Imprinting shelter

Last sunday my mind decided against the will of my body and despite one night dancing out I was ended up biking from Amsterdam to Marken and back. Fifty kilometers and a few sunburns later, I felt strangely relaxed, surprised again by the merits of exercise on my psychological sanity.

Besides the experience of serotonin, a quite distinct memory lingered after my stride around North Holland: the acute realization, twenty kilometers down the way and after crossing a few bakfietsen full with children, of the psychological imprinting that riding bikes has on most Dutch people, at the same age where I was spending most of my time building lego sets or playing around in a fine dry sand, a shy six hundred kilometers from the equator. I found it interesting to note that while the first memory of a lower water level at one side of a dike than the houses on the other blurs here with those of the first playground, my first memories often bring up the ruins of days long gone by. (And yes, I still recognize what’s on that picture, although it has been nearly twenty years…)

There is a lot to recall and to tell about growing up as a third culture kid, especially when the only “consistent social unit” ends up imploding with emotional abuse — although deprivation may suit better the situation here — at the most unfortunate point in time, that is, the narrow window where one should learn models for a social identity. That’s a quiet story I usually keep to myself, since demons of the past are best left lurking at the back of one’s consciousness, carefully acknowledged regularly during the day so that they can stay reasonably quiet at night.

And yet, I was lucky and I could rejoice when fate, in an ironical twist, kicked me out of my own ignorance onto a world where I had to shed the scales I was given previously and grow my own. It was an unexpected but invaluable opportunity to deconstruct, and then reconstruct — a much-needed second adolescence during which the emotional turmoil proved to be a fertile ground for a new self: while I was fed vodka in nursing bottles by the woman who first handled me as a real person, I would imprint durably — like an inside tatoo overlaid on a fading pattern — the combined effects of friendship, ethanol and melodious rythmic sounds and let them replace gradually my fears of an autonomous identity in society.

Alas, location-based friendships built during the final period of a cosmopolitan education system are due to disintegrate when individuals go on with their personal development, often at very different locations at the surface of the globe. What survives is indeed invaluable — those few friendships that span frontiers, oceans and continents — but their distribution is precisely what prevents them from pushing a missing sense of “geographical belonging” into the unrooted, floating young adult now mostly out of the common flow.

But this is merely a minor concern. While some rawness makes me sensitive, it also makes me more receptive to certain feelings.

Tonight, I watched Shelter.