032021: At the Bottom of Everything

Photo of me with just my eyes, my forehead and the sky visible

After the weather has been indecisive for the whole weekend, the rain finally comes down on this Sunday evening. I am sitting here, in my sparsely lit living room, on the couch, in summer shorts, sipping ice tea. Apparently, these 20 degrees Celsius are what makes our summer this year, and whatever, I’m fine with it.

This dispatch has been on a little break. After the last letters, I felt that my writing had become too whiny, and I wasn’t sure whether I actually have anything of relevance to tell. And, reflecting on the media landscape of the past years, I believe: If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything. We need a slower, calmer internet; we need to be more selective in what we ingest — and as artists, writers and publishers, I think we can be more precise and selective in what we publish and share, as well. I know that all the social media experts will tell you that you’d need to publish one post, three instagram stories and a newsletter each and every day, but honestly: No. You don’t need to. No one needs to read or see it, either. The world won’t spin faster from the noise that we make – it will just cause nausea.

During the past months, one line kept coming back into my head. Donald E. Knuth, professor emeritus at Stanford University, writes: “Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things.” I think this goes for all social media that came after e-mail, too, and it’s exactly where I want to be: At the bottom of things. Here on my sofa, with the rain outside, reading weblogs and making little websites and delving through the vast amount of printed magazines I buy but never get to read.

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A brief note on goings-on in my life and ministry: A couple of months ago (the last dispatch was sent out in April!), I seemed to have unlearned to say the word “No”, and by now I’m wading through piles of unfinished work. Some of it has just been completed though: I designed an innovation report on Synthetic Media for the German broadcaster WDR (read it here; in German), and I wrote another episode of my technology column for form magazine, about screen savers (buy it here). More is to come, and I’m excited to tell you about that soon. Until then, here is a collection of things I enjoyed online:

Seen on TV: My twitter bubble is already full of praise, but I want to stress it yet again: Ted Lasso on Apple TV is a great show, probably the best I’ve seen this year. I have zero interest in soccer, but the show is just a great mixture of fun and emotions, with a refreshing take on male characters.

Thoughts from the home office: How can work environments change once people are required to go back to their cubicles? Will it be required at all? What’s needed to achieve sustainable remote work, asks Cal Newport in the New Yorker.

Reading poetry: The ­ magazine is an inspiring take on digital and interactive poems. The issue Mistaking Glass For Skin and Hannah Schraven’s poem forever dolphin love II are definitely worth your time.

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Maybe I will find a way back to writing this letter more regularly. Or maybe I will stick to the rule to only publish when I feel something is worth publishing. Until then, I will try to stay at the bottom of things. I hope you can find a way to manage the noise, too.

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022021: The Sound of 7 o’Clock

Photo of balloons behind a transulcent window

Almost one year ago, in April 2020: I’m sitting in my reading chair at the window, the iPad on my lap, flipping through a New Yorker issue. David Remnick’s comment on the city’s situation, overwhelmed by the chaos the pandemic had been causing. He describes how the city applauds the essential workers at 7pm every evening (one year later, this feels even more like a farce). I cry over the text, it’s a lot. In April 2020, everything is a lot.

12 months later, we’re still here. The applause silenced, obviously. My routines, like reading magazines before work, also fizzled out. The home office gym classes, the Instagram live dances, the eagerness to cook something new – it all got swallowed by commonplace. The internet, a place I was always happy to spend time, also got boring: The dances have inhabited Instagram, too, and Twitter is overshadowed by arguments and horrific stories, eating up my soul. Paul Bokowski puts it into the right words (I quickly translated): “[…] It may be vital for me to strive for less psychological toxicity. That is, to do something that actually goes against my nature: to deliberately close my eyes. Not from the problem itself, but from its multimedia symptoms. […] The only thing that keeps me happy these days is reading and writing.”

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On words. As much as I like design as a practice, I often struggle talking about it. I want to describe a certain phenomenon, but cannot find the right term for it. Recently, Malte pointed me to Evan Collin’s are.na boards – his (mostly architectural) research provides words for everything! For example: Utopian Scholastic, Gen-X Corporate or The Global Village Coffeehouse (you’ll know it when you see it).

Another term I encountered and liked: Corporate Memphis! Author and designer Rachel Hawley analyzed the illustration style we’ve all seen and internalized during the past years of using digital services: oddly-shaped humans with exaggerated limbs, roller-skates and cheerful colors. Read about how this style is made-to-scale to tell a corporate fairy tale about big tech companies, and how it might evolve in the future.

What else? I’ve been blogging during the past months (mainly in German). I wrote about the sky, about oysters, about my hands, and about the the guy who moved into the ground-floor apartment.

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Quietly, this little e-mail dispatch turned 5 years old. Thanks for reading along! You can find the first issue from 2016 here, but I rather recommend you last year’s letter on temperature guns. In it I wrote: “a lot of things just feel a bit weird right now, right?” The right now part turns 12 months these days, and well, it’s still a lot. But at least we’ve managed it through the dark winter, so let’s stay positive. What other options do we have?

