Corona Diary #7

We went on vacation, but the virus didn’t. Written on 22-07-2020.

There is no reason to wrap up this diary just yet. Corona seems to be returning. Better said: it had never left us. A Dutch publicist stated sharply that ‘we went on vacation, but corona didn’t’. Numbers of infections are on the rise once again. Virologists are apprehensive for a second wave. But I’m afraid that we are still riding on the the first wave. Did we cheer to soon?

I have to reckon that I was impatient too and went on a brief train getaway to Czechia, where the virus seemed non-existent. Meanwhile, my fellow countrymen are sunbathing in France and Croatia. Some of us take it a step further and are endangering themselves and others, as they deliberately squeeze themselves into packed airplanes heading to Greece and Spain. This striking turnaround in mindset denudes our fleeting values. Touristic ventures by airplane were thought utterly irresponsible just one month ago, until ‘experts’ praised the plane’s ventilation systems and deemed air-travel entirely safe. And of course, we nod our heads agreeably. But for only a few weeks, Corona didn’t dominate the headlines, and here we are. 

Humanities and technocracy don’t run smoothly together, that much is certain. In the heydays of Corona, the health ministry was releasing death-reports on a daily basis, which were then conveyed to the masses by news channels. As cases dropped, the frequency of these reports downshifted along with it, eventually dropping towards a meagre one time a week. From an epidemio-technocratic perspective, this might have seemed logical. Less cases, less attention. But from a social psychological angle, that means walking a very slippery slope. For it should be clear that the contemporary mind is directed by whatever appears (and disappears) on the powerful outlets of mass media (individually customized by algorithms). 

Our Dutch vacation exodus also reveals how we put our blind trust in the government’s choices and advice. Which is erroneous, since even the best informed governments are running behind the facts. Technocratic decision-making is reactionary at most. It doesn’t envisage an ideal or anticipates on future events. It is perpetually in need for the outcomes of earlier research, and perpetually too late to act wisely in the moment. Understandably, the government doesn’t quite know how to anticipate, for the virus is still a big mystery. What isn’t a mystery though, is that certain sectors of economy are losing money.

Likewise, it proved tempting for politicians to act based on what they know, rather than on what they don’t. We know the economy is suffering. Yet we don’t know how dangerous and recurrent the coronavirus actually is. So what do we do? We let economy run free again, because we ‘know’ the sorrows of economy. Yielding to the pressure, the Dutch government had given in to compelling demands to reopen bars, cafes and even prostitution. Economically constrained countries such as India and Brazil never even had the luxury to disobey economy’s impatience. Nonetheless, even the financially backed-up Netherlands have ultimately succumbed to the hasty consumer market.

Unfortunately, also the Dutch reopening of economy was not a philosophically wise -free spirited, independent- decision, it was simply kneeling before the unrelenting power we have attributed to our consumer economy. Virus or not, we need to start running on the money treadmill once again. The future will tell where this will lead to. But the passivity of citizens and the loss of common sense, merged with the unwise hastiness of governments are worrisome predictors. 

Header image: Sujeet Potla

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #5

How is the Netherlands handling the crisis?

Written over multiple days in June as part of my self-isolation diary.

03-06-2020 Bike Hell: My laziness tells me to write this note tomorrow, but my discipline tells me to write it today. It seems that this time, my discipline is the winner. The heat of yesterday has backed off a little. Also, corona drifts away quickly from people’s minds, including mine. But to be reminded of it, one has only to visit the city centre or public transport. In my hometown, bicycles have been forbidden, and loose standing bikes are removed and relocated to a faraway depot (you could call it: bike hell).

Today, during a stroll around the city, I’ve seen whole bunches of them being lifted onto a truck and taken away. New, old, rusty, expensive. All types were confiscated, even children’s bikes. And people who drove unconsciously into this sudden no-biking zone, got barked at by diligent stewards and were directed elsewhere. The rules that allow the municipality to do so, have been installed in order to prevent many people from merging too much, hence preventing corona spread.

Nonetheless, I don’t think they took into account that people have been riding their bikes for over a hundred year through these streets. So a paradigm change won’t occur within three days either. Anyway, the removal of bikes and sending away of drivers seems to be a cumbersome, ineffective activity which I don’t think will last very long.

In public transport, people are obliged to wear facial masks. It is a saddening sight, because the human countenance which makes people human, is hidden. Our daily dose of smiles from strangers has been reduced drastically since the introduction of masks, and will possibly lead to an unhealthy deficiency in unspoken outings of kindness. And since the smartphone revolution already, suchlike gentle acts of mutual recognition had been become meagre. A worrying development. 

04-06-2020 Vacation:  Corona seems miles away, and the Dutch are shifting their worries from a deadly virus, to forging holiday plans. France and Spain have announced to reopen their borders in Juli for tourists by car, so that the exhausted Dutch families can once again enjoy their well-deserved traffic jams on smoggy highways and annual family camping dramas. 

14-06-2020 Washing hands: Corona measures are increasing but my understanding of them (or willingness to do so), is decreasing. As part of our ‘intelligent lockdown’ strategy, a large survey amongst 64.000 fellow dutchies was conducted to map their compliance with corona rules. It unveiled that keeping distance is getting harder, but washing hands is still feasible. There is a serious error (perhaps on purpose?) in this research: washing hands is not a corona measure. It is the very basis of personal hygiene. But the respondents still confirmed obediently that this is something corona-related. 

