Markus Gull

Surface or sink?

Once upon a time, as schoolchildren, we already knew at the beginning of the summer holidays what was waiting for us like the Amen in prayer at the end of our free time that summer: the assignment for an essay under the heading "My best holiday experience". This was a complicated undertaking, especially for those of us who didn't have a blistering amount to experience - i.e. me. No language holidays, adventure holidays or other newsworthy events. Even the simple title "My Holiday Experience" would have amounted to a written lie in some years. We don't even need to start with "the best".


In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!

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There were years when I dived into Lake Obertrum in the beautiful province of Salzburg at the beginning of July and was pulled out again, under my protest, at the beginning of September. There, equipped with diving goggles and a snorkel, I often lingered motionless in the shallow water for hours, virtually being Hans Hass himself as an observer of fish and tadpoles, who soon took me into their cold-blooded hearts as one of their own. I am sure there are records of the local fishing association from that time in which I am mentioned, perhaps even with a picture. The fact that I didn't grow webbed feet back then annoys me to this day, especially since "The Little Water Sprite" from Otfried Preußler's golden pen certainly enjoyed hero status with me.

When I got older, that was over too, but the experiences did not become more or even more worth reporting. I spent my summers less often under water, but - under my mother's protest - mostly indoors, even in so-called fine weather. There wasn't much to experience there either, but there was a lot to discover and recognise: to experience again. And between the covers of a book.
My birthday at the beginning of the holidays and the book gifts it triggered were what is now called perfect timing.
After that, if I had been given the task of writing an essay on "My most beautiful holiday realisation", a member of the teaching staff would probably have stamped a smurf under my work, or rather stuck a little golden star in it. At that time there were no smurf stamps, not even the internet. At most boarding school if you weren't good, but that's another story.
Yes, the other story.
One story tells what we experienced, the other tells what we recognised. The other story, the inner story, is in fact the all-important one. If only some teacher had explained this to us - our whole life would have been different, and I maintain: at least not worse. Mine, at any rate, certainly not, including holidays.
The inner story decides whether we surface or sink in the sea of life, whether it is sea or swamp for us. Our second story, the inner story, is our compass on our journey through life, on which we should preferably be captains, or at least have a strong hand at the wheel.

The inner summer story.

We decide ourselves about our inner story, about the one we tell ourselves. The inner story is actually our only possibility to control our outer story. Because only those who are first set in their ways will get to the sunny south.
Our most helpful aides are those people who have thought about the same things before us as we do now and who share their experience with us so that we can decide which star to follow. Then grandma, now hardly any parents, with luck our teachers. But always in stand-by mode: Otfried Preußler, Astrid Lindgren, Erich Kästner, Hermann Hesse, Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, Toni Morrison, Michael Köhlmeier, Marlene Streeruwitz, Thomas Bernhard, Jonathan Franzen, Karen Blixen, Charles Eisenstein, Harper Lee - you get the idea ...
They show us where the North Star shines. They hang stars in the sky for us, stars that shine for us as values, so that we can find orientation wherever we are heading. We can choose that for ourselves, we should definitely choose that for ourselves.
If any teacher had explained this to me, I probably would have chosen Greek instead of French when deciding on the third foreign language. So today I can't do either.
With Greek, I would probably have come into good contact with the wise Stoics and discovered Epictetus, and his wise phrase: "Every thing has two handles. One you can touch, the other you can't."
Epictetus himself was a good example of taking the right handle and turning his life around from slave to founder of a school of philosophy.

A different kind of holiday. Or similarly the same?

