Welcome 2020, the start of a new decade*

Many, if not all blogposts I have seen recently fall in one of two categories: either they are about making a commitment for the coming year, or they are about looking back the last 10 years, now that we are finishing another set of 10.

And so I, too, dug out my old harddrive and started to sort through projects and pictures. It turned out a lot of work, and quickly I got slightly bored. And I wondered what story I should tell you here.

Pretty much all of the “life” of Büchertiger Supplies falls into the right timeframe. So telling the story of me founding a business was the first that sprang to mind. But I don’t feel like I am at the point where I can tell this as a complete story yet. Hopefully still a lot will happen in that regard, and I am not sure yet where it is going.

Becoming Büchertiger, artist book by H. Kurzke, 2009

Telling the story of “becoming buechertiger” doesn’t quite fit the theme: I started blogging in 2008 and founded Büchertiger Studio and Press later the same year. So a bit too early. And recently I have done very little in that regard, so here I am facing the opposite problem: I hope that story is not over yet! In any case, the chances are that if you interacted with me as the “book tiger”, whether you followed one of my tutorials, saw me making blank books or art, or maybe you bought thread from me – it all happened in the past 10 years.

And while I was writing on that blogpost, and it was a case of “write two paragraphs, delete two paragraphs”. I realised I didn’t want to look back, rahter I’d want to look forward and think about what needs to change in the next year(s).

I set out to write how I should decide what I REALLY want to do, set priorities and all that. And then realized that I have written that blogpost already several times. Every January.

Over the years I have been taking on more and more roles, and in recent years I started to feel “thinned out”, like I couldn’t achieve enough in any of the many fields I tried to get a foot in.

There are two obvious answers to that problem a) get rid of some, and get better in the remaining, or b) instead of striving for a change in life, strive for a change of attitude and be happy to be mediocre in many fields.

My mother once said something, I must have been a teenager back then, and I don’t remember the context or the exact wording. But the sentiment stayed with me all those years and are kind of like a trunk I sometimes scratch my back against. She said something like: A child can dabble in a lot of things, stir many pots, but becoming an adult is deciding in which area to become proficient.

She definitely is not opposed to adults following a hobby, like for example, play an instrument although you know you are never going to be a professional musician, or start a sport without the intention of becoming a professional. But, I suppose, she would kind of think that if you are an adult, and not a professional, you should keep it to yourself, keep it private. An adult hosting a piano play evening and be short of being professional would be embarrasing, DIY-gifts from adults are awkward, any kind of non-professional stage presence she would regard as pretentious and childish, really.

Project Message in a Bottle

It’s funny how things our parents say can still speak to us through the years, even when we never agreed. Just the other day I said to M. “Sometimes I realise how old I am, and I wonder: What am I doing studying Japanese?! I am never going to work in Japan, I will never apply for a job for which having this on my CV will look good. I will never use this!”
And he answered dryly: “Well, other people build miniatures in bottles. – You might come to use it. You can never know what skills will prove useful one day.”
(I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that made me feel better about my Japanese-efforts or worse about my message-in-a-bottle project.)

Back to the topic: While I don’t usually think that doing something without the hope of becoming excellent at it is pointless, I do want success for my art and my shop. But what does that mean for me? And how can I achieve it?

I tried to get help answering those questions. Already more than 2 years ago I (successfully) applied for mentorship through a-n, and the resulting sessions with Rosalind Davis helped me a lot. I had two questions for her a) how can I enter the Nottingham art scene, and b) which of my many hats should I burn? She helped me a lot with a). She encouraged I contact Backlit again, and now, two years later, I have a studio there. And I have several artist friends, and just generally feel like I have my toe in the door now. A big “thank you!” to her.
But when it came to the second question, she said: Well, as long as you still finish your many projects, I don’t see why you shouldn’t follow them all.

I sought similar help from others, professionals and friends. But I pretty much got that same answer all the time: It’s amazing how much you manage, I don’t know how you do it! Why should you give up any of it?!

working with my son

How I do it? Easy: Having twins taught me how to use time. If you are looking after two babies and found a shop, and want to make books and art, you have to learn to use every minute, to seek out down-time, and use it more productively. Every minute you find yourself resting, ask yourself: how could I use this time more productively?

Ever since then, maybe before, I have been operating under the impression and pressure of being able to do more, being able to find more time here or there. You know how they say that if you want a job done, give it to a busy person? I believe(d) in this, and I usually found the busiest person around was myself. If an opportunity came up to do something, I applied for it. If I had an idea and thought “someone should do that thing” I started it. – Until this summer.

The last project I did was my message in a bottle workshop and the big splash I arranged later. Since then I have been dropping out of things. I failed to write blogposts about the bottle finds since last summer. I thought about doing a follow-up workshop and didn’t. I wanted to make a message in a bottle family workshop, and had talks with someone, taking advice on how to do it, and then I didn’t. I was going to do something internally at Backlit (no need to talk about it now because:) – I didn’t. I asked someone else to take responsibility as I couldn’t shoulder it anymore.
Up until the summer I had been confident of finishing my novel around this time now, and had started to work on another. Plus there’s always short stories and bits I had been writing. – None of this happened in the second half of the year.
Still I was more than busy. There were a frustrating amount of hospital appointments with the kids, therapy to seek, some to get. So many appointments to make, markets to prepare, things to do. And every time my schedules cleared a little, I came down with some minor infection.
I stopped my martial arts classes because I couldn’t find the time for shipping out goods for Büchertigersupplies anymore, and there was no way I could have cut back further on sleep. Plus I was close to fainting during training several times and feared some heart-related problem. I arranged several GP appointments for it, for some of the test results I am still waiting.

