“I read a book about that…”


As I was just sitting in my Atmospheric Physics lecture (It’s complicated, confusing, and cumbersome), I could think of nothing else than getting back home to continue reading my new-found love: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, recommended to me by the lovely Stephanie (https://adventuresofabibliophile.com/). When I told a book-loving friend of mine, she said: “Feminism. The classic. Obviously.” She knows that I spend most of my money on books. About climate change, feminism, and self-improvement. The classics. One year ago I could never have imagined reading about these topics. I would always prefer fiction over reality.

This year I started to cure my little life-crisis with books. Where do I want to go? What do I want to be? How do I get there? Everything was explained to me. In books. All the books my friend and I had read and talked about during our runs in the last months had paid off. We were teaching ourselves how to be good managers more than our study course did.

When I started working on my book on climate change, I also started reading books about it for the first time. Took everything I could get my hands on. You wouldn’t believe how many works there are in our library. Every time I now have a conversation with my dad about the topic I always add: “I read a book about that…” He now is able to interpret the look on my face and finish that sentence for me. Climate change and the media? Climate change and feminism? Climate change and refrigerators? Climate change and bearded trolls in Sweden? You name it.

Through all this reading I got a little overwhelmed by the scope of the project in front of me. I read myself into a writer’s block. Do you know who cured it? Gloria Steinem. I was so excited that even in my lecture I couldn’t stop taking notes. Which was probably not a good idea. Hydrostatic equilibrium? Adiabatic what? Again please?

“A love letter to the books…
That make you jump up hyped to change the world.
That make you write your heart out.
That make you take notes in class with all the crazy ideas you have.
That take you back to your passions.
That make you daydream about reading on.
In which you want to underline every line because they are so true, so honest, so pure, so beautiful. “

My Life on the Road is such a book. I’m just into the first chapters and I’m already inspired. Her writing style is amazing and her sentences resonated with me even in the darkest minutes of my lecture when all I did is scribble down equations I didn’t understand, next to words I had never heard, and a professor who smiled briefly but coldly and said that it all was so logical. Of course. Welcome to uni.

In the midst of all that I remembered her words. They revived in me the wish to also be a journalist, a traveller, a seeker of stories:

“It’s as if attentive people create a magnetic force field for stories the tellers themselves didn’t know they had within them. (…) The simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.” Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Weeks after weeks had I tried to word in my book the need for people to listen to each other, to consider each other’s fates, and to be inclusive in all their talking. Who would have known that it could be said that easily…

As you may have noticed I am in love with this book. I will write a review once I have finished it. Until then I have some questions for you:

Do you know any good books about journalism?
Any other non-fiction you can recommend?
What was one book that made you jump in excitement, that inspired you?

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NaNoWriMo Day 24: Finding Your Purpose in Life


I wanted to take a day off today. I’m a workaholic, though. Stopping doesn’t work. I’ll expand my word count today, whatever it takes. One hour. Word sprint. Stream of consciousness on. 3, 2, 1, go.

It’s already late in the evening again. When I get philosophical. You can count on me on every late night out with my friends. I’ll ask the question about the purpose of life. Sitting together with my family. I’ll eventually say something very deep and will fall into a stream of ideas and considerations about life.

When I started this project I said to myself: You will get up early and write. Not like last year, when you gave up sleep to write. Guess what I do now… I’m starting to forget many important things. But I still keep up with uni. With work. That’s nice. There are a few Ted Talks that I listened to that changed my thinking a lot. Up to this point, nearly all my knowledge is derived from Ted Talks…

Conversations.

Having a good conversation. That also goes along the lines with being charismatic. Show the person you are talking to that he or she is the most important one to you in this very moment. Put your phone away. Focus on the conversation. Don’t multitask. The chance that you will miss something important is high.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1vskiVDwl4&list=LLnp37egRNT9OVdNuaEZJJQg&index=17

This is gold. You should definitely watch it. If you don’t have the time, let me briefly summarise:

Be in the moment. Don’t focus on the details, no numbers, please. Keep it short. Don’t repeat things you have already talked about.

