How do you write from land to friends on a sinking ship?

by renegademama

I haven’t been here in a while. I haven’t been here consistently in a very long while. I don’t post much on Instagram, my blog’s Facebook. I don’t even tweet much anymore. Horrors.

Some of you have messaged me asking if I’m okay. Thank you so much. I’m always floored when I see those messages. People thinking of me. It’s so fucking kind.

Here it is: I miss you. I have no idea what the fuck to say to you.

That came out harsher than I wanted, probably because I’m frustrated. With myself, with my confusion and silence. It’s been months, maybe a year?

I’ve been trying to break my way out of it with positive self-talk like: Look, you moron, these are your friends! Your readers! The same people you’ve been writing to for years! WHY ARE YOU MALFUNCTIONING?

Why? Because everything I think about saying feels irrelevant, deeply annoying, or both.

I am the picture of security right now, folks. If I ever gave the impression I’m over here grounded in my being, I apologize.

Or maybe I am. I don’t really know what that means.

I always talk in my writing classes about not focusing on externalities when you write. As in, not writing for praise or money or fame, from that place of “Will people like this?” or “Will they get mad at me?” Not because we have to be “better” than that, but because it creates an unsustainable situation.

Sure, if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets launched into the NYT Bestseller list five minutes after you start writing into the cold, dark night—who knows, maybe you’ll be the next Girl wash your face lady and you’ll be lining the walls of Target in no time by repeating tired cliches and plagiarizing (don’t let me kill your dreams!)—but for the rest of us, that shit won’t deliver.

As in, if that’s what’s driving us, as soon as nobody gives a shit what we’re writing, or we get attacked by an angry mob calling us “commie cunts” (Thank you, Dan from Indiana), or our Twitter numbers just won’t budge no matter how clever we are (AND WE ARE), and also at the same time we’re annoyed that we even care about Twitter followers (are we not more advanced than that?)–we’ll quit.

In other words, everything external is a massive clusterfuck and just leads to more confusion. Our motivation and purpose must come from within if we’re gonna last in this game. Or maybe any game. I don’t know. I don’t know many games. I suck at sports.

And yet here I am swimming in NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY FROM DISNEYLAND, JANELLE.

I’m not afraid of the world getting angry at me, god knows I’ve said enough enraging things to kill that concern, but also, I don’t write in a void. And I don’t know what to write in friends in a crumbling empire during a pandemic and wildfires and civil unrest and autocracy at the doorstep while I sit in a café sipping a cappuccino watching my kids play in front of a building from the 17th century.

I’m over here in a country that has largely returned to normal (for now, numbers are going up) while my friends and family in the States are posting “first day of school” pictures with their child grinning in front of a table in the living room. I’m not knocking that. I understand. But what do I say?

“IT SURE IS NICE THE WAY THE HAVE HEALTHCARE HERE AND NO PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AND ALSO ISN’T THIS CANAL PRETTY?”

Yes, I could write about all that I’m learning about America standing on a different continent and witnessing it from afar, but I feel right now like it’s irrelevant. Like I need to read the room. Like I don’t understand what you’re going through. Like I’m a coward for leaving. Like I’m so glad I left.

I feel separate.

I want to see you and know you can see me. I don’t want to write from some otherworldly place and become detached and off the ground with you.

This is not a feeling I anticipated when I moved here. I had visions of endless things to write about, the adventures, the new experiences, the culture. But I feel I’ve walked away from an injured friend. I feel I left them bleeding on the ground.

And the truth is I am so happy here I sometimes just start grinning. The truth is I feel a knot unwinding in my gut, like I am returned to a place I’ve been craving my whole life but never knew existed. The truth is I am so fucking grateful and awestruck that I get to live in a place like this that I sometimes feel a strange panic that they may kick me out, some lingering notion that it can’t possibly be real, that I won’t actually get to stay, that it all really has been a dream that will be ripped from my hands one day.

I walk around in a state of awe and rage. Awe that people actually live this way; rage that people actually live this way.

And America is what it is.

We are inexcusable. The “richest nation on earth,” but we cannot provide basic human rights or a social welfare net of any substance. It’s a lie. It’s a fucking lie and I live every day in a spotlight on that lie.
It is not normal to live the way we live in America.

I’m guessing any Dutchie reading this is laughing her ass off right now, conveying this place as some sort of utopian fever dream that it is not. And to them, I would have to explain that they may not understand what it feels like to come from a place like America in its current condition to this.

I’m fascinated by the things Dutchies complain about. They complain about what to Americans would be an unfathomable improvement, incredible generosity, a sense of humanity we’ve long forgotten–if we ever had it.

And you know what? I’m glad they complain. I’m glad they see these things as the goddamn human rights OWED to them, paid for BY THEM. I’m glad they want something back for their tax dollars beyond drones to kill people in the Middle East.

I’m glad they know their lives and their kids’ lives are more than human capital. That they deserve and in fact will live and enjoy their single chance on earth as opposed to scrambling desperately in a pool of scarcity while wearing the stars & stripes on a Made-in-China hat, sure the next big screen TV on Black Friday clearance will soothe the meaninglessness, isolation, and suffering predatory capitalism has created.

