To gun

A few days ago I was around a table – even if it was rectangular – with two architects who work on nature inclusive urban design. It was a first meeting in a set. We’re writing a small guide together. While discussing the reasons why one, being a human being, would include nature in one’s urban design, we came up with 3 main streams of reason. I will order them the way I will for the sake of this essay. Not randomly, but also not in a way that puts one above the other. For now.

The anthropocentre. Nature benefits us humans in endless ways. To recite them now would be an insult. ‘Who’d be insulted?’ You might ask. A quick answer would be: those who are tired of measurebators. Me, for one. I guess that breaks with the ‘for now’ bit of a paragraph ago. Do feel free to apply your own logic to that one.

Custodianship. This stream is less common, because it implies responsibility. And who likes responsibility? Not you, not me, and certainly not the guys and gals who direct us. In this case, custodianship assumes that humans, one way or the other, have got themselves in the place where they can care about nature. We know how to destroy it, so why would we not inherently be capable of rehabilitating it? As long as it’s still there. I don’t think there’s a reason why we wouldn’t. Which doesn’t mean I think that human minds would be able to create earth with all today’s beauty from scratch. Let that be clear. But this responsibilty could, in theory, be something we were born with. Something our nature demands us to take up. Unfortunate as it sounds.

And then comes stream number 3. Even less common, I think: gunnen. Emmanuel Levinas. He made a big point about the unknown other. I’m not sure if he said we all have an unknown other inside us, and in fact I think that’s a good idea which needs to be elaborated upon, but he did raise the question ‘what happens if an unknown makes a call upon you?‘ A jew could ask you if he or she could stay in your place while some crazy guys are comming to kill him, for example. Would you answer, even if you knew that person is vastly different from yourself? If that soul is unknown to you? Will you allow yourself to provide the person what he or she needs? And if your own life would be at stake?

Ha! I used the word soul again. Tears come to my eyes. It’s a word that, in order to be used unequivocally, requires a laid back state of mind or at least a state of faith. But as I use this word again today, I have to admit I redefined it to myself. Before, I insisted that the soul was that part of our being that unites all beings. God, basically. As of now, I have shifted my definition back to a more common one, closer to the individual. A personal soul. You have your own soul. Why not? And to explain why I shifted back: the concept of soul I believe to be closer to the truth is too omnipresent for conversation, and that’s not what having a conversation is about, I discovered. I appeared atheist. In this case I used the word to imply that the unknown other has some innate value, transcending even the concept of value.

To gun. No, gunnen. It’s a Dutch verb.

Around a different table, with some friends, one day after the first, we discovered that there is no proper translation for that word in any of the languages we know. That puts ‘gun‘ in my new list of favourite Dutch words, together with ‘oer‘. To clarify: that list now consists of 2 words. And I do think this time the table had some roundish shape. It was quite low, in fact, and not very prominent. But it invoked something between us.

So let me explain the word to you, knowing I’ll fail.

Consider the expression to give someone the benefit of the doubt. In Dutch you’d translate that as iemand het voordeel van de twijfel gunnen.

All other words in that sentence translate fairly literally. The difference between giving and gunnen, is that giving comes from a position of wealth, and gunnen from no position at all. To give someone something, you first need to have something. Even if little. To gun something, you don’t need to have anything. You just wish that someone has something. You don’t put yourself above the other. In the most fundamental way, it’s the opposite of being jealous.

If that makes you wonder: ‘hey! what’s wrong with the word wish?’ Well, nothing is wrong with it, but its meaning is subtly different. And that’s not that easy to explain. Wishing is, or can be, more active. After a half an hour try-out with our French friend, she concluded it was rather abstract. But it’s not.

Gunnen (to gun, pronounced with the traditional, throat-rasping Dutch g) is a state of being from which you wish something good to someone or something. Not necessarily because that person deserves it, but just because you do. What’s more, the thing you gun to something can be very defined, but it doesn’t need to be. Yet it’s always positive. Sure, you could use the word sarcastically, but what it refers to can technically only be positive. Improving someone’s situation.

There may of course be reasons why you would gun something to someone, for example because you like the person, but the word gunnen doesn’t imply reasons. In that sence, it stretches into the realm of Levinas’, unknown other.

