Sunday, 28 October 2018

A Tale of Two To-Do Lists

Earlier this week, I was feeling a little rough and did not really have the mental capacity to do anything except scroll back down my Twitter timeline to remind myself of other times when I was sad. Oddly enough, it cheered me up. (Sorry in advance for the #germanpun.)

Adulting is hard, y'all. I may only work part-time at my "day job" (there's such a stigma attached to that term?), and yes, I do also have freelance projects to keep my head above water. But to be honest, I would say most of my time outside the office is spent doing stuff that is boring and/or exhausting, like getting my prescriptions refilled, or clearing something up at the tax office.

Last week, a parcel had been left for me at a tiny stationery shop, which I'd attempted to pick up on Saturday afternoon... only it turned out they were only open in the morning. Yet on weekdays, their hours were 9:30-18:00. For many people — if not the majority — that's just not doable.
I unexpectedly came home from work at lunchtime on Tuesday, so I then had time to go and pick up my goodies that afternoon rather than on my day off. So that was a nice tonic to a murky day.
While not super far away, it was still quite a walk to get to the stationery shop. I was surprised to see that the place was stuffed with cardboard boxes and parcels. How do these things work? Did the shop owner actually volunteer to accept deliveries for ungrateful punters? I'm not convinced it wasn't all a ruse to get unlikely customers to patronise the shop; we may inhabit a digital age, but people still need pens, after all. But then why had no shops closer to my building snapped up this sweet deal?

I look back on when I worked 40-hour weeks on a rigid schedule. How on earth did I organise my health and life admin around work and terrible opening hours? With great difficulty, let me tell you. I was in a near-constant state of panic or paralysis.

Unfortunately, the stressful nature of these things can seep out into moments when you want to switch off, leaving you unable to truly relax. I recently read that unlike, say, a decade ago, we now feel compelled to fill in little moments of idleness with something, anything, and that makes adults overtired like toddlers (gulp — for me, that had sort of been the appeal of Pocket). And then when you suddenly remember you have so many things you'd like to spend your time on when there's no work looming, you feel a sense of dread. You feel like you're wasting your life.

That's why you gotta make an Obligations To-Do List and a Fun To-Do List!

Have a sneak peek at mine (I have redacted a couple of items, obvs):
  • Design tattoo
  • Write letter to friend
  • Watch Wach
  • Make blog more responsive and mobile-efficient
  • Download Spotify onto phone; get subscription 
  • Sell bike
  • Check Microsoft Office licence status
  • Get watch batteries
  • Update scrapbook

Alright, looking at a couple of those, my definition of "fun" might be a bit broad. But in this case, I've basically taken it to mean stuff that's not work and is not a slog. Stuff that isn't always discernibly a pleasure, but is still satisfying. Short-term stuff that, over time, will make tiny improvements to my day-to-day life and help me to fulfil my long-term goals. Isn't that what they call... self-care?

And at any rate: who can deny the ecstasy that is crossing something off a to-do list? (Definitely not Earth signs.)

I'm sure there are numerous apps that could help you out with this, but I actually really prefer using a physical diary to a phone calendar. (When my friends want to schedule me in for a Gcal date, though, I will humour them and click "Yes". Hi, Fiona!)
I use this diary to organise my Obligations To-Do List: work, appointments, reminders. I write stuff in for the specific day I want to get it accomplished on or by, usually prioritising by deadline or urgency. If ever a day — or at least an afternoon — is relatively blank, I try to then use that for one of my Fun To-Do List items.

I write down these "treat tasks" on a magnetic notepad that I got from Paperchase a while ago. As you can see on my list above, it tends to be low-priority life admin that isn't really that scary, creative stuff, or little things I can do when I'm hit by book fatigue (as opposed to forcing myself through a read that I'm not really feeling in that moment).

At the end of the day, these little tasks and fragments are the puzzle pieces that make up our lives. The act of putting something on my Fun To-Do List actually nudges me towards gratitude. It challenges me and gets me excited to do something that is actually relatively banal, which has to be good for my overall health, right?

Personally, in order to be happy, I need to have things going on in my life that aren't just going to work, messing about online, going to bed. Don't get me wrong; sometimes that's exactly what hits the spot! But in the bigger picture, I need to see personal progress. I want to have a full overview of all the tiny bits and bobs that come together to form my existence, whether they are dull, exciting, or somewhere in between. I want to be able to look back and say, "I got that done", without bowing to the modern model of constant, fruitless productivity.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

October: Gloom & Optimism

We have entered the tenth month of the year: October. In the Roman calendar, it was the eighth month, hence the oct- prefix (once I had learnt that, sometime during primary school, I couldn't unsee it).

