Team Taco™ and friends! We find ourselves at the end of February. Somehow. This week's report is the monthly report that's free for the whole world in hopes of convincing more people to give me $2. If you have not, I recommend you do. I derive great joy from being given money.
My best friend, our children, my parents, and a lot of our close friends live in Texas. It turns out that having a majority of the people you love the most in the world go through a natural disaster, losing power and water, and potentially freezing to death throughout an entire week will really ruin that week. Luckily, everyone I know in Texas has power back and water is slowly and steadily returning. Others were not that lucky.
A Great Place to be From
Ever since we moved to Mexico last December, I've been fielding some version of the same question more or less every day:
"Why did you leave the Netherlands?"
Iguanas, man. Why else? Have you seen them? They're chill and we wanted to live in a place that had them.
On the surface, it's a polite question. An easy one to ask. It begs to be asked — you just moved from somewhere? Oh, why'd you leave?
Are people asking why we left the Netherlands? Or trying to understand why we left it for Mexico? Are they trying to understand us better? Choosing where you live is such a privilege; it's not lost on me. There's so much information to be found in the decision. It's not all good information though; there's so much that could be easily misunderstood or misconstrued.
To answer the question well, I try to provide the context of why we moved to the Netherlands in the first place. Or why I've moved everywhere I could for decades just to be deeply unhappy wherever I end up. Love to identify a pattern.
I grew up in Idaho — a secretly beautiful state that's as bad as you imagine.
No, I said that wrong. It's not Idaho's fault Idahoans were (are?) bad. Not all of them. There are pockets of people you find who are just as ready to get out. Honestly, I'm not sure if that's fair to put this on Idahoans. It might just be Americans? No. I'm trying to say conservatives and those in power, which just happens to be Idaho. Fellow Idahoan Anne Helen Petersen wrote a piece on Idaho and the Republican party back in 2017 (shoutout to whoever got the URL slug to be /wackadoodles-north-idaho) that talks at length about Idaho's unique form of terrible. This piece is about the politics of Idaho. But now go back 15 to 20 years and imagine being a queer teen in that political and societal climate.
I learned early in my teens to describe Idaho as such:
It's a great place to be from.
We were poor growing up. My parents both work for the Seventh-Day Adventist church and have long before I was born. If there's one things churches know how to do, it's to underpay their employees because they'll get their reward in heaven. As a child who was an active member of the religion, this never bothered me. As an agnostic adult, why yes, I am bothered, thank you for asking.
But even as a child, I started to notice the differences in how I talked and dreamed about the future compared to my friends whose parents had money. Everyone in our school was expected to go to the college in Walla Walla, Washington. It was the plan. But I had friends who talked of going to school in California. Of moving out and making it on their own. Or heading East because "Ivy League schools love to let in a kid from Idaho — it'll hit a weird quota for them, I think."
For the longest time, moving away from Idaho felt out of the realm of possibility. If I made it out, it was going to be on my own. If I made it a priority and started working, I could make it a financial reality for myself.
To be clear, I wasn't trying to get away from home. I love my family. No, I didn't want to get away from home, just the state home was in. I got it into my head that moving was the thing that stood between me and happiness. That happiness wasn't a real option in Idaho. Not because of anything that Idaho could or couldn't offer, but that the community I was in couldn't. And the escape velocity of that community was across state lines. Of that religion. Of that pre-ordained life. Of that closet.
Before I turned 18, I held the jobs of concert photographer, line cook, webmaster, landscaper, camp counselor, designer, drama teacher, waiter, and animator. Becoming addicted to work before my 18th birthday was a choice. At the time, it felt like the only one. I earned where I could, doing what I could. My safety, my happiness, depended on that work. I was putting off any short-term happiness at the expense of a greater, fuller happiness down the road.
I made enough to leave, but not enough to survive. But that didn't matter. It was time to get out. The first place I moved was Walla Walla, Washington. I knew I needed something different than what I had. I also knew that college, religious or otherwise, wasn't for me. But I was hoping that just doing the expected thing of me would have been enough. The path of least resistance felt like it was worth a shot. So I went to college.
It was, in fact, not worth a shot. At least there was good salsa? I dropped out. In hindsight, dropping out of college into a global recession wasn't the best timing. But what else was I going to do? Get a college degree? In this economy?
