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On letting go

1155x510-amsterdam-6About a month ago, I did something I swore I would never do. With only 15,000 words to go until The End, I walked away from a manuscript. Just…closed the file and let it go. I guess you could say I gave up on it.

It’s not that that story wasn’t good, because it was. But with two published books under my belt, I now know a book is not just about the words on the page. It’s about a solid hook and unique characters and market trends and a pretty cover and all those millions of things big and small that all add up into a publisher’s ability to sell that sucker. And as much as I loved this story when I set out to write it, somewhere in the process it lost a little of its sparkle. Somewhere along the way, I’d lost the thrill in writing it. Even so, I was determined. Finish or bust, because the alternative seemed so much worse. All those words and time wasted.

And yet?

And yet.

Around the same time, a new idea began brewing in my head. The characters were real, and boy were they vocal. They began talking in my head, and they wouldn’t shut up. The stories they tell me are heartbreaking and shocking and so much better than the story I was struggling to finish. Any writer will attest: when characters like that come along–when a story grabs you by the guts and refuses to let you go–you better believe you sit down and write it. I opened up my laptop, and the words started flowing. This new story is killing me a little to write, but then again, those are the best stories.

Maybe I’ll pick up that old story again, and maybe I won’t. But first I’m going to finish this one, because it’s awesome.

ps. What does that picture of Amsterdam have to do with my new story? Absolutely nothing. But it was pretty, and I thought you might like it. 😉

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Are you there, Amsterdam? It’s me, Kimberly.

We’ve been Stateside for two weeks now. Our return is only temporary, a late spring break before another two months of school, a vacation in our own home. When we first returned, Atlanta felt…strange. Hot and big and just plain weird. What was that big yellow ball in the sky? Where was all the wind and rain? I kept listening for the clanging of the trams, but all I heard was the constant buzz of leaf blowers. Amsterdam felt a million miles away.

But all vacations must come to an end, and as much as we’ve enjoyed our time at home, there are a few things I can’t wait to get back to in the NL:

1. The weather. Listen, I’m as surprised as you are to see this one on the list, and at number one no less. I’ve talked long and wide on this blog about the crappy Dutch climate, and it’s not like I have anything to complain about these past two weeks in Atlanta, weather-wize. Low 80s and sunny is about as perfect as you can get. But if you’ve ever come to Atlanta in the spring, you know how bad the pollen is. When we got home, everything was covered in about two inches of yellow fluff, and my allergies (which normally get a slow build-up to the season) went on high alert. I’m looking forward to a little relief.

IMG_57262. My bike. I can’t wait to ditch my car and get back in the saddle. Yes, my bike is old and rickety and rusty in more than one spot, but I bought it that way on purpose. Depending on which statistics you believe, somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 bikes are stolen in Amsterdam per year. Who would want my old, piece-of-crap bike? Nobody but me, that’s who, and just in case, I secure it with a mack-daddy of a lock.

3. My yoga studio. I’ve found a good one, with yogis who are serious about their workout, with classes that leave me loose-limbed and sweaty, with American-style service in the form of mats and towels so I don’t have to lug everything myself. And the very best part? My long, looping commute through Amsterdam’s Vondelpark — by bike, of course.

4. The terraces. Spring has finally sprung in Holland, which means everybody wants to be outside. In the parks, on the sidewalks, in one of the million terraces. Amsterdam has a fabulous cafe-culture, and when the sun shines, the terraces are packed with people soaking up the sun. I plan to be one of them.

5. Amsterdam. I want to ride my bike under the Rijksmuseum and wander up and down the cobbled canals and buy more tulips than I can carry home at the Bloemenmarkt. I want to eat french fries with mayonnaise and drink fresh mint tea. I want to walk my dog and wave to my neighbors and the kids who play soccer in my street. Amsterdam has wormed its way into my soul until it’s a part of me, and I can’t wait to feel like an Amsterdammer again.

