Unknown Me: It's Not About Notoriety || Amsterdam, Netherlands
Or, at least it shouldn’t be.
There is something quite magical upon entering the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.
It is a full surrender into the inundation of the artist’s work. I would say it’s involuntary as the setting immediately enraptures you in a narrative, but one pays to get in, so it is safe to assume that one decides to partake in the story, even if it’s a seemingly subconscious choice. Conscious or Unconscious, it is hard to leave without a sort of attachment to the artist’s story, artwork, and legacy.
I was hooked. I had been hooked.
But as I made my way through his timeline my empathy levels rose up until I felt tears. His silent and misunderstood battles with a mental illness, perhaps multiple. His hopeless and unsuccessful ventures in the modern and ‘normal’ world. His moving back in with his parents. His beginning of a career at the age of 27. His total reliance on his brother’s success which provided him time and space to work on his craft. His thousands of paintings painted only one of which was sold. His forbidden love affairs. His ear cutting. His mental asylum stays. His eventual death at 37.
It is a life that one peers into and if human, one cannot help but feel his pain and the agony which arises from his story of non-belonging, a seeming lack of purpose because of a public disregard of the work, and a branded classification of ‘other’ because of him being misunderstood.
That is, except if one is the two American women whose audible commentaries rattled off the walls of the room in which Vincent’s timeline was captured. “Looks like he just couldn’t figure himself out,” they carelessly said after reading the bubble describing Van Gogh’s death. “WOW,” I cried as heads in the room turned to my direction. The women paid no attention to me and continued walking their tour critiquing and observing an artist they could never fully know.
I stood for a minute, tempted to walk out without seeing his work.
And then I thought, no. His work was not made to be understood, or known, really. He did not create for notoriety - although he worried about it for financial reasons - but because he had to do it. Because it was coming out of him and then eventually became him. In a way, it was his source of life, a means for survival; an opportunity to release what was inside, and to surrender to it’s creation, no matter the outcome.
There was no attachment.
For that reason it spoke to me as profoundly as it did as I wondered around pondering my own path. Why am I doing? To be seen? To be known? For notoriety? Or, because it’s in me. It is me. And I must do it. For if it is the latter, it is quite sustainable. Things can be created imperfectly, flawed and with mistakes. Why? Because there will be another one. Because I am not doing to IMPRESS, or MAKE IT, or SUCCEED. There is no attachment to the outcome in this way. It just is.
Take a second to consider why you do the things you do.
And, yes. This does apply to you even if you’re not creating something for the world to see. Instagram is your creation. If nothing else start there.
AN EXCERPT FOR CONTEXT
Oct. 5, 2018
I cried at the Van Gogh Museum. But first I became really angry. Here’s why.
.On the first floor there is a wall dedicated to Vincent’s timeline. It’s a short wall as his life ended at 37. I began reading blurb by blurb, taking notes as I moved slowly. My thoughts were internal. The thoughts of the two American Women walking alongside me were external, meaning audible, for all to hear.
Here’s the timeline:
1878 @ the age of 27, Vincent picked up his first paintbrushes + pencils after failing in every other job he tried to hold
1881 @ 30 moves in with his parents (try 1)
1883-1885 (try 2) lives with his parents for two years as he couldn’t financially afford to live elsewhere
1888 cuts off his ear
1889 admits himself into mental asylum
1890 @ 37, shoots himself in the chest, dies two days later
Over his 10 year career, Van Gogh created 2,100 artworks, out which he sold only ONE painting to Sergei Shchukin which now resides in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
Back to my Story. Here’s where I get angry.
The women alongside me, stood at the end + said “hmm, looks like he just couldn’t figure himself out.” To which I said “WOW” echoing audibly in the corner of the first floor. They paid no attention to me although their eyes flickered my way. They did not understand. They did not care. Did not appreciate. Did not consider what it is like for someone who struggles with a mental illness, especially during a time when there was ZERO support other than a mental asylum. My blood boiled: it is one thing to be ignorant in the late 1800’s. It is another thing to be ignorant in 2018. Sit with this + consider just how much work we still have to do in educating the world on mental health. I’ll add Emotional Intelligence + Empathy in there, too. I cried after I released my anger because I felt so much pain for a human who suffered so much during his time on Earth: someone who was never fully understood + unfortunately continues to be misunderstood. Oh there’s much work to be done, my friends. Much work, indeed.
I booked Amsterdam because I was expecting to see a friend there. The friend couldn’t make it. In the old existence of me I might have been disappointed, angry, saddened. In the new existence of me I saw it as an opportunity unknown. It meant that I would make myself open to explore whatever it was that Amsterdam had in store for me. Turns out: i really needed alone time. I needed time to sleep after a whirlwind of events in Moscow which I’ll divulge at a later time.
You see. When we make plans and solidify them before their occurrence, we shortchange ourselves out of what could be in store for us, ie; we’re closed off to the wonders of the world.
In this instance, the wonder was silence, which is important for me but had my plans not changed, there is a chance that the lack of silence would have had me spent for the rest of my trip. There is a balance out there it’s just that we’re really good at wrecking it. We are a society that is constantly looking TO DO MORE. But sometimes all we need is less. And when we forget that, Universe throws us a sign. Usually I wouldn’t have listened. This time I robed up and sat in my bed taking a series of unnecessary selfies.
an excerpt for context
OCT. 24, 2018
This is the face of a HAPPY Person. I’ll add rested in there, too. But HAPPY in all capital letters.
