You are as delicious as gnocci

This week it occurred to me that I’ve been living here a month. I’ll do something lovely for Dan to celebrate, I thought. But when I looked up on my calendar to find the exact one month anniversary, I realised I’d already missed it. Time goes so fast out here.

The weekdays pass with reading and writing and coffee and cooking and the weekends are Dan time. I find I’m never not looking forward to tomorrow.

Last Friday morning, Dan and I caught the first U-Bahn. We spent the weekend in Hannover attending an exhibition at the IAA of Dan’s work for Mercedes and hunting for Indian food. We stayed in a ridiculously cheap Airbnb with a ridiculously comfy bed and a gorgeous view.

42670174_229782247896299_5138810395502313472_n

It rained constantly and was freezing. Stuttgart is in a big dip and therefore never has any wind, which we realised we’d been taking for granted when we had to buy coats and jumpers over there. When we arrived we sought shelter in a simple and beautiful Italian restaurant and I had my first glass of red wine since last winter with a seafood pizza.
42682819_959614670891365_6014895741481254912_n

Obscurely, I’m learning more Italian out here than German. Angela, who lives next door to Dan in Stuttgart has been teaching me the language over beers and introducing me to her Italian friends. My very favourite thing to say is, ‘tu sei gnocco’. It means (when said to a man) ‘you are as delicious as gnocci’.

We’re going to her flat tonight and she’s cooking us a traditional Italian meal. We’re bringing extra plates and cutlery, flowers and, of course, prosecco.

I still have no idea what I’ve done to deserve this life of free rent, Riesling, creativity and self-care. I’m so extremely aware of how fortunate I am. It’s the first time I’ve not had a job since I was thirteen.

Someone pinch me.

Aside from our apartment, there are three places in Bad Cannstatt I love to write. For my early morning sessions, an Italian café, for mid-morning and lunchtime, a French bistro, and for the afternoons a German brauhaus.

This new story I’m writing I get more and more interested in every day. Angela says when I talk about it there’s a light in my eyes and Floss and I have been laughing about the characters like they’re our friends.

With any luck, there’s something wonderful brewing, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned since being here is that wonder breeds wonder.

42678837_251910062193259_6878077180341911552_n

 

 

DAS WAR LECKER

“DAS WAR LECKER!”

Compared to its much softer English equivalent: it was delicious, the hard consonants make it so aggressive, or as I like to think of it, passionate. The louder you say it, the truer it is.

It’s my favourite German phrase (out of the 6 I know).

I learned it to make sure that when I’m eating and drinking out I can use it to compensate for my lack of language knowledge of everything else.

Restaurants and bars are where it started, but it’s also wonderfully applicable to cold showers on hot days, fresh morning walks and my time so far with Dan in Germany.

I haven’t worn make-up in a week. No one does here. My beautiful boots are gathering dust and I’m living in trainers. My hair has been treated to bountiful and cheap conditioning treatments and is softer and shinier than ever, rolling down my shoulders like silk. I’m fitting in. Not because I want to change myself, but because my mindset has been purely ‘explore and embrace’. It’s not a question of why, as much as why not?

40243176_264188997553368_4234830263433035776_n

For a few hours each day, I visit Sophie’s Brauhaus. The waitresses bring me coffee and help me with my German (just this minute she’s told me we’re only speaking in German from now on). I write and write.

My new book is brewing, bubbling and steaming at the back of my head. It’s gradually making its way forward. I’m doing the research and prep I can to coax it closer to the front of my head, so I’ll be able to shut my eyes and watch it play out.

Quitting my job and giving up our lovely flat was really difficult. For the few weeks after when the whole ‘I’m voluntarily unemployed what am I doing??!’ doubts were loud and harsh, I was so worried I’d not made the right decision.

Now I’m here and so totally happy and relaxed, eating, drinking, reading and writing all day, I’m still just a tiny bit worried because it’s so perfect and what on earth have I done to deserve this life? Will I wake up to discover it was just a few too many glasses of wine that lulled me into a long delirious dream? Even now, writing this, I’m beaming.

