“But isn’t that awfully little money?”

Just in case you have never been in this situation, let me tell you: Discussing your career and lifestyle choices with the older generation is not fun. But I’m sure you knew that already.

Most of the time I feel pretty grown-up. I have a job. I can afford rent, food and clothing (okay, barely, but I can), I have a long-term partner, I get excited about kitchen appliances and I know how to do my taxes. I even have a re-usable shopping bag that can be folded into a tiny bag and hooked onto my key-chain. Okay, I don’t carry it on my key-chain… it hasn’t come that far. The point is, most days, I know how to adult, and I feel accordingly capable.

Nothing destroys that confidence faster than talking to, say, my mother’s friends. So, dear “older generation”, here’s a few questions that I would really like to never answer again, ever. In the future, please do me a favor and just refer to this article.

“But if you’re still studying, isn’t it going to take a long time before you have a career?”

Yes. Or actually: Yes, it is going to take a long time for me to finish my studies. Yes, I knew that when I decided to go back to school at 25. Yes, I have thought it through. Also, why exactly are you assuming I want or need a “career” in the classical sense? I mean, maybe I want one, but could you just ask before you assume?

On second thought, maybe don’t. I guess assuming is fine.

“Wouldn’t you rather have a secure job and start earning money?”

Ughhhh. Of couse I’d rather be rich. But no, I wouldn’t rather sell my soul to some corporation for a so-called “secure job” that is secure exactly until the next financial crisis, and in the meantime will suck every bit of joy from my life. I have a job. I am earning money. It’s part time, so it’s not a ton of money, because I have my studies as well, but I am independent. Hello. As long as I’m not asking you for loans, please don’t tell me how much money I should be making, or how you think being as poor as me is, like, the worst thing that can happen to a person. Or how you had that great corporate job at 25. The world is different today, okay? And I want to be happy. With my job, not just when I get to go home. It’s a core value of this generation – more so than money for a lot of us. So please take me seriously and don’t assume that I’m lazy, have no perspective and / or will always be as “poor” as I am now.

“Isn’t your apartment very small for two people?”

Yes, it is small. No, it is not too small. We could have had a bigger apartment, but we chose to prioritize location over size. And no, in this or a comparable location we definitely wouldn’t be able to afford the 70+ square meters that you think are appropriate for two people. Also: Who needs that much space? You’re just going to fill it with stuff. Since we moved, I have thrown out more stuff than I have brought in. And I still want to throw out more. Because the truth is, you don’t need a lot of the stuff. It becomes a burden. If anything, I’d really like to learn to live with much less stuff than I do right now. And I really, honestly, want that more than I want a bigger place.

“So, what is your career plan then, for after your studies?”

Okay, so you’ve accepted I want to finish my studies and you’ve grudgingly also accepted the fact that I will need until I’m about thirty to do so. You’re willing to entertain the idea that someone might be happy in a small city apartment with a master’s degree in something she really loves, ready to hit the working world full-time at thirty, finally, rather than being settled in the suburbs with two kids and a car by that age. Now you want to know what my plan is?

Well, see. That’s five years from now. I’ve thought this through, I promise. I have ideas, I have several plans, and I’m excited to see which one it will be. But I am really not ready to tell you exactly what is going to happen in my life five years from now. And to be honest, yes, that’s kind of terrifying, but you know what would be worse? If I really already knew everything.

Voltaire is with me on this, so I must be right:

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

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Home Alone: Now what?

Dear reader,

I know that I have not exactly earned the title “blogger” recently. If it wasn’t for my long-distance roommate, I don’t think there’d be a blog any more. (THANK YOU ARI!) So just to catch y’all up on my life: I moved to Hamburg 6 months ago with my boyfriend. We’d been together a year at that point and we had basically spent the last months in Munich semi-living together, so we figured we were well-prepared for the 400 square feet of adorable apartment awaiting us. (There’s a small garden, too, but you can’t really count those square feet, since being outside is not so much fun in Hamburg in winter).

