10 years ago today

It’s hard to believe, but on the 6th July 2006 I left Germany on a journey that would take me nearly ten years before I returned.

My brother had taken me to an airport outside Berlin in the early morning hours. He was the last one of my family and friends I said goodbye to. It was the hardest one, too. I boarded a plane to Dresden. It was a small one. Another, smaller plane still, took me to Vienna. And then I was on a big one to Kuala Lumpur, which was followed by one to Sydney and finally I landed in Auckland, New Zealand, for the first time in my life.

It was a trip of nearly 40 hours. I was exhausted. It was after midnight when I landed, but thankfully someone picked me up. We drove two hours north to Whangarei, where my first trip around the world truly began. Though it would take a while before I completed it.

Ten years is a long time. I had left Germany, because I had come to the conclusion that there had to be more to life than studying and working and having friends and being content with everything. At 26 I didn’t find “content” a desirable state of being.

So, instead I went for “uncertainty”. All the safety I had in my life up until the moment I decided to leave meant nothing. A novel by Richard Bach is called “Running from Safety”. It’s among my favourites and it always rang true with me.

I gave up the life I had and left for something new and different. I told my parents that I’d be gone for two, maybe three years. But I had no idea, truth be told.

As an introvert seeking adventures doesn’t come naturally to me. My comfort zone is where I’m usually happy. Or at least content. Yeah, there’s that word again.

But as someone thirsting for knowledge, for experiences, as someone who wants to live vicariously not just through the books she’s reading, I wanted to see things for myself. I needed to.

Ten years on I feel as if I barely scratched the surface.

I sailed from New Zealand to Fiji. I lived and worked a year in Australia, namely Melbourne. I fell in love. I travelled around the world for five months by myself, stopping by at home for Christmas to see my family and friends. I returned to Melbourne and moved to New Zealand with my now ex.

I stayed for nearly three years, fell out of love with my partner, fell in love with the country and my greyhounds and eventually I had to move on.

After more than four years gone from Germany already, I still wasn’t ready to return. So I went to Canada, after a brief interlude in Berlin to arrange for the working holiday visa I needed for Canada.

So, I went to Vancouver and landed myself in Victoria, where I stayed a year and worked. It’s a beautiful part of the world. Next I travelled around the US for two months, staying four weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii.

And then, I thought, perhaps it was time to return to Germany after all. But no, it wasn’t meant to be. Red tape and the job centre chased me out of the country after only three weeks. Never again will I apply for benefits in Germany. I only did it to have health insurance, but it wasn’t worth it going that route.

I moved to London instead.

It took about a year before I knew I wasn’t done travelling. Serves you right working for an international travel company. I did stay another 18 months, however, in order to save enough money for the next big trip. This time it was mostly South America, but some SEA as well and seeing friends in NZ and Melbourne.

I travelled for six months before I returned to Germany and then London once more.

For the past year I’ve worked on my freelance career, which is going well enough that I’ve not had to return to any form of more regular employment. And eventually I decided that, perhaps, it was time to finally give Germany another chance.

I came back three months ago.

My life changed many times during the past ten years; certainly more times than I would have anticipated or have ever believed when I first left. And it became so much more than I could have ever hoped for. Ten years full of seeing new things, meeting new people, making friends for life and finding unexpected joy. I fell in and out of love, I grew up and learned to let go. I found friends and I lost friends.

I figured out what I really wanted in life, what I am capable of and that home is many places.

And, no, not everything was perfect. Not at all. I struggled often and sometimes despaired. I was alone at times and sometimes lonely. But I always had someone to fall back on, whether my family in the distance or friends close at hand. It wasn’t perfect and I do have regrets. Ultimately, however, there are very few things I would change given a chance. And since I won’t get that chance, I’m okay with how things turned out.

I’m here now.

There are many adventures still ahead of me, so many places to see still. So many lessons to learn and new friends to meet. For now I’ve decided to make a home and with any luck, I may even find someone to share those next adventures with me. I love to travel by myself, but some things become all the more enjoyable when shared. That would be a new experience, too.