This year, many holidays will probably be on obvious grounds rather than with the Greeks. Still, we can learn a lot from them, especially from the ancient Greeks. Not for school, but for life, as Seneca, another great Stoic, noted, and that includes holidays. For the ancient Greek philosophers were not rapturous swashbucklers of abstract spirals of thought around meaningful questions such as why the banana is crooked, but founders and mediators of practical life insights that can give us direction, speed and spin even today.
And then, on cue, Epictetus speaks up again: "There are two guests you always entertain: your body and your soul. What you offer the body you soon give away. But what you offer the soul, you keep forever."
The part about giving back will be contradicted by all those who offer lifelong sacrifices of atonement to the gods of the rich holiday buffet and their curse: "A moment on the lips - a lifetime on the hips" with louder hip gold. And so, at some point in life, the question "What was your best holiday experience?" mutates into the question "How much weight did you gain on holiday?", which also explains why people talk about increasing age. But that's another story.
Either way, it is important to be mindful of what we stuff into our heads or allow to be stuffed into our heads.
On holiday, we could let some of it out, or let it out again, and afterwards even emerge lighter, freer and more self-determined in our old world, because, for example, we finally stop drowning in distractions and behavioural addictions. I don't know about you, but I suffer from it - in both senses - and I'm definitely treating myself to a digital detox programme. I want to make that the new standard and not also be present on TikTok from autumn onwards in a yo-yo effect.
In these situations, it often helps to take something that's too much for you, and to take it again until it makes you sick. From then on it gets better. This kick-off won't help if you're Keith Richards, but for the rest of us it's definitely worth a try.
On my sea voyage into more self-determined free waters, I have therefore chosen the social psychologist Adam Alter as my adjutant, who has written what I hope is a perfect logbook for it: "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technologies and the Business of Our Addiction."
Amazon* says: "Alter gives a stark warning about the threatening rise of behavioural addictions in the digital age - and shows how we can resist them. About half of the western population is addicted to at least one behaviour. As if under compulsion, we hang on to our emails, Instagram likes and Facebook posts; we shoot ourselves into a coma with TV series, can't stop online shopping, work a few more hours every year; we stare at our smartphones for an average of three hours a day. One reason for this is the addictive design of these technologies. The age of behavioural addictions is still young, but it is becoming increasingly clear how much of a socially relevant problem it is - with destructive effects on our well-being and especially on the health and happiness of our children. Psychologist Adam Alter shows why behavioural addictions are proliferating so wildly, how they capitalise on the human psyche, and what we need to do to make it easier for us and our children to resist them. Because the good news is that we are not irrevocably at the mercy of behavioural addictions."
At my level of consciousness, Adam Alter is carrying owls to Athens, but since I'm not Keith Richards, this seems to me to be a good start for the liberation strike, which should not be a dive, but still leaves open the question of how to deal with these media, if one wants to use them again as a means of communication with the community. I hope that "Irresistible" also provides information about this!
What do you say?
If all this sounds like a summer break for my newsletter, blog & podcast as well as for my social media channels, then you have heard the interjection, because that's how it is. I'm not on this list of break makers myself, because El Storyduderino & his playmates continue to work diligently, but will also crawl away to foreign holiday destinations in between. Not to Greece, though, but to the land of reading anyway, because two things have not changed to this day, which means that this summer, despite all the adversities, remains a summer just like back then:
1. for my birthday at the beginning of the holidays, all kinds of book joy washed up in my heart.
2. there is so much to discover, and nothing stands in the way of the most wonderful holiday experiences.
I 'm particularly looking forward to seeing "I'm Staying Here" by Marco Balzano and "The Optimists" by Rebecca Makkai come off the fiction pile.
In the non-fiction corner, Michael Schmidt-Salomon has been warming up for some time and has some good advice ready for all of us: "Relax! A Philosophy of Serenity".
Which brings us back to the Stoics and Seneca's thoughts on the two handles. The quote reads in full: "Every thing has two handles. By one you can touch it, by the other you cannot. If your brother wrongs you, do not grab him by his wrong - for he cannot be touched by this handle - but rather by the other handle, which says that he is your brother and grew up with you; then you will grab him where he can be grabbed." This is ideally matched by "Basically Good. A New History of Humanity." by Rutger Bregmann
Yuval Noah Harari said about it: "'Basically Good' made me look at humanity from a new perspective. I highly recommend it." I am not the right person to contradict Prof. Harari, so I sincerely wish us that Rutger Bregmann is right and remains so. Because then we would all have an easier time with each other. And we would also have good reasons, despite what is already going on in many resorts, to believe that we will continue to exist on this planet and that it makes sense.
Perspective on what is - that is the story we tell ourselves, that drives our inner story and that drives our outer story towards what could be. Often it simply takes a new perspective, a "What if ...?" to wake us up, to make us emerge, to set off into our next chapter and get closer to our truth. For this too, a thought from a great stoic is within reach: "Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not a truth," our favourite Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius knew.
Our perspective is our truth. This is what Zeno of Kition is said to have said when he shared stories about life with my grandmother, old Story Dudette, on the Stoa, which she always commented on with the words: No Story. No Glory.


In "No Story. No Glory. - The Podcast" we have a current episode to accompany you on holiday. The sea and seafaring, with all the mysteries, myths and unbridled forces of nature associated with them, have fascinated us humans since the beginning of time. New shores, unknown worlds - of the sea and the waves of love ... The sea and seafaring - an endless treasure of stories, rich in metaphors for our journey through life, into the unknown, into hope. Somewhere, for each of us, there is a lighthouse that attracts us: our destiny in our port of destination, which we head for even when the wind is against us. If we are wise, wisely guided, wisely guiding ourselves.
In this holiday episode in a strange time, I share some thoughts with you about the sea, purpose, values and goals - accompanied by Ernest Hemingway, Eros Ramazzotti, The Police and Pier Paolo Pasolini, among others. How does it all turn out? Listen in and sail along to the last episode before the summer break. Don't forget sunscreen, please!!!
It's best to subscribe right away at Apple Podcast, Spotify or Soundcloud, and of course via my website.


The links to Amazon are meant as a service for sniffing around and for when you want to feed your Kindle right away. If your inner bookworm needs a little fresh nourishment, then I once again recommend a visit to a bookshop - which admittedly smells a bit like "has been" in The Digital Age. In fact, it smells like the eau de toilette of many good spirits. Every bookseller is still happy about your purchase and will get you any book in no time, even those in independent publishing like this one, written by a guy with the same name as me.
Sometimes the bookshop hand is turned over two or three times ... The extra reward for your patience: during a visit to the bookshop, you always discover special books in such a magical way that the Amazon algorithm can't keep its mouth shut with amazement.
By the way: I'm happy to receive relevant reading tips from you as a story insider - not only from the non-fiction & trade book corner.

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