The loud and bright November sun screaming through my windows doesn’t seem appropriate for what’s happening in the world right now. It’s 9am and I am sitting at my desk, trying to focus and get the day started. Around me, notes, post-its and scraps of paper are piling up. Lots of ideas and fun projects I want to tackle. It seems that this month, as we‘re all asked to stay at home as much as we can, could be the right time to do it! It seems.
This year though, I often feel like I’ve unlearned everything. How do you start a personal project? How do people write? How do you manage life without any sort of structure? Comparing all my freedom with what I actually do with it, I tend go get slightly disappointed in myself. I could do anything, really, but nothing feels good enough. All I spend my time with is solving Sudokus.
Not everything is bad though. I’ve been involved in some really interesting client projects, I’ve been on the phone with friends more frequently, and how nice is it to find joy in simple things like a sunny autumn walk these days?!
Re-reading a newsletter I sent to you exactly one year ago (“If you’re going through hell, keep going”) also eases my mind a bit: Maybe it’s just November that emits these weird vibes. I generally take ease in finding reasons that are out of my hands. Destiny! I’m pretty sure something is in some sort of retrograde or a weird sun or moon or whatever flying luminary out there is involved if things don’t go as planned. Whiny millennial voice: “Not everything is our fault!”
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The climate catastrophe sure is though. I watched David Attenborough’s new Netflix documentary “A Life on Our Planet” and can recommend it (which usually isn’t the case with Netflix documentaries, I often find them gimmicky).
If you want to zone out from the world’s disasters for a short moment, the New York Times “Election Distractor” is the perfect site for you.
And, as I learned while reading last November’s issue again, looking at the past and finding the good and healthy stuff in it can also help to cope with things. I flipped through my Live Photos from this year’s summer and made a very short video from them. Watch it here.
This letter’s headline is from Miranda July’s 2011 movie “The Future”. I’m looking forward to seeing her new film “Kajillionaire” once cinemas are open again.
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If you have adequate tips to stay productive, or any reasons to avoid it and get carried away, please send them my way. My inbox is open for all sorts of diversions! Stay healthy, distracted, and be gentle with yourself and others.
(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as a (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s Corner. Sign up for it here.)
We’re sitting in a small park somewhere in Berlin, when R. points to the sky: Look! The unusual bird lands on top of a street light, looking back at us. It’s a majestic animal, yet smaller than the usual crows we see around the city’s parking lots. In an unwary moment, as we look away, the sparrow hawk arrows right into the bushes behind us, and seconds later, we hear a sharp and short squeak. Then, the bird flies away over our heads, with a little mouse in its claws. We can see its tail squirming as the mouse is carried through the air on its last trip.
It was a weird moment. Bittersweet, like the beet root ice cream in my mouth. For a short second, all the people in the park were mesmerized; the guy on the lawn held his little chihuahua with both hands, in fear that the hawk’s claws would take it away. A very irrational fear, but still – understandable. Fear makes us do weird things.
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✳︎ In September I decided that my summer break had been long enough, and I started moving into a nice little office space to pursue my freelance career. I’m doing it at my pace, one step at a time. I’ve learned to say No to things, and being your own person really seems like a healthy concept to me? Thanks to myself for finally noticing!
✳︎ I jotted down a couple of vacation notes on my blog. I also wrote about an iconic IKEA clock and about the underwear in the tree outside my kitchen. I’ve been writing that weblog since 2006, and I still like the idea of having a room for myself on the internet — almost like my own little garden. Stop by if you wish.
✳︎ From now on, I contribute a little design column to the German form design magazine. Nina Sieverding and Anton Rahlwes are the new editors-in-chief, and I am really keen on their approach on topics, perspectives and the magazine’s design itself. Go get it!
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As quickly as the sparrow hawk took its prey, this year’s summer decided to take a leap and leave. My summer wasting was a success though; I had a lot of good outdoor pizza dinners, and I spent a vast amount of time speeding through the streets on my bike. I accept that the COVID anxiety behaves like a curve, too. Sometimes it’s high, sometimes it’s low. New Normal, etc etc. I hope you’re still coping somewhat well.