Gunnen as a verb is seamlessly applied to the other. Not because of the other per se. You can gun any being whatever they wish for, without knowing who that person is or what it is that person wishes for. A bit like ‘I’d wish a stranger anything’, but more casually. You can gun nature life. There is no reason why anyone wouldn’t. If nature doesn’t end up with life in this context, that’s just because we encountered ourselves in the pickle of taking it from it. Not because we don’t gun it it.

That was a thought in our talk around the table a few days ago. And it suddenly felt so important.

Once every year, one should skip a night

There are so many titles I wanted to start this with.

But this is the one. And it’s true. It also makes this article as much diary like as  a story can get. One every while, we should all skip a night. Stay awake. Do something. It doesn’t matter what.

When I was biking back this evening, I had a different idea for this text. To write about the rat and the squirrel. Because he was right. Or at least he raised a good question. Tarantino. Why do people hate rats, and not squirrels?

He wasn’t. It’s because rats come far closer to people. But the symbolism is not to be underestimated. Squirrels are cute. With their redness and their shyness.

But even then, and this is where I wanted to start: they’re assholes as much as rats. In their way. And wasps. Stingy little 6-foots. Don’t even properly coagulate. The suckers. Rats do, but I wasn’t talking about them anymore. Oh. Did I mention I’m writing as an activity to help raise myself above the night? To do so you have to imagine yourself above the stars, I think. I don’t, but I enjoy the thought experiment.

I wasn’t meant that way. Nothing was meant the way it turned out, I think. But still it happened. And whoever survived has do deal with the consequences. So that’s what we do. Because, let’s admit it, you and I survived. We’re here. And we’re lucky. Our times are majestic.

Nonetheless, I think we should try to look beyond that. We can’t, I know. But we can try. So let’s. Because we can try. A person should try. Even if hopelessly.

Think of the list of things you’d like to forget. Forget them. If you can’t, then skip a night. Haha. No. I can’t give this order, because I wouldn’t follow it.

I do still kind of consider it a reasonable one. Maybe we should all build forgetting into our skillset. Even if skillset is a demonic word. It’s a word. Hey, let’s dedemonicize it. Besides, I don’t think I would be able to perceive how things turned out.

Yes. I don’t believe in demons. No.

The beauty of words is that you can apparently draw with them. I didn’t know. That’s why I recommend to skip a night. Not to write, or to find out about words. But to discover something new. It’s beautiful.

Meaning is important to me. As volatile.

No way I can bring it into words. Or images. Or even into sleight of mind. No way. But I can’t keep combatting it either. Wait. I can. That’s not what I want to say.

There’s liberation in the decision to stay up. There truly is. The horizon becomes an aspect of your butt. Everything changes. Do it, if you can.

It’s an obligation too, of course, because, let’s face it, I’d rather go to sleep, but that one, I at least imposed to myself.

Ha. Maybe that’s what I need to break with. The idea that I can impose things on myself. It’s very paradoxical if you think about it. And if I said paradoxical, I did so to seem interesting. I meant ridiculous.

Yet it’s not you who’s thinking about it, it’s me. I’m merely keeping myself awake, and you’re a witness.

I do think that if you tire yourself far enough, and this is why I advocate this behaviour, you release something new. It could be through sports, or some other thing. My mom walks 160 km in 4 days once year. My dad leads a lifestyle of unconditional relaxing. I think they do it too. And I also think we all forget what we discovered straight away, so yes?

Which reminds me of a dream I had many times. There was a hallway. That’s about as much as I remember, except that it was oriented from the left to the right and back. I believe those are important details.


Sleep is an easy choice. Very tempting too. But one must try to keep oneself awake. With all one’s effort.

It’s easier to answer the question what it means to be awake, than to pose it.

Here. This is what I’ll do. Go to sleep.

Haha.   ?


I’m not sure if it would undermine the post.

Then again. I’m also not sure of anything else. So, it was my pleasure, and good night.

May humanity cherish the certainty of sleep.

It’s godlike.
















As a man, I am involved

The organic campaign #metoo has taken many shapes and spheres as it moved from Weinsteins cases of rape to denouncing and confessing to sexual harassment and intimidation in general. The movement has become so multifaceted that it has become hard to fathom and even harder to criticize. But there’s one thing it seems to agree on: society should no longer tolerate men’s behaviours. We men have to change. In the past week, I have felt threatened by the tone of some of the exclamations that have passed my screens. I’ve been confused about whether and how I should look at female people on the street. I’m concerned about the polarizing effect this discussion seems to have. And especially about the slippery slope of equalizing lust-inspired acts to rape.