“Listening requires to set aside oneself.” Don’t think you know how the person felt in that moment. Don’t tell them your personal story of “that one time I…” The chances are high that the feelings of the person you are talking to are completely different. It will not help them if you dig out your own history. Be there, be present. Tell them that you understand their feelings, that you appreciate their trust and that you will support them. That’s all you need to say.

Like you have learned in school for writing a report, ask questions like What? Why? They spark the conversation!

Don’t play the expert. You don’t know everything! Bill Nye said “Everyone you’ll ever meet knows something that you don’t.” Find that something! It makes a conversation so much more interesting if you try to find out what the other person is passionate about. Let them talk and learn from it. Listen carefully.

Have you ever been in a situation where you drifted off because you really wanted to say something, when the other one was still talking? Then you said it and didn’t fit at all? You stopped listening. Always remain silent until the last word of the sentence is spoken.

In the end of her talk she recited this one sentence: “A good conversation is like a miniskirt. Short enough to remain interesting but long enough to cover the subject.”

However inappropriate that might seem – it is still a very good summary.

Yesterday I watched the talk of an improv artist which was amazing! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhkcmN-CCYw

An improviser has to listen. Follow the ideas of other people. Implement them. There are three aspects you should consider in your everyday conversation.

Yes, end.

You are not only accepting an idea but going with the flow. You are adding your ideas to it. A conversation between two improvisers might look like that: “Doctor, I’m here for my four o’clock appointment.” “Alright, lie down, we will get started with the brain transplantation.”

The second improviser did not only accept the idea but developed it further. That is what you should do in everyday conversation. Get excited about the ideas of others. Try to cut your doubts for a minute. Let the other person tell you about their new project!

Make them look good.

It’s not about yourself. If you accept an idea, their enthusiasm will look justified. If you help them develop their idea further, they will be happy. Don’t make the conversation about yourself. You doubts. Your ideas. Your failures. When somebody tells your about an idea, say: Awesome!

Be positive.

While having dinner with a friend of mine today, she told me how to reject ideas in a better way. It’s very interesting how the word order can change the meaning so completely. Consider these two sentences.

“I like your idea but it wouldn’t work.”

“I would do it like that but your idea seems also good.”

Be positive! If you don’t like something, say so. Acknowledge the efforts and ideas of the other person. Make them look good, even if it was a bad idea. It’s not about you.

These are some aspects of how to have a better conversation. Chances are high that in my next one I’ll forget these aspects again. However, sometimes they pop up in your head and you might word something differently. You might make the day of someone because you accepted their idea. Because you said Yes, and…

Saying Yes is a great concept for life, too. I have some trouble reading all these books about finding yourself. Instead I like 10 minute talks of people who will tell me what the purpose of my life is. Now that one was brilliant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVsXO9brK7M&list=WL&index=44

Up to that point I hadn’t really found anything that would deserve the title “Life purpose” yet. Not something you wake up with every day and that lets you jump out of bed and get to work. Not that kind of purpose. Not that kind that you can print and hang on your wall. If someone asked me: What do you do? I’ll stumble around a bit. Well, I’m an environmentalist I guess and kind of a writer and a bit of an artist… I think…

That’s not something that keeps you going! I needed something different. “I want to make the world a better place” is very vague. Too vague.

Have you found the purpose in your life yet? This talk will get you a little closer to finding it. With five little questions.

1. Who are you?

Say your name out loud. The most simple question.

2. What do you do?

That was the first tricky one for me. I do too many things! I have too many passions and activities. I love them all equally, so I thought. He said that same thing. If you have too many passions, choose the one you feel comfortable teaching to others. When he counted down from 5, what popped up in my head? Writing. That’s the thing I do. I write freaking 1666 words a day. Still at it. Not given up yet. For the second time in two years. Therefore, I said: Writing.

3. Who do you do it for?

Oh boy, the next difficult question. I write on a blog. About the environment. Whom is that all dedicated to? Everyone. I write to everyone who likes to read my stories and my rants and the confusing little texts I produce every day.

4. What do those people want or need?

Wow, that’s tough. Information about our environment? How to change their behaviour to make this earth a better place? An outspoken advocate for our planet? Still very rough but it’s beginning to take a shape.

