.Vienna or does where I live define Me?

So far, Vienna is awesome and this city is everything I always dreamed of. Art, entertainment, peace, quiet, culture, books, readings and all for a reasonable price. Vienna has me covered. Also, as a Ph.D. student, I have a student ID. Someone asked me the other day if the area, city or place someone lives in is an indicator of the person’s success. More specifically: Does someone choose to sit in their backyard on a farm on a warm fall day in *insert rural area* doing nothing because they are in peace with themselves and feel fine just sitting with their thoughts, or does one sit in their backyard because they don’t have the capability, motivation or are afraid to live in a different place, to go places, to see other things, to explore and discover? “How did you just leave this small town and move to another country or even a bigger city,” a friend asked me.

I have to back up a tiny bit. I love peace and quiet and rural lifestyle. This is how I grew up. But I also love the thought of being able to go out and have opportunities. I moved from Coburg to Munich, from Munich to New York, from New York to Canada and from Canada to Vienna. I grew up in a place where there were porches aplenty. A few months after I turned 17, I left my hometown Coburg chasing my own version of success. At that time, success meant to me passing Police Academy to become a Police Officer. I had an awesome job and made Big City. I felt successful and fulfilled. And I lived in a big(ger) city. My dream.

The closer I get to 40, the more curious I am about the way people in my life mark their own successes. Take most of my friends, who remained in my hometown while I loved being away in my teens and eventually racing after various career milestones at the United Nations in New York. One of my friends back home has two children and lives in this awesome farm house which has a porch for sitting. It would be impossible to say which of us is more successful because it is simply not objective. We have both put tons of work into making our respective dreams come to fruition. Despite our polar-opposite journeys, we are both motivated, busy, and capable because whether you choose to live in a big city or rural areas, there is always the potential for reward. That is important to remember. Let me tell you, your life is not bad just because you chose to stay in that town to build a life for yourself and your family. If it works for you, then that is fine. It didn’t work for me, so I left. Simple as that.

In the past, I have wished some of my friends and I shared similar paths so we could have grown in the same direction and swapped advice along the way, but now I find solace in our differences. But all this ensures me that we are living our lives as intended. To look around, to realize and acknowledge that everyone can find success, regarding the size of their goals or where they live is key. Thinking this way can be incredibly reassuring because it means your motivations are yours and yours alone. Meditating on a porch and living in Midtown Vienna are two extremes of what it could mean to succeed. Ask yourself if you are happy where you are, right here, right now and what you really crave. Some of my friends back home seem like they are grappling two things right now: What it means to be successful (and work yourself to death) and where they want to live. I think it will be difficult for anyone to parse either until they reconfigure their definition of success into something more personal. Working my ass off somewhere versus slaughtering a pig in a little village are two commercial extremes of what it could mean to succeed. Until you establish your own definition, I think these will continue to feel inadequate to you. What does success mean to you? What do you really want? You are never stuck.

So, what do you want? Move to Vienna, too? Come and visit me. More specifically, what do you want right now? Look at your life; really examine it. Are you happy? Are you alone or with family? Are you stuck at work? Are you bored? Are you calm? Are you exhausted? Are you one step away from burnout or nuclear meltdown? Is the reality of this life crisp in your mind or more like a scene out of a sad movie? Do you want art, culture, artistical intercourse, Opera, entertainment, excitement? If you are finding it hard to answer these questions, I suggest you start to write or journal. It helped me immensely to list everything I want, then circle the things I desired the soonest. Then look at these words and link them together, considering the resources you will need to achieve some measure of them. Get literal: Are your goals related to a specific industry/company that operates out of a certain city? And if so, does that city conflict with any of your other goals? How do you feel? Have you felt any of these things before, and if so, how? My lists usually never go according to plan, but asking myself these questions helped me tap into my own desires, instead of looking to everyone else’s. Keep in mind that you can be successful and valid and fulfilled without ever leaving the country, state, or town you were born in.

These days, what does it mean if I woke up and craved the pace of my hometown? I would buy a train ticket and be home in four hours. Would I judge myself for returning to the place I was once so desperate to leave? No way. This is and always will be my Homebase. Where we live(d) and grew up is a large part of our identities, unpacking our thoughts about where we call home will always be a complex and deeply personal process. Am I successful? Is my life perfect? Nope. Far from it these days.

Sometimes, for some people, their most potent version of fulfillment cannot happen without a drastic life change. If you have those feelings, it is a matter of assessing how hard you want to work to make it happen, and sometimes, making peace with the fact that your other goals (porch/terrasse-sitting) might just have to wait a little. Listen to your gut and heart. Those organs will will tell you.

.On Life changes.

It has been years since I left my previous job, moved to Canada, decided to study and to raise my son. I wrote a lot about all these transitions that were sometimes rather tough than easy while encouraging others to follow suit. I don’t want to give advice, because I don’t know what I am doing 100%. I simply let you know what worked for me and what I learned from certain situations and hard curveballs life threw at me. All these things I did made total sense to me at the time. I followed my dreams and there is nothing wrong with that.

