I am home now, back to the sunlight and hypocrisy of Northern California, and I finally have a moment to catch you up on the last half of my travels.
When we last spoke, I was in Wiesbaden, returned to my AirBnB after a long walk in the dark. The next day, bright and early, I made another walk back to the train station, and from there caught my train to Amsterdam.
Or that was the plan anyway.
Trains in Germany are wonderful, convenient, easy-to-use, and sometimes late. This is all well and good unless you have a tight connection, which I did. As soon as I realized that I would miss catching my next train, I contacted a conductor.
“Entschuldigung, Sie,” I said, “I am trying to get to Amsterdam, do you have any suggestions?”
What followed was a fifteen minute unraveling of all my hopes and dreams: the course the conductor plotted for me included five separate transfers, often with less than ten minutes to make the connection, leading me from Cologne to Neuss to Venlo to Utrecht before finally spitting me out at my destination over two hours late.
I focused on all the strength I had learned through the beginning leg of my travels and did my best not to cry. In the end, I only had to make one transfer and got an excuse to train through Brussels, but it was certainly a trying few hours.
I recalled this experience the next day when I found myself wandering in awestruck silence the Van Gogh Museum.
A few notes on the Van Gogh Museum: if you want to go, book your tickets well in advance, and visit at an off-peak time. I arrived at 8:30, ticket in hand, for my 9:00 visit and was able to see the paintings up-close and personal, spend as long as I wanted near them, and even return to some of my favorites. By the time I headed out around 11:30, however, the place was a monkey-house in full swing.
I am by no means a Van Gogh expert, but I am an expert on Egon Schiele, and I was delighted by the new insights I got into my favorite self-obsessed Expressionist through the works of one of his idols. It was incredible, as well, to see such an in-depth picture of an artist’s work, to trace, however faintly and raggedly, their journey and influences. To watch as they shift and discover their own voice.
I was also overwhelmed, of course, by his struggle with mental illness. As someone with a fair degree of mental illness in my past, not to mention my own previous experiences with suicidal ideation, it is a particularly intense feeling to encounter another artist fighting their own demons.
And I felt certain, in looking at his oeuvre, that Van Gogh’s art was a balm for his trouble mind. I could see him working through his struggles in the same way I write through mine. Of course, it isn’t always enough, and in his case it sadly wasn’t, but to me it was encouraging nonetheless.
And I learned so much more about Van Gogh’s path. That he didn’t decide to become a painter until he was twenty-eight. That at first he was largely self-taught until he decided to take some art classes. That in his last month, he produced an average of one painting a day.
It was this side of his life, that I had heard intimated before, but never known in full detail, that impressed me the most. And recalled to me my journey through trains.
Being an artist, whether in Van Gogh’s time or today, is largely about dedication to the craft. It is about getting on the train, and then the next train, and then the next train, with no real idea when (if ever) you’ll reach your destination. But you must take the trains, because that is who you are.
I didn’t major in creative writing in college, I majored in biology, but I did take as many creative writing classes as I could. (As well as one last year at the SF Grotto. Everyone check it out and take a class from Jenny Bitner! She is an excellent writer and instructor.) I have been writing every day now for the past four years. I have joined a various number of writing groups, with some success. I continue to submit and submit and submit and read and read and read.
I am maybe no closer to my destination when I started, but I will not be giving up anyhow. That’s how it’s done, by dedicated myself wholeheartedly to a perhaps impossible journey.
And, of course, no post by me would be complete with a pun, which leads me to the other understanding of dedication, to honor and recognize the people who support you.
Without my strong support system, I would be nowhere. I felt so much love and compassion from my family and friends throughout my journey. I would not have the courage to keep chugging along without you all. Thank you and thank you and thank you.
Visit Amsterdam sometime, but maybe don’t take the train.