Like every morning, my eyes open at 5:55am. Partly because of my inner clock, but also because my thoughts tumble around and wake me up. I start laying out tasks for the day, and conversations I need to conduct; I push words around like letters on a scrabble board, and while I end up with perfect formulations at 5:55, I usually miss out on using them during the day. I stay in bed until 7:30, sometimes 9:00am. Then I get up.
On the last day of this year (you are probably reading this in 2019 already, so take this as a greeting from the past and send it to the archives), I got up at 8:00am sharp. I went to a supermarket and bought three zucchinis. Then I re-read the newsletter I sent out one year ago. It was titled “You Think You Might Not Get Through It But You Do”. That’s probably what I learned throughout this year: You actually do. I finished a lot of things this year; I got a master’s degree, I worked with a lot of great people, and I worked on a lot of things including myself. I end this year being torn between totally agreeing to Jerry Salz’s statement “Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away” (I blogged about his great piece on being an artist), and accepting that not working might sometimes actually be the best cure for my nervous self. I might find out in 2019. Don’t cry—work. If you feel like it.
What follows are the occasional recommendations from around the web. E.g. Austin Kleon’s weblog, in particular this exploration of the metaphor “surfing the web“.
I enjoyed this piece by the California Sunday Magazine about Homes. They photographed and talked to a variety of people where and how they feel at home, and the audio layer of the piece makes it extra-intimate.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to move my blog’s home from Tumblr to a self-hosted system again. I made tons of posts (dating back to 2006!) private, and kept only the writing I still like public. When Tumblr decided to apply content filters as of Dec. 17, I already left the platform. Malte’s tweet summed up my feelings perfectly: “take this recent tumblr crackdown as a reminder that this is still the web. you can learn to build and own your own platforms.” (12/4/2018)
Drawing the 2018-Finishing-Line: Fear has been, yet again, way to dominant in my year, and I want to continue working on taming it. Besides that, I want to become better at using those formulations I make at 5:55am, I want to become better at taking up space, and more intent at making decisions. I hope you all had a great year and have some (not too many!) plans for 2019. Stay safe and sound, Yours truly—Christoph.
Every once in a while I feel insanely insecure about my creative work and my output. I start comparing myself to others, and eventually, I get totally numb and stop making things at all. Which is bad. That’s why a while ago, I jotted down an instagram post to remind myself of my worries, and how to handle them. Sometimes, you just need a little mantra, a spell, a little routine to get back on track.
To get this thing off instagram, I published it on a little website. Check it out and share it with your friends. ✨
One of the best things I’ve read this week was art critic Jerry Saltz’s “How to Be an Artist” (New York Magazine, Nov. 26, 2018). In 33 rules, he describes and explains how to deal with life as a creative person, and how to become a better, more confident artist. I nodded my head at almost every single point, but here are the quotes and ideas I actually enjoyed to most:
1: Don’t be Embarrassed. You often reveal things about yourself that others may find appalling, weird, boring, or stupid. People may think you’re abnormal or a hack. Fine. When I work, I feel sick to my stomach with thoughts like None of this is any good. It makes no sense. But art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t even need to be good.
I’ve been studying and working in the creative field for about 10 years now and still feel it, and Jerry’s list doesn’t sound like this feeling of embarrassment and insecurity will go away. So I guess I better learn to deal with it.
Lesson 5: Work, Work, Work. (…) Every artist and writer I know claims to work in their sleep. I do all the time. (…) How many times have you been given a whole career in your dreams and not heeded it? It doesn’t matter how scared you are; everyone is scared. Work. Work is the only thing that takes the curse of fear away.
This last sentence stuck with me. I am going to paint it on the wall of my living room, maybe even on the insides of my eyelids. It’s not necessarily meant in a workaholic way, but in a way to remember myself that creative work can always a safe haven, too.
Lesson 6: Start With a Pencil. (…) Next, draw the square foot in front of you. This can be tight, loose, abstract, realistic. It’s a way to see how you see objects, textures, surfaces, shapes, light, dark, atmosphere, and patterns. It tells you what you missed seeing.
I just enjoyed this little exercise and can recommend it to everyone. Drawing helps you see things.
Forget Being a Genius and Develop Some Skills.
Lesson 9: “Embed thought in material.” — Roberta Smith. (…) An object should express ideas; art should contain emotions. And these ideas and feelings should be easy to understand — complex or not.
Exercise: An Archaeology. Make an index, family tree, chart, or diagram of your interests. All of them, everything: visual, physical, spiritual, sexual. Leisure time, hobbies, foods, buildings, airports, everything. Every book, movie, website, etc. The totality of this self-exposure may be daunting, scary. But your voice is here. This will become a resource and record to return to and add to for the rest of your life.
