A Year in Amsterdam

The broker advising us through our unlikely home purchase in Amsterdam told us we would need to buy life insurance policies as part of the terms of the mortgage. We would need a minimum of €60,000 of coverage each. Nothing makes one think of death and the Universal tendency for disintegration than insurance money.

Most don’t have the opportunity to attend their own funeral. I didn’t either, but a version of me did die last year, suddenly. 30+ years of relationships and expectations — gone overnight.

Due to the nature of my social death, I only saw glimpses of the funereal social media posts some friends made in the days following, but I never had a prolonged look.

What occasionally weighs on me, still, a year later, is the vast weight of silence. Whenever work mates, or new friends talk about their parents or their longtime friends, a feeling of emptiness washes over me. It’s not pain, it’s not anger, and it’s not necessarily jealousy. Just emptiness.

Sometimes I will randomly see an Instagram or a Tweet from a former friend, and I half expect to hear a pile of bones shuffling off in the corner somewhere. I still get a reaction, but it is more muted and feels shifted onto a different self that no longer consciously exists.


In the last year, we’ve made Amsterdam home. It’s easy to live here. It’s not my favorite city in the world and I wouldn’t say that I’ve completely fallen in love with it. But there are a lot of advantages to easy right now.

After spending so many years in a guilt-inducing, grueling environment, being able to work desultorily, have weekends, spend time walking, indulging in creative projects, smoking pot, spending time with my wife, having sex, and generally enjoying life without too many immediate concerns have all been big parts of my thawing process.

I’ve tried new things this year. I went to boxing classes. I liked it, and need to get into more of a practice. I felt the need to jump start my creative life, so I self-commissioned a meditative Amsterdam photo walk series. The project is an exercise in ways of seeing and noticing. I’m making an old school paper zine that will be available soon. I’ve started a mildly subversive street art project. I’ve volunteered/worked on behalf of a couple of social movements that are close to my heart. I’ve read a lot of biographical, philosophical, and social/political theory books. I saw Slavoj Žižek give a talk in Amsterdam. I met Patti Smith. I’ve been to Seattle, Barcelona, Reykjavik, Paris, and Berlin. I spent time at a giant anarchist squat which challenged my view of the future. I’ve restarted my record collection. I’ve done drugs. I’ve thought a lot about my own sexuality, limits, and choices.

If all of that sounds terribly collegiate, particularly for a 34-year old man, I can’t disagree. I’ve had a feeling I can’t shake lately that I’ve been in the process of awakening into my 19-year old self (but with a 34-year old’s spare tire and hairline). My cure for battling nihilism has been to intentionally follow my interests and desires until I find something I can create meaning and passion around. I think the strategy is working.

We’ve made good friends this year. This snuck up on us. We count among our friends a diverse crowd of fellow immigrants and Dutch locals. Friends make any place exponentially more agreeable. Small talk is exhausting, and I’m glad to be intimate enough with many of our friends that it’s no longer necessary.


So now we’re buying a home here. Putting down new roots. Devon and I are both pursuing a life filled with creative projects. Neither of us know where we belong, but we’re forging ahead under the assumption that this is a good place to make home base. Where we are right now.

Amsterdam can be a little boring and predictable. Dutch pragmatism is great for taking care of the mundanities of life, so you have to BYOP (bring your own passion) to have a creative life here. It’s not supplied for you as it is in more romantic or fucked up places. But there are endless fascinations here if you look hard enough.

I’m excited about starting a life in Amsterdam Noord. The house we’re buying is in a little village called Disteldorp just across the Ij River from Centraal Station, set in what was traditionally an industrial port and shipbuilding area. The area is dystopian enough for my aesthetics, and we are super close, yet a world away from the surging mass of tourists in the Centrum. Oh, and riding a ferry will be a major part of our life again.

What will the next year bring? I want to feel invested in our new neighborhood. I want to continue to pursue a creative life. I want to be involved in community building, geographically yes, but also within groups and subcultures I’m involved in. I will probably always be an outsider. I’m coming to terms with that. I will never get all those years back, and that’s OK. The life I have right now is a rare gift. I want to continue to participate fully in the project of this life I’m creating.