I can’t even count how many times I’ve earned utter disbelief when I’ve said that I can stand sharing this space with another person. But honestly, it’s perfect. I mean, we fight. We do. Overall, though, we’re one of those disgustingly close couples who hold hands wherever we walk, play footsies on the train if we have to sit across from each other rather than side by side, blow kisses at the other whenever we so much as leave the room to go to the restroom… you get the idea. We’re close. And moving to a city where neither of us had a close social network brought us even closer – to the point where we both realized we needed to actively spend some time apart from each other in order to build friendships and not become insanely codependent.

Picture a couple that’s this attached, and then imagine one of them suddenly has to leave town for four days. That’s exactly what happened. A family matter has required my significant other to go to our home town near Munich for OVER HALF A WEEK, leaving me ALL ALONE in our suddenly very big apartment.

I’m dramatizing, of course. We’ve been apart before. It’s just usually been me who left to go teach a seminar somewhere else for a weekend, or visit my family for a holiday that means a lot to them and not a lot to my boyfriend. So while we were apart, I usually had plenty of things to do with that time.

Now I’m sitting in our apartment with absolutely no “have to”s. I don’t have to work for another four days, I don’t have to go anywhere, I don’t have any extremely urgent tasks. In the morning, I had a mild panic attack wondering: What on earth am I going to do with my life for the next 96 hours?

Unfortunately, after 6 months, my social circle is very much still in the process of being built. I have tentative plans for coffee with someone I can’t call a friend just yet, and to be fair I have pretty epic Saturday night plans with one of my best friends from college who is in town with her cousins. But what about daytime? Netflix seems less fun without my cuddle buddy. Plus being lazy by myself feels lazier than being lazy with someone else. Because then at least you can say it’s “quality time”.

In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here’s a random list of things I did today or am planning for the following days… and after some brainstorming I have to say: Maybe four days will go by rather quickly, after all!

  • Gardening: I mentioned we have a garden, right? Well, it’s awesome, but a lot of work. Since the weather is nice and spring-y, I’ve been spending some time trying to make it prettier.
  • Bouldering: Well, that one’s a given, I go at least twice a week anyways. I had the advantage of being able to go early in the day today, when there were exactly two people excluding myself, so I had the walls more or less to myself.
  • Laundry: On my to-do list for today. Might as well get that out of the way.
  • Baking bread: I have an awesome-looking recipe I’m dying to try. Maybe I’ll even save some for the BF to try when he gets back. Maybe.
  • Playing computer games: I feel very antisocial doing this when I’m spending time home with the BF. Now I have all the time in the world to get my nerd on!
  • Freelance work: I actually do have a project I could work on. Maybe not having distractions around me is not such a bad thing 😉
  • Buying and painting a garden table: I spotted one at IKEA that is cheap and just needs a coat of white paint to go with the chairs. My project for tomorrow!
  • Crafting: This is a big one! I can’t properly do this with someone else in the room, because I feel self-conscious about both the work (I mostly do art-journalling, which feels rather private) and the mess I make in the process.

This plus social things plus boring things like grocery shopping… looks like I should stop hanging around on the Internet or I’ll never get everything done! I’ll be back… I’d say soon but let me just promise a shorter break between posts than last time. So long!

Everyone Else’s Story

The following are aimless philosophical ramblings. No actual point is being made.

That being said: do you ever wonder about everyone else’s story?

I’m writing this on a semi-crowded train taking me from a Bavarian town straight to my new home in the North of Germany. Six and a half hours between the place where I taught a seminar and the place I will call home, forty square meters in beautiful Hamburg, shared with the man I love and (for the time being) quite a lot of cardboard boxes.

I’m twenty-four and I’m in love – with this guy, with a city I’ve only ever visited for weekends, with the steady movement of the train and with this moment in my life.