Do you remember the vast amount of summer holidays we used to have as kids? Six weeks without school, without duties, six weeks of living a completely care-free life. These weeks were heralded with a school report, and our parents would pick us up at around 12 in front of the school; and we’d leave another year of nerve-wracking stress and torments behind. I hated school, but this moment of stepping into a long, empty summer, was always pure bliss.
Last week, I started a self-prescribed summer break. I’ve had some weird years and I’m in-between jobs, so I decided to actively do nothing for a couple of weeks. Not sure if the care-free childhood feeling is replicable as an adult (probably not), but the feeling of not planning very far ahead puts me at ease—at least for a brief moment. Actively deciding to not care for a moment is self-care! I’ll call the dentist sometime soon. I’m sure the whole tax situation will sort itself out. I’m not going to plan any big travels.
This is probably one of my least favorite character traits: I am a really bad traveler. The whole part of organization and the pressure of having to have great experiences just stresses me out. As a child, my parents would usually take us on a real vacation for 10 days during summer break. And while I generally enjoyed that very much (and didn’t even need to plan anything, of course!), it was also work: It somehow meant that the actual summer break was only 4 weeks. I needed that idleness to just let the past months sink in. Painting, drawing, seeing friends—simply not having to have any exciting experiences (but not avoiding them either, of course). Just letting the time pass by.
Remember the hot priest from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s TV show Fleabag? Andrew Scott shares some life lessons (and Irish swear words!) in the podcast How to Fail. If you enjoy this newsletter, you’ll enjoy that episode, I’m very sure.
You probably all know about the astonishing power of the blue blood of horseshoe crabs (the 450-million-year-old living fossils!). Radiolab resurfaced their 2018 episode recently, with a little update on the animal’s role in COVID times.
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In other news: Today, on August 15, it would be Roger Willemsen’s 65th birthday. He died in 2016, and since then he is dearly missed as one of Germany’s most-liked intellectuals. In fact, I don’t know anyone who didn’t appreciate him as a moral compass, and I, too, miss his voice in current times. Recently, my friend Eva and I were discussing which prominent people we’d like to ask for advice when making decisions, and Willemsen definitely would be my chairman of the board. Who would be yours?
As my summer break continues, I’ll be spending the nights listening to Belle & Sebastian’s summer vacation soundtrack, which also served as the title for this issue: I spent the summer wasting / The time was passed so easily / But if the summer’s wasted / How come that I could feel so free? Stay cool and safe and enjoy the weather.
If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as a (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s Corner. Sign up for it here.
We stumbled into the exhibition by accident. And as we didn’t have any plans, we decided to put our masks on and have a look around. The gallery showed a collection of installations and sculptures, mostly focussed on internet art, and the artist’s exploitation. When we walked through the rooms, passing by a giant print of Alex Tew’s Million Dollar Homepage, I saw it in a corner: A tiny desk with a laptop, showing the website learningtoloveyoumore.com.
Learning to Love You More was an interactive project by Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher that ran until 2009. The website listed a number of assignments that people could fulfill and send in their results, which were then exhibited on the site. 39: Take a picture of your parents kissing. 35: Ask your family to describe what you do. 66: Make a field guide to your yard. 5: Recreate an object from someone’s past. I knew this site! When we were teenagers, me and my friends did some of the assignments, and they can still be found online. I had totally forgotten about the site and how much joy these tasks and perspectives brought to me. Asking my parents to kiss for a picture was weird and memorable. I actually enjoy creating those kinds of moments. Rediscovering the website on the tiny desk at Kunstraum Kreuzberg reminded me about it.
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Right now, it’s 9.55pm, I am sitting in my living room. As I turn my stiff neck towards the window, I catch the blue hour; tinting the house across the street in a tender blue, almost purple color. It’s not going to last long, I can see it passing by. Like most summer evenings. Like me cycling through Weserstraße, on my way home from a dinner with a friend. That’s when I usually catch the blue hour, too. All this won’t last long: The people sitting outside their Spätis, drinking beers, the kids running around with their dogs, the warm air and me and my bike: This is what we longed for the whole winter, and realizing every year anew that it’s worth the wait — It’s an easy thought, and I like it. I like easy, sometimes.
