Or: This month basically was as gloomy as a song by The National.
There is one tag line by Frank Chimero, which I often use as a personal excuse for everything that goes wrong in my life. “Professional Designer, Amateur Human”. This works perfectly for the past month: May.
It’s the moment in which I am sitting on the concrete stairs in front of Berlin’s “Haus der Kulturen der Welt”, a beautiful location right inside the city’s biggest park. The annual TYPO design conference takes place there. And while the conference was a huge success — we as the editorial team wrote over 70 blog posts for all the talks — I am sitting there, on the stairs, under me the silver reflections of the shallow water, and for a brief moment I have the feeling that I am loosing control of my life. It slips away. The moment is short but crisp and clear, and after it, everything seemed different. So I call my friend Eva.
She visited later that month, and as I wrote about how important it is to acknowledge the awesomeness of people who surround us: Eva really is awesome. Talking to her for ten minutes makes me motivated for life, it makes me curious and courageous, and everything seems doable and acceptable. Even if the whole conversation spins around a problem where we both don’t know the solution for: It makes me feel less like an amateur. Thanks for that.
Three other great people are Roman, Sebastian and Beate, who’s documentary about young philosophers was screened for the first time in Berlin last month. I lived with Roman when they started editing the material back in 2014 (!), so I knew bits and pieces. But the final movie turned out really wonderful. It makes the process of thinking visible, and manages to not be boring for a single second. The audience at the screening were mostly philosophy and cultural science students, and I learned: philosophy students ask a lot of questions. One of them wanted to know about the initial motivation to make the movie. I loved Sebastian’s reply: “I asked myself: Which movie do I have to make, that everyone else would simply fuck up?”
This was a key moment for me. A moment about relevance in creative work. A key to making purposeful things. There is so much design in this world that is useless, and so many valuable ideas that are so badly designed. Maybe because of all the amateurs. Sorry, this newsletter was messy, but so was May. Hopefully June will be better.
This blog turned 10 years in April. What the?! It started out as a crappy Blogger blog called “Blogski Christowski”, then I moved it to WordPress, and eventually ended up on Tumblr, because I once thought mobile blogging would become a thing. It didn’t though. Micro-blogging became a thing, and all the blogs I used to enjoy as a teenager disappeared. The only things people really blog about these days are green smoothies, fashion and the death of blogging. Everything else is on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, you name it. But I like it here. I like the old school flair the word “blog” pours. And I am glad some of you are still around. Thanks for that.
April was packed: I went to Milan for the first time. It’s a nice city (even though my friends mentioned through-out the trip how different Milan was to other Italian cities). What I don’t really understand is Italy’s coffee culture: You enter a café, order at one counter and pay (even if you haven’t decided for your type of croissant yet), then walk to another counter and choose the croissant, and finally order again – at another counter – the coffee you initially ordered. You have to drink it while standing in everyone’s way though, because if you sit down, the coffee gets really expensive. I don’t know. If you’re used to Berlin’s artisanal coffee-brewing craftsmanship, Italian coffee simply is nothing special.
We went to the furniture fair, Salone di Mobile, but realized that 24 halls full of chairs and brass side tables are too much to handle. We mainly were fascinated by the first halls; the “Classics”. Everything there was a bit too much (understatement of the year): Gold, marble, heavy curtains, a champaign bar that electrically rises out of a palatial wooden table. There is so much luxury in the world that we can’t even imagine.
More Milan: 150 years after Da Vinci finished his gigantic and famous mural “The Last Supper”, someone cut a door into it, and Jesus’ feet were gone. Like, who would do that? In German museums, you are likely to be expelled by the museum attendant if you don’t keep a safety distance of two meters from an exhibit.
Three more thoughts that popped up last month:
Always leave with the mindset of leaving for good. If you are a nervous traveller, do not think about the fact that you have to go back again. That thought pollutes the whole trip. Travel and think, Ok, I’m going to stay here.
Concerts are poems, really. I went to see Akua Naru, without knowing her, and I was sure that her music wasn’t really my kind of music. But her show was brilliant: A mixture of rap, jazz, mellow and loud, connected by a well-crafted narrative. Which is really the most important thing for a concert (and the reason why I hardly go to any concerts anymore).