So I confirm herewith the internationally claimed assertion that Dutch people have the dirtiest hands. It is culture specific, and I as a dutchman, can acknowledge this: the gross of Dutch people doesn’t wash hands after having used the restroom. The country’s overall cleanliness and absence of deadly diseases might give an explanation. It’s amazing. Here, it is so clean that we even dare to shake the unwashed hands which just wiped an ass. It is quirky, but when abroad, I have always washed my hands obsessively. But when back in my home-country I started skipping it once again. Finally I unlearned it, after my girlfriend Marina shared with me her disgust about this stubborn, culturally inclined habit. I came to even like it, for washing hands is maintaining your body and therefore a small act of self-respect.  

14-06-2020 Priorities: A school example of hypocrisy. Is family less important than vacation? Dutch travel organizations cannot wait to send their customers to the all-inclusive hotels they’d initially booked. Since today, vacations within europe are possible again, after Spain and Italy (which we first didn’t want to help financially) reopened borders for tourism. Now, after we had to fear a severe lung-disease for so long, the second worry is whether we can go on holiday or not, whether we can drink unlimited cocktails at the pool while being served by underpaid labourers, whether we can stuff ourselves again with fast-food, alongside a beachfront crammed with concrete hotels. 

The government understands this impatience of travel organizations and holiday-goers very well, and promises full safety when they travel in aircraft to their destination. The crammed, profit oriented, polluting flying barrels which we call airplanes are not only more liable to an outbreak amongst passengers, they are also the worldwide delivery service for corona. For a great deal, air travel was responsible for the fast corona spread, a couple of months ago, and now, suddenly, they will be fully functioning again. And not for loved ones or family to finally reunite. No, for vacation. 

Even more poignant is that I need to show an impossible amount of proof of relationship to be able to get my loved one here. Me and Marina are excruciatingly separated because we don’t have the paperwork, while Dutch vacationers will be criss crossing throughout europe with all the risks involved, for this one vital activity: leisure. Or should I say, for economy?

I hope that one day, our government will have understanding for people like us, too. We don’t want leisure, we only want each others proximity, for I consider us family. Is family less important than vacation? According to our government, yes. Is paperwork more important than the risk of an outbreak? According to the government, yes.

Photo Credit: Kayla on Unsplash

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Slow and Hard: An Enrichment

It’s probably one of the most characteristic slogans in contemporary advertisements, smartly used by tech-companies to sell their newest electronics: ‘Quick and easy!’ And the moral it serves is fully embraced by its audience. Devices seem to constantly ‘beat’ their predecessors with another added feature to easify the lives of its customers even more.

Already when you’ve just purchased that brand new smartphone, a newer, faster, and better version is available in stores. Also, you can count on a sneering look when admitting to a computer specialist the prehistoric lifespan of your laptop (which is barely two years).The underlying notion tells that technological progress would make things ‘easier’ and ‘faster’. But this alleged easiness brought along with it the exact opposite; an incredible complexity which increased dependency. So if you allow me, in this writing I would like to promote a more ancient approach; ‘Slow and hard!’ 

Anno 2020, most ordinary households own a five-hundred channel multifunctional 50 inch smart-TV with wifi connection and voice recognition. Limitless smartphone possibilities allow us to order a pizza, make a business call, scroll through the latest news updates while messaging acquaintances in New York and Amsterdam all at the same time. To a varying extent, many of us have become volatile multitaskers. The outdated -and emotionally vulnerable- processors that are our minds, need to run a tremendous array of tasks simultaneously. 

Considering the multitude of options nowadays to supervise all aspects of life, it might feel like a defeat when only one activity is undertaken. Yet, this might just be the key to finding an orderly state in the mad world of social media and technology.

Removing easiness and comfort from life might sound a bit silly at first. Deliberately withdrawing ourselves from modernity’s practical comforts can feel even counterintuitive. Because it would cost valuable time (which we don’t possess), it would require effort and patience (which we don’t have). Altogether, why would people even try to deprive themselves of the very technology they’d initially invented to ease up life?

There’s a good reason to do so. For every new gadget, app or device, with all its advantages, makes its users instantly dependent, and setbacks might lead to fargoing, often shameful behaviour. This helpless dependency reduces painfully the parameters by which we measure contentment throughout a day, because expecting everything to be quick and easy, means it also needs to be always quick and easy. But what if it isn’t? What if modern technology doesn’t keep its promise?

Well, then frustrations flourish; When a smartphone doesn’t work, an entire day is ruined. When Netflix is unavailable, the evening is wasted. When the online food order is late, we’re angry and might shout at the poor delivery guy. 

The slogan Slow and Hard on the other hand, does exactly what is expected of it, and likewise evokes no unpleasant surprises. I’ve therefore listed a few analog items considered to be ancient by now, but which nevertheless might make life a little slower and harder, in a gracious sense.

The items described underneath are terribly slow, very unwieldy and excruciatingly hard when compared to the fluidity of modern gadgets. But precisely therefore, they also stand a little closer to the true, sorrowful and tragic nature of life. No miracles are expected of them. Yet, their variety is rich and its dependency negligible.

Items to make life slower and harder:

Newspaper – Structure and Eye Health 

Days primarily consist of staring at screens. Sometimes even at multiple screens simultaneously, for instance, when looking at the smartphone while watching TV. The impossibility of such activities is well demonstrated when towards the end of the evening, neither the netflix movie was finished, nor is remembered what we were actually doing on the smartphone meanwhile. Yet, the real damage it does, is to our eyes.

