Thoughts on Graveyard Gardening

“What am I doing with my life????” I just talked to a dear friend on the phone for two hours. We both struggle with finding our path in life. We couldn’t decide which courses to take, which universities to apply to, and now how to get our lives together.

When I left school, I was obsessed with physics and even considered studying it. Now I’m drawn to the humanities, to the social aspects of our lives, to justice, and education, to creativity. I dream to be a journalist, a writer – nothing is less related to that than conducting physical experiments with neutrinos in the Antarctic.

In the past I have done some internships in various businesses and told myself after each one: “I will never do that again”.

We might find our way through the things we don’t see ourselves in. It hit me a few months back that I will never be a professional athlete, for example. Many other careers I will never pursue, popped up in my head:

Although these sound extremely interesting, I will never …

  • climb the highest mountains on this earth
  • bake pies for the queen
  • style the fur of dogs
  • work in a boutique selling hats to ladies visiting horse races
  • be a blacksmith for sensitive horses with commitment issues
  • play piano in an old smoke-filled bar every night
  • name the furniture for IKEA
  • take care of the plants on a graveyard (my friend laughed a lot at this and said she could actually imagine herself doing that. She would found her own graveyard. We didn’t come up with a better name than “Toni’s graveyard” yet because we couldn’t stop to giggle.)
  • cultivate bonsai and sell them online
  • sail around the world to test sailing boats
  • sell mattresses to people (can you tell I’m tired?)
  • have my own vineyard and host wine experts in my cottage
  • throw paper around in my laboratory, count bacteria, and think about that formula I have been inventing
  • act in Shakespeare plays (or any plays for that matter)
  • operate a machine that smashes bricks against a metal plate and then measure the impact (yes, that was one of the jobs I did in an internship)
  • design people’s homes and search for wall decoration pictures for three days (yep, intern…)
  • write information sheets for 4th graders about bees and walk with them along a river to find beavers (intern- although that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, I love bees…)

I worked for an environmental NGO in ninth grade and I said I could never do that again. Now, I study environmental and resource management. People change, and that’s great. If you are unsure about what you want to do in life, think about those careers you will never follow. Those dreams which could never be your own. Your path might become a little clearer in front of you.

Because this is such a funny exercise – please send me your suggestions of jobs you will never do!

Wonder Woman

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*contains spoilers*

Wonder Woman was a remarkable film. I’m not saying everything was right with it. But it showed female strength not only visible through special effects. It showed how powerful vulnerability can be and how much determination and belief in the good changes the world.

She wanted to help people, and she did. She followed her calling regardless of what the men around her were saying. In the end, they followed her. I cannot imagine how that would have played out in the real world we live in- they would probably have thrown her out of the room, just like they did in the scene in the London government.

Diana soon understood that she cared for humanity, for all the values we hold dear. She was stronger through her love, her holding on to the good, and through the belief in her abilities. This is not something you often see. In the media we often see women who tear each other down.

A memorable scene was when Diana was still a child and her mother told her she was not the strongest of them and therefore could never use the God-Killer. She was, in fact, the strongest. And her mother telling her she was not, held her back in her training.

We spend far too much time analysing why we are not good enough. Instead, we should be out there fighting for the good, fighting for what we believe in, and gaining strength on the way. If this film had been about a man, these struggles would have never surfaced. A male superhero doesn’t doubt his abilities. He uses some crazy moves and the villain is dead. She wasn’t sure which side to be on, she was uncertain. This made the film so real. We will never be sure what we can do, unless we try.

Another scene I loved was when she forgave the poison maker. She could have killed her. But she understood that it wouldn’t help anyone. They weren’t on opposite sides, they both wanted to survive. The villains we perceive to be the villains might not be. There might be structures we never understand and sometimes what we fight against doesn’t have a face we can see. But forgiveness and compassion always raises us higher than every villain in this world. Forgiveness is a strong power.

