Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Chicago photo a day

When was on holidays in the Netherlands I asked my closest friends who live there why none of them had come to visit me in the 1.5 years I have been here. Some of them really can't afford it and I understand that. It was really expensive for me to go to Europe and I didn't just visit one friend when I went.

But some of them took other trips to far away lands which were just as expensive as a ticket to Chicago. So I asked some more questions and I realized that it might have been partly my own fault: I had made Chicago look pretty bad. One friend asked me if there was enough to do in Chicago for a one week stay! 
I must have made Chicago look like one of the worst, most boring places on the planet!

I know I have had a few posts where I was talking about all the stuff I love about Chicago - the lake, the people, the different cultures/neighborhoods, the festivals, the newly emerging foodie culture, the live music! Chicago is a pretty awesome place to live. The problem I had was that I didn't have much of a social circle to enjoy all of these wonderful things with which made me not enjoy Chicago the way I wanted to.

Well, I am slowly starting to build that social circle and I am enjoying Chicago more than ever.

For those friends of mine who for some reason can't come to visit me or for people who would like to know more about Chicago or for people who love Chicago already and want to see as much of it as possible - I created a second blog:

I won't write much on that other blog. This blog is for writing and musing and complaining. The other blog is just to show what I get to see ... to enjoy ... everyday.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Please, please, please ...

A friend of mine had this status update on Facebook the other day:

"Is having a really good week and can't help thinking something extra crap is lurking to compensate for it!"

It initially annoyed me. And then I started wondering why. I believe that often when traits in people annoy you it is because it is a trait that you don't like in yourself. And this was definitely one of these cases.

I used to be really superstitious about these things. I always thought bad things happen to me all the time and if I'd have a good day something bad would have to happen to even out the world. Also - if I had a really bad day and I was wearing a new piece of jewelry I'd brand this necklace or ring or whatever "evil" and I would never wear it again. Needless to say, I now realize that was really stupid.

You know that Smiths song "Please, please, please, let me get what I want"? It goes like this:

Good times for a change
See, the luck I've had
Can make a good man
Turn bad

So please please please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want
This time

I have been really into the Smiths recently and I especially love this song. I was driving around with E and I played this song for him and he said "That's such a whiney song." and I thought that as much as I love that song - it is quite self-indulgent. And I don't feel that way anymore about myself. I don't feel like only bad things happen to me. In fact - I think my life has been pretty kind to me in recent years.

It's not always been easy though. Living in Amsterdam was fantastic. My social life was out of this world, my friends were my family and to see the beauty of this city every day was breathtaking. But it certainly wasn't easy. I moved houses about 10 times just in Amsterdam because the landlord decided to raise the rent or they tore down the house I was living in or I couldn't stand my roommate. Me and my cat against the world. Working a call center job I often didn't make ends meet. I had one month I was living on nothing but ramen noodles because I couldn't afford anything else. But even then this song wouldn't have applied to me (even though, I probably would have thought it did) because good things did happen to me.

I have been having a few bad days after having months and months of good stuff coming my way and it's been bringing me down (I might or might not write about that later) but I use that Smiths song as a reminder that good things do come to me.

So please, please, please you guys - do me the favor and don't think that you are doomed and don't use the expression "FML" just because you have to work overtime that day or something doesn't work out the way you want it.

Good things will come your way if you let them.

Friday, June 18, 2010

USA vs Europe


This is absolutely not going to be a post about the world cup.

Just to warn you.

Yesterday I had lunch with a new friend that I met through my networking (making new friends who do the same stuff you do is a very welcome side effect of networking). She used to live in New York and has been in Chicago about as long as I have been here. She is originally from the mid-west though, so I expected her to have no problem to get used to the cultural differences.

To my surprise she told me that she experienced some of the same issues I have encountered living in Chicago. People are super nice - I mean really - ever since I have been living here, my standards for good behavior and friendliness have gone way up. So you meet somebody new and you feel like you have a connection and you'd like to hang out with that person more but they are just not interested. You get to know a lot of people but ... not really. People don't open up as much.

I was very surprised to hear that from an American who has lived in the US all her life and even is kind of from the area.

Funnily enough I heard the same thing from my friends in Holland (who are all expats) about Dutch people. And I heard the same thing from my friends who have lived in the US as expats - all over the US.

Which brings up the question - is it just harder to make friends the older you get? I was fortunate to get to experience the whole expat circle for seven years because now I realize that it was a very special community. I met new people almost every week and I stayed in contact with a lot of them.

The day we arrived back in the Netherlands for our trip abroad, we went to a bar to meet up with some of our old friends. We had invited everybody we know in South Holland and to our surprise - most of them showed up. There was a whole bar full of our friends, waiting for us. It was pretty overwhelming (thank you all for coming out, you guys!). I had tears in my eyes walking home that night and I couldn't walk past our old apartment without touching the front door and peeking through the window to see if the new inhabitants made it as homely as we once did.