Staring straight into bright light almost uninterruptedly for a day, is an unhealthy business for sure. It is unnatural and tiring, and influences the quality of sleep. Looking at multiple screens in a literal sense might, if you manage to even do so, leave you with crossed eyes. The old-school newspaper offers solace to this problem. Finding it waiting for you on your doorstep in the morning might interlude a more orderly and less tiresome day. And despite its old fashioned image, the newspaper still satisfies our insatiable hunger for information, yet in a somewhat healthier way. 

Book – Discipline and Creativity.

Firstly and most importantly; it runs without a battery. No need to cry and yell about specific cables or chargers that are missing. Secondly, one might reinvent an unmissable virtue; inasmuch as starting to read a good –physical– novel is easy, it requires discipline to finish it. In modern multitasking, there are plenty of examples wherein an activity remains unfinished, which can be quite frustrating after having started it enthusiastically.

Discipline is the ability to persistently sustain a single activity in favour of a greater goal. In this case it’s understanding the novel’s plot, with the side effect of escaping our beeping and buzzing devices. Overcoming many pages might enable the ability to extrapolate this forlorn habit (discipline) towards daily life. Also, flipping through the pages of a talented writer can provoke one’s own creativity, hence interesting ideas. 

Postcard – Nostalgia And A Touch of Melancholy.

Slower than its digital counterpart the email, but surely more meaningful, and far less liable to end up in the spam box. It’s a gift to your future self, as written postcards are the physical evidence of having travelled in faraway lands. Furthermore, finding an old postcard awakens memories of different times and reminds us of the gradual change to which life is subject.

Postcards are connected to the people we’ve met in past journeys, or to the difficulties we overcame before sliding it into the mailbox many years ago. Somehow, the safe arrival of a postcard is quite miraculous, as it went through many hands and exotic lands, ultimately onto your doorstep. It requires more effort to send a good old postcard, but without effort, it would be without meaning. 

Vinyl player – Calmness & Care.

The opposite of quick and easy. A classical vinyl player requires delicate care. Letting the needle land softly on the disc is a movement of profound carefulness. Surely no other activity can be undertaken simultaneously. Then, a pleasant feeling of relief arises when after a short rustle, the selected song starts playing.

Dropping the needle carefully and listening closely to the music is not as easy as turning on a Spotify stream, yet this analog device is certainly less complicated, deprived from irritating song suggestions, commercials and incoming messages (it doesn’t even have a screen!)

Chessboard – Insight and Concentration.

A game of chess must be a true nightmare for the average multitasker. As for a tense game can last half an hour, possibly the entire evening, or even more (the longest ever recorded chess game lasted over 20 hours.) Losing concentration because of checking incoming emails or a dodgy match on Tinder might cost you the victory. Doing so, the vast complexity of chess encourages our concentration to fixate exclusively on one specific endeavour of finally being granted to whisper that famous phrase in a mocking manner: check…mate.

Where most smartphones have a swift and intuition-based interface, the strategy which is involved in chess makes an appeal to our insight. Instead of being led by the smartphone’s suggestive interface, the chessboard demands its players to see three or four steps ahead and take all possible risks into account. At the end of a phone scrolling evening, you might feel tired and psychologically unsatisfied. Chess might leave you even more mentally tired, but it is needless to acclaim that it didn’t satisfy the mind’s hunger to be challenged.

Stove – Patience.

Worryingly, cooking at home is falling out of grace rapidly. Instead, streets are swarming with numerous delivery cars, bikes and scooters, racing through red lights to suffice all the online orders. Why cook if you could watch another episode on Netflix, while a delivery restaurant cooks and also brings your dinner? could be the argument.

Cooking is a time slurping activity. Washing dishes included, it might take an hour at least. This way, one might easily overlook its positive sides. It is less costly and generally tastier. But the advantages of cooking aren’t limited to only saving expenses and having tastier (and healthier) food. No, cooking is a true sanctuary, to which you can escape from the digital madness. Mastering different taste combinations, supervising three pots and pans on the stove demands patience and focus. Being distracted by your phone might leave you hungry, as your dinner has burnt to dust.

Additionally, cooking gives the (sub)conscious a well deserved rest after another day of staring at screens. And that enhances the further processing of whichever bothering thoughts are floating in the mind. 

Pencil – Anything.

A true dinosaur amongst the forgotten artifacts. There might be plenty of them dusting away around the house, already unused for years. Strengthened by imagination, this humble, stick-like mixture of wood and graphite allows you to draw or write anything or anyone, and it expresses hidden feelings or thoughts.

Consequently, converting unpolished ideas into smooth passages, catchy drawings or sketches might enable your occupied brain to classify the important things out of the unstructured jungle that is our psyche. Having a sheet of paper as his companion, this little friend here can mean the very departure from which wondrous works of art and literature arrive. But even more wondrous; the imperfect artistic revelations, uncovering your soul’s deepest depths.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Photo credit:

Newspapers in Metro: Peter Lawrence

Men playing chess: Vlad Sargu

Postcards: Anne Nygard

Man cooking: Aaron Thomas

Novel: Kelly Sikkema

Vinyl player: Luana De Marco

Pencil on paper: Lalaine Macababbat

Corona Diary #1

A note taken from my self-isolation diary, written on 27-04-2020.

A Pandemic Of Technology

The elderly in care homes stay connected to their families through video calls, as well as those separated by closed borders, distance or quarantine. Birthdays are celebrated safely with the help of smartphones and tablets. Nearly every matter of such interactive kind takes place digitally and online since Corona had arrived to European shores.

