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10. Februar 2020

012020: Palindrome Days

image of the gallery space

We’re standing in an empty two-room apartment in Kreuzberg, with freshly painted white walls and floors covered in grey carpet. It smells like solvent or glue. A young woman presents us the artwork that is currently shown in this gallery (that’s what the apartment apparently is used as). A bunch of wooden panels and beams are stacked onto each other, occupying one of the rooms completely. It looks like someone’s about to move in, or out; it feels like we need to pass through these rooms to get to the actual gallery. But we don’t: “This artist’s installation is presented in three phases. Currently, we’re in phase two, where the installation—a room within the room—is being dismantled and stored right here in the exhibition space.”

I mean, honestly, my first thought was: This is stupid. This isn’t a gallery, even if the rooms are lit by neon lights and presented by a smart, well-dressed art history student; and the artwork clearly doesn’t function in these rooms. But then again: I liked the idea of showing this dismantled state. We all know it, right? Being in-between, just stacked and stored somewhere, waiting to be put together again. I liked that someone tried to find beauty in it, and I am trying, too.

* * *

A random January list:

I’m reading actual books again. After “My Year of Rest and Relaxation”, I read short stories by Doris Dörrie, and am now in the middle of Steven King’s “On Writing”. Follow me on GoodReads!

If you’re having a hard time getting the year started, my friend Hans has a bunch of arguments to overcome artificial limits. I know Hans, you can fully trust him on that one.

Don’t judge: I started watching YouTubers that recommend minimalist lifestyles and hand out tips for productivity and personal growth (I am already cringing whilst writing this). Matt D’Avella’s videos are nicely filmed, though! I’ve been taking cold showers since, and I love it! Changed my life! New year new me etc.

I’ve been listening to music, too: Hatchie, a singer/songwriter from Australia, got stuck in my head forever. Right now it’s Ngahere Wafer and his album You’re So Cool from 2017. I’m late to the game, as always.

* * *

I found the idea of being in a in-between state also in this beautiful twitter thread by @nichtschubsen. It’s German, and it asks: “If your life was a recipe, at which step would it be right now?” People replied things like “stir gently” or “whip thoroughly” or “throw away and order pizza”. It’s an option, too, and who doesn’t like Pizza?! However, let’s ask the follow-up question: What’s the next step of your recipe?

I hope you’re having a good February, whatever state you’re in. It’s a long one this time, and we had the first palindrome date (02.02.2020) for 909 years (11.11.1111). We won’t outlive the next one, on 12.12.2121. But that’s okay. Keep going/simmering/baking/etc.

If you enjoy writing like this, you should subscribe to my (irregular) monthly newsletter: Christel’s Corner.

31. Dezember 2019

122019: All I Need is One Night to See if it’s Right

Image of a cloudy sky at night

When I enter my cold Berlin apartment after spending the Christmas holidays at my parent’s house, I immediately throw my bag on the bed and start unpacking. After all those years (10, to be precise) and train rides between Berlin and Bavaria, I still suck at packing bags appropriately. So many redundancies! The water colors I bring every time, as well as the sketchbook, that is left unopened during the whole stay. The stack of unread New Yorker issues—who is actually able to read that much every week?! The shirts and jumpers I wanted to wear but didn’t, as I hardly left the house and spent the holidays in my comfortable sweatpants. And the ugly brooches I bought for everyone but forgot to hand out on Christmas eve. It all goes back into the drawers and shelves. And like those brooches, some things are meant to be left behind in 2019 entirely.

I just finished my yearly review lists, asking myself: What was good? What wasn’t so good? What was missing in 2019, and what do I need more of in 2020? It was easy to make these lists this year. I learned to identify and get rid of stuff that does no good for me (it just took a lot of therapy and a bunch of breakdowns to learn that). But I got it now. Or, let’s say: I got better at it! Cheers to that!

In 2019, I wrote a brief essay on the things I wanted to focus on: More excellence regarding my work; taking up more space regarding myself; and allowing more feelings regarding … my LIFE, I guess?! Well, essay comes from the french verb “essayer”; to try, and that I did. Most of the time. I didn’t become a master of any of these things, but at least I managed to remind myself about them throughout the year. I even allowed myself to be less excellent in certain situations, or take up more space than I would usually, or cry (!!!) while watching a movie; or presenting an honest indifference towards things that didn’t interest me. Or, simply, remembering to hug someone extra hard when it was necessary. (This, in particular, is something I want more of in 2020, that’s for sure.)

What I enjoyed watching, reading and thinking about during the past months:

  • I admittedly was surprised that the German Queer Eye spin-off by the Berlin public tv station RBB actually turned out really nice and, thanks to Fabian Hart, is really wholesome and not cringeworthy at all. You can find the three episodes on the ARD Mediathek (in German).
  • My Twitter feed has been full of hate and destructive arguments lately, so I decided to pause Twitter for a couple of days. I made a list of a small number of people I actually wanted to follow, and until now I don’t miss any of the rest.
  • Doris Dörrie wrote a book about Writing, and even though I haven’t read it yet, I started writing again, on paper, everyday, just for myself. It’s true what she says: 10 minutes of writing can be a cheap, easy and relieving journey back to yourself. Give it a try.
  • I also wrote about salad. I just had to get this off my chest, really.
  • I took the Dazed 2010’s Subculture Quiz and—surprise—my subculture is Normcore. What’s yours?

