76/100 — Things that made me come alive this week #4

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  • meeting up with good friends to catch up over breakfast pancakes, and breakfast french toast, and Thai curry dinner

  • wandering the streets of York, taking photos and chatting

  • kitchen conversations with old flatmates

  • falling in love with a beautiful new café and being so obvious about it that I get asked, ‘Last day today?’ when I walk in with my luggage for Sunday breakfast

  • realising the size of the group of former coworkers ready to go have coffee together*

  • seeing the choir I was with for 4 years from the audience for the first time, and feeling incredibly proud of how far it’s come

  • singing Rachmaninoff by the riverside at 1.30am

  • the hugs and declarations of love you get only at 2am after several drinks

  • being out and about at 3.30am and seeing the sun come up for the first time in many, many years

  • that washed out feeling of far too little sleep

*The number of people willing to show up for me has consistently surprised me this year. My belief that I have nothing to offer to anybody goes back about 20 years, and while I’ve done a lot of work on it, seeing that work pay off now is still new and still so wonderful it’s hard to believe sometimes.

71/100 — Familiar places


On Tuesday 11th June, after a night of thunderstorms, I woke up early, had a tea and a coffee (I once started having both in the hope that one day I’d switch to just tea, but now I’m telling myself it’s good to get lots of fluids in the morning), packed my stuff, dressed much warmer than Berlin’s 25 degrees would allow, and went to the airport.

Berlin Schönefeld used to be my in-between stop when I went home from London. It felt odd to have it be the place I now leave from to go on holiday, but everything felt odd yesterday.

I arrived at 11am, and because my Airbnb wouldn’t check me in before 4pm, I had some time to kill. From King’s Cross station I walked past tourists to the Wellcome Gallery, one of my safe havens in this city. After I saw some live magic in their current exhibition and had wandered through the bookshop, I took the tube back to my old area, had coffee at my former favourite café, and checked into my Airbnb. I hadn’t made any plans, so my evening was spent wondering if I should go see a movie, deciding not to, and spending some money on books instead.

And I realised: while it feels like I’ve been gone forever, I really haven’t. I settled into my old routines like nothing, walked into the old shops like nothing, no emotions attached to any building, place, street or shop other than the ‘ugh’ that had become the undertone for most of my days before I left. 

I will spend the next few days seeking out people and places I know I love, and have the best time I can have. But I didn’t miss London. I still don’t, and that’s a powerful confirmation to have after several months of hard work in Berlin. I’m on the right path, and the next few days will be a welcome break from that.

70/100 — Things that made me come alive this week #3

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  • going to a gallery bookshop and seeing a book I’ve worked on among the others

  • spending time with family, celebrating a few birthdays with food and board games

  • petting the cutest pair of cats, one with each hand at the same time

  • running along a river instead of round in circles. The weather was beautiful and in an hour of running (and getting lost) I only met one other runner. It’s something to appreciate, given how crowded Berlin is

  • trying my cousin’s fancy Sennheiser headphones. The Knife is a good listen with them. (On the downside, I’ve now seen/heard what’s beyond Spotify, and I’m not sure I wanted to swallow that particular red pill.

  • watching the new season of Black Mirror, which is actually good! I’m still to watch the final episode, but the first two were so much better than anything I’ve seen of this show so far; the bleakness has decreased considerably, and instead we’ve been given actual engaging storytelling that makes me want to think rather than hide under my bed. And we’ve been blessed with a great performance by Andrew Scott in Smithereens, and the presence of Pom Klementieff in Striking Vipers. I’m carefully optimistic about the final episode.

  • knowing that I’m on holiday all week and have London to look forward to!

68/100 — Beautiful words #3

And as the sun came up I ached more to look at it. Nothing had moved but it looked different again and was permeated with feeling. We do not have a very good or specific word for the feeling of it but I suppose we tentatively call it ‘love’. A feeling can’t be mapped to a word without changing the feeling. I could exhaust the possibilities of descriptions, but to get the closest without ever actually touching is all science and words can do. Everything is beyond the touch of language. Why even bother to tell stories if language is so vacant?
— Abi Andrews, "The Word for Woman is Wilderness" (2018)

67/100 — But at least it's Friday

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It’s 9pm and I’m hungry, so I’m eating bread even though I really shouldn’t be eating carbs that much, but bread is the best thing when you simply need to feed yourself and ham is not an option. I’ve just come home after leaving the house at 7am this morning to go view the most beautiful and perfect flat I’ve ever seen, and I wonder if I should change my attitude, because what if the universe can tell that I don’t believe I’ll get any of those flats I apply for, and I end up manifesting not getting them?