I became increasingly tired. Normally, in this family, I am the first one up, sometimes I got up hours earlier and got some writing done before everyone else woke up. Now I slept longest, sometimes until the rest of the family sat down for breakfast, and I still felt I could hardly stay awake during the day. I started to forget things. I thought I was just getting too old – for some it starts early.

I had applied for various markets and did those, manning (or womanning) a market stall for the first time in several years was exciting – and stressful.

My stand at the Etsy Made Local Christmas Market

If you have been following my facebook, then you know what happened next: I kind of collapsed on the Etsy Handmade fair in Nottingham on November 30th.

I am not sure whether I fainted, or fell asleep for a second while standing up (I tend to think that what it was). But that event marked pretty much the end of what I managed to do this year. There were two more small market events I attended, but that was it.

Through most of December I just felt awful. Of course I got another infection with fever just the day after the Christmas market. For the first three weeks in December I slept. Often more than 12 hours a night, plus an afternoon nap here or there. And I read a stupid manga series that I really enjoyed; – while lying in bed mostly.

I didn’t feel depressed as such, I wasn’t tearful or especially worried. I still felt full of energy psychologically, but I felt physically unable to do what I wanted to. I had a lot of brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and I was just so awfully tired all the time. I honestly suspected there had to be a physical reason, an illness behind it. I arranged another GP appointment but then had to cancel as other appointments came in the way.

Then, finally the Christmas holidays came, and for the first time ever, I took almost full 3 weeks off work completely. No writing on my novel for a couple of hours a day, no inventory between Christmas and New Years, no shop opening on the morning of January 2nd. (Only studying Japanese and practising Kanji – I can’t really do nothing…)

So that’s why you have not heard much of much in the past weeks and months.

Yesterday I officially started work again, and I am feeling much better now. I do have a GP appointment soon, but I don’t expect anything sinister going on anymore. I suspect that what really was going on was a total psychological breakdown due to exhaustion and lack of downtime, as well as a lot of de-facto lack of time and emotional stress over getting (no) help for my daughter, and also over what Brexit will mean to us and my shop. – And stress about not getting anything done. Ever lagging behind on my to-do lists, ever growing lists with things that are all equally important and should have been finished weeks ago only left me clueless about where to start.

So this is what needs to get better. I enjoyed that by labelling myself an artist, anything I did was job-related. Probably this ultimately linked to what my mother said way back.

Whatever I started, whether it’s learning Japanese, writing a novel, or learning to crochet, although it started out as a hobby, it soon developed into a “project” that I pressurized myself about, and punished myself for not finishing fast enough. By labelling my time with these activities as work I justified spending time on it, but it also changed my perspective on it.

I want to be successful. But I’ll have to think about what that means to me, how I can achieve it, and for which areas I want to achieve it. For the rest I have to allow them to be hobbies; in which I am allowed to just indulge without being the bestest and smartest and fastest to learn. And I have to face and commmit to taking those less seriously. I already changed my Japanese lessons away from my prime-time between 10am and 2pm. That’s work time, and not for hobbies. I’ll study in the mornings and evenings. Maybe I’ll be slower, but who cares? (Well, I do, but I have to work on my attitude there.) On the other hand, maybe I’ll manage to bind a book this year. That would be good 🙂

What are your goals?


*It is not actually the new decade. A decade are 10 years, and we are currently in the 10th year of this decade, the next starts in 2021. But we all know that we’d rather like to count from 0-9 than from 1-10. Just looks better and more intuitive.


P.S./Edit: First bloods are finally coming in, and it turns out, there are physical reasons behind my tiredness and wooziness. I feel more relieved about that than I thought I would. My GP just called me (slightly alarmed, making sure I get on medication as soon as possible), and she thinks she’ll have me back to normal in about 3 months – but will check back on me earlier than that. Phew! I am not just getting old or mental 😀

2 replies on “Welcome 2020, the start of a new decade*”

  1. Sounds like you might have been suffering from mononucleosis! Or it could be burn-out. The symptoms are pretty similar. Glad to hear that you are feeling better after your break. As to things like wanting to learn Japanese, I don’t think learning anything is ever wasted. You may not see an obvious result or use in the immediate future, but life has funny twists. I never thought after I left art school that I would use any of the layout/lettering/page design/etc. training that I had received. Thirty years later I became a book artist. You never know. (I could have used a bit of Japanese vocabulary a couple of years ago when trying to explain to some Japanese tourists that the attraction they were looking for is in a different city a day’s drive away!)
    I don’t think there is just one kind of ‘success’ is: it is —and should be— different for each individual. I will never be a world-famous artist, but I reach a lot of people through the Internet. I have decided that what I am good at is designing things. I don’t have to make every artist’s book I think of. Some I can just give away for other people to make. And they do, and it makes them happy, so I guess that is ‘success’.

    1. Hello Cathryn,
      thanks for your comment! It sounds – and I had that impression when I met you – that you are happy with the place you found for yourself in the artworld. And why shouldn’t you be. I would regard you as successful. I don’t expect any artist would make into the rank of the millionairs among artists, and it wouldn’t be what I am looking for exactly. I honestly don’t know yet, how I would define success, and more importantly, maybe, how I would notice if I had met my target. That’ll have to be a task for the future, maybe for future blogposts, who knows 🙂

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