I recalibrated while sleeping on a futon in the garage in a duplex with two bathrooms, three bedrooms, and four other people. I thought through what would make me happy. Happier. Growing up in Idaho, the dream for most of us was to get to Seattle. If you could just make it to Seattle, you'd be free. Happy. With your people. Every single one of the few older queer folks I knew in Idaho all went to Seattle to find love, drugs, and relax. To, and I quote, "be themselves."
Would being myself make me happy? Did I even know what that looked like? Who that was? When I was leaving Walla Walla, I thought, "Why not Seattle next? Maybe I'll be happy there."
Turns out that only works if you have money. Or a love of cocaine. It was hard for me to tell the difference at the time. I do not recommend being broke in Seattle and trying to make a friend so you have a couch to crash on. Hell, I could edit that sentence down to "I don't recommend trying to make a friend in Seattle." I made it two weeks, tops. I hopped down to Portland and yikes, this is getting expensive. Both the moving, and the city of Portland. I couldn't stay long.
But I realized that moving was an external lever I could pull to adjust my circumstances. Would it make me happy? No. But it'd let me shift perspectives. Moving between these places, I realized I could hold onto the parts of myself I discovered in them. I could keep molding myself like I wanted.
I could become not only who I was always going to be, but who I wanted to be. I could shed parts of myself that weren't working for me anymore. Leave them on the side of the road with a "Free" sign as I was moving out of town.
I lucked out with my career. I learned to build websites and met the right people at the time. I lucked into multiple contracts and positions. I had friends who let me crash with them when things went terribly wrong as startups are wont to do. By the time I turned 27, I was fine. Forever stressed and just a single emergency removed from living paycheck to paycheck? Yes. Occasionally broke to the point I had negative dollars in my checking account? Also yes. But fine? Yeah, I can be fine.
I kept moving. It became easier. I owned less. If it couldn't fit in my car, I didn't keep it. I kept moving.
Austin, Texas is for me — oh no, the cars and the traffic and the racists. Is this just Hot Portland? Does that make Round Rock... Gresham? Enough of this place. Let's move on. DFW is thriving, but I'm not. Texas is just Idaho, but hot. Got it. Not for me. Quick hop over to D.C., maybe that'll be the place for m—nope. Brooklyn? It's like I don't know even know myself. Back to Austin. No. Back to DFW. Chicago will do it. Chicago has not done it. The Oregon Coast will be the spot. Why don't I just move to Portland since it's where I'm heading every weekend anyway? Whitefish, Montana was a happy place for me growing up. Maybe we'll dig it as adults.
City, country, city, rural town, city, tourist destination, city, ghost town, tourist spot, the wilderness, city. No matter what I did, I couldn't seem to let my guard down. Not fully, anyway. I couldn't relax. I found hobbies or friends or very specific places that felt safe. Long distance running, photography, publishing, writing, making cocktails. But there's a difference between feeling comfortable on a patio during a party and feeling comfortable in your skin. In the city you're living in. In the country you call home. Thankfully, every time I moved someplace new, I was learning something new about myself.
I learned that I shouldn't do what's expected of me if I know it'll make me unhappy. Other people's happinesses aren't my own. Putting down roots is great, but not for me yet.
Texas cities are great, but they're still in Texas.
Follow a job because the next one isn't coming. Make sure to get the offer letter signed before you pack everything in to a U-Haul.
Asking someone on a date to a concert in a city across the country is, in fact, a valid reason to move across the country. Make sure you're compatible with someone before you move across the country with or for them.
Don't live somewhere that gives you anxiety. You really can just leave toxic family where they are.
Stop living in places that make you hide part of who you are; where you only have to drive three minutes in any direction to find someone who truly hates you.
So as we sat in Whitefish, Montana making friends and feeling joy in our hobbies, I couldn't shake the feeling that it was time to go somewhere else. That this wasn't the home I wanted. That I still had more to learn about myself. This was the closest we'd gotten, but it still wasn't it. The discontentment I felt was subtle. It sprang up sporadically.
It was our downstairs neighbors becoming cold and shitty after they found out we weren't Trump supporters. It was the aggression of people wearing their guns into the pizza restaurant. The quiet homophobia that only pops up after their third drink. Whitefish was beautiful and broken. Whitefish was Portland was Austin was Walla Walla was Idaho.
When we lived in Montana, I traveled a lot for work. The first time I spent more than a layover in Amsterdam, it was on the last week of a 11-week business trip that had taken me all over the US, Middle East, and Europe. It was miserable — I was miserable. Landing in Amsterdam was like a breath of fresh air. It felt like something I hadn't felt in years.
