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.

22/100 — A lingering feeling of doom

I watched Life last night, the Jake Gyllenhaal movie Netflix threw at me in a pitiful attempt to distract me from the fact that Nocturnal Animals seems to have gone. (Children, re-watch the movies you like even if your watchlist is endless; because life is short and Netflix takes movies off again sometimes). In it, a crew on the ISS discovers a life form in a probe sent from Mars. They manage to animate and grow it from a single cell, rejoicing when it seems to show curiosity for a moving human finger by leaning towards it.

I mean, of course this doesn’t end well.

The movie goes as you think it will, ending the only way it can end. Afterwards, I felt drained. Life feels so damn hopeless sometimes. Given that so far, we haven’t got real evidence to the contrary, can we have a friendly alien movie for a change? Can we have a comedy set on the ISS (“How do you fall in looove – when you can’t fall?” #gravityjokes) instead of every movie I see about space travel ending in almost everybody’s death? Not even Mars looks like a fun place to go anymore!

Not to mention our own planet. There must be a great number of people who worry about the climate on a daily basis like I do, or more, and who also love podcasts about murders. I’ve tried a couple murder podcasts, and I’ve found that I do not want to be made aware of the many ways I or someone I love can become someone else’s victim. I just have enough to worry about. How do people deal with this constant sense of threat?

There are many days when life seems good, and people are nice and helpful, and somewhere in the world good things happen. But other days, like today after watching that movie last night, I carry this lingering feeling of doom with me all day.

I have no point to make today. I’m just trying to put into words how I’ve been feeling, because I used to love horror movies. But recently, the only ones I’ve been able to watch are those about ghosts in castles. Old horrors, not new ones. We have enough real new ones.

Maybe this is me getting old. But hey, I just want to watch Queer Eye in peace.

16/100 — Busy days

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I’ve been in my new job for less than two months now, and today I realised that I already can’t comprehend how I ever felt stressed in my old job. I keep thinking of that German saying, Der Mensch wächst mit seinen Aufgaben – ‘man grows with his tasks’, i.e. the way we get better through challenges; growing our boundaries by trying them.

As a former highly anxious person, I’ve long trained myself to just say ‘yes’ to things and figure out how to make it through them afterwards. Sometimes I worry if my constant smiling through the fear and repeated ‘It’ll be fine!’ are annoyingly optimistic, but they’re not exactly untrue. (So far, it always has been fine.)

That being said, over the past <2 months I have experienced 2 migraines, disturbed sleep like never before, a lot of dizziness, hot ears (they’re my stress barometer; today it was unpleasant), and my hearing cutting out in one ear while a coworker was talking to me.

Maybe this familiarisation period isn’t going as smoothly as my conscious mind is trying to convince me it is.

Today I spent my entire lunch break out of the office, writing. (I seem to have so little mental capacity that it’s hard to write more than a page; I apologise for the quality of these blog posts, I know they won’t win awards.) In the afternoon, I listened to a combination of rainymood and my autumn playlist to settle down in between phone calls. I cancelled my life drawing class so I could go home and have a bath and an early sleep.

There’s a lot that needs to be done. But first, some rest.

15/100 — Just checking in

Work has been a lot these past few days. I’ve been on my own in the office, still teaching myself the job while doing it. It’s challenging and different and I look forward to going to work most mornings, but it leaves little room for anything else. I can’t wait for warmer weather, when it’s okay to sit outside with a notebook and an overpriced juice, making use of the full lunch hour.

Spring time always makes me want to hold hands with someone, so on a whim I downloaded Tinder. Apps like Bumble and Tinder are great for window shopping people. You learn so much about others by how they choose to present themselves, and so much about yourself by figuring out your deal breakers. Sometimes I imagine an entire relationship up to moving in together, before I get scared and swipe left.