But inasmuch as this accidental pilot of extreme digital usage reveals its advantages, it allows us to observe its disadvantages. And those have appeared to be about equally plentiful. Besides, some of the presumed advantages might be only psychological disadvantages in disguise. 

Video calling for instance, seems to be helping many separated people to stay in touch, which I can acknowledge, having my girlfriend being stuck in another country. But even so, we mustn’t forget that missing and longing are an inevitable part of the human emotional spectrum, and a very important element of valuing and cherishing the ones from whom you’re deprived.

Sometimes it’s good to just sit down, close your eyes and actually feel the poignant pain of missing each other and become more acquiescent with the inevitable separation and loneliness inherent to life itself. You can merely hope or pray that it won’t last forever. And the unexpected intensive use of technology to transcend these emotions has led to showing to me a tragic paradox; that it cannot be transcended by technology, as humans aren’t merely a sum of their parts. Not every part of the human soul is visible and tangible. They cannot be detached, fixed and replaced like a car engine.

It is evident that we live in technocratic times in which it is thought that this tragic condition can be overcome by science. But human complexity is supposed to be placed above technology, and not otherwise. Human complexity is mysterious and incomprehensible while technology is logical and (still) comprehensible. 

I dare to say so, as being a profound user of video technology myself. But it has never taken away the tormenting longing for my girlfriend’s true proximity. Irregularly, video calling even feels like talking through a glass made fence, confronting me only more with the haunting deprivation of what could’ve been. Seeing each other through a screen can –on bad days– feel as if witnessing your loved one locked in a prison cell, unable to be reunited because the last key is missing: The essential key to unlock physical proximity.

And that’s exactly what such technologies –however advanced they are– cannot provide. How can it else be that some people are praising our digital era, and at the same time act contradictory and admit that they long for human warmth and closeness. That yet, they miss their family in spite of all our innovations. 

For true togetherness when not together, I’d rather suggest a deep reconnection with meaningful memories of tenderness, as recalling experienced emotions might be brighter and more vivid than technological gadgets can ever compensate. Relocating formal meetings exclusively to video calling on the other hand, can count on my full support, as you then have control over the volume knob when a tedious colleague starts stringing together a bunch of agonizing cliches again. 

Modern technologies are wonderful tools, but they have proved once again to be exactly that: tools.

Header Image: Anna Fedorova

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Teachings Of A Crisis (II)

Quite remarkably, some countries are already forging plans on how to restart their economies as quickly as possible. To get things back to ‘normal’ as soon as they can. Yet, this rather impatient attitude surpasses a very simple question, but one of enormous importance: 

What was all the suffering for?

Dispersed into multiple questions it might look like this: For the sake of what is humanity suffering from so much anguish and despair? And for the sake of what are people dying lonely in their hospital beds, covered under a plastic dome without the possibility to say farewell to their loved ones? 

To find meaning in this dreadful pandemic, there’s no need to suddenly become religious or make an appeal to some other supernatural entity. In fact, turning this misery into something worthwhile is far more comprehensible than that: 

We can show those who gave their lives some class, simply by learning from the teachings of this crisis. 

Naively confident, I dare to hope that the unrelenting lashes of Corona will clear away all the clutter of modern life, exposing us to the things that truly matter; virtues which lie closer to the essence of human nature. That ultimately, gratefulness and discipline will outweigh overconsumption, and patience will transcend greed. 

The sufferers of today should be the martyrs for the world of tomorrow. A kinder world wherein new, more humane endeavours prevail and in which we are gentler towards nature. And more practically, where the importance of healthcare and humanities is acknowledged more broadly. 

If we don’t learn enough from it all and repeat our foregoing mistakes just the same, the only cruel thing we should blame ourselves for, is that it was all for nothing. That all those who have suffered and passed away, have done so in vain. 

To learn from those who are reading this article, I’d like to make an appeal to your thoughtfulness, and invite you to elaborate in the comment section on the following inquiry: 

What can we (humanity) learn from this crisis?

Header image: Varun Tandon

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

The Art Of Spending Time At Home

Of a sudden, many of us find themselves in an unfamiliar situation. Locked indoors for an undetermined term, at least until further notice by the authorities. Being granted time in such quantities might feel overwhelming and scary at the outset, but it might also awaken some impressive ingenuity of the mind: Imagination. 

For most adults, the capability to imagine might’ve been been absent for years on end. Amidst the relentless turmoil of growing up, requiring fortitude and a practical mindset, it had slowly been stored away into a forgotten section of the mind. Yet, in order to withstand this peculiar situation of self isolation, its helping hand is welcomed wholeheartedly. Imagination is a necessary showcase of creativity. It’s is the unmistakable legacy of the children we, in essence, still are. And it ought not to be mistaken for mere fantasizing, as imagination entangles both fiction and non-fiction.

While sinking away into the sofa, it appears that time can be your truest friend, or your greatest enemy. Hours begin to feel like days. Days begin to feel like weeks. It might be Tuesday or Saturday, a difference it does not make. And the numerous stream of videos and memes of meagre distractive and comical value, sent throughout numerous group chats, leave you sheer indifferent. 

And after a while, the room grows into a suffocating prison cell with stringent guards scanning for trespassers. Feeling-wise, the cozy nest that is our home has undoubtedly transformed into an inescapable penitentiary. Cramped in those shrinking cells, while maintaining a predictable, monotone routine, a disastrous descent into madness is surely not unthinkable. 