5. How do the people change through your work?

They hopefully become more aware of their environment. I would like to make people work together to protect our earth. Now that’s a purpose!

Now comes the best part. If you have gone through all these stages of finding your purpose, you will have one amazing sentence for question 5. I want to make people smile. You could be a baker, an artist? I want to make them realise their potential. A coach? I want to give children the best chances to a good life. A teacher? These sentences sound so much more interesting than just the profession you hold. Next time someone asks you what you do, answer with the sentence you came up with for number 5. That will force them to ask. How do you do that? How do you achieve this goal, this purpose? A conversation is initiated. You look like a dedicated and inspiring personality.

Your life purpose can change. Your priorities might change. That’s ok! At least try to have one at every point of your life. If also can be to make your family happy. Your friends. Make it about the people around you. Do something for them. By helping other people, we ourselves get a little happier.

It’s exactly one hour later now. I have reached the 40 000 words I should have reached today. Only 10 000 left and 6 days to go. I’m in schedule, everything is fine. I’m tired. It’s going to be ok. I’ve found my life purpose today. Well, kind of. I’m still a little scared. Writing is not a particularly secure job. Is it even really a job in the end? Am I just naive? Me and my crazy ideas? Just keep going, I say to myself. Write on.

Current Word Count: 40 180

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NaNoWriMo Day 13: Some Eco Stories


Story Time! Today I will present you some little tales from my journey of becoming an Environmental Manager. I’m not a scientist, I’m not an engineer, I’m a little of everything and that’s why I love it so much. We are the ones to gather people together and discuss different approaches. That is also kind of the excuse for when we are failing at maths. Hopefully, someone will do those calculations for us… It’s important to have a general overview. We are getting little portions of everything. Just enough to keep us excited and let us stick our noses into our books.

Last Friday, we went on an excursion for our module Basic Soil Science, which is one of my absolute favourites. I don’t know what it is about the dirt beneath our feet that fascinates me that much. Maybe because it is so vital to our existence. Without good soil we couldn’t sustain our lives. Or maybe it is just because I grew up doing some gardening work. I remember my dad digging holes in our garden to plant trees or plants or breaking up the soil. It is fascinating how it takes such a long time to build a soil. Up to 200 years to form 1 cm! Yet, nowadays we are ruining our grounds with chemical inputs and fertilisers so that the ground we need to feed ourselves is decreasing rapidly.

We drove to the forest north of Cottbus, there is an end moraine with the hills that the glaciers brought with them. It was oddly silent there. This silence is something we rarely experience anymore in our fast moving cities. There is always a car, a plane, a train, construction work… In this forest, though, it was silent. And extremely cold. Who wanted to go to Sweden for her semester abroad? In winter? Yeah, me. Freaking out over frosty temperatures in Germany…

To keep us warm we started digging a hole in the forest ground. That was some exercise! All the tree roots through the whole profile… We were the only completely female group. They expected us to not manage to dig a pit in the ground. Well, we were the first ones to finish! Some first class girl power here! Our professor came and examined what we had done, the hole was one metre deep just as we should do it. Then he said: “I’m terribly sorry ladies, you have to go on. There is another layer beneath.” So we kept on digging. And who would have known? Another layer of darker soil became visible. We even build a step to be able to get out of the pit again. That was a nice deep hole in a lonely, we made there.

Then it was time to examine the soil profile. At the top, there is always a layer of organic material, moss and humus and needles and other leaf litter. Underneath that, the first horizon starts, the Ah horizon. It is made out of humus and normally very dark soil. Beneath that one is the B horizon. In addition, it gets a little w if it is weathered. Weathering is a soil transformation process, in our case the iron in our soil was transformed and it got a yellowish colour. Right under that one is the C horizon, which was also a little weathered. Then the interesting part began. There was another layer where there should be none. How to explain that?