I’m so angry. I’m so angry at what America has taught us “freedom” looks like, that we have somehow equated individualism, those notorious bootstraps, with bravery, patriotism, the American way.

Why do we wear our suffering like a badge of American honor?

I’m glad they are indignant and firmly rooted in a sense of their own worth, and the network of responsibility the state must secure, reinforce, and fund. Because if they don’t stay mad, if they forget that they are entitled to these things through their very birth, the dignity afforded them as human beings, they will have them taken.

If they don’t stay mad, they may find themselves with entire generations of college grads starting their lives with $80k in debt that will accrue at 6.8%, a debt they’ll never pay back.

They may find themselves with sprawling tent cities beneath one-bedroom apartments that sell for $1.5 million and they may find themselves bankrupt over a cancer diagnosis and they may find themselves working two full-time jobs to barely pay rent and send their kids to underfunded schools where they will hide under desks for active shooter drills. They may find themselves funneled to a private prison because they are worth more to the state in prison than free in the world. They may find themselves without a pension, without paid sick leave, without vacation. They may find themselves without a livable wage while the top three richest people in the country accrue more wealth than the bottom 50%.

But what is the point of saying any of this? How must it feel coming from me? A coward who left. A person who looked around and said, “I’m sorry, I’m out.”

Just to keep with the fucking metaphors, I feel like I’ve survived a sinking ship and now I’m yelling from land, “Hey, Hi. Your boat sucks.” As if (most) Americans don’t fucking know this by now.

I have no interest in telling you, people I love, people who are suffering, what you already know, what we all already know—what good does it do?

I guess in that sense we are the same, navigating an incomprehensible nation facing incomprehensible uncertainty: grief, bone-level anxiety, a gut-level cognition that something is really, really wrong. I’m just doing it from a place of safety, which makes me think I have no place to speak.

Fuck it, ya know? I don’t understand any of this. I’ve lost the storyline.

Recently I read an essay called “Old Body Not Writing” by Ursula K. Le Guin in her book The Wave in the Mind about her inability to write fiction at the time. She could write essays (such as the one I read) because they are “in the head,” and “Any string of meaningfully connected words is better than none.” But her characters had abandoned her. Stories were gone.

She has always said that her books begin when characters begin to speak to her. She hears their voices. She becomes them. They become her. And from a silent zone, she explains: “When I have nothing to write I have nothing to escape to, nothing to compensate with, nothing to give control to, no power to share in, and no satisfaction. I have to just be here being old and worried and muddling and afraid that nothing makes sense.”

She goes on to say how writers call “any period of silence” a “block.”

Then adds: “Would it not be better to look on it as a clearing? A way to go till you get where you need to be?”

When I read this last part, I closed my eyes and took a breath and felt a deep relaxing around my shoulders, because I had gone to her looking for answers. And when I go looking, I look to my elders, women of the past who are my grandmothers and great-grandmothers but don’t know it. Or maybe they do.

I understood this clearing, thought about it as time passing and the guts and heart and head being rinsed out by life, by nothing, to make room for the new.

How can characters enter a cluttered room? How can ideas make their way into the thick mud of old thoughts? What good is my forcefully filling the space? Why am I angrily, impatiently, willfully cramming that space with topics and panic?

Because, as Ursula says, it’s “silent and lonely.”

“So, my search for a story, when I get impatient, is not so much looking for a topic or subject…as casting about in my head for a stranger.”

Maybe this is all a clearing. Maybe this is all of us washing it all out to find a new way of existing in this world together. Maybe we are all casting about for a stranger.

She knows “they answer silence,” that one day they’ll speak to her again, that the day will come when some new voice will echo in the brain she was sure abandoned her, some new world whispering itself into existence in the chambers of her imagination.

She’ll spin something beautiful from the clearing, from the void that felt a little like death.

Maybe we will too.

 

My little life. My little home. I don’t know what to say.

  • siri

    Yes. It’s that strange feeling of guilt that keeps getting me. Guilt for leaving and not having to experience it all. It’s good to read you again, you’ve been missed.

  • Charlotte McDonnell

    Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the glimpses of .nl – of what the US could be. I remain hopeful that we’re at a tipping point – for we cannot hide what we are any more. The mirror

    Also, I miss Europe. I have family there. I have a good friend in Einhoven. I was supposed to see them all this year — and the Austrian city I have spent SEVEN YEARS writing a novel about — but could not, because, of course, it became too dangerous to fly and travel. I need those pictures of ancient canals and history and of lands that also have serious problems with racism but also believe that people should go to the doctor. I’ve really enjoyed the perspective of the ex-pat, as we consider where we are going to raise our family…IF…IF the unthinkable happens.

    Is it right to raise a daughter in the US when she has dual citizenship and could be having a childhood without active shooter drills? I am considering whether or not to pull her from school the week after the election because I *don’t trust my neighbors to not go shooting up her school in some Trumpian rage*.

    This has to be the darkness before the dawn. Anything else is unthinkable.

    • Becky

      Trumpian rage? He did not create nor does he condone. The country has had all of these despicable problems that have been talked about here for so long, they just finally thankfully are being seen. Trump did not divide the country nor is he the cause for everything going on. Oh, except as you say, school shootings… I forgot how much he supports that. Y’all should be ashamed how you do this.