I can’t help but wonder: what’s everyone else’s story? If you could measure the emotion in this train car, what would you find? At first glance, most of the people surrounding me look bored. But would boredom really be the prevailing feeling you’d find? I doubt it. I’m sure I look bored to those around me, sitting cross-legged in a reclined window seat, typing away on my laptop. Maybe I am a little, intermittently. But much more than that, I am excited, ecstatic, happy, nervous, joyful and a little baffled at how amazing this sequence of events has been.

passengers on train by OTFO on Flickr

passengers on a train (by OFTO on Flickr)

So what about the guy across the aisle with the band-aid on this right thumb, swiping backwards, forwards, up and down on his cell phone? He’s dressed casually, has a small suitcase with him, slight frown on his face. Looks like he’s reading something – sometimes he’ll use two fingers to zoom in on the screen. He looks bored, too. But what if he’s just distracting himself? It’s a Monday evening, so maybe he’s heading home from a long weekend that he spent in the city his long-distance girlfriend lives in. Or boyfriend, actually, maybe. No, probably girlfriend. In that case, would he be a bit sad, maybe, to have to leave? They might have had a fight and he’s somewhere between relief and frustration. They might have gotten engaged, and he’s still trying to process the fact that she said yes. It might have been a Monday work trip, though, too. He might just be tired. Nothing much may be happening in his life right now – or everything.

I won’t know – and I won’t know what brought that couple sharing a newspaper, or the woman with the bright yellow book, on this particular train. Neither will they ever know just how excited I am. That I’m moving, right now, and for the first time in years, moving somewhere I plan on staying indefinitely. I don’t know if they’d care, either. I’d find it interesting, right now, to know what they’re up to – but it wouldn’t touch my life beyond tonight, so in the end, it will not matter to me.

And still, sitting here and letting my eyes wander around the train car, I can’t help but marvel at the unknown stories, the biographies, the tragedies and comedies around me that I will never know. The stories behind these random faces. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around just how MUCH is going on in a single train car, let alone the whole world, at any given point in time. Isn’t that just the most amazing thing to think about?

Five Things You Should Know About Job Hunting

I know. I know.

This has basically been Ari’s blog for the past months now. I’m sorry. One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging was my internship, which kept me busy basically 12 hours a day, if you count the commute and lunch break, which you can’t very well spend blogging unless you want to be known as the antisocial intern.

Well, my internship ended a few months back, but then instead of blogging, I started writing resumes and cover letters, hunting for a position that would be both a step up from interning and a step over in the creative direction, towards Indesign and away from Powerpoint, if you will. And there’s one thing I learned in the weeks that I was job hunting… it sucks.

I know some of you have gone through this, the rest of you will once you finish your studies, and unless you’re the kind of lucky genius who a) turns a student job into a permanent position immediately upon graduation, b) has already signed with Microsoft to start working at their New York office upon graduation (yes, a friend of mine managed to do this almost two years in advance) or c) is taking over your dad’s/brother’s/grandma’s business and therefore will never worry about applications… well, unless you fall into any of those categories, you’ll be networking and cover-lettering and resume-tuning until you’re dizzy and frustrated. Even if it’s only a short time (in the end, I was unemployed for exactly a month), it will feel like forever and it will most likely make you doubt if you’re EVER going to get hired. So, I decided I’d share my grand wisdom (well, okay, bits of wisdom) in the hopes that someone will feel marginally less frustrated with themselves and their career than I did. Here’s five things you have to know about job hunting for the first time:

  1. Most of your applications will be rejected. Something like 80% of applications I sent out were ignored for a few weeks before I got a brief email stating that they’d decided otherwise. From some, I still haven’t received as much as an acknowledgement that the application got there in the first place. Initially, when this happened, I’d follow up, concerned that maybe my email actually did not get there. The most I got out of that was a brief response that basically said, “Yes, your application is here, now stop whining.” I know people tell you to follow up, always, and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, but if the company hasn’t felt like inviting you for an interview or hiring you after said interview, then a follow-up won’t change that, either. You can cry about it (I certainly did a few times) or you can accept it and move on.
  2. For every friendly HR contact, there seems to be an HR person who doesn’t give a sh*t about applicants. Don’t waste your time with those people, it’s not even worth being frustrated about. Even if that firm was interested in hiring you, what does it say about them if the people whose main responsibility is dealing with applicants are inconsiderate or even rude?
  3. Ask for feedback. If you’re rejected from a position, send an email back and tell them you’d really appreciate if they could let you know why they decided otherwise. Again, in many cases, you just won’t get a response. I once received an answer that almost verbatim said, “Dear Judith, we do not give reasons for our decisions. Sincerely, HR.” On the other hand, once my question started a conversation with the owner of a small advertising agency. He’s now a contact in my business network of choice and who knows, something good may come of that eventually.
  4. Always, always, always find out who your contact person is. This is the number one advice you’ll find when googling “How to write a good cover letter”. After writing over twenty applications and imagining how many of these PDFs a HR person goes through on a given day – well, I can sort of imagine them just throwing out any that didn’t even bother to find out their name. Additionally, sometimes, when you have to call to figure out a contact person, you end up chatting with whoever’s on the line briefly – and maybe they’ll remember you when the application comes through, or maybe they’ll even give you a more personal email address rather than the standard jobs@… . You never know! It really doesn’t take that much effort – show them that you’re willing to go that extra mile! (More like an extra yard and a half, really.)
  5. You probably won’t see it coming. I applied to several positions that I had a really good feeling about, and a few that I had a “meh” sort of attitude towards. Around application #20, I became a robot. When I finally got invited for a job interview, it was for an application I’d submitted half-awake, barely two hours before I got the response. I had really liked the job ad, but I’d felt like I was too exhausted to write anything convincing in my cover letter. Apparently, I was dead wrong – three days later I had an interview, and a week after that I started work! On the other hand, some of the applications that I sent in feeling like there couldn’t possibly anyone with a cooler cover letter and more convincing CV… I never even heard back.
    Now, a few days ago, I even got a second invitation for an interview – this time I vividly remember telling my boyfriend that the application was “the worst I’ve written so far”. I half wanted to just go to the interview to ask what exactly they saw in my cover letter!

The bottom line is: It’s a struggle, it’s tough, but you will get through it! Just don’t give up. Just keep writing. All you need is one “YES” – and it won’t matter if you got 20, 50, or 200 “NO”s before that. So… go get ’em!

Reluctantly Vegan

Peeps, I know nobody said it was easy, but being vegan is really tough for me. It frustrates me because my boyfriend breezed through those 30 days, and here I am not even two weeks into it and already struggling. This morning, as I grabbed my vegan spreads from the refrigerator, there was my boyfriend’s mom’s smoked salmon right next to it… and goat cheese. COME ON.

If I didn’t have that stuff in my refrigerator, would life be easier? (Well probably, because it’d mean I’d have a place of my own.) I don’t know, really, I think the cravings would still be there.

Also, for three consecutive nights now, I had nightmares in which I was either at school (?!), out in the city, or at an assessment center (!!) trying to find some vegan food and failing, and just being so hungry and stressed. It really was no fun at all, and today I woke up frustrated and annoyed. Then the salmon and goat cheese temptation happened, and at breakfast I said to my boyfriend, “I don’t think I wanna be a vegan.”

“You don’t have to”, he said. “If you want, you can have some of that cheese.”

“No, I can’t. I promised I’d do this for 30 days. If you can do it, I can do it.”

“Okay then.”

“But… but I want cheese.”

“Well, maybe you’re just one of those people who can’t say no to those evil foods”, he said, knowing full well that hitting my conscience is pretty much the only thing even more effective than hitting my pride.

“Cheese is not an evil food”, I mumbled, but without great conviction. I know cheese production isn’t all sunshine and rainbows for cows, even though it’s not necessary to kill them in order to get the cheese (actually that would be kind of counterproductive, with the exception of rennet production, but that’s so gross I don’t even want to get into it).

Spoiler alert: I didn’t cheat. I ate my vegan breakfast and later my vegan lunch (which was actually delicious). Yet the cheese cravings didn’t go away, so I told myself I should maybe figure out where to get non-evil cheese from. And I did some research on milk production and dairy cows.

Another spoiler alert: Don’t do that unless you’re prepared to feel more than a little sick. I really had no idea about a lot of this, and I’m starting to think it may be easier to find meat from (formerly) happy animals than milk from happy cows. Really. Wow.

My cheese craving is not fully gone, but it’s definitely less than it was this morning. I realise there’s much I don’t know, and most of it I don’t know because in the past, I often chose not to be informed. I chose not to watch Food, Inc. or Earthlings, or any other documentary dealing with where we get our food from and what processes are involved. Why? Because I figured once I knew, it’d be tough to eat meat without a bad conscience.