Sometimes I didn’t think things through all the way and then spent months pondering about why I did it. Was it a calling? Am I easily convincible? Was it the proverbial greener grass? Maybe I was too young? In hindsight, it does not matter. I finally mustered up the courage to do it and felt the wind in my hair and the swoop in my stomach which was my reality – this is where I needed to be. As I now skip through the streets of Vienna, while a bit of fear and thrill radiating off my skin, I felt like the leaping proof of a concept and I want others to feel it, too. Do what feels good. Go for it. I can see now that, beyond feeling fulfilled by my new life, I felt validated for my years of wanting exactly this life. It wasn’t until recently that I started pondering the difference. How would I have felt had it all gone wrong?

Every so often, the details of the last couple of months pass through me like a ghost. The beam of sunlight that settles in my heart when thinking about the good times while missing someone very special. The last hug, the warmth. The meditative train ride back “home” leaving a warm, familiar smell of my childhood home, back with my parents. How could it be that, although everything has changed, my mood is still the same? As the days move on since I left and stretch into the weekend, my perception of it all is still evolving. Why did I leave, really? What exactly did I leave behind? Was leaving brave? Fearful? Did it make sense? Honorable? Arbitrary? Should I have stayed? I may have followed my dreams and happiness, but I left another kind of dream, too. Maybe dreams can be vast and fickle like that. Maybe I can be, too. Maybe my dream back home will continue.

When I arrived in Germany this summer, it occurred to me that, despite uprooting my life in pursuit of more and finding it, too, I am not sure the emotional tenor of my life has changed all that much. These days, hard days and incredible days still punctuated the ones that transpire as expected; eagerness and trepidation still inform my perception of the future. Moments of insanity and insecurity still mix with feelings of self-assuredness. In a psychology magazine, I recently read the term “hedonic treadmill” which is coined by two psychologists in the 70s and refers to “the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.” In short, we adapt, regardless of the circumstances. Some research theorizes that our neurochemical processes actually prevent us from experiencing sustained positive or negative emotions at all. So, you can hide, stay, run, leap, cry, but you will still just be you.

My question then is: If not sustained happiness, what are all of us actually pursuing? Also, what is happiness but this is a different essay. If the details of our lives can drastically change without changing us, how do we identify what we truly want? All this lends new depth to an expression I love: Wherever you go, there you are. You can hide, stay, run, leap, cry, but you will still just be you: stupid jokes, worrying, impatience and all.

We know that our society idolizes the hustle for money, recognition, fame, dreams, wellness, and whatnot but we also have evidence in spades that none of these things in excess solve the happiness equation, right? The ones who seemingly have it all still fuck up, oversleep, cheat, get divorced, use drugs, relapse, are insecure while trying to mask it with expensive clothes and tons of makeup, feel lost, and choose wrong while acting cranky and bitchy. All this is just part of human existence. Many amass wealth and recognition because of capitalist ideas that are sold to them about the value of risking everything and going after what they really want. I don’t regret for one second that I followed my dreams and I have gratitude for the version of me that is not afraid to take a leap. I am also privileged that I had the resources to seek out a sense of fulfillment and purpose and of course the luck to find it all. At the same time, I am increasingly aware that there was plenty about my life before this step that made me feel grateful, too. People I met, the connections I made and of course my family who is always behind me. I know I could have found a sense of fulfillment and purpose in Germany, too. Just another kind. But I know that I will be connected with the people who matter no matter what. So, you want advice about leaving cities, careers, or relationships that don’t feel right? Simply listen to your gut feelings and become more open to the idea that conception can shift without seismic uprooting. That big life changes don’t always change us, and that more than anything else, we will always be ourselves. I think it is worth asking yourself: What makes you happiest as you are now? Because no matter where you go, that will most likely never change. Home is where your heart is anyway.

.The Language of Trust.

The table leg. Ernest Hemingway book removed.

My friend no longer remembers how or when the table leg broke, she just knows that it has been months since it happened. This means that is has been months since her husband said he would fix it. And every time she tries to remind him about it, she hears the echoes of thousand soap-opera- wives nagging their husbands to fix things. She could fix the leg herself, she is fully capable, but it is a matter of principle now, so she refuses. It is currently stacked up on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (my heart bleeds), which seems as good a solution as any. Apart from, you know, fixing it. During a recent argument about who-can-remember-what, she yelled out something along the lines of: “You are asking me to trust you, but you have been saying you are going to fix that table leg for HOW long now?” “You think I am untrustworthy because of a table?” he yelled back. “You would think I cheated on you or something!” “Wait, I didn’t say anything about cheating, ” she said. [This could turn into another screenplay I think!]

I have been thinking a lot about that exchange lately, and what it says about how trust is built and understood in relationships. Not just romantic ones, but friendships, familial relationships, and professional ones, too. What do we really need in order to trust someone?

