For the time after my last day at work (I quit my job mid-August), I had a list prepared. I wrote down stuff that needed to be done for a long time, such as fixing the shelf in the kitchen, getting a new passport, or cleaning the windows. It also featured fun things like museums I’ve always wanted to go to, people I haven’t seen in a while, movies I wanted to watch.
August is over now, and I’ve been out of the day job for about three weeks. No surprise: I haven’t crossed-off a single item on the aforementioned list. Instead, my days were spent with the following: Waiting for the letter of acceptance for the master’s program I applied for (which I got today, finally!). Taking pictures of people taking pictures (they usually pose in an equally majestic way as the statue they’re photographing). I walked through Prague, wondering if I would find all the old buildings more interesting if there were some new ones in between. And while watching Stranger Things, I really wished it was set in the 90s rather than the 80s, just for a stylistic change. I enjoyed the series, but the 80s-aesthetics-card has been played way too often already. I could handle some flared pants, lava lamps and leather coats by now. (Ok, maybe no flared pants.)
I visited Vienna, and fell in love with the city. We spent a lot of time in those typical coffeehouses; places you can hardly find in Germany anymore: Old wooden furniture, piano music; everything smells as if you could write great novels in here. Also, I don’t have a lot of friends who enjoy wasting time in coffeehouses as much as I do. We get used to positive habits about the people close to us; we take them as a luxury that we don’t want to miss in future relationships. That’s why finding the right friends is hard, sometimes.
Other notes noticed:
1) The current run on the mattress market by startups [sic!] is insane. Every month, there is a new company trying to revolutionize the way we buy mattresses (quick reminder that one should switch their mattress every 10 to 12 years). I appreciate it, because I appreciate sleep. In his Aeon essay “Falling For Sleep”, Rubin Naiman explores how our perception and appreciation of it changed.
2) Ever wondered why dumb people seem so confident? Ever felt really unsure, even though you’re usually a smart person? It’s called Dunning-Kruger effect, and describes the cognitive bias of illusory superiority.
4) I wonder: Is there a sign that things are not quite right? Symbols from movies (a flickering light in the dark street, a black cat running across it) evoke so. So vice versa, what are the signs that everything is quite alright at the moment? It feels so, anyway. August brought summer back, I went swimming in a lake for the first time this year, and I’m ready for autumn now. September, make me tick some more things that are not on the list.
It’s a rainy Sunday evening, and this weekend is the second one in a row which I enjoy in solitude and stimulating aimlessness — eating food, going out for coffee, catching some Pokémon, meeting friends I don’t see enough. We probably won’t get a cloud-free, diaphoretic summer this year, but you know what? That’s fine.
I saw them standing in small groups on sidewalks and in parks this month: Young people catching Pokémon, everywhere. When I finally tried the app and walked around my neighborhood, I was approached by a young boy on his bike, opening with the common question “Ey! You play Pokémon Go, too?” I took the chance and asked him about all the rules, which I still don’t fully understand (Make use of the stardust! Walk two more kilometers to hatch this egg!), but it was a nice encounter—which I probably would never have had without the game.
I remember being obsessed with those Pocket Monsters in the early 2000s. I spent all my money on the playing cards. My main interest wasn’t the game itself, I also never owned a Game Boy; I was more into the character design (subconsciously, I assume, but still). The original 151 Pokémon were all drawn by Ken Sugimori, and I still can draw some of them from my muscle memory. Unfortunately, this whole Anime thing was quite big when I was child, and I am not able to fully erase it from my style of drawing.
Change of scene: In the beginning of August, I will have my last days as a full-time employee at Edenspiekermann. After three years, I am saying Goodbye to an awesome agency and crowd, where I learned and grew enormously. This place made me a better designer, team player and communicator. I am moving on to work more freely on design projects, and to go more into design and technology research. When I applied at the university for a masters program, I realized that I haven’t had the feeling that something really counts for me for a while. I always took work very seriously, but it was never so close to me personally. With my application, this was different.
Applying for a master’s program required a proposal for a research topic. When we—I together with 12 other applicants—presented our ideas, we all got the same feedback. “This is too abstract! You are designers, bring your thoughts into shape! Design [Gestaltung] is always a direct artifact!” I am not sure if I agree with this statement of the professor fully, but it sparked an interesting thought: Most sciences, most abstract research, most ludicrous studies are based on very basic, almost mundane practices. To be a surgeon, you must likely cut open a human. To be a sexual therapist, you most likely must have sex. To be a designer, you have to create something. This thought makes me calm and motivated for my next chapter.
One other thing I found out in July: While we spoke of childhood memories before—do you remember Nelly’s and Kelly Rowland’s musical fling “Dilemma” from 2002? I never realized that in the music video, Kelly tries to text Nelly on her Nokia 9210 – by using Microsoft Excel (YouTube link). I love this ragged and faulty use of technology on TV. It reminded me of the awesome Source Code in TV and Films tumblr, which analyzes the code’s actual meaning.
On that note, I’ll leave you to a good start into August. It’s the last proper summer month, so make it count: Cycle the city, try stand-up paddling, eat cucumber ice-cream, visit the outdoor cinema, make your own lemonade, and—thank god this trend is back—wear shorts and socks in sandals.
We can’t blame June for the volatile weather conditions. Or, can we? Anyway, it wasn’t only the weather that was turbulent the past month.
When the UK voted for the Brexit, my social networks exploded. Through my colleagues, I mainly know young people in the UK – all between their early twenties and mid-thirties. They all were devastated and frustrated, deeply concerned when the referendum’s result was delivered. The newspapers I read also went head over heels about the vast negative consequences. To me, it seemed so obvious that the UK had voted for the wrong decision, and I couldn’t wrap my head around how this had happened.
During the first days and weeks, I haven’t stumbled upon one single positive aspect about the decision to leave. I read through the comments on the Leave Campaign’s Facebook page, just to get out of my echo chamber (a word I found in this German interview with Miriam Meckel, and I much prefer it to “filter bubble”). It is crazy how we are trapped in this shield of algorithms and precast opinions. It really takes some time and effort to dig through this chamber and grasp some different, unheard voices.
Well, anyway, I did that, but honestly, I did not come across a lot of smart things. A campaign driven by lies, politicians driven by wrong-tracked overzealousness, media driven by populism. Voters driven by the wrong assumptions and untold truths. Eventually, the whole thing reminded me of Platon’s “Allegory of the Cave” – there is so much wisdom and perspective out there, and once you found it, it’s the most shattering process to pass it on. The School of Life YouTube channel has some nice, brief memory brush-ups on philosophy, history and the like. I enjoy watching it while brushing my teeth in the morning, or while having dinner by myself at night.
Unrelated but relevant: This thought came to me while riding the bike down Sonnenallee (not a recommended cycling route), just like epiphanies mainly happen during showers, walks or moments where no pen and paper are available. Anyway, I realized: We, too, are just small — and sometimes not so small — parts of other people’s lives. We jump in, we stay for a while, and in most cases, we leave again. We just make an appearance. And after this, things are free to move on without us.
July marks an important, finalizing month in my current phase of life. The last couple of years were filled with work, so much work, and I truly loved it. But August will be spent traveling (a little bit at least, because I am a horrible traveler), seeing friends and family, buying a proper office chair. We’ll see. But for now: July, some more sun please, and let’s go.
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!”