Stress has always been a driver of mine. Heat and pressure have made me thrive. Before I arrived I was terrified of boredom and slowness to the point of stopping, but Germany has even given me an answer to that: there are wasps everywhere. I just moved my bum further backwards onto the bench I’m sitting on and felt a sting. Happily it was just a prickly hedge.

Granted, the goosebumps I get when I can feel a wasp land on my hair aren’t quite of the same calibre to when I get a tricky brief and a tight time limit from a client, but goosebumps are goosebumps (right?).

But the very best part of being here? Every day for the last seven years Dan’s asked me the same question ‘how was your day?’

And every day for the last week and a bit, my answer has been truthful, instinctive and unfaltering.

‘Lecker. Absolutely bloody lecker.’

 

The first U-Bahn

Our rooftop apartment is metres away from the U-Bahn stop. It means we can go from sitting on the sofa to sitting on the train within less than a minute. It also means that when the first U-Bahn of the day rattle-hums past, I can hear it from bed. At 5am in the morning, it wakes me up.

I don’t mind. I’m sleeping very lightly here anyway. I’m still getting used to sharing a bed with another human.

I’ve often been a passenger on the last train home. With a high thirst for night-time adventures and a low figure in my bank account, I’m always coming home from London or Manchester at midnight.

Fond is perhaps too strong but I’m accustomed and comfortable among people who have shirts stained with sweat, who have swapped high heels for dirty heels in pursuit of comfort, and where the carriage smells of alcohol and thickness and drowsiness.

It’s the U-Bahn that wakes me up, but as with a lot of things, it’s my imagination that keeps me up.

There’s something about those renewed-by-dawn carriages and their occupants – knowing they’re there, knowing their day has begun, while I’m still warm and only half conscious, that makes me feel something.

The apartment is my safe place here. Particularly bed.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never had the inclination to designate a safe place before, (I’ve started getting a little bit of anxiety exploring Stuttgart with my poor language skills, and returning to the apartment always feels like a small achievement).

I don’t know if I’m explaining this in the right way (but then I don’t quite know what I’m trying to explain either).

In a place and a time that feels right (living with Dan, figuring out my next move), yet still feeling anxiety (what is my next move? Where is it? Oh my god my German is so bad); that 5am train meters away from me pressed up against my best friend, our summer duvet, sweet from the smell of vanilla and lilac fabric softener, is so close, but so far, and in every sense of the word, so foreign.

Today’s Germany has started. And I’ve missed the train.

That frightens and inspires me.

I’m reading lots. This morning I read a character saying to her daughter that to beat fear, you must walk slowly and steadily towards what scares you. That resonated with me because it sounds wonderful, but even more so because after some thought, I realised I had been agreeing with it and living by it since I’ve been here.

My future scares me, so every day I walk slowly and steadily towards the next one.

Not knowing the language scares me, so I walk slowly and steadily into conversation with locals.

It scares me that it’s so hard to make it as an author, and that perhaps my dreams now and always have been too big, but every day I look my dream straight in the face and I just keep typing.

And one day (if it’s not tomorrow, it’s not tomorrow), I’ll leave bed at 4.59am and jump on that first U-Bahn with bed hair, sleep still in my eyes, and my laptop under my arm.

 

If animals did social media, which one would you be?

Written for Distinct Digital, digital marketing for recruitment agencies.

 

Have you ever seen the motivational memes floating around on LinkedIn that say stuff like ‘run with the wolves’ or ‘surround yourself with lions to become a lion’? Well what if your recruitment agency was actually an animal?

We researched the psychology and habits of hundreds of different animals in order to draw accurate and relatable comparisons to the way your recruitment agency operates. This takes into account your approach to things like social media, online marketing and content.

So we’re not giving out ego massages here. We’re not telling everyone they’re a lion or a wolf. We might even call you a carp. These are simply truths about animals that we’ve found to be accurate metaphors for business.

Rabbit

No-one can accuse you of half-heartedness. No-one can associate your type with laziness or fear or poor time-management.

You’ve got a spring in your stop-at-nothing step and a destination in your mind’s eye. You take a leap, you land on your paws, already preparing for the next one.