I read Gary Chapman’s 1995 bestseller “The Five Love Languages” many years ago. When this book got published, the concept of love language has gone mainstream and found its way into countless shows and discussions. The idea that questions like “Have you eaten?” or comments like “Don’t forget your umbrella!” can be accurately translated as “I love you” has historically seemed too obvious to me to merit further analysis, but I had not thought much about applying the love language concept to trust. Fixing the table leg would have fallen under Chapman’s “Acts of Service” category for ways of expressing love, I guess.

Categories? Chapman suggests five love languages in his theory: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. (You can take the quiz here!) I read the book so I would say my friend’s husband would be Words of Affirmation and Quality Time, whereas hers would be Acts of Service. But does it work to apply them this way? I am rather skeptical when it comes to those “quizzes” even though they seem interesting. And are acts of service necessary to build trust? Did my friend really not trust her husband because he hadn’t fixed the table?

Short answer: Yeah, kinda. But to say “I don’t trust my husband” – or even to think it – feels wrong. To me, lack of trust is a marriage-ender or at least a serious warning sign. To me, love cannot exist without trust! However, if you asked me to make a list of people I love, it would be much longer than the list of people I trust. Love can happen unintentionally, but can trust? Not so much. Almost everyone I know has had some sort of a table-leg or cashmere sweater fight. But haven’t we made a lot of progress in our understanding of love and hasn’t Erich Fromm showed us The Art of Loving? The Disney-version of a magical force that rewards perfect beings with perfect partners and terminally happy endings leaves its fingerprints on all of us. But we have to acknowledge that love is hard and not a state of grace to be achieved and forever enjoyed if we don’t do something for and about it. So, here is another question: If we can acknowledge that love is a verb and something that we can choose to cultivate or neglect, then why shouldn’t the same be possible for trust?

If you ever had a relationship of any length, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that the fight about the table leg was not actually about the table leg. If you didn’t, let me enlighten you so you will learn for life. It is the fight about the object or obligation that has become so fraught with emotional baggage that it no longer makes logical sense and needs some work in order for the real issue to be revealed. Applying this knowledge to my friend’s “table- leg-situation”, the fight was not about cheating but because she told him the neglected table leg eroded her trust in him, and if the trust was the issue, then his fidelity must be in question. She hasn’t questioned his loyalty, she just wanted him to do the thing he said he was going to do. Clearly, they weren’t speaking the same language, but at least they knew they were both talking about trust.

With all this in mind, I did some reading, mindfulness, and meditation to find solutions that I can apply to my life. People, of course, have their own definitions of everything, including trust. Culture and how we are raised are a big part of how we understand trust, as well as individual understandings, the society around us, and personal values all play into our personal definitions. From my experience, to build more trust in relationships, self-knowledge is a necessary step. By looking at past relationships I can see a pattern. Usually, all my relationships started to deteriorate when someone lied or tried to hide things (like the cellphone is epoxied to the partner and he constantly writes with others but makes a secret out of it).

Of course, my experience is not the only one that matters. Neither is my definition of things and situations. It is important to figure out what the other person needs to build trust, and is willing to invest in the relationship. I also realize I have to do a lot more work in fully trusting again. But I know someone who is worth it.

.Illusions & Dreams.

We all have illusions and dreams. Some are realistic, others rather not. We all have wants and needs. Some are realistic, others rather not. But first, we need to know what we want. This can go on for years and for many of us it already has and you may be past this step. So that when you finally do settle on an ambition of some sort you are so grateful to feel the desire that you want to hold on to it at all costs, and the thought of heading back to that earlier, more hopeless space is enough to drive you forward.

Be sure the ambition is lofty: why would you settle? And then strive for it. Say, for example, your goal is to be a [insert anything here] writer. Set all sorts of mini-goals along the way and celebrate each post as you pass, though use it only to propel you on to the next one. At first the posts are fairly easy to pass and you run by them with less, but before long the years are going by and the posts seem farther apart, take much longer to get to, and, in fact, there is just a random splattering of them out there, not in a line, maybe some of them hidden or not on your plane of field at all but on some other plane you cannot get to, and you are sick of trying. After all, what is the point, right!?

More years pass and you are wandering the desert alone, picking up rocks, your guide is lost or was never there, your gratitude for feeling desire is waning. What is so great about wanting when what you want is so elusive and in any case why did you want it to begin with? You forget what it was like to not know what you want, and you find yourself drifting back to that space again, although you have come so far, have passed so many posts that you don’t know where you are now, have no courage to go back and to take another direction entirely – why should you if this is what it comes to? Besides, you are so old and tired, right?!