First a step back
Okay let’s go back to the positive side of #metoo. Many women have resisted the urge to declare their experience of rape to the police. The ruling power structures, as well as their own beliefs and other individual reasons have withheld them from claiming their rights. Society has discouraged them to do so. This week, through a somewhat anonymous outlet, they can air some of the remnant frustration and, more importantly, display the omnipresence of the problem to those man enough to look into the gaping wound. It’s indeed important that people feel the confidence to act against such violence. And that people don’t perform it, or let it happen around them.

Let’s not forget the elephant in the room
Looking at our actions, we are collectively largely ignoring climate change and associated manmade ecological collapse. If society breaks into chaos because of these, women as well as men will experience a state of existence that offers less space for safety. And more for rape. These impacts cannot be stressed enough, and have to be mentioned also in this context. We are trying to move to a better world, so we all have to deal with climate change. And keep building society together.

At some point, men started answering #metoo with #Ihave and #Iwill. Confessions. Online promises. Sometimes quite mundane in my view, sometimes clear disclosures of criminal acts. Audacious, but not a proper substitute for turning yourself in. Then, people saying ‘men’ should not make this discussion about themselves. This was about women who were raped. Here’s where I went: “What? Why are we not allowed to be part of the conversation?”

A point followed, I guess, where we have to do our best and look through social media and their slaves from journalism to see what is really happening. But what is really happening? Is this a new wave of feminism? Where does it want to head to? Not being raped? Good, but how? Is this a new kind of anti-terrorist movement that wants to accuse a large group of innocent people for the acts of some very guilty ones?

The status quo
For me personally, there’s nothing I think I should admit. Sure, I’ve played the game. I’ve looked, I’ve touched, I’ve joked around. But I haven’t threatened, raped or harassed anyone in a way that clearly bothered them. I also check, sometimes, if everyone is still comfortable with the group dynamics. And yes, I have noticed ambiguity among women and wished they would be more expressive about it.

Yet let’s not forget that sexual or semi-sexual acts occur in the context of personal relationships. They should always be seen that way. I don’t think it serves a purpose to reframe acts of the past and deny this relationship. And if I may speak for other men as well: to us, the status quo here in the Netherlands is quite allright. Not the street harrasments, those are wrong, but the general atmosphere at work, on the street and at parties. If you look at history, we have reached quite a good spot. Not perfect, but quite good.

It creeps in on you
One of the best stories I read these days was in Dutch by Bregje Hofstede of De Correspondent. She explained how being grabbed under her skirt has made her live more reluctantly. It reminded me of the time I was blindfolded in the back of a taxi in Peru. Not that time itself. I think I managed to keep myself toghether quite well there. No. Afterwards. Looking behind my shoulder all the time. Not going through parks on my own by night. Heigtened vigilance. A reduction of the extent of your world, Bregje called it. I tell myself that it’s wisdom. Knowledge by experience. Knowing the danger. She sees it as men taking her freedom from her. She feels afraid, now, when men look at her intensely.

Even if I fully understand the feeling she descibes, and I acknowledge such events occur more often to her than to me, something inside me turns bitter when I hear these views. We are now in an era that is safer then ever. More luxurious than ever. There are disagreements on how to approach the other gender, but aren’t those what makes life interesting? What makes love interesting? The act of exploring each others boundaries.

Power struggles
Women are now teaching men that we cannot know what it’s like to be a women. True. And women cannot know what it’s like to be a man either. It is us who generally have to play the leading role when breaking the physical barrier. Not always, but most of the time. And, yes, we make mistakes with that, but if we don’t try, we don’t get laid. Or married. Not all people have the same level of perception when it comes to body language, nor are all people equally expressive when it comes to things they do or do not want. Not everyone is equally sensitive. So yes, mistakes occur, but that does not make the intent bad. I think framing or perceiving it that way is harmful.

But we men have an excellent grasp of what fear can be. All of us, men and women, are contributing, daily, to the accumulation of dark acts that is happening all over the place. Being forced to do things we do not necessarily agree with is a society-wide phenomenon. Whether it is out of insecurities, strategic career choices, or because we are being pushed pysically or emotionally, this concerns us all. Where #metoo becomes more vicious, is where it denies our common ground. And it shouldn’t. Men don’t need to take these wild accusations.