Because if I’m honest, the thought of trying out relationships seems like a lot right now. Earlier today I came across Grace McCleen’s brilliant Selling the Self on Boundless. This paragraph in particular reminded me of my 2-month stint on eHarmony some years back:

I began to think it was fortunate I only taught part-time because online dating takes time; if you are going to do it properly it is almost a second job. The amount of admin meant that two or three hours could pass in Starbucks before I raised my head, realising my neck had been in a vice of muscle and my eyes weeping from staring at the screen so long.

I’ve been told once that finding the right person makes everything easy. I look forward to that happening to me some day, but I know that the amount of work before that easy bit depends purely on your luck. It might happen after 2 weeks, or 6 years. I know the amount of admin: finding the right first words; the anxiety of managing more than two matches at once (apparently I am incredibly old-fashioned and feel like an immoral two-timing beast when I meet more than one person within a week); the disappointment when you seem to be chatting to a completely different person than the profile you swiped right on; and so on. Plus, there are the people where it seems easy, but after a few weeks it turns out it isn’t. Those are the ones I really want to avoid.

Maybe I should just focus on finding a flat; that’s a full-time job too.

I missed my stop because of Twitter

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I was on my way to my ever first life drawing class. It was raining a little, I was tired from the shopping I’d had to do beforehand, but freshly caffeinated and pumped to finally do this thing that’s been on my bucket list for years, and I was late – I’d barely make it on time.

Then I missed my stop.

When I lived in London, I’d take pride in being able to take a nap and wake up just as my stop was coming up. The only time I’ve ever missed one was the morning I was texting a crush-just-turned-date, when life was all soft around the edges and I could barely make myself care about work, or getting there.

Yesterday, I missed my stop because I was on fucking Twitter.

We know by now that evolution has not equipped humans to deal with non-stop connectivity and social media, and that most of us have a hard time finding healthy ways of interacting with technology. I’m seeing more of it again at the moment: Craig and Chyna Benzine recently quit the internet for a month, Casey Neistat has just deleted social media apps from his phones after reading this NY Times article, which features Catherine Price, whose book I read last year. I have a copy of Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now in a box somewhere. We get it. We know about the phones.

When I did my own phone detox last year, I didn’t expect it to change my life, and it didn’t. My habits shifted only slightly: my phone is always on silent anyway; I have notifications turned off for most apps; I don’t engage in ‘phubbing’ (looking at your phone when someone is talking to you) unless I do it deliberately (rude? Maybe, but so is talking at someone who’s giving you every nonverbal indication that they’d rather not be talking, including talking at someone who’s doing something on their phone already; maybe you are being the distraction right now, I don’t owe you my attention, oh my god, I have to stop now); when I kicked Facebook off my phone last year, I never reinstalled it. I did reinstall everything else because I’m fickle like that, and mostly I’m okay with this. I can tolerate the minutes and hours I lose on social media when I get sucked into the vortex. But I never agreed to an app having any influence on my physical whereabouts. (except, you know, Google Maps)

I once read that if you want to change your habits, a move is a great framework to do so. In new surroundings, old habits don’t necessarily apply, so we’re able to restart and build a new routine. Over the past 3 weeks since moving to Germany, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in the kind of impulses I get on a daily basis. More often now than in the past years, I want to read. I want to create. I’m itching to dig deep into a challenging book, to learn about storytelling, to get better at making videos and put more words on the screen for this blog and other projects.

At the same time, there’s a completely different impulse. It’s where I suddenly end up for half an hour on some random Twitter account with videos of people almost getting run over by cars. It’s where I sit on public transport with my book open, and because Black Leopard, Red Wolf is really dense, my mind can’t hold on to the words, and I end up scrolling – through Twitter. And then I miss my stop.

I’ve deleted Twitter from my phone now, so I have less reason to be on it. But then there’s the other aspect of phone use: we’re so used to people looking at something that having one’s head up has started to seem a little … weird? The other day I was sitting in a café, staring at the wall opposite as I waited for a short story idea to happen. Next to me sat a guy who was waiting for his friend, so he wasn’t engaged in any activity (other than trying to contain his very excited little dog). And all I could think was, Am I freaking him out? I felt self-conscious about thinking!