It was nice to have once wanted, you think (though you are fooled), maybe you could just sit down in a grassy field (if you can find one out there, unlikely, maybe some gravel) and reflect on what a fine job you once did, and look up at the sky. Were they illusions? You hadn’t thought so. You could have sworn they were more rugged than that. But it turned out not to be so. A few heavy showers of rain washed them away. A few earthquakes came along and swallowed them. Or, according to my son, a volcano erupted and wiped it all away.

.The One not Fondly Mentioned – A Screenplay.

  1. Scene 1: (Married couple: A man and woman on a road trip to New York to take care of important paperwork/documents). It is very early in the morning. Everything seems fine.
  2. They laugh. She falls asleep for an hour or two. She wakes up when he pulls over to get coffee. (A little break but he does not seem tired at all).
  3. (They arrive in New York. She gets out of the car and walks to the office. He tries to find parking in the area).
  4. She receives messages on her phone while walking to the office. She doesn’t know the person who sent the messages but it is disturbing nonetheless. “Your husband is having an affair with my wife”, she reads. She reads it over and over and feels that a huge hole opens in front of her – ready to swallow her up. She falls into this depth. It is dark, cold and painful.
  5. “Who is she?”, she asks.
  6. “Nothing is wrong”, he says and “this woman is just a colleague; a friend. Nothing more. The colleague needs help dealing with issues and he, of course, gives his advice. It is a war zone, after all. There is a lot of stress. Her husband is a psychopath”.
  7. The man denies everything, and she cries out, ” Why didn’t you tell me?” “It means nothing because nothing happened”, he says. (Long silence)
  8. They drive back. Ahead of them: an (at least) eight-hour drive (800+km) next to each other (trapped) in the car. (No escape, just silence). She stares out of the window for the first hour. Speechless.
  9. (Neither of them is happy but nobody wants to leave. So they continue and call it love. )
  10. She digs one more time through her bag to find her phone,
  11. to gather information and missing links,
  12. to check messages and emails,
  13. to arrange everything in a huge pile and looks for her red lipstick (she needs red lipstick to make herself happy)
  14. (She applies the lipstick.)
  15. She then finally just stares blankly at all this mess her life has become. In one second (with one message) everything changes.
  16. Outside: It looks sad, it is fall. November.
  17. Back at “home”: She considers going to bed, to forget the whole thing. Maybe it is all just a bad dream?
  18. His suggestion of what to do next, not a perfect one, but…. He suggests weird things and says them out loud while peace tries to spread out in her head. She does not want to listen to him anymore.
  19. Her complaint, “We cannot live like this. I don’t want to live like this. How do you think this can be even possible….?”
  20. (Change of scene. Both sit in the kitchen, brooding angrily. Trust is broken. There is no way back, she thinks. Maybe there would be, but he chooses to go on a Safari instead. “Alone”, to relax because he works in a war zone)
  21. She knows what will happen next. Deep inside. At this point, there is no return. She is in charge. He won’t be any longer. Enough is enough.
  22. (First change of scene: Months passed and no change but fighting and arguing). [Possibly insert a scene: Two people typing emails, one looking sad, the other one is denying] 😉
  23. (Second change of scene: She walks to the car and drives to the lawyer’s office)
  24. For her to eventually lean over the counter and
  25. to take the stack of papers out of her purse,
  26. to retrieve a paper fallen to the ground, to catch the other ones slipping.
  27. The length of her explanation, her supplication,
  28. and meanwhile (change of scene) he is furious. He does not want the change.
  29. (A lawyer starts to work on the application- typing things, taking notes). She leaves the lawyer’s office and walks back to the car.
  30. (At this point: heavy snowfall)
  31. She glances back, to see the lawyer’s office entrance again. She sees her footprints in the snow while closing her warm winter jacket. She feels good and is proud that she had the strength to take this step.
  32. (At home: Holds her marriage certificate in hand and thinks: What is she going to do now? This meaningless piece of paper. It means nothing after all)
  33. The emergence of a slight headache. So much stress. Barely any sleep.
  34. The emergence of thoughts in her mind, the suppression of it, its reemergence
  35. The contemplation: She was too blind to see. It is better this way.
  36. In emails, he recites a list, another list, of other things she has done to him in all those years. The punch lines. She does not listen any longer.
  37. (Change of scene/Drive to the airport): In the car, she looks out of the window: A hawk flies overhead. Is he following their car? Woods everywhere, low red sky. Sunset. The evening then night)
  38. (At the airport: Four blinks from him, seven from her [watery eyes). One last hug. He said, “I am sorry!” (Neither did she feel anything anymore nor did she say anything back but she hugged him goodbye. She walked back to the car without turning back.)
  39. (Change of scene: After the drop-off): She wiped away one last tear. Then she sees a little boy next to a woman who both want to cross the street. The woman looks sad but the boy seems happy and jumps up and down. “It is not that bad, mommy,” he said while grabbing her hand.
  40. The little boy looks at the woman and smiles.
  41. At this point, she knows she will be fine.

.Watermelon Sugar.

Watermelon Sugar and Peanuts.