October feels heavy. I know I said recently that it was one of my favourite months, and it still is, but I guess those two statements aren't mutually exclusive. September heralds excitement and new beginnings (there've been several studies linking it to a psychological association with the start of the school year), whereas October feels like the beginning of the end of that honeymoon period. Know what I mean?

Granted, my grandad died a month ago and so the last few weeks have been really hard, not least because I've been plagued by thoughts about the altered dynamic and shift in responsibility within my family. I feel very fortunate to have been able to see him at the end of August, which was bittersweet. Afterwards, I was also in a position to go and stay with my grandma for a few days to keep her company and help her around the house, and then go to England a third time last week to attend the funeral.
Although it had been really strange to see Grandad's reading chair in the living room and to keep remembering why he wasn't sitting there, it didn't really sink in until I was in the bosom of my family and lots of older strangers.
This has been a summer of immense personal growth for many different reasons, so this autumn seems to have been made for coming down from all the unsettledness of travelling around so much within such a short period of time, in unhappy circumstances, while trying to recover my place in daily Berlin life. It goes without saying that my mental, emotional, and physical well-being have suffered recently, and so I'm going to go as easy on myself as possible as I try to feel like a person again.

Something that adds to the psychological strain of it all is the knowledge that no matter how much I care about my family, there are political goings-on that I have no control over and that might inhibit our ability to see one another in the near future. Obviously I voted to remain and have always thought Brexit was a dreadful idea, but headlines like this and the absolute failure on the part of the British government to get a deal have very literally robbed me of sleep. Look, I know I elected to live abroad, and at the same time I also live closer to my native country than many other people I know. Somehow, these two things both conspire to make things hard in one way or another: either I will be punished for living abroad at all, or my native country, which I previously could go back to without any stress, will be dangled in front of me at a relatively short distance and yet I won't be able to go back because of my perceived "loyalty" to "Europe". 
Anyway, aside from this, I've basically trained myself not to engage with Brexit stuff — to let reports of each new potential horror wash past me, to change the subject if someone non-British tries to joke about it — but sometimes it just gets to me.

Whenever it does get a bit too much, this incredible artefact never fails to make me laugh (you gotta watch it til the end, though):

I know I wrote about how I hate certain, invasive aspects of summer, but winter being on its way is another reason that I need to keep an extra close watch on my mental health as well (sorry, but spring and autumn are the only two seasons I thrive in). For that reason, I've finally done myself a favour and ordered a solar lamp, which arrived this week. I tried it out yesterday morning and I think it's going to take a few days. I am actually really excited about the possibility of not feeling like my head is filled with wet concrete for months on end?

Anyway, throw all these factors into a pot and it makes for one weird mood. But a matter of months ago before this, I was doing much worse. Through the golden combo of rest, medication, and going back to therapy, each day I'm accepting that there's only so much I can do that will affect the bigger picture. One day at a time.

Regardless of whether or not you believe in astrology, or if you sit somewhere on the fence, check out what the current Venus Retrograde is all about. It may just provide fresh insight into your life and be the starting point for you to get out of a rut — I know it's helped me so much in the past few months.

While we're on the subject of freshness: one reason I adore this time of year is the crisp leaves, the bright colours against the grey sky. Or the blue, cloudy sky, as it sometimes may be. Scenes like this will always take my breath away:

So I'm clearing my head of various sources of stress, finding ways to enjoy media again, and really just relearning to be a person. In a mean twist of fate, though, I'm undertaking the extremely tedious task of auditing my iTunes library because I noticed that over 2,000 songs were missing from my iPod since I last synced it. Including the entirety of Have One On Me — that's just rude, right? That's survival music. So I'm slowly restoring the file paths... hoping to be done by Christmas.

A mobile app I have discovered way too late and can now recommend to everybody else is Pocket. I'm not getting paid for my praise (wouldn't mind it, but mainly I am too lazy to find out how), so you can read this in good faith.

Some of the stuff I've got lined up to read. The full gamut of my interests: social justice, offbeat scientific developments, literary cities, tech editorial, and local character profiles.

When I came back to Berlin after the funeral, there was a 45-minute wait at Sch├Ânefeld between stepping off the plane to getting my passport checked (a sneak peek of Brexits to come... and that's if we get a deal). Obviously everyone in the queue was huffing and puffing and tutting and rolling their eyes, and some of them were holding books, but I couldn't be bothered to get my Kindle out of my bag. I did have my phone in my hand, and I couldn't connect to the airport wi-fi to idly browse social media — but I did have a Pocket app I had loaded up with articles.
The excellent thing about it is that it can be used offline! When I'm surfing the 'net, usually when procrastinating, I usually come across a few things I'd like to read, so I can now just save it to my desktop Pocket app. This saves me from either having a distracting tab open or just putting it in my browser bookmarks and forgetting about it. The other good thing is that when I actually open up the article on my phone rather than my laptop, I am usually far more focused and skim less.
Basically, Pocket seems like it was made for people like me, who read widely and prolifically, and often find themselves in situations that aren't quite long or significant enough to merit getting out an actual book, but are not fleeting enough to just stare into space for.

