A couple grains short of a quinoa bowl.

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Back in March, I published a popular piece on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency parodying the worst extremes I’ve seen in wellness and life-hacking trends. The practices are familiar, but the details are ludicrous: when the narrator makes a green smoothie, it has 56 ingredients. Her most efficient workout? A single, 100-pound kettlebell swing. Her email strategy? So well batched and automated, she hasn’t responded personally in nine years.

I was overwhelmed by the response. Many people wrote to me to tell me they enjoyed the article, that it gave them permission to laugh at themselves. Far, far more people, however, did not understand that it was a joke. At first, I thought some of them were dragging out the joke, unsuccessfully – if there were ever a place for sarcasm to fail, it’s written communication between strangers – but much of the sincerity was unmistakable. I was offered contracts as a life coach, invited to contribute to wellness blogs, even asked to speak at events. At first, it was funny. Then it was scary.

I kept asking myself, why are these extremes so normal?

I found a post on a life-hacking forum evaluating some of my “suggestions.” The author specifically approved of using seven Vitamix blender pitchers throughout the week, washing them all on Sundays. Was he not put off by the money, kitchen space, and lack of olfactory nerve required to make that practical? Another reader only grew suspicious when he saw Irish Moss (carrageenan) among the 56 smoothie ingredients, as it is a “known gut irritant.”

You’ve figured me out. Only once I’ve irritated my competitors’ guts can I ascend to my rightful throne as queen of Pinstachatbook!

Sarcasm aside, many of the practices wellness gurus and life-hackers promote are genuinely good. I would never discourage anyone from meditating, journaling, preparing healthy meals, exercising efficiently, or batching tasks in whatever form and frequency suits them best. The problem is how these practices become undermined by attempts to monetize them. Old advice gets repackaged into a glut of content that both requires and promises ever more.

Should we seek to eliminate the superfluous to better focus on what matters most to us? Sure, but many life-hackers and wellness enthusiasts now consider any extra body fat or idle moment (not spent in meditation) to be superfluous.

You’re not a world traveling entrepreneur with a perfect body by 30? Why should we listen to you?

Life-hacking and lifestyle engineering are exciting because they’ve done away with mainstream expectations for our lives, but are these extremes that replaced them necessarily healthy? Somewhere, the narrative shifted from “your life doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s” to “your life should look like mine. Here, buy this, and validate me.”

A likely cause of these new extremes is sheer saturation. Wellness has gone mainstream; you can now find yoga pants and kombucha at Wal Mart. A friend’s grandmother in rural Tennessee is doing a raw vegan challenge with her knitting circle. Remote work, passive income, and lifestyle entrepreneurship aren’t the suburban sacrilege they used to be, either. Exponentially more people are becoming lifestyle bloggers and coaches, and it takes ever more to set them apart as innovators. “Tribes” of followers remain willing to try and buy. Their expectations of content have risen, but their tendency to question it has slackened. I imagine this is how I wound up scrolling through Amazon.com, thinking “I guess I have to buy some shilajit powder now,” while listening to an audiobook about eliminating the superfluous.

The wellness and life-hack industries are industries like any other; some sellers are out to create and exploit our insecurity. The holistic sheen of “wellness” makes this exploitation a deeper betrayal than the marketing of conventional, mainstream offerings. Of course the diet plan hawkers want me to feel fat. But wellness folks? I thought you wanted me to feel complete.

I consume a lot of these products and content. Sometimes I enjoy it. Often, I wonder whether I would do so at all if I didn’t feel so pressured toward thinness, purity, and achievement.

Of those who didn’t get the joke, a group of young lifestyle engineers from Silicon Valley stands out most. I hope that they didn’t read the article, but used some social media keyword trawler for lead generation to find me (is that even a thing?), because one of their members “has spent [his] entire life refining the fine art and science of bullshit detection.” Maybe the synchronized email, friend request, LinkedIn request, Twitter follow, and homing pigeon (heirloom breed – nice touch) were just automated flukes. Maybe not.

They are well-coached in pitching themselves and writing SEO optimized copy. In their collective century, they’ve amassed a staggering volume of entrepreneurial experience. Just reading about them was exhausting. It’s cool to have given a TED talk, visited 70 countries, and trained with Ninjas by age 22.

It’s also not mandatory.

