has been showing its colors this past year.  I’m extremely concerned what will happen to our country under his leadership.

According to a New York Times article this morning, Trump is planning to enlist Mr. Ebell to help take on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Activists labeled Ebell as one of the top seven “climate criminals.” My stomach is turning at the thought.

Mr. Ebell, who revels in taking on the scientific consensus on global warming, will be Mr. Trump’s lead agent in choosing personnel and setting the direction of the federal agencies that address climate change and environmental policy more broadly. See full NYT Article here.

Because all of the four-letter words just weren’t enough to express our frustration, we introduced a five letter word to our collection. The ‘T’ word is an expletive we don’t even want to hear in our household at the present moment.

This is not a spontaneous, reactionary missive. It has been slowly building during the last year as I’ve read and viewed the racist, sexist things that T. img_4443has said during his campaign and throughout his televised, caught-on -tape life.

Although I am an American living abroad, I am still an American and I still relate to my culture. But since Tuesday’s election results (hell, since the beginning of the campaign!), I’ve felt less enthusiastic about donning my former favorite sweatshirt.

Looking for a kernel of hope, I turn to Bernie Sanders to see how he’s responding (after of course his campaign’s initial post-election response of “We have nothing nice to say right now.”).  Here’s a Berning quote that gives me hope.

“To the degree that Donald Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.”
~Bernie Sanders Facebook Post on Wednesday, November 9th, 2016.

What if Trump America (excuse my French) won’t be the racist, sexist, mysoginist, wall-building, isolationist, climate-change denying country we think it will be?  It isn’t a one-man government and there are protections in place, politicians with years of experience, a whole checks and balances system built into governance.

What if he can actually deliver on his big promises of employment for everyone, and an America for all Americans? (Just to clarify, Mr. Trump, all Americans = every U.S. citizen, no matter race, country of origin, disability, religious affiliation, sensuality or lack thereof, sexual orientation, gender or party line). Perhaps there’s a silver lining somewhere in there, waiting to be discovered or revealed.

Or as my mother (jokingly?) said yesterday morning, perhaps the End Times really are near.

100-100-100 Trash free challenge


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Recycling is so popular in our neighborhood, that the glass, paper and plastic recycling bins at the end of our block are often overflowing. Considering that my family alone drops off a bag each of glass, plastic and paper every week, this excess comes as no surprise to me.

I totally support recycling, but on the other hand, where are these supreme heaps of paper, glass and plastic recycling coming from? In a country where Albert Heijn, one of the largest Supermarket chains in the nation, sells its cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic, I’m guessing that most comes from packaging.

I’ve had a vague goal of cutting back on the amount of plastic, glass and paper that enters our home by changing my shopping patterns. I’ve done a bit to address this by using cloth bags and getting my unpackaged produce at Joe’s Vegetable shop. Yet laziness and convenience seem to undermine my desire to take it a step further. It’s like I need a waste-reducing support group to get my lazy *ss in gear.

But then something remarkable happened!  Duurzaam Den Haag announced the 100-100-100 challenge: 100 families, living 100 percent trash-free for 100 days. What? How could you live trash-free? And when they say trash, are they just talking about trash, trash? Or do they mean having zero waste–as in no paper, plastic, glass, food scraps, etcetera?

One way or another, I wanted to find out, and in doing so, signed up my family to participate in this ridiculous challenge. Am I going to turn into some uber-recycling, make-your-own-toothpaste, zero-waste scary person? And is that really so scary, or is it that the idea of changing our patterns is scary?

imageThe kick off event aptly began on Halloween evening and it was packed. Far from being scared, the crowd had a restless enthusiasm you might expect at a Holland’s Got Talent show–people amped up and ready for the challenge to begin.

The excitement was palpable as a woman spoke about her zero-waste lifestyle. The applause for the program initiators was just shy of thunderous and I was swept up in the energy. Then it got even better. I met up with my neighborhood group aimg_4406nd we all shared our thoughts about the program. We each received a goody bag with an electric scale to weigh our trash, a nifty cardboard recycling container for batteries, led lamps and small electronics, a bar of soap wrapped in newspaper and some start-up instructions.