This scratch map was given to me by friends. I have been able to scratch 30 countries free thus far.

This scratch map was given to me by friends. I have been able to scratch 30 countries free thus far.

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The day that changed the EU and the UK forever

I was woken by a thunderstorm last night. It was a little before 3am. Lighting split the skies every few seconds and the thunder followed suit. It was one of those storms that explain why people of old thought the gods were fighting or exacting some sort of punishment on us.

I couldn’t go back to sleep. But it wasn’t the storm that was at fault. It was the Brexit referendum.

I knew that polls had closed at 10pm GMT, which was 11pm CET. I had gone to bed around that time, knowing that I would likely see the results with everyone else in the morning. But when the storm awoke me, spelling doom, I couldn’t resist and checked the latest results. The Leave votes were about 500K ahead of the Remain votes at that time.

It was worrisome, but there was little I could do and it was way too early still to be certain of anything. So I tried to go back to sleep. The heat and humidity didn’t help and my brain kept wondering “what if the Brexit really happens?”

So, over the next two hours I kept checking the results sporadically and the outlook became worse. The Brexit became a definitive reality.

Eventually I fell back asleep, only mustering up the energy to wake up again around 9am. I immediately checked the final results and there it was: the UK had voted to Leave the EU with nearly 52% of the votes. Not an overwhelming win, but a win for the Leave campaign nonetheless.

Whilst I wasn’t surprised after I had already anticipated that result, I was still shocked. Any hope that reason might prevail was crushed.

I lived in the UK for the better part of 4 years. I love London, I have some wonderful British friends and know many, many people who were from different parts of Europe, who had come to Britain for work and new opportunities.

I left the UK back in April, because the country didn’t have anything to offer any more. Yes, I still love London and I miss my friends. But with the referendum looming I feared for the worst. The two sides have been campaigning for quite some time and the stuff I kept hearing about immigration and whatnot was unappealing. The Leave campaign used some appalling arguments and strategies to advertise for its cause. And people believed it.

I didn’t want to live in a country anymore that wouldn’t open its borders to refugees from war zones.

The European Union is deeply flawed. That more and more people get disillusioned with it is not entirely surprising, even understandable. But the EU is an ideal worth holding onto and it was founded for all the right reasons.

The UK will be much worse off without it and those who left Leave will be given a nasty wakeup call. The Pound Sterling has already plummeted into depths unknown for over 30 years. The stock market is reeling and not just at the London Stock Exchange, but in Europe and the rest of the world.

Leaders in the European Union have said that this should be a wake-up call for the EU. Whilst many continue to support the EU and vow to remain a part of it, many also said that things need to change. It’s not just the British citizens who suffer this disillusionment.

Here is hoping that the EU is getting its act together and lives up to its potential. We’ve come so far and Europe hasn’t seen a war since WWII ended. We did that together. We haven’t built a paradise, but we live in peace. There’s a reason refugees are coming here.

In one fell move the UK managed to isolate itself from the rest of Europe. Historically the Great British Empire has always considered itself apart from mainland Europe. But there is no Great British Empire anymore. Soon there might not even be a UK, should Scotland go for another referendum to leave the UK and remain in the EU. Scotland, after all, voted to Remain – 68% of them, which is a clear majority.

The EU won’t be better off without the UK and the UK will most certainly not be better off without the UK. There will be a steep price to pay. But the EU can recover and will hopefully learn a valuable lesson here – one that results in a new and improved European Union.

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Reading old journals

It messes with your mind. I just read through a notebook I kept in 2009. I lived in New Zealand then.

I wrote some fanfiction. I wrote what are without a doubt writing prompts. Ramblings, mostly. A few journal entries were thrown in the mix.

I feel as if I fell through a whole in time. I recognize my writing, my words, but some of it I don’t remember. How did I conceive of this?

Emerging from this whole in time leaves me reeling. What kind of weird rollercoaster did I just go on? I didn’t sign up for this. Or perhaps I did. When I keep a journal I don’t just want to get rid of the stuff that’s happening at the time. I plan on going back to it eventually; when I don’t clearly remember any of it any more. All the details vanish. What remains are the big things and even those get muddled in our memories.

