Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Zen and the Art of Switching Off Your Phone

Yesterday in my yoga class, someone took a call on their mobile phone. Not a “I’m at yoga; will call you back” call either, but a prolonged two-way conversation that involved a lot of listening, some suggesting and proferring of ideas that we all got to hear, since the yoga studio is small. My yoga teacher said, “Let’s just have a pause in the child pose while Isabel takes her call”, and then after a while, “It’s taking longer than I thought. Let’s move on then.”

The mere fact that her phone was on during yoga class is astonishingly rude. The fact that she answered it and then went on to have a four-minute conversation is staggering. The fact that she returned to the class and DIDN’T APOLOGISE is mind-blowing. I think it’s the self-importance that enrages me more than the rudeness – if you are having a crisis in your life that requires you to be available 24/7, DON’T COME TO YOGA. Otherwise, switch off your bloody phone, take a message and call back afterwards. The class only lasts an hour.

Today’s Times Online has a great article on how technology, particularly mobile phones and those relationship-threateners, BlackBerrys and iPhones, is promoting a new level of distractedness not only from the moment but from those most important to us. Couples are having to lay down ground rules as to when BlackBerry use is acceptable and when not – during an anniversary dinner, not acceptable; on the beach while on holiday with your family, NOT acceptable. The article says:

However, the only way a new etiquette can really work is through increased self-awareness on the part of the user. For starters, users have to realise how their behaviour can affect others. As Lloyd-Elliot says: “There is something arrogant about the mindset that goes with this trend — the sense of always thinking that what you’ve got to say is so important it can’t wait. There’s also an absence of thoughtful empathy; how you are making those around you feel.”

Dr Emma Short, a senior lecturer in psychology, agrees. “It’s about being mindful about the choices you make. Whenever you take a call or reply to a message in front of someone, you are prioritising what is an absent presence.” In terms of your relationship and how your partner feels, she says, think about who you are promoting above whom when you hear that beep or see that flashing light.

I remember when mobile phone use first became ubiquitous sitting around and waiting in social situations for people to complete their very important phone conversation so that they could get back to conversing with me. I resolved never to have one. Since having children, I’ve caved in and I have to admit it is a useful tool – on holiday in Greece, my kids were able to chat to their dad in Germany and I could abuse the cheap car company when yet another of their crap vehicles broke down. But a mobile is nothing more than that, a tool, and one of which we should be in charge and to which we should not allow ourselves to become victim.

Isabel’s vague shrug as she returned to the yoga class yesterday was just that, the shrug of a victim. Her shrug said, “Don’t blame me, blame my phone.”

I think what overreliance on mobile technology most underscores is the inability to be in the moment. If you have to pick up the phone to tell someone what a great time you’re having WHILE YOU’RE HAVING IT, then how much fun are you actually having? And if you can’t switch off from your life for a one-hour yoga class – a place where more than anywhere you are practising the art of being in the moment – then PERHAPS YOU SHOULDN’T ATTEND.


I Confess

Last night, I watched eight episodes of Sex and the City back-to-back, ending at Charlotte’s marriage to Harry. I also ate three packets of chilli rice cakes, one packet of chocolate rice cakes and a helping of choc chip ice-cream.

Sorry, wrong kind of confession.

I wrote the first 1000 words of Chapter Nine this week, as well as a whole lot of free-writing trying to get into the head of the narrator whose chapter this is. Last night in the haze of telly and food-that-comes-from-packets, I decided that the scene with which I began Chapter Nine is not far enough down the action timeline and will have to parked in the “Extra Stuff” file for use at a later date (how did writers manage before word processors?). I am heading into the last third of the novel now and am looking for big, dramatic, climatic scenes that beg for resolution.

Part of the problem is that I don’t have a story outline, so each chapter has evolved rather than been written from plan. I am starting to realise that this first draft is the outline, albeit one that has taken six months to write. When I start the second draft, I will be in a much stronger place, ready to polish, intensify and clarify. I am looking forward to that.

Other things I have done this week:

1. Made a shortlist of agents to approach once I have finished

2. Had a blogger date with the lovely Ms Martini

3. Almost managed a free-standing headstand in yoga

4. Made basil and lavender ice-cream, which was oddly good

5. Ran three kilometres in 20 minutes (my goal is 10kms in an hour)

6. Imagined myself tottering around Manhattan delivering bon mots when I visit New York in November. “I am a lady!”

My goals for the coming week:

1. Establish the appropriate action for Chapter Nine, and write it!

2. Exercise, exercise, exercise

And that’s all, folks.