      • Loraine A Bailor

        Any time you have a need to shame someone to demonstrate disagreement, you have lost credibility in most aspects of your argument. While it is true these issues are long-standing, our current president has a long history of public put downs that has gradually created an environment where people feel more “permitted” to vent their hatred as Mr. Trump has openly engaged in, so to minimize his personal impact on the current state of negativity is minimizing and invalidating, and really the comment smacks of the one rule we are asked to follow.

      • Ashley Jean Wade

        Becky, the only comment policy is “try not to be a dick”. Trump does create and condone rage and division. He has encouraged these assholes to show their true colors boldly and proudly. That mother fucker would support a school shooting in a heartbeat if it would help get him re-elected.

        • Jenny Savage

          Are you saying that Joe Biden creates and encourages division when he refused to denounce rioting and looting in cities? Okay…

          Biden does create and condone racial division. He has encouraged these assholes to show their true colors boldly and proudly. That motherfucker would support a school shooting in a heartbeat if it got him elected.

          See how that works? Lol.

  • Nikki_momma

    Do not feel bad for leaving! I left 23 years ago, from one the smallest little hick towns in Michigan. I live in Ontario, Canada. A city of 1 million. I’ve never been more greatful and more happy to be here and a full Canadian citizen than I have in there last year. Canada is many things the USA is not… politics, healthcare, taxes, lack of “my rights, you can’t control me bullshit, freedom ideals that are so messed up it’s sickening. The USA/Canadian border has been closed for 6 months except for essential good transport and essential service workers. And yah I didn’t get to go “home” to Michigan to see my family this summer. But you know what!? It’s not home to me anymore… it’s foreign place where I speak the language but yet don’t understand. They can keep the damn border closed for a year as far as I’m concerned! There are so many things wrong with the administration of Trump… but at the same time the other team has some serious flaws and baggage too! All this to say sometimes the ones we love need to hear the outsider perspective because when you are the thick of a situation you cannot see it from new angles. The state of race, policing, education, crime, access to non bankrupting health care, the constant talk about people’s right to their freedoms and gun access/control is just so so nauseating because in many instances they cannot or will not see how messed up things are there. Be happy you left and are enjoying some peace and don’t stress the constant turmoil and unrest that is the USA. Canada isn’t perfect… we have our own version of issues but man I wouldn’t trade it for anything on the US side. Sit back… enjoy that damn coffee and cafe view and this new feeling of peace your home brings you. Once you’ve seen the USA mistress from the outside there is no going back to “home” and unseeing her for all the lying dishonest nasty bitch that she is and not the innocent beautiful girl you were lead to believe in for all those years. I love my family 100%, but I simply don’t drink the kool-aide they are being fed– I’m a non believer in there version of world event and perspective. Stay well Janelle. Don’t give into the survivor guilt. 💗

    • Katie

      Ha! I refer to Canada as “America gone right”

  • Sarah

    From the dystopian hellscape that is the United States, I feel this. As much as I can. As in, it all rings true, from this side. But also — it helps to know Disneyland exists. It helps to know land exists when we are stuck on this sinking ship. It gives me hope.

  • Laure

    Great piece, Janelle, I love that you took the time to write it. I am amazed at the US at the moment. A few years ago I was so ready to go and live there, I was shortlisted to work in an international organization and finally someone else was picked: I was disappointed. But now I am so relieved. I am so sad for Americans at the moment AND for the wildlife there (as ridiculous as it sounds… have you seen these fires?). I am sad and yet I hope it can teach a lesson about voting choices, even if it sounds fucked up.
    Living in German speaking Switzerland now (from Paris), just one year, just like you. I relate to so many things you say and write.

  • SusanS

    We left, experienced a beautiful life in Mexico then returned to the US to experience being grandparents. I’m interested in your Dutch life, what the Dutchies complain about, what it’s like to go to the doctor, how you pay taxes, what your electric bill is like, what you notice in the grocery stores: a series of essays, if you will, from your unique vantage point. You don’t need to draw parallels with the sucky way we do it here. That’s self evident for those of us living here. I’m suffering from so much anxiety right now that I long for light upbeat reading that lets me dream and keeps me from “going over the top of an impossibly tall roller coaster” feeling.

    • TimWarp

      Yes, this! Exactly! (Except for the Mexico and grandchildren part.)

  • B

    Please tell us what its like on land. Everything here right now is so… goddamn depressing. Last night I googled, “what life is like for civilians during civil war.” Your letters from land are like little breaths of oxygen, a reminder that there is in fact land, and hope that some of us might get to see it someday.