What a strange world we live in.

Like many people, every January, I set a word for the year ahead. This year, as in 2018, mine is Intention. It’s about going through life with open eyes, about doing things deliberately. That’s what I tell myself I want. It’s about making choices: how do I want to spend my time? Is this dog video a good way to spend my time? If I want to catch a breath in between doing things and pick a Youtube video to watch, am I about to piss away 20 minutes of my lifetime? In most cases, yeah. And it hasn’t felt good in a long time, and I’m trying to figure out how to stop it.

Goodbye, London. I’ll miss you

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I’m writing this in Berlin, which is wild to me. I’ve been here for nearly two weeks and I still haven’t quite realised what’s going on, but I can tell that I’m getting used to it already. The more I commute to work on an underground line where nearly every station has a bakery, so the smell of fresh bread wafts into the carriage at every other stop; the more cute dogs I see all over the place,

So I guess it’s time to say a proper goodbye to London, my home for the past 9 years or so.

February was a tricky month. Work picked up a great deal, with projects needing completion, lists requiring handovers, a desk in dire need of a clean, and So. Many. Goodbyes. We managed to finish our first (and my last) Dungeons & Dragons adventure in an office meeting room, and yes: our entire party survived.

Mostly however, I spent February walking around, saying goodbye to a city that shaped me.

In a way, London was the place where I became an adult. When I first arrived, I was 21, fresh out of some much needed therapy. I felt like an egg cracked open; just a tiny nudge and I would spill everywhere. And spill everywhere I did. After a rough 3 years in a not so great place – in many ways – I found myself starting over again, in a different room in a different part of town; closer to trees and woods and fresher air, where I could walk and run and feel more like myself. I joined a drama group, where I made my first proper London friends, people I still care deeply about 5 years later. Theatre taught me how to channel my restlessness into words and movement, and to communicate what I was going through in a way that made it not only accessible to other people, but made them feel more seen in return. Joining a choir had a similar effect on me, and I will miss both these groups a lot. London is a place full of opportunities like this, with thriving creative communities all over the place, and the value of the work they do cannot be exaggerated. (I will forever defend the need for creative community groups and their ability to heal both their members and those who come to see their work, but that’s a different essay.)

There is a sense that living somewhere other than your home country is ‘making it’ – your (Eastern German) parents can proudly tell their coworkers that their daughter lives in London and that she has a fulfilling job many would love to have, a job that sometimes even gets her close to famous people (psst: living in London in the 2010s makes it very easy to get close to somewhat famous people, it just boggles the mind of someone who grew up in a comparably small Eastern German town. I still feel this sense of ‘what is my life’ all the time). You don’t quite realise how much they worry until you have another boyfriend you tell your mum about, and a birthday card arrives from your aunt who mentions how glad she is that you’re ‘not so alone anymore’. But you lean into your big city life, going to plays and exhibitions and complaining about tourists and shaking your head about the political situation you can’t do anything about as a foreigner, and every time someone tells you that you barely have an accent, you feel a sense of pride.

Then you miss a funeral. And another. And you miss a wedding. And you haven’t spoken to your stepdad in months, because every time you Skype home he’s always on the phone in a different room. And you wonder if your version of the big city life is worth it.

There’s a small part of me that’s tempted to see the move to Berlin as a failure. That I wasn’t able to ‘make it’ in the big city. But the thing is, a place like London isn’t for everyone. (Most people I met in London don’t like it there.) As much as I love it, and I do, some relationships just don’t work out. And this particular relationship has simply run its course. Looking back, I didn’t ever imagine I’d grow old in London. There were times when I couldn’t imagine leaving, but maybe part of that is a lonely person’s relief at having found friends, and her reluctance to give them up.

But that was several years ago, and I’m not that person anymore.