So, whether you’re a consumer of wellness content and orderer of dubious supplements (like myself) or a rising star entrepreneur with a viral e-book and booming life-coaching practice, please know that the point of that McSweeney’s piece was not to take a steaming dump on your interests or your industry, but to make you pause and make you laugh. See the big picture. Maybe enjoy some gluten.

Sore Loser.

 

fitter happier

Just as actual fast-food hamburgers never quite resemble their fresh, appetizing TV commercial counterparts, none of us here in the locker room look like the toned, bronzed models glowering down at us from the posters. We are all a bit saggy, lumpy, and tired in our own ways, but at least we are here. This is Hard Candy Fitness, “Inspired by Madonna.” She, too, glowers at us from communist-dictator-sized portraits in which she bites a chain seductively or is bathed in mysterious soft focus and overlaid with nonsensical text. Flat screen TVs around the gym show nonstop footage of her concerts, and just watching them makes me tired. She truly has the arms of a rookie NFL quarterback.

I never planned on joining Hard Candy Fitness; I actually joined its lower-key predecessor and was able to keep my contract after the takeover. New membership prices doubled, but as far as I’m concerned, all that really changed was the color scheme, from “Barney and Friends” purple and green to “Radio Shack” black, red, and silver. The reason I noticed only this is that I don’t take any group fitness classes, and they are the core (pun intended) of Hard Candy’s concept. Normal offerings like “Pilates for Beginners” and “Advanced Step Aerobics” have all been replaced with trendy, bonkers mashups like “Ashtanga Power Street Dance featuring RHYTHMSTIX Weighted Sticks.” I took some group yoga classes in New York, but I can’t bring myself to do them here. A German person shouting at me? This happens often. Blaring EDM? I can deal with that. Both at the same time? No, thanks. I’m just going to sit here on this medicine ball and eat a protein bar that tastes like dust.

Even though I criticize my gym for its sexist fear-mongering and relentless, Ryanair-style marketing strategy (most surfaces are covered in promotional material), I should point out that I’m still very thankful that women’s gyms exist. As annoyed as I am by the ads for “Collagen Caviar” and low-calorie baking cookbooks (here, have some shortcake that tastes like a kitchen sponge), I prefer these things to being creeped on.

 

Several years ago, I belonged to the “McFit” in Kreuzberg. It’s as bad as it sounds. Their motto translates to “Just look good.” This McFit was packed with assholes, or at least with men who behaved like assholes in the presence of fitness equipment. I started wearing the baggiest, ugliest clothes I could find and made sure to take off all of my makeup before working out. Nonetheless, one evening, a guy who looked fifteen from the neck up and thirty five from the neck down (terrifying) came over and stood so that my face would have rammed right into his crotch if I had finished my stroke with the rowing machine. I stopped and waited for him to leave. He said nothing, but gestured with open hands toward his junk as if it were made of gold and glistening in a beam of sunlight. I got up and walked out. I could hear him and his friends laughing until I shut the door behind me. I know that women everywhere experience far, FAR worse harassment than this on a daily basis, but it annoyed me so much that I spent the next two hours at home doing made up Tae Bo/Karate moves while watching Kill Bill, Volume 2. That was actually a really fun workout. From then on, I only used the elliptical machines. With the machine’s rapidly swinging handles in front of me and a wall behind me, I felt safe.

The neighborhood gym that I joined next was an improvement, with just one lurking, heavy mouth-breather, but I still felt awkward having to weave in and out between beefy dudes to get to the dumbbells. Startling someone who’s holding 50 kilograms is probably a great way to break a foot.

 

***

 

I say that we’re all lumpier than advertised here in this locker room, but that’s not quite true. There’s one girl who I see nearly every time who is equal parts inspiring and annoying. I alternately refer to her as “Lululemon” and “The VIXEN.” This girl is in shape. Her headless selfies could be all over Pinterest. She works out at great length and is never far from the mirror. Because I don’t actually know her as a person, my mind fills in the gaps with all kinds of unflattering details. She doesn’t have any cellulite? Well, maybe she doesn’t have any friends, either. Perhaps she has some dreadfully boring job where all she gets to do is stand there and look pretty. Because, you know, she can’t be pretty and smart. I stop myself. Not only am I feeling fat and slow, I’m also being a complete bitch.

