Posts Filed Under I guess we’re moving to the Netherlands

On family outings and harmony and why I don’t care anymore

by Janelle Hanchett

Yesterday on Instagram I shared photos of my family in an orchard picking apples, all of us smiling, the littlest stomping through the mud, our bag stuffed with fruit. I shared images of my two youngest in a candle shop brimming with handmade candles, where they dipped their own candles in a vat of wax surrounded by logs, directed by a friendly looking older woman in a COVID-friendly plastic face shield, because nothing says 2020 like vague dystopia and human separation.

ANYWAY, a commenter asked a question I so related to and felt all the way to my bones. She asked if my family was always so harmonious during outings and that we all look so happy. And we really do.

First of all, it’s a heavy happy vibe on principle, apple-picking in the fucking Netherlands. The Dutch are big on “gezellig,” which closely translates to “cozy” but also means much more than that. It’s cozy, quaint, comfortable, friendly. It’s like a way of being, and it penetrates so much of Dutch life. You’ll often hear Mac and I yelling “Good god this place is so fucking ADORABLE JESUS CHRIST!” Or just the random “Are you fucking kidding me?” while staring at some street that looks like it’s out of Disneyland, and then here comes a toddler on a balance bike wearing MaryJanes and tights and a puffer coat and everyone just looks so happy with their fucking healthcare and reasonable college tuition. Don’t even get me started on the boating situation on the canals, OR THE MOTHERFUCKING BIKES WITH BABIES ON THEM OR IN WOODEN BASKET THINGS ON THE FRONT.

It’s fine. Gezellig.

But it’s not a cutesy cute. The Dutch are not “cute.” They’re direct, strong people committed to personal liberty, freedom, and being decidedly NOT DELICATE. You don’t bike 2-3 children, groceries, and possibly a small mattress home in a sideways rainstorm year after year while being delicate.

Anywho, I also add filters. I like playing with photos. I like photography. I’m not a photographer, but I’ve always enjoyed the process of taking a drab photo and turning it into something that better captures what I think the photo is trying to say. You know, cropping, fading, highlighting, fucking with this and that. Sometimes I can’t be bothered, but on a day like yesterday, when I had some time, I doctored my shit and made the photos look as gezellig as the outing felt.

You know, in between times we were screaming at each other.

Oh right. That was my point: These photos are, by definition, bullshit. They are a filtered selection of real life. We all know that.

And yet they aren’t at all. Everything in those photos happened, they happen every time. They are real. But it’s a curation, a thoughtful presentation. Our trip to Italy recently. Damn. You’d think we were some fancy-ass world travelers who sit around and love each other all day while eating large shrimp.

Absent from the photos are the screaming matches, the teenage and kid tears, the parent tears and rage-breathing in response to it all, the bickering between kids, between parents and kids, between parents. (Look, it’s not my fault Mac doesn’t drive perfectly. SOMEBODY HAS TO SAVE US.)

Also absent: The moment I realize it’s noon and we’re in Italy and I’m on my phone playing Two Dots and I hate myself.

I don’t feel a need to excessively curate my life. I post my messy house. I post my messy self. I tell you how miserable the drive home was from Germany on the last day when every last one of us contemplated launching ourselves out the car door and into a Swiss alp just to make it stop.

I don’t add filters and “iris enhancements” to our eyeballs until we’re teetering on the border between “definitely aliens” and “perpetually tanned white people with astonishingly blue eyes,” causing half the comment section to freak out: THE EYES OMG THE EYES.

(Friends, if the eyes look fake, they probably are. Creating piercing crystal eyes is like a ten-second process in Photoshop and Lightroom.).

But also, when I post these collections of dream-like shit, it’s real, and it’s what I remember, and it’s what it means to me. I think I’m old and tired or something because the family bickering doesn’t bother me as much. It does for a moment—don’t we all have moments when we wish we had chosen a different life with different humans on a different continent? No, just me?—but it’s a moment, a flash. It doesn’t define the day, the trip, the outing.

In other words, I don’t really give a fuck.