  • April

    It is possible that not everyone is on the same ship. Not every ship is sinking. Social media and mainstream news controls the information you receive and the perspective you have from afar. But not everyone is living in misery. Sure, life looks a bit different now than it did pre-pandemic. But that doesn’t mean it’s the apocalypse. And certainly try not to judge all of America based on California — from which people are leaving in droves. We are doing our best to provide stability and security and, frankly, positivity for our children in an uncertain time. And we can lead by example in how we treat others and by what we believe are basic human rights. But know that what makes the news or internet isn’t always representative of boots on the ground. Clearly, you speak about unjustified fame and inauthenticity in your posts. That’s what made the bestseller list. But that’s not the “rest of us”… Every state, every city, every individual in America isn’t represented by the media highlight reel or bestseller list. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

    Oh, and welcome back. 🙂

    • Jessica Gilkison

      There is no denying that the ship of America is docking on the shores of fascism. If you live here, you are on that ship whether you are ready to acknowledge it or not. Sure, my personal life happens to be great if I filter out the rest of the world, but that’s because I have immense privilege on every level. This isn’t about what makes the news or is on social media, this is the reality of an entire nation—even for those of us who are *currently* able to live our lives above the fray. Seeking stability, security, and positivity are not mutually exclusive to acknowledging just how fucked we are if we don’t immediately begin paddling away from fascism vigorously and in sync.

      • Becky

        What do you mean paddle away from facism? Would you mind saying specifically what is fascist? Do you think we’re going towards dictatorship? What makes you think our whole system of government is about to change?

      • Heather

        You said exactly my thoughts. Even if your particular situation is not teetering on ending up in a tent city, or losing any ability to see a doctor, there are so so many people that are in that situation here. And to not acknowledge the truth of what is around us all is a detriment to this entire country. We are most definitely sinking, and on the verge of losing our democracy. It’s not beneficial to sit quietly and hope that it doesn’t happen.

    • Pholiday

      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

      I have to agree. While politically, America is pretty darn awful (lifelong Dem so please, keep the crucifiction to yourself – I think the Dems are Shit too) its not because the dumbass in charge. It is because 1.ALL of the people “in charge”, blue or red, are owned by big money. 2. Social media/algorithms, CNN and FOX now control most Amercan thoughts and reinforce their fears, capitalize on vulnerability, and DO NOT tell the facts — just regurgitate words that keep your eyes glued to the screen.

      I have learned so much about the difference in an online world and the world out there in the last six months. People are still beautiful humans (we camped at a place like Kellerman’s this summer and legit, 16-year olds are still falling in love and figuring it out.) People still welcome a big ole smile and decent conversation.

      America is zombified and totally HOPELESS but that’s not why. It is because people over here cant and wont put down social media or turn off TVs to sit at a cafe with a stranger and a book.

      It is truly sad that the VAST majority of American’s seek to be controlled via social media feeds, reposts of bull shit, irresponsible journalism, a government that is horridly corrupt on ALL SIDES, and the lack of real connection that can only happen when we ALL come to the table and LISTEN to one another. People have stopped searching for truth and reality, and instead have opted for dystopia in a screen.

      America is both awful, and also full of beautiful people and for those of us that dare to turn off algorithms and cable news, peace, love and happiness.

      Thanks for posting a blog today, as I left social media (strongly recomend “The Social Dilemna” to all. Great explanation as to whats happening to our brains and societies as a result of the SM.) and am spending my online time seeking out truth sayers, people who have different ideas than my own, and lots and lots of facts, data and research.

      Also, getting the kids passports today. Let’s meet for coffee in the spring!! Best to you, sister. WE CHANGE THIS WORLD NOT THE ASSJOLES IN CHARGE.

  • Laurie G.

    You may not want to hear this right now but the very reason we need you keep writing is your WRITING. You have a gift. Beyond that you have an understanding of how American politicsrobs us, of how our “leaders” constantly and purposefully mislead us with smoke and mirrors, saying “Look over here at these protestors! They’re what’s threatening you; not us.” You see through their divide-and-conquer tactics and you put that into words that are compelling because of your outrage but also accessible because you write in a colloquial, down-to-earth way that I love. You direct our outrage into the right channels. The very human, real voice that is uniquely yours because of your life experiences includes the difficult decision to move your family to the Netherlands. And it is not a betrayal or a desertion. It includes your astonishment at how different life is there and it compels us to see how life could be here, if we would just stop listening to racist, xenophobic, greedy politicians. We need to grow a sense of social capital, of the common good. From your seat by that canal, you show us a vision of what that actually looks like. I for one find that invaluable. It gives me a spark of hope.

  • Julie Ann Todd

    1. You are not a coward!! Uprooting your entire family to move to a foreign country because of the shit show that is happening here is Fucking BRAVE! I’m sure it was scary, and hard and hurt…but you did it anyway. For a better life, for a peaceful life and I applaud your bravery.
    2. You speaking of your experiences in the Netherlands doesnt make me, an extremely dissatisfied customer of the US Government, resentful. It makes me feel emboldened. It gives credibility to the “claims” that there is a better way, and makes me want to fight harder than ever to get them here! Please dont stop. Keep telling us how happy your children are learning in the woods, or helping the sanitation workers on the sidewalk, or stopping by the local bakery. PLEASE DONT STOP!
    3. I think the honesty in your writing is so relatable, so raw, so heartfelt, it would be impossible for your readers to feel like you left us bleeding and injured.
    Love to you! ❤

    • Tereza Ritchie

      I agree with all of this. PLEASE DON’T STOP WRITING.