This reminded me a lot on the Starterpack meme I made a couple of months ago, which was so much fun and taught me a lot about myself. It also made me accept myself more.
Lesson 14: Compare Cats and Dogs. Okay, this sounds ridiculous, but call your dog and it comes right over to you, placing its head in your lap, slobbering, wagging its tail: a miraculous direct communication with another species. Now call your cat. It might look up, twitch a bit, perhaps go over to the couch, rub against it, circle once, and lie down again. What am I saying? In seeing how the cat reacted, you are seeing something very close to how artists communicate.
This quote is a much needed argument for cat people, like me.
The best definition of success is time — the time to do your work.
When I was working in an agency full-time, I enjoyed the work I did, but it often didn’t feel like creative work—as it was never work that included myself as an artist. It was client work. After I couple of years I noticed that this doesn’t make me happy. Today I still sometimes feel guilty about it; something in my head tells me that anything but a full-time job is just lazy. Turns out: Creativity is a full-time job by itself.
Envy looks at others but blinds you.
I guess the only way to prevent my eyes from getting worse is to change my view on fellow designers and artists. Not that I am full of envy, but I noticed looking at other people’s work too much prevents me from believing in my own stuff.
After beating yourself up for half an hour or so, stop and say out loud, “Yeah, but I’m a fucking genius.”
I am strolling through Goethe’s garden (as depicted) as I’m in Weimar, a small German city known for, well, Goethe’s œuvre and the Bauhaus university. It’s mid-September; summer is still in full blossom and makes us all feel like we could get used to this; this does not need to stop, ever. But it will, we all know it, the seasons won’t fool us. But we like the idea of being fooled, even for a couple more weeks.
One and a half months later—October’s in its final hours as I type this—I peel myself out of bed and turn on the radiator; I have my gloves and thermal underwear in place and switched from iced coffees to hot tea. But outside, I still cycle through golden, leave-paved streets on Urbanstraße, which is delightful and makes the thought of the upcoming months more bearable.
I am happy to welcome you to another episode of this little gathering. Quite a few things happened during this summer; however, I wasn’t part of most of them. I was busy writing my Master’s thesis. While passing a couple of miserable moments (”Fuck this; nobody cares about my degree, let’s simply not finish it”, as well as “With this thesis I will go down as the first design student who failed and disappointed his supervisors in an abysmal manner”), I finished the book, I had it printed, I presented it in front of a room of intimidated undergraduates, and I passed. I was actually happy with the result. Lesson learned: Accepting that your own work is enough as it is, and trusting the people who tell you along the way that you are doing fine, could prevent a lot. Of. Stress.
During the thesis research as well as the writing as well as the miserable phases, I had two mantras pinned to my wall, hoping to find peace with both of them. One said “You are not special, work harder!”, the other one said “You are valid”. To cut a long, philosophical exploration short: I still haven’t found peace with neither of them. I don’t think I am special, but working harder isn’t always an option (sometimes, yes, but I carry a slight disbelief in the hard-work-can-get-you-anywhere-philosophy). Being valid, however, is a though one: Am I? Is that all enough? Is a book and it’s presentation in front of intimidated undergraduates and a good grade and a finished degree enough? I know that I myself am the person who can decide what’s enough, but how on earth am I supposed to know?!
[A lot of italics, this time. I am sorry. Maybe I should make this newsletter a podcast. (No.)]
The thesis was the main reason I didn’t get to jump into Berlin’s lakes during this summer’s heatwave. Very possibly, after nine years in Berlin, it was the first time I envied my friends and actually wished to refresh my media-theory-twined brain with a jump into cold water. But it’s okay. Maybe next year, or maybe never; maybe I really am not the person for lakes (that’s at least what I learned about myself every time someone convinced me to join them for a trip to Berlin’s outskirts).
I am trying to re-structure this monthly (or rather quarterly?) piece of writing little bit. You’ve already made it through the biggest part; the self-absorbed ramblings and updates on life and existence. What follows is a shorter part, where technology, design, culture and feelings are taking turns.
To keep it brief this time, I’d like to hand out two recommendations to add to your digital digest:
1) Spencer Tweedy restructured his newsletter as well and now sends out very brief and snackable observations. Subscribe here or delve through his online collection of words.
2) Perfect for quick lunch or dinner breaks home alone: The New Yorker’s Cartoon Lounge YouTube series. Everything is fun and witty and entertaining about it: The animated intro, the cartoons themselves, but especially the charming hosts Emma Allen and Colin Stokes. Watch the playlist here.
I hope you all had a great summer, got one or two chances to jump into a lake (or any other refreshing surrounding), and are in peace with how much you need to be to be content with yourself. If you have any tips or other, more rewarding mantras, please let me know.
