There's nothing better than being totally unsure of yourself and where the eff you are and then having a book called All the Right Places showing up on your doorstep. Actually, the book came with other books, in a box, and carried by Jaap (that J is like a Y). Jaap is a former neighbor of mine from Holland.
This was naturally back when I was living in Holland, which I'll probably refer to a lot. Not because Holland itself is great material for uplifting people, but because it was a challenging time. It helps me relate to others currently in the midst of wanting to pull their hair out and scream in frustration. It's one of those things that makes me now tell myself, "Melissa, if you did that, you can damn well get through today."
As a very brief backstory, I will tell you how I landed in Holland: I was in Florida, on a whim, having told my friend if I went I had a deep sense that I would meet a guy and it would change my life. Of course one could easily say that this was a which came first - the chicken or the egg - deal. Having said x would lead to y, I could've bonded with ANY guy, gone on a journey, and said THAT was the guy.
But I know what I know, and I know this guy and I were meant to cross paths. We met in a hostel, fell in love, and a month later I was in Holland, in a little village (or dorp as the Dutch say), thinking, dear God, I'm not even going to pretend I don't ask You for much, because I've got You on speed dial, but since I'm always chattering in Your ear if You could please please help me because I have no idea what I'm doing.
Every day there were struggles with the language, being alone, being unqualified for any job. I arrived in a whirlwind and stayed for a year and a half.
It was life changing, stressful, lonely, difficult, and often times I felt I'd lost myself. But also this experience was one of the most unbelievable gifts life has ever given me (and let's not be all Pollyanna about this - not all gifts are shiny snow globes meant to sit on your fireplace mantel. This gift was more like a horse. Beautiful and majestic sure, but have you seen the piles of shit they make? The shit comes with the good sometimes).
During a particularly difficult time I was praying to God daily, almost in a repeating mantra, "Please God, PLEASE, just show I'm where I'm supposed to be. Is it here?" It was at times not so much a prayer, but a profanity laced tired which ended in pathetic pleas for more help. It was at it's core a sign of how shaken my faith in myself had become. I have only once before so deeply doubted myself and my journey.
I was lost. So, so lost. I bet you know how I felt too. Maybe you're feeling it right now.
In difficult times, the one thing that has always given me solace is books. They saved me the first time I was totally lost and doubting every step I took. I was living with a couple in Argentina. The wife of this Argentine couple was always bringing me books. I didn't talk to them much because I was actually, secretly, writing my own book and drowning in self-doubt and fear. We'll get back to that book I was writing, but here's a preview: it didn't work out. I put my blood, sweat and tears into it for years and it (gritted teeth) didn't work out. Jenkies! But I have something really great to say about it. Something that might help you also if you're saying Jenkies! right now over some dream you have that's strangling you. It'll be my next blog post.
Back to my Argentine savior and her books. Books say so much about people and what they're searching for, either in themselves or in others. The books were sometimes feminist, almost always with a female lead character, and several were about the pain of losing a child shortly after it's born. I think it was a half attempt to make me feel welcome and bond and half because she felt sorry for me. If you've been to Argentina you know that family is everything there. I suspected, from clues beyond the books, that the couple wasn't able to have children. There were also a lot of philosophy books though, and books I'd never have picked up on my own, which was wonderful in it's own right. And those books saved me. Like magic she'd knock on my door, holding more books, and they were always exactly what I needed, exactly what kept me from drinking too much wine alone in the room I rented. I never thanked her for the books, not like I should have. I mean when she handed me a book to read I said, "thank you," but I never gushed out the truth depths of my gratitude. I sometimes wish I had, but there just aren't words for that kind of thing.
Years later, I was done writing my book and again drowning in self-doubt and fear. This time I was in Holland, wishing for another book savior. One of the hardest things for me about being in Holland was that I rarely had new books to read. They're expensive there, and I lived too far from the main city to get to a store with English books anyways. I made the journey into the city once a month or so, but it sometimes felt pointless because the money I needed for books I'd spent on my bus ticket. All I wanted was to lose myself in a good story at night and have that comforting and cozy break books give you when you need it most. But it wasn't possible for several reasons. Until...
There was a knock at our door. I wiped away my tears. I had no desire to explain why I was crying to whoever was at the door. There was an exchange in Dutch between my (then) boyfriend Dirk-jan and another man. I'd heard my name. And then my Dirk-jan came up the stairs with a box. Inside were BOOKS!!! ENGLISH BOOKS!!! Oh my stars above if my prayer wasn't answered. Every book in the box screamed, YES, the Universe is nodding in agreement, you are right where you're supposed to be. They were books from someone else who'd obviously been lost and searching, many by Paulo Coehlo. The one that comforted me the most though was All The Right Places by Brad Newsham. As a book to warm your heart and make you smile at the delight of life, it's first rate. But even if I wasn't in need of this particular book, it's an unbelievably good travelogue. I dare say the best I've ever read. Throughout the book Newsham repeats to himself, no matter if he's biking a mountain or drinking vodka on the Trans Siberian:
I am in exactly the right place, thinking, doing and feeling exactly the right things.
I thought that was so great that I started saying it to myself. And damn if it didn't feel good. I mean it felt gooooood. Like rum punch after ice skating good.
Eventually it was no longer right for me to be in Holland. It took me awhile to get it, and to know it was for real time for me to go. I dragged my feet and again cried out, "Oh my gawd, show me a SIGN." But by then the signs were all there, clear as day. Things just weren't right anymore. Our journey together was over. And so I came back to the US, where I repeated often,
I am in exactly the right place, thinking, doing and feeling exactly the right things.
If you'd like to learn more about this truly lost treasure of a book, here's a link to it's Amazon page: All The Right Places by Brad Newsham. What I loved most about Brad's story is that after he stopped writing he became a taxi driver in San Francisco. It reminded me so much of the ending of Somerset Maughm's The Razor's Edge. Larry, one of the main characters, has a transcendental moment of spiritual awakening while in India. This was published in 1944, which makes this spiritual journey set against that time period quiet interesting. After his moment of touching the divine love of the Universe, Larry feels his calling is to drive a cab back home in the US. All he wants to do is talk to people and share with them what he discovered. It's one of my favorite literary moments of all time.
And also, here is a link to my friend Susan's blog. She is an American who is now an expat building a life in Holland. She is also into healing, meditation, personal growth and all things groovy. Check out her blog because it's an excellent resource related to many things in this post.
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