I asked my Mum, what happens if everything falls apart. What if I lose everything? I’ll always remember her response: “Well, nobody gave you what you got now. You worked for what you have. Wipe away your tears and believe that you can work for it again.”

I am so sick of hearing people complain about “perfection”. Your blog is perfect! Your life is perfect! With my blog, I would like to show real life. I won’t sugar-coat things and talk about how important fashion is. I rather talk about life and struggles and that things are not perfect. No one sets up any wrong expectations other than the person with those expectations themselves. People do not owe each other to be less perfect than they are, just so other people wouldn’t feel so bad about themselves. When will people stop being so easily offended and stop feeling, like they don’t need to measure up? Get some self-confidence and self-esteem! If somebody says something bad to or about me, and as a response, I feel bad about it, then I’ve given away control of my feelings to that other person. All of a sudden I’ve communicated “Hey you, here’s the passport to my life, and how I feel about my day. Feel free to ruin it.”

If your parents did not do their job instilling in you that you are amazing as long as you work hard at what you do, then do that for your self. Read some books, talk to a therapist, but stop blaming others, family, friends for your own feelings of inadequacy. Personally, I am generally very happy with myself and my life even though it is not perfect. Nothing ever is. I have been through a rough time, too and I set new priorities. But what I don’t do is, hating people for having what I don’t have. You know why? I know my limitations and I also know my priorities. That does not make me feel inferior to anyone for one second. I just realize that I cannot do certain things right now and I accept that.

There are many people who write better, take better pictures and have other superior styles. There are people who are better at all things that I think I am good at, and I often look at their results wistfully knowing I will never be that good. And I am okay with that. As long as I am happy within myself and with the circumstances, it is all good. I have achieved big things in the last couple of months and I am proud of that. Usually, hard work, intelligence, insightfulness are credited for such success but what is often overlooked is the capacity to deal with the uncertain, the uncomfortable, and the uncontrollable. Be unafraid of the uncertain. Instead of hiding when challenged or uncomfortable, choose to seek out the confrontation.

“When you’re uncomfortable, you will learn. When you’re uncomfortable, you’ll grow. I learned early on that I’m only growing and learning when I’m uncomfortable. Yes, it can feel awful, but I think it’s good because it means I’m learning something. I may not always know what I’m learning, but I’m learning something.” – a friend

I have learned that life is all about striving to be your best self, as opposed to your perfect self. It is about learning to believe in yourself and to understand that whatever comes your way you will be able to handle it. Some people are driven by fear, others by trust but you can deal with whatever comes your way. Keep that in mind. Knowing that you will be able to handle it means that you can face uncertainty and instead of being afraid of it, you can look at it as an opportunity. You cannot control what happens, but you can control how you think about it all. Trusting uncertainty means that while we may not be able to control what happens to us, we can control our response to it.

“The only thing you can control in your life is how you respond to a situation. Literally, everything else is outside your control. If you realizee that, yes, maybe certain circumstances may be pushing you to respond in a certain way but, at the end of the day, you have the choice.” – the same friend; he is pretty smart

Guess what? Ultimately, taking control of your response to any situations is what builds resilience. How can I look at this in a way that is positive? How can I make the most of the situation even if it is terrible? When we think about how often we replay a conversation in our minds, how often we worry about what other people think of us, how often we try to please and appease, it’s astonishing how much of ourselves we place in the hands of others. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should be sheltered from criticism or hide from confrontation. Think about the feedback that you’re given, and think about it critically. But then at the end of the day, you choose how you want to respond. You choose what you let into your life.

This too shall pass. The other side to uncertainty is the knowledge that whether something is good or bad, nothing lasts forever. Again, people look at my life, and they think it has been awesome so far. Let me tell you, it has not. I think the only thing that I can say is that I always try to make the best of every situation. Whatever it may be, this too shall pass, especially if we think deeply about our attitude towards something. At any moment, anything can happen and anything can change. Living our lives consciously and diliberately is a choice what we take, and a choice that is very powerful. And difficult experiences can make for the greatest stories afterall.

.The Journey home to the Heart.

(Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“Solitude,may rest from responsibilities, and peace of mind, will do you more good than the atmosphere of the studio and the conversations which, generally speaking, are a waste of time.” – Louise Bourgeois

The move to Austria is done and another big chapter in my life began. For me, after all this stress, it is important to spend time alone and to reflect on what just happened. I read an article a while ago that artists throughout time have pontificated about the benefits of spending time alone as well as the lonely patience required to make art. I believe it is important for anyone to spend some quality time alone because it simply feels good and our batteries are recharged. Yet despite the long-praised benefits of alone-time on our practice and creativity, the right sort of solitude can seem elusive to many.

Some people forgot how to be alone and spend time with themselves. Sara Maitland writes in How to be Alone, “How have we arrived, in the relatively prosperous developed world, at least, at a cultural moment which values autonomy, personal freedom, fulfilment and human rights, and above all individualism, more highly than they have ever been valued before in human history, but at the same time these autonomous, free, self-fulfilling individuals are terrified of being alone with themselves?”