Can we move forward?
The way this hashtag unfolds does not help the conversation; I think we’re rather arriving in a deadlock. Not the idea of the hashtag, that’s good, but the way people are treating it. As if there needs to be retaliation. As if we should move towards a world where men and women avoid touching each other altogether. No. Let’s move towards a place where we see the sexual tension for what it really is. A role we play. Just like everything else. A role we need not get too caught up in. And yes, respect each other, like most women and most men have always done. Something that can be joyful. Let’s see this as a call, yes, to better education for everyone where that failed. But let’s also cherish the freedoms we have acquired. We are in this together. And we are not in a time and a place where we can use more division.

So let’s all keep talking.

Donald Duck rants and raves

For about two years, Friday night was the night where I’d write a post for this blog. I didn’t care too much about the quality at the time, – a little of course – what mattered was the process. Building. Moving forward. Adding words to my repertoire. In time, writers realise that it works in a similar way as fossilisation. You add layer upon layer, and somewhere in the depths, let’s call it subconscious, a pressure starts growing. A forgotten shape, a feeling, does not decompose down there. It gets solid. And one day some part of us will have the courage to break through it all, knowing that there is something waiting. Something demonstrable. Perhaps that wasn’t exactly how I saw it at the time, but I do now. Time gradually moved me forward.

What better moment to honour this freedom I apparently experienced, than on a Friday night? I’m listening to Stromae on KEXP at the same time. And what better subject to add to this meaningless pile of information than our dear friend and buddy, President Donald Trump? May I start this with the question: ‘for how long will people keep reciting the list of American presidents?’ And, you know what? Let me end it there as well. Or, instead, at a recommendation to listen to the New York Times’ Daily of today. If you’re into the media discussion, that is. They’re far better at wording all that than I am. And I’ll spare you Larsen C as well.

Which leaves me in a void. A similar freedom I used to envision myself to have. A blank canvas. The unthreaded snow I’ve seen recently, here in Amsterdam and in Vienna.

It’s scary in the void. It reminds me of a time when I was a kid. Several times. When I was ill, I’d see this infinite space of living links. In black and white. The worst was that I was one of them. And so was everybody else, regardless of their pretending. Their beliefs. It was terrifyingly real. So real that whatever my parents told me, I was six the first time, has never been as convincing. So real that I still believe in it.

Why is it that whenever we have the sense of being free, we are faced with our worst fears? Why do we keep carving our blank canvasses with vileness? For lack of a better word. Is the reason what they say it is? What who says? So many have spoken, so many have carved us as they have themselves. So few have been free, who taught the rules.

Someone once taught me that Friday night is no better than any other night. I don’t know if I can believe that.


Photo by Peter Gric

February 3rd, 2017

The story goes Palais Palffy is the place where Mozart played for the first time. It is now also the location where my dear friend and sentient artist Sabina Nore is opening her exhibition. Called Equilibrium. I travelled to Vienna for the weekend, as one of the three whom the family conceived to be musketeers. Coming from different parts of Europe. We like her art and we like her personally.

How come things fit? The paintings remind me of a book I’m reading. The secret life of trees. They have similar rhizomes, the same connectedness as living beings in forests. Flows running through.

The works are colourful, energetic. Dancing lines, exploding lines. Powerful symbols. Hidden ones, explicit ones. They’re stories in a frame. Nature is in here, and so are the big bad boys. And real people, too.

I’ve seen sevens. I’m asked for my number. Six. Sacred meetings do this. Invoking synchronicity. Or did the paintings? Hmmm… They’re cool. Sometimes I don’t believe in mysticism. Now I do.

We jump. Have hoversations, so it seems. Or who knows? There are many beautiful people here, such as the family. The young got older, the old got younger but the encounters have kept their same, timeless age. Then there are the important, artsy people. From Vienna and beyond. Those who make art or curate it. Those whose reputations precede them. Doing cool things, offering opportunities. New starts, we hope. They come to experience the artworks. Are impressed. Write in the guest book, as we all do.

Peter Gric takes pictures this time. Beautiful ones, we’ll learn. Jupiter plays its song. Things are happening outside. Things we don’t really feel like thinking about. It’s good in here.

Time passes by too quickly. Luckily it doesn’t.





If you fragment society far enough, then everyone is on his own. I’m not suggesting that this will happen. Indeed, I’m pointing out that politics has never been – and will never be – a one way street. We will unite again. We’re just searching for the way.

