Corona Diary #8

The waterbed-effect, Written on 21-12-2020

Lately I’ve been searching for a comfortable bed that would suit my new apartment. It wasn’t easy. There’s a vast multitude of beds and mattresses, ranging from simple wooden frames to fairy tale princess beds that would only fit if you’d own a castle. During the hunt for a bed, I began to notice the absence of something reasonably common in my childhood, and considered an item of sheer luxury: the waterbed. 

This wobbly bag filled with water promised its customers the most comfortable and healthy night’s rest one could imagine.  Being a kid, its curious workings had always intrigued me. In shops, I would jump onto it, observing the flow of water shifting towards the other side, from where an imaginary person would be launched into the sky; the water needs to go somewhere.

Why am I talking about waterbeds? Well, a high speed train of thought made me connect it to the current management of the corona crisis, somehow. A second lockdown has been implemented for a week now. It’s more rigorous than the previous one in April, which still allowed some sort of human gatherings. 

Now, all public places have shut down for five weeks, except life supply shops. The maximum group size is two people. Christmas is cancelled, new year’s eve paralyzed. Yet, as research (my empiric personal observation) shows, the second lockdown doesn’t generate the effect as did the first one, despite being the strictest lockdown since the crisis began. There’s no spine chilling silence that dominates the streets, like in April. People go out and about. 

Undoubtedly, many of us are complacent and follow the rules obediently. But the willingness has notably decreased with this second lockdown. Like the distribution of water in a bag, people seem to disperse wherever the government puts the pressure. The water doesn’t disappear, it relocates elsewhere. After the closure of nearly everything, the remaining leisure is illegal partying, coffee for takeaway or obsessive grocery shopping. And that’s how people omit the rules and concentrate elsewhere.

Spending money, shopping and eating out are the collective coping techniques of our capitalist society. They have become the means by which our stressed mind relieves its pressure; that’s the circle of our economy. Still, politicians were staggered, even outraged that a record-breaking amount of people ignored the rules for a bargain hunt on Black Friday, or about crowds attending the IKEA for obsolete items and swedish meatballs. The water needs to go somewhere. 

But what if the pressure gets too big and the water cannot go anywhere? As a kid, I often wondered what it might look like when the waterbed would rip apart because of excessive weight. I imagined how it would explode. It was a most harrowing idea, knowing that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night, drifting in your bedroom surrounded by floating IKEA miscellaneous.

Warned by such ominous depictions, my choice fell upon a pocket foam mattress. And I would recommend Dutch policy-makers to change to a more resilient foam mattress too, instead of relying on a market based, consumer oriented waterbed. It’ll enhance their good night’s rest!

Photo credit: Ameen Fahmy

© 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 #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. 

Ode To The Restroom

Going to a public water closet can be a quirky experience. Not because of the traditional struggles, like a malfunctioning flush, or when running out of toilet paper and all of their shameful outcomes. No, the real thrill comes from an exemplary demonstration of human stubbornness.

If you’d ask me, a fine public restroom is of utmost importance for mental health, and I’m dead serious about it. Next to its primary use, which we hopefully all know, it offers something of grander value. Namely, that it serves as a great retreat, offering some welcomed minutes of solace amidst our stressful lives. A small but fortified space in which you can regain your breath. A pit-stop before rejoining the rat race.

Times change. And so do our water closets. The definition of toilet should therefore be broadened. As our lives got more and more accelerated, there is an increased desire for a room to rest: say hello to the restroom. An upgraded meaning of the word toilet, thanks to the way in which it has enhanced our lives over the past decades.

The restroom proves its effectiveness when trying to escape lengthy meetings in the office (preferably during a brain shrinking question round). And in particular, the unfortunate case of being dragged into a shopping mall or an IKEA for the afternoon. When trying to overcome the excruciating horrors of screeching children and ceaseless announcements, a swift slip into the restroom might enable you to survive. Nothing can interfere this modest moment of serenity. Right?!

As ought to be widely known; most reliable toilets have a functioning lock. This small device fulfills a simple but crucial role, since it’s the barricade between the hostile outside world and your two square meters of tranquility.

So, it’s clarified that the purpose of this device is obviously to lock the door. But more importantly, the essence is to show those waiting in the queue that it’s locked, so that they don’t have to come over and disturb your five minute retreat.

It does so by presenting either a white or red bar/lid. It can be seen from afar. Red, in combination with the door firmly closed, means that it’s occupied. There’s not much sense in trying to enter. The lock makes sure that the poor soul inside won’t be harassed for merely a brief frame of time.