The yelling, the bickering, the snapping at each other, the freak outs, the muddy shoes, the forgotten jacket—for sure there was a time when all those things would have turned the heat up beneath my patience until I was boiling in anxiety, pissed off, and reflecting on how our day was “ruined.”

I’m not better than that now. God knows we reject all personal growth around here. But as I’ve written before, I MISS MY BABIES AND CLING TO THIS SHIT FOR DEAR LIFE.

I feel like I’ve seen it all, felt it all. I’ve done the rotation of Family Shit so many times. Not that I know more or I’m better at handling it. I’m just immune to it. Where it used to hit me deep inside and I’d decide my family was dysfunctional probably due to a deficiency on my part, or Mac’s, depending on my mood, now I see Normal Family Shit and move on.

Ava will be 19 next month. Rocket is 15. I’m happy they’re here, that they’re around, that we’re together. I’m happy my teenagers want to hang out with us occasionally, that we laugh sometimes, that we turn on Paul Simon and sing after somebody whines about how THEY DON’T WANT TO LISTEN TO GRACELAND AGAIN and everyone in the car has to “handle it” instead of just, like, us parents. I swear to god I say “You don’t have to HELP!” 1500 times a day.

I’m happy Mac and I have been together long enough to accept that we’re both dicks. I have no idea how to expand on that.

I’m happy we talk honestly to each other and come back around and apologize when we act badly and I’m happy we pile on the couch almost every night, for a few moments, until somebody gets mad and stomps upstairs yelling about how they hate us.

I don’t know. I’m 41. I have four kids between the ages of 18 and 6. I turned around once, and one was grown. I look back on the days when they were little as the happiest fucking days of my life and I hate myself for even saying that. But let me tell you what I wouldn’t give to go back to the day when my George was born and I watched Ava and Rocket hold her, just kids themselves, and it seemed there were so many years.

I know this isn’t everyone’s story, but it is mine, and I realize the strong cliché vein running through this—but I’ve never bullshitted you and I won’t now, especially not to maintain some consistent branding as the one talking shit about motherhood. Ha. Branding.

I still talk shit about motherhood, but now I’m mad at the fact that I would, at 41, reflect on the years that felt SO ENDLESSLY HORRIBLY HARD AT THE TIME AS THE BEST YEARS OF MY GODDAMN LIFE.

Also why am I talking about my life as if it’s over? Is this a 2020 trait?

It’s not over. And now I live in a country where I feel more serenity and day-to-day happiness than I’ve ever felt, so basically I’m full of shit and nostalgia is a motherfucker.

My point is: I miss those days, I love those days, I love the days we have now.

You know what I really enjoy about this stage of parenthood? That those outings to me, even with all the yelling, bickering, forgotten shit, and moments of why are these people in my life, the day, more than anything else, is my little boy showing a Dutch oma which shape of candle he’d like, and then watching her, wide-eyed, as she twists the warm wax of the candle he made.

It’s the grin my boy Rocket gave his dad as he teased him about a joke I missed and the way I caught him smiling as he picked an apple, and he looked just like he did when he was seven. It’s my Ava getting so irate about the mud on her suede shoes, just as she’s done her whole life, but walking through the orchard with us anyway.

It’s that same girl, my first, almost 19, taking a picture of her siblings, the ones she was so fucking mad at on the way home, and posting it on her Instagram, as they sat making apple dumplings that evening.

“And they called themselves the apple dumpling gang,” she wrote.

And I remembered how many times we’ve watched that movie together. In time, it all becomes a beautiful curation.


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

by Janelle Hanchett

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.


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?


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.

California human experiences first Dutch Winter. Doing great.

by Janelle Hanchett

Good news. I have figured out how boilers work. Is that even what they’re called? I don’t know. Those metal flat things attached to walls that run water through them, getting warm but not hot enough to burn your house down if your kid leaves a stuffed animal on it (not that I checked this five times a day for the first month we used the fucker).

You know, the heating system everywhere in Europe built in approximately 1743? Those.