What do you associate with being alone? Many times we mistake being alone with doing nothing; which is actually totally fine, too. The problem is that we allow our work, social and family schedule to zap our alone-time. Endless opportunities for distractions mean that when we are alone, we are not truly alone – we have the world at our fingertips, and opportunities to compare ourselves and our work with each scroll we take through our social media newsfeed.

“I think we live in a world where we overburden ourselves not just with work commitments but social and family commitments, and that level of duty and obligation, and we completely forget to send time on our own and ourselves.” – Jull Stark

So, how do each of us go about finding solitude in our day to day lives? I did a little bit of soul-searching to find the benefits in spending time alone, the challenges that can be faced and how things can be prioritized. I am basically musing on the importance of alone time and how to secure it.

Solitude Cycles. Loneliness is a sign that you are in desparate need of yourself. I love spending time with friends, my partner, my family but I really need to be by myself, too. Time alone basically means to me to have peace and quiet to write. I will have really productive phases where I stay up all night. It seems a bit mysterious, the coming and going of it, but in general, I tend to want to be alone a lot. I need that alone time to work, think about things, do research or read up on things that are interesting to me (Süddeutsche Zeitung in the morning, Georg).

Scheduling Alone Time. I need time to dream, relax and create. Jill Stark says it best, “Time for myself is one thing that I factor into my week as much as I can. Even though I live on my own and I could say I always have time on my own, it’s a very different thing to put it in the diary as you would if you were meeting a friend or going on a date and nothing gets in the way and you don’t cancel on yourself.”

Acknowledge Distractions. My friend(s) call(s) me to go out for Pizza/Pho in the evening? Do I really have to get X, Y, and Z done today? If yes, stay in and work! If not, go out and have fun. Life is too short. Usually, I can block the world out easily; a good pair of headphones helps in most cases. I need to be alone to allow all of my daydreaming to create new works. I do think it is essential to discuss ideas with others and that can often lead to surprising outcomes, but the intimate core of my work comes from quiet times at my desk. Sometimes just sitting and staring at what is around my living room leads to the most exciting new connections.

The importance of doing nothing. Sometimes I literally do nothing but stare at the sky. Or I lay in a hammock all afternoon, enjoying the sun, reading a book. Can you do this? How does it feel? Are you comfortable? “I know this sounds really alien to us in this world where we are constantly distracted, but actually just sitting and doing nothing can be really helpful – and literally nothing, not reading a book; just sitting and thinking and letting whatever comes into your head.” – Jill Stark

One Task at a Time. I have an almost 6-year-old son who requires quite some attention, which is fine. But at the same time, I need alone time, too to stay sane, socialize, write, work, and meet with friends. But, one thing at a time because I believe it is healthy and important for the brain not to be too distracted and overwhelmed which easily leads to stress.

Small habits can protect alone time. I love my morning routine which I try to protect. I will have a cup of black coffee and read a book or newspaper. Uninterrupted. In the evening when I stay in: having a bath, a glass of red wine, soft lighting in my office, listening to music and wearing a Kimono just because. As soon as my son is in bed, I write, read and do all my intellectual stuff. And reflect. And love because sometimes “On days like this, I need you to run your fingers through my hair and speak softly.” – Rupi Kaur

Pausing gives me the space to make decisions. Whenever my brain is overloaded and I try to solve all my life’s problems at once I pause. At that moment it may feel counter-intuitive to have a break because we may just want to push through as fast as possible. But why? Just get an ice-cream instead (I recommend Chocolate and Cookie). This is quick happiness while putting things to the side, changing the scenery and actually looking after yourself.

.Stay Happy – Stay Healthy.

.Growing up – Growing Down.

https://www.instagram.com/fotoautomat.photography/

My son asked me the other day, “Mommy, when will I be a grown-up?” “Very soon, my love because time flies,” I responded. This small conversation made me think. Maybe the issue was that there is a direction. Up. One cannot simply grow, one must grow up. Along with pencil notches on a door frame and candles on a cake, your ferocity, wisdom, and velocity must increase as you age.

Anyone who has reached adulthood knows that growth does not progress like a ticking clock. It usually means horrible missteps and innocence lost, betrayal, disappointment and broken zippers. It moves backward, inwards, sideways, finding new ways to humble us. Doesn’t growth most often feel only good in hindsight? Like running a marathon through the five stages of grief. Sometimes it doubles back on itself many times before it emerges as something remotely useful. Then, of course, we may forget what it taught us and repeat the same mistakes. Move back home, get lost, find ourselves again, get lost again, meet new people, get lost again, but be better for it. Ad infinitum.

We all know this chart and intellectuality it entails, right?