  • Nina

    Of course what you say is true about the Netherlands. (I was born and raised here) but I would be remiss if I did not point out to you that your perspective is from a rich white person.
    For instance, if I would live in your street my life would also improve dramatically, instead I live in social housing in Schalkwijk. No matter how many decades I wait, I will never live in the center of Haarlem where all the cool people live. And this is the city I was born. I live in a run down grey neighborhood where everything is depressing. Not even 20 minutes away from you. I have a hot meal twice a week and the rest of the time I eat bread.

    Make no mistake, not everyone is equal here.

    • renegademama

      Hi Nina,

      Thanks so much for commenting. I totally hear you, and definitely don’t think everything is equal here, or that capitalist corporate power isn’t building, or that it’s a haven of perfect equality. I do need to clarify that I am by no means “rich.” My husband is a builder and I am a writer. We have four kids. We sold everything to come here. I am for sure a white person with privilege, and relative financial means–but like I’m not buying a house in Bloemendaal, and our car was 700 Euro (lol)–and I’m extremely lucky to live in the center, and we forego a lot of other things to afford the rent there (although rent everywhere in Haarlem is high as hell!). Anyway. My point is that in the United States, we have virtually NONE of what the Netherlands offers — no paid federal family leave, no paid federal sick leave, no quarterly child benefits, no paid federal vacation requirements and pay, no pension guarantees. No regulation on the cost of healthcare. People pay for surgery by GoFundMe. They lose their houses due to cancer diagnoses. We have people on the streets because of corona. Our streets are full of homeless, mentally ill people and families and drug addicts who have nowhere to go. We have the highest per capita prison population in the world, an increasing maternal death rate, and widespread state-sanctioned racial violence in segregated neighborhoods. I mean, I could go on. But do I need to?

      I am not saying the Netherlands is a perfect nation of utopian equality. What I’m saying is that it FEELS like utopia to me to live in a country that treats people like human beings. And that is way more than my pretty street.

      • Nina

        I understand. Once upon a time, many years ago I decided I wanted to move to the USA. Left everything behind and went. I did not last 6 months and ended up homeless before I went home with my tail between my legs. Working mentality there was not for me. I was too spoilt already. (What do you mean “sick days”?!)
        These days I am on disability assistance. I often think how long ago I would have died already, if I had stayed in the US.

  • Peggy McCloskey

    Janelle, I agree with some other readers: write about where you are and are experiencing. Point out differences with the US as you know them, so that we all can aspire to a better way. Sometimes we all get locked into the status quo that we forget we can do better, live in a better place.

  • Kari Larson

    “Why do we wear our suffering like a badge of American honor?”

    This. It’s that idea you hear come through when people bitch that kids nowadays don’t have it as hard as it used to be. Why do we want others to suffer through something just because we had to?

    This country. Ugh.

  • Marie

    Your writing gives me hope in humanity as a whole. Please continue telling us what it is like in another place. The perspective is crucial to the survival of us all.

  • Josey

    I echo what all of the other commenters have said – that your writing gives us hope that there is something better out there that we could aspire to be someday. It’s been 16 years since I lived in Europe, and I miss it every dang day. I’m thankful to live in a rural area of the states that doesn’t have a bunch of COVID cases and has fairly returned to normal (kids are in school full time, masked, but at least in school) and we have social gatherings and such, but DAMN do I miss traveling. Please don’t hesitate to write about your live over there – I miss it!

  • Kelly

    You’re not a coward for leaving. You left to make a better life for you and your children, like millions before you. It’s unfortunate that you had to leave the “greatest country on the planet” to do so, but well, times have certainly changed. My husband has been seriously talking about us leaving, but I’m not there. It’s bravery, not cowardice that sent you across the pond. I don’t want to leave my friends, family, and job. I still have some hope, although I don’t know why. Let you serve as a beacon of shining light.

  • Nieves

    I love hearing about your life in Haarlem even when I’m a little jealous.

  • Amanda

    I always love everything you write. Hearing about your time in another country actually gives me hope…we can do better! It shows what we keep up the good fight for and that we have reasons to be pissed!

  • juliep

    Please write more. I have a constant pit of sadness these last 4 years & would love to get distracted by every day moments of your life there. We know you get it.

  • Amy DuBois

    Don’t push it, don’t stress over it. The harder you try to write, the more difficult it becomes. When your story is ready to be heard, it will flow like a raging river. You are an extraordinary human and I enjoy everything you write! I love your real, raw perspective. ENJOY the hell out of your new country! You are there for a reason, even if that reason is to let the rest of know there’s something more! If not for sharing my children with my ex, I’d be sweeping them away to a safer place, too. For the first time in my life I am afraid of an election. Whether he wins or loses we are headed towards a civil war. 🙁

  • Beca

    I appreciate your sensitivity here. Obviously I am happy for you and I am glad you are doing well! But I don’t have the option to leave, and things here are really tough, and some days it’s all I can do to get up and feed my kids. I always appreciate your writing and your honesty, and in this case I also appreciate your restraint. All the best to you and yours.

