This generation. Are we developing backwards?

This generation. Are we developing backwards?

Amsterdam Part 2 of 3

Sarah: “To start off, allow me to make an observation. I think my generation has become so comfortable in its own little bubble that we’ve lost a sense of what we stand for, a sense of non-passive progressivism. There is less movement, less activism, less sense of responsibility for certain things. Less originality, less daring. We do not demonstrate for the ideals or the change that we want to see as you used to, and we do not think as progressively in a natural sense as you used to. How do you feel about that?”

Howie: “Well, yes. You have gay marriage, you have health care, abortion, and equal rights for women and men. Human beings might not always express it but you have laws. These rights were won through demonstration. So your generations struggle is of course different from the struggle of my generation. But your fear is greater. When I was young, I didn’t have the fear that the world was going to end. I didn’t have the fear that any place I go, someonbe could blow themselves up. Your generation is under a lot of stress. And people’s reaction to stress is fear. And that created this new generation. So its not that you are the way you are, its the response to your situation”.

Today, I am interviewing Howie Getman. Howie is an extraordinary man. He moved to Amsterdam in the Seventies because our city was one of the few places in the world at that time where he could feel safe. Howie had to leave his home town because he would get beaten up or arrested every other day. So he moved into a communal living space on the Korte Prinsengracht in the heart of the city on the canals, and has lived there ever since. If you ever visited the RoXy, you might have seen him. He was the ‘toilet lady’ there, and it was the best paying job he ever had, he says.

Howie is a philosopher, a romantic, a comedian, an optimist and a pessimist. I had not met Howie before our interview today, but he has that beautiful quality about him that makes you feel he knows all about you already. Its about a hundred degrees outside and he is wearing all linen and all color. And a lot of authentic jewelry.

Today, Howie is going to answer a few of my questions, that I want so urgently answered. Questions about the good old days in Amsterdam I guess. Questions about life and love and whatever we find ourselves talking about in between. When I walk into his flat, I smell nostalgia. Its about five o’clock in the afternoon, so we drink wine.

Sarah: “If you look at the city Amsterdam of your youth, how would you compare it to the one I am growing up in today?”

Howie: “That doesn’t exist anymore. I wouldn’t move here now. I moved here because I could not live where I came from, and I could in Amsterdam. Now you may not like the direction the city is changing in, I mean I don’t like the direction the city is changing in, but that doesn’t mean I would give a judgment about it being better or worse. I think that technology has made a big difference. Take mobile phones for instance. You don’t need to go out anymore and see people to meet people. I think the ‘kant-en-klaar’ in the Albert Heijn has made a difference. I think that all these scooters at seven o’clock at night has made a difference; no one is cooking at home anymore. We’re not having communal dinners. I think there’s loneliness, big loneliness there. I think that in a few years, people might feel really terrible about this sort of loneliness they’ve helped create. I don’t necassarily agree with the direction things are going in, I mean I’m glad I’m not twenty. In all honesty, I am really happy I don’t have so many years left on this planet.

Every generation has challenges, but your challenges are nothing like the ones I ever experienced. Your challenges are much more heavy. We have not yet developed consciousness to match our experience. I think we’re now at the level of ‘do or die’. I mean I got a new passport today and the expiration date said 2027 and I thought ‘I’m never going to have another passport. My passport will outlive me’.”

He laughs charmingly, and I believe what he says.

Sarah: “If we zoom in on the gay-lesbian sub-culture that Amsterdam used to exude, do you feel that has changed?”

Howie: “Of course it has. Its horrible now compared to then. But it had to be then. We needed a gay capital then, we needed gay bars, because gay people were not viable. Now, we don’t need a gay capital, we don’t need gay expression like we used to, anymore. You can be gay or straight and you can get married. I mean what’s gay about a twenty year old gay today? And that’s a really good thing.”

Sarah:“The centre of Amsterdam has sort of changed from a place where everyone lived together, and it was affordable, compared to the yup-hub it is today…”

Howie: “Yeah, you people did that. Because you wanted boutiques, you wanted bourgeois, you wanted the yup city, and that’s okay. I wanted collectives and communal living spaces and sharing resources. I wanted to share a blender with fourty people.”

Sarah: “But I want some of that back.”

Howie: “Why? There is no going back. I mean, did you come here by scooter?”

Sarah: “Oh God no, I hate scooters.”