Chances are, if I ever looked the way I thought I was supposed to and felt genuinely comfortable in my own body, I would also spend a lot of time moving around in front of mirrors. I suppose that that’s what I actually envy- the comfort and satisfaction. Ironically, plenty of people would probably be over the moon to have my body: my organs work great; everything is symmetrical; I can walk; I have a completely normal body mass index. Instead of reveling in gratitude, I slip down into a familiar guilt, just to make sure I spend enough time each day cocooned in unnecessary misery.

 

How should I make myself feel better, anyway? Say something nice to the VIXEN? Do some visualization exercises in the sauna? Sign up for “Ashtanga Power Street Dance featuring RHYTHMSTIX Weighted Sticks?”

 

 

One thing I will NOT do is buy a post-workout protein shake.

 

The gym sells Hech brand protein shakes. It’s an appropriate name, because it’s the sound a native German speaker would make after spitting out something foul. The cups are emblazoned with the quote, “Your body is your only true luxury.” The first time I saw this, I thought it was so vapid that I rolled my eyes. The only luxury, really? What about flying business class, or eating a croissant in Paris? What about wine tastings, or foot massages? Or whatever Gwyneth Paltrow does as a nighttime ritual?

As I went through my mental list of other luxuries, I realized something: the version of myself that I pictured enjoying these activities was, indeed, a little bit thinner and a lot more refined. Your body is not your only luxury, but if you feel genuinely miserable in your own skin, it’s much harder to enjoy things.

 

By the way, these shakes are so indigestible from their combination of artificial sweetener, lactose, AND soy that if you stood still on a skateboard, you could fart yourself home. Spare no intestine, Hech.

 

***

They say that to become an expert at something requires ten thousand hours of deliberate practice. I am proud of many of my skills, but when I take an honest look at my life, all the way back to my childhood, the only thing that I could truly be considered an expert at is failing to diet. I’ve been trying to lose the same “ten pounds” (my rough estimate of the difference between myself and the “ideal”) since I was in the sixth grade. This is bad enough, but it’s even worse to I realize that if I hadn’t cared about that, if I had invested my time and energy into a hobby instead, I could theoretically be a world class practitioner of it by now.

 

Then, there’s the money. If I could be reimbursed for every magazine, every sketchy vitamin supplement, juice cleanse, or other piece of ludicrous diet paraphernalia, how much would it be? If I had saved and invested that money, what could I do with it now?

I downloaded Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth on my Amazon Kindle, but I can’t bring myself to start reading it.

***

Question: if you had the perfect body and would have it forever, regardless of how you ate or behaved, what would you do? I am on the treadmill, ruminating on this, and also wondering how the light in the window can be so flattering, while the light in the mirror makes me look like a cheese ball served at a 1960s cocktail party.

The fact that it actually takes me a few minutes to answer that question disturbs me. Once I figure it out, I make a pledge to myself: write it down, and spend AT LEAST as much time on the answer as I do on these machines.

What do I actually want? I gag thinking about back dimples or thigh gaps. Those things are arbitrary. I’m a pretty girl. I’d have been a knockout in the 1890s.  If I could have anything I wanted, though, I would just be free. I would be 100% certain at all times that my worth did not depend on my appearance. I would delete that layer from my reality and get to experience everything else more deeply.

For a moment, I get angry, thinking men get to feel this way. My jealously is fleeting, of course, because I instantly picture male friends and former boyfriends drinking their own putrid protein shakes, waxing their chests, tweezing their eyebrows, fearfully googling hair loss remedies, spitting into cups before wrestling weigh-ins, exacerbating their carpal tunnel syndrome with ludicrous daily push-up goals, and making unkind remarks about whatever the VIXEN’s male counterpart is called. The MEATHEAD? We’re all in this together (don’t I know that by now?), but we don’t offer each other very much support.

***

 When I’m so sore that I can’t move, I ask myself: who am I doing this for? Is it just for me, or am I still trying to prove something? I know, intellectually, that any fitness goal or lifestyle change has to be for yourself. Otherwise, it’s a lose-lose situation. If the person you’re losing weight for doesn’t think it’s necessary, they may not appreciate or acknowledge your efforts. If that person does think it’s necessary, any resistance or difficulty you experience will fuel a resentment that burns like a tire fire: stinky, pervasive, and hard to extinguish.