Leaving London now is not a failure. If anything, I see it as a success. It’s the end of nearly a decade of trials, of meeting people both good and bad for me, and learning to accept myself, and learning to look after myself. To admit that something isn’t working, and to change it: that’s courage to me now.

They say you can’t love others until you love yourself, but there is a lot to be said for others giving you permission to love yourself. They’re the ones who will hug you when, at the age of 30, you still doubt whether your hugs are wanted. They’re the ones who sing happy birthday to you in 7-part harmony, and the ones who come to see your performances. They do your backing vocals at your first karaoke night. They get up early to meet you for breakfast. They take your phone as soon as you mention your Youtube channel, so you can be in a shot for once. They are the ones to send hugs and emojis and ‘how are you’s and slowly help you tune out that voice at the back of your head that keeps asking, but why me? 

I will miss London and its streets and its diversity and its crazy culture. I will miss the free galleries and cheap theatre tickets. I will miss the buses and the grumpy tube drivers, and Oyster cards. I will miss the Wellcome Collection and its weird and fascinating exhibitions and gorgeous reading room. I will miss the Barbican in all its massive glory. I will miss the British book world. So much. I will miss my flatmates and the shrieking foxes in the garden and the cuddly neighbourhood cats, but most of all, I will miss my people. I’m so grateful I was able to get to know them, and I hope I get to come back for a visit soon.


You can hear me read the above text as part of this video. Yep, still doing the Youtube. Not promoting it if it can be helped, but still doing it.

Hello, my Thirties – on to new adventures

Happy New Year!

Today is the first day of my thirties. A brand new decade lies ahead.

Of course, marking a ‘new beginning’ on the first of January or a birthday is an arbitrary thing; I’m not much different today than I was yesterday, or a week ago. But the great thing about leading our own lives is that every moment we choose, be it a new year, week or morning, can be a new beginning, if we decide to see it that way.

I’ve been waiting for this birthday for a while. My twenties were … rough. A lot happened, including many good things, but overall I’m glad to take that decade and file it under ‘Memories’. I’m a very different person from who I was ten years ago, and I fully intend to take everything I’ve learned and do something with it.

One thing I mean in particular is my creative life. My early twenties in particular were largely defined by health problems and life events, and all my previous passions – writing, drawing, photography, design – all took a backseat. In the very far back. Different vehicle almost.

Over time, I have been able to slowly reintroduce these things into my life, but as it goes when you get to a certain age, impostor syndrome kicks in. Rather than doing things for fun, now there is a pressure to be good at those things, and when you haven’t worked on anything in years, it’s hard to just pick them back up again. Social media doesn’t help: if I share my stuff online it’ll give me great accountability, a reason to keep going with it. At the same time it makes me vulnerable to comparison and criticism. Which wins out?

When I wrote last week’s reading roundup, I was a little shocked by how rusty my writing felt. This blog is already a year old (my poor neglected child), and while I wrote and published more than in a long time in 2018, I know this can be improved.

My plan for 2019, as a start of the next chapter in my life, is to create more. This goes especially for writing, but my other interests as well. I still love books and want to read more, and more deeply, than I have in recent years. As awful as it sounds, I miss thinking. I miss engaging with what I consume and create. Writing papers on books used to be one of my favourite things to do, and there are already so many things, works and genres that I would love to explore more deeply, that might even make halfway interesting reading for whoever lands on this blog.

But at the same time, I miss play. It annoys me to think that I’m too old for something, that it’s unacceptable to be new to something at my age, and to be bad at it. Nobody is too old for anything (except maybe professional ballet, that’s not happening for me in this life). The world is an exciting place with many opportunities, so let’s keep trying new things!

My current new thing? Youtube.

2019 will be a year of changes for me (more on that soon), and I’ve long wanted to explore visual storytelling. What better reason to try my hand at vlogging? My video editing is … not great, but the fact that I can see that gives me hope for improvement, and so I want to push on. These are vulnerable times, exciting times, and if not now, then when?

On beginnings and endings

Hello. I’ve been meaning to write.