Anyway, the way they work is this: When you are cold, so cold, like ice melting across your wordless soul, you turn the thermostat up one degree Celsius.

Seventeen minutes later you are so sauna-hot you go outside, into Dutch Siberia (which is the whole country), on purpose, to cool off. Then, about two hours later, you start the process over again.

It’s a wet cold here in Holland. Humans I wanted to punch in the face used to tell me that the 110 degrees in California I experienced wasn’t really that hot because it’s a “dry heat,” and yes, I get it, humidity is a special hell, but can we all just fucking agree that 110 is like living in Satan’s ball sack no matter what the conditions? You can’t breathe in hot humid you can’t breathe in not humid hot.

Oh, hot sounds nice.

My toes will never be warm again. Jeans do not cut the wind. My socks are 12% effective. People say I should wear two pair made of merino wool. They are clearly not taking into account my laziness here. Two socks.

Fun fact, it’s not even full winter yet.

This has all been perhaps a grave mistake.

I burn 3-7 candles at all times in my house. George says I “have a problem.” I say, “I AM TRYING TO CREATE SOME COZY SO I DON’T DROWN MYSELF IN A MOTHERFUCKING CANAL.” I say this with my brain not my mouth because saying that word to your kid even as apt modifier is frowned upon.

The Dutch word here is “gezellig.” It means “cozy” but more than cozy. It’s like comfortable, lived in, warm, general togetherness, friendly. For example, when a Dutch neighbor came over and I did the standard apology for kid shit all over the floor, she said, “No, I like it. It’s gezellig. It means children live here and are comfortable to play here.”

And then I cried and cradled her in my arms for a good ten minutes. I didn’t. The Dutch would hate that. Niet gezellig to force affection on acquaintances.

I got a heated blanket because I’m elderly and also I take a lot of baths in our giant tub. God gave us a long, deep, massive (that’s what she said) tub because he knows I used to think closed-toed shoes meant “winter.” And this is definitely how god works, an act of divine providence as opposed to just, like, luck, since this is the only house that would rent to us.

I’m really into the really good tea from the tea shop in the center of town. I also like the way I bundle up to go outside then SWEAT CONSTANTLY once I get inside where I’m going because gezellig and boilers.

Did I mention it’s going to get colder and rain like this and be gray and get dark at noon even though the sun rises at 10am for the next four months?

No need to look at the weather app. IT’S ALL GRAY ALL DAY ASSHOLES.

It hails occasionally. That’s fun. But no snow. Snow is too pleasant. Too bright. Whoever said white is the absence of color has clearly never lived through a Dutch winter. Sea of Gray, a love song. If it snowed, maybe the moon that peaks out the clouds for 3 minutes every tenth night would reflect off it, almost giving the impression of light. And we don’t do “light” in Dutch winter.

Okay fine. I’m exaggerating. The sun comes out for at least ten minutes over the course of a week.

Meanwhile, Dutch families ride their bikes in this shit, all day, shaming with their toughness and stoic “what’s your problem” attitudes. Some of them even smile. They aren’t like positive about it, they just don’t seem to care. I feel personally attacked. They cart 2-3 kids on those bikes, in the fucking rain, with or without ponchos or gloves.

They’ve obviously given up on life.

Or embraced it. Your call.

Yes, I am aware that It is nowhere near as cold here as Chicago or Minnesota or Canada or wherever else people put kids in snowsuits and have tears freeze to their cheeks. My friend Antonia said that happened to her here, so that’s a nice thought.

But, where I lived in California we had two seasons: Hot as Fuck and Orgasm-Level Perfect.

Mixed in there between December and January would be a week or two of “Guess I shouldn’t wear Birkenstocks today” AKA “Where’s my coat?” AKA “Do I own a coat?” AKA “WHY CAN NONE OF US DRIVE IN THE FUCKING RAIN?”.