My neighborhood What’s app group is on fire. We encourage each other, share tips and research and we’re already planning a cooking evening (what to do with left overs) and a composting workshop.

In the first five days, my family has managed to avoid opening the main trash can in the kitchen, thus producing zero waste (rest afval). I haven’t cleared out the small bathroom trash cans as of yet, which are filled with true trash–tissue, cotton swabs, dental floss, the occasional band-aid, etcetera. But we have been slowly eliminating items from these trash cans as well. Did you know you can recycle wooden tooth picks in the vegetable, fruit and garden waste bin?  And although we save the cardboard inner role of the toilet paper, sometimes they end up in the trash (laziness!) instead of the recycling bin. Those days are now over.

Did you know that in The Hague, tin cans, drink packs and bottle caps can be recycled via the plastic bin? That baking paper can not be recycled?

This week’s challenge was to count how many times you open a new package. You’d be surprised at how quickly it adds up, especially if you count each individually-wrapped tea bag. The subtle changes we can make to reduce waste and recycling material become self-evident. We could purchase loose-leaf tea, for example, and in doing so eliminate all of those little envelopes and tea sacks. We could skip the plastic bag at the bakery by opting for an unsliced loaf and placing it directly in a reusable bag. The possibilities are slowly but surely unfolding before my eyes and I have rediscovered my rose-colored glasses upon the path of 100-100-100. We’ll see how long they stay intact!





Thanks Tom Hanks

A few nights ago I was at a restaurant with a friend. The counter tops were white, the floor made of a smooth wood. My friend waited for me at a table while I leaned on the counter, trying to get some menus.

That’s when Tom Hanks approached me with one of his trademark smiles breaking across his face.

“Kristin! How are you?” he greeted, embracing me in an American hug.

“Great. How are you doing Tom?” I responded, hugging him back.

“Fine, fine,” he nodded.

“Oh my God!” My friend remarked in the background. “Hi Mr. Hanks. I just loved you in Captain Phillips,” she gushed. “And I’m so excited to see your new film!”

“I’m sure he’s never heard that before,” I chided, giving my friend a casual smile.

Tom shrugged off her compliment and then squared up to me with his shoulders as if about to deliver a mini, fatherly lecture.

“I really miss your playing, Kristin. You were so good! You’ve got to get out that saxophone and start playing again,” he stated emphatically.

“Ah. Well. Yeah,” I fumbled. Up until this point, I had been solid, no star-struck jitters bungling my speech or coloring my cheeks; no need to point out to Tom that we actually don’t know one another as far as I knew. My mind wasn’t bothering to analyze the illogical nature of our interaction. I mean, I didn’t want to insult the guy. And honestly, where had he heard me play? It’s been over a decade since I played with any regularity out in public with bands like Antara & Delilah, Ska’s The Limit, Jah-B-One, The River Project, The Hi-Hats. Just like my playing, besides Jah-B-One, none of these former bands still exist.

When I woke up from the dream, I had to laugh. Tom Hanks a fan of my playing from over a decade ago? I know how he got into my head–the poster of Inferno that has been at tram stops and all over the city announcing his latest Da Vinci Code-related film. inferno_movie_poster.jpg

But Tom’s dream-message had some staying power.

“You’re not going to play that now, are you?” my husband asked as I opened up the dust-covered case of my alto sax one morning.

“Yeah. I am. But don’t worry. It probably won’t be for more than a few minutes, considering I have zero embouchure.” Not to mention old reeds and other problems associated with being out of practice. I started playing and surprisingly, the saxophone made some rather pleasant sounds. It also made a few squeaks.


Picture of proper embouchure for saxophone players.

My son came into the room and climbed onto the couch behind me, watching intently.

“Can you play Star Wars?” he asked. I started thinking of the theme song, and before long, I was playing a rather shoddy, but nonetheless passable version of it.

“What else can you play?” he asked excitedly. By the time my four minutes of playing were over, my son had already decided that I should order music of all the songs he likes, so I can play them properly for him. He also wanted to try to play the sax himself.