All palaces are temporary palaces.
April was not only busy, but also decision-heavy. I wondered: Can decisions really be wrong if you decide to always make the best out of it? May will show us. I’m off to catch some sun now.
Since I started cycling to work, my phone usage has gone down about one hour per day. In March, I spent over a full day—roughly 26 hours—on trains. That gave me the chance to catch up on some podcasts and articles I saved within the last weeks.
In context of the Apple/FBI lawsuit, I really enjoyed this story by Loney Abrams called “Larping off the grid”. Set in 2020, where wearable devices are mandatory for every citizen, she explores the idea of disconnecting yourself from constant connection. While just a couple of days ago the FBI claimed to have hacked a terrorist’s locked iPhone (after fighting Apple who refused to create a back door to access the data), the story considers the necessity of hacking yourself OUT of technology, rather than IN to it. Which, I think, is an interesting idea, and I can relate to it: Who doesn’t know the urge of setting the phone to flight mode and hide it in the drawer for a couple of hours, just for some peace and quiet?
Technology is so weird: We created something that stands in a constantly oscillating relation to ourselves. My friend’s parents bought a robotic vacuum cleaner. When I joined them at the dinner table, they were talking about it, about it’s efficiency and noise, how it knows where the stairs are, and how it makes the edges of the carpet uneven. As I missed the beginning of the conversation, I did not realize immediately that we were talking about a machine, not a human.
Later this month: Over easter, I visited my parents in Augsburg. Seven years ago, I could not wait to leave it behind me, but now, with a certain distance (and my parent’s new flat much closer to the city center!), I can see it’s beauty. Augsburg is known for the Fuggerei, the world’s oldest social housing complex, located right in the middle of the old city. People still live there, for 88 cents rent per year, with the requirement to be catholic and to pray three times a day.
When we visited the Fugger chapel close to the amazing weekly market, I noticed the beautiful walls made out of some sort of “faux marble”. Created with the Scagliola technique, a mixture of minerals, glue and pigments, it features vivid patterns and a shiny surface. The creation process makes the material much more precious than real marble, and that alone is a reason to love it.
I started being more cautious when it comes to surfaces and materials. Working in the digital field, my main fabric are pixels, and there’s not much variety to them. Getting inspired by textures from fashion, paper (remember the paper grain web design trend a couple of years ago?!), and nature helps refreshing the eyes. Nature always helps. Spring is here. Happy April!
It’s February 29, shortly after 11pm. I’m sitting in Berlin Prenzlauer Berg, on an old but comfortable IKEA sofa. This day was a rare one. I hope you made it count!
So. February. I changed my phone’s passcode in the beginning of this month. I’ve had the same four-digit-code for at least four years, and as my phone does not support any form of biometric identification, I need to keep typing that code to access my device. What I was not aware of though was the strength with which this code had been woven into my muscle memory. After 29 days, and over hundreds of unlocks, my thumb still is not quite able to perform the new numeric array. The struggle is real!
Sticking with phones (topic-wise): The new qz app got quite some attention in our office slack and in my twitter stream. Basically, it’s a robot that texts you the news. In a messenger-like interface, it provides short bits of information, and offers either questions to learn more on the topic, a link for further reading, or another piece of content. While the tone of voice is friendly and human-like, I only used it once for curiosity reasons, and never again.
What I started using more during the last month was Snapchat. We all struggled in wrapping our head around the confusing, basically also non-existing interface (swipe here, tap there, accidentally send an ugly selfie to a stranger and close the app in frustration), but I started liking it after a while. It’s nice to get so close to people’s lives, almost observing them, letting them carry you around their everyday life through the phone’s front-camera. While there are some really good snapchatters like my friend Eva (👻 hurraeva) or Cecilia (👻 motionandgrowth), who only use it when they actually have a relevant story to tell, it’s mainly a channel for nonsense and gibberish, which, honestly, is quite nice after a long day of work. Let the others do the talking. 👻 christowski1 (lamest nick name in the history of nick names.)