  • Jen Dhaliwal

    I always looks forward to your posts as a glimpse of life outside of what we experience here in America. Don’t stop writing. You are a breath of fresh air from all the drama/fear going on over here. I want to hear about the canals, and your kids playing, and all the random little things that paint a picture of what your life looks like over there. America feels so broken, and it will take generations to fix all the problems, as our issues didn’t crop up overnight. Sometimes it’s just nice to be able to read about how people in other parts of the world live, and how they’re making it through this pandemic. I just need to read something good, to have a bit of hope, a ray of sunshine. I hope you write more frequently – about ANYTHING, to give us a break from life over here.

  • Judith Johnson

    As a Dutchie living in the USA I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. Don’t stop writing, you have a new fan here who needs to hear what you have to say!

  • Denise

    Thank you for being with us in our pain. And it sucks, but it’s the pain that is going to bring about the change. We have to feel discomfort or we’re going to stay on our asses. We had to have fires to wake up to global warming (and California and our $3 TRIL economy is not being left ‘in droves’), many had to see videos in our social media before they could wake up to social injustices. To paraphrase Valarie Kaur, it’s the womb, not the tomb.

  • Julie

    I am so glad that you’ve written. I have been anxiously awaiting any and all updates from your new life across the pond. I will admittedly say that I am jealous, but not in a negative way. I am living vicariously through your guts to make the bold leap! I repeatedly tell my husband about you guys and send him all your posts with a little nudge to say….see, maybe we could do this too! So, keep the envious posts of dreaminess coming!

  • jonnel covault

    This made me tear up. Because I fought for all the progressive issues that could save our country; fought hard for Bernie’s POLICIES and I’m old and don’t want to fight anymore! Don’t want to rally, canvas, call, table or help solve this mess. My husband and I never got the big money memo, but were able to flee to the Redwood Coast, buy a small house a mile from the beach, and are attempting to live simply on Social Security and my art. It was hard to shake the consumer mind at first. It took about a year to stop needing stuff. We were semi-quarantined before we had to! I have not made any art for almost a year. The only kind of art I want to make comes from rage. So I’ve been gardening the disappointment away. Disappointment that practically everyone I know is in denial regarding the solution and problem; 2 corporately controlled parties and the “news” media are destroying my grand toddler’s democracy and planet. Hopefully I’m in the clearing now…

  • Suzanne

    Don’t feel bad for abandoning this sinking democracy. I am curious how you managed to do it? I’m looking into trying to get dual citizenship through my Italian ancestors, but it might not be available because it is through my maternal line. (really).

    Have you written about how you were able to establish residency? I’d love to know because we can swing it, you might have an expat neighbor.

  • Bonnie

    Never underestimate the power of sharing a perspective that is outside the norm. You may feel like a coward, but you are opening the window for those who might not know there is one. You embody hope. It wasn’t easy doing what you did, and you pay for it in different ways every day. Love yo you all x

  • Patty Q

    I have been following you for years and have started to comment many times but never follow through. You have brought me to tears and given voice to my own feelings over and over again so thank you. Fifteen years ago I was going to give up my job as a lawyer and write. I had ideas and thoughts and started to write while raising kids and running my own practice. Since that ambitious beginning, my life has gotten even more demanding with bigger bills, more work and older parents. Now when I think of writing, I have nothing to say. It is an emptiness. In these awful times it seems more important than ever to speak but at the same time it feels as if it has all been said. Again, thank you for putting that feeling into words. I will sit with this silence and have faith.

  • Marta

    I could feel the complexity of your inner space and I could relate so much to what you wrote. You had me crying for our pain. Thank you so much for this beautiful and raw connection!! I can’t wait to hear more about what it’s like there when the time for that comes!
    For me personally, after much debate (I’m European), I decided this is home and after a while of deeper ship sinking, I also felt that leaving behind the pain would be leaving behind an injured friend like you said. I didn’t think I would be okay with the separation. Like a part of me would have felt in grief and disconnection as a permanent state, and I feared I would also feel that I made up a different better reality for myself but it wasn’t really real or mine. It is all so intense when connected to the pain. Many ways that energy can play out. Can’t wait for your next piece!

  • Rachel Phillips

    Two things:
    1) From a girl living in SoCal….we need joy in our lives right now in any way it will come to us. If that’s you, gallivanting around Europe or swimming in a canal or sitting there drinking a cappuccino in peace, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD LET US SEE THAT SHIT. I have a friend who got married over Zoom a few weeks ago. She was debating whether or not to invite people because it seemed wrong to celebrate at a time like this. It’s not wrong. We need something to celebrate. Things are so dark, please share happy shit.

    2) I asked a friend the other day…when is it time to keep fighting and when is it time to run? You didn’t abandon, you might just be smarter than the rest of us. So please keep showing us all the ways your life is happy, may inspire the rest of us to make some changes.

  • Amy

    Janelle–your feelings might be similar to other people who came to the US (in the before times) to escape the situation in their countries. Guilty for feeling happy, glad to have escaped, amusement at what Americans complained about. Maybe reading some literature along those lines might help? Also, just keep writing when you can. We love your writing. I don’t think you sound clueless about tougher subjects when you share your happiness. It does give people perspective on what else exists.