It’s been three days since the dream and those four minutes of playing, but the sax is still in the living room, rather than the upstairs closet. And it’s calling me back.

Thanks Tom Hanks!

Hold Still: A Disjointed Account of Four Moms on a Saturday Afternoon

There were four of us at the table, and six of our little people among the masses of children jumping and screaming on the indoor trampolines. We sat on the hard metal stools drinking cappuccinos, our mile-a-minute conversations flowing; the music blaring over the loud speakers mixed with the  high-pitched screams of fright and pleasure a familiar soundtrack of motherhood.

Despite a median age somewhere in the mid-forties, we seemed more like teenagers the way we each fondled our smart phones, engaged in multiple disjointed conversations randomly interrupted by work-related texts, the display of YouTube videos and Facebook posts. We volleyed between bouts of concentrated dialogue dedicated to one topic and bullet point statements interspersed with interruptions both physical and virtual.

A: “I’ve been drawing lately.”
B: “Ahh. Check out these photos from my friend in Italy.”
R: “Shall I get another round of lemonade for the boys or can they share your pitcher?”
K: “Those photos are beautiful . . .”
A: “I drew this one for my nephew.”
B: “You can share our pitcher.”

I haven’t always been a smart-phone-toting, attention-deficit disordering conversationalist. Much to the frustration of friends, family and co-workers, I used to be one of those people who left my cell phone at home or didn’t even bother to check it when I had it with me. I refused to have it in the same room with me as I slept, not wanting the disruptive electromagnetic radiation near me and my loved ones. I even considered my friends who couldn’t seem to put their cell phones away as not only lacking in social graces, but clearly bored with the idea of living their own lives.

But then I got an iPhone for my birthday last year. Not only an iPhone, but the latest and greatest iPhone 6s. My eyes gleamed with the same excitement as my son’s when he gets a new Lego set. In Amsterdam and Los Angeles I saw billboards with stunning images taken with the iPhone 6s. Friends envied the amazing photos I could take, and the billboards dominating the airspace along the Los Angeles freeways during my summer visit seemed to buoy my sense of being on the cutting edge. Friends nodded in approval when they saw my phone as if I’d accomplished an impressive feat, when all I had done was unwrap a present from my husband. I don’t follow the trends when it comes to latest technology and I was surprised to be on the forefront, if even for a nanosecond. Oh, but where was I?

“Here’s a design I did for my coffee mug,” A. shared as her eyes darted between us and the series of pictures of her artwork she had pulled up on her phone—pastel water colors of names painted in calligraphy-like letters, cityscapes and other daily life mages. The children came and went like parakeets in a city, flocking to us and making short work of the beverages and snacks before fluttering off again.

Our attention shifted back to her artwork. One beautiful piece had a batik-like background in the shape of an African nation.

“I made this one for my maid. She’s from Ghana.”

This particular piece reminded me of an art opening I had attended the night before about immigration, culture and crossing borders, with art by husband-wife team Anna Kurtycz and RUDEK. I scrolled through the pictures I had made and the conversation segued to this current exhibition at the Victor Laurentius Gallery in New Babylon.

The topic of immigration made the rounds, our various opinions about poverty and taxes and the wealth of nations somehow morphing to food and culture. A Facebook post popped up with a photo of a new nephew born that day. We marveled at this tiny baby boy before we sped off to a series of photographs featured in a Time article entitled Hungry Planet: What The World Eats. The pictures of families from around the world surrounded by the foods they consume within a week held our attention spans for a good seven minutes before we were onto YouTube videos of Hillary with funny voice overs, a magazine suggesting that yellow was the hip color of the season and handing over change to the kids to purchase ice cream.

Conversations held during mom get togethers with a flock of children in tow have always been a bit disjointed. But this outing spoke of a new level of mom-multi-tasking ADD. Would I go back to my pre-smart phone life? Not for a second. Our interaction was media-rich, stimulating, exciting, fast-paced. Is my ADD behavior getting worse? I believe so. I can’t even tell you if I have presented today’s events in chronological order. Now that I think about it, I think that we looked at that glossy magazine at the beginning of the afternoon, not just before we left.

