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.

AfterlightImage 128.JPG

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.

AfterlightImage 129.JPG

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.

AfterlightImage 131.JPG

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.

AfterlightImage 130.JPG

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

5/100 — Some thoughts on 'body neutrality'

Lately, when I’m commuting and can’t be bothered with a paper book, I’ve been reading Laura Thomas’s  Just Eat It on my phone. Her exasperation with diet culture gives me life. Here’s an example:

You might be thinking, ‘uhhhh, I’m not on a diet’. And sure, you might not be going to Weight Watchers or Slimming World, but let’s talk about all the subtle ways we can be on a diet or attempting to control our eating. Maybe your plan was to ‘eat clean’, maybe challenge yourself to the Whole 30; just do what the bloggers do. It’s a lifestyle. It’s about balance. It’s a fucking diet.

I don’t like reading on my phone, so it’s slow going, but yesterday I reached the chapter on ‘body neutrality’. I’ve come across this concept before: body neutrality is body positivity’s less glamorous sibling. Instead of learning to treasure every curve and dimple, the goal is to simply be okay with the fact of having this body. It’s neither a good nor a bad thing – it just is.

According to the book, part of body neutrality is the ability to buy clothes for the body one has, rather than waiting for a slimmer time or even buying ‘goal clothes’ that don’t fit (‘yet’). Reading that reminded me that I haven’t bought any clothes in a while. When I stopped running last year due to injury, I still continued to eat like I was running, and my weight went up. Not dramatically, but there came a point when I didn’t fit into my jeans anymore. Knowing I would run again, I didn’t want to buy new clothes only for them to get too big a few months into training. And now it’s somehow April, and I haven’t bought new clothes since … I don’t even remember. But spring is in the air, my closet is almost entirely black, and some items just need replacing. So I went shopping today.

excuse the haphazardly tucked t-shirt, I would not walk around like this

excuse the haphazardly tucked t-shirt, I would not walk around like this

I don’t necessarily dislike my body; it’s more than I’m confused by it. I find it difficult to dress, mostly because my shape does not correspond with where my mind is on the gender spectrum, a discrepancy that gets worse when I gain weight. And of course I’m not immune to the general societal pressure to be ‘slim’.

I know that diet culture is bullshit. I’m annoyed to no end by talk about ‘guilt’ around food or the endless calculations about how we can ‘work off’ the food we’ve eaten that many of us do. I know I’ve never looked at another person (that I can remember) and had any negative feelings about their body. I don’t care what other people look like! That I should be held to a different standard than everybody else makes no sense. But here we are: there is a part of me that thinks that if I was thinner, or more athletic, I’d be a slightly better person. Not much; but a little more confident, and deserving of that confidence.

It is a weird feeling, and I did experience it in the changing room today. But I’m happy to say that my thinking is shifting from ‘I need a personal trainer’ to ‘I need a personal shopper’ (my actual thought is ‘I need Tan France’, but who doesn’t). I’m even happier to say I found clothes today that aren’t black, and I think they fit.

I’ve experienced true body neutrality before. It was in late 2017, around the time I ran my first half marathon. It was a hilly beast and I’d trained really hard to be able to do it. When I realised I’d lost quite a bit of weight, I found I didn’t care all that much. What I really cared about was the ease with which I could walk up stairs. How I was rarely ever out of breath. The energy I had. The way my thighs felt solid, substantial. I’m back to running again now not because I want to lose weight; I’m back at it because I want that feeling of being capable again. I want that confidence that makes me a slightly better person. It has nothing to do with the size of my body, and everything with what it can do.

I missed my stop because of Twitter

AfterlightImage 13.JPG

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

AfterlightImage 12.JPG

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.

Changes

AfterlightImage 4.JPG

It’s official – after 9 years in the UK, I’m moving to Berlin.

I’ve been hinting at this for a while: London hasn’t felt right for some time now. After a breakup last January, I spent all of 2018 uhm-ing and ah-ing about what I should do – should I keep trying? Should I ignore that voice that had been calling me since my last trip to Berlin a year earlier, and continue building a life in London? Would I be a failure if I didn’t?

It took me until November to start sending out applications. Just before Christmas, I got a job offer in Berlin. I’ll be working there from March on.

January so far has been a month of making arrangements. I’ve given notice on my job and my room, I’ve cancelled subscriptions and made plans to see friends as much as I can. It’s been a strange time – I’ve moved countries before, but my old life in Germany felt a lot less established when I left it to go study in Scotland, and I was excited to leave and start something new. This time, it’s bittersweet. I have a life here; I have a great job, and wonderful friends, and leaving all of that sometimes feels like a silly idea. But I know that I’m strong enough now to make this change – to start again, ‘friendless’ as I keep saying, in a new job, and a new environment. Overall, it feels like the right step. It feels necessary.