Here are the best pieces I've saved to my Pocket so far:

Otherwise, I've got back into Netflix because I have accepted I don't always need to be "doing" something and I need to give myself regular breaks. As well as a slew of fluffy straight-to-Netflix films that make me glad I'm no longer in high school, I've just finished all four seasons of Grace & Frankie, which was such good comfort viewing. Also, Nanette, which... wasn't an easy watch. Oh, here's an article on it that I've just added to Pocket.

My big news is that I started a new part-time job last week! And I have a really good feeling about it so far. More on that later, maybe. Meanwhile, on a personal level, I'm gonna focus on minimising stress and making it through the rest of this month.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The House by the Lake at Gro├č Glienicke

Today is Tag der Deutschen Einheit, German Unity Day, the day the two Germanies became one 28 years ago. It seems like a pretty good day to finally set this post free from my drafts folder, as it concerns a house that once straddled the border of West Berlin and Brandenburg (the ex-GDR federal state surrounding Berlin).

This summer, I read Thomas Harding's excellent historical memoir The House by the Lake (click through to see my review). I loved it, and I immediately vowed to go and visit the Alexander Haus. Even though I live in Berlin — which certainly brought many aspects of the book to life — it's not as if the house is just around the corner from me; it was actually a bit of a faff to get to, but I hoped it would be worth it.

Rathaus Spandau U-Bahn station

Start with a U7 ride all the way to its western terminus, Rathaus Spandau (a cool station that looks like it belongs in Legoland), followed by a change to the 638 bus, getting off at Ritterfelddamm. You can also get the X34 bus from Zoologischer Garten and get off at Gutsstra├če (this is how I got back to Berlin, and incidentally, these are the start and end points on this route so you can't really go wrong. Also, this is definitely the more scenic route).
Both Ritterfelddamm and Gutsstra├če are just about located within zone B but are a walkable distance to zone C, meaning you only need an AB ticket and can thus save yourself €0.60 if you wish.

You'll walk down Gutsstra├če, which is actually a little track splitting a caravan park and a few houses. It skims the Gutspark, which is the remnants of the estate once belonging to Otto von Wollank (son of Adolf Friedrich Wollank — for whom Wollankstra├če in Pankow is named, just in case the name rings a bell).

An orphanage, but I can't find any information about it — it was possibly mentioned in the book, but I don't have it to hand right now and can't remember.

Ruins in the Gutspark

The remains of the Berlin Wall will soon come into view. The map-official border between Berlin and Brandenburg runs right through the lake, but since you can't exactly erect a wall in the water (at least not as efficiently as they wanted to), they instead built it running around the lake's western edge.
Even though I have now seen the Wall many times, given that its remains are dotted in various places around Berlin, this bit of it felt particularly poignant and spooky; perhaps because it was located way out in the country and seems so out of place and aggressive in an area that's otherwise very idyllic.
The Wall not only cleft the village in two — it also prevented a whole generation of Gro├č Glienicke inhabitants from enjoying the lake. I mean, imagine having bought a house literally because it was right by a lake, then one day you woke up to see a great big barrier being put up, and could only assume it would stay there forever! Rather than being shared by residents both of Berlin and of the state of Brandenburg (East Germany), the lake now sat firmly in West Berlin.

On the left, the Vorderlandmauer, while the concrete wall is the Hinterlandmauer.

The lake itself was lovely and peaceful, and given the heatwave, it was refreshing to have a little paddle (for over two weeks, we'd been suffering with temperatures up to 37° — and to any people from hot countries who are scoffing at this, Germany doesn't have any sort of air conditioning infrastructure).

The Alexander Haus was closed for renovation and thus inaccessible from its address on Am Park. However, not far from the cove where I dipped into the lake, I could view it from behind a fence. I can't tell you how moving this was, especially imagining the various residents whom I'd read about walking just down the slope to the lake, seeing exactly the same thing that I saw.

If you follow the track, you can then walk out to Potsdamer Chaussee, which is sort of the main road that runs through Gro├č Glienicke. You'll find yourself under the Gutstor.

I stopped for a sip of lemonade and some chips (the fat, fluffy kind!) at a Greek restaurant, then took the bus home. I would have liked to stayed longer and explore the Gutspark a bit more, but unfortunately I only realised that's what it was after the fact. From the outside, it looked like a load of forest and unkempt bushes.

It's these places on the various margins of Berlin that interest me. I feel a sort of protectiveness and desperation towards them, like they're the salt of the earth yet also slowly disappearing out of reach. And even if I were to make a weekly trip to Gro├č Glienicke, I would probably still never shake off this separation anxiety.