Yet it appears not all that obvious to quite a few fellows. Especially during toilet rush hours, politeness is brushed aside. Those who cannot bear with the waiting, do something typically human. They intervene.

And so, ignoring all the clear visual signs of occupancy, these impatient individuals venture towards the sacred door, hoping that it will magically open. A fierce pull will do the job. They grab the door handle and pull it powerfully, just to find out what they already knew. Indeed, it is confirmed that the door won’t open. Nonetheless, they desperately try to shorten their temporary uphold and conquer the restroom, but are foolishly unaware of this attempt being rather counterproductive.

And to all the smart minds who had the mind-blowing idea to turn the door handle aggressively, attempting to shorten someone else’s pit-stop in favour of themselves: thanks, the effectiveness of the door lock has been proven.

In spite of this, the harmonious calmness inside has been interrupted heavily. It leaves the slightly irritated rest seeker in the cabin no choice, other than to annex his sanitary sanctuary a little longer. He decides to use the granted stretch of time productively.

Thus, after being reassured by the trustworthy door lock, he sits back, returns to zen mode and takes plenty of time to write a peculiar article in honour of a peculiar place: the restroom.

Now, if you would excuse me, I need to get back into that terrible shopping mall.

© 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.

An Introduction

Hi there! Glad you found your way to the site. I’m Stefan, the establisher and author of The Social Writer. In this introduction, I will give a small impression of me as a person, followed by some history of the site. I started to exist back in 1991, in a mid sized town called Groningen, located in the northern part of The Netherlands. As a child, I was quite privileged to grow up in Haren, a gorgeous settlement known for its wealthy inhabitants, lush green parks and impressive villas and grand mansions. I was certainly very lucky to spend my childhood there, and I believe that the beauty and calmness of that town has instilled me with lots of hope ever since. It surely had its share in my strong idealistic endeavours I embrace today. We were a middle class family that didn’t face many financial difficulties. It was in the small town of Haren that I was confronted for the first time with (financial) inequality, subcultures, status roles and our market based consumer society, experiencing all of the challenges and difficulties inherent to these phenomena.

On the contrary, I have experienced many dark and bitter times which left deep carvings on the shape of my personality. Around the age of twenty, my family fell apart. And all the way from early childhood, via adolescence, eventually reaching adulthood, an abundance of misery battered upon me. To a certain degree however, I managed to also have a taste of the sublimity that life has to offer, and that’s primarily thanks to a thing called travel.

But the real revelation began when I found a possibility to untie myself from the confinement of my past and grabbed the opportunity to study something close to my heart: Social Work. Simply helping others. Next to its main curriculum consisting of psychology and sociology, I was taught on how to reflect upon my emotions. It meant the starting point of a long and probably neverending internal search for answers, to bring clarity about the ways and means of my scarred self.

Now, in 2020, some years have passed since the graduation, but the enormous interest for humanities remained with me, and is thoroughly practised by means of reading, meditating, reflecting and later on: writing. It’s nothing more than my thoughts converted into words. Some of my favourite books include: 1984 by George Orwell and The Course Of Love by Alain De Botton, as well as many other works on ancient philosophy and psychodynamics, like those of Irvin Yalom.

The Social Writer is simply a coalescence of the words Social Work and Writer. In the beginning, writing went a little too passionate, I would say, since it often resulted in being knocked out behind my writing desk at 3 AM with red eyes because of a coffee overdose: Irony wants that writing and sociability can hardly coexist.

Nevertheless, I’ve found that we live in rather interesting times. So I intended to write about anything I assumed to be noteworthy. Which is to say, quite a lot. So I refocused towards specific topics, roughly revolving around stories on humanity and society. After a year of writing without an audience, my lovely girlfriend remarked that keeping these notes locked in my computer until eternity, would be quite senseless. And she was right. An outlet needed to be found. Thus, in the summer of 2019, The Social Writer was launched.

Next to this, the difference between a blog and this page is roughly that a blogger is expected to be almost continuously active, and posting regularly to keep its followers’ attention. But for me, under such pressure, no ideas of sensible value would flow from my mind onto the writing pad.

I therefore think it’s safe to say that the frequency of new additions to the page ought not to exceed once, perhaps twice a month, in order to preserve its originality and inspiration. (And to not annoy the audience too much.)

At last, beware that some writings are drenched in sarcasm and irony, while others may have a more earnest approach. Yet they’re all genuine and somehow based upon what I’ve read or experienced in real life. In most of the Social Writers’ stories, I pursue to take its reader (you) on a small, perspective changing journey.

Stefan, 23-04-2020.

In Belgrade, 2019.