One thing I have learned about “actual winter,” though, is that one always complains about actual winter. Every year. Just like I complained about the one-hundredth 90+ degree day in a row, people with winters complain about winters. Unless you’re Dutch, in which case you get all gezellig and shit, throw some flowers in your bike basket and say things like “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”

I FUCKING DISAGREE DUDE BUT SURE LET’S DO IT YOUR WAY (sorry for yelling please don’t kick me out).

In conclusion, apparently Mac wears scarves now.



Hey friends I’m running three writing workshops in the beginning of 2020.

Check them out.

FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR, for the writer ready to write her story (January)

RENEGADE WRITERS’ GROUP, for the writer ready to get lots of actual words written (January)

WRITE ANYWAY, where we gain a new relationship to our fears of writing (March)

A FOCUS ON CRAFT, um, where we work on becoming better writers (only more fun than that I swear) (April)

I found this a year after I named my workshop “write anyway,” which basically means I am Junot Diaz.


31 Comments | Posted in I guess we're moving to the Netherlands | November 14, 2019

All fucked up and nowhere to go (except this excellent country)

by Janelle Hanchett

Hi. I haven’t written in a while because I’m all fucked up in my head.

I’m not unhappy. At least I don’t think I am. Depends on when you ask. 4am is sketchy as hell. That’s when I enjoy a little this was the biggest mistake of my life but it doesn’t matter anyway because life is a death march through pain.

Of course, I’ve been enjoying those mental exercises at 4am for the past 25 years, so, maybe irrelevant.


I have no idea which way is up or down and the other day I stood in front of a door that I thought was the entrance to a shop and when it wouldn’t open, I just walked away. I couldn’t handle looking for the actual entrance. I almost called Mac to help me. TO HELP ME.


I miss Ava so much I could puke. Some dude ran into me in my car and he was in a Vespa. It’s a long story but I’m pretty sure it was my fault. All of us were okay. A vaguely drunk Dutch woman from across the street saw it happen and came out and stroked my arm a lot. Now I’m afraid to drive.

Did you know the word in English for sparkling water is different in every goddamn country? Water with gas, sparkling water, club soda. Why do I know this? Because I’m an alcoholic and order a lot of club sparkling bubbly water with gas.

The fun part is that every time you go somewhere new and say it wrong, they look at you like you’re a fucking native English speaker how do you not know what this is called?


Do I sound like I’ve lost it? I have. I have. Okay? I have. 

I miss forests. I like the idea of going to Germany for those. I miss the Pacific ocean. I love being not in a country where Donald Trump is President. I miss knowing where all the good shit is.  IT SURE IS COOL MY KIDS AREN’T GONNA GET SHOT IN SCHOOL.

I miss my best friend. There’s no flip side to that.

I just miss her. And my parents. And Ava. Did I mention that?


“Are you happy there?” That’s what everyone asks me. 

At 3pm, when I walk down our road of brick houses, each one with a little striped awning, to pick up my kids from the bus stop, and as soon as they get off they ask if we can get an ice cream or go to the outdoor market across the street (if it’s a Thursday) to get Turkish bread and cashew hummus, and cookies from the Lithuanian grandma, I’m “happy.”

When my family rides along on our bikes and I see Arlo sitting on Rocket’s bike and I hear his little voice chattering away at his big brother – one sentence jamming into the next, hands flailing in animation – and Rocket responding occasionally, sometimes pretending he’s about to fall to make Arlo roar in laughter, until we pull into the big square under the big old church in the cobblestone center of town, I’m definitely “happy.”

When I get off the train in Amsterdam, when I shake my head in wonder at where I live, when I type “Bruges, Belgium” into Airbnb for a weekend trip, when I hear my daughter say “There are no lockdowns here,” when my kids tell me they stood on desks to build block towers to the ceiling at school, when I watch them play every afternoon because there’s no homework until you’re 12, when I realize I’ve lived here three months and have not yet seen a homeless person – well, fuck.

When I see Mac come home on a Wednesday at 1pm so he can take Arlo to play football in the park.

When I see him making lunches in the morning.

When I see him not commuting four hours a day.

When I see three Dutch kids somehow attached to a bike ridden by a Dad at 2pm on a Tuesday (because dads take time off to be with their kids here (“Papadag!”).