There was never a time in my life when I didn’t write. Except the time before I learned how to.

Lately I’ve not been writing enough for myself.

I sit at my desk in the morning, work laid out in front of me. But I’m not feeling it. It pays the bills, but it gets harder ever day to get started. Once the first article is written, it gets easier. But I look at my notebook and feel guilty, because that’s where I should put my words down instead.

Thinking of the bills coming up, I know I’m doing the right thing by getting the paid work out of the way first. Later, I think, later I can do my own stuff. Discipline is hard. I keep going back to crunching the numbers. It keeps me on track. Now, long after I finished the paid work I still sit at my desk, feeling better about the things I’m writing now.

This is for me. This is me.

I may not go back to reading old journals. But I have tons of notebooks full of scribbles. Reading those reminds me of what I can do. There are many paths I can go down. I just need to figure out which one works best.

By the way, this is what I’m listening to right now. I find it fitting somehow.

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Word by word

It’s time to get writing again. There’s not a day that I don’t write. But I write for my clients, not for myself. Except for the occasional thought that I scribble into a notebook or jot down using a memo app on my phone. That’s a handy one to have, especially in the middle of the night, when something occurs to you, you can’t be bothered to switch on a light, grab a pen and tediously write it into a notebook. Just blink bleary-eyed at your screen, which is already on the lowest illumination and hope that your swipes across your little keyboard spit out the words you intend to enter.

I’ve done this a few times. Sometimes I re-read what I wrote in the morning and have no idea how I was able to write that or what I could possibly have meant by it. Those tend to be the best notes.

Be that as it may, in my new flat I have a small room, which is the main reason I really wanted the flat. It’s a nice flat, to be sure, bigger than what I could possibly need, though definitely not huge by any standards – except British ones, maybe.

The room I rented the flat for is my home office. In Germany it’s considered a “half” room. In the UK I once rented a room this size (or perhaps even smaller) as a single room. It’s bigger than most so-called “boxrooms” in London.

My desk is standing right in front of the window, facing it.

On my left, a world map is gracing the wall. On my right, a pinboard/whiteboard will soon be hanging. It’ll be an essential tool for my writing. I like to write pen on paper. Longhand. That’s the way to go. Especially with a decent notebook and a decent fountain pen.

I have not done enough of that kind of writing and I fear my penmanship might have suffered. I’m very fast on the keyboard, which is very helpful, especially when working for others. But writing longhand is, to me, part of the craft of writing. The pen is the tool. The paper/notebook is the receptacle.

I write more carefully, more deliberately. It forces me to slow down my words, my thoughts, and to pay closer attention to what I am writing. It’s ideal for writing a first draft.

Now I just have to decide which idea gets to be poured into the notebook at hand. That will require a little bit of sorting, possible lots of flashcards that have yet to be written. It’s a good thing I keep notebooks close at hand to write those fleeting thoughts and ideas down. But a notebook is not useful when trying to put things together. Flashcards are the way to go. One thought. One card.

I need to figure out what it is I have been working on for half my life now.

And then I need to start putting it together. Word by word.

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37

It’s an odd number, I find.

Not a number I associate with my age, but as of today that’s what it is. I’m fine with that. I don’t really care all that much, because I have no real concept of what that is supposed to mean. In the end it means something else for everyone.

When my parents were that age, their kids were 17 and 18 years old. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine having an 18-year old daughter.

In many ways it’s just another day. But on this day something still changes. Whilst we get older every minute of every day, it’s only on our birthday that we become aware of it. I suppose that’s why we pause and take stock – if we’re so inclined.

I’ve just moved countries again. Back home this time, sort of anyway. I’m in a new city and I’m pretty much by myself. I work from home. That’s not ideal to make new friends. But I’m not someone who tends to get lonely. I’m good and I’ll simply have to make an effort to meet people and eventually make new friends. I’m not that much of an introvert that I’m incapable of doing that.