In medieval times, the forest that surrounded us had been cut and the trees dragged into the valley we were standing in. That damaged the top layer of the soil with all its organic material. It became fossilised, therefore it is called “II (for second layer) fAh”. Because we had a lot of sand there, it was washed away by heavy rainfall and got into the valley where we were standing. It covered the top layer, the organic matter. A new layer was formed. A new A, B and C horizon. My friend Hannah took this amazing picture to illustrate that:

soil

There was also a lot of little charcoal pieces in our soil sample. That could be due to forest fire or a just a campfire workers in the woods made. Forever to be seen in the soil beneath our feet.

It was an adventure, it was exciting. We visited history by digging into the ground, just 1.40 m deep. That’s not that much! We dug ourselves to medieval times! Only in rethinking the day I am grasping how amazing that is. We can look into our past by making a hole in the ground. A very beautiful hole, my father said, he always wanted to build one like that.

Looking back into our history has always excited me. I grew up with books about history and tv documentaries on the past centuries. One of the first ones I looked at was a book about the ancient Egypt, which is my mother’s but I would always study all the photographs and become excited. I read novels about history borrowed from my grandparents. I had great history teachers! I would talk to my granny about her life. We always look at the old photo albums. I just love to hear stories.

One of the heroes of my mum is Heinrich Schliemann, who made the first excavations to try and find the ancient Troja. He did indeed find it! At least the Bronze Age one. Now we know there have been many more. That’s also fascinating to me. They build a city and after they left or it burned down or something else happened, there was always a new one on the exact same spot!

Schliemann was obsessed with his dream and did everything he could to get where he wanted to be. Educated himself, learned languages. He embodies what history means to my mum and through her stories also to me. I love to go to libraries and do research. I love to read biographies at the moment, to learn about the lives of people who are so very different from me. Who share their experiences and thereby teach what life can be about. That your path is not always straight and that you should let yourself be guided by interest, curiosity and passion. Today I started Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”. I really didn’t want to put it down but I have to write this text! 😉 It’s such a great book from by such a great man.

Concerning the stories we are told by our families: I asked them when they first became aware of climate change. I mean our generation basically grew up with it. In school we were always taught about it, the science behind it was all around us. I painfully became aware of how difficult and desperate the situation was in a geography, when we were talking about the Doha conference in 2012. The Kyoto protocol was extended but Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand left this Kyoto II contract. We realised that it is difficult to reach agreements on an international level. In our course we learned about renewable energies and sustainable city design, all skills that we thought we wouldn’t need after school. Who would have known that I would exactly use that, just a few years later?

My family told me varying points when they became aware of global warming. It was as early as the whole ozone hole discussion came up or when there were increasingly damaging hurricanes and flooding in the Indian ocean.

The problem with our ozone layer began in the last 70s. There were several international agreements like the Montreal Protocol and the Vienna Convention which did a fair job. Scientific evidence on what causes the ozone layer to deplete was not that established at the time. 2012 was the first year in which we could observe that the ozone hole got smaller again. To me it seems like that was nearly the only significant positive news concerning the environment we got until this point. Sure, we have had a lot of international agreements. I’m flipping through a whole law book at the moment trying desperately to find that one article. It feels like a lot of talking without doing anything, though. Maybe I’m being unfair to the hard working people behind these agreements. Certainly they will have an impact someday. But until we are not able to implement them, nothing is going to change. International environmental law is a difficult topic and we will have to work on that for decades to get a decent outcome. Hopefully stopping global warming. This vision, however, seems a little to optimistic to me. Unfortunately.

As students, we live in a helpful environment. We are a bunch of people eager to change things. We will gather together as a study course and will watch documentaries about food waste. Any environmental challenge. You name it. Forty people raging and crying about all the lost vegetables and other products we throw away. Gasping each time the shocking numbers are revealed. We want to do something about this. Nevertheless, we are also aware of the fact that change takes a long time. Just like soil forming! 1 centimetre in 200 years! Especially with the tireless lobbying of major cooperations who want to secure their own profits. Who only think in short term profit maximisation. It’s a frightening world we are living in and as the gaps between people are widening, it is sometimes hard to imagine a better and united world.

Only those who focus on their vision, will make it come true. My father always tells me that analogy: “If you are driving the car and something emerges ahead, do not look at it. Look to its side because that’s the direction you want to drive to.” People who look at their goal in front of them and not their obstacle, those are the ones who will succeed in the end.