Howie: “Good. Thats a beginning. Thats consciousness. I mean I think everyone should cycle and recycle. But if I look at the really young kids today [laughing] not you, but the ones that are in their early twenties, I think they are amazing. They have a sense of cousciousness about the environment, about love, more than I did when I was their age. And that’s how quickly it moves. They really think ‘what the fuck have we done?’. Global warming is very much a conscious experience for them. Going to the ‘glasbak’ is normal for them. People my age don’t recycle. But then again, when I was twenty, there wasn’t even a ‘glasbak’. All that RoXy crap, and the economic wealth in the nineties, it didn’t amount to any sense of preservation. But I do see that in the young generation today. If you look at the whole vegan movement, that’s this generation also. We did not have a sense of consciousness so wide-spread as the young people today. I mean, if you get me going, I can be the most horrible negative person and shit all over everything, but I don’t see that now. Now that I’ve met you, I am hopeful. I mean, capitalism is what worked before, but its not what works now.

But I’m not saying that if you don’t want to dance in the capitalism of today, that you have to. I don’t believe that you’re necessarily victimised by it completely. You can still express yourself. Yes, it does take courage and I do think that your generation is more fearful about being different – because you don’t have to be. I had to be different. I had to leave where I came from and come out. Your generation doesn’t have that. You guys have a menu card that I didn’t have. I had to create that course, that way of life. I mean, I was arrested and beaten up for being gay. You have a whole different kind of battle. If you look at the way people get information: I had to read a book. Everything today needs to be quick. Young people today have an attention span of twenty seconds. Do I think its better? I am not happy in it. It doesn’t feed me.”

Howie speaks like he understands what I am trying to get out of him during this interview, but is not willing to give it to me. I think he feels that that would get the job done too easily for me. And I adore him for it. Because you know what? Sometimes when you want to hear you’re right, its better that you don’t.

He continues to tell me about his journey through life.

Howie: “When I came back from a six month trip to India where I did volunteer work, I collapsed. I had a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t handle the energy of this place. The people moving, the scooters, the lack of eye contact, the disrespect, the ageism, the sexism here, and the beauty ethic. Believe me, I very much understand the losses you are experiencing. But there are losses that I had that you don’t have and that the generation before me had that I do not have”.

“When I was young and wanted to meet gay men, I had to go to truck stops or woods or gas station bathrooms, but you, you can just stay home and go on Tinder or Grinder. Its like shopping. Is it better or worse? I don’t know. I can give you a thousand reasons why I think its bad”.

Sarah: “So changing the energy within a certain existence, changes the outcome. And that’s what I mean maybe. Maybe you have just been able to describe what I have not been able to really put into words yet but do feel. Could you give me a few examples?”

Howie: “I think that we live in a society where we think everything is expendable. I think that today we think that we can have as much as we want and just take. There’s a lot of ego. There’s no putting yourself on the line, no risk taking. There’s no energy between bodies like there used to be. And is that horrible? For me it is. And maybe that’s what you feel; you don’t feel emotionally fed. But that doesn’t mean that those things aren’t there for you to find. Its more difficult, but it does exist. Its there”.

Everything Howie has said up to now, I can relate to. Its a beautiful thing actually, because I feel very connected to this sixty-somthing year old man despite our differences in the times we grew up in, in what we have experienced, and perhaps even in our beliefs. Or maybe because of our differences. I do not know, but I can listen to him, and he can listen to me. Which in all honesty, I find a rare thing these days of which I am grateful.

Sarah: “I think I feel much more passive than the generations before me. With all this free will, and choice, how can it be that I feel so passive, when you’ve clearly just told me all about the lack of exactly that when you were my age?”

Howie: “Because you’re sedated. Because it was the goal of your parents to provide you with such a comfortable life that there was hardly anything left for you to discover or create. Its more like your generation has something to save rather than something to explore.”

That last thing he said hits me hard, and at the same time, feels incredibly backwards. And in a way he’s right, I and the generation after me is cleaning up the mess of the ones before us. Everyone wanted wealth, but really, at what cost?

Howie: “But you know what, you have every right to be happy. So I suggest you dance with your priviledge and accept how incredibly lucky you are. That for some reason, you were born here, from a mother who raised you with consciousness and you were born beautiful. When you’re judging your world, you are doing so because you are priviledged enough to see it. And I think that’s really important to always remember”.

I am exceptionally silent because I feel exceptionally satisfied. This stranger, called Howie, living in exactly the same world as I do, but from a completely different place by every definition, has taught me something very special and powerful this evening. He taught me that everything is and nothing is. That all my preconceptions and propositions are not a burden but rather a treasure. My and your thoughts are the most powerful thing we own, and there is no sense of loss if you look at the future. Because the future is completely open to creation and recreation, anytime we decide so.

Sarah Hildering

25 & 26 July Westerpark Amsterdam