It’s 4.00am and I’m frightened. Not the mysterious, heart pounding, stomach churning fear of a wordless night terror, though I get those as well, but the nagging, oh my god what have i done, deeply worded turmoil of an unsettled mind.
In four days I leave for three months in Amsterdam. When I tell people this the first thing they always ask is why. They’re expecting a real answer: I have a job there, a boyfriend there, I am writing a book about Amsterdam. What they actually get from me is a shrug with a little smile; or a “no particular reason”; or an “I felt like it”; or an “I fancied a change of scene”. None of which are particularly convincing reasons when I tell them to myself at 4am so god knows what they sound like to my friends or to strangers at parties. Mostly they respond with enthusiasm. Sometimes they ask whey I am not moving to Berlin, as if Berlin is the only city worth going to in Europe, just because some magazines said that it was cool. Sometimes they tell me to say hello to Steve McQueen, who is apparently Amsterdam’s only other resident.
I barely know Amsterdam. I’ve been there twice, for a couple of days each time. It’s beautiful. I love the way the tall, narrow buildings totter over the canals. The tiny streets that beg to be strolled down, little cafes and shops that quietly demand exploration. Each time I’ve longed to linger for longer. Or, you know, I loved and wanted more time in Amsterdam that one free afternoon I had on my dutch book tour in 2007. At this time of the night (morning?) I am not sure these are memories worth basing the next three months of my life on, seven years later. I may have also blanked out how much it rains there.
I’ve lived in London my entire life. What seems like a huge, anonymous city to many is as familiar as a tiny village to me by now, without any of the advantages of intimacy. I still get lost amongst all the people, I just do it along paths so well worn I could tread them in my sleep, should I actually get any sleep. Two days ago I handed in the corrected proofs to my forthcoming novel. Another source of terror i don’t have time to discuss here. I don’t have a new novel to write yet. I am single, I have no children. I can’t just sit here. I can’t bear to just sit here.
Is this enough of a reason to go by myself to a city where I only know one person, an old school friend I haven’t seen or spoken to in fifteen years? Right now, it doesn’t really seem so. And yet that is exactly what I am doing. Why, people ask. Shrugging continues to seem like a better reply than screaming, or saying I don’t know, I can’t remember, please tell me why.
Sometimes people say I am brave. Sometimes I think I am stupid. Often I’m not sure of the difference. I suppose all I really am is a person doing something different and doing it alone, as I do everything else alone - work alone, live alone, sit up awake, terrified, in the early hours alone. I wonder if home is a place, or if it is where the people you love are, regardless of where you are, or if it is a state of mind you can pack and take with you like a toothbrush.
The only conclusion I have come to is that I probably shouldn’t read the book my friend gave me on the history of Amsterdam last thing before I go to bed at night. Even if it is an excellent book.
There will be furthest updates here. Thank god for writing. Thank god for that strange placeless place called the internet where writing can go to be found. It is a hand held across time, across hundreds and thousands of miles. And thank goodness for sleep, when it comes, if it comes, where the only journey is inwards.