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Chapter 30: unwanted changes

May 4 • Uncategorized • 1279 Views • No Comments on Chapter 30: unwanted changes

boats on the river Tam Coc , Vietnam

Boats down the river in Vietnam (click to enlarge).

 

If you want to know what this blog is about

One simple fact

 

Control is an illusion. We pretend we control our lives, but we don’t. We are just ants floating downriver on fallen leaves. We can, maybe, get to choosing which bank we sail closer to, sometimes even navigate against the current for a while if we catch the right whirlpool, or negotiate some rock or stuck tree trunk before it makes us founder… At the end of the day, the river will take us where it sees fit and we will have little say about it. That is Life.

And it’s okay.

The same way I believe you cannot lead a full life if you have not  lived sorrow,  I think this fear of where the river might take us, and ultimately will, makes our efforts to steer that brittle leaf all the more relevant. It’s that fight that keeps us alive, awake. It is hard to take death as a good thing. It is not. It is necessary, we fill the space others vacated before us, but it is definitely not good. Still, we would not appreciate life the same way if we knew it was forever. However, no matter how hard we struggle to keep our lives in control, Life often has different plans that bring about unwanted changes. Surprisingly, and this is what the post is about, more often than not these changes are for the better…

 

Story of a planned life…

 

I am a planner. I love that fake sense of control over life that control over little things brings. As a teenager I already had a rough plan of how my life would be. I planned my studies, the way I would earn my life working by my father, I loosely planned when I would have kids, how many… I had all the highlights of my life all worked out. Everything worked peachy until I finished college. I had chosen my career in order to work with my father, I ended my studies in the Netherlands and then, when I was on top of the world, a brain tumor took him away. Enter Life. With a vengeance.

I cannot find a way to face these times under any sort of positive perspective. It was 1995 and I was 23. The years that followed were pitch dark for me, but, looking back, I realize my father, by leaving, taught me his final lesson. A terrible one, but of the utmost relevance. These were desperate years, but I came out a better person the other side. I had been a cocky young kid, full of self-confidence and pride, and my dad left me slumped on the floor, naked, trembling and afraid. Took me these five years to rebuild my self-esteem, to rethink life, the universe, and my place in it. My father taught me I needed to be proud but humble, soft but strong, cold, but empathetic. He was 53 when he died. He was otherwise healthy when the tumor came. He didn’t smoke or drink, took care of his orchard, walked the mountains, painted and read a lot. He had great plans for the future too. Great plans… He also taught me to plan for the future but to seize the day as if it might be the last, because it might well be. He taught me you need to be brave in life if you want to live and not just exist.

From then on, my life has been a succession of unwanted changes, things that went against planned, outer events that changed the course of my life from one day to the other… and It turned out, more often than not it was for the better. Took me a while to see the pattern, but it was there from the beginning all right.

 

Hut inRiver Tam Coc from a Cave, Vietnam

From darkness into light. A river cave in Vietnam (click to enlarge).

 

I spent five years, the dark ones, working for the firm that had been my father’s. Took me this time to realize I had no place there and, against my will, defeated and ashamed, I ended up leaving the company I had been supposed to lead. How hard I tried to stay, how hard it was to leave. In the mean time, I quit with my girlfriend of the last three years and met who would be my wife. After leaving, it took me two months to find a new job. It was much closer from home, paid me more that twice as much as my family did (yeah, yeah, I know. Family, uh?), I could work as the engineer I was, and I was respected. Three months after I left my father’s firm I was banging my head against the walls wondering why I had not done it sooner. This was the first unwanted change that improved my life. And not only that. It released me, the me that came to be who I am now.

Two years later, in 2002, I got married. We had been living together since ’97 but we wanted kids. Turned out that after planning everything, my wife-to-be had some thyroid issues and child-bearing was not an option while she was being treated. We carried on with the wedding, but postponed  the kid for a couple of years. Enter Life again. Or enter my wife (don’t ask). Turned out we were already three even before we married, only we didn’t know. My wife followed with her medication program, we went to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for a month, got vaccinated against malaria, typhus, and a few other diseases and when we came back from our honeymoon she learned she was pregnant.

I understood all that sudden fuss with the smells and how she had wolfed down Vietnamese food in the beginning and suddenly turned to spaghetti and the like not to touch oriental food again from one day to the next. The following two months were rough. The doctors could not determine, let alone agree, about how bad so much medication and vaccines could affect our kid. One said our best option was abortion, the other only talked about high risks, without entering to define “high” and leaving the choice exclusively to us. We postponed the decision because we wanted our baby. This is the only time in my life I have had trouble sleeping. Finally they sent us to a third doctor in another city who explained everything in a clear and accurate way. Against our plans, we were three.

