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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.

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as a (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)

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.

(If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as a (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.)

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.

If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as a (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s CornerSign up for it here.

042020: Learning to Love You More

Photo of a street light during blue hour

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.

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One thing I am trying to learn is to smile in pictures.

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 CornerSign up for it here.

032020: Cat Person

Me and my cat as kids

There is this one incredibly strong memory in my head that, when triggered, makes be both very happy and very sad. It goes as follows: When I grew up, I had a big tomcat named Kasimir. He was a soft and gentle animal, and as we both knew each other from a very young age, we were very attached. He enjoyed being held like a baby; his arms wrapped around my neck, me gently swaying him—really, just like a baby. I remember his fur, his scent and flat face pushing against mine. His big paws. I remember everything. And the fact that I remember, even though he died about 8 years ago, gives me a lot of comfort. I might remember it forever. I hope I will.

Together with the comfort of this memory, I’ve spent the past weeks in my apartment, as probably most of you. Just occasionally I went went out to see friends with a distance. We walked along the canal, around Kreuzberg, looking at people and houses. I’ve enjoyed observing the slow progress of coffee shops and ice cream parlors re-opening, arranging themselves with the safety restrictions. Everyone has been extra-friendly, it seemed, and that made me happy. It should stay like that. I hope it does.

I also noticed that the activities I do with friends are a lot more active and thought-through. We go on bike tours, we explore unknown parts of the city, and we share more feelings. I tried making a list of what stays from this pandemic on an interpersonal level, and this should be one of the things. I hope so.

When I walk around my neighborhood now, everything seems to be back to normal. The bridges and parks are full of people, the smell of weed and take-away pizza is everywhere. I get invitations to gatherings; people are dating again; and when I hear loud house music from a party in the park, I want to believe that we can all relax and live summer as we were used to. But I don’t think I’m ready yet, to be honest. It doesn’t feel right. And so I stay here, with my memories and video calls and bike rides, watching cats on TikTok, remembering Kasimir, seeing one friend at a time. It will get better. I’m sure it will.

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I read Rachel Cusks “Outline”. That’s what it is; an outline; observations loosely tied together in a story. I tend to enjoy books where nothing happens, and this is one of them, but some sentences Cusk writes are just very on point.

I wrote a brief love letter to the Flurry screensaver, which you probably know from your Mac or from computers in movies.

I also wrote a postcard from my living room. It was a writing prompt from The Isolation Journals by Suleika Jaouad. Highly recommended newsletter!

The weekly (German) YouTube series “Social Distancing” by Hazel Brugger and Thomas Spitzer is the most wholesome thing to watch on a Sunday (or any day).

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What are your old memories that make you feel all the feels? Think about them for a minute or two. It’s a nice thing to hold on to. And in case you have a cat: Give him or her a big kiss and pat on the head from me. If you have a dog, please do the same. I hope you’re all safe and well and finding your way through these troubled times.

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If you enjoy content like this: I send it out as (irregular) monthly newsletter called Christel’s Corner. Sign up for it here.

The Last Screensaver: An Ode to Flurry

You know it from the first MacBook you bought, or from your school library’s computers, or from the backdrop of a film you recently watched. The Flurry screensaver, shipped with every Mac since 2002, has become an acquainted digital surface in movies, offices and homes.

But screensavers are a thing from the past: We all remember the infamous flying toasters, the virtual fish tanks and mesmerizing labyrinths that covered our grey CRT monitors when our dads entered the room. Flurry was different: it moved away from trashy aesthetics and added a soothing, ambient quality to computer screens. And since its release, it hasn’t changed: A variety of light streams gently move around the black screen, spreading colored particles at different speeds and magnitudes.

Flurry was created by software developer Calum Robinson as a side project in 2002. Briefly after he published it online (you can still find it on Github!), Apple contacted him to include it in their new operating system, Mac OS X “Jaguar”. It complemented the eccentric Aqua interface with a dark and subtle appearance, still colorful enough to catch your eye.

Screensavers were made to protect CRT monitors from phosphor burn-in. If the phosphors glowed at a constant rate for too long, they left traces on the monitor’s glass surface. But we’ve moved away from that technology years ago. Today, it makes much more sense to simply switch off your display. No one would download and install a screensaver anymore, not even for fun. But Flurry is still there, moving its tentacles around empty offices, libraries, accidentally being activated through your Mac’s hot corners.

For me, Flurry is also a steady component of the creative work space. When Macs were not ubiquitous, but mainly a tool for the creative industry, a creator’s desk was immediately recognized by the light-stream covered monitor. Of course, Apple computers also had their outstanding Y2K hardware design back then, but Flurry was that one recognizable software component that said: This desk is a creator’s desk. They might be on a break right now, but they’re still around. Just like Flurry is today.