For better or worse this will be a year of new beginnings for me. As far as 2016 goes it already has been.

I’m in a good place. I’m in a writing place, which is always good.

I’m starting to feel at home in my new apartment.

I want a dog again, a greyhound. It’ll be time for that sooner rather than later.

I’ve written so many new chapters of my life and I’m nowhere near done. This is the latest one and I’ll make sure it’ll be worthwhile remembering. When I left home 10 years ago, I embarked on a journey that I could not have imagined. It turned out to be the time of my life. That doesn’t mean the time of my life is over. It’ll just be different from here on in and I’m quite alright with that.

Many happy returns – to me.

And to you.

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Mother Nature

Simply but powerfully narrated by Julia Roberts. And chillingly true.

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Permission to art

Once upon a time I posted Neil Gaiman’s address to Make Good Art. It’s pretty famous and I love it. Not just because I love him and all his works or how the tone of his voice. No, it’s a pretty good reminder that it’s worth it to make art. And that we don’t need a particular reason to do so.

Now he’s part of this project and he and others (including his wife Amanda Palmer) give us permission to art… or to make art. Whatever art that is. In whatever way we see fit. Because the world would be poorer, if we didn’t.

Seeing a clip like that and hearing all those voices of people, who’ve done it, gives me hope and makes me feel more validated than almost anything else.

So here you go, in case you haven’t seen it yet.

 

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Work vs work

One of my Christmas presents was an upgrade to my “old” laptop. I’ve had it for two years and it’s already pretty dated, which is somewhat ridiculous, but that’s today’s technology for you. It was getting so slow, however, as to be on a standstill most of the time. That was also pretty ridiculous.

I asked for an SSD drive, because I don’t need a lot of storage on it anyway and for a RAM upgrade. My dad installed it all and set it up with Windows 10.

Since I have a Vaio, however, I lost some functionality. It’s not too bad, but slightly annoying, because Sony is no longer making laptops and the technical support or upgrades aren’t there anymore. Thus my Vaio is not completely happy with Windows 10.

But it does what I need it for, which is work.

Now, there’s work and then there’s work. I’ve finally set up the laptop again to get me working properly on it, because I don’t want to do it all on my Surface. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Surface and I’m on it right now. I’ll continue to work on it when I’m out and about or travelling. But at home I have a desk and I should use it. That’s the whole point.

When I have my own place I want a proper work station as well. I already know what desk I want and what it’s all going to look like. A work environment is important and it helps with productivity.

Additionally, the way I’ve set up my “old” laptop is indeed focussing on work, eliminating as many distractions as possible. That way I can get my paid work as a freelancer done more quickly and move onto my own work, which will live on the Surface.

That includes writing this blog every once in a while, or one of the other ones I still have floating around.

Keeping both types of work, the paid stuff and the one that I really want to do, is an endeavour to make me more productive. I’ve been doing quite alright in that department, getting it together more and working on that discipline.

I’m also working on keeping my promise. I’ve been better with my work schedule and load. I’ve been doing some writing and definitely more thinking on my writing. I move more and I’ve also made strides in eating healthier. So far, so good.

The only thing I’ve postponed is learning Spanish. I’ve downloaded Duolingo, a very highly rated language app and installed Spanish, Italian and Dutch on it. Since my more immediate need is for the latter, however, I’ve been concentrating more on that one. It also turns out I remember a lot more Spanish than I thought.

Anyway, I’m not where I want to be, not even close, but I’m at least working myself there, bit by bit. Separating my work from paid work is an important step in the right direction.

It’s good to keep checking in with myself, because it will hopefully keep me on track.

 

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In the New Year everything will be different

That’s a very literal translation of something we say in Germany “Im neuen Jahr wird alles anders”. It’s actually the title of a satirical little book. But it’s something we say at the turn of the years and since this one is still pretty new, it seemed appropriate.

I was very appalled to realize that I have only written 4 posts during all of last year. I had other writing to do. Lots of it.

Freelancing has been going pretty well, so I have no complaints. But I’m a little bit bored with the stuff I’m currently doing and wouldn’t mind a new project. On the other hand the bills are being paid and I actually have plenty of time to do my own stuff.