Gold Star

This is what I am giving myself for achieving my writing retreat goal of 12,000 words – and I did in five days instead of six! I completed a chapter and wrote two more. Very thrilling. And there was an unexpected twist at the end of Chapter Eight, which surprised even me. The tension is growing, my characters are all over the show: confused, ashamed, emotional, seeking guidance and resolution. I am going to have to head on in there and sort the lot of them out, but rest assured, the ending won’t be too neat.

As my reward, I’m off to the Bergmannstrasse yoga studio for an hour and half’s class, after which I’m meeting a friend for dinner. I think I may even allow myself a celebratory glass of wine – my first since I arrived here.

I think it is richly deserved.


Confessing in Berlin

Coffee + keyboard = slightly f*cked writing retreat

It also means a severely damaged computer. Don’t take coffee lightly, writing fans! It is a danger to your livelihood. Luckily, my lovely hosts have left their computer for me to use. It’s also been a great excuse to spend many delicious hours in the hosts of fabulous Berlin cafes, drinking chai teas, and writing in my notebook. Then I come home at night, transcribe my notes and make improvements.

My output has been excellent: so far I have transcribed 3,000 words and I have at least another 1,000 from today to add to that. I have completed the tricky final scene of Chapter Six and am well into the action of Chapter Seven. I also have a firm game plan for Chapter Eight.

I am loving my retreat, from the protestations of love I receive when I call home, to the unfathomable freedom of wondering the streets of Berlin, not having to be home at a promised time. I am enjoying not cooking and walking everywhere (though today I mastered three changes on the U-Bahn in order to go and fetch my very sick MacBook in Charlottenburg). This morning I lay in bed and read from cover to cover the faintly irritatingly titled, but astonishingly good, Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenburg. Then I got up and went to do a wonderful yoga class in the Bergmannstrasse studio of my yoga teacher’s teacher (see here for pictures). Tomorrow I may run. Or go shopping. Or visit a museum. Or sit in cafes, drink chais and people-watch.

One thing is for sure though. I will write.

(RIP, MacBook. You were a good friend.)


Five Bits of Fluff

I think memes are the popcorn of the blog world. And since there are five kids in my sitting-room, eating popcorn and watching Free Willy, I’m going to indulge in some fluffery of my own. My friend Loren, a food blogger from San Francisco (the US city I most want to visit) charged me with the Five Things meme. I have done this a few times before, but, like popcorn, it’s a meme that’s moreish.

Five Fluffy Things About Me:

1. Having just seen the Sex in the City movie, I am currently working my way through all six seasons of the TV show. My favourite of the gals is Miranda, Charlotte makes me laugh and I am sooooo jealous of Carrie’s legs. I’m not mad about Samantha, but I like the way she embodies female desire. On that topic, Mr Big is far and away the hottest man on the show, but I’d give Steve the bartender the time of day. In the movie, the scene between him and Miranda on the bridge made me cry so hard that my nose ran.

2. I really like dancing. At a party, I am guaranteed to be first on the dance-floor. And I’m a cheap drunk, so basically, I’m great value.

3. The tree pose always reminds me of my past life as an Indian yogi.

4. If I had to choose between having an uninterrupted hour to write or eating the best chocolate in the world, I’d take the hour.

5. If I were a house, I would be chintz. And proud.

Now I am supposed to tag five people, but I don’t do that anymore. So I’m stealing from YogaMum. Consider yourself tagged if:

1. You have had a conversation about Sex in the City in the past week.

2. This makes you feel like doing silly dancing:

3. If you have done the tree pose today.

4. If you have refused chocolate in the last hour.

5. If this looks like heaven to you.


Confessions of a Slacker

722 words. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

I’ve also been slacking on the blogging front. This is probably the first time – apart from holidays – that I haven’t blogged for a whole week.

Instead of writing and blogging, I have been doing some living. In the style of the lovely Ms Make Tea, here are some random items of life that have got in the way:

  • A morning at Daisy’s kindergarten, making her Schultüte with her. The Schultüte is a cone-shaped object, decorated according to the child’s fancy, that is filled with goodies and presents, which the child takes to their Einschulungsfest. This is a special day to celebrate starting school. It involves a church service, a walk to school carrying both Tüte and spanking new backpack (the Rantzen), a ceremony of welcome and a visit to their classroom with their new teacher. Then they go home, have coffee and cake with the family, and unpack the Tüte. Daisy’s is beautiful: a winter ice-skating scene with sparkling ice and mountains, all in white, blue and silver. She is clearly moving out of the pink princess phase, which is a relief.
  • A visit to the Auslaenderamt to renew my Aufenthaltserlaubnis. Yes, that is as stressful as it sounds – German officials are very officious and I always tend to arrive minus the one vital piece of paper that would ensure having my residence permit renewed on the spot. However, the guy in charge of surnames N to P, which encompasses us, is the most relaxed official in Germany, and the whole thing was achieved in five minutes. Afterwards, we sat in the sun in Heidelberg cafe and breakfasted. Lovely!
  • Three jogs and a yoga class with my very lovely yoga teacher (I have to say this because she now reads my blog and doesn’t want to be cast as one of the nasty Germans in the drama that is Life in the Burg – and she is very lovely). All my runs have been outdoors and I have loved the sunshine, the green hills and the swift wide Neckar river.
  • Going through the children’s clothes, putting outside the old and outgrown ones for charity (and placed these on the street for removal today) and replacing winter clothes with summer ones. It is lovely to see everyone running around in sandals, short sleeves and sunhats.
  • Planning and booking our family’s visit to Berlin and Luebeck next week. We are staying in holiday apartments rather than hotels, which, I discovered on my last visit to the Hauptstad, is the way to go. I am dreaming of Berlin.
  • Watching DVDs! I laffed my way through the first season of Flight of the Conchords, which is a hilarious programme about two New Zealand musicians trying to make it in New York, with the help of their abjectly useless band manager, Murray. I also watched Babel, with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, which is an excellent and sobering film.
  • Discovering the Love Food Not Waste website, which I am plundering for tips on how not to waste food, in light of Emily’s EcoJustice Challenge. Broccoli stalk soup anyone?

And now I’m off to lie in the hammock.


My Fantasy Escape

My fantasy escape is a writing retreat in the African bush. I sleep in a large double bed with white linen and a mosquito net, and have a view of a waterhole where elephants come to drink, bathe and cavort with their babies. There are monkeys in the trees and warthogs snuffling in the shrubbery.

Silent staff bring me meals – exactly what I require, when I require it, without my ever having to ask – and are available take me on game drives should I wish it.

My family are permitted to make short visits. When they leave they do not cry, but cover me with kisses and wave cheerfully. I feel no guilt when they leave.

There is also yoga, but after the class all the other participants must melt away, unless I like them, in which case they may stay for dinner and be highly entertaining.

I swim in a pool that is the perfect temperature, and take outside showers.

There is a library of books and fat, comfortable sofas in which to read.

There is a verandah, with views, for contemplation.

The temperature never rises about 28° Celsius, and never drops below 18.

I write, and dream, and wake, and sleep, all to the rhythm of the bushveld. I watch sunsets and stars, sunrises and morning mists, but sleep through the heat of the day.

I live in the moment, meditate to the sound of beetles and birds, and write and write and write.

Can I go there now?

Thanks to YogaMum for the inspiration.



I had my first yoga practice in months today, with a wonderful new teacher. Her studio, which looks over the Rhine plain all the way to the Pfalz, was a peaceful refuge from the driving rain outside. For one and a half hours I thought of nothing but myself, my body and how it was feeling. She taught me how to be conscious of my toes, how to attach four corners of my feet to the earth and anchor myself. I learnt how to make my calves, thighs and stomach muscles strong. I left with a wondrous feeling of well-being which lasted for hours.

So it seems appropriate to address Ms Magic Hands’ meme Five Things You Do To Raise Your Vibe while still feeling the afterglow. Here goes:

1. My life is busy. I have three kids, work, friends, and family who require maintenance, even long-distance. One thing I do every day to raise my vibe is to have some time to myself for reading. It usually happens late at night in the bath, when the house is quiet and everyone else is asleep. I pour in the bubbles, keep my toe on the hot tap, add more water when necessary and read, read, read. Right now it’s Elizabeth George’s What Came Before She Shot Him, which is an education in brilliant characterisation and a deeply engaging plot.

2. I plan holidays. One the advantages of where I live is that the whole of Europe is easily accessible. This year I’ve been to Berlin, the south of France, Oslo, Alsace Lorraine. The holidays don’t always have to happen – I enjoy trawling holiday websites, dreaming of what could be.

3. I dance with my children. It’s exercise and it’s fun. I can be as ridiculously silly as I want to be without feeling self-conscious. We call it “working on our moves”.

4. I have a night out with my girlfriends or a date with my husband, all involving wine, food and laughter. Come to think of it, I’d better go and put my party face on right now. I’m heading out to meet the girls.

5. I meditate and dream. After years of practice, I slip readily and easily into a meditative state. I use it in various ways: to relax, to feel better, to raise my consciousness, to commune. It always, always helps.