I was once in a relationship with a man who, nine months in, made it known that he would find me most attractive at 95 pounds and that I shouldn’t gain any weight from thereon out. At 5’1”, I was a healthy 115. To prove a point, I ate almost exclusively raw foods and spent hours a day running and doing “power yoga”. When I dropped below 100 pounds, I scared him, but the only thing that changed was that for a short time, he stopped eating off of my plate before I was done with my meals. Since 1100 daily calories of roughage can only sustain a two-month old sheep embryo, I gained most of the weight back, and we sunk even deeper past our previous misery. Moral of the story: pick partners who are attracted to you just the way you are, right now. If someone makes unrealistic weight-loss a condition of your relationship, run for the door.

Running for the door can burn up to 30 calories!

Thanks to this episode and multiple others, I ought to know by now that achieving an arbitrary weight is not going to fill the underlying gaps in my self-worth. At the times in my life when I’ve genuinely been happiest, I was taking great care of myself.  At the times when I was the lightest, I was abusing myself. I was my thinnest and most far gone as a senior in high school. I have a picture from a dear friend’s 18th birthday party that I used to refer to for “inspiration.” I am wearing a size 00 dress. My cheekbones are sharp, my arms are lean, and my breastbone is knobby. I remember that party well for two reasons- it was one of a few moments that year when I did not feel lonely, and all I had to eat that day were two miniature snickers bars. Not fun-size, but bite-size.

If we are what we eat, please, God, let me be something that is real, fresh, simple, and nourishing.

Not two miniature snickers.

***

This being a blog post, I wish I could end it with THE TRICK. HOW I DID IT. How I finally lost the weight and started living the badass, instagrammable life of my dreams, and how YOU can do it, too: download my e-book for 9.99! (I have not written an e-book.)

There is no trick. If there were, I would have found it by now. Goodness knows I’ve spent enough time looking.

I would say that I want the VIXEN’s confidence and satisfaction, but I honestly can’t be sure that she has either. For all I know, she could be running on the fumes of her own miniature snickers diet.

I suppose that’s one good thing to come out of all of this seemingly senseless struggle: when I recognize it in others, I have a deep sympathy for it: the girl ahead of me in line at the grocery store, buying only sugar free Jello packets; the fifty-year-old writing to SELF magazine about not being willing to wear a bathing suit in public; preteens instagramming their concave abdomens; a college classmate eating a sad desk lunch of a boiled egg and a clementine.

Another good thing is that I have finally found physical activities that I actually enjoy, namely non-Madonnified yoga, bike rides, and occasional weight lifting. It makes all the difference in the world to do something out of enjoyment rather than out of fear or resentment. If you unleash a hungry beast, a man will run. Do you know who else will run? Someone who fucking loves running.

At the end of the day, I think the only thing left to do is to recognize the silliness and idiocy of the beauty-industrial complex, while still acknowledging the sincerity of our needs: everyone wants to feel worthy, accepted, and sufficient. It’s not wrong to want to be fit or beautiful. It is wrong to stop nourishing yourself physically and emotionally.

So, here’s to happier desk lunches, harassment-free use of rowing machines, judgment-free dressing rooms, and physical activity simply for the sake of fun.

If you do discover some miraculous weight loss secret, though, blog about it (or, you know, e-book it), because I will definitely, definitely find it.

 

This is your Alltag now.

I never thought that I would fall out of love. But when I did, it hit me hard.

He had been so demanding.
“You have to call and make that dentist appointment.”
“You have to reschedule the plumber for next week.”
“When are you going to finally file your tax return?”
“When are you going to cancel that subscription? It’s a waste of money!”
“Here, translate this hastily written, but VERY IMPORTANT document.”

Every day now.

How did this happen? In the beginning, I could do nothing wrong. I was so impressive, it seemed. I got so much praise for doing so little. Everything was fun, and I felt so special.

Until today, on this nasty, gray morning. I already had a headache thinking about everything he wanted from me. Even if I did it all flawlessly, it wouldn’t matter. There would always be more. While I was still in bed, I gave in. I cracked. I finally did it. I downloaded the app.

The temptation has been there for months. How badly could it hurt to just look at some other options? He knows that I’m not going anywhere; I’m still in it for the long haul, no matter how tedious and thankless things get. After all, I’m financially dependent on him. Just a few swipes couldn’t hurt, right?

I picked an old, stand-by picture that makes me look about ten pounds thinner, finalized my profile, and took a deep breath.

I had no idea how thrilling it would be, or how addictive it would become. Within a matter of hours, I felt like I had tumbled down a rabbit hole.