Well fuck. I love it here.


It isn’t a matter of happiness, though, is it? Happiness is bullshit. We chase it like hungry animals, some fleeting thing always just around the bend. We all know this. It’s a cliché at this point.

What do we get, really, when shit is good? Contentment? Serenity? Freedom? Peace?

Do I have that?

Yes, which is partly why I’m fucked up. Because I have so much more of it here, it’s disturbing.

How can you simply rejoice in the realization that your kids are safer in this country than your own?

How can you just delight in the fact that your husband has been returned to a freedom over his life because the Dutch understand work-life balance and health insurance is affordable?

How do you purely celebrate that when just beneath it is the reality that a return to America is probably an end to it again. How do you feel the loosening of some knot in your guts because this new country allows children to be children and expects you to do the same, and you realize how much impossibility you held in yourself, how much impossibility was yours to somehow achieve as mother. The craziest thing is I didn’t even realize it was there until it was gone.

the homework the reading “norms” the “safety of children” the forms the healthy food the endless march to get to the top of a dying middle class the eye toward retirement for freedom

I almost cried when George came home and told me they made apple pie in school and got candy for a kid’s birthday. It was just the type of thing that would appall and “deeply concern” so many mothers in my old town. Sugar! At school! Standing on desks! Candy!

It’s just, like, not that big of a deal here. Nobody cares. No wonder Dutch kids are the happiest in the world. And it isn’t that there are no rules. That doesn’t make kids happy.

My kids’ school is incredibly strict about sugar in lunches. As in, it’s not allowed at all. So, you know, they’re like reasonable.

Moderation. Weird.


There’s no need to complicate this. I’m disrupted. That’s all this is. I’m finding my way in a new reality.

I have to admit though I absolutely didn’t know what it would feel like to have my world contract to a tiny square.

I lived in northern California my whole life. My parents lived there. My grandparents too. My great-grandparents arrived there after making their way out of the Philippines and the East Coast and Southern United States. So, while my body resided in a single town outside of Sacramento, familiar land stretched beneath my feet all the way to the middle of California, to the Nevada border, to Humboldt County on the way to Oregon. To the sun dropping into the Pacific Ocean.

It isn’t about knowing all the mountains and trees and lakes and roads. California’s too big for that. It’s about knowing a place from as far back as you can remember. It’s about imagining the boundaries of your home, the dirt you love, places you know in your bones from memory and history. Living your whole life in the same place feels like circles expanding so far beyond yourself, one after another, boundaries of familiarity wherever you go.

And in your mind, you can see it, how far your friends and family and feet stretch around you. It seems to hold you there in the center with old, massive hands.

It feels like safety.

Apparently it’s no small thing to let it all go.

I knew I wouldn’t get out of this without some sort of reckoning. Nothing comes for free. Nothing is that simple.

There’s so much left behind.


My brother left for ten years for college and medical school. But I, I don’t leave. And if I leave, I certainly don’t get somewhere new and find a mirror to the insanity of my former life. I certainly don’t feel the relief of a saner, more humane and pragmatic society next to the reality that it isn’t mine.

How much new can the heart and brain hold? Where the fuck am I?

One foot at home, aching. Aching. FUCKING ACHING.

One foot here.

I didn’t come here seeking happiness. I came here seeking a life more aligned with freedom of profession and time, with family, with choice, with something beyond endless work for survival then hopefully a retirement and something more than a big house to celebrate on my deathbed. I came here for a fuller life right now, a slowing down, a different kind of safety circling us.

The fact that I found it is somehow excruciating.

Haarlem Central

Haarlem from the other side of the central church AKA We Live on a Movie Set

stepping out of the train station in Amsterdam I see this and it’s never not startling. not sure why. BECAUSE IT’S THE TRAIN STATION IN AMSTERDAM AND I LIVE HERE SOMEHOW

Dam Square in Amsterdam, of course

the ice cream shop in question

the Haarlem central square where we hang out a lot

“futbal” is a thing we do now and by “we” i mean everyone else but me

Hi. I have three writing workshops starting next year.


