Who can you be quiet with?

I used to be known as a loud chatterbox. Well, maybe not everyone everywhere saw me that way, but certainly many people saw me that way when I was around 20, 22.

Many people also expected me to have oak furniture in those days while in reality, I had a tech interior. The industrial look. White and steel, with a touch of burgundy.

Yes, I am energetic by nature – but one of the reasons why I became a loud chatterbox was that when I was a teenager, people kept saying things like “Why are you so quiet? Is something the matter?” (as if I would tell them, ha ha).

I’d be cheerful at 7 in the morning in the days when that was when my morning shifts started. Why? Because it beat giving in to feeling tired and resenting having to be at work at that early hour. Big time. “How can you be so cheerful and energetic this early in the day?” It was simply a choice I made, but I was still too young to realize that and I probably never provided a useful useful answer.

Chances are that I merely shrugged in response.

I drank tons and tons of coffee in those days, probably a minimum of 8 cups per day, perhaps even twice as many. The early shifts usually messed up my digestion and made me so tired that I’d often collapse on the bed the minute I got home. I wasn’t feeling any more positive about those early shifts than the people around me. In fact, I sometimes found the early public transport trips to work really depressing, but I refused to let despair and grouchiness grab hold of me.

Except that one time when I had a brief burnout that made me snap at people, and I needed to recharge the battery. It took me two weeks. Prolonged lack of sleep and constant changes in working hours can wear you out. I had simply gotten completely exhausted and was no longer able to put up the brave face, no longer able make the choice to be cheerful. But I digress.

I grew up near woods and moors. I often hung out there for hours, usually taking the family dog along, being anything but a loud chatterbox.

Becoming a loud chatterbox got people to shut up about me being too quiet.

I am not a real introvert, but I am not a real extrovert either. I am somewhere in between. I love to entertain, and I miss the hustle and bustle of big cities when I am away from them, but I want the noisy parts of life to be balanced by a lot of quiet.

That was really important to me when I had jobs that required me to talk all day. The one with the shifts that started at 7 in the morning was one of them, and that too was part of the explanation for my attitude. You can’t be grouchy to hotel guests at 7 in the morning. Well, you can, of course, but I preferred not to. That’s what working in hospitality is about. In fact, behind my back, management held me up as an example to some of my colleagues, one of them told me. “Why can’t you be more like her? She’s always smiling, always cheerful.”

(Couldn’t that manager have said something to me about that too? Would have been nice.)

In those days, after my relocation from a room in Baarn in an often noisy environment (and with a long commute to work) to a flat in Amsterdam, not too far from Theater Carré, I relished that I was able to come home to peace and serenity, not having to talk and not being bombarded with more chatter after my shifts.

I also remember a time when I was working two jobs and used the metro ride in between as my little oasis of quiet during which I recharged the battery. Oh, how dismayed I was when very loud and insistent buskers burst into the mini meditations during which I made my mind go blank or simply gave in to daydreams. They wanted a response. They insisted. Please gimme some money or look at me and say that you won’t. Yes, I understand that. Fortunately, they’d usually just work the car – one person playing, the other one asking everyone for money – and then move on to the next one.

Living in a big city is often much quieter than a lot of people think. If you wander around, you may even discover delightful oases of silence that you never knew existed and at night, most streets become quiet enough. On the other hand, I like the nice fuzzy feeling of having lots of people living around me. There is just some cosiness to it that I can’t explain to anyone who prefers to live anywhere but in cities.

When they’re at peace, that is. Ugly protests, fights and clashes usually make me want to take a detour, and those too happen in cities. Huge masses of people celebrating a football win (soccer) aren’t my cup of tea either.

When I happen to live very close to a natural shoreline, I can sit quietly watching the waves for hours, all by myself. But I haven’t done that in years.

People I can be completely quiet around, and with, are rare, though. They’re true treasures. The quiet seems to mean we’re in sync, and it almost never happens with complete strangers. When it does, it is with one of those people who instantly feel as if you’ve known them your entire life.

I remember driving to the Dutch city of Maastricht with one of my sisters, many years ago, and both of us being forced to shut up because every time one of us said something, that was exactly what the other one had been thinking. So we gave in, stopped talking and enjoyed the serenity, the harmony. We were at peace.

Who are you at peace with?

The snow birds

Once upon a time, I had two Canadian snow birds as neighbors. And every morning, they pinched my newspaper! That meant I usually didn’t get to see it until after I returned home from the lab where I was working on my PhD.

Snow birds are people who make the trek to a warmer climate to escape from the snow in their usual environment. They’re often retired. These particular snow birds were two elderly sisters whose husbands had passed away and who had decided to spend some time in Florida.

Then something happened.

One of the sisters changed her ticket and returned to Canada earlier than planned. It turned out that the other sister was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and it was suddenly progressing. She had been randomly accusing people – including her sister – of theft and other unkind deeds and it simply got to be too much for the other sister, understandably.

When people have Alzheimer’s and can’t remember where they’ve left things, and what day it is, it is not that surprising that they think someone has stolen something from them when they can’t find what they are looking for – because it’s in another place or in another time period.