To such confinement, you might react somewhat rebellious at first, desperately wanting to escape back into old habits. To transcend the barricades of boredom by deliberately solving difficult puzzles (of which you already know the outcome), playing board games and watching tons of series. But all this well intended effort is merely postponing an inevitable confrontation with yourself.

Even the regular stroll around the block which felt so casual before, now seems like a getaway to die for. This tormenting state seems to get even worse in the weeks ahead, after having read all books on the shelf and watched all the movies available. Then, true boredom sets in, and the hostile walls come closing in once more. But luckily, a mind in distress proves to be rather ingenious. And the only thing required, is a little bit of patience. 

For simultaneously, under all this ostensible suffering, awakens a silent acceptance. An intelligent reduction of expectations. Eventually the mind has no choice, other than to diminish the significance of the outside world, and shift the emphasis towards the inside world. Doing so, this necessary acquiescence with fate evokes a gentle, life saving perspective change.

So, at quite random moments, perhaps while staring out of the window when leaning against the kitchen table, thoughts begin to drift away. They wander off onto a path not often taken since younger years, as they were endlessly repelled by our busy, outward and forward-oriented lives. But now, such hastiness is entirely absent. Distracting resources like Netflix have been exhausted. At last, there is time to be truly together with yourself. Plenty of precious time. Then, while being lost in thoughts, weak shimmerings appear which smoothly grow into more concrete reconstructions of past events. 

They can be of great or minor significance, but linger in our unconscious just the same. Memories that were assumed to be forgotten, are now brighter and more vivid than ever before. Perhaps you’re struck by a memory that was created many years ago. Perhaps it was in the woods while sitting around a campfire with some old friends, but with whom you don’t have contact anymore. You’ve moved on and surrounded yourself by new, more suitable friends. But the memory was never recalled ever since that day in the woods. Now on this odd moment of isolation, it strikes you brighter than ever, and it might leave a small grin on your face while overthinking the absurdity we experience over a lifetime.

When simply staying home, the things that were initially overshadowed by our accelerated lives, are becoming illuminescent and meaningful once again. There are plenty of objects instilled with bittersweet nostalgia, impatiently waiting to be rediscovered: On the desk lies an old, ripped (and badly taken) photograph, vaguely depicting a childhood family barbecue. By now, some of the depicted relatives have passed away at a good age. 

Going around the house, more items catch the eye. Dusting away on the windowsill sits a spiky, exotic looking seashell found on a beach in Indonesia, instantly reminiscing a solo backpacking trip during young adulthood. Some butterflies rise up in your stomach while recalling those bittersweet moments, igniting a painfully pleasant feeling which moves you to joyful tears and a sorrowful smile. Even some wooden chopsticks in the drawer have their origin being traced back by the hunger for imagination. They appear to have been used to clumsily eat sushi during an awkwardly silent dinner date, about seven years ago in a dodgy Japanese restaurant on the edge of the city.

All this is a sign that the mind had started to rearrange the boundaries of its own world, in search for new meaning. Doing so, it reduces the scale of that what we demand from life and reawakens the neglected power of our imagination. Through the spectacles of imagination, the beforehand so hostile bedroom becomes an immense universe without boundaries, allowing you to travel anywhere.

To different planets, hidden worlds, to the future and the past. The hostile prison walls disappear and become viewpoints looking out over a paradisiacal beach, while the ceiling reshapes into a cinema screen on which bittersweet memories can be projected. Memories amplified by imagination: a free of charge streaming service that guarantees small teardrops of joy and sadness, fiction and non-fiction gracefully interwoven into mental journeys. 

Undeniably, we have turned a bit mad under these harsh circumstances after all. But this might be the healthy sort of madness that represents in a very precise manner how life can be ridiculously ambiguous, contradictory, eventful and subject to constant change and unpredictability. Virus or no virus. 

Header image: Brandon Hoogenboom.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.     

Sunday/Zondag

Scroll down for the version in Dutch.

A night in front of the television, a weekday off, or perhaps a well deserved weekend at the beach or in the woods. Nothing on your mind, a moment for yourself. These might be the most characteristic remarks of the moment. And they’re worrying too, for they denude a logic wherein moments of rest are unnecessarily confused with laziness, hence a feeling of guilt. In this contrast, Sundays are a very welcome exception. 

Popular subtexts, alongside vacation pictures on social media intended to pun colleagues at office, often imply that a moment of rest needs to be deserved in some way. Only after an undefined period of consecutive labour, a week of rest is seen as ‘well-deserved’. According to this logic, it’s a misconception that those, who are temporarily or permanently outside the labour market would be reluctant towards work, or perceive their situation as ‘easy’. Nonetheless, also their hard working counterparts, fortunate enough to enjoy a successful career, wouldn’t be able to escape it. Also they experience a likewise state of restlessness, just like a truant who cannot gratify his obtained freedom in a worriless way. 

To focus a little closer on the described phenomenon, imagine yourself the main character in the following story.

It’s an ordinary wednesday morning, somewhere in february. Outside, it is chilly and unpleasant. Fierce rain is battering the windows relentlessly. The sun won’t show itself today, that much is certain. Around six o’clock in the morning, most citizens are starting to pave their way to their job places. From students to construction workers, they all share a collective goal; being on time. Rush hour, generally between eight and nine, makes account for the climax of this hasty scene. 

Even with windows firmly closed, the awakening of society is well hearable. A continuous background noise, coming from heavy traffic on a nearby motorway completes the abundance of sounds. Some people take the public transport. Other, less fortunate souls are hurrying by car, only to subsequently merge into a sluggish traffic jam. Children biking to school have to endure a harsh headwind while cycling for thirty minutes. Experience teaches that the same wind turns one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, just to make the ride homewards similarly unpleasant. 