Literally. But then work happened, and a nice but too short romance happened, and somewhere in there I’ve been meaning to write, but had no idea what. I still don’t, but here I am anyway.

It’s hit me recently how much advice there is around at the moment. Wherever I look – Youtube, bookshelves, blogs, podcasts – everybody seems to be far down the road of some journey and ready to share their learnings. (I swear one of the Youtube channels I follow is a 19-year old sharing productivity tips. Gen Z, I’m in awe of you, but you make me feel afraid.) As someone who wants to ‘create content’ (urgh) to share in public, I wonder what I have to offer.

Is there any space left to say I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing?

I turn 30 in a few months and I have been using that number to both remind myself that I’m getting too old for some shit, but also as a reminder of all the things I still haven’t achieved. Sometimes that feels like motivation (I don’t own my furniture at nearly 30 – gotta get on that); more often I use it to beat myself over the head with how far ‘behind’ I am (my friends are getting engaged and I’m still single!) and despair.

I’m having a day off work today and so far I’ve spent it cleaning, dripping tears into my Zalando returns, and feeling exhausted. I’m tired of writing about how hard everything is, but I’m also tired of pretending it isn’t.

There’s a major life shift coming up for me. There has to be. This decade is one that needs a lid on it. I want to say, ‘Here rest my twenties. Those were the difficult years, and I’m grateful for what they taught me, but good riddance.’ and turn around and look at what’s next.

If there’s one thing I love more than anything else, it’s the buzz of a new beginning. Whether that’s the New Year, my birthday, the 6-month mark, or September for the new school year, or any day I pick at random. This is not it. This is the end of a decade and I cannot wait for it to be over now.

It turns out I’m happiest when I’m a) talking about books and b) making things, so I will endeavour to do both, even in a rough way. Done is better than perfect. If you want to watch me embrace this concept, have a look at my 100 Day Project on Instagram where I try to teach myself both hand lettering and thinking positively.

Here’s to keeping moving.

I don't know

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If this was a Youtube video, it would be one of those unedited 20-minute long talk-only vlogs, shot in a dimly lit room with lots of lost silences. Imagine the silences.

Last Sunday I didn’t post a Week in Words. Partly because I was busy (I had to go to the Apple store and that visit took all the energy I had), and partly because I felt I had nothing to say.

According to my mum, when I was a child it was impossible to shut me up. I was a storyteller before I could write, and a writer as soon as I (kind of) could. I was an artist, illustrating my stories and drawing comics. By the age of eleven I designed my first website (it had frames), and a few years later I had my own blog. Not much of it was good, but I never ran out of things to say. Not like I do now.

What happened? My teens. Mental illness. Physical illness. Bad medication. Useless therapists. For two years I could barely finish a sentence, and when I got better, I had nothing more to say. It was like something dark and enormous had lived inside my head for a few years and left only broken glass, a stale smell and withered plants. Everything was chaos.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to figure out what I lost back then, who I am without it, and how to get some of it back. Parts of these years were great; other parts were a real shitshow.

These days I’m much better, physically and emotionally. But I’m still lost for words. Every time I try and start something remotely creative, I disappoint myself. I lack the talent, the imagination, the discipline, the drive ... I don’t know. The past ten years have been so, so hard, and lonely, and there’s still so much to do. Some days everything is too heavy, and on those days I just want to lie down and rest. But on the days I do feel good (and there are, finally, so many more of those), I just want my fucking rewards already.

I want to stop having to try so goddamn hard. I want to stop feeling so alone. I want to take a break from trying 24/7 to be better and better and just be, for a little while. But that seems impossible, because I still don’t know who or what to be, despite feeling so close to ... what? That magical breakthrough that will make things slide into place. That oasis in the desert you keep walking towards, without ever getting closer.

I have a lot to be grateful for. I just get tired. I’m tired this week. Of all that running in circles and starting and stopping and trying out a million things in the hopes that one or several of them will help make me feel more like myself.

I don’t know.