Well, damn it, maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. Because the more I realise how little I know about where my food comes from, the guiltier I feel. I can be informed, but I often choose not to, because it’s just way more convenient that way. Wouldn’t it be nice if I had no idea what I was eating? I mean not just in terms of animal cruelty, but also food additives and things like that. Wouldn’t it be nice if I went through life never wasting a thought on that? Too bad I started thinking about it… and I’m beginning to feel like there is no way back from that. So at least for the next two and a half weeks that are left of the challenge I’ll be, however reluctantly, vegan.

After that, who knows? I really cannot picture myself as a vegan full-time. I also really cannot see myself going back to never thinking about where my meat or my dairy comes from. My aunt has a few chickens and occasionally brings by a carton of eggs. I know those are happy animals, but does that mean that those eggs will be the only animal product I can eat? What am I going to do about my conscience? What about the fact that (damn it) I love the taste of cheese but I now know a whole lot about the dairy industry that makes me sick to my stomach if I think about it?

At this point, I’ve no idea what’s going to happen after day 30. I’m not an animal rights activist, I don’t believe all animals are smarter than us and I really just don’t see myself as one of those people that try to make others feel bad about what they’re eating. I just wanna be normal. But how can being normal entail shutting yourself off from a lot of really bad truths?

Any thoughts are much appreciated, of course – from vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians and omnivores alike 🙂

The Vegan Experiment

In December, my boyfriend randomly said, “You know, next year I’ll eat only vegan food for 30 days.”

I must have just stared at him blankly. “Why?”

“I dunno. ‘Cause I can. I just think it’d be interesting.”

“Well… uh… have fun with that?”

I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see how one could possibly be vegan and happy at the same time. And yet he did it for 30 days, and that impressed me so much that I decided to follow suit. I’m on day 5 and I’m fine. Well, I mean, my friends just ordered pizza and of course there’s no vegan pizza at the takeout, so I’ll be sitting here with my hummus and crackers and stare longingly at their cheesy pepperoni pizza slices… but apart from that, I’m totally fine.

So why am I doing it?

Curiosity. Sheer curiosity. My boyfriend loves a good steak or pizza as much as the next man. And yet, on day 31, when he had his first slice of cheese, he pulled a face and said it wasn’t as great as he remembered – and proceeded to steal bites of my tofu scramble. The next day, he drank one sip of coke zero and said he was certain it must have gone bad. It tasted like it always did, but cooking and eating vegan means he barely ate any artificial flavours or flavour enhancers for a month – somehow that seems to have shifted his taste. He hasn’t tried steak yet because he’s worried he won’t like it anymore. And he still experiments with tofu, almond butter and amaranth. I want to know how that could happen. I want to see what happens if I do it for 30 days.

But what about meat?

Well, I’ve never really been much of a meat eater. I went vegetarian once and stayed that way for two years. Well, pescetarian – I was convinced I couldn’t live without fish. Apart from bacon and, occasionally, meatballs, I didn’t miss anything. I don’t even really know why I started eating meat again – I guess I became bored. It was also a period where I worked out a lot and that made me start craving red meat. Maybe a protein thing? But really – I’m the pickiest meat eater ever. I can’t handle bones in my meat, or fatty bits, or anything that is not the tenderest of tender filets. Even before this, I often went for the tofu option in asian restaurants. So meat’s not the issue.

Okay, what about eggs?

Eggs, okay. I love me some breakfast scrambled eggs. And no, we haven’t managed to make tofu taste exactly like scrambled egg, and I don’t think it’ll happen either. But the thing is that breakfast eggs are easy, which is why I eat them often. Now that they’re out of the equation, I usually go for oats or whole grain cereal with a milk substitute. Or tofu scrambles. Or both. It’s really not a big deal that I can’t have eggs – at least not for 30 days. It’s a bigger deal that I can’t have any cake because of that – but you know, cake’s not that great for you anyways.

So then – milk products?