So, the landlord we had in common (Paul, a guy I knew from another setting) and I started looking after the lady. I discovered that merely keeping track of the days for her was greatly reassuring to her, but also how draining it can be to look after someone with Alzheimer’s. It requires your complete attention, and a lot of patience. It is not something you can do “on the side”, while doing something else at the same time. It requires dedication.

The landlord got in touch with the airline and arranged that the ticket date got changed and that someone would ensure that the woman in question wouldn’t return to Nova Scotia, where she used to live, but travel to the city in which she was now living. It got critical at some point when the airline asked whether the woman was actually able to travel on her own.

And I called the woman’s daughter, to keep her up to date and liaise with her too.

The woman – let’s call her Peggy – was actually a wonderful person who used to be very happy and who was also quite aware of what happening to her, which saddened me. Looking after her wasn’t nowhere as bad as I may have made it sound above. She was often lucid, and helping her keep track of time actually also seemed to help her stay lucid, because it eased the stress on her.

There was a second critical moment, though, when she arranged to have money wired from her account in Canada to a local bank. I informed one of the professors that I was going with her to the bank, and why. Just in case. And at the bank I kept my distance from the counter, on purpose.

But everything went fine.

For some reason, Peggy trusted me, even though I was in fact a complete stranger. Not even once, not even for a second, did she become  suspicious or distrustful about me in the days I looked after her, and I was very grateful for that.

It all happened decades ago on another continent, and I am sure she has passed away by now, so I don’t feel I am violating her privacy by posting the photos Paul took of the two of us at the airport. Yep, we’d gotten coffee. I am holding the coffee in that image on the left.

I was reminded of it this afternoon when I got a phone call related to another woman who needs to have a practical problem solved. That’s what Alzheimer’s is like in the beginning. A practical problem that others can help with.

Last week, I went shopping with an elderly woman in an electric wheelchair. I had spotted her in front of a busy shop with narrow aisles, clearly debating whether to go in or not, as the shop would close within 45 minutes. I offered to go into the shop with her and she accepted. I checked and cleared aisles, scouted products for her.

Heck, why not? I wasn’t going anywhere at the time and it didn’t even interrupt anything at all. (It’s important to give the other person enough space in such a situation, and I think I did that sufficiently too.) No, it wasn’t something I’ve done before. It was a spur-of-the-moment heck-why-not thing. A here-is-a-practical-problem-I-can-help-with-right-now thing.


Consumerism of all kinds – and hope

Do you crave and often purchase beautiful shiny things?

Do you often indulge in a lot of cookies late at night?

Do you regularly have a few drinks too many?

Does this make you feel uncomfortable on some level?

Then stop and ask yourself why you’re doing it. You know the answer.

The shiny new things may confirm to you that you’re a success. The cookies may give you a sense of being loved. The alcoholic drinks may dull your senses enough to give you a sense of safety and security.

They bring you hope. They bring you the idea that you can choose to feel this way in the future, any time you want, if only you have the things you need that make you feel the way you want to feel.

It can even be a particular breed of dog that you use as a tool to bring you the feeling you want, for instance the feeling of being adored, or successful or loved.

Know that you have the power to give these feelings to yourself without the designer products and clothes, the cakes and cookies and hot chocolate, and the beer, wine, whiskey and rum or any other prop that you use. The warm-blanket feeling is already inside you. You can give it yourself any time you want.

You don’t need an excuse to feel that way. You deserve to feel the way you want to feel. Successful, loved, safe and secure. You have the power to decide how you feel.

Being aware of how you want to feel is a major first step. Take the time out to give yourself that feeling whenever you need it. Choose to feel the way you want to feel.

Just like the cells of your body know how to make your walk if you want to walk, the cells of your body know how to make you feel a certain way if you want to feel a certain way.

If you want a tool to help you accomplish that, use for example Paul McKenna’s 30-minute “Change Your Life in 7 Days” soundtrack or one of his apps on GooglePlay or the AppStore. Late at night, early in the morning, whatever time suits you. Do it. Because you’re worth it.

Paul McKenna’s 30-minute “Change Your Life in 7 Days” soundtrack is available on YouTube, for example here and here. I can also e-mail you the 27.4 MB MP3 file if you want (or send it to you on CD at a small fee); use the form below. It may not literally change your life in seven days, but it will likely change how you feel within seven days.


There is only one success: to be able to live your life in your own way.
– Christopher Morley

And of course, there is nothing wrong with a little indulgence every once in a while!



Two travel observations

Muslim woman dressed in black with a veil and a wonderful broad smile is travelling with a young child. Her daughter. She is precocious and smart, chats non-stop, entertaining everyone around her with her gentle voice. As a distraction to play with, the girl has an American video or game featuring fragments from Bizet’s Carmen and Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite, as well as the topic of Christmas. As free as a bird in the sky. The little girl reminds me of me when I was a little girl. Even her hair is about the same.

Young blond guy in a turquoise-blue jacket accidentally drops something that looks like a business card or ticket at Victoria Station’s Prêt. I happen to see it happen, from a nearby waiting area. When he ends up in my vicinity, I tell him about it. “I am not sure,” he replies, and goes back into Prêt, where he loiters and keeps an eye on me. Meanwhile, a Prêt employee notices the card or ticket, picks it up, studies it and puts it on the counter. Did young blond guy not even listen to what I said and assume I was asking for money (which is not unusual in Britain)?