We’ve got WRITE ANYWAY, for the writer sick of her own mental shit (fear, mostly). And the RENEGADE WRITERS’ GROUP, for the writer ready to get a first draft done. And finally, FROM MEMORY TO MEMOIR, which will bring you from memories of your life to actual story, or help you shape and enhance a memoir draft you’re wondering what to do with. Email me questions or to set up installment plans (which I offer for all of these).

Oh and my book didn’t write itself. And you can totally still buy it!

(Please do. I owe people money.)

44 Comments | Posted in I guess we're moving to the Netherlands | September 30, 2019

This was all super dreamy in my head.

by Janelle Hanchett

Hello. Hi. It’s been a while.

I’m not sure where to start. Mac and I went to Paris and Amsterdam for ten days. We spent very little time in Paris, mostly stopping by to visit Mac’s younger sister and her husband, or, their new baby, who is our new nephew, and the most perfect baby ever to baby. Not that we like him.

Anyway, around midnight the night before we left for Europe, just as I was about to turn off my light, I felt a sudden, strange anxiety, like a freight train roaring toward me. As it got closer my fear grew, until it became something along the lines of abject terror.

It was super fucking weird. I felt dizzy and wide awake, my heart pounding. I sat up in bed and sort of stared at the wall, feeling like I was going to die if this continued, and yet I couldn’t stop it. I realize this sounds dramatic, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I truly felt like I was going to be annihilated. I guess this was a panic attack?

“I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go.” That’s how I woke up Mac. He sort of blinked at me, settling in for the long haul.

Suddenly it all felt wrong, insane. The whole decision to move the Netherlands, even though we made it over years of contemplation, suddenly felt like a pipe dream invented in an immature, escapist haze, a fantasy that sounded fabulous as a dream, and only as a dream.

But suddenly the motherfucker materialized in front of me as a living, breathing thing that is my life now, and yet I can’t see it yet. A life I don’t know at all, that doesn’t feel welcoming or safe, but cold and unreasonable. A mistake. A fuck-up.


I thought about Mac quitting his job and the notice I gave to give up my office. I thought about the home we sold – WE SOLD OUR FUCKING HOUSE – and then I fucking bawled.

I cried for the porch, the big couch, the scratched, pen-marked kitchen table. I cried for every goodnight and good morning there, every step of my baby’s feet on the wood floors, every Christmas morning and Easter basket joy and every moment I crawled into bed at the end of a long day, feeling the questionably clean sheets. That feeling. I know you know it.

I thought I’d die to go back to that house, to the walls we know, to our babies running around.

“What have we done?”

When I thought about it more, I realized I’m not actually mourning the house. Sure, it’s a great house, and yes, I somehow hate the people we sold it to (rational!), but it is, in fact, just a house. What I’m really grieving is the time we spent there. The day we unlocked the door for the first time and I took a picture of Mac smiling with the key in the lock and I was pregnant with our fourth child. George was three and Rocket was eight and Ava was twelve.

It was a time when our family was still expanding, when our babies were little and when Arlo was born into Mac’s arms, right there in the living room, the whole place became filled up with us, just right. The kids and I spent that first summer going to the library and holding our new baby and I nursed him on the rocking chair by the big window, almost all day and all night, because he had a lip tie and it was fucking awful and also, I didn’t mind so much. I liked sitting there in our house. It was an excuse to sit there and watch him, watch our other kids run around. It was an excuse to not do shit other than nurse my last baby.

He grew fat. We all grew fat with each other and love.

It was a time before we had two teenagers, and all the changes that go with that. It was a time before our oldest was gone most of the time: Job, boyfriend, car. The focus just shifts. It’s all as it should be. But those years won’t come back.

My friend told me I needed to kiss the walls of the home and thank it, and I did that. Alone one day, I walked through every empty room and felt us there. Before I left I said thank you. I suppose we have to do that to the years as well.