When the kid was 5 months old, the firm I had joined foundered. I was so well there… I found myself unemployed and unpaid (the boss just fled) from one day to the next. Didn’t particularly want to, but since I had no choice I started my own firm with one of my coworkers there. The following were wonderful years. In 2006 my wife happened to add a second kid to the family (don’t ask) and we were four. This was against her plans because she was the one who wanted to wait this time. Poetic justice, they call it XD. From then on I took the reins of family planning. Slow learner, I know, but learner anyway XD

The last of the unwanted changes so far happened in 2013. After six years of struggle, we couldn’t hold on to the firm and we had to split. I had no way to make a living from one single job so I created a new tiny engineering company, started teaching private classes, took to selling photographs and to writing this blog (which was intended in concept to help sales), all at the same time. I work different, I work more and I make less, but my life has been so much more intense and interesting this last twenty months I am still half-dazed with the fact. And it is working.

That is the story of the life I planed on my little leaf and where the river has taken me so far. I fought hard as I could to prevail and was once and again humbled. Most of the times, not always, it was for the better. I must say in my defense, and to deny any merit at the same time, that none of the events that changed my life were the result of my mistakes or achievements. I was just a first row reluctant beholder. There is only one thing I did right. Flow.

 

Dragonfly on bamboo boat. Tam Coc, Vietnam

A dragonfly resting on a bamboo oar. You can fight the river or learn to flow with it… (click to enlarge).

 

Fight or surf

 

I am now in my forties, forty-three already, and most of the things I had so naively planed on doing have in the end taken place or are under due process by their own miraculous volition. The time is coming to relax and reap. Not quite yet, but I have no big goals to fight for anymore. Studied, learned to work, learned to earn a life, formed a family. Or, as we say here, had a son, planted a tree and wrote a book (currently under translation, not joking). I am a settled person now. But getting here was a wonderfully unexpected journey that taught me how out of our hands our lives are. We live in a current of uncertainty. And I embrace it. In all this mess my life has been, one thing I did do right. I learned to surf.

You see, you cannot live afraid of change. Change will happen anyway. It is like the waves on a beach. You can fight them or you can surf them.  In the end, both the surfer and the fighter end up on the sand, but one of them enjoys the journey while the other suffers it. I see so many people who live with their fists clenched tight, hanging on to their routine and terrorized it could be altered. We need to learn to let go, to surf, and to get into the swing of things. I am not master of the river, but in my determination to steer my little leaf, I am a free and fearless human being. And in my freedom I have, within my humble limits, bloomed rationally, emotionally, creatively. I feel so full of life, so fortunate, so fulfilled. One day I will return to the earth and to oblivion as all of us must, and my little failures and achievements will be forgotten, lost in time, as the Nexus said, like tears in the rain.

But I will have surfed free.

Fishermen on the river Perfume, Vietnam

A man and his son fish in the River Perfume, Vietnam. Only one way to sail the river, trying to smile along (click to enlarge).

 

About the Pictures

 

To be honest, I did not write about what my pictures suggested me this time. It was the other way round. I went through the spring cleaning of my garden this weekend, lots of time to let the mind wander, and that’s what I wrote about. Then I looked for rivers in my portfolio and found these old 35 mm shots of 2002. That honeymoon journey in which our son was already with us like a stowaway. These are all HD scans from home preloaded and developed Ilford HP-5 Plus ISO 400 black and white film. I used to have a chemical dark room at home and these pictures and films are full of all sorts of good memories. More old black and white film shots in my B&W Variations Gallery.

You can find lots of images like these in my galleries. There you will find, landscapes and cityscapes, ancient civilization ruins and modern buildings, moons and seas, planes and boats, guns and flowers, animals and machines, forests and deserts, vanguard and prehistory, graves and newborns, temples, palaces, castles, tanks… You will also find combinations of these images and written messages, in square, vertical, wide and ultra-wide formats. You will find HDR you recognize and HDR you will not detect though it is there, black and white, vintage film shots… However, they all have some things in common: they are all meaningful images, they are all beautiful and they are all mine.

Come in and judge for yourself.

My pictures can be printed in photo paper, canvas, metal or acrylic surface up to 108″ in many cases,  or in greeting card format. You can check them by clicking the images above. I am all in for customizing pictures. All of them can be retouched in many ways, texts added, altered, changed or deleted. Ask freely.

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