The film left me with a will to change something. I, too, believe that we are not doomed. That we can change our perspective on life and that we can love instead of fighting wars. This representation of a strong woman gives young girls something to live up to. A feeling that they are capable of everything they want to reach. A feeling that the good can win.

Nothing holds me here

In our study course we do a semester abroad after two years. I’m going to Sweden this August. Nothing holds me here.

A friend of mine who is going to Costa Rica has her boyfriend back home and she is not happy about having to go. Me, on the other hand, I cannot wait. I want to get out of this city, away from people. I want to make new friends and connect more to myself than before. Sometimes, I catch myself thinking in the same ways my mum would: You shouldn’t stay, you should go home, get some sleep, you have to get up early. And I obey. It’s hard to distance yourself from thought patterns you have known all your life.

I struggle a lot with my mental health, especially since it is exam phase at the moment. Distance is not the cure, but it can help. By saying I don’t want anyone to visit me there, I have pissed off many people. But I need this time alone, I need to fix my head.

When we stay at home we often don’t live up to our full potential. We have the same people around us even though we know that they don’t support our dreams. When you seek out for new friends, you can choose those who will encourage you to aim high. You can reveal things about yourself that you did not dare to, back home. You become truer to yourself and to others.

Nothing holds me here. I am torn between two faces: The lonely, sad, exhausted; the energetic, hopeful, inspired. The days I crawl up in bed become more frequent. The weight on my chest becomes larger. The clouds darken my sky. And I want to be the second one, I want to change the world. I want to write and dream and meet people. I want to sing and dance and laugh.

Nothing holds me here.

You want a pony? I want a tree.

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I skipped a lecture and went to the river with my bike in the gorgeous morning hours. I met a deer. It was munching some grass twenty metres away.

Sometimes I feel like I have a deeper connection to the trees around the city than to the city itself. This will probably also be the one thing I miss when I move: The forest at the river side.

Leaving my phone at home gives me so much joy. I ignore the appointments, the to-do lists, the stress. My head clears up the second I don’t hear car noises anymore but birds singing. They are so loud that even the deer jumped. A blackbird had started a conversation with a friend next to him.

In my childhood the coolest job I could imagine was a ranger in a national park. I grew up watching nature documentaries. I dreamed about walking through the woods and taking care of everything that lived there. Now this dream doesn’t seem so far anymore. My dad jokes that I will be studying forestry one day. I laugh it off but – why not? I feel more drawn to the great outsides than to most people. And what a better environment for a writer than a forest?

We had a lecture yesterday about energy generation and consumption through the years. We were left with a dark glimpse into the future: We will never be able to reach the 2°C goal if we go on burning fossil fuels. Even if we don’t, that would mean our society had to transform into an electricity society. Which isn’t possible in just a few years. We in Germany, for example, will never reach the goals for 2020 we have set for ourselves.

All these analyses terrified me and I searched for a solution. If we can’t decrease the amount of carbon we are emitting, then at least we can do everything to capture it and not let it go into the atmosphere. Along with cutting your consumption it’s the best you can do: Plant trees.

Our Blue Planet

“We need to respect the oceans and take care of them as if our lives depended on them. Because they do.” Sylvia Earle

Sylvia Earle

She calls herself the ambassador of the fish. Sylvia Earle is a marine biologist and also the first woman to become chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Time magazine named her the first Hero of the Planet. With a record of walking on the sea bed, deeper than anyone before, she holds the title “Her Deepness”. I admire her work and her passion. She produces the facts: Our oceans are endangered by our actions and we have to do something about it. In a speech she urges us to protect this fragile ecosystem with all we have.

Climate Change

Nowadays, 40% of the world population live in coastal areas. Climate change causes a sea level rise which endangers the livelihood of whole societies. We can counteract global warming, the sea level rise, the acidification of the oceans, and the extinction of marine species – by cutting our emissions.