But it is different from knowing it in our bones. And aligning our senses of self to the inalienable truth that progress often means making a huge, disastrous mess first. #storyofmylife. Let’s dive into the complicated pool of human progress a bit: Growing up. Can you grow down? Laterally? Literally? In relationship and partner choices, I know of at least one example for sure. Can you regress and then grow as a direct result of that regression? Or can you grow in a bad way? In the wrong way? Can you grow by learning, and then grow again by unlearning what you learned the first time?

I told my son the other day that I don’t want to sound like a deflated balloon, but adulthood is exhausting. He just looked at me and proudly told me that he washed my new sweater in the little pond so I don’t have to wash it anymore. Now that I am here on this earth for quite some time as a fully formed adult who subscribes to The New Yorker, reads the Süddeutsche Zeitung and moves around to figure out where the best place to live is one might think I have it all figured out.

These days, life is awesome but a couple of weeks ago it was rather tedious and my happiness tended to look a lot more like contentment rather than non-stop joy. It is a constant up and down but this is okay. I could throw caution to the wind and hop on the hedonistic hamster-wheel of chasing perpetual youth, but honestly, that sounds exhausting, kind of expensive and I rather spend my afternoon in a hammock reading a good book to find perpetual inner peace. So in the interest of gratitude and thoughtful living and what have you, I am trying not to take adulthood for granted and will share a handful of things that make me feel blissful, like a full-on adult. These are little moments where life turned out exactly as I once thought it would.

Balancing groceries on my hip as I get my mail out of the mailbox. It is just something about this balancing act that is life just feels so satisfying. Little victories. And never walk twice.

Eating Chinese food straight from the container.

6th October 1927: Director King Vidor (1894 – 1982) and actress Marion Davies (1897 – 1961) tuck into a takeaway meal during the filming of ‘The Patsy’ (aka ‘The Politic Flapper’). (Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

When I lived in New York City, eating Lo Mein out of a paper container felt like the height of working woman sophistication to me. There was this certain grace of giving myself not even a plate feels which felt like an indulgence. There is of course no moral value one way or another on eating Chinese take out, but something about the image of a woman alone on her couch, watching crap TV, eating takeout feels to me like a deep exhalation.

Standing in the aisle of a drug store comparing two toilet cleaners. Nothing says I have my shit together quite like taking my time to form opinions on toilet bowl cleaners.

Making chicken soup (any other soup) from scratch. Or actually cooking anything at home because it tastes so much better.

Unceremoniously stop jogging when I have had enough and to simply walk home. It is totally fine. No judgments. Not even the guy you just passed who challenged himself to squat deeper than he did the week before. He also trains for the Iron Man. I will do my thing. I used to train harder, run faster but in the long-run, all this nonsense did nothing for me but gave me pain.

Safety. If I knew what safety looked like, I would have spent less time falling into arms that were not. I know now. The key: Love yourself first. Unconditionally.

Chill in a hammock for a couple of hours and read. You are your own soulmate. Don’t mistake salt for sugar. If he wants to be with you, he will. It is that simple.

.The L-Word.

via Bob Dylan

“Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches they find that they are one tree and not two.” – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

I spoke to a close friend a couple of days ago who has been dating her boyfriend for quite some time now. She told me that her mom asked her recently, “Have you said, “I love you’ yet?” She inquired hopefully, like children waiting for a baby bird to hatch. “No, “she reported, “We have not.”

“Have you said it yet? Still nothing?” friends follow up days later, over coffee. To be clear, she was not concerned about this. But apparently, everyone else was. However and after the upteenth negative update, she started to feel like her relationship was a failure, when, by all other benchmarks, she would classify it as the best she had ever known. Her “friends” didn’t ask if this person showed up for her, or if he had the patience to get to know her partiular quirks. They did not ask if his presence brought her peace or if they made up songs that no one else would find funny. They didn’t ask if she felt safe or comfortable or like the truest version of herself. [For the record, the answer to all those questions is: YES!]

More saliently, nobody asked if she FELT loved. They only asked if she heard I love you yet. Is this one phrase the barometer by which one measures the progress of a relationship? And why, in our contemporary culture, is speaking it (versus actually demonstrating it) so very important?

After my recent divorce, these are many questions I have thought about over the last year. In my experience, it is clear that “love” is a word with too many interpretations. For some, it refers to an emotion, more of an “I adore you, ” or a declaration of infatuation. For others, it is a sign of commitment, weighed heavily and with care. Some think they really are just words, as informal as “I will call you, ” and just as easy to disregard. Or simply something you have to say at the end of a conversation.

I do not watch the Bachelor (or any TV at all for that matter) but I read in some magazine at the doctor’s office that contestants are known to say things like, “I can totally see myself maybe someday falling in love with you.” That is at least three generations removed from an emotion and definitely not a promise of care. Yet, time and again, they foretell that this all-important thing is totally maybe someday coming and lets their lover loose hope.