Yeah, those. Cheese in all its variations is the main reason I was convinced I could never, ever, ever eat vegan. I LOVE cheese. Cream cheese is a staple in my diet, and really delicious smelly cheese is one of my favourite indulgences. But again, that’s what I ate and it was easy and convenient. Now I get creative with what to put on my bread. Hummus has basically replaced cream cheese as my go-to spread. I may not like that I can’t have cheese, but I love that I get to discover what else there is. I mean – I just had no idea about all the things vegans CAN eat. I’ve already expanded my horizons a lot – plus, I now read labels, and that means I just will not be eating some things again – not even after the 30 days. Do you have any idea what’s in our food sometimes? Wow.
Also, milk itself: I never need that back. I definitely prefer almond milk or oat milk in my cereal – I never really liked the taste of milk. In my coffee, I just really don’t care. Soy is fine, I don’t taste a difference, and in chai latte, I actually much prefer soy milk. So that’s not something I miss. At all.

Well, what DO you eat?

More vegetables than I did before. More fruit. More oils, I think, but of course no fat from red meat or butter. A lot of whole grains, creative dips and spreads that often contain almond butter and soy yogurt, and, of course, quite a bit of tofu. But not just tofu and not all the time. So far, eating vegan is definitely making me be healthier. Almost all takeout food, pastries, chips, pretzels and other snacks contain at least some egg, lactic acid, buttermilk, powdered milk… you get the idea. (By the way, did you know the water in olive jars often contains some lactic acid?) Chocolate contains milk, unless it’s the really dark kind. The bag of chips my brother bought the other day had 2% buttermilk in it (?!). Gummy bears contain gelatine, which is… well… not made from plants. So what being vegan means is that I usually just say no to junk food. Mostly because I know there’s something in it that I’m not allowed to eat. Sometimes because have no idea what’s in it at all.

No matter how I feel about vegan food after the 30 days are over, there’s something I do know: I want to keep this way of looking at food – checking labels, being conscious about what I eat and when I eat, rather than absent-mindedly nibbling on salty pretzels (there’s egg in those, by the way). And until I get to decide, there are still 25 days of meat and dairy abstinence. I’ll keep you posted!

Five Totally Random Reasons to Love Berlin

Apparently, you can’t just “kinda like” Berlin. You have to take sides. You love it? Great. You hate it? Great! Just don’t act so indecisive!

Well, in that case, after having spent four months in this city, I choose to love Berlin – and here’s why:

  1. Public transportation. It’s nothing like where Ari lives. I mean, of course, people still complain, but really, it’s awesome. During rush hours, trams come every 3-10 minutes, depending on the line. I usually take one that only comes every 10 minutes – yes, it’s a bit less popular, but guess what, it also means I still get a seat during rush hour! The other thing about trams and some subway lines is that they run even in the middle of the night – no “I have to get this tram, it’s the last one, else I’ll have to get a cab” in Berlin!
  2. “Späti culture”. Spätis are small shops that sell a variety of stuff you may or may not need in the middle of the night – snacks, alcohol, energy drinks, quick meals. They’re basically open whenever, so if for some reason you suddenly want pizza at 4 a.m., chances are you will not walk more than a hundred yards or so until you find some.
  3. The subway cars. They’re adorably yellow and cute and look like a relic from another century, which I guess they are…berlinsubway
  4. Bars. There are so many bars here that have incredible character. A few weeks ago, I went to a bar called “Konrad Tönz”, which is set up like a 70s living room, complete with an old black-and-white TV and the terrible awesome wallpaper designs. The week before, I found a Russian gem of a bar, complete with a vodka menu (and one option to “only order in emergencies – very strong”) and snacks cooked by “Mama”. I can’t wait to see what else there is!
  5. Brunch. It’s totally possible to go have delicious big breakfasts on Sunday mornings (or afternoons, if you prefer) and not spend more than seven or eight euros. I’ve done this a few times and I’m officially in love with Berlin’s brunch culture, and kind of hoping I’ll be able to do a piece on my favourite brunch places soon.

These are not the top five reasons to love this city, really. They’re just the first five things that came to my mind. I’m sure there’s more, so stay tuned for a possible sequel – and feel free to comment and add your own reasons to love Berlin! 🙂