With my friend I discussed why people haven’t thought climate change earlier. “They took it for granted, just as we take our water for granted right now.” I was sipping on my cup of tea. Stared into the cup. She was right. We don’t think long-term. Our economies even less. Short-term benefits. Maximal profit.

Fishing

Our professor told us that in former times salmons were fed to pigs for nutrients. Today, 90% of the big fish in the oceans are gone. Only 10% of the tuna is left. Take the average pig or chicken you eat. It doesn’t get very old. A few months? Maybe one year? An average tuna has to grow for 10-14 years to mature. With today’s fishing strategies the tuna we fish get younger and younger. There are no old ones left.

Tuna are very large carnivores. They have eaten a lot of fish in their lives. Pigs eat concentrated feed. They didn’t munch on thousands of fish before you bought them packaged in little pieces. “Fish are much more valuable alive than dead.” Sylvia Earle said. Which is true for everything in our planet’s environment.

The currently used fishing techniques are designed to having by-catch. If you catch a large fish with today’s technique, there are 100 other fish or marine animals on the fishing rod. We take the fins of sharks who are still alive and throw the animals back into the ocean. 50% of the coral reefs are gone. Destroyed by humans. We are taking and taking and taking.

Polluting the oceans

We are also putting stuff back into the ocean. The entanglement of marine animals in plastics has increased by 40% in the last decade. “Reports revealed that all known species of sea turtles, about half of all species of marine mammals, and one-fifth of all species of sea birds were affected by entanglement or ingestion of marine debris.” The study was done on 663 species.

We are not only polluting the water by plastics. We drill deep holes in the ground. We rip the sea bed apart. We let oil spill for weeks, months. We dig for minerals. We put hazardous waste into the oceans. We get rid of our atomic waste. Oceans are our dumping ground. Small fish eat those substances. They are eaten by bigger fish. Toxics accumulate. Until we have them on our plates.

The importance of oceans

Life started in the oceans. They contain 97% of the earth’s water. They drive a huge water cycle providing us with precipitation. They keep the earth cool. Water has an incredible heat and carbon storage capacity. Oceans deal with our high emissions. I don’t know how long they will be able to do so. CO2 turns into carbonic acid. This damages and kills corals. It messes with fragile ecosystems. Oceans drive our climate. The system is on the brink to fall apart. It will take us with it.

Seas are complex, diverse and sensitive ecosystems. We need to take better care of them. As W. H. Auden said: “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

 

(This is an edited article I wrote for last year’s Nanowrimo over on my other blog)

20 things by 20

Tomorrow I’ll be no longer a teenager, yay! I’m terrified. These are just numbers, I know, but they are scary anyway. Or you could say…
I’m entering a new decade of my life… Arghghhghhhhh *panics* *runs out of house* *hugs the next tree for comfort*

Here are some of the things I have learned… (This is a Youtube tag, by the way. I was inspired.)

  1. Time management is the number one rule for success. Once you know how to organise your life, everything is easier.
  2. Friends leave your life and new ones come in. That’s ok.
  3. Don’t promise anything right away. Breathe, think, then promise.
  4. Sleep makes everything look brighter.
  5. Let them finish! Talking over someone is the worst. (Still have to practice this one…)
  6. Some things are out of your control. Don’t try to beat yourself up about it.
  7. Your body is great. Be kind to it. (If it only were that easy…)
  8. If you struggle, write it down. Disconnect yourself from your thoughts and examine them.
  9. Write an email, call them, talk to them. If something doesn’t go according to your plan, find out why.
  10. Clean and tidy a bit every night. That way you won’t drown in chaos.
  11. Set realistic long-term goals. They will keep you motivated and will give you a purpose.
  12. Put in the work. It doesn’t help to complain, you have to do it anyway. Sit down and study.
  13. Say yes. (I have missed so many opportunities because I said no. Still do.)
  14. Smile. It makes you happier and all the people around you.
  15. Shut up your editor’s brain for the first draft of any creative work. Do not aim for “perfect”.
  16. Silence doesn’t bring you anywhere. If you have a problem, talk to people.
  17. Nobody will defend yourself but you. Don’t sell yourself for less than you are. (Haha, good one. I wish I could do this.)
  18. If you feel overwhelmed, get out of the house. Fresh air unties the knots in your brain.
  19. Keep your projects to yourself until you actually start with them. Don’t talk, work. (I’m not a secrets person. Not at all…)
  20. Everything works out better than expected. Don’t panic before anything happens.