But with all that leaping, and all those destinations in mind, you’ve neglected one thing.

Sociability perhaps isn’t something you’ve really thought about addressing. Well, you’ve thought about it, of course you have, but quickly hopped on to something higher up your priority list.

‘I’m social by nature,’ you tell yourself. ‘That will do for now.’

But what’s sort of happened while you’ve been busy hopping between your million other tasks is that the ‘now’ has extended into months, even years, when you think about it.

Your social nature isn’t doing its job at promoting your recruitment agency.

The frustrating thing is all this twisting, turning task-hopping, you’ve quickly become clued up and confident on practices that a social network would be inclined to prick their (much smaller) ears to.

No-one will ever hear you if you don’t speak out.

So find a mouthpiece. Find someone who knows your industry, someone who can listen to your story, someone who can extract #whatmakesyou Distinct – and do it time-efficiently for you.

Find someone that knows the social media rabbit hole well. Don’t jump in blind.

rabbit

Ostrich

Why is your head in the sand? It’s not really that you’re wanting the world to go away, is it?

Like the other animals, you’ve been searching on the ground for a while now. They seem to be sourcing what they need to survive, and you thought following the pattern would do the same for you. You were right, of course, I mean look at you now – you’re surviving.

But you always knew, that you shouldn’t be at their level – and instead of putting work into figuring out where you’re supposed to be, you took the easy option and buried your head in the sand instead.

Having your head buried, feeling that cool sand against your face, makes for a safe place. Under the ground, nobody can see you, nobody can interact with you, and whatever anyone’s saying about you, you don’t have to hear it.

After a while though, it gets a little lonely, especially because you can still hear sounds of life above ground. All that time you’ve spent with your head down has actually produced some thoughtful analyses, that actually, might do you some good to share. Not only might it allow others to learn who you are and what you do, but it will establish you as a reputable source of content.

It’s time to take the leap.

Lift your head. Let the sand fall off of your face. Let your eyes open and adjust to the light. Stop surviving at ground level and use #whatmakesyou Distinct. You’ve got strong legs to stand on and your neck has the potential to rise far above all the other creatures. From there you’re in prime position to deliver your message.

Now all you’ve got to do is deliver it.

ostrich

Carp

‘It could be worse,’ you reason with yourself. ‘At least they’re not making fun of me. They can’t, can they, when they don’t know my name.’

Each and every morning you force yourself into the mainstream.

‘Morning, all,’ you say, ‘I hope you have a nice day.’ But nobody ever responds.

At lunchtime you reckon you’re onto a winner because you’ve got a cool lunch. A photographical lunch – and the others seem to love photographs. So you take a snap and display it for all to see, ‘This is my lunch,’ you say, ‘what are you guys having?’

But there’s no engagement. And it’s not because of your internet signal.

In the afternoon, you post a GIF, in the evening you post another with double the desperation and half the heart. Then another picture, this time of your tea.

‘Night, everyone,’ you duly announce before retreating to your riverbed.

You don’t sleep, of course. Soliloquizing salmon monopolize your mind. What do they have that you don’t? You’re so friendly, so approachable, so polite.

What are you supposed to do, when ‘creative’ just isn’t who you are?

In not being heard, you’ve spent a lot of time listening and watching. None of the others have binocular, wide-angle vision, so you’re positive that they don’t know this talent pool nearly as well. There really is an awful lot of value to #whatmakesyou Distinct.

So talk to someone about it, talk to a communicator who’s creative and knows ways to get heard. Unload on them your thoughts, let them be re-designed and redistributed into content the others will long to listen to.

Stop selling yourself down the river; you belong in the conversation.

carp

Woodpecker

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

Strong, confident and fast.

Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.

You’re on it. Your method of communication is tried, tested and successful.

Tap, tap, tap on the keyboard.

But then, the tapping stops.

You’ve said now what you’ve wanted to say. You’ve communicated the social messages that have been building up since the last flurry of phraseology, too. So what now?

Well you bow out, of course. There’s no point in chatting for the sake of chatting when you don’t know what else to say, and your to-do list is crying out for you, eager to be fed with your attention.