It’s little before ten o’clock in the morning, the crowded bustling in the streets had somewhat lessened, after which calmness is slowly returning. Intersections are accessible once again, and the traffic jams are gently dissolving. The frequency of bus services is temporarily bisected. For about eight hours, the streets are subject to relative tranquility, until all the turmoil will commence anew in the evening. This time, all sharing the collective goal to be home on time, while food deliveries are roaming the streets.

But you didn’t notice anything of all this hassle. All this time, you were tucked away in a warm bed. Only now, you’re stumbling towards the kitchen to silence the unbearable hunger which is tormenting you. Without a clear reason, you return to bed a few times. A little surly, you’re mumbling sleepily something which sounds like ‘’what are they all doing that for..’’

Normally speaking, today’s agenda would be filled with appointments and meetings, but now there are no such obligations. While you just started brushing your teeth around noon, corporations around the corner already made deals worth millions. Elsewhere in the city, numerous students have had their first lectures. You’re well-aware of that. And despite their misery around daybreak, they’re at least exculpated from agonizing feelings of guilt. Indeed, it is not fair that others sacrifice their morning to keep economy running. The reasoning goes that another employee needs to work twice as hard, just to make up for your absence today.

Holding a cup of tea in your hand, you plunge into a comfortable chair next to the window, with a view over the adjoining street. Loud street workers are reminders that the working day is in full progress. The poor souls that are your colleagues weren’t refrained from the relentless downpours this morning, and are now drying up during a spine chilling meeting about the marketing strategies for the coming months. In spite of being exempted from all this dread, there are nonetheless mixed feelings. In an attempt to escape them, it is wishful to undertake something productive. Anything.

The apartment had been thoroughly cleaned just days beforehand. Only yesterday, it was vacuumed. But even so, it doesn’t retain you from doing another round around the living room, for unused time seems to be lost time. The lazy moment in front of the window didn’t last long. Merely seconds later, you open the laptop, to catch up on some overdue work. By doing this, the pressing feeling of uselessness is upheaved. Yet, another rare and valuable moment of peace had dissolved into oblivion. 

How often do you hear people say; ‘now I should really start doing something’. What’s the origin of this pushy remark? The feeling of guilt is one of the thriving forces, fundamental to the success of a capitalistic economy. This unpleasant feeling exists when potentially productive time stays unused. And it can be diminished directly when something is being undertaken, preferably in return for salary or another form of payment. Economically seen, this is a tremendously effective mean. A tortuous feeling of discomfort and dissonance can occur to you on moments which are experienced as inefficient. Activities not seen as productive, add up to this feeling of guilt towards the hard working society. Presumptively, all the others are, as said earlier, working hard to keep economy going. 

Classical sociologist Max Weber finds an explanation in calvinism. This is a variant of protestantism, which is based upon obtaining grace and with this, release from guilt. Working hard is a virtue, and will eventually lead to redemption. Accordingly, you will be granted permission to enter heaven. In other words; as long as you work hard enough, it might enable you to transcend the inevitability of death. In part, it possibly explains why northern economies are amongst the stronger ones globally. But unfortunately enough, it is responsible for an equal or exceeding amount of depressions and sorrows, related to this self inflicted kind of work pressure. 

Also, not everything can be ascribed to receiving a high salary, because ironically, salary has a lower priority than cancelling out the aforementioned feeling of guilt. Most people work much more than is required for basic human needs. The old antecedent of guiltiness – christianity- appeared to be an utmost important mean to sustaining economy, despite having forgotten of its other advantages such as calmness and peace of mind. And that has severe consequences; burn-outs have been topping the charts of prominent psychological issues. 

There are only a few moments during the week, on which it is nowadays allowed to enjoy free time, liberated from the feeling of guiltiness. And that’s also thanks to our religious past: Sunday.

Sunday. This is a day unlike the others. The heavy background noise of traffic in the distance has diminished. Streets are somewhat accessible, and shortly deprived of any noisy street workers. The absence of sound is noticeable everywhere. Just for a brief moment, it appears that economy took some space to breathe. But in contemporary times, the short break is unfortunately only serving the purpose of regaining strength for another week of competitiveness. 

Quite saddening, the break doesn’t serve the genuine gratification of calmness that it deserves, but is merely a recharging moment in disguise, just to be even more competitive afterwards. And to a worrying extent, the soothingness of Sunday is under siege, as the desire for limitless shopping is increasing. After a brief moment of calmness, large grocery stores start opening their gates, to unleash masses of needy consumers who were already impatiently waiting. Frequently throughout the day, big, noisy lorries unload their content to keep the customers fulfilled. The necessary distinction between Sunday and ordinary days is fading slowly. To still find solace on a Sunday afternoon, a getaway to the forest or countryside might be more alluring.  

But moments of genuine rest and reflection which might occur on a calm Sunday are becoming ever more scarce. Henceforth, some are ultimately sentenced to lay down work because of a work related depression as a consequence of our 24/7 economy, still fuelled by feelings of guilt. 

Sociologist Hartmut Rosa explains that acceleration of social processes are responsible for a growing desire to slow down. This is one of the unintended consequences of our endless endeavour toward efficiency and therewith lowering the expenses. People have more time saving technologies than ever before, yet ironically there has never been as little time available, as now. The expansive possibilities to communicate carry with them that labour isn’t limited to merely office hours. Contact between supervisor and employee reach out far into private life. The bounds, keeping apart private life and work, are subject to an increasing vagueness. An innocent message about a prospective meeting or some overdue work is easily sent, and can ostensibly do not much harm.