I know people who say “I love you” as early as a second date. And then it is this awkward silence when your partner does not say it back and you are all nervous about what comes next. There is just something about saying those three little words that marks a transition in the relationship between two people. Are you expected to keep saying I love you after you said it once? The thing is that you usually don’t break up with someone you just started to love, no? In an ideal world, usually saying I love you means you are all in. But what is ideal? Many also fear the me becoming a we. I believe love is more than a feeling and something that needs to be protected. It is a choice that needs to be made consistently. What does this word love actually mean?

Bell Hooks writes, “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists agree that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” Kind of like, love is as love does, not as love says? So, if the real meaning of love is action, why are we so hung up on this damn phrase? What I have learned so far and how I define love in 38 years on this planet is: Hey, you, I love myself unconditionally. I see you, I accept you, and I will do whatever I can to make your life better because I value your presence in mine.

Mostly, love is felt before it is being said anyway and there are so many other ways to communicate one’s feelings. Considering myself being a language-nerd, we all may share common words, but each of us speaks their own unique language. And sometimes, if we are really lucky, we can find someone who understands us.

.Burdens & The Energizer Bunny.

I spent half the day at a local Sauna and Spa. You know why? Because I wanted to. I enjoy life at its fullest these days. You know why? Because I want to and I only have this one shot. I was once told by a friend, “Each of us are living in the midst of a trial, have just emerged from one, or are heading toward another” which is true. This quote leads me to yet another often-quoted truth, “Be kind to everyone you meet. You never know what battle they are fighting.” Just be nice; it is not that difficult. I actually want to approach this essay from a slightly different angle and with a question. Life is not easy and with all the weight and burden that each of us carries, why would we ever choose to intentionally carry more?

Epiphany while floating naked in the outdoor sauna pool

I thought about possible things that weigh down our lives and hearts: loss, illness, divorce, death, financial stuff, worry, politics, religion, grief, guilt, traumatic events, tension in marriage or relationships. These are all things we carry on our shoulders. Many of these burdens are created by ourselves but others are inevitable and entirely outside our realm of control. Regardless of their origin, we carry them – each of us, on a daily basis.

Stress is bad

I read this amazing book a couple of weeks ago. A survey has been mentioned when children were asked, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” The kids’ number one wish was that their parents were less tired and less stressed.

Again, life is not easy. It never has been and never promised to be. In our new society defined by instantaneous social sharing, not only do we carry the weight of our own issues we also carry the weight of others. My best friend’s mother passed away one year ago and through text messages and social media, I was alerted to it almost instantly. A tragedy, and still so unreal, thousands of kilometers away, involving a family not my own even though we are very close. This huge sadness….. a weight…. was felt in my family. One second, one phone call, one wrong move, and our life can change drastically and forever.

Thoughts on Stuff

Since I am close to moving again, I get this feeling that every increased possession adds increased anxiety onto my life. Why would we choose to make life more difficult? Don’t add more stuff to your life. To me, it seems like many of us choose to do that exact thing simply by carrying excess possessions in our homes and lives. I live very simply with little possessions and I love it this way. Why? Because I feel excess possessions take up residence in my home and in my mind. They require maintenance, care, and attention. Every item I own must be handled and at some point, discarded and add obligation, weight, and responsibility.

Thoughts on self-care

Today, at the Spa I was reminded again how important self-love and self-care is. The wellness world loves to spoon-feed us ways to “better” ourselves like a baby curious and willing to explore and try new foods. Do this, don’t do that. Buy this, you need that. Preach, preach, preach. Add more of this, cut out that. It is all hot tips, must-have products that are useless. The wellness industry leans, perhaps, a little pretentious, along with capitalizing off of our insecurities with giant Dollar/Euro [insert any currency] signs in its eyes, to sell as much cheap stuff as possible. Don’t get me wrong; there are some really great products you can find while digging through the supplement and celery juice isles but you don’t really need much. (says the holistic nutritionist). Self-care is so much simpler. Start with this: Stop this tendency to keep going and going much like that pink Energizer bunny in sunglasses that bangs its oversized drum forever. His battery will die eventually, too.

Taking care of myself today worked wonders for my mind, body, and soul, and when practiced on a regular basis, can help me get back to go-go-go-going with a calmer and more centered headspace. For some, self-care may be Zen: walking the Camino, meditation, Reiki, Feng Shui, ideas surrounding identity, self-worth and hard emotions or other spiritual practices. For others, it is very necessary self-indulgence: reading, massages, mani-pedis, acupuncture or a glass of wine (or two) in the evening. Or as simple as treating yourself to ice cream.

With all this being said, how are you feeling? How do you know when it is time to amp it up a little more frequently in the name of sanity? Because remember, with all the weight and burden that each of us already carry in life, why would we ever choose to intentionally carry more? Stop being a Debbie Downer and unburden your life in the areas you can control. In doing so, you will find more freedom and capacity to navigate the problems and burdens that are outside of it. How about putting yourself first for once?