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, I was happy in my own company

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Earlier this week, on my way home, I walked past a man and his young bull terrier. Pulling the excited animal along behind him, he picked up a phone call just as I passed them. ‘Hi,’ I heard him say. ‘Yeah, I’m okay ... I’ve been feeling a bit introspective lately.’

‘Me too,’ I thought before I turned a corner and lost them.

Everything has been moving in this direction for a while. Right now, I get most of the human interaction I need from my work hours. After work and on weekends, I tend to stay on my own. I haven’t felt this way since my early teens, so it’s almost a bit concerning now – how content I feel with myself, and my own thoughts.

I’m an only child, and an introvert, so I grew up entertaining myself. I would come up with the greatest stories to play out with my animal toys, or I would draw. Once I could write, I would do that. By the time I had my own computer, I would sit inside, curtains drawn against the bright afternoon sunshine, and write pages and pages of stories nobody would ever see.

It’s similar now. Of course, age and years of depression change you, so nowadays I can’t go 24 hours without leaving the house, or a dark cloud will form above my head. But I take a notebook, or a podcast, and I walk. Maybe I run errands, or maybe I just wander. Maybe I take photos or sit down somewhere to write. If I hear from a friend or family member, that’s great. If I don’t, I don’t miss it.

The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke had a lot to say about ‘Einsamkeit’ – solitude. In a letter to friends in 1906 he called it a ‘plaster cast for the soul’: ‘My inner life has been dislocated for months, and solitude for now only is a plaster cast for the soul, inside which something is healing.’*) He mourned the attitude towards people who like their own company (‘Parents fear when they notice in their own children the quiet tendency to be alone; those shy boys seem eerie to them, who early in life have their own joys and their own sorrows[…].’) when solitude is a necessity for everyone; especially the artist, and those who love, because a good love is a love where ‘two solitudes protect, adjoin and greet each other’ – as it is impossible to truly love another person without having taken the time to get to know oneself.

Fun fact: in my near 30 years in this life as a German, I don’t think I’ve seen Rilke’s use of the word ‘Einsamkeit’ as meaning solitude in modern German. It always means loneliness; there is always a negative connotation to it.

It’s not always easy being alone. Especially these days; social media can connect us, but it can also remind us with even more ease how much we’re missing, and increase our feeling of disconnection. I’m sure I’ll wake up soon one morning with the belief that everybody I care about has decided they don’t like me anymore.

Until then, I keep learning to enjoy my own company again. If we can believe Rilke, the relationship with ourselves, after all, is the only one in our lives that will not be characterised by distance.


* All clunky translations from the original German are my own.

This week, it got spooky

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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.

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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.

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.

The week in words #18

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I'm writing this on the morning of my final day on holiday. The past two weeks have been an amazing time of great food, tons of sun and relaxation, first in my hometown, and then 5 days of Amsterdam. I'm well-fed, sun-soaked and happy. Both cities have shown themselves from their best sides, and I'm now convinced that Amsterdam is the most beautiful place I've ever been and I'm ready to move here. The LIGHT, you guys.

Since May has sort of creeped up on me I haven't done a reading wrap-up, but ... I don't really care? Over the course of April I kind of got a bit disenchanted with the whole of social media, and I've barely been checking any channels. Maybe I just needed some time off. Once I'm back in London and ready to face the real world again, I will get my head back in the game and post more on here.

But before that – one last sunny day in Amsterdam.

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The week in words #17

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On Thursday morning, I woke up and nearly panicked. I’d woken up in full daylight, so clearly I’d massively overslept. I’m at home, and for such a long time I’ve only been here for Christmas, I haven’t seen daylight at 6am here in years.

I came to the UK first in 2010, for an internship at a magazine company. This week, at my dad’s place I threw away the magazines that listed my name under ‘Editorial Assistant’. That internship made me realise I wanted to work in publishing. A year later I started a publishing degree. After my graduation, I got a job at a publishing company not because of my degree, but because I’d taught myself HTML in my teens. I guess you’ll never know what’ll get you to the places you want to go.

Right now I don’t know where I want to go. London has tired me out, and each time I’m away from it I miss it less. It requires a lot of work to be happy there when you value certain things, like a nice living space, or time with your friends. It was the place to be in my 20s and I enjoyed it, but the closer I get to starting my 30s, the more I’m starting to wonder if it’s where I want to stay.