Duolingo French. The infatuation was instant and overwhelming. It wasn’t even lunchtime, and I’d already reached level six. He even offered me a LinkedIn Badge! Whoa there, hoss. Who even does that on the first day? I was so energized. That whimsical, playful sensation of discovery was back, and it was like water in the desert. My attention was undivided.

After a while, I was amazed by my lack of remorse. What would German think? After so much time, after all he’s done to help me and support me? Well, for now, he can just deal with it. I have needs.

Things were so exciting with German in the beginning. He was aloof, distant, and a bit intimidating; not conventionally attractive, but fascinating to me: the Benedict Cumberbatch of languages. This made his initial warmth all the more surprising and satisfying. I was hooked. Hell, I was entertained just reading candy bar wrappers. I bought books and magazines that were far too advanced for me, just to skim them and dream of the day when German and I would be together for real. I felt like everything was possible.

As distracted and obsessed as I was, of course, it was still an overwhelming time. These heady, early days with German coincided with a long, mournful breakup with Spanish.

Spanish and I had been together for many years. It was automatic. We started going out in middle school and just never broke up. When it was just the two of us, we got along wonderfully, and I could really be myself. Out in the real world, however, it just didn’t work, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to acknowledge it. No one else seemed to think that we belonged together, and over time, I felt that he was even a little embarrassed by me. In the end, I had to face the fact that the sunken cost fallacy had kept me holding on long after I should have let go. We just weren’t going anywhere together. Costa Rica might have worked out; not everyone rolls their R’s there, and I might have found a job with my environmental science degree. At the end of the day, though, I’m a blonde, slight introvert who loves cold weather and can’t dance.

I tried to juggle them both for a while, but Spanish knew it was over. He saw me and German cuddled up, watching Run Lola Run and The Lives of Others, gazing at Klimt pieces in the Neue Galerie, and feeding each other brunch at Loreley on the Lower East Side. I suppose I really did embarrass Spanish. I completely failed to understand a Catalan waiter at a Tapas bar, and the owner of a bodega reduced me to ashes when he told me, in English, that he’d been in New York City longer than I’d been alive and did NOT need any help from me. When the time came to register for my next semester’s classes, we parted for good.

With Spanish out of the picture, German I spent more time together. We wrote essays, read some poetry, and even listened to some weird hip-hop music. He was coy and kept his distance, but when he heard me give directions to some tourists from Frankfurt, something about those directional prepositional phrases changed everything. He finally saw me as long-term material.

When I moved in with German, things got very serious, very fast. We barely spent any time apart. He was so impressed by all of the things we could finally do together. Interviewing for jobs, getting bank accounts opened and insurance policies set up, even handling medical emergencies… it was all such a thrill! I felt so cute and smart, even while screwing up adjective endings at the immigration office. Apartment hunting was rocky, but it brought us even closer together. And the best was yet to come.

We started translating. It was so intimate and tantric. The interdependent creative process was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It made me feel alive.

Well, until recently. Now he wants it ALL THE TIME, and I’m just like, “Can we please take a break for one day?” I get chafed.

So, now I’m having an affair with French. Let me tell you, as self-assured and eccentric as everyone thinks he is, he’s a hell of a good time. It is all food and fashion with this guy, at least according to his Duolingo profile. He’s into some weird stuff, like random numbers that don’t seem to follow any rules and sticking hyphens in unexpected places, but my God, he’s smooth.

Then reality sets back in.

I’m finally out of bed, and I realize that I have to make a choice. German will be back any minute, and I can picture exactly how he’ll come at me with his fussy demands.

But, if I actually dated French, would things be any different? We’d drink lots of wine, eat tiny portions of exquisite food and do a lot of shopping. That could be amazing for a while, but it wouldn’t last forever. Eventually, we’d have to go to the doctor and register with the authorities and face the bureaucracy, too. Plus, he’s critical. I’m just a beginner, but he’s already cringing at my diphthongs and lamenting my inability to differentiate between the 20 different ways to pronounce the vowel E. He’s kind of playful about it right now, but everyone has their limits. People change.

So, I’m going to put the smartphone down. I’m going to try to inject some spice and fun into things with German. If I’m honest with myself, I really haven’t been trying very hard lately, either.

I’m going to order tickets to the Schaubuehne. I’m going to take him to Potsdam for a bike ride, and we can go to the Allied Museum. I’m going to get us a Groupon for a beer tasting, and I’ll even make homemade Spaetzle, God’s gift to vegetarians in Germany. I’m going to download that hilarious Moritz Matthies audiobook about the meerkats at the Berlin Zoo, so we can listen to it while we sort the recycling and de-calcify the electric kettle. And I’m going to start watching Tatort with him again- finding the plot holes in Germany’s longest running crime show was always one of our favorite ways to wind down on a Sunday night.