Current Word Count: 21802

Things I Love About Uni: Year 1


The third semester is around the corner, I will soon start to exercise my brain again. It’s already been a year of studying Environmental and Resource Management and I love it. Here are some of the things I enjoyed most – The First Year Edition. I just want to add that I am incredibly lucky to have this opportunity to study and that my parents are so supportive ❤

  1. Moving Out. Having my own little flat, being able to do whatever I want – That’s awesome. I am so grateful for this. You have your own schedule, decide what you want to eat, cook etc. I do have a lot of free time… Furthermore, I can paint until 3am without anyone being bothered! (Although most of the times I’ll act like a granny, drinking tea all the time, knitting and going to bed at 10pm. Who cares!)
  2. The people. The people in my study course are awesome. There are people from all over the world. It’s lovely to hear their experiences and stories. In this one year I have found so many dear friends who share the same values as I do and who have this save-the-world mentality. Who all drink out of glass bottles to avoid plastics. (Now I am one of the weirdos! Yay!!)  It’s amazing. Also, nearly half of our course are vegetarians or vegans, there is this huge community of support! I love it!
  3. English. It is not normal for German Universities to offer courses in English. It really isn’t. When I sit in a lecture I sometimes have this moment where I step back and think: “Wow! They are talking in English, I am studying in English!” I don’t really know why this feels so great to me, but it does. My language skills did get a lot better, although I still feel like I actually have no idea what I’m doing XD
  4. The subjects. Not all. Maths sucks. Ecology, though? That was awesome. Not the professor. What we were talking about. Sea salinity, trees in river ecosystems, plants in lakes… So interesting! By far, sociology was my favourite subject, though. Why people do what they do and why they do (not) act environmentally friendly. Essential to know!
  5. The library. This is the book nerd speaking, hi. The first time we entered the library and had a little tour around I thought: Look at all this knowledge that is preserved here. Sooooo many books! OMG! I love the library. It’s pretty modern but the air is buzzing with thoughts and reading and flipping pages and that’s wonderful.
  6. Studying itself. Too much stress in the exam phase is probably not good. However, this summer, we sat in the uni garden or at the lake and revised all this stuff we had to know for the exams, wrote all our papers… That was kind of cool. I love writing and I enjoy the papers. The best one I wrote yet was for philosophy, about sustainable development. I’m sure I’ll make a whole blog post about that soon… It’s great to write about something you are actually interested in. To read and shuffle papers around, to search in databases and read loads of articles.

If you have any questions or would like me to write about something, feel free to do so. I would appreciate it!

xxx

verena

Story Time: A Nature Helper


I meant to write about late summer. About its deliciously tasting air, its soft light and wonderful evenings. A little boy crossed my paths on my way home and therefore these plans. His bike would reach a velocity of at least 200 km/h downhill, he said. A fast little guy, on a tiny little bike. If he brakes, he would fly all the way up to the moon, I laughed. If he would like to be an astronaut. “No,” this seemed to bore him, “rather a car mechanic, an electrical engineer…” Scratching his head he added: “A nature helper.” Now he had a spark in his eyes. “The world is so beautiful!”

My cat interrupted the thoughts and questions I had on that topic. The hows and whats and whens… They didn’t matter. He loves cats, he said. His grandpa has one. She doesn’t really know what she wants. Silently I muttered: “Who does?”

“I would like to save the world” A noble task. “Maybe we can train cats to help us.” The next five minutes we spend imagining how cats would look like with different uniforms and hats on them. It was a wonderful moment. Talking with a little boy about saving the world. A dream that I had so often pictured and am now trying to implement. A boy who had so many different ideas what to become and thought of mother earth to be a subject of his future. A little boy who went out on his bike in the evening and always up the hill to be able to drive down again much faster. Dreams, he has so many dreams. It gives me a lot of hope.

Lastly I told him that I study to be a nature helper. He looked at me for a long time: “That sounds interesting. We will see each other in our jobs one day.” So be it, little nature helper. He raced down the hill with his bright green bike and shouted, waving as he drove “But first I have to grow up!”.