The following two weeks were a whirlwind of social engagements. My phone rang more in these two weeks than it had in the 19 months I spent living in the US all together. I felt loved and missed and it really was everything I could have hoped for.

One highlight was seeing my old boss again who was now no longer my boss but a friend. She came out for dinner and a drink despite getting her wisdom teeth out that day.

Going out with my girls I felt like the 21 year old I once was, dancing and singing, uninhibited like I haven't been in years. I no longer was somebodies boss or even somebodies employee. I didn't have to behave. I could be myself and it felt so good.

The first week was pure bliss. We had nice weather - which shouldn't really make much of a difference - but it does, especially in Amsterdam. I was still high on happiness from seeing all my friends again.
The second week was still great. I am so thankful for any minute more I got to spend with these people that I love so much but slowly the things that annoyed me when I lived in the Netherlands started seeping through - the bad customer service, the rudeness, the people who cut in line, how stuff just doesn't work.

Part of me thinks I should not have waited a year and a half to go back to Europe, another part thinks that it might have been a good thing because things have been going ok for me recently and I have felt less homesick to Europe then I did in 2009. I am starting to meet people, I am starting to develop a business (by the way, I registered my photography business a few days ago - I am now a business owner!) - I am going were I am meant to go and I am doing things I like.

Since I have been back in America I have been feeling much, much better about living here. I think I am finally ready to settle down. Will we be living in Chicago for the rest of our lives, I don't know - maybe - maybe not. But right now I am ok here.

If you are in an stable financial position (meaning - you don't need any social help and you have a place to live/stable income) - life in the US is worlds easier than it is anywhere else (ok, I can really only speak for Europe here since I have only been to Europe and the US) because everything is catered to your needs. Stores are open all the time, customer service is wonderful, you can pretty much do all your shopping online, if you want to find a restaurant or a hair dresser or a dog groomer or whatever - you can go to any of the websites like Yelp and find the best. Everything seems easier here. And I have to say this is something I have come to value.

Of course it is also summer and even though we've had a lot of rain and scorchingly hot, humid weather here - summer in Chicago is a wonderful thing - festivals and the lake and BBQs and Cubs games and building sandcastles on the beach with the child I am watching instead of playing tea party for hours and farmers markets and ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon and cycling and streets with canopies of trees and fresh tomatoes and Lollapalooza ...

Enjoy your summer - wherever you are!

Friday, June 11, 2010

No Longer Just Aspiring

So, I went to Europe and then I went to San Francisco and I had two amazing holidays and I am going to need to talk about that more but right now - I want to talk about something else.

I want to talk about dreams and aspirations.

One thing I have learned since living in the US is that you have to have a goal. Something to aspire too. And then you need to make a plan and you need to talk to people and find information on it and then you need to work really hard to get to were you want to get to.

For the first time, maybe in my life, I know exactly what I want.

The last six months I spent taking classes, updating my equipment and taking a million and one photographs. Of everything - my coffee cup, my friends, the cafe in Amsterdam I used to hang out at a lot ... I also went out and talked to people. I forced myself to get out of my shell - and believe me - I am still forcing myself every day. This is not something that comes natural to me - as I have said before. I am not an introvert person - I am just shy. Once I know people a bit more, I am actually quite extrovert but being in a group of 30 people and I not knowing them - it's tough. But it's necessary.

Taking those classes did wonders for my self confidence. Do I think I am all that now? No. I have to work a lot harder to get where I want to get to. What is my ultimate goal? I want to take pictures like Annie Leibovitz. Obviously she has 20 years of experience on me. She has better equipment. She is most likely way more talented than I am but if I am going to aspire to something, I am not going to chose somebody who is just a little bit better than me. Because, whats the point?

The thing I like most about my photography is that it gets better with every shoot. What I can do with lighting after taking several classes on lighting, compared to what I could do in November last year - is WORLDS different. And the mere fact that I am not afraid of taking pictures in low light situations anymore - it opens a whole other world of photography for me.

But as I said - I am still working and learning and taking classes and while I am starting to get some paid work (and hopefully it will be more and more) - I don't think I will ever stop learning and hopefully continue to improve.

Don't get me wrong - it's all a slow process. I have been taking pictures for 15 years. I took my first class when I was 13 or 14 years old. And only now am I getting to a stage where I feel comfortable enough (sort of) to ask people to pay me for my work. And now I am in the process of having the people around me to take my photography serious. I have had a lot of people tell me "So you are taking this whole photography thing serious now, huh?" and to be honest - that bothers me a little bit. Because I have been taking it "serious" for years - I was just not confident enough to point it out. I have called myself an "aspiring photographer" for way to long. I am a PHOTOGRAPHER, dammit.
But at the same time I have gotten so much support from friends and family. It's really overwhelming and I am so thankful to have such great people in my life!

So - the bottom line is - find a goal and find a way to get there! It might take years, it might take me 20 years to get to the stage I want to get to with my photography. But I won't give up.