This may not be the last of my play dates with French, but I have to try to make it work with German. Who knows, maybe one day the three of us can all be friends. We could take a trip through Switzerland and revel in the cheese. I know that German can still be cold, aloof, and sometimes even downright ugly to me, but we’ve built a life together. I have to fight for it. I know we can still have fun.

MAKE ROOM ON THE BANDWAGON. I want to learn to meditate.

The Samsung exhibition at this year’s IFA convention made the world of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 seem horrifyingly closer than ever before. iPhones make me gag, not only because of how attached and dependent their users become, but because of all the people I know who stop mid sentence to look down and text something while mouth breathing, most are iPhone users. I am generally averse to technology, but I make a big exception for my new Amazon Kindle. In addition to saving space, it also spares me from “Bookshelf Shame,” allowing me to discreetly store the dozens of esoteric and self-help titles I’ve read over the past few years. “Shame” is probably the wrong word (I’ve borrowed it from its musical equivalent, shuffle shame. If you’ve ever had Ricky Martin’s “The Cup of Life” sneak its way onto a hipstery-folk iTunes playlist, you know what I mean.) I’m actually quite happy about my desire to learn and make positive changes.
If someone were to see these particular tomes lying around my apartment, however, they might assume that I’m facing a severe psychological crisis. I really want to spare myself those conversations.

A few weeks ago, I decluttered my apartment. This is not especially impressive, given that I’ve only lived in these 35 square meters for six months and my real trove of garbage still lurks in my father’s house. Nonetheless, it was an incredibly freeing experience, and without the distraction of so many unnecessary objects, I’ve had even MORE time for my favorite hobby: analyzing my life! Decluttering was so energizing that I’m hooked now, and I have to move on to the next frontier:

MY BRAIN.

It’s time to clear out my brain.
“But Holly,” you may ask, “why would you clear out your brain, filled as it is with so much wisdom and humor and sunshine?”

I know.

But behind all of that humor and wisdom and sunshine are fears, doubts, worries, annoyances, and grudges: mental clutter that is far more nefarious than its physical counterpart. Both are useless things that take up valuable space, but instead of resembling abandoned socks, superfluous cosmetics, or expired food – unpleasant, but inert – the mental clutter is like a house full of cats. Not cute cats or winsome little kittens, either: big, mean motherfuckers who pee in hard-to-reach places. Some of them are even worse: possums. They got in through the air conditioning duct, and I decided to feed them because, you know, why not? It’s time for them to go before they do any more damage.

Just as when a writer’s train of thought is derailed when a feline decides to lie down on the keyboard, my best thoughts about how thankful I am or how much I’m enjoying an activity dissolve upon contact with thoughts like these:
“This is a really cool store. It’s a shame I’m not skinny enough to enjoy it.”
“Stop enjoying yourself. You didn’t do [TASK]. You can’t enjoy yourself until you finish [TASK]. Oh, by the way, there’s a ZILLION TASKS.”
“That girl is tore up from the floor up. MERCY. Put on a cardigan and act like a grown up.*”
“Why did I eat that?”
“Why didn’t I eat that?”
“Why is he eating that?”
“I HATE Instagram.”
“Am I supposed to know how to code?”
“If I went to Asia, people would make fun of my phone.”
“If I were in The Walking Dead, I would [commence hours of makeshift weaponry, tree climbing, urban gardening, and badass dialogue].”

The last thought is arguably useful: some of the urban gardening and tree climbing techniques could be very interesting if I ever put them into practice. Still, in my average day, which includes public transportation, Excel worksheets, and readily available produce, they don’t serve me. As for the other thoughts, they are garbage. Let it be known that a dystopian future in which zombies roam the streets and emerge from around every corner is far more likely than a reality in which my body mass index actually determines whether or not I am allowed to find the REI in Lincoln Park, Chicago aesthetically pleasing. I’m not even fat.

In spite of its tendency to interrupt my joy, I do still love my brain dearly. It functions miraculously well. I need to give it what it needs, free it from what it doesn’t, and be patient. If you want a plant to grow, you have to give it sunshine and water. You can’t give it diet orange soda.