It felt like home. I was exhausted. I was burned out. I missed my partner. My body was jet-lagged to hell. And walking around Amsterdam still charmed me good.
I can show you the afternoon I decided we were going to move to Amsterdam. It was my third day there, and I took a walk along the canals, through Vondelpark, and back into the city center. I posted a series of videos to Instagram throughout the day. I downloaded all of them because I knew what I had just experienced.
Who doesn't fall madly in love with a city and immediately start planning to move there after a day like that?
Just a few short 18 months until we'd actually move. A short 18 months to convince my partner, figure out the right visa, save the money, and then actually move across an ocean.
While we were working towards the move, I spent more time thinking about it and why I needed this. Eventually I came to the conclusion that what I really needed was to test out if I was unhappy in America or if I was unhappy.
If living somewhere long-term that wasn't the United States would be do what I thought it would for my day-to-day mental health. America, for all it's wonderful pieces and people, is trying to grind you down to nothing. Would leaving really make that much of a difference in my mental health and happiness?
Yes. It really would. There wasn't a dramatic build-up or anything. It just worked. As soon as the IND agent at Schipol said "Welcome to the Netherlands!", I felt better. I kept feeling better as we settled into our home. I started sleeping deep enough to dream again. My head started to clear. I felt good — I felt happy. Now what? The feeling I had been searching for for the last twenty years? I found it.
August 2019 to March 2020. Those months paid off in such a real and deep way for us. The amount of space and emotional bandwidth that opened up in our lives was unexpected and welcome. I knew I'd feel better, sure. But I didn't think it'd work this well. I had the energy to start digging into past traumas in therapy instead of dealing with week-to-week nonsense. I had the space to take a step back and examine who I was and where I wanted to go. I started taking photos again — hell, even sold a few prints.
I was home. I was grateful. We made plans to buy a house and apply for a long-term visa. Maybe eventually try for dual citizenship? Who could say?
Like all good things in life, it ended up just being a good marketing message. Life isn't all drinking on patios and train rides to different European cities. When COVID hit last year, the Dutch did the bare minimum. They stood as the only European country to not encourage masks, going as far as to hold multiple press conferences questioning their effectiveness. They didn't stay home. They kept drinking on crowded patios. Community and caring for others devolved into individualism and "I just want to drink outside with my friends, who cares if grandma dies." We started calling it the 51st State. What we thought the Netherlands was ended up being an aspirational version of the Netherlands. The goal, not the reality. We have friends that we love who stayed in the Netherlands. Who are choosing to make their home and their life there. I legitimately love that for them. I can't wait to return to Amsterdam and hug them. I can't wait to wander the city again.
But we couldn't bring ourselves to make it our long-term home. Yes, the Dutch response to COVID remains terrible and accelerated our departure. But it was coming global pandemic or not. We left the Netherlands because we didn't want to lose an important part of ourselves that we felt we were at risk of losing. Which is wild, because it wasn't something that I found in myself until we got to the Netherlands.
The space we stumbled upon and the calm we cultivated became a cornerstone for the lives we wanted to build. It just wasn't something we could build in the Netherlands. When we told a friend we were leaving, they said something that I needed to immediately correct. They said, "Sorry the Netherlands ended up being such a disappointment."
In reality, we got everything we needed from the Netherlands. We just didn't get what we wanted. We wanted a home country to build our long-term life in. What we got was a better understanding of what we wanted our lives to look like and how we wanted to build them.
Yes, the Netherlands is a great place to be from. It's how I can be incredibly grateful for our time there while still being glad we got out when we had the chance. But explaining all of this, taking the time and the care to give the nuance and backstory? To be this vulnerable with someone? Most people aren't looking for the real answer. And if I'm being honest, I'm not looking to give the real answer to most people.
So what do I say when someone asks me why we left the Netherlands for Mexico?
Iguanas, man. Why else?
TACO TOTAL — 354/2021
This Week's Taco Total — 51
February Taco Total — 157
February has screwed with my mental model for pacing. I understand I'm still ahead of schedule and that I'm doing great. But it's hard to shake the idea that I'm behind on the month and we're at the end and oh god do I need to go eat 18 tacos tomorrow for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? It's easy and enjoyable to spiral when all you're going to land in is a pile of tacos.
A new fun thing for Team Taco™ is going to be ready next Tuesday. Should be. Probably.