It was not an easy decision though. Some years back I already wanted to return to Germany. I couldn’t find any jobs, so I decided to try and make my London life a little better. It worked, and soon I wanted to stay. This hasn’t been the case for a year now: I can’t afford the life I want, just thinking of the London dating scene makes me shudder, healthcare is not great, and, naturally, I’d rather not be in the UK when Brexit happens. As much as I’ve grown here, as much as I’ve learned and achieved – this relationship has run its course. Staying here feels like treading water, and so I must move. Berlin has been calling my name some time now, and I’m glad we’re able to give it a try.

I have four weeks left in London, during which I need to pack, organise a life in Germany, and say goodbye to as many people as I can. I already feel a little untethered; but I know I’ll always land on my feet.

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?

This week, it got spooky

magazine.jpg

October, three years ago:

My heart was shattered into a thousand pieces. It would take over 8 months to put it back together, but the second of those was October 2015. I was desperate for anything I could hold onto as the days got shorter and the nights got longer and darker.

So I turned to Halloween. It had always been there and I’d always kind of ignored it (apart from the annual re-watch of The Blair Witch Project that I started in my teens), but the internet loves it, and I love anything spooky, so I decided to embrace the mood this time. I browsed Netflix and dived into American Horror Story. I read The Exorcist and Richard Matheson’s Hell House and Shirley Jackson. I found the moodiest, darkest playlists on 8tracks and listened to them all day at work.

It was awesome. For one entire month, I could take those ghosts and witches and endless renditions of This Is Halloween and stuff them into the hole in my heart, which ached a little less when I worried about what might be hiding in the depths of Briarcliff Manor.

Since then, every year, just like the way I still get excited about Christmas because it was really great at some time, I can’t wait for October, when I do it all over again.

It occurred to me last night that most of the cold months (in the Northern hemisphere) seem to be dedicated to something: October is for Halloween, November is for novel writing, December is for Christmas, January is for new beginnings. (In February, we’re tired.) I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, this series of ‘themes’ gives me something to nestle into and focus on when my bedroom gets so cold I sometimes can’t sleep properly.

October, though, feels special in a way. October feels like giving in to something. I’ve always enjoyed dark tales, and loved reading and writing them. (My first NaNoWriMo novel was a heavily Shirley Jackson-inspired haunted house story that I’d love to revisit some day.) They allow us to acknowledge the dark sides of humanity, to explore the supernatural many of us have decided not to believe in. They are a glimpse into an abyss that is normally forbidden, where emotions triumph over reason, and control is abandoned or lost. For a little bit, we can believe in the power of witches and the existence of something beyond what we know, all from the safe comfort of our bedrooms, with a cup of tea in hand and a scented candle burning. Where we can imagine the thrill of the threat without it being real.

Now if you will excuse me, I’m about to find a cozy coffeeshop to start reading my third creepy book of the month in.

This week, I was busy

Happy last day of September!

Where did this month go? I have no idea.

For me, September was a month of pretty intense emotional growth (ooohhh) that I can’t write about because I don’t know how (aaaww), lots and lots of drawing, a return to my love of reading, all the planning, and of course work.

40AAC004-E6B0-4823-B107-5FE0136BFA4D.JPG

Mood-wise I’ve been doing very well (intense emotional growth will do that to you, apparently), which is why it was such a big surprise when, last Tuesday, I got up from my office chair and nearly toppled over. Maybe it was a blood sugar thing, because a slice of lemon drizzle cake (or my belief in the cake) seemed to sort it out, but since that day I’ve been feeling … off. Slightly wobbly in mind and body.

I thought that I was taking care of myself, but looking back, it seems I have been pursuing self care with the kind of gritted-teeth determination I have been applying to everything else recently: getting up early for yoga classes twice a week, running in the morning three times a week, meditation on the daily to do lists I’ve started writing. I’m not about to change a single aspect of all these things, because they do make me happy, but I have to find a way to un-grit my teeth. (Literally. My jaw hurts.) Going forward, there will be more reading time. More writing time. Shorter to do lists.

One of my weaknesses is productivity videos on Youtube (how did we ever get anything done before other people started ~inspiring~ us to do them?), and I often hear from these people how they (apparently) fill their every second with something improving. Got a free minute? Read a business book. Hands busy, mind unbusy? Listen to an self improvement podcast.

I came across this song by Tom Rosenthal earlier in the week:

It gave me a sense of vindication, because I have often thought that, especially living in a large city, it is an absolute pain in the backside to get people to free up their time. There are friends I don’t see for months if we don’t do the same group activities. At the same time, I used to be that person. I know how easy it is to be that person.

October is upon us, and I will not be doing Inktober or Blogtober. It makes me sad, but I have enough on my plate with my 100 Day Project and my plan to revive this here blog a little. (Also all that regular life stuff.)

That being said, I’m so excited for October. I can’t wait to read only horror books and watch only horror movies and listen to only creepy songs and burn all the candles. Maybe I’ll even wear a little more black.