For most people, monday morning may be the week’s least favourite moment, exactly because just twelve hours earlier, everything was so different. Monday is perhaps comparable to this one colleague who, during the break, cannot wait to start working again. Sunday might be more similar to this one psychologist who emphasises for you to really slow down now. 

This essay was initially written in Dutch, in September 2018. That original article is placed underneath. It has been translated by myself into English in November 2019.

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Zondag

Een avondje voor de televisie of een doordeweekse snipperdag, of wellicht een welverdiend weekend aan het strand of in de bossen. Even helemaal niks, een moment voor jezelf. Het zijn misschien wel de meest kenmerkende uitspraken van dit moment. En zorgelijk zijn ze ook in bepaalde zin, want ze leggen een logica bloot die essentiële rustmomenten onnodig verwart met luiheid. Zondagen vormen een verademende uitzondering.

Populaire bijschriften wanneer vakantiefoto’s door middel van sociale media worden gedeeld of naar collega’s worden verstuurd, impliceren meestal dat een rustmoment verdiend moet worden. Pas na een ongedefinieerde periode van aaneengesloten werken, is een weekje vakantie ‘welverdiend’. Volgens die logica is het een misvatting dat degenen die tijdelijk of permanent buiten de arbeidsmarkt vallen, onwelwillend tegenover werk zouden staan of hun situatie als gemakkelijk beschouwen. Niettemin zal ook het overgrote deel van de samenleving, de fortuinlijken met een succesvolle carrière, er niet aan ontkomen. Zij ervaren net zo goed de rusteloze gemoedstoestand, zoals een spijbelaar die niet zorgeloos kan genieten van de verkregen vrije tijd.

Het is een doorsnee woensdagochtend, ergens in februari. Buiten is het guur en onaangenaam. IJzig koude regen slaat genadeloos tegen de ramen. De zon zal zich niet laten zien vandaag, zoveel is duidelijk. Rond zes uur in de ochtend beginnen de eerste mensen zich een weg te banen door het vreselijke weer, op weg naar verschillende werkplekken. Van studenten tot bouwvakkers tot ambtenaren, allen hebben ze hetzelfde doel; op tijd zijn. Het spitsuur, meestal tussen acht en negen, vormt het hoogtepunt van dit haastige tafereel.

Zelfs met gesloten ramen is het goed hoorbaar dat de samenleving ontwaakt. Een constant achtergrondgeluid van vrachtverkeer op de omringende snelwegen vult het geheel aan. Sommigen nemen het openbaar vervoer, en minder fortuinlijke zielen haasten zich met de auto om vervolgens deel uit te maken van een schoorvoetende file. Schoolkinderen fietsen een half uur lang met tegenwind naar school. De ervaring leert dat de wind daarna honderdtachtig graden draait, klaar om de terugrit eveneens onaangenaam te maken.

Tegen tien uur in de ochtend is het gedruis en gedrang in de straten wat verminderd en keert de kalmte zachtjes terug. De kruispunten zijn weer enigszins toegankelijk en de ontstane verkeersopstoppingen lossen zich langzaam op. De interval op het schema van stadsbussen en tramlijnen halveert. Ongeveer acht uur lang zal er relatieve rust heersen, totdat alle commotie rond vijf uur opnieuw begint. Ditmaal met het collectieve doel om op tijd thuis te zijn, met de uitzondering dat dan ook haastige (soms opdringerige) bezorgdiensten deel uit maken van de krioelende massa op straat.

Maar van dat alles kreeg jij weinig mee. Je lag al die tijd in een warm bed, en strompelt nu al gapend richting de keuken om de inmiddels ondraaglijke honger te stillen. Zonder goede reden keer je daarna nog enkele keren terug naar bed. Ietwat humeurig mompel je half slaperig iets wat klinkt als; ”waar doen ze dat allemaal toch voor..”

De agenda staat normaal gesproken vol met werkafspraken en vergaderingen, maar dit is een vrije dag. Vandaag hoeft er niks. Terwijl je rond twaalf uur in de middag net de tanden poetst, zijn er in kantoorgebouwen om de hoek al miljoenendeals gesloten, is elders in de stad een nieuwe snelweg voltooid en hebben studenten hun eerste colleges gehad. Daarvan ben je je goed bewust. Maar ondanks de file ellende bij dageraad, zijn zij in ieder geval allemaal vrijgepleit van schuldgevoel. Na een periode van aaneengesloten werken, zou deze vrije dag welverdiend moeten zijn. Maar geleidelijk aan bekruipt je toch een onprettig gevoel. Eigenlijk is het niet eerlijk dat anderen hun ochtend hebben opgeofferd om de economie welvarend te houden. Iemand anders moet nu twee keer zo hard werken om jouw afwezigheid recht te trekken, is de redenering.