My brain’s intention is to help me, to solve problems and resolve conflicts. But what if there is no present conflict? My brain is a tireless worker: when I am safe and well, it goes out of its way to find distant or imaginary problems so that it can practice.

Is that necessarily bad? So many skills in life require consistent practice for maintenance and performance – foreign languages, knife throwing – so this should be a good thing, right?

The issue is that my default problem-solving “skills” are not at all good or efficient, and many of the “practice problems” will never actually come up in my life. I’ve dedicated countless hours to problems that never existed: screenplay-worthy responses to a partner’s imaginary infidelity, airtight excuses for mistakes that I may never have to excuse, epic retorts to insults never delivered. I am rehearsing for tiny plays that I will never perform.

I know what I want to replace these habits with:
Compassion that dissolves harsh judgment towards myself or other people.
Honesty that doesn’t concoct excuses and little white lies when things don’t go as planned.
Openness that allows me to just go with things instead of assuming that there’s only one good outcome in every situation.
Trust that frees me from the need to “practice.”

Instead of judging other people’s appearances or the reactions of imaginary Asian strangers to my off-brand smartphone, I want to keep enjoying myself. I want to keep feeling grateful. I want to just be.

Instead of violently over-brushing my teeth while crafting a fine-grained excuse to give should my boss just-so-happen to ask about this one thing that I didn’t get to yet, I want to rinse and spit. If my boss does just-so-happen to ask about this one thing, I will tell her why it’s not done. If that creates a problem, I will be open and committed to solving it.

The excuse might make me sound honest, but the truth will make me be honest. Trying to keep up a flawless facade by fibbing and covering my tracks is the mental equivalent of buying heaps of paper plates and plastic utensils because I’m too lazy wash the dishes. Working authentically, admitting my mistakes and taking realistic steps to overcome them, is pulling on rubber gloves and grabbing the scrub brush. Either way, I eat off of something that is not the floor or a frisbee, but only one method is sustainable in the long run.

I’m not exactly sure how to replace my judgment and anxiety with this trust and compassion. It is tempting to imagine myself in hypothetical scenarios where I’m just so trusting in my own wisdom and have the most compassionate things to say to the people who confront me, but that would leave me running in circles. I do know that it will be easier to let better thoughts and habits take root by clearing out the old ones. The clarity and awareness that come with a meditation practice seem like an ideal place to start.

It’s also a great excuse to go to TOWN on the Amazon Kindle store.
I am open to all kinds of recommendations.

Namaste!!

Berlin Sights not to be Missed!

During your stay in Dresden, you may want to hop on a train or bus for an exciting side trip to Berlin.
Roughly six times the size of Paris, Berlin can be difficult to navigate, so we’ve picked out our top five destinations. If you’re ready for an adventure, follow the pink and purple pipes (which prevent the city from collapsing into its precariously high water table) to these unforgettable sites!

Alexanderplatz (S+U Alexanderplatz)

 

This historical square situated under the iconic TV tower was the site of East Germany’s million strong Alexanderplatz Demonstration in November of 1989. Today, it combines American Capitalism with East German style! If you are a claustrophobe who appreciates Ikea parking lots, this is the stop for you! We highly recommend a tour of the TV tower at sunset, which offers an unmatched opportunity to experience the backs of hundreds of people’s heads.Be sure to visit Alexanderplatz at Christmastime when the vacant lot next to the mall transforms into a dazzling holiday market. The combination of highly sweetened, hot wine and action-packed carnival rides promises winter magic for couples and families alike!

 

Oranienburger Strasse (U6 Oranienburger Tor, S Oranienburger Str.)

 

Visiting Oranienburger Strasse is a great opportunity to take beautiful photos of the Synagogue, the TV tower, and tourists darting in front of the tram like squirrels. Though beautiful at all times of year, this street really comes to life in the summer. Along with Prague, Berlin has become a popular destination for British “stag dos:” bachelor party groups are to Oranienburger Strasse as Starbucks franchises are to New York City and Waffle Houses are to Georgia: once you lose sight of one, you immediately see another! If you are a woman and enjoy light sexual harassment, this is the place for you! Finance guys in all combinations of kilts, morph suits, and afro wigs await at every corner to sell you a mini bottle of Jägermeister or ask you to get your tits out.