The problem is, I am not doing my own stuff.

I am procrastinating. Big time.

I follow every little distraction that is available to me. I do try to be productive to a certain degree, as in: what I allow to distract me has some value. But there’s no relation to me doing what I should be doing. Writing my own stuff.

That makes me frustrated and a little bit angry at myself.

I’m not a believer in New Year’s resolutions. Most people can’t really stick with them anyway. But I also know that I need to change a few things in my daily routine and force myself into a discipline that gets me where I want to be with my work.

So, I decided I’ll make a promise to myself (I’ve done this before, mind you). I need to keep this one, though.

There are a few things I want to do. Some of them have to wait until I have moved, but I can start on a few other things right away. And even though it’s Sunday, I’ve already started.

1. Make a work schedule and stick to it.

I tend to get up at a reasonable time, but I then take an awful lot of time to get going before I start work. I can definitely cut down on that purposeless fussing about. When I do get an early start, I’m always pleased to have most of my work done before noon.

And I can get most of my work done by early afternoon as it is. That leaves the afternoon to do things for myself.

2. Write for myself.

That includes working on actual projects that interest me, either creatively or content-wise. I am not producing content for my clients that I am particularly interested in. I just happen to be good at it. But there shouldn’t be anything keeping me from writing stuff I’m interested in. I started some of that in November after the Paris attacks. I’ll get back to that as of tomorrow.

3. Move more.

This is kind of a big deal. Working from home is awesome in many ways, but it doesn’t get me out of the house beyond what’s necessary. I don’t get enough fresh air and I don’t move enough. I feel unfit. I’ve bought a bike to counteract that, but the area here is hilly and everything is within walking distance, so there’s no point biking there. Once I move, however, I’ll have flat ground everywhere and reason to cycle everywhere.

I also want to get back into Yoga, for real.

4. Eat better.

I’m a vegetarian, but I need to cut down on sugar. Every time I overindulge I realize once more how bad it is for me. I try my best to eat healthy, but I can always improve.

5. Learn Spanish.

This will have to wait until I move. I want to properly attend a language course. It also allows me to meet new people. Funny enough my brother inspired me, because he moved to The Netherlands, where he needed to learn Dutch. He made friends in his language courses and since I won’t have workmates to socialize with when I move, it’ll be a good way to meet new people and finally become more proficient in another language.

These are the main things I need to change/work on. None of it is very difficult. I just need to manage my time better, make sure not to let myself be distracted (often by social media) and simply stick with it. I have plenty of time to achieve all of the above in a given day.

There are a few things changing for me this year and I am looking forward to them. More about that in my next post. Of course, not everything will be different this year, there’ll be much of the same as last year, but some things I will change. Breaking bad habits is mostly a matter of making new habits, preferably good ones.

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Always…

I was preparing lunch when my housemate came home and mumbled something that I didn’t make out right away. Then the sentence connected and it said: Alan Rickman… dead.

What?!

That had to be hoax. It couldn’t be true. It mustn’t.

I had my laptop right in front of me and was able to confirm the news within seconds. Cancer.

Another one.

Not another one.

Where I appreciated Bowie’s talent and creativity, I truly loved Rickman as an actor. Somehow I always liked him, even when he played the bad guys (or the really complicated people, as he called them). That’s how I first got to know him anyway. Only later I came to appreciate the width and breadth of his scope and talent.

He’s the reason I loved to watch Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies be so scathing towards anyone around him. When his true motives came to light I forgave Snape, like many others did, despite the fact that he was more vindictive than he needed to be.

But I may not have liked Snape half as much, if he hadn’t been portrayed by the inimitable Alan Rickman.

His untimely death devastates me as much as Robin Williams’ or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s. I will never be able to watch any of his (their) movies again without feeling the loss.

And how I wish he could have grown to be 80 years old, still reading Harry Potter “after all this time” and telling people “always“. Whilst the quote is not actually his, I’d still wish he’d have grown to be 80 years old.

wands

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