A Sibyl

There’s this mental hospital facility nearby the children’s school on Bilderdijkstraat, Oud-West. On top of the building there’s a bronze sculpture of a man walking a ladder, horizontally placed, hanging off the building. The man is walking into mid-air. He’s suspended there – is that supposed to be a joke? It’s so delightfully absurdist. (Dutch humour is so warped. For example: they invoke swear words after diseases like typhus and cancer. My favourite ‘Kanker-hoer’ – Cancer-whore!) I feel that I have special dispensation to make a joke about psych wards having visited my brother in so many of them over the years. Anyways, out front a patient spoke to me, I later ascertained she must have been from the hospital, out on the street to have a cigarette. I was feeling so down and she said, ‘You look beautiful all holding hands,’ referring to the children and me. She also told the children that they should be grateful for having a great mother. I thanked her as I really needed to hear that. Their behaviour has been so intense because of moving countries and starting a school, in which they understand absolutely nothing. It’s been tough.

Sometimes you meet a Sibyl, on the cusp of rational meaning and the abyss, they appear, give you advise. A priestess of Delphi offering divine counsel. ‘The Sibyl, with frenzied mouth uttering things not to be laughed at, unadorned and unperfumed, yet reaches to a thousand years with her voice by aid of the god’ – so says Heraclitus, fifth century BC. I have met a Sibyl many times in my life. At critical junctures. A door opens, a channel permits. Something out of the ordinary is allowed. Always women. (Divination is related to the procreative woman’s body as I’ve uncovered in my academic work).

The most recent Sibyl was a few years ago, Frankie our tenant back in Melbourne, who at that time lived opposite us. Frankie came to have a cup of tea and told me that there’s good love in our home, our family unit. She said a good marriage is like a fine old tree, it puts down roots. She also told me to be kind to my mother, to cherish her. She said to let my children be free, to let them climb trees. I certainly do that, but sometimes need to relax more generally as a parent. I have a tendency toward overprotectiveness that I need to guard against. Frankie told me to sort out my career now, so that I don’t get stuck without a profession in my fifties, as she has. The writer’s life is so precarious in this regard. Everything is hanging by a thread of self-belief and capitalist delusion. It’s utterly terrifying. I will work hard to build an international profile as a writer and academic.  

Coming to Amsterdam has taught me that a good quality of life is largely derived from excellent personal relationships and positive involvement in the community. It also comes from work, that is, if the work is rewarding and meaningful. We had been cultivating our hygge community back home with our regular Friday night dinners with dear friends and now I feel the acute loss of them all. I will make sure that I continue to nurture these special connections from over here. I will also seek to build a good community in Amsterdam. It seems that Jon and my problems are highlighted by the fact that we are cast alone together. Before I had my friendships to help support me. Now of course, I cannot call upon those connections quite so easily, although there’s Skype. It’s not the same as person to person. Thank God for the Sibyl’s popping up in unexpected moments to help steer my course in the right direction.