  • Anna Roller

    Hi. I actually think of you often. I am often thinking about how I will get out. You are an example of someone who made it out. I don’t have the means to move to Canada. What faucking family of 4 has $24K in the bank? Not American families. That’s for damn sure. I am terrified for my kids. I hate what this countey is. I don’t hope for the future. I don’t trustrhat anyone with power will do the work it takes to change anything. My son started kindergarten this week. Online. I’m working from home. Still. Every day feels like Groundhog Day and none of it is exciting or good. More horrific shit dominates the news day in and day out. If I could get out. I would. I would pack my shit and grab my kids and start somewhere I felt safe. But we are stuck. Helpless. Hopeless.

  • Fiona

    Same as the other commenters – just keep writing, we love reading your thoughts.

    As a dual AU/USA citizen living in Australia, I feel so sad and a bit guilty every day for my friends/family in the USA. Life is mostly back to normal in Australia but will be a shit storm for a long time in the USA.

    Just luck we happened to be where we were when the virus hit.

  • Erin Risner

    would love to hear more about what it’s like there and what you’ve learned is so different/ freeing from America! That sounds important and like it would be enlightening to many of us. write your heart/gut! we love you!

  • Aimee

    I felt this SO much when we lived in Mexico and would see school shootings on the news. The relief that we were not there and the guilt that we left, the horror that it was normal now in the U.S. and the epiphany that living overseas showed us that nothing HAS to be one way, that there are so many better options than the ones we were raised with. And I wrote about it and I got blasted as unpatriotic and a traitor blah blah blah, but I knew in my heart that where we were was better.
    We’ve been back in the U.S. for a little over 2 years now and are planning to leave again next summer, this time for Europe. I love reading about your experience because it reminds me that there are other realities, that we don’t have to stay stuck in dystopia. I even considered the Netherlands based on what a wonderful life your kids have there…but I need sun and beach.
    This post is important because it acknowledges that “survivor’s guilt” we feel once we’ve escaped. But don’t stop telling us about your daily Utopian moments. That’s what gives the rest of us hope that we can make it out too, whether that means moving away or staying and fighting. Your stories show that changes is possible.

  • Kira

    I’m sure everything is fine and it’s totally normal that I wept the entire time I read this. Most days I am pretty good at convincing myself that I have it better than most and I am grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones. Here lately, I feel like a wounded animal who is trying to find a quiet place in the woods to die. Your words brought back memories and emotions from when I lived abroad as a child. Even then, I knew other places around the world felt different. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that feeling is what happens when you give a shit about your citizens. You have no idea the beautiful opportunity you are giving your family. It’s priceless and don’t ever feel conflicted about it.

  • Gina

    I live in Australia and we have what you are talking about. Free healthcare (paid with taxes), excellent public schools.
    We are going a bit backwards in our University fees but we fight hard and expect better.
    We watch America aghast. If you missed it… Trump IS a fascist.
    We feel blessed to live here in comparison and just from watching from afar, my kids wouldn’t even consider a trip there in the future.
    We watch the US on fire literally and figuratively.

  • Kristal

    I have been feeling so grateful and lucky for getting out of Florida, USA and in to Nova Scotia, Canada in December! I am a dual citizen and retired to Florida 6 years ago (went for Obama, got Trump). It took 4 years to figure out I didn’t want to live like this, and 2 to research and move; all because Florida was the dream for 15 years! Who wants to give up their dream? I am glad, as an adult, I am learning it is okay to let some things go! I hope people vote to help the country bring back change and decent human beings. I know I am!

  • Katy Francis

    I feel this so much. Thank you for posting. Even living here in Canada (where we are on an upswing of cases), I feel such guilt posting anything happy on Facebook etc. Where American family or friends can see. The sinking ship analogy is perfect. I struggle with knowing how I can help? I donate, march, protest, but none of it seems enough.

  • Michaela

    Commie c*nt or not, you nailed it again!! Thanks for coming back, truly. Without fail, your writing leaves me feeling less lonely, a little bit saner and a little more hopeful and I am so grateful for that. Take care

  • Melissa

    Sadly, been saying to my US friends for awhile, get the F@ck out.

  • Kate Jones

    So glad to hear from you! And especially glad that you seem to be doing well. I was worried maybe shit had gotten really bad for you and that’s why you haven’t been writing. Instead it sounds like you are feeling guilty or like you think we don’t still love you … because you made some positive changes that have made your life and your family’s life better?

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE we need you right now! I was just checking your website the other day, hoping I had missed the email, desperate for some of your wisdom. Then it showed up. And I needed it. I’m happy for you Janelle. Please share your experiences with us. There has never been a time when I’ve been more curious about the ex-pat life. Love you so much.

  • Katie

    The only guilt you should feel is if you decided to bring your family back to the US. We have been living in the EU since 2012, with summers mostly in Québec and the US. Right now we are back in the US until December, when at that time we are getting the fuck out of here. I hate the US, it’s exactly what you said, I have this bone deep feeling that I’m doing something really wrong being here. It’s just not right. Yes, the societal problems, etc., but I feel like I literally take my families lives in my hands when I get on the road. Seriously, who taught these people how to drive? I have no idea why Italians have such a bad reputation for driving, because it’s way worse in the States. And the food quality and prices, over consumption of everything (food, prescription drugs, tv). There is a welfare system in America, but it’s so broken and under regulated, that’s it’s completely abused. Italy is not perfect, I know it, especially in a country where avoiding paying ones taxes is a favorite national pastime, but it sure the heck is a lot better than what the US has become.