Then I went to work where I had to try and teach the new coworker, who is already overwhelmed. And then I’m overwhelmed because I’ve only just started myself, and teaching someone when you yourself barely have an idea what you’re doing is a terrifying thing. I don’t know how parents do it every day. But we had lunch and a chance to have a chat, and in the end I don’t feel too terrible about it all, because my new coworker has a spouse to go home and talk to about how hard work is. During my first months, all I had was migraines, and for the first four weeks I slept with my left hand propped up on its own pillow each night, because on the morning of my first day of work I managed a kitchen accident with a very sharp knife, and then went to work instead of the doctor.

Today’s afternoon was spent on the phone, trying to put out a work fire. It drained me of all I had, and then we still went to another work-related event, where a famous person told me they loved the book I’d made of their work. I’ll try and take that with me from today; hold onto this, and leave the rest in the week behind.

And what’s ahead? 3 days with family. Then London.

And better temperatures.

65/100 — It's still too hot

Do you know that feeling of inspiration and drive that you get when you see people doing cool things? Like, you see someone make great art or write amazing words or look incredible in every outfit they wear, and it makes you think you can do things. You’re inspired, you’re ready, and if you get home you’ll get out your paints and your notebook and knitting equipment and you’ll KonMari your wardrobe to leave only the clothes that make you feel radiant. And then you get home and you’ve been wearing ill-fitting shoes all day and you’re hungry and your brain is a fried egg because it’s just too damn hot and then you’ll probably end up watching Netflix all night while the entire rest of the world is out doing something fabulous.

Or is it just me?

62/100 — Things that made me come alive this week #2

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  • the final sprint after a crushing interval workout

  • all of Austin Kleon’s books (at last!) arriving right before the weekend

  • my very first Brammibal’s donut (I had the Salted Caramel Hazelnut and it was the only doughnut I’ve ever had that didn’t make me feel a little ill after eating it)

  • I haven’t been on Youtube so I realised only a few days in that Layers of Fear 2 is out and my favourite Let’s Players are playing it. I yelled. It’s also set on a ship, and you know how I feel about horror on ships

  • running in the park so early I get a glimpse of the Mandarin ducks still sleeping by the water

  • finally watching the live musical episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and getting just an idea of what it must be like to experience Donna Lynne Champlin singing live

I hope you had a good week! What made you come alive these past days?

61/100 — The track

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I live close to the running track. It’s open to the public at (from what I can tell) all hours. Local schools use it for their sports days, and do their PE Abitur (A-level) exams here.
I never thought I’d enjoy running circles on a track, but it took only a few tries before I realised that not only is it very comfortable to run on – it’s also a kind of a social experience.
On weekdays, when I have to train early, it sometimes happens that I’m the only person on the track. But after 8am on any given day, it’s busy. All kinds of runners from the area come here, and even though nobody really talks to each other, the track makes a little community of us.
Runners of all shapes and abilities come here. I see beginners in full tracksuits, and earlier this year even a woman jogging in a knee-length down coat, shuffling along. Some others (men) are in full gear with sunglasses, hats and shorts, striding confidently, arms pumping, their feet flying higher behind them than seems fair. Some run in pairs. Some run along the fence outside the track in the opposite direction, and some even do the whole loop around the margins that includes the football field. A few days ago I did a speed workout, zooming past a woman with nordic walking sticks, weaving between people on standard easy runs and an adorable father-daughter duo stretching in between loops, and a guy putting us all to shame by lugging a 10kg weight bag around the track on his shoulders.
I like how this free track brings all of us together, each of us putting one foot in front of the other, each running our own race at our own speed.

60/100 — Hello, I'm a digital minimalist now*

Friends, it’s been a month since I decided to give digital minimalism a go. For the past 30 days, I put my phone down at 9pm every night**, I watched no more than one Youtube video a day (often not even that), I severely limited my time on Facebook and Twitter, and I am proud to say that apart from one day where I really needed to find something, I have not used Pinterest or Instagram.

I’m a better person now, right? I’ve spent an entire month doing the ‘hard but fulfilling work of cultivating a meaningful life’, right?! All my shit is now sorted, right?!


