Hello September

Hello, little blog. You’re looking a bit dusty.

I’ve been gone for a while, but for good reason: I’ve been busy moving house. The picture above is of my curtains. They’re a light green, and I chose them.

The past two months feel like they happened in a different dimension, away from the linear ‘plot’ that has been my 2019 so far. Soon after I’d finally found a flat in the south of Berlin, my body decided it was time to sit down, and one day I woke up with excruciating neck and shoulder pain. I get this sometimes when I’m very stressed. Usually it takes a few days to clear up, but this time I was at home, unable to sit up or lie down, for almost two weeks.

A move followed; with help from family, during a heat wave, with continuing pains in my neck and shoulders, I painted two and a half rooms, cleared out the old stuff, carried what remained, and spent countless hours on interior decorating websites and shops. Yesterday my chairs arrived, so I can write this sitting up with a happy spine. I’m still waiting for the sofa I ordered a month ago.

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Waking up this 1st September felt a little like waking up from a daze. Like most people, I’ve never lost that ‘back to school’ mindset, so I try to start September with an awareness of where I am and what the rest of the year might look like.

The last few months I have not been taking care of myself. I’ve had the minimum of rest that allowed me to go to work and build a new household at the same time. I haven’t been eating well, I haven’t exercised much. Meditation has been an item on a to do-list that I ticked off, but I haven’t been putting any effort into it. I read and write a lot less, and altogether, I haven’t been feeling like myself much. A shell that vaguely looks like me has been going to work and buying the cheapest white paint, but it doesn’t feel like me.

Today I went outside before it got too hot to get cash and buy some bread. Then I just kept walking.

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One of the things I really like about Berlin is how you never know what you’ll find next. You might be walking down a bustling, graffiti-covered street, the sidewalk lined left and right with chairs and tables from the local restaurants, passing cars competing for the loudest hip hop beats. Then you turn a corner, and all of a sudden you will find yourself in an almost serene quiet – wind gently whispering through the treetops, the sound of traffic a distant echo.

I’ve always had a ‘talent’ for living right around the corner from areas I could never afford. This morning’s walk reminded me how much I used to love walking through those areas, with their pretty architecture and abundant greenery. I’d walk for hours, just to think and daydream.

I haven’t daydreamed in ages.

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What I have been doing a lot of is watching Korean TV shows on Netflix. The two I’ve gotten sucked into are ‘Hello, My Twenties’ (Age of Youth), a coming-of-age tale about 5 girls in a student flat share, and ‘Something in the Rain’, a love story.

There is something about those two shows that I find soothing, much in the same way I enjoy those faceless daily vlogs that have become so popular on Youtube. So much care seems to go into these videos, and these shows as well. Their settings are both familiar and far removed enough from mine to feel comforting, and just lovely to look at. Everything is impossibly clean and everybody is impossibly well dressed.

But most of all, everybody is living their own story. While certain issues, like poverty or sexism, are addressed, others like racism, sexual orientation or environmental crises (really, any politics) are almost completely absent. Neither of these shows has tried to teach me anything; whatever ‘tough’ issues are addressed are dealt with so subtly this Western viewer could almost blink and miss them.

There’s a scene in season 2 of ‘Hello, My Twenties’ in which Ye-Eun, one of the girls in the house, says to her flatmate, ‘What do you think I’m asking you about? The North Korean nuclear missiles? Global warming? How was your date?’ When I watch these shows, I get to be excited about two people holding hands. I don’t have to think about society, or the planet, or today’s elections in some parts of Germany where a far-right party is expected to achieve record results. The most taxing thing I have to do is read subtitles. When I come back from a very long day of work and worries, I don’t want to watch ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (and never will). I want to watch two people having dinner together in a world where nothing threatens them. We call this ‘self-care’, I think.

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I hope you’ve had a nice summer. Personally, I look forward to autumn now.

The 6-month check-in

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Oh hello dear blog, I missed you.

After coming back from London, I … dropped the 100 Day Project. I’ve been trying to feel bad about it, but according to Gretchen Rubin, I’m a Questioner, which means that if I’m not convinced of the usefulness of a thing, I don’t do it. So after churning out 60-odd blog posts that were getting worse and worse rather than better, my subconscious seems to have quietly made the decision that we can’t be arsed. The purpose of the project was to figure out a lifestyle and schedule that would allow me to write daily, and that … didn’t happen.

Anyway, the year 2019 is half over! How is your 2019 mission going?

This was today’s "‘Thinking about the past, present and future’ setup.

This was today’s "‘Thinking about the past, present and future’ setup.

I don’t usually do 6-month check-ins, but since my goals for this year were kind of a big deal, I thought I’d sit down and think about how things have been going with my 3 main goals for the year:

* GOAL 1: move somewhere where I picked the curtains

2019 for me started out in a North London flat share with (lovely) strangers, in a tiny room with quite frankly hideous curtains. 2019 currently sees me sharing a Berlin flat with my cousin (who is also lovely) in an even tinier room, viewing between 2 and 5 flats a week and learning all the little tricks and details you need to be aware of in order to get a place in this city. I don’t have my own curtains yet, but I like my cousin’s, and we get on well. And I’m looking. It’s basically all I’m doing. I would like a life, thank you, but not as much as I would like my own place first.

Status: well in progress

* GOAL 2: run a half-marathon without stopping

It seems that the wording of this goal is badly chosen. Because yes, I would feel proud if I achieved this exact goal, but personal pride was never much of a motivator for me and, well, see the Questioner thing above.