  • Nara Rosser

    I can relate a lot to these words. We returned to Alaska (from Southern Oregon and the Bay Area) almost one year pre-covid and then stayed once it hit, because we could sense it was the beginning of a great unraveling in
    “the lower 48” (as we call it up here). Actually we could feel it coming before then. We spent a few years choking on smoke and getting buried under the low yield working grind. We had finally “escaped”, finding a clever way to live in Southern Oregon, capitalize on Bay Area wages, and winter in Thailand. Covid kind of squashed our ability to keep the racket going. But what it did yield, which we did not expect, was returning to our childhood land, buying property in one of our favorite places on earth. We are surrounded by mountains and glaciers and fields of fireweed and our daughters go to paid public school in yurts and pluck carrots from their school garden. We eat fresh salmon, halibut and wild berries, and eggs, meat, veggies and bread from our local farmers. We take endless walks on the beach at low tide while bald eagles fly overhead and otters gorge on oysters and clams. But then I turn to my social media feed and see nothing but riots and looting, and masks, and towns burnt to the ground from wildfires (the same one I just moved from). I see some of my closest friends living in the center of devastation while… I’m tucked neatly inside this life I’ve been working towards forever but thought would never actually manifest. And I think… WHY!!?? How can I be in this lovely clearing while others are in the core of chaos.

  • elembee123

    Fairly long-time reader, first time commenter just here to say PLEASE, FTLOG, KEEP POSTING HAPPY SHIT!!! From this sinking ship, I am grasping for any kind of hopefulness!

  • Anne-Cathrine Nyberg

    *Hugs* from a Norwegian living in Norway (who has an American husband who is so very happy he/we live here as well)

  • Rosie Paulson

    I’m so glad you are writing and have published this.

    We have to see the possibilities of another way, it’s like breathing pure oxygen again. You don’t have to be apologetic for leaving. But I do hope you’ll show it’s why and how and what it will be for your family. We need so desperately to enlarge our imaginations here.

    Please don’t stop writing. I’m in Chico California, found your book at our library, and have been following along since. Much love to your family.

  • Michele

    You know, sometimes you just get sick of yourself. I have a hearing loss and I volunteer for some deaf and hard of hearing groups, have written blog articles for various groups, and manage some of the social media pages for these groups. There are times when I just get sick of focusing on these issues and just want to live my life.

    I think we all need to take breaks from what we are used to doing every day and to focus elsewhere for our own sanity and peace of mind. Add to that the craziness of life right now-the pandemic, new life experiences that take a lot of attention, and trying to make sense of the shit-show in the U.S. right now, and the best we can do is just make it from the time we wake up to the time we lay it all down again.

    We understand, because we get sick of the routine ourselves. It’s like a friendship that suddenly has morphed to a long distance friendship. We have to adjust and even though we aren’t seeing each other regularly and talking in the same way, we know we can count on that friendship to endure.

    All the best to you and yours and be understanding with yourself the way others are understanding with you. :o)

  • Jacinta

    This is so neat! I was just thinking of you the other morning and imagining how relieved you must feel to be where you are and here this blog post is the exact answer to that thought. Thanks! The internet weaves strange tenuous ties, but I like your writing and can’t even explain that tiny section of my heart that thinks of blog authors. Haha!

  • German

    In pre 2nd World War Germany, many intellectuals left Germany for the US at about a similar time, where the words got harsh, but nothing dramatic had happened yet. Practically almost all of the intellectuals who stayed were later killed (a void that can still be felt in German tv, research, education, literature and art to this day, compared to pre-war). We might be able to see if you leaving was not a similar intuition preventing you from being clubbed to death at home by hordes of fanatics randomly meeting up to go door to door to cleanse the neighbourhood of unneeded people. That at the latest would have to mark the end of any feeling of guilt. No intellectual is helping anybody by putting oneself in danger, and intellectuals are always the first causalties, especially outspoken ones. They are better postioned in a safe place so tehy can continue to speak at all.

    And maybe also, if fighting is one’s nature, it can feel like cowardice to remove oneself from an emerging battlefield, but there are plenty of things to fight for here in Europe. They just haven’t become your fight yet.

    And also, there is the three year dust settling period in a new country. I’s a rollercoaster ride of push and pull until one starts to dream in the new language. Maybe our species was not meant to uproot itself in a life. I’ve seen many people questioning themselves and their decisions in an unecessarily harsh way within the first three years only because the soul hadn’t arrived yet and there was no clarity for oneself as to what is up or down or left or right, basically no ground to stand on. I guess it could be a lure in a time like that, to feel the need to contribute in a fight that is not yours anymore, simply to feel a secure standpoint again when everything else in your life is so shifting and reshaping and unsure and feels so lukewarm and not part of your identity. I guess any newly enlisting soldier does so to get clarity of mind in basic decisions, not so much to sleep in bunk beds and shoot people (although there might be a couple of weirdos who do it for that)

    In any case, it’s always a good idea to leave a country with tendencies like we see them now in the US. Even if there is no war at the end.