As I clicked on a new What’s App message from a client, I heard something that threw me.

“She has the iPhone 7,” R. said, pointing to A.’s larger, sleeker phone. It happened, just like I knew it would. I am no longer jogging out in front of the pack. The slightest ping of disappointment was quickly outweighed by relief: I could slip back into my more comfortable technology role of late adapter.

As we collected our red-cheeked children and prepared to head home, I felt like one of them: overstimulated, excited, exhausted. I thought about the old days. Hand-written letters, a well-worn notebook to jot down your thoughts, the heft of a hardback dictionary in your hands.

Maybe I’ll write a letter when I get home or read an old-fashioned paperback book; dim the lights, close my eyes and go into meditation. Something to balance out that media-driven, thoughts-akimbo afternoon.

Yet here I am back on another screen, writing a blog post with post-dinner plans of picking up where I left off on the eBook version of Sarah Mann’s Hold Still.

The title of her memoir comes from Sally asking her children on countless occasions to Hold Still as she takes their pictures, the hours of concentration demanded of both subject and photographer to get the perfect picture, the tedious and time consuming process of developing the film. This process required every ounce of concentration dedicated to the present moment, and then to the moment after that. Can anyone Hold Still anymore?



Are you up for being Human?


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A few weeks ago, I went to the Nutshuis in the center of The Hague to watch a documentary called Human  directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. This 2015 documentary, presented by Alliance Francaise La Haye (French Alliance of The Hague) explores what it means to be human world wide.

It started out as a festive evening. Rows of wooden chairs draped invitingly with red blankets stood in the garden.  Of the 40 or so people who attended, I personally knew half a dozen and my friend Joanna introduced me to half a dozen more. The glass of wine in my hand, easy conversation and a dark blue sky peppered with clouds created the perfect alchemy for an uplifiting evening.

Before the film started, Françoise Bernard,  the editor and co-director of the film was interviewed by a member of Alliance Francaise La Haye. They sat before the audience and spoke intensively with one another in French. Although I couldn’t understand the details, the few French words I know paired with the cognates that popped out of the dialogue allowed me to vaguely follow the conversation. I understood the words emotion, world, love, planet, poverty, human.

Even though I had watched the trailer and knew full well that I was in for an emotionally heavy evening, my mind shrugged it off, leaving me unprepared for what was to come.

From the very beginning, the film entered me like a bolt of awareness. Within minutes, people in the audience, including myself, were sniffling, blowing their noses and wiping tears away from their eyes. And we were only 10 minutes in. God were we in for a journey.

The people being interviewed on the screen seemed to be having a personal monologue with me, rather than the reporters who interviewed them. The journalists were not shown, nor were their voices heard, resulting in a sort of one-way conversation with the interviewee. Their foreign words, translated into English and presented in white text against a black background, pushed right through whatever natural barriers society might have trained me to erect to protect myself from their emotion.

If a dear friend were to talk to me so directly, I would still be in a frame of mind to listen while formulating a response to share with them; words that would somehow benefit them, offer hope or counsel, or perhaps I would offer silence as a form of support. This interview format was so effective that you could not formulate a response. All you could do was listen and absorb and realize that these total strangers from foreign cultures are undeniably tied directly to you in the very act of being human.

Their fears became my fears: I too was concerned for their children who have no food, their land that had dried up, rendering it useless as a means of sustenance, their struggles with homosexuality in an unforgiving culture or family, their tragic childhood situations. When they shared their definitions of love, happiness and poverty, my definition of these terms expanded through their experience. I felt ultra sensitive to what all of these humans were sharing with me as if they were pleading their case directly to me, and I must answer to them.

Human is overwhelming and of epic proportions. When I say epic, I don’t just mean long (143 minutes), but also in the way it confronts you. The directors must have been aware of this potential effect and taken a bit of pity on their potential viewers. This pity came in the form of breathtaking aerial footage of nature and people: a raging sea, a stretch of salt flats interspersed with blood red earth, children in traditional dress on horseback, galloping across vast high-mountain prairies, boys playing soccer among dirt and rocks on treacherous cliffs . Each scene provided both a reprieve from and a deepening of the monologues yet to come.