 

What are the lessons you learned but still struggle to implement?

Find a River

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“Hello Sunshine”, someone has scribbled with chalk on the road. It’s 30°C, lectures for today are over, I’m escaping into nature. Everyone of my friends has their own mechanisms to cope with uni stress. For me, it’s biking to the river to find a green and quiet place.

Sitting there always calms me down. The branches of the trees dance in the sun, the river sets one foot before the other on its long journey to the sea. It changes its speed, its colour, its inhabitants, but it always carries on.

You can hurt a river in many ways: You can straighten it and it will grow aggressive; you can dam it and it will tear down walls; you can pollute it and it will struggle; but it will always persevere. Nature has a lot more power than we think. We like to be in charge, when we really aren’t.

Here is a photo of my favourite spot to sit, read, and write. It’s my chance to escape and reset my energy.

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No matter what happens on earth, the water will run. Find a river, love, because rivers mean healing.

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Do you have a favourite river? Please tell me about it in the comments! x

Coal mining in Germany – Future or past?

mine

“You have to see this,” Hannah said, “so that you know what you will be fighting against.”

The region where I study is famous for its lignite. In our raw materials course we visited a coal mine and a power plant. It was raining the entire day just as if nature wanted to show us that she still was in charge.

I sat there with my note app on my phone and typed everything which came to my mind. “I could do that all my life”, I thought. Going places, writing articles.

Who kills the trees?
When we arrived in the mine we saw diggers shift soil over hundreds of metres. They excavate on the right, mine in the middle, close the mine on the left. The top soil and the vegetation were already gone. I thought of the person who operated the machines to rip all trees away; my heart ached a little. One metre soil per day are transported this way. We gasped at the dimension of the deep wounds people had cut into mother Earth.

The soil under our feet was sterile; you could wait centuries and nothing would grow. When they close the mine, they put this on the bottom of the mine and the clay on top. At some places there are trees and shrubs again. Miners call it re-cultivation. “Our contribution to nature conservation” it said on a sign. I have an idea for the conservationists: Leave the coal in the ground.

Our coal for our future

In 2020 the nuclear power plants in Germany will close down. I often heard the phrase: “We need more coal to compensate”. It’s true that the capacity of renewable energies is not large enough to meet our demands yet. The government discussed whether mining should go on. Coal is always there, people say, you need sun and wind for renewables, and they are “completely inefficient and pointless”, the people in our truck said. “Don’t listen to the them, we are their competitors”, Lilli whispered.

We often argue that we have two choices when we finish studying: Go into the industry, make money, dump our values. Or safe the world without making any money. I’m all in for the second option. But through which one do I have a greater influence?

A place on the moon

“We talked about all these costs and measures,” our guide said, “now let’s go to where the money is.” We went down to the place where they mine the coal and someone said “Wow, this looks like a transport band in a sushi restaurant”. To me, it looked like the moon which hadn’t washed its feet for some time.

From the other visitors of the mine I heard “I would love to see how it looks in thirty years”. Dear me, I would love for the fossil fuel industry to be shut down in thirty years.  Of course we saw the excursion from an environmental perspective. I think the miners had never seen so many critics of their work in one group before. It was hard to contain ourselves. Is it naive to think that we will someday stop exploiting earth?