Why? Because if you’ve read my story in previous posts or on my blog, you’ll know that Happy (for a very long time) did not come easy for me. How do I know that it was genuine? Because when my Brother called + asked “what are these ‘jumping on the bed stories’ all about? What are you doing? Everything okay?” I answered, “I’m having fun” with an air of confidence + joy so potent, it surprised him + myself. It took me a couple of days of walking about the city to realize what those words meant. In the moments alone in my room, robe + face mask on, writing, drinking tea, + using classical 🎼 to set the tone, I thought about nothing other than how good the present moment felt. Content with SELF completely. Acting as BEST FRIEND to ME. Flexing the self-resiliency muscle. Filling up my cup so that I can immerge better for others. There was no negative self-talk rolling around on repeat, no worries on where my future was headed, no fears on my career trajectory turning + crumbling, no insecurities of who I am, where I am, or what it all means...I was simply seated, STILL and smiling, in pure wonderment of the potential of joy one can access in a singular moment should they fully surrender into it. Now that I’ve realized this, the goal is to gently remind myself to continue the practice + to incorporate it into my life, especially when times get busy, stressful, difficult. Or, perhaps even more importantly, when things are INSANELY good, because those are the moments when we could fall extra hard, as the high always feeeeels really good.
S, 31, Male. Finance. This occurred whilst exploring a non-touristy neighborhood called de pijp. I walked into a cafe to grab a coffee and a croissant. The young man sat next to me. We began talking. There are a few things he said which grabbed my interest.
1) Purpose. As with most people in my Workshops, he brought up his lacking of purpose in the career sector of his existence. From what he told me, he has a successful job in the financial industry which provides him a good lifestyle. However, in the recent months he has been feeling that his work isn’t enough, that it isn’t doing anything spectacular in the grand scheme of things, and that because of these surfacing thoughts, he is finding it hard to maintain a strong connection to his surrounding friends and colleagues. I answered what I always answer: when one changes, the surrounding factors will have to change too. Not from their end but from yours, and that requires making hard choices, potentially slowing down certain relationships as they no longer surface you. And the second; what if we were to change your framework in the ways in which you look at your job…what if it it’s simply a means to provide you with a certain kind of lifestyle, one which provides comfort and the freedom to explore other passions, until you find your purpose. His body language changed and he nodded. There is more to this but the point I’m honing in on is that we’re all very much the same.
2.) Identity. This is of course his opinion but it is worth exploring as he is someone who was born and raised in Amsterdam. He asked my thoughts on the city to which I said, “I can’t really pinpoint the identity…it’s tough for me to say.” “That’s because we don’t have one. We’re a city and a nation which appeasing others’ needs, and by others I mean other countries. We are quick to put our needs aside in order to be ‘kind’ to others so that there is no conflict and so we’re liked.” “Why do you think this is,” I asked. “Because our history has done some terrible things to other races and countries and I think we still hold a lot of guilt from that.” “Unprocessed guilt turned into shame turned into ‘niceness’, not ‘kindness’. There’s a difference. One is done to be liked, the other without attachment.” He listened. Nodded. And said yes. This, of course, is true of all sorts of people, and can be viewed from a much smaller scale. For example; the inability of one to forgive themselves for a wrong doing and forever playing the small fiddle as self-punishment. The best way to move on is to acknowledge the wrong doing, accept it, ask for forgiveness, forgive oneself, and move on acting in the words of Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better”.
A LIST OF TAKEAWAYS
Here are some of the things that I learned, accomplished, observed, and came up for me:
OBSV // Letter writing. While walking through the Van Gogh Museum, I took time to listen to the audible narration of Vincent’s letters to his brother. I am a big proponent of letter-writing but in this instance a new thought came to me. Whilst listening to Vincent’s words, there was such a vulnerability about them, such a transparency into the crevices of his soul, that it pierced a need to protect him from the backlashing that might have been returned his way IF he were to send the very same words via email, text, or DM. Yes. I actually thought about Vincent Van Gogh texting. Why? Because what I believe letter writing provided that our current form of communication does not, is A PAUSE, for both the writer and the reader. In a sense, the pause in letter writing provides a freedom to write exactly how one feels without the fear of receiving an immediate response (or judgment). In terms of the Receiver, the Pause provides time for a response instead of reaction because one needs to take time to read (completely), to pull out paper and pen, and then to sit in silence with one’s thoughts as they craft a response to properly articulate their feelings. IT IS NOT REACTIVE. IT IS NOT ON AUTOPILOT. It is, in a way, an opportunity to practice empathy, as they re-read the received letter, and re-think their response. I’m not saying we’re going back to letter writing (although I have acquaintances who have) but perhaps it’s not a bad idea to add PAUSE into our communicating ways.
LEARNED // I love being alone. I already knew this but it was definitely solidified in the realms of travel because I was able to craft my own schedule to get my writing done, and to walk about the city in the ways that I wanted, down the route I didn’t plan, for as long or as little as I wanted. I do recognize that this adjustment might be a difficult one once in a relationship, but it is something I am willing to work on, should the issue arise.
OBSV // Amsterdam is a Tourist Town. That being said, their Museum Row is quite wonderful outside of the insane lines and the crowding around the I AMSTERDAM sign. The Modern Museum is the most quiet and it has wonderful pieces.