His death earlier this month truly saddened me. I have been in awe of his work ever since I started writing; his way of telling stories and embracing life‘s oddities has been a true inspiration during my last ten years (I wrote about one of his readings nine years ago on this blog). When he passed away, so many beautiful, admiring and sad articles had been published, and they got me thinking: How do we appreaciate someone’s existance while they are still with us, without being overly emotional or pathetic? How do we let them know we appreciate the work they do, and the time they share with us? I find that hard sometimes, oftentimes.
Roger Willemsen wrote a quarterly column called Willemsens Jahreszeiten in ZEIT Magazin. Here’s the archive. Even though there won’t be a new column this spring, we have one thing to look forward to in March: Daylight saving time. “Es wird Frühling!”
One of the hardest months of the year is coming to an end. The darkness of winter is eating me up, I want to hide inside and just wait till it’s over. Neukölln is not a pleasurable place to be during the winter months – I hate spending time outside after 5pm, which leads to a lot of home office days and me temporarily moving to my friend’s home in Prenzlauer Berg.
Something that helped my dark mood and misanthropy: Avoiding public transport. I stepped up the cycling game, buying thermal underwear, rain clothes, and made a DIY ass-saver (who would buy a bicycle without mud guards?!). When it was -10°C, my most important purchase was a pair of really expensive Roeckl gloves, which I lost one week later. By then, January was well-disposed; temperatures almost spring-like.
Also purchased were too many books this month: Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human, Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, and a couple of novels I want to read this year. The latter – 100 Essays – is just a pleasure to read because it consists of really short, really fun musings on theatre. I tend to buy a lot of books and never make it past the first 80 pages, and for a long time I thought I am just not the smart book person I wanted to be. In fact, my attention span is very short when it comes to reading, but oftentimes, I also just choose the wrong ones. I had maybe two or three books last year that I read in one go, for example Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A fantastic novel with simply the right amount of zeitgeist and magic. I bought it at The Curious Fox in Neukölln, which you should pay a visit if you’re into english books.
Before you start, make sure that you follow this guide at an even time: Wait until it’s half three, or eight, or maybe quarter to ten.
Stand in front of your desk. Look at it with a judging eye, and after a few seconds, throw away everything you don’t need. Put all open letters and documents in their respective folders and drawers.
Then, look at what’s left: Everything irrelevant gone? Start spreading out all remaining objects evenly on the table; as if their position needed to balance out the tabletop. Afterwards, adjust all objects to a specific angle.
Sit down in front of your neatly arranged desk. Look at your computer, take a deep breath, and switch it on. After the operating system is accessible, navigate to Finder → View → Show View Options. This opens a narrow, floating window with settings.
For icon size, chose 16 × 16. Select the maximum grid size, and for the label position, select “right”.
Close the little floating window, then close your laptop. Take a deep breath, and lastly, close your eyes.
A book I always like to give away as a present is Miranda July’s first collection of short stories, “No one belongs here more than you”. They are all brilliant, weird, and heart-shaking in their own way. You can’t really go wrong with it, there is something for everyone in it, and it always tells you something new.
With July’s first novel, “The First Bad Man”, it’s a little different. Even though it says on the back cover that I need to buy this twice and give one to a friend, I hesitated to do so. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed reading it, and there were many scenes and ideas I really liked: The Globus Hystericus for example, which appears to be the narrator’s main concern at first. Her visits to the doctor weave a beautiful and sad connection between the characters, and strain a golden thread throughout the book. Miranda July has great talent to subtly create scenes and spaces—I immediately felt as a neighbor or observer, hanging around somewhere in the vast, sunny and empty streets of Los Angeles. In a way, the whole story felt a bit like a rumor being spread in the neighborhood—a rumor about this really strange person and her gardener, a story about violence, unrequited love and parenthood.
Before thinking about giving this novel away as a present, I do recommend to read it for yourself first. It’s not for everyone. Also: The german title is “Der erste fiese Typ”, and this just sounds so wrong and absolutely not how Miranda July would speak; you should read it in english if you can.
For the book launch, Miranda created an online store where she sold artefacts that make an appearance in the book. A broken vase, a long dress with many buttons, a spoon or an old envelope—by now it’s all sold. July always adds a layer to everything. I still love that about her.