Burning our future

In the end of the excursion we visited the power plant where the coal is burned. There were a lot of gigantic buildings with thousands of wires and pipes and metal frames. It all looked dead. There were no people around, you could just read the comments and pictures someone scribbled on the walls. In an average shift, 23 people work in the entire complex. Now please repeat the argument that lignite mining produces jobs.

Clean and green

Our guide didn’t care to mention the CO2 that is coming out of the cooling tower. Water vapour, sure. But CO2? He forgot about that. The tour around the power plant felt like an advertisement. He presented to us the shiniest new inventions they were implementing to clean the smoke gases. But they are still greenhouse gases. You had to be careful and ask a lot of questions to dig towards the truth. This is what we are studying for.

Lessons learned

We went through the mines and power plants with a fascination that was almost morbid. We had the environment in the back of our heads. We knew that this was what we will be fighting against every day after we graduate. Coal is not the future, it can never be the future. We have a lot of work to do.

The Writing Craft

In his book “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” Roy Peter Clark lists ways to improve your writing. The book starts off with technical advice on how to structure sentences. The most helpful tip was to place the important words in the beginning of your sentence. You start with subjects and verbs. The less meaningful comes in the back. This way, you can guide your reader through the longest sentences.

The second part deals with choosing the right words. You learn how to achieve tension in your plot and how you can set the pace. For example, you can vary the sentence and the paragraph lengths.

Part three is about the practicals of writing. I loved the tool “rehearsal”. Procrastination or writer’s block are less frightening if you reword them as preparation. Just the thought of writer’s block makes my inspiration river go dry. When I now dwell on the topic in my head, it helps me to improve my ideas.

You find editing and the social aspects of writing in the last part of the book. I have never had any trouble with revising my work. It is much easier to cut a phrase than to write it. Knowing what to cut is an art form. It’s like painting for me. You add some colour to your canvas and if you don’t like what you did, you add a layer above it. You shape your painting just as you do your writing, until it feels right.

Through “Writing Tools” I have understood that writing is but a craft which can be mastered. Sewing the word together requires a pointy needle, a strong thread, and a colourful fabric.

 

The Heart of a Woman

The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

This is the fourth autobiography she has written and the second I have read (I started with “I know why the caged birds sing”). She tells the story of her son growing up. She moved around the US and then to Egypt with her husband, a South African freedom fighter, later on leaving for Ghana where her son went to university.

This book tells the story of a strong woman who always found her path. People threw many obstacles in her way, yet she always endured. She always found a job, she always found the right thing to say.

There are many impressive moments but this one stuck out to me: Her husband didn’t want her to work. But she needed something to do, she needed to take care of herself. She asked around and got a job as a journalist. When her husband confronted her, he was furious but she kept the job through the clever arguing of a friend.  Maya Angelou was an independent soul. She felt relieved, free, when her son left for college. Although she had a strong connection to him, a deep love, she knew when to let him go.

The book is beautifully crafted and I adore her stories. They are universal. The struggle of a single mum in a society that doesn’t value single women. I read an article that women today can be anything: Divorced, lesbians, childless, … but never single.

You can be anything, but single

Women are asked about their relationships; men about their careers. We cling to the standards and values of the last centuries, we engrave them in our lives. “I was already married at your age” – What is that supposed to mean? Times have changed. Women today don’t want to have relationships anymore just for the sake of them.

The relationship of a woman is seen as the finest thing she can achieve. In reality that doesn’t seem true because

… you can lose your job if you have children, you do not get adequate payment for the time off you need to birth them, your children are not cared for when you want to go to work, and you have to fear for your health and life

… young girls are married off to much older men by their parents

… women suffer from domestic violence and can’t even talk about that in public (men are also subject to violence but not to the same extent)

… lesbians cannot get married or adopt children in many countries

Our worth is not defined by the relationships we are in. A woman without a man is still a woman. And a woman without a woman is also still a woman.