Met een kop thee neem je plaats in een luie stoel, met uitzicht over de aangrenzende straat. Luidruchtige straatwerkers herinneren je eraan dat de werkdag nog in volle gang is. Je arme collega’s zijn niet gespaard gebleven door de hevige regenbuien van vanochtend en zitten nu op te drogen in een saaie vergadering over de marketingstrategie voor de komende maanden. Ondanks dat jou dit bespaard blijft, en je zelfs nog een treiterend bericht naar hen stuurt, is er sprake van gemengde gevoelens. Om hieraan te ontkomen, is het wenselijk iets productiefs te ondernemen. De woning is kortgeleden nog grondig schoongemaakt en gisteravond is er nog gestofzuigd. Toch weerhoudt je dit niet van een extra ronde met de stofzuiger, want onbenutte tijd is verloren tijd. Het kalme moment heeft uiteindelijk niet lang geduurd. Slechts enkele momenten later wordt de laptop geopend, om wat achterstallig werk te voltooien. Het prangende gevoel van nutteloosheid is hiermee tijdelijk opgeheven. Niettemin is er wederom een belangrijk rustmoment verloren gegaan.

Hoe vaak hoor je mensen wel niet zeggen; ‘nu moet ik toch echt wat gaan doen’. Maar waar komt deze opdringerige gedachte vandaan? Schuldgevoel is een van de drijvende krachten achter de kapitalistische samenleving. Dit nare gevoel ontstaat wanneer potentieel productieve tijd onbenut blijft. En het kan direct opgeheven worden zodra iets ondernomen wordt, bij voorkeur tegen betaling of salaris. Dit is economisch gezien een doeltreffend mechanisme. Een onbehaaglijk gevoel van dissonantie kan zich manifesteren op momenten die als inefficiënt worden ervaren. Activiteiten die als onproductief worden gezien dragen bij aan dit vervelende gevoel van schuld tegenover de hardwerkende maatschappij. Alle anderen offeren immers hun vrije tijd op om de economie draaiende te houden.

De klassieke socioloog Max Weber legt de oorzaak ervan grotendeels bij een economische implementatie van het calvinisme. Een religieuze stroming die grotendeels gebaseerd is op het verkrijgen van vergiffenis en daarmee op het gevoel van schuld. Als je maar hard genoeg werkt word je door God vergeven, en op die manier verkrijg je toegang tot de hemel. Met andere woorden: het zorgt ervoor dat je de onvermijdelijkheid van de dood misschien beter kunt verdragen als je maar hard genoeg werkt. Dat verklaart wellicht waarom noordelijke landen een overwegend en relatief sterkere economie hebben. Maar onfortuinlijk genoeg een evenredig of overstijgend aantal depressies en klachten gerelateerd aan deze zelf opgelegde werkdruk.

Ironisch genoeg heeft salaris in deze zin een lagere prioriteit dan het opheffen van dit schuldgevoel. Velen werken immers (veel) meer dan nodig is voor een aangename levensstandaard en de menselijke basisbehoeften. De oude drijfveer van schuldgevoel, het christendom, blijkt een uiterst doeltreffend middel voor de Nederlandse economie, ondanks dat we haar andere belangrijke voordelen zoals kalmte en structuur zijn vergeten. En dat heeft gevolgen.

Er zijn maar een paar momenten in de week waarop het tegenwoordig mogelijk is om in harmonie met je gevoelens te genieten van vrije tijd. En ook die hebben we te danken aan ons religieuze verleden. Zondag. Dit is geen vrije dag zoals alle andere. De achtergrondruis van vrachtverkeer is sterk afgenomen. Straten zijn voor korte tijd verlost van rumoerige constructiewerkers (met uitzondering van sommige fanatieke doe-het-zelvers, die het de perfecte dag vinden voor het uitproberen van nieuw oorverdovend gereedschap.)

Kalmte dient zich nu aan in de vorm van stilte, die overal merkbaar is. Het constante gebrul van de snelweg is absent en de straten zijn enigszins begaanbaar. De afwezigheid van geluid is overal hoorbaar. Voor even lijkt het alsof de doorrazende economie een broodnodige adempauze heeft ingelast. Maar de korte onderbreking dient helaas vooral om zich weer op te laden voor een nieuwe week competitie van concurrerende economieën, en jammerlijk genoeg in mindere mate om oprecht de waarde van kalmte te ervaren. Het is geen feitelijke verlangzaming, maar een verhulde adempauze die dient om daarna nóg productiever te worden. Sommigen worden door hieruit voortkomende tekenen van depressie veroordeeld tot het neerleggen van werk, zoals bij een burn-out.

Volgens socioloog Hartmut Rosa zorgt de acceleratie van maatschappelijke processen voor een toenemend verlangen naar perioden van verlangzaming. Dit is een van de onbedoelde gevolgen van het eindeloze streven naar efficiëntie en daarmee kostenbesparing. De mens heeft meer tijdbesparende technologieën dan ooit tevoren, toch werd er nooit zoveel tijdgebrek ervaren als nu. De vele mogelijkheden tot communicatie brengen met zich mee dat de arbeidsethos zich niet meer beperkt tot kantoortijden. Contactmomenten tussen leidinggevende en werknemer reiken tot diep in het privéleven. De vervaging van de grens tussen privé en werk is al enige tijd onderweg. Een onschuldig berichtje over een vergadering of achterstallig werk is immers snel en makkelijk, en kan (ogenschijnlijk) weinig kwaad.

Maandagochtend is voor velen het minst favoriete moment van de week, juist omdat het slechts een etmaal terug allemaal zo anders was. Maandag heeft de ondankbare taak om de economische pauze tot een abrupt einde te brengen. Wellicht is Maandag vergelijkbaar met die ene over-enthousiaste collega die tijdens de lunchpauze het werk niet snel genoeg weer op kan pakken. Zondag toont wellicht meer gelijkenis met die ene psycholoog die nog eens extra benadrukt dat je het toch echt wat rustiger aan moet gaan doen.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2019. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.