Here’s what went well:

  • I have broken out of my Youtube addiction, and I’m so grateful for it. The hours I’ve gained that I used to spend watching dog videos or people giving productivity tips I already knew about: I have them back now. All the hours. (I will come back to those hours.)

  • I sleep better. My anxiety has gone down a little and I haven’t had a migraine in a month. My ‘twitching’ for apps or websites has gone down considerably, and I’m more focused in general.

  • I’ve developed a better understanding for what’s worth my time and attention. It’s a weak ‘muscle’ yet and will need training, but over the past month I have unfollowed one or two people who make good content but whose (online) personalities just don’t vibe with mine – and it turned out that’s okay. So far, I haven’t felt like I’m missing anything.

So here’s what went less well:

  • Youtube is a horrible rabbit hole and its siren call is a strong one. There was one day on which I broke the one-video rule to watch a Let’s Play. Three hours later I re-emerged, half my afternoon gone.

  • The hours I saved with Youtube, I spent on streaming services. I’ve watched a stupid amount TV shows in May, and while they were all great and I don’t regret any of them (especially since I was able to give them my undivided attention), some nights I found myself going to bed with an itch to write or draw something. Yet I’d spent the evening watching Game of Thrones, and if you’ve seen season 8, you can imagine which feels like a more meaningful use of one’s time.

  • I’m on public transport a lot. Sometimes it’s only 10-15 minutes, or it’s crowded and a book just isn’t practical. And sometimes, during those minutes, my brain just yearns for something useful to do. Not that going on Twitter is useful, but it was all I had on my severely dumbed-down phone. (Browser-based, of course. The app has been gone for months. It makes exactly no difference.) Those felt like empty minutes, and I filled them with empty things.

  • I’m still barely any closer to what feels to me like a ‘meaningful life’. Part of that is down to the hours and hours I spent on flat hunting this past month. I’m forever on the go and on bumpy buses and running around Berlin. Maybe that’s setting up that meaningful life, sure. But I’m still not writing as much as I want to. I’m still not doing any of the online courses on my Skillshare list, and I’m barely drawing or making anything else.

What I found missing was that feeling of access to a creative community that I get from Instagram and Pinterest. Nearly all my exposure to art at the moment is work-related, and it’s not the kind of art I feel comfortable with. My offline life in its current state lacks other creators in it, so cutting myself off from that online community for a month pretty quickly felt like a stupid idea.

But I also noticed another thing: even when I do have that access, I don’t really feel a sense of belonging. Those creative online communities, I’m not necessarily a member of them. I feel like an outsider, watching. With this constant exposure to ‘inspiration’, how easy is it to just keep watching and never do anything? Living the life I want to lead vicariously through strangers’ Instagram accounts and vlogs? Not having that exposure (and distraction) made me realise how much work I still have to do, actually do, in order to build something for myself.

So what’s next?

  • Two rules are staying: the ‘1 video per day’ rule and the ‘no screens between 9pm and 7am’ rule. They make me a healthier person and I recommend them to anybody.

  • Creative inspiration and community are important to me. I have two Instagram accounts that I will consolidate into one, because I don’t have the time or energy for two. I’ll also reduce my follow list to no more than 100 accounts, because nobody can keep up with this many things.

  • Build something for myself, and be intentional about it.
    In Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport suggests something he calls ‘Seasonal Leisure Plans’. It made me feel sick when I first heard it and it still does, but apparently I too need to fight my lizard brain with all I’ve got, even if it’s marrying the concept of ‘leisure’ with the concepts of productivity and scheduling. (I shudder just typing that out.)
    The idea is pretty simple: schedule your activities. Create a quarterly objective (or whatever works) that supports the habit you want to keep up, then come up with a strategy to make it happen, and add an incentive to make you keep at it. For example, say I want to write a short story by 31st August. I will have to keep up the habit of writing daily, figure out when and how to do that, and by 31st August I’m handing it in for a competition, and I will get the satisfaction of having achieved one of my 2019 goals and take myself out for dinner.
    (I’m still working on this concept. But something like that.)

All in all, I’ve still got a long way to go. But maybe this time I’m actually on the right path to something like intentional living and responsible use of technology. It’s a process, and if it hasn’t healed me, this past month has at least helped me get a better idea of the direction I need to go.