 

This street is also home to some of Berlin’s most successful restaurants. As you dash to avoid the assertive hosts of the catch-all-Asian Mirchi and Amrit franchises, you may find that the only direction you can physically move into is the entrance of the restaurant! Bright satin umbrellas, giant golden Buddhas, and fake tropical plants create an atmosphere as colorful as those giant cocktails on the illustrated menu! From here, you can enjoy a great view of Tacheles, Berlin’s one-of-a-kind urban art house. This city icon, named after the Yiddish phrase for “straight talk,” was first a Jewish department store and briefly a Nazi prison. The best, however, is yet to come: this famous space will soon be renovated to help meet the city’s ever-growing demand for luxury apartments.

 

KaDeWe (U1/2/3 Wittenbergplatz)

 

What would a trip to Europe be without shopping? Visit Kaufhaus des Westens, Europe’s largest department store! Head southwest from Wittenbergplatz and play an exciting game of “dodge the canvassing Scientologist” as you make your way to this empire of luxury retail. Fine fragrances, designer accessories, and kitchen knives that cost more than the down payment on your car are displayed with museum-like curation. Why not indulge your inner child with a visit to the toy department? Detailed train sets, lifelike dolls, and anatomically accurate stuffed animals invite you to join in a specifically German kind of fun. Be sure to check out the Karl Lagerfeld Steiff Teddy Bear, which retails for over 2,000 US dollars. Only ten were made, and seven are in Blue Ivy Carter’s hope chest.

 

Does shopping make you hungry? You’re in for a treat! With over 1,200 kinds of sausage and an atrium dedicated entirely to truffles, the gourmet department is less than ideal for vegetarians and diabetics, but absolute paradise for everyone else. Homesick Americans can even pick up a beloved Hershey bar or an 8 Euro package of Pop Tarts. (Hey, you’re in Europe!) Of course, no visit to KaDeWe would be complete without going all the way to the top: the glassed in “Wintergarten” buffet restaurant enthralls locals and visitors alike with its chic, seasonal offerings and unintelligible pricing. Toast to capitalism with a 14 Euro glass of prosecco and an unparalleled view of West Berlin’s skyline!

 

Note: You may notice English speaking tourists asking around and looking for “Coddowa” (rhymes with Ottowa). This is what they mean.

 

Markthalle Neun (U1 Görlitzer Bhf)

 

Hungry? Ditch the Döner and check out Street Food Thursdays at Markthalle Neun for Berlin’s most eclectic gourmet offerings! Dozens of vendors serve up delicious small plates, from Australian pies to Zimbabwean… pies. Nowhere else in the city can you wash down a vegan pulled-pork sandwich with a delicious sextuple IPA, or top it off with a scoop of locally produced organic waldmeister-rhubarb sorbet! Enjoy an elegant Japanese soup consisting of a single, giant Udon noodle; dare to try exquisite oysters in a landlocked German state. Best of all, this celebration of sustainable food includes disposable dishes and cutlery for each of your half-dozen tiny courses: don´t worry, it´s compostable!

 

Mauerpark (U2/M1/12 Eberswalder Str; M10 Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn Sportpark)

 

Still enjoying Berlin on a Sunday? Head over to Mauerpark, the lively strip of dirt and cigarette butts that inhabits the former space between the outer components of the Berlin wall. Follow the trail of street musicians (from drunken beat-boxers to world-class singer-songwriters) to the karaoke stage, where anyone can croon a favorite hit to an encouraging crowd of hungover tourists, drug dealers, and indiscreet teenagers! If you’ve successfully slithered your way through the expensive-baby-carriage traffic of Prenzlauer Berg, you will be well-prepared to navigate the Mauerpark Flea Market! Here, you’ll find East German garbage at sensible, West German prices! Enjoy a tiny bottle of fancy lemonade as you watch locals haggle to buy back their stolen bicycles, and maybe even pick up a piece of hipster nonsense to commemorate your stay in this gem of a city.

 

Still looking for fun things to do?

  • Check out Pariser Platz, home of the Hotel Adlon, where Michael Jackson famously held a baby out the window! (S Brandenburger Tor)
  • Bring a GPS enabled smartphone and meander through the Tiergarten, the idyllic labyrinth that inspired the film Inception! (S Tiergarten, S Potsdamer Platz)
  • Grab a hard hat and walk along Unter den Linden, where a detailed, two kilometer outdoor exhibition showcases beautiful plans for the 35 year city center renovation project! (S Brandenburger Tor, S Friedrichstrasse, S+U Alexanderplatz)