Five Sure-fire Excuses for not Writing this Weekend

1) Cleaning. This is my best and most often used excuse. Granted the bathroom did need cleaning but it could have waited a couple more days. In fact, I could have kept the cleaning to the shower, as the rest of the bathroom looked alright. However, once I start, I find it difficult to stop, so I polished the mirror, wiped down the vanity, scrubbed the toilet and then cleaned the powder room for good measure. It was only guilt which kept me from vacuuming the rest of the apartment. Every time I looked at my computer, which should have been open and ready for me, I felt guilty. So, I left the apartment to go shopping.

2) Shopping. I can name everything in my fridge and pantry and as my memory isn’t so great, it’s an indication that there isn’t much there for me to cook with. There are plenty of condiments, but I haven’t found many recipes which call for a mixture of mustard and mayonnaise with nothing else. Therefore a few precious hours of my weekend were spent at the small organic supermarket where I often shop and where I can wander almost endlessly looking at the delicious offerings. Of course, I found some gluten free hot cross buns, which are perfect to munch on while reading.

3) Reading. This works even better as an excuse if your reading also involves research for your manuscript. In my case, writing a work of creative non-fiction, or some might say memoir, it is important to get the facts right. To me it is also important to get the feel of the time in history I’m writing about. So, I read. I read other people’s memoirs, I read history books, I read articles about the places and times where my father lived, loved and fought. I also read for pleasure. I read crime novels, memoir, self-help books, and recommendations from friends and other writers. Naturally, in order to hear about recommendations, one must stay in touch with friends.

4) Visiting friends. What better way to spend time on a weekend than catching up with friends you haven’t seen for a long time? Breakfast, lunch and dinner catch ups, good food, delicious wine, fabulous conversation, all add up to a wonderfully convincing excuse of why I’ve spent a good part of the weekend enjoying myself instead of sitting at my desk tapping on my computer. However, meals are not the only way to meet up with friends, art galleries are also great for get-togethers.

5) Keeping up with culture. Since it opened last year, I’ve been meaning to get to the Triennial exhibition at the NGV and today, together with a couple of friends I finally made it. It was a fantastic exhibition, a great mix of artists, genres and imagination. Of course, we didn’t have to go to a gallery to catch up, it might have been at the movies or at a museum, or a concert or the like.

So, there went my weekend of writing. Instead I cleaned, shopped, read, visited friends and saw the Triennial exhibition. I don’t regret how I spent my time this weekend, although I still feel guilty every time I look at the computer!

Finding my passion

Lately I’ve been wondering what I’m passionate about. It sounds silly doesn’t it? You would think I would know the answer. But passion is a strong word and I’m not sure I feel so strongly about anything. I can’t help thinking it would be wonderful to work at something you love, something which fulfils you, something which you leap out of bed for. It’s time for me to find that thing because I have no idea what it is.

Friends of mine suggested my passion lies with writing. I do like writing, but I don’t feel enthusiastic about it every single day. As anyone can see from the sporadic nature of my blog, I often don’t feel motivated to write anything at all. Most of the time I find writing incredibly difficult. The rest of the time it is fun but it’s not a money-making option for me. I can’t turn a tap on whenever someone wants words to flow.

I am definitely passionate about research. I love finding out more about my family and the history which surrounded them. I also enjoy searching for information on health and wellbeing, where it pertains to me. It doesn’t necessarily follow that I would enjoy researching something else.

I love to read. If I can successfully ignore the things I should be doing, like housework, I can easily do nothing except read all day long. A large proportion of my reading is research for my writing, but I do appreciate good writing in different genres, especially memoir, biography and crime.

What else am I passionate about? Apart from my family and friends, I have no idea. Although there are a few things I enjoy.

I enjoy watching television. I am fairly selective though, I mostly watch home renovation shows and crime. And news of course. I am fond of the Scandinavian noir crime series as well as many of the British ones. I also like “Who do You Think You Are?” mostly because of my interest in genealogy. I tend to tape everything and then binge watch, leaving the rest of the week for other pursuits.

I enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, especially if they are gluten and dairy free, and vegetarian. As I type, there is a red lentil dahl with vegetables simmering in my slow cooker.

I am always invigorated by a yoga session and I make meditation part of my daily routine. I love weekends because I have time for extended sessions of both.

So that’s it. And, even after writing all this down, I’m still not certain what I’m passionate about, what would motivate me to go to work. If you have any thoughts, let me know.

Dark Secrets

When researching your family history, there is always a chance you will find a dark secret, or a skeleton in the closet, or the random tyrant or warlord. There is more of a chance you will discover your ancestors were honest hard-working people who got up in the morning, slogged away at whatever job they had, returned home in the evening and sank into bed to sleep peacefully until the next day. Of course, they most likely also looked after children because without your ancestors producing children, there is a good chance you wouldn’t exist. There are so many ordinary families out there, odds are most people will research their family tree and find more than one of them.

There is no reason to be ashamed of being part of an ordinary family and every reason to be proud. Ordinary families have helped build countries, ordinary people have changed the course of history. In many countries women would still not have the vote, but for the ordinary women who joined together to create an extraordinary movement. There would still be segregation if ordinary men and women hadn’t stood together and, in some cases, lost their lives because they strongly believed in equality.

For their time, place and circumstances, my father’s family were no different to other families around them. Because of our German ancestors who had invaded and settled in what is now known as Latvia some 700 years before, they were part of a minority ethnic group who just happened to hold most of the land and therefore the power. I would like to think they were benevolent to the peasants who worked their lands, but documentation specifically about my grandparents and great grandparents is difficult to find. History tells us most of the landowners treated their workers badly. That’s my first dark secret.

It was no wonder that eventually the masses would rise and throw these Baltic Germans out of the country. So, these fairly ordinary people suddenly became refugees. They lost their homes, their wealth and their country, because after your family has lived in a country for over 700 years, you consider you belong there. So, they muddled along as best they could with what they had left. Then came WWII.

I am confident my immediate family did not join the SS. I applied for and received the army records of my father which show him in the Wehrmacht (the German army) transferred from unit to unit, fighting on all the fronts. My uncle, also in the Wehrmacht, died on the Eastern Front. I don’t believe my grandfather was ever drafted.

But one of my father’s cousins did join the Nazi Party, became an Obersturmführer (senior assault leader) and was responsible for evacuating Jews and eventually non-Jewish Poles from Poland, in order to resettle Germans in the area. Definitely not a nice person and my second dark secret. I would be happier if I could claim someone like Hans or Sophie Scholl, of the White Rose resistance movement, as family members but, as the saying goes, we can choose our friends but not our family.

I hope I have now discovered the only dark secrets in my family’s history but I doubt it. Now I must wrestle with the guilt I feel for the crimes my ancestors might have committed. But that’s another post.

Researching the Baltic Germans

Both sides of my family were deeply affected by war, strangely both were impacted in some way by the Russian Revolution.

My father’s family were German Balts. In the 13th Century, during the Northern Crusades, the pagan tribes of Latvia and Estonia were overpowered by Christian armies, the bulk of which were German, with Estonia becoming part of Denmark and Latvia a part of the Livonian State on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, which was named after the Livonian tribes who lived there. This prompted ethnic Germans, together with the Danes and the Swedes to settle along the Baltic coastline bringing trade and missionaries into the region. So, began the rule of the German Balts in what is now known as Latvia and Estonia. My father’s family settled in Latvia. In 1566 one of his ancestors built what became the family estate, Nurmhusen.

Over the years and into the 14th Century, Estonia and Latvia changed hands between Germany, Poland, Sweden and Russia, but the Baltic Germans retained control, at one point they even offered their allegiance to the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Unfortunately, this meant the native Estonians and Latvians were treated like second class citizens. Naturally, this resulted in growing tension between the natives and Baltic Germans. This inequality, together with the formation of independent Baltic states at the end of WWI, and the downfall of the Russian Empire in 1917, led to the declaration of independence by the Baltic States.