We returned home on May 8, to gather our kids and close out our lives here. Ava went to prom. She’s staying here for her senior year, and then joining us in Europe for a gap year. This, I cannot even discuss. This, I cannot even address with all of you. It’s too complex. There are too many hours of discussion and too many reasons. No, we couldn’t wait another year, and it would be a 2k word blog post to explain the thinking behind her staying. In short, it had to do with age and immigration laws and high schools over there and what she wanted and a whole lot more.

But you see? The sale of that house felt like the sale of our family as we know it.

I know kids do senior years abroad. I know she’ll be 18 in six months. But I am going to miss her daily life. And that, that was what caused the freight train. The idea that my baby will be away from me her last year of high school, and even though she’ll be with my mother and return to us over Christmas and spring break and we’ll come back for a month for her graduation, how can I leave her?

If she doesn’t like it, if it doesn’t work, she can join us. She knows this. I know this. We all know this. And yet. FUCK.

Every now and then, in Europe and here, a strange loneliness settles into my bones. It cuts through me like a sheet of ice. It doesn’t matter how many new friends we’ll make. It doesn’t matter how insane America is right now. The fact is that this place, this northern end of California, the people we’ve known here for twenty years or our whole lives, will no longer see me as part of them. I am stepping away. I am leaving. I am disconnecting.

Where are we going?

I suppose this is the price we pay for the rest of it, for the feeling of adventure and newness, for the relief I felt sitting on a train traveling through countries that believe climate change is real, that don’t have an authoritarian for President, that don’t have a rising, empowered fringe right-wing that’s achieving their desired full control over women’s bodies.

I suppose that loneliness is the price for a chance at a new life, for a chance to see if it’s better over there, more sane, more free.

We booked the tickets. July 6. Ava is coming too, and we’ll spend the summer together and then she’ll return in late August. We visited Arlo and George’s school, a special school for immigrant kids to learn Dutch before entering public school. It was so humane and generous, Mac and I cried. We visited the town we’ll be living in. We walked canals and stood next to churches from the 14th century.

How beautiful to be surrounded by so much history. How lonely to leave your own.


I don’t know how it will all turn out. I can only feel all of this fully, and cry when it comes, and look to tomorrow for whatever it holds.

This feeling? What is it? Displacement?

I wanted disruption, I guess, a shaking up of a life that felt dead. An injection of something, anything, that felt like movement, life, growth.

Well fuck me we’re covered there.

I want to make this more romantic, more dreamy, but there’s always a fall from grace and right now, friends, I’m simply afraid. I knew it was coming.

And I know fear is a shitty life guide. It can take my mind, but it can’t stop my feet.


And fuck it, I’ve got my best friend.



Hey! My paperback is out!

Here’s an excerpt from the interview in the back:

“The idea that the act of reproducing somehow fundamentally alters who we are as individuals is more of the vapid sanctimony surrounding motherhood. It’s more erasure, really, the idea that a woman is distilled into goodness merely because she had a baby. No part of me was erased when I had a child: not the good or the bad. My life obviously changed, and motherhood has the capacity to teach and enhance our selves just like any other life activity, but we do a number on women when we argue that motherhood will or even should recast them into some vastly elevated version of themselves.

Of course, this expectation is placed on us alongside the bulk of the domestic work as well as the emotional and physical labor of child-rearing. This is all still mostly our job. And as if that’s not enough, most of us are also earning money to feed our families. Oh, and in our free time, we better manage the friendships for the family, schedule the haircuts, get the kids at grade level in math, do yoga, eat clean food, organize the entryway.

When we don’t manage all this, when we snap under the obscene and unbearable “requirements” of motherhood—when we’re human—we’re blamed for our kids’ failings. Now and in the future. We “become the voices in their heads.” Rapists and murderers are the result of “bad mothering.” All day long we hear how we’re going to destroy the next generation of Americans with our yelling, our fallibility, our dissatisfaction with impossible circumstances.

We’re smothered, we’re suffocating, we crack, and we’re blamed for it. Or they throw “self care” at us. Tell us to take a eucalyptus bath.”

.   .