So, that was 2019 then. Unpacking bags, re-arranging shelves, deleting candids and duplicates in my Photos library, and making lists clearly clears the mind. I hope this brief note finds you well while switching decade. The upcoming year already has a bunch of exciting changes that I can foresee, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you. Stay safe and sound and let’s hug extremely hard when we see each other next time.

This issue’s title is borrowed from: WHY? – Stained Glass Slipper (Listen on Spotify or Apple Music). By the way: You can subscribe to these diary-like posts via e-mail! It’s my newsletter Christel’s Corner. Get it here!

3. November 2019

112019: If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

November 2019

Partly stressed, partly depressed, with a tiny spark of excitement, I am sitting in front of an empty slide deck. It’s some rainy weekend in October, and I am supposed to give a talk about my work during the upcoming week. I am paralyzed.

I used to give presentations quite frequently; I would even say that it used to be one of my best-trained designer muscles. But during that weekend I noticed how rusty I’ve gotten; how tricky I found it to draw a line without an actual pencil; and how shaky my voice gets while it peeks on the speaker notes. On the other hand: I really, genuinely enjoy it. I love talking about design, about an idea or a craft or a process, drawing that story line and deciding what’s worth saying and what isn’t. I just haven’t done it in a very long time.

So, as I am sitting at my desk, blank page horror in full blossom, I text my friend Ralf about my sorrows. He reminds me of a very basic wisdom: “If it doesn’t work, keep doing it—it’ll come to you eventually.” If you’re going through hell, keep going. It sounds cheesy, plain and overly dramatic, but drama helps, ffs sake; emotions help!, and it has a whole lot of truth to it. In the end, that stroll through hell saved me yet again: After I finished the slides and after the presentation was given and when I allowed myself to be relieved, I noticed: Wow, It’s good to be reunited with something I really like. Winning that spark back wasn’t as hard after all, it just felt so for a little part of the way.

Speaking of speaking: In October, I was invited by StanHema to talk about my design work and its relation to writing and text. That was fun, because as as we all know: Design is writing is design, and sorting and sharing all these connections in my head was really motivating and eye-opening.

I also noticed that this September marked my 10-year-anniversary in Berlin. I’ve always imagined to write a huge thinkpiece on how this city changed me, my life, my believes etcetera yada yada, so that in the end, I just published a list of random thoughts.

Learned about myself: I’m really into poetry. Actually I’ve always been, I just didn’t want to admit it, and I only like the weird stuff. And Rilke.

Even more links: I enjoyed this documentary about elderly people who speed-date (German); I learned a lot about Susan Sontag in this article about writing her biography; and I always admire Robert Riegers photography and especially his instagram posts.

I hope you’re all on a safe stroll off of any hell-like trails, but if you’re in the thick of one: Keep going! Have a blissful start into November.

3. September 2019

Flying Low & Passing Through

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.

31. Juli 2019

072019: Isn’t It Ironic?!

image of an ink blotI 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!

26. Juni 2019

062019: Take Yourself With You

Me being happy in Vienna

(Picture of me being happy in Vienna a couple of weeks ago)

It’s 9.30pm and 21°C outside, which is quite nice. I am sitting on my sofa while typing this; after I spent 50 per cent of the weekend sick in bed, another 25 per cent with friends, and the remaining 25 per cent with myself, which I’ve been enjoying a lot lately.

So what has been happening?! I admire people who manage to send out newsletters on a very regular basis, but I am not one of them. That’s actually good for you, because I guess I am not the only one with tons of unread newsletters in my inbox, which I’d LIKE to read but eventually just mark as read because there is so much other stuff to read and see and do.

In general: I’ve learned a lot about what kind of person I am and what I am not, and accepting both has been a big relief recently. I am not a travel-person, for example, at least not right now, and that’s okay. I am, however, a picky eater, and that’s okay too. I’ve spent years trying not to be one; trying to like everything, but you know what: Liking everything is ~not joyful~ at all. Being at ease with the things you can and cannot fulfill is fantastic, and it makes coping with life so much easier. Cool that I only needed 27 years to figure that out.

Sitting here, on a Sunday night, with a cold soda and an uncomfortably warm laptop on my lap, made me remember my last summer: I’ve spent it completely inside, writing my thesis, letting the warm days pass by. I am not a lake person, or a picknick person, but I definitely am a summer person. I am looking forward to making it count (a bit more) this year.

Hard facts to add some links to this letter: We’ve polished Zeit Online a little bit (as in: we removed the sidebar, and made everything a bit nicer and bigger and better). When I showed the designs to readers, no one noticed a difference, and that was okay. I wasn’t trying to design something new; I just wanted to improve the existing thing, and as Lucius Burckhardt taught me: Good Design is invisible. (Bitter pill to swallow at first, admittedly.)

I’ve also been blogging (yes, I still do that occasionally): I drew manspreaders I saw on the train, I cycled behind a woman with a carpet beater, and I drew a selfie of me on my therapist’s sofa. I generally try to draw more on my instagram.

Even during summer, sofas seem to be my happy place. Nothing wrong with that! That’s why I’m sending you kindest regards from between these pillows here right now, and kindly ask you to stay cool and use sunscreen during the next days.

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31. Dezember 2018

122018: Think Lightly of Yourself, And Deeply of the World

Image of the night out of the train

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.