Here is where it all gets a bit muddled for me. One minute the Baltic Germans are fighting together with the Latvians against the Russians, the next minute they look to Germany to help them fight against the Baltic nationalist armies, who eventually won. In the middle of this muddle, the Bolshevik government is targeting the Baltic Germans; arresting, executing and deporting them to the new Soviet Union. In 1919, in the middle of the upheaval, my grandfather fled to Germany together with his pregnant wife, his two daughters and one son. My father was born in Germany. When the Bolsheviks were defeated, the new governments of Latvia and Estonia shut down the Baltic German run organisations, repealed the noble titles, confiscated their landholdings and redistributed their land to the local farmers. My father’s family were left with such a small parcel of land, it was no longer able to provide sufficiently for them. Although they eventually moved back to Latvia, they never again lived at Nurmhusen.

Some might say the Baltic Germans had it coming to them and perhaps they did. But I don’t believe one can be held responsible for the decisions made by your ancestors 700 years previously. Could they have been better at looking after the land, should they have been better at relationships with the native peoples? No doubt. I’m not making excuses. All I can say is I saw the emptiness in my father, the loss of Nurmhusen, the exile from his homeland, forever ate at him.

So, as I continue to rewrite my manuscript, I’m researching personal stories of families like my father’s. The more I read the historical accounts, the more I want to know how other families were affected.


Rewriting – Again

I have déjà vu. Once again, I’m rewriting my manuscript. Several months of fading motivation, a journey to my father’s family reunion and six weeks of travel around Europe where I had plenty of time to sit back and think, have culminated in a total rewrite of my father’s story. Although I had already sought a manuscript assessment and was half-heartedly working through some of the suggestions, I knew it just wasn’t right. Eventually, I gave up, citing every excuse under the sun. One day, I was sure I would come up with a way to write my father’s story. A way which didn’t need resentment and rage to hold interest.

When I began my memoir, I instigated it out of anger. After my father’s death, I had begun to clean out the house my parents had bought 50 years before. Not only had they accumulated more and more material possessions, they had also brought trunks of useless things with them when we immigrated to Australia. My mother had died seven years ago, and my father had done nothing about clearing out her room, let alone his own or the rest of the house. I was furious with him, with her and with myself. I don’t even know why I was furious with myself.

So, I did what I always do when I’m angry, or sad, or confused. I wrote it all down. With each word the anger lessened ever so slightly, the grief wasn’t quite as overwhelming as it might have been, and I was able to clear out 50 years of furniture, clothes, toiletries, booze, reminiscences, hopes and dreams. Writing was less expensive than therapy and, in my case, worked just as well.

There was only one problem, looking back at what I started writing almost six years ago, I can see I didn’t so much write the words as vomit them onto the page in anger. The book I envisaged wasn’t a book, it was a mess of memories, a tangle of rage, a chaotic jumble of remarks and declarations which had no meaning for anyone but myself.

However, I still feel my father’s story deserves to be told. But this time it will be all about him, just as he would have liked. I will attempt to piece together his childhood, from his birth to refugee parents, through to his dysfunctional childhood with a sick mother and a tough father, the years he spent in the German army and his many, many loves and disappointments.

So, I am embarking on rewrite number… lord only knows what number I’m up to! Hopefully this version of my manuscript won’t take me the five years the previous versions did.

A Link to the Past

I’ve written here and elsewhere, about family before and, no doubt, I will write about it again. But this week’s post is about a very special member of my family, my father’s family, our family; my cousin Wolf. Wolf passed away last week, with his wife and children next to him and I imagine it is how he would have chosen to leave this world if he could have had a choice.

I first met Wolf in 1987 when I went to Europe with my then husband. Not only is Wolf a cousin, albeit distant, he also married one of my first cousins and I was super excited to meet them at last. He was such a gentleman and so knowledgeable about many facets of life. My first cousins are quite a few years older than I am, but both Wolf and his wife Uschi were so welcoming and kind, the difference didn’t seem to matter.

In the years before my father’s death it was Wolf’s letters to him which kept him interested in life. They never met but formed a wonderful friendship through their correspondence. My father was especially interested in the restoration work Wolf had undertaken in the church which had once belonged to my father’s family. The next time I met Wolf was in 2013, several months after my father died, at the first family reunion I attended. He made me feel so comfortable, as did all the family. I was finally part of something.