The amount of social divisions these days is enormous. Old versus young, higly educated versus poorly educated, rich versus poor, super-rich versus the others, muslim versus the others, blacks versus whites, pro-EU’s versus anti-EU’s, pro-Trumps versus anti-Trumps, those who have an instagram account versus those who don’t, those who trust science versus those who don’t, those who are tolerant of refugees versus those who aren’t… Even male versus female seems to be back on the table.

In the Netherlands, now about eight weeks from the elections, this is leading to the constant emergence of new one-man parties. I’m guessing that 5 have dissociated from bigger parties in the past few months. Some fight for Erdogan, some for black rights, some for ‘the people’,  some for ‘the Netherlands’ and some for ‘local social economies without refugees’.  But they all have one thing in common: they’re against the elites. I think it would be clearer if they’d call them ‘the aristocrats’, but then again: hey. Let’s figure out who they mean.

My first question would be: am I part of the elites? Am I the evildoer here? After all, I’ve had a good education, have quite some knowledge of and insight in science and politics, live in the capital of one of the wealthiest countries in the world and currently even have a job. I worry about climate change. Am I the evil elite? Are you?

Question two: hey! But those guys and gals who talk about the elites, aren’t they also the elite? Aren’t we drowning in the fact that all those people who show their rostrum in a video that’s watched over a million times is automatically part of the elite him or herself as well? All those writers who are read by thousands of others? Isn’t there some kind of elite there too?

Question three: hey! But if it’s always the elite talking about the elite, then aren’t we just witnessing elites accusing elites of being elites? What’s the point of that?

Here’s where I’m glad I once brought in the term smurf-intensity a bit over a year ago. A term that nobody really understands, yet everyone is talking about as if they do, has a high smurf-intensity. Elites is becoming one of them.

The word is reaching hipsterish proportions in the sence that it is becoming uncool to be part of it even if we all secretly want to. But who belongs and who does not is unclear, even if we all have a sense of ‘rich and exclusive’ when we hear the word.

I’m getting the feeling, recently that the elite is becoming a tool for division. If you don’t trust someone, you just declare that person some kind of elite, and by that suggest that you have ‘the people’ behind you. It is happening all over the place in the Netherlands. Trump does it. Zizek does it as well. Accusing an amorphous little group for the trouble we’re all causing every day.

Can we blame the elite? Maybe. Should we? Perhaps. Do we know who they are? No. Do we know how to talk to them? Even less. Can we trust people who think they do? Probably not. So how is this whole ‘elite’-discourse useful? Little.

Unless, of course, you, reader are willing to step forward and declare yourself the elite, declare yourself responsible for the course we are heading in. Unless you declare that the entire 21st century West is the elite, gnawing on the final remaining bits of our livelihoods, knowing that our clock is ticking. But perhaps you’d say we’re not to blame. That we should look for the true devils . Give them a name and a face we can behead. An account we can expropriate. The elite of the elite.

It is a curious word, this word elite. A true political trend. Probably not a one way street. It never is. But I’m afraid we’ll be hearing it for a while.


Do you think it is possible to remember your own conception? I do. In fact it might not be remembering as much as the embodied realisation of the fact that we’re being conceived every moment of our lives.

Ha. That’s a nice idea. Imagine you’re a huge egg. And every idea is a seed. Then what would be more fun: letting the idea in and starting to multiply, or residing inside your isolated shell and remaining one for life?

Are ideas battling for our attention, like sperm seeds, trying to break through or pollen in the air, finding their way to a gamete? Is there choice involved in the ones that get through? And once we’re fertilized, will it happen again?

If you, say, zoom in an out at once, and look at your inner and outer world together, you see that they are constantly interacting. By breathing in, we bring life in, by breathing out we bring it out. We eat, we shit, we read, we write, we drink, we pee, we listen and talk, all of it in constant flow. We change all the time, inside as well as out. Whatever we ingest has been travelling through the universe for years, millenia, aeons. All of it carries a kind of experience inside. And once we let it go, all of it will go into a new, endless journey back into it all.

Life didn’t start, it does not end, but there are endless opportunities for meeting, sharing, and conceiving in between. And all of that creates an whirl of new life in all directions, sometimes so hard that things explode! Then things get calmer again, the dust flutters down, and light comes through. To those who perceive it.

Enjoy the end, enjoy the start. All of the time. And in 2017. Waaa-hooo!

Playing mind games with Soul