What to Write About Now?

It’s easy to say, “I don’t know.” It’s easy to say, “I haven’t traveled in ages (though I know exactly how long).” It’s easy to say, sometimes with a laugh, “I don’t go out much these days.” It’s easy, because it’s true. I could write about that. But for now…

These times are hard for absolutely everyone. So what to write about now, during lockdown? Like many others, I walk everywhere I can. It’s soothing, it’s exercise. I’ve probably walked more in my area than I have in the years I was busy jetting between different parts of town, eager to discover new buildings, cafés, bookshops, views of the local river. Now I’m discovering this right here. I’ve taken so many pictures. There’s numerous beautiful buildings, the cafés all offer takeaway options written with bright chalk on blackboards, making the closed doors and empty inside slightly less foreboding; the bookshops are closed, though reminding about click and collect. The river, thankfully, is always there.

Paradoxically or not, I hope for so many things. I can’t help myself. Every quiet street, every note in the doorway of a once open, busy shop, every closed cinema, every smiling child – I can’t let go of hoping for you. Even after reading about struggles. I hope we’ll get through this, my mind repeats again and again. It’s easy to say, and then you have to live it. Why? Just because. Not being corny or dramatic here. Oh sure, there’s plenty of realism, hard facts, questions and challenges. It’s all a mix, since life isn’t just one thing at a time.

Around New Year’s Eve the thought occurred to me that maybe sometimes the best tip for getting through a phase is to not follow any tips. Maybe we already have the best tips, because they are instinctive. They are the wishes that are always there. They have been sharpened in the last year alone. They stand out, thankfully. Wanting to walk and get some fresh air. Needing sunlight and a glimpse of blue sky when it shows up. Talking about anything and everything. To spouses, children, family, friends, good colleagues, nice neighbors. Kindness, both received and given. Not waiting to pay someone a compliment. Not just making the best of, but making something – a dish, a story, a handwritten letter. Just being honest, even when you think you don’t know what to write about.

Auf Deutsch

Um, Not Asleep…German Language Moment

“Schlaf nicht, Mädchen!” Which translates from German as “Don’t sleep, girl!” Well, thanks for reminding me I can still feel like a teenager. Backstory and then some…

I was walking along a beautiful street in Hamburg called Milchstraße and stopped to get a shot of this gorgeous, mysterious villa. It’s January, but as is often the case, Hamburg has a semi-permanent, cloudy autumnal vibe going that is impervious to calendar months and their conventions.

I had vaguely registered the older lady with a small dog making her way towards me, but I was lost in the moment due to the house. Suddenly this bristly criticism comes out of nowhere and it took me a few seconds to realize it was from her. She was shorter than I and by the time I located her, she and the dog were already several meters ahead.

Habitually deconstructing yet another daily German moment after more than 11 years of living here, I figured out what earned me her attention. I was just standing not quite, but almost in the middle of an already narrow sidewalk, and I clearly should have been mindful of the fact that other people also wanted to pass. I’m guessing these other people might have schedules, timed walks, routes faithfully followed for decades, even on a Sunday. I respect traditions and rituals, especially in these times. I love to-do lists. I affectionately accept the national attitude of Not. Wasting. Time. Ever. Everyday life included. Especially everyday life!

I’ve been hearing some version of “Nicht schlafen!” (“Don’t sleep!”) since I arrived in Hamburg every now and then. We hadn’t covered this in German class back home, so the first few times I took it literally. Needless to say, I was confused. Wasn’t it obvious that I wouldn’t fall asleep standing up while waiting for a traffic light (so what if it took me a second to register it had changed to green), walking slower down the street because I was admiring something or trying to see if the long line to the cash register at the supermarket led to the nicer cashier? I have saved so much time elsewhere, can I just have this one?