Wolf was our family’s genealogist. He was the keeper of the family archive, with all the records and stories. He knew practically everything about our family and always thirsted for more information. When I began to research my father’s history he was right there by my side (metaphorically at least). It was Wolf who helped me translate some of the letters and documents I found in my father’s house, and Wolf who contacted the authorities to try to uncover my father’s military past. Without him, I would still be in the dark about so many things.

The last time I saw Wolf was nearly three years ago at their home in Sweden. I visited him and Uschi shortly before I made my first pilgrimage to the former estate of my father’s family, which was in Latvia. I brought Wolf copies of some of the documents my father had left behind. He showed me his study, a room dominated by the many bookshelves which housed much of the information about our family. I wonder what will happen to it now. As I was leaving Wolf gave me the book my father had once given him. A book which had been dear to my father’s heart. It was a teary moment for me.

A week has gone by since Wolf passed away and I can still hardly believe he is gone. It is sometimes difficult to register these sorrowful moments in life when you are geographically at a distance. I’m not sure where I first read that “family is a link to the past and a bridge to our future,” but that was Wolf. He was the link to our family’s past and it will be his genealogical work for our family which will form the bridge to our future. I miss him.

Rule 1: You must leave the house

After publicly announcing my desire to find a partner (see my last post) I’ve done remarkably little about it. I haven’t rejoined any of the dating sites I tried out years ago. I gave up on them when the replies I received came from men who obviously hadn’t read what I was like or looking for. It was too frustrating to continue. Just today I’ve deleted three emails offering me special deals to find that special man.

I’ve been told I should go out more, be more social, meet more people, attend more functions. However, I haven’t taken the advice, and this week I’ve gone directly home from work, stopping only to buy groceries on the way. But where should I go, how do I meet people? These days I don’t want to meet someone who spends his leisure hours in a bar or club. Where do the single men I want to meet hang out?

A part of me still believes in love at first sight, in accidentally being in the same place as the one you are supposed to meet and fall for. It has happened to other people. Apparently Matt Damon saw the woman who would become his wife from across a room and immediately fell in love with her. The same thing happened to Matthew McConaughey when he first saw Camila Alves. So, it can happen, hopefully not just to celebrities. Now it just has to happen to me. I guess I do need to get out though, so I can walk into that room where my future partner will see me, and we will fall in love with each other, at first sight of course.

First, I must find that room. I hope I will find it at a writer’s talk, perhaps at the Wheeler Centre, or during the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, maybe at the State Library. Or it is possible the room could be one of the art galleries I plan to visit. It is not unimaginable that the room could be outdoors, at the beach, on a hot summer’s day. Wherever the room is, I do realise I have to make a move to find it. Sitting at my front window dreaming about it is not going to bring a partner any closer to finding me, or me him.

In the meantime, there are writer’s talks to attend, galleries to view, book launches to go to and plenty of sand on the beaches to walk on.

Looking for a Unicorn

For the last week, in my spare time, I’ve been watching reruns of Sex and the City, which is kind of like visiting an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. After a bit of chit chat, it doesn’t take long before you feel as if you have never been apart. I’d forgotten many of the episodes, Samantha dealing with breast cancer, Miranda looking after Steve’s mother, Charlotte going through IVF and Carrie’s short-lived affair with another writer. Everyday problems which could happen to any of us. In my opinion, that was why the show was so successful. The sex was the glitter sprinkled liberally around what are sometimes difficult issues to discuss and sometimes simple girl talk we all could relate to.

As I watched I couldn’t help but wonder what the girls would have done if, like me, they were single in their fifties. I doubt they would still be doing the rounds of trendy bars and clubs, which are really the territory of the young and nubile. Cafés and restaurants perhaps, but in her late fifties I don’t think even Samantha could bring home any of the young, sexy waiters. And would she want to anyway?