So you leave your social media for now. Halfway through your to-do list, a social post idea with that magical combination of professionalism and wit comes to you. You titter to yourself and make a mental note to send that out later.

The next day something else comes to you. Something clever and thought-provoking that you know could spark engagement with those who engage with your tapping. You can put it out next to that one from yesterday… But what was that one, again? Oh well, you’ll think of it soon enough, for now you can get on with other things. Besides, a few comments like that on social media don’t really have anything to bringing food back to the nest (do they?)

A busy week means your Twitter tapping temporarily terminates. An even busier week follows, and the thought leaves your reinforced skull entirely.

Your penchant for sporadicity is brilliant for multi-tasking in the day to day running of your agency; nobody can fault the way you switch and switch again from calls to flying between meetings, but your social presence does suffer.

So do what you do best: recruit. Get a company who know exactly #whatmakesyou Distinct, a company that can pin down your witty and professional brand voice and be there for your audience when you can’t.

Let them sing your birdsong from the rooftops, regularly and consistently.

woodpecker

Tortoise

Slow and steady wins the race. That’s what you tell yourself over and over like a mantra as you watch the others socially speed ahead with punchy personality profiles and easily accumulated engagement.

You post too, of course you do. You understand the importance of social media, even if you don’t understand how to navigate it.

New jobs promptly plod on to your feed, not too much to clog it, but once an hour, on the hour. It’s sustainable. It’s consistent. And that’s what you are, at the end of the day. It’s not an inaccurate reflection.

A creature of habit – professional habit – but your tried and tested professional words with your tried and tested professional tone don’t translate into success online.

The others, you notice, upload pictures, quirky quotations, news and blog posts. They have these voices that are miles apart from you and everything you publically put out. How do they conjure these distinct voices from thin air?

Nobody seems to understand that your thick shell is filled with nerve endings and that when you hear whispers in your direction that sound an awful lot like ‘formal’ and ‘awkward’; you can’t just retract into yourself and choose ignorance.

Idea sharing, inspiration, answering your question of ‘but aren’t digital marketing and advertising the same thing?’ – the things you really do need a network for, you’re not getting. That boat left with you still in the shallows a while back.

What you really need is another method of transportation. One that will pick you up and let you accelerate forwards on its back. One that will bring you up to speed with the others, and on the way help you to talk about exactly #whatmakesyou Distinct.

Give yourself the opportunity to really come out of your shell.

tortoise

Loner

Last summer I got on a train to Bournemouth and spent three days there on holiday. By myself.

‘You’re such a loner!’ Sadie told me.

‘Yes I am.’ I smiled back.

My beautiful best friend had meant it as an insult. She’d meant it in the same vein as ‘freak’, as ‘tragic’ as ‘poor Mara can’t get anyone to go away with her so she’s going by herself HOW HILARIOUS’.

First of all there was a mix up at the hotel I had booked. The reason I decided on Bournemouth was that it was the cheapest room I could find on the internet. It was £15 a night for a single room with one small window. On the first morning of my solitary summer trip I received a call from Giles, the hotel owner who said, ‘I’m so sorry (really so sorry) but that room doesn’t exist. I don’t know what that silly internet told you but there’s absolutely no way you can have that room.’ He explained that there was only one room left on site. It was a double room with a sea view and a corridor and a bath and he could offer it to me at the discounted price of £50 a night. I then explained to him my position as a poor student, with absolutely no money to spend and return train tickets already purchased.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Just this once. And don’t tell my wife.’

I spent my time walking, writing and watching the sea. I really love the sea – I always have – it’s awe, I think, of how constant it is, how effortless. For food, I hopped between budget supermarkets and budget cafes. I tried bubble tea for the first time – that was pretty great – I’d been wondering about that for ages and ages. On the last night I was feeling a bit rubbishy because I hadn’t had a hot meal or any vegetables for three days so I walked across the road to a very small Italian restaurant. I sat outside at a corner table for one and ate breadsticks and penne arrabbiata with fresh tomatoes and fresh pasta and fresh chilli under the orange patio heater. The restaurant manager must have taken pity on me eating alone because he brought me two free glasses of house white wine. It was honestly one of the best eating out experiences I have ever had (and not just because of the persuasive power of wine).

