30 Nov 2023

We don’t really record the number of times someone stubs their toe in a single lifetime. You would obviously also not be able to tell how many times toes have been stubbed in general between the bronze age and now – historically speaking. There are, unsurprisingly, no proper statistics. I know because I actually googled it.

There are approximations about how many people have ever lived – however the hell that has been calculated, honestly. You can even approximate how many litres of blood a heart pumps in a lifetime or how many hours my generation will have spent on electronic devices once we’ve turned eighty and have cancer from said electronic devices. But the toe thing? Severely lacking in data.

Life is filled with annoyances like stubbing your toe. There are probably twenty different things on any given day that are at least somewhat annoying. Coffee machines being out of milk. A sock slowly gliding off your foot while walking. The stupid towel machines on university toilets snatching back the towel you’re drying your hands with exactly fifteen seconds before your hands are dry. Stepping on Lego.

A friend of mine recently graduated with an honour’s thesis on a history-from-below of colour. A lot of the classic history of colour is about colour symbolism. Instead, my friend’s idea was that, maybe, two thousand years ago, people didn’t walk through their city, looking at its colours and thinking about symbolism. Maybe they were just hungover, passing by colourful statues. Maybe they had something else on their mind.

‘It’s exhausting being an international in the Netherlands right now’

I like the idea of that. Maybe all of this, all of history, was just the backdrop to their personal annoyances. And maybe what’s happening right now is just the backdrop to my own. And we might need life’s small annoyances to not get lost in the bigger picture of a history ultimately out of our control. Maybe it takes stubbing your toe to not lose it these days.

It’s exhausting being an international in the Netherlands right now. It has been exhausting for quite some time. I’ve written and talked about these debates regarding my existence as a private person living in a country that I consider my home a lot over the past year. A lot. I’ve spent more than a quarter of my life in the Netherlands and, quite frankly, the election results are disheartening.

But what can you do? You have to take this one step at a time – like most disheartening things in life. You have to stub your toe, walk into the rain puddle, miss the trash bin when throwing something, mess up, and be messed with. You have to get through the little annoyances, one after the other, persevere, and build a habit of casual resilience.

Life cannot be tackled by heading right for the final boss. The big issues. It’s a lot of wading through quests of annoyance and a lot of toe stubbing. And sometimes, the small annoyances are precisely what keeps you sane. Because they are manageable. You cannot change the results of an election. And you cannot change the past. But you can take it one annoyance at a time, learning to live with history breathing down your neck.

Read Antonia Leise's blogs here

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