No matter how well you look after yourself, unless you have undergone surgical procedures and filled yourself with Botox, it’s unlikely your body is the same as it was in your twenties or thirties. I shouldn’t generalise, but this is true of my body. Maybe every other fifty something single woman has the same drop dead gorgeous, firm body they had in their youth, but I doubt it. Much of the appeal of the sex in Sex and the City, was the images of intertwined sleek, well-kept bodies. Very few people want to watch wrinkles and saggy flesh jiggling up and down together, in my opinion.

After fourteen years of being single, I’m toying with the idea of finding a partner again. Over a few wines with a friend, I listed the qualities I’m looking for in a man. My friend laughed and suggested I’m looking for a unicorn. Apparently, she doesn’t believe I will be able to find any man around my age who physically looks after himself, and can have an intelligent conversation, and is caring, thoughtful and honest, with a sense of humour as well as being financially secure. Oh, I’d also prefer someone over 6’4” who doesn’t like fishing, camping and the great outdoors. My idea of camping is lazing around the pool at a five-star hotel.

What I’m missing is that small group of close friends who are also single and looking. I don’t have a selection of wing women to choose from. Most of my good friends in Melbourne have partners and are loathe to go out without them. Which leaves me on my own. I have yet to work out where I will begin to look for my unicorn.

According to the 2016 Census, 30% of Melbourne’s population is aged over 50. There are approximately 239,000 males between the ages of 55 – 64 and 254,300 females. That’s not good. However, I’m open to dating a toy boy, which I believe only improves my chances. We shall see.

New Year Resolutions

I have been seriously slack. I have not written anything for this blog for weeks. It isn’t because I haven’t known what to write about. It isn’t that I haven’t had time.

It is because I have not been motivated.

So, what would motivate me now?

The date of course. It is the first day of the new year. The first of January 2018.

I’m not sure what it is but the first day of a new year seems to be the perfect time to be motivated again. In other words, it is the perfect time to make a resolution, to resolve to motivate myself even if I would rather curl up in front of reruns of Sex and the City with a glass of red and a slice of pizza.

Which brings me to my next resolution – to look after myself. So, no more pizza. Or not very often anyway. Red wine is still ok, but in moderation. 2018 will be my year for healthy food, yoga and meditation. Luckily, I enjoy cooking, I’m starting to get better at yoga and meditation is becoming easier.

And I will read more. Lots more. In different genres, genres and authors I wouldn’t necessarily read. I want to challenge myself more.

Writing. I must make sure I sit down to write for at least half an hour a day. Even if I write nothing more than this blog.

That’s it. There’s nothing in my resolutions I can’t manage. Nothing scary.

But what is it about the beginning of a new year which prompts us to make resolutions or start over again? It is just another day in a long line of days, another 24 hours in a year full of hours, most of which we don’t utilise. It can’t be the fireworks of the night before, or the countdown to midnight, if you can manage to stay up that late. I can’t explain it, but I know that the first day of a new year always fills me with promise and hope.

So, let’s see if I can keep my resolutions. By this time next year I hope to be healthier, fitter, well read and the writer of many words.

I found this quote by Edith Pierce, it sums up how I feel, “We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.”

Anthology Launch – A New Beginning

Yesterday the Writing Group I belong to launched their first anthology and one of my stories is in it!

Women Who Write Melbourne is a wonderfully supportive group of over 600 women who are all interested in writing. We have a Facebook page where we can connect and discuss all aspects of writing, and we have regular meet-ups around Melbourne. Our Anthology, titled “A New Beginning”, is made up of short stories, memoir and poetry and was the culmination of many months of hard work by the committee, led expertly by Lee-Ann Hawe, the founder of the group.

Yesterday, together with friends and family, we gathered at Lulu’s Café and Gallery in North Melbourne, to celebrate the result of the hard work. There were plenty of compliments when the books were unveiled, they look fantastic. It wasn’t long before we sold out of copies! But those who missed out shouldn’t be unhappy as the digital version will be released soon.

There were speeches, readings, wine, food, chatter and laughter, but above all there was a sense of achievement. I for one am proud of all the women who contributed to, worked on and supported this anthology. I am proud to be a member of this group. We are proof that no matter how diverse we are, or the differences between us, we can all pull together for a successful outcome.

That’s me, signing copies of our anthology!