In the evenings I’d embark on the five minute downhill trail to the waterfront where I’d take my shoes off and walk along the line where the sea meets the beach. There were one or two late night dog walkers but other than that I had the whole place to myself. It was magical. The lack of social interaction and otherwise conversations with friends found an outlet in conversations with myself. Not out loud (I didn’t think I should give Sadie’s jibes any more ammunition) but in my head. In the same way you get to know someone through staying up all night in conversation – I was getting to know myself in a way that I never had. I was starting to like myself in a way that I never had. I liked my independence, I liked my motivation (the best writing I’ve ever done was on that trip), I liked the way that for the first time I had started to put myself first – because for those three days there was nobody else I needed to please.

IMG_0332

I love my friends and I can’t tell you how much I value my family, but I wouldn’t change the company on my Bournemouth experience for anything. When I have the money and opportunity to do it again and when, once again, I hear, ‘loner!’ I will say ‘thank you so much’.

Because what a wonderful compliment – to be happy with yourself. People struggle for lifetimes with that and I’ll never not be grateful for those three days for making me the happiest loner in the world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Safer than Sorry

karate2

I was walking back from town this week and it was raining. I was nearly home, ready to turn the corner into the walkway to my house and I was probably walking a little faster than normal to try and minimise the almost unavoidable rain-hair-frizz-grease thing. I was also wearing my big brown boots and carrying three bags of heavy groceries. This was a mission. So there I was, within smelling distance of Kenny’s room, when the woman in front of me quickly turned her head to look at me – smiled apologetically – and continued walking.

I think she was scared that I was someone who might hurt her.

Whenever I walk in the dark I keep my head down and walk fast. When I hear someone behind me it does freak me out – because every day we hear horror stories of vulnerable people being assaulted by total strangers. I can’t tell you how much it felt like a slap around the face when that woman turned around. Not because I was surprised or offended, but because this woman must have been forty years old. When I picture myself at forty the last thing I see is vulnerability. And yet, the look on her face showed exactly that, and there is absolutely no reason why in twenty years I will be any different.

Sometimes I genuinely wish I looked like my father- that is an active thought that goes through my head when I’m walking back from the station at night. I’ll be stepping off of the train and willing myself to grow a foot taller, sprout a big black beard and for my eyes to change from mouldy green into ones that can kill you with just a glance. And then there’s that thing where you can’t put headphones in to listen to music to distract you because you won’t hear anyone who tries to come at you from behind – but with no music it just makes the journey longer and your hear every single footprint within a two mile radius and each one is sent to beat you up. Girls who listen to music in the dark – stupid or fearless? (or both?)

I was walking back from work one evening, it must have been around quarter to ten – it was winter – so it was black and cold – and I heard footprints behind me. After a few seconds of should I? shouldn’t I? Of course in the end, I decided I should, and I did. I turned around and there was a man carrying an axe. I don’t know how on earth I managed not to scream – instead I picked up my phone and faked what I’m fairly sure was a unconvincingly squeaky ‘hello?’. Anyway the man put the axe in his car and went back into his house. I made it home fine, if a little shaky.

Even today, when I said goodbye to my best friend going back to Germany – who I won’t see again for heaven knows how long – all I wanted to do was listen to Adele and let a few silent tears fall down my cold cheeks (in a very dramatic art sort of way). But then I remembered the axe and instead walked to the slightly less emotional soundtrack of the odd car engine and the high pitched siren the people at number forty-nine employ to keep away teenagers.

One of my best friends at school was crazy good at karate. She told me she had dreams where people would break into her house to attack her family and she’d beat them up. I’ve always thought that was wonderful – being so secure in your safety that even in your dreams you’d destroy any kind of threat. There are always exceptions – but I don’t think vulnerability is a surface thing. It’s a confidence thing. And I am confident that by the time I’m forty I will be able to listen to Adele WHENEVER I want to. I am going to learn how to properly protect myself – because I’m not being that woman that turned around to me.

I don’t want to look behind anymore – there’s too much in front of me.