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012021: Where You Find Me

Berlin is preparing for the snowstorm. It’s awaited for Sunday, temperatures are supposed to go below -10°C, and we’re expecting up to 30 centimeters of snow. This city is not used to it anymore; the last time I worried if my shoes were winter-proof was about ten years ago. But sitting in my apartment, as I’ve basically done for the past year, I’m excited for it. I’m excited for the sound of the snow, the silence of city, the brightness and the crisp air.

While I started the year with a big slice of uncertainty, January took care of things itself, and by now, lots of them are clarified. There’s enough work to do, and I’ve accepted that my motivation oscillates between “I’ll make this Wednesday a Sunday and stay in bed” to “LET’S GET THIS DONE”. As we all know, January and February are the hardest months to get through—mood, productivity and serotonin are on their lowest levels. But we are already halfway through! You can find motivation in anything if you’re desperate. And if you can’t, it’s also okay to just stay in bed from time to time.

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Not much else noteworthy happened in January. And as we’re going to be covered unter 30 centimeters of snow at any given moment, things might stay that way a little longer. So here is a short list:

I’ve been listening to the new The Notwist album on repeat the past week. It‘s eery and gloomy; perfectly composed for this weird time. My favorite song is Into Love / Stars, but Where You Find Me is also great and a very typical Notwist song.

If you’re rather in need of uplifting music, give the new Baio album “Dead Hand Control” a spin (e.g. on Spotify). It’s catchy and weird and fun to listen to.

In case we’re not going to be completely snowbound, the Berlinische Galerie published three audio tours guiding you along remarkable 1980s architecture in Berlin. For me as a big Baller-enthusiast, this will be the perfect companion for snowy Sunday walks.

For the readers who are more into nature than architecture: In this Twitter thread, I received some great recommendations on where to meet animals in Berlin these days.

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Animals can be great mood boosters during winter. Unfortunately I only get to see my friends’ and colleagues’ pets via Zoom, but the decision to get a four-legged flatmate is getting closer and closer. Just like the snowstorm! Stay safe, stay at home, and if you want: Stay in bed.

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082020: We’ll be Alright When I Rub My Eyes

December 2020

On magic: It’s March 2020 and I’m on a video call with a friend. We’re all new to this whole stay-at-home situation, and she had offered to lay her Tarot cards for me. She’s using playing cards of Magic: The Gathering, just to spice things up a bit. The cards tell me about the general situation (Silent Attendant: “The Answer to life should never be death; it should always be more life, wrapped tight around us like precious silks”), they give precise recommendations (The Bandage: “Prevent the next damage that would be dealt to any target”), and conclude a possible outcome of it all (The Arcane Laboratory: “It soon became obvious that some experiments were best overseen by fireproof teachers”).

On waves: Admittedly, I do not believe in Tarot, but as we were (and still are) facing months of uncertainty, I enjoyed its randomness. There’s always something to get out of it—if you just read between the lines. So I’m digging into the year: Every other month, I got overwhelmed with pandemic anxiety, but over time, dealing with it became easier. The constant decision-making, weighing reason with facts, desires and relationships was probably the most exhausting part.

While it was widely accepted to be stressed and anxious during the first wave, it feels less tolerated in the current situation: Everybody needs to have their shit together by now. I don’t like that. I liked that everybody talked about how they’re feeling all the time; admitting exhaustion, fears and uncertainty. I want that to stay even after Corona. We will all get better at expressing it.

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I listened to a lot of Charli XCX this year. Here’s an interesting introduction to Hyperpop (if you were wondering what all the Tumblr Vaporwave kids were up to now). A plan for next year is to actually tidy up my Spotify playlists—for now, you can tune in to my public playlist. This letter’s headline is from my song of the year: Rub My Eyes by Hearts Hearts.

A book that I keep thinking about is Ottessa Moshfegh’s “My Year of Rest and Relaxation.” I read it in January and it somehow set the scene for the months to come. Follow my readings on Goodreads, if you like.

As people are talking about digital gardens and mourn the days of personal online publishing, I am happy to point out: Weblogs do still exist! For example: Gabriel, Nina, Marcel, LisaAndreas.

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For the new year, I encourage you to read between the lines. Read between anything! There’s always stuff to carve out. And for now: Let’s stay at home as much as we can, to prevent the next damage that would be dealt to any target.Another year, another round, make it count.

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072020: I Don’t Know Anything, I’m Just a Rock in the Sky

Sunset on Tempelhofer Feld

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.

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062020: H is for Hawk

Image of a roof with a last ray of sun

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.

052020: A Summer Wasting

a photo of a classic ice cream cup

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.

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Things that caught my attention:

As my friends know, I am big fan of the houses by Inken, Doris and Hinrich Baller. Ex Libris dedicated one of their No News News issues to Baller’s exceptional Berlin architecture.

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.

As a quick break from sitting outside, I can recommend this short animated series about Tinder date stories on arte.

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.

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