One thing I already learned is that I don’t need to please everybody all the time (cool!). Now, however, I am scared that people might not like the new Me who doesn’t want to be liked by everybody. It’s a vicious circle.
On a bit more light-hearted note: I went looking for the best-designed watering can out there and wrote a little design critique (in German).
And to stop blathering about Corona in this newsletter, I wrote a Corona diary for German form design magazine, which you can buy here. The current issue deals with Crisis and Design, and I can highly recommend ordering it!
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Here’s my Learning to Love You More assignment to you: Educate yourself on your internalised racisms. Fight them. Keep on learning and strengthening your senses; speak up, and learn what to do next – Hire black illustrators, for example. Here is a list to get started with. In between, you can put the phone or computer away and go outside. Cycle through summer, because as we all know: It won’t last as long as we’d like to.
If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s Corner. Sign up for it here.
A four-year-old boy is sitting and sobbing on a hospital bed, refusing to have the mask put on his face. It’s 1995, that boy is me, and I’m supposed to go into surgery for my ear. But it’s not possible: I am too scared of a pictogram.
Even 25 years later, I can see it clearly in front of me: The brochure about inhalation anesthesia, with the drawing of a child with closed eyes, a huge mask covering its face. It honestly looked like the kid was dead, and even though I was only four years old, I knew one thing: I won’t inhale something that obviously would kill me!
In the end, I didn’t die, I just fell asleep. Everything went according to plan, and I lost my exorbitant fear of masks and anesthesia. I had to think about this pictogram the other day though, when I read Anne Quito’s design critique on the temperature guns used in public places like airports or on boarders. There are certainly more important things to worry about or focus on right now, but using the interaction design of pointing a gun to one’s head for a protective measure just somehow feels … a little off?
But I mean – a lot of things just feel a bit weird right now, right? It’s just a weird time; we’ve been placed in this odd science fiction setting and we all don’t really know how to act, or where to go. Well, the latter is simple: Nowhere. We’re all advised to just stay in, what I’ve been doing for about 10 days by now. And while I really enjoy being at home and by myself, I am surprised how exhausting it becomes after a while. The urge to facetime my whole address book is definitely there, and the magnetism of my sofa—preventing me from doing all the cozy quarantine stuff like baking and drawing and Telegym—is sending extra-strong vibes these days. I might need to find a solution for that. Or maybe not, and just nap. 8-hour-video-calls are exhausting enough; even though we’re all doing them in sweatpants.
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— Speaking of naps: Here’s a brilliant video by the School of Life, on naps and slowness.
— I just bought a bunch of vouchers for the stores, cafés and places I would usually visit on a Saturday, but which had to close due to the current situation. In Berlin, you can do that on Helfen.berlin, and an another inventory of shops that need support can be found via Pleasedontclose.
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This probably won’t end anytime soon. It’s the new normal, and we’ll need to find ways to deal with it. Every other day, I have a little meltdown thinking about all of this, and I miss hugs and sitting on crowded trains and falling asleep on a friend’s sofa and celebrating birthdays. Three things that helped me: This song by Barner 16, this cartoon on love during the pandemic, this cat on TikTok.
I hope you’re alright and safe and healthy. Try to avoid spending too much time reading live blogs, don’t get scared by graphs and pictograms, just stay informed and, last but not least, at home (if you can). I’m sending you virtual hugs and awkward handshakes.
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This title’s song has been stuck in my head for weeks now. Works well as a soundtrack for when the pains pf physical distancing kick in extra-hard. Dijon – Skin (Spotify, Apple Music).
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Flying Low is a contemporary dance technique, developed by David Zambrano. It focusses on the body as a spiral: A constant exchange of collecting and releasing tension lets the dancer move upwards and downwards, high and low, always rotating. It’s an intense technique – watch it here (but don’t try it at home).
It also describes my past month’s mood fairly well. The idea of gathering and sending, that the technique promotes, actually sounds like a common creative practice: You look at things, absorb them, and then you process them, work with them, and make something new out of them. Pretty straight forward.