When the screen finally went black, I was both relieved and already mourning the end of this beautifully filmed journey into our shared humanity. That couldn’t really be the end. There must be a plan?

I spotted Françoise Bernard, the editor and co-director, surrounded by a small group of people. Even though it had been a long night and we were all a bit tired, I waited patiently until I had a chance to pose my own question.

“You made this wonderful, epic film about being human and the inequities in the world. What is your next step? Are there specific causes you are promoting? Is there a list on the website?”

I expected her to say “Yes, of course. This is just the beginning.” But no. Her answer went something like this.

We thought of selecting different charities or organizations that are addressing these issues, but it was too challenging to choose among them. Rather, the next step is what you can do about it within your own sphere of influence. She might as well have said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” A great slogan, but how do you actualize something like that?

Even though it was quite late, a handful of us needed to process the film and ended up finding a late night cafe to shelter us as we discussed the film together. Although we differed in our opinions about the techniques and length of the film, one thing was certain; we were all overwhelmed by what we had taken in, and shared a common desire to do something about it.

As we discussed our various spheres of influence, we realized that each of us can do something every day to positively effect the lives of others. Most of the people at the table were already activists in one form or another, working on issues of climate change, care for the ocean, nuclear disarmament, education and organizing charity events.

On top of that, a lot of the solutions had to do with money:  choosing Fair Trade or Fair Chain products, putting our money in banks like ASN that only invest in companies that meet their stringent principles, being politically aware and active, reducing our carbon footprint, attending fundraisers for small-scale initiatives both here and abroad where money goes directly to improving the lives of others, helping those within our own lives. The list went on and on.

I wonder how you would react if you were to see the documentary human. Would you feel a need to change the world? Would you believe you could?






Happy 4th and Capitalizing on Captilalism


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Happy 4th everyone! That little sentence needs no explanation to my U.S. friends. In fact, I believe 99% of you have the day free for the celebration of U.S. Independence Day, besides Antara, who is helping set up the stage in her town for the big day.

Fourth of July is a national holiday in the States. It is filled with barbeques, parties and fireworks displays put on by the cities. To see where it’s legal to add to air pollution and and torture animals and small children through noise pollution–i.e.set off some fireworks, you can Check out this link for California.

The 4th of July is just another day in The Hague. Thus my Independence Day has been spent behind my work desk: no beer in my hand, pleasant conversation or that fine summer sensation of eagerly awaiting a not dog or corn on the cob fresh off the grill.

But not all is lost. This past Saturday, we were invited to a barbeque at a fellow Expat American’s house here in The Hague, and almost all of my Independence Day needs were met: Kids playing, watermelon, socializing with friends,  a cold beer in my hand, sunshine, a BBQ in the backyard,  a sometimes pessimistic, sometimes uplifting discussion of what Independence means in a post-freedom world of Homeland Security, cyber spying and the  invasion of digital privacy;  the right to bear arms and the consequent accounts of public massacres in schools, bars, movie theaters and workplaces; the concept that corporations are running the country, rather than our government; and the hope that American ideals and values still shine brightly despite it all. If there had just been a fireworks show, I would be sated.

On another American note, I found the start of a post in my saved drafts from last November. I suppose I had a whole rant planned, but got sidetracked. Funny that I should discover this on the 4th of July just as  my work day is over.

Capitalizing on Capitalism (from November 2015)
Something weird happened this past Friday; we opened the pile of advertisements that come in the mail and I discovered something strange among the color catalogs–a little black bag. On the black bag were the words: Black Friday Sale.

Are You Serious? Its bad enough that Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States has turned into “Black Friday”–a frenzy of crazed shoppers storming big box retail stores to get deep discounts on stuff  just hours after sitting down to a meal with family and friends designed as a day for reflection, coming together and giving thanks.

But here in the Netherlands, some crazy marketing person decided it was okay to just skip  the finery of Thanksgiving all together and just capitalize on a distinctly American crazed shopping day. That is the apex of capitalizing on capitalism.