The real Holland

When I moved to the Netherlands all those years ago, we lived in a beach town on the North Sea. Back when we lived there, it was one of the few villages where the stores were allowed to open on Sundays, so folks flocked there in the weekends, especially those when the sun made a rare appearance. And anytime the mercury nudged up into the seventies, the beaches were packed, with Dutch and foreigners alike.

The street where we lived was a couple of miles from the beach, and a world away from the tourists. Every single person who lived on our street was Dutch, and their families had lived and worked in the village for generations. A hotel owner, a butcher, a handful of farmers. I was the only foreigner, and believe me: everybody knew it.

Especially me.

I lived there for about five minutes before I decided that becoming Dutch was my number-one goal. Not just learning the language, but sucking up the slang and the accent and the culture until I was felt and sounded like one of them. I understood my neighbors within a couple of months. I felt competent in about six. By the end of the first year, Dutch people stopped answering me in English and assumed I was one of them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 8.17.45 AMThings in Amsterdam are different. Walk down any street here, and you’ll hear more foreign than Dutch, not just from the tourists but from expats, and I’ve yet to meet one who speaks decent Dutch. Why bother? Everyone here, from the old lady selling flowers to the guy driving the tram to the kids playing on the streets, speaks English and German and French and if you’re lucky a passible Spanish and Italian. My point? If I had only lived here, in Amsterdam instead of in that tiny village on the North Sea, I wouldn’t be half as Dutch. I’d be just any other American expat.

Saying you’ve seen Holland when you’ve only visited Amsterdam is kind of like saying you’ve seen America after a few days in New York City. As awesome as Amsterdam is, it’s not the real Holland. The real Holland is a tiny village surrounded by farms or fields of tulips for as far as the eye can see, where English is something you hear on TV, and not from the people living in the house next door. I am who I am because I’ve experienced them both.

Going Dutch

IMG_5175How long does it take to feel Dutch? Six weeks, apparently. Because that’s how long we’ve been in Amsterdam, and it feels like we’ve never lived anywhere else.

We fill our house with flowers (oh, the tulips!). We ride bikes everywhere, and I mean everywhere. To school, to the grocery store, to the gym, to the store around the corner. We eat french fries dipped in mayonnaise and sprinkle chocolate on our bread. Calories, who cares? We work them off on the bike or by foot, because believe me, you do not want a car in Amsterdam. Where the heck would you park it?

None of this really came as a surprise. The husband’s Dutch, the kids are Dutch, we did all those things when we lived here before.

But I honestly don’t remember loving it this much. Mostly what I remember is not loving it. Holland is crowded and the weather’s the pits, and like I said, there’s nowhere to park your car. I know, I know, those are silly, frivolous reasons to not love a place, but when you live here, really live here, when this place is your forever-home, those things start to wear on you. And it’s not just the weather, it’s the weather combined with the overcrowding combined with the fact that though this place may be your home, it’s not your home country. After a while, even Amsterdam gets old.

But this time? Not so much. Maybe it’s because it’s temporary, or maybe I’m just older and wiser and not so concerned with the silly, frivolous things I used to be, but this time around, I’m loving every second.

Not in Kansas anymore

So. We’ve been living in Amsterdam for almost three weeks now, and (dare I say it out loud?) the transition has been pretty seamless. My daughter has a new school, new friends, a completely new life. I keep waiting for the dip to hit, for the bottom to fall out and the homesickness to begin, but so far… Nothing.

IMG_5156Part of what helps is that Holland doesn’t feel foreign to any of us. My husband is Dutch, I lived here for twelve years, both kids were born here. We speak the language and know the culture. We have friends and family down the street, around the corner, and a short bike or train ride away. We feel as at home here as we do in the States.

Yet my daughter has always been more American than Dutch. She prefers English. She watches American shows. The American culture fits her to a T. There are other American students at her new school—an international one boasting fifty-four nationalities and dozens of languages—but in an ironic twist, she’s proud to be considered one of the Dutch kids. She goes to school smiling, and she comes home smiling. It’s been a nice…well, not a surprise, exactly, but I never expected it to be this easy.

Is there pixie dust in the water? Is it the calm before the storm? I don’t know. Maybe things will be different by my next post, we’ll see.

But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the peace.

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