But I’ve been struggling with that lately. Last month was quite exhausting: I took time for personal work, but it never really worked. I was discontent, the outcome was never good enough, yada yada, you know how it goes. But I always needed that “fix” of pushing it out to the world. I needed to publish something; to show something. It was almost like everything I made only had a right to be made and exist if it was out there. But showing my work was not the release I was hoping for, it just made the tension bigger. I didn’t know what to do.
~ Brief pause, deep breath, building up tension ~
And I still don’t.
I wish I was able to tell you how I solved the creative block, but I haven’t yet. It’s been about four weeks, and by now, I just focus on passing through it – by simply not doing anything. And actually, as I recently discovered fun activities outside of work for me, it might not be that hard after all.
Here is a jumbled list of things I’ve done, read and learned:
● I learned that the term “Carpe Diem” doesn’t translate to “Seize the day”, but rather to “Pluck the day” (“… evoking the plucking and gathering of ripening fruits or flowers, enjoying a moment that is rooted in the sensory experience of nature”), which is beautiful and reduces the anxiety to getting stuff done. Here’s the article about it.
● I am going to dance classes again, after I stopped for almost two years. Not to practice Flying Low (I have enough spiraling and gathering and sending struggles in my life already), but just to get moving again. It’s fun. If your mind is stuck, moving is a good idea.
● I need a book shelf! If you have recommendations for beautifully designed shelves, I’d be grateful if you shared them with me. Instagram aggressively advertised this Italian shelving system to me, which I love (it has all the good stuff: wood and metal drawers and mustard colors), and of course it’s extraordinarily expensive.
When the weather gets colder, swallows tend to lower their flight level. For September, I might stick to that mode, too; flying low, just passing through it. However high your level for September might be: Please pass through it safely.
I am only allowed to leave my underwear on; no shirt, no socks. It makes sense, because after the doctor asks me to stand still, she points her gun-like mole detector on all the moles that are spread across my body. On the huge iMac, I see the pictures she takes: Red and brown and skin-colored spots, really close; they look more like bruises or the watery ink blots I make when mixing ink. She says it’s all good, but takes some pictures to monitor the mole’s alterations.
So, as a mole-covered person, I went to get a skin cancer screening (apologies for using the word mole for the fifth time now; I really don’t like it either). Which is somehow ironic, because in July I learned that I might not actually be the mole I always thought I was; hidden inside, behind his desk, wearing his huge glasses, avoiding sunlight. I’d like to inform you that I discovered FUN activities for me.
For a very long time in my life, I thought I’d needed to stay away from all things fun—I avoided holidays (too expensive, too time-consuming, I could be working during those two weeks!), I almost never went out for drinks (I don’t really drink, so what’s the point anyway?!), I skipped parties and festivals (too many people). Last weekend though, I went to the Pride parade here in Berlin, and I figured out that I am not scared of big crowds anymore, and that’s really good. It was actually really fun! And I also went out for drinks, during a really nice summer night, and that was enjoyable, too. How did I not know that having fun can be so effortless? Being able to refrain from judging oneself, and letting go of that workaholic’s remorse regarding leisure time—it’s really quite something. 10/10, can recommend.
Which reminds me of a comment I got from my friend Sonja, regarding my last newsletter’s headline (062019: Take Yourself With You). She pointed out that a good way to make uneasy situations more enjoyable is the thought that you always take yourself with you. And if you are cool with who you are, the uneasy situation might actually become manageable, if not even enjoyable—you’ve always got yourself! I liked that thought, and it made it even more appealing to love myself a bit more.
That’s why I also spent some me-time during July: I read Sally Rooney’s Normal People (as everyone did, apparently, and besides the book, I also enjoyed being part of the hype). I wrote a poem about a deer. I drew a vampire, and I wrote about awkward handshakes. Funnily, I got a lot of feedback on the handshake story from people who I’ve had a lot of awkward-handshake-situations with. Well, we’re all just trapped in our heads I guess.
Anyway: Now that I know that fun is an easily-accessible commodity that I could treat myself with every once in a while, and also now that I know that all my moles (SORRY) are innocuous, I invite you to enjoy this summer to its fullest. It’s August already!