Being home in spring has been wonderful. It’s been years since I’ve seen my hometown in green and sunshine. On Friday evening my tram got redirected and went past the area I used to live, on my own, during my BA studies. It’s a quiet but well-connected area with a huge park in walking distance. I miss living on my own. On Sunday I ran a half-marathon along the riverbank in the blazing sunshine, soaking in the views and the atmosphere. I only have one more week left before it’s time to go back to London. I’ll do my best to enjoy them, aching legs and all.

The week in words #16

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It has been the kind of week I would euphemistically call a challenge.

On Tuesday, my mental health took a nosedive. Everything good I’d ever thought about myself, anything good anyone’s ever said about me, fell off me like snow off a tree, revealing the truth underneath: that I am nothing and nobody, have achieved nothing, will achieve nothing, and am nearly 30 years old so it’s too late anyway. I went to work, where I stared at my screen waiting for the day to end. There was no point to anything I was doing. I’d fucked it all up anyway, so why keep trying?

By Wednesday, a calm hopelessness had settled over me. When I went into a clothes shop for some retail therapy, it quickly became clear that there was no dress or shirt that could make me feel better. You know those days when you dislike yourself one hundred percent, head to toe, inside and out?

The week went on like this until Saturday brought sad news, and I spent the day listening to music and feeling numb. When these phases come around, I try to remind myself that nothing lasts and everything changes. It makes these days and weeks feel less like endless misery and more like a particularly rough part of the journey.

On Thursday, I made a list of all the things I didn’t like about myself – all the things that take up space in my head, things I am annoyed or bothered by, when I could be focussing on more productive topics. I prioritised the list, and set deadlines to fix those things. My hair is now so short I can stop being annoyed with all the ways it doesn’t behave. We’ll see what else I can make progress on soon.

I write this sitting in our garden as my flatmate makes a horribly greasy breakfast; the air smells of flowers and bacon. Bees are hovering. I have two more workdays left before I go home.

The week in words #14 – On running in the woods

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You know that cold I mentioned last week? It stayed. It’s one of those ugly ones that make you feel like your brain is trying to exit your skull through your face. I was the gross one at work this week, sneezing more than I talked, my desk cluttered with tissues I had to keep within sight and reach because my nose was out of control (Reader, are you in love with me yet?). It has not been fun.

I have been running in spite of it. This morning, after a week of illness, little sleep and going out twice (including yesterday), I picked up the water bottle I’ve never used, zipped up my running jacket, and headed off towards Hampstead Heath. My half marathon is in three weeks and this was my last chance to get some distance in before tapering, so damn the cold and the rain and my aching head, I thought, and hit the road.

I recently read about effort-based running, which is a mindful kind of running that disregards pace and heart rate and requires you to check in with yourself, and rate your effort on a scale of 10. For recovery and long runs, aim for a nice and easy 3-4. Ever since I started going by that, I have been both slower, and better. Running feels less like a chore and more like walking: a thing that I do with my body and enjoy while my brain is busy doing other things. I return feeling less like I want to die, and more like I want a shower, that weird post-run snack I’ve come up with*, and get on with my day.

Today’s aim was 15km, so, bored by my neighbourhood, I went for the Heath. I thought, if I can do 15k in hilly North London, I will breeze through that river half in a few weeks, and I can stop worrying about all the training time I missed.

It all started out innocently enough, walking some hills (because I’m sick, don’t judge me), running everything else while the remainder of my cold left my ears in little pops, until I got lost in the woods around Kenwood House. All of a sudden I found myself in a world of mud, surrounded by trees dripping heavily with rain, and all paths looked the same. I passed several people in running gear holding paper maps, and I felt silly and out of place with my phone, and a little bit like I’d crashed a race I hadn’t entered.

Once I made it to Kenwood House it was raining so heavily I decided to take the shortest route home, and – got lost again. My way home was one wrong turn after another. At one point I remembered food and popped into a Tesco, soaking wet, to buy a protein bar that I ate on the way up the next hill. Then I remembered that my running jacket is water resistant, not waterproof, panicked about my phone, and started to run. I am now the proud owner of my very first running injury caused by accident. (I slipped on the wet pavement and bumped my knee. It’s fine. Yes, it happened in front of people.)

I have never considered myself a runner. Not when I started, or when I ran my first 10k race, or when I finished my first half marathon last year. Only today – caked in mud, dripping with rain, nose running after a week with a horrendous cold, in the line at Tesco with my Graze Protein Bite – I thought: yes, running is a thing I do. I’m a runner. I like this.

The nap after lunch, though, was the best of all.


*My post-run snack for the past weeks has been a banana, cut in slices; a spoonful of peanut butter; and frozen raspberries. Microwaved for 40 seconds. Not good for Instagram, but great for your tastebuds.