I am at a conference about the internet and mental health. It’s a one-day event and I only bought a ticket because I wanted to hear Katrin Passig and Felix Stalder share their ideas on how the digital transformation influences our brain, our behavior, and how our society handles the “New”.
As the speakers discuss the meaning of digital endorsements and interaction (such as “likes”, “favs”, comments, etc), an older man in the row in front of me leans in to his neighbor: “I’ve never liked anything in my entire life”.
That sentence stuck with me more than any of the talks or discussions. As an active participant in social media, of course I cannot imagine that someone never “liked” anything. What’s not to like! But out of context, the sentence is deeply saddening. Imagine this elderly person, sitting in a darkened conference room on a sunny day, leaning in to his seat mate, with a cold coffee in his hands, confessing: “I’ve never liked anything in my entire life”. I’m glad that the internet preserved me from this nightmare.
I have liked and still do like quite a bunch of things in my life. Recently, these albums and playlists, for example:
1) Baio – The Names (Spotify link). Chris Baio, known as the bassist from Vampire Weekend, makes cheerful indie pop music, and I especially like his album covers and this remix album (Spotify link).
2) Young Fathers – Cocoa Sugar (Spotify link). I know, I’m late to the party, but after their track Shame has been my workout soundtrack for MONTHS, I was looking forward to a new album—and it’s great!
It’s intense how Berlin transforms from Europes ugliest/greyest/saddest/dirtiest city into the most wonderful place on earth during spring: I cycle through the streets and have exactly the same thought as every year around that time: There possibly is no better city for me to exist in than here. I hope you enjoy spring as much as I do! Have a good one, and talk to you soon.
I don’t want to write too many words on this, because I am about to ask you to read this blog post by Frank Chimero. Read it entirely, read it thoroughly. He composed a list of all the things he learned about productivity, and actually, about general happiness as a workaholic. It can pick you up. For example, he suggests:
Dump your brain on to a sheet of paper—every single thing you could hope to do in the next 3 to 4 months. Then, look at your task list. Have the author sign each one. Did you write it, or was it fear, that nasty tyrant in your head? Cross off anything written out of fear. Listen: some drudgery is unavoidable, but you’re living your one and only life. You get to drive; no bullies at the wheel.
… And after a while, Frank comes back to that sheet of paper:
(…) Many of the things you thought you needed to do in the next few months were left undone without noticeable consequences. Perhaps now you can now cut their weight. “Goodbye, heavy friends. Maybe someone else will give you the attention you need.”
As we’re jumping into the moving van, Felix asks me to hold a bag of medical supplies he brought from the hospital. Tubes, syringes, needles, disinfectant spray, all packaged separately in thin plastic bags. What’s that for, I ask. Felix’ friend—a doctor, too—was going to start his first job next week, and Felix promised to help him practice injections and blood sampling.
The way he handed me the bag with supplies was very casual, but I felt weird and—all of a sudden—very useless. When I help my friends and colleagues with work stuff, it’s usually about color choices, or whether the copywriting of an input field is clear enough. It doesn’t have any relevance at all. Whereas Felix, he f-ing helps friends take blood cells out of a body to put them into a laboratory to check them for diseases, and to actually cure them.
The whole tale that “Design can change the world!” has already been demystified a while ago. Another poster won’t save the world, nor will another app, or another chair, or typeface. Design does have the ability to make things better, but looking at our world full of over-designed products and services, it hardly ever is executed in a way that it does so. Design is often used to make bad things look better, and through that, it multiplies its negative impact. To be honest, that sometimes make we want to quit design altogether.
On the other hand, I am very lucky to work with people who are striving to use design for the better. Maybe that’s also because I waved goodbye to the startup world quite some time ago, and I try to work only with people and companies who I find relevant and/or pleasant as human beings (not only as colleagues). No bad vibes are worth the money, especially when you decided to make your passion your job.
2 — Pictures: I created a meme-inspired “starterpack” about my personality. Check it out here and make your own—I’d be curious!
3 — Life Hack: I unfollowed everyone who calls theirself “influencer” on social media and posts tons of ads. It just makes the web a shitty place. Please stop it.
4 — Lesson learned: Negative people are not worth your energy. It’s okay to stay away from them.
So, I helped Felix move last month. I also helped two friends paint their walls, and I re-arranged my furniture (it looks shit, so I’ll have to move it back again tomorrow). I will continue to design stuff, even if it’s worthless compared to the benefit a doctor brings into the world. I simply can’t do anything else; so I might just use it well. Have a great start into spring (Yes! We made it through the winter! Isn’t that something!).