When I ran my first half-marathon two years ago, I had trained properly. It was my first, it was a hilly one and I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. So I trained hard, and I made it. After those 6 months of training I looked great, felt great (so capable and ready), and most of all, I didn’t actually care about how I looked, because I felt so great. That’s been my motivator for this goal. It’s not about a finishing time. It’s about fitness, and body image, and wellbeing.

Here’s where I am: We’ve been going through a heat wave, and along with my irregular hours due to flat viewings, my training isn’t where I’d like it to be. I weigh more than I ever did before, and most of my old clothes don’t fit.

I don’t think I actually look bad, but I can’t tell if this current situation is down to my body being itself, or if it’s down to not moving properly and eating badly for the past 6+ months. So what I want to do is to eat better, move regularly, and to be free of pain. That means regular running, regular yoga, and of course decent food. That’s the kind of lifestyle I need to support my half-marathon goal, but the lifestyle is the goal, with the half-marathon being the incentive to reach it.

So maybe a little adjustment is in order, to add something that’s always been implied, but never been said out loud: to get in good enough physical shape to run a half-marathon without stopping.

(I’ve picked the event, by the way. Maybe I should finally sign up for it and get moving.)

Status: in progress, needs adjustments

* GOAL 3: submit my writing to at least one publication and at least one competition

Oof, this one. This one upsets me; because in order to submit writing, one would have to produce writing. More than I’ve done over the past few months, at least.

I’ve been treating my flat-lessness as THE obstacle to the life I want, which makes it super convenient not to write, or do much of anything really. Because “I’m always tired” and I always have flat viewings, I’ve allowed my laziness to take over and not do anything besides work and flat viewings which, yes, are draining, but not so draining I can’t leave the house occasionally or do something besides watch Netflix. Because what’s happening is that after months of this, I can feel an undercurrent of restlessness in my daily life; a ball of creative energy that has no outlet. If you’ve ever taken a plate out of a microwave, realised it’s too hot to hold for long, and gone through the anguish of being unable to decide whether to put it down before you drop it or try and push through till you reach the plate’s destination – that’s how I’ve been feeling every day.

Status: needs major adjustments


So what else has happened in 2019 so far?

  • I left London and moved to Berlin!

  • started a new, very demanding job and I have not yet collapsed under the pressure (it’s also still kind of fun)

  • went on my first date with a German person in … 15 years

  • started going to life drawing classes, which is great fun

  • met my step-nephew (?) who is as cool as you can expect a baby to be I guess (which is very). I’m very grateful I get to see my family more now

  • organised a book club

  • learned to make a great vegan cheesecake

  • went back to visit London, and finally visited York

  • did a 1-month digital detox

  • met a whole bunch of nice people in Berlin


And what’s next?

  • finding my dream flat

  • getting ready for that half-marathon

  • daily meditation

  • scheduled writing days

  • taking day trips again, and

  • more art.

78/100 — In defense of not documenting everything

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When I went to London last week, I was ready, iPhone in hand, to record everything: emotional revisits of old happy places, the bumpy bus rides, all the wonderful breakfasts and dinners, and my proud teary face at seeing my friends perform their summer show. This trip was going to be great, and I was going to share that greatness.

Now, a week later, I find myself with maybe 10 photos on my phone. Just like it happened earlier this year when I was trying to make Youtube videos, the urge to record just wasn’t there.

There is some underlying dislike I have for viewing my world through a screen. I remember going to see Postmodern Jukebox with friends a few years back, and the amount of time these people spent on their phones, filming or even texting, while we were all there together, annoyed me so much I still remember it as a big part of that night. I’ve also never understood people who take several pictures of the same thing; I usually take one (three at most, if I can tell the others aren’t good) and put my phone away as quickly as I can. But this past week, I didn’t even do that.

Because last week’s trip was not about aesthetics. Last week’s trip was about reminders.

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When I arrived in London a week ago, it took no longer than an hour for the old uncomfortable grimy feeling to settle on my shoulders. I’ve never really liked the place, and that discomfort came back so quickly, it was almost a little scary. Almost immediately, there was my reminder that I have done the right thing by moving away. That, even though it is a bit tough right now, because a life doesn’t build itself within a couple of months, I’m on the right track for whatever comes next.

And that I can do this, even if it often doesn’t feel like it. Last week, more than anything, was about seeing friends. Their readiness to meet up and spend time with me, their happiness at seeing me, and the hours we spent together were the reminder I needed that I can do things, that I’m capable, that I’m okay, that I can be of value to someone. That is a feeling you just can’t take pictures of, and I’ve been holding onto it for the past few days. It’s a lot more important than a particularly pretty cup of coffee.

I did have a good time; this isn’t a ‘pics or it didn’t happen’ situation. But as someone who’s also on Instagram a lot, I wonder if we’re maybe sometimes a bit too preoccupied with taking and sharing pictures of everything. When your happiest moments are at 1.30 in the morning, in the dark by some stone benches somewhere near the river, huddled in a group of happily drunk people, freezing from the drink someone spilled all over your jeans and singing a Rachmaninoff piece, the whole ‘I enjoyed this coffee with my book’ aesthetic starts to feel a bit flat. Sometimes – actually, in my opinion a lot more often – you just need to experience the moment.

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

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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

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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?