I only know where a country is if I’m planning to visit it, and I retain the information for about five minutes. My friend Megan got top marks in geography at university. Twice. She can yack on for hours about cloud formations and the movement of sand along a shore. I try not to let my eyes glaze over. I like to gaze skywards as much as the next person – especially if the clouds are pink and fluffy and maybe have cute little sunbeams emanating from them – but I don’t really care if they’re cirrus or cumulonimbus.
I am a recently separated sixty year old male with a sixteen year old daughter who lives partly with me and partly with her mother. I have dipped my toes in the dating scene and found things going swimmingly until I mention my daughter and then suddenly found that things have gone frosty.
The first in our new Dear DIY Woman series, in response to a question from one of our regular readers.
Dear DIY Woman,
Any suggestions about how to stay connected to young adult children? It feels like obligation to family is out of style, or is that just me seeing it from the other side now? Are freedom and connection binary opposites?
On 25 April 2015, I left Australian shores for rural France.
I chose the date – Anzac Day – on a whim, a symbolic recognition of the culmination of a lifelong dream to run away to France. I made 25-4 my suitcase pin number. For six months, I house-sat my way from Normandy to Provence, mostly on my own, and lived like a local.
The raspberry canes in the vegetable patch yielded masses of delicious berries from July through to September. I would come up from the garden with my mouth and fingers stained deep crimson – ‘crushed raspberry’ – and my bowl full to overflowing with garden produce.
From my table at the window I look out at a Sunday market in the tiny Place Lino Ventura. A full length mirror is placed outside a clothes stall directly in my line of vision. A middle aged woman trying on a leopardskin coat transforms before my eyes. She swings it this way and that, coming alive in front of the looking glass. She isn’t thinking about the shopping, the cooking or the week ahead. She is suddenly radiant in the light Parisian drizzle, imagining where such a coat might take her.
I have never been especially keen on the idea of being a grandmother.
Periodically my children would threaten me with it just for fun. I’m way too young, I’d say. Turns out I’m not as young as I thought. Or as immune to the lure of a newborn: first born of my firstborn, unwitting trailblazer of a new generation of my family, tiny repository of untold hopes and dreams.
My father used to like his hot drinks hot and his cold drinks cold.
He preferred his soup to be at palate-blistering temperatures well beyond normal human tolerance. But that was the way he liked it and that was the way it was served up to him. No skin off anyone’s nose – the roof of Dad’s mouth was the only potential victim here.
It’s the kind of milestone that attracts commiserations rather than congratulations. I don’t see it that way. I held a Sunset Soiree between the senior-friendly hours of 5pm and 9pm to watch the sun set on my youth.
I came across this sentence the other day while looking up material for my ‘gap year’ memoir. It was in an email I had sent to a friend in February 2015. I didn’t know it then, but it marked the start of my career as an occasional compiler of funeral music. Occasional as in ‘infrequent’. Funeral music is always ‘occasional’ in the other sense.
It’s not the first time I’ve done this. During my two years in the emotional wilderness following my separation, I regularly cried in front of people I’d only just met. Real estate agents, bank managers, municipal officers, shop assistants—no one was safe. Some of them – the consequential strangers – made a lasting difference to my life.
No matter the size of a family, the role of each of its members will be unique.
If the firstborn is a dictator, the second will be something else. Once a job description has been filled, another must be created. One might be the high achiever, the next might be the peace-maker and so on. I was the third of five children; the good girl; the little sister who knew her place; the older sister who indulged her younger brothers; the good student who wanted to do well. Let’s face it – I was the pleaser. My twin desires to do well and to please instilled in me a rather suspect work ethic. Combined with my ‘look at moy’ attitude, I must have driven my school friends crazy.
It would seem Harvey Weinstein has left a trail of destruction in his wake following the revelations of his unbridled sexual predation. Survivors are coming out of the woodwork at such a rate of knots there is nowhere for Weinstein to go except therapy and – possibly – gaol.
Forming new relationships after a long period of being single can be hard enough without jumping into co-habitation. Living full-time with your new partner’s children, pets and habits takes some adjustment for both of you. Fear not: Apartners are the latest trending alternative to live-in lovers.
Friendships – like gardens – require time, effort, the occasional bit of pruning, and boundless love.
The harvest you reap will sustain you throughout bountiful spring times and miserable winters. Luckily for me, my garden has been lovingly tended and has produced the best assortment of flowers a girl could wish for.
For some separating couples, the prospect of no more Sunday dinners at the inlaws is almost enough to make up for the pain of separation.
Not so for the lucky ones among us who count the family we partnered into as friends. Harper Lee could have been talking about ex inlaws in this passage from To kill a mockingbird:
‘Atticus says you can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.’
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, a single woman who knew a lot about semantics.
In her day, Jane Austen would have been described as a Spinster (gasp!) or worse, Old Maid (smelling salts!). In recent times, her unfortunate marital status may have been softened to Unclaimed Treasure.
Despite this, it cannot be denied the woman knew quite a lot about love.
This story –the result of a writing exercise – illustrates the connection sometimes made through a chance encounter between people of good will. My thanks to Camino conqueror Pat Boxall for coming up with it.
On a crowded Sunday afternoon at the Brunswick Heads hotel, you’re lucky to find a surface to put your beer, let alone your backside.
An unexpected detour during a six month stay in France links three generations of my family to a village in the Somme.
On Anzac Day 2015, I left Australian shores for six months travelling solo in France. Unlike my grandfather a century before, I wasn’t destined for the muddy fields of the Somme. My destination was another part of rural France altogether – Cinais in the Loire – the first of a series of housesits courtesy of a housesitting website called MindMyHouse.
A cautionary tale of superannuation, mortgages and sharks.
A year or so after I’d taken on a mortgage, I got a call from a financial adviser— let’s call him Ken—who said he was affiliated with my bank. He offered me a free consultation to look at ways I could make my money work better for me. How timely! I collected my paperwork and arrived at the bank at 5pm the following day.
There has to be an alternative to doing time on the slush pile on the rocky road to becoming a published author.
I’ve already likened my passion for writing to the urge to reproduce. I could say the same of my relentless pursuit of a publishing deal. I am guilty of every crime in the self-promotion book. Schmoozing. Pitching at a minute’s notice. Imposing on the goodwill of strangers. It’s a litany of misdemeanours.
The past two years have been the best I can remember.
I have consummated my passion for France and my passion for writing in one 24 month period. First I ran away to France for six months. Then I applied for the professional writing course of my dreams. Then I got in! I’m more than halfway through and I never want it to end. This story was first published in the February/March issue of The Victorian Writer. David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, once said:
people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. Continue reading →
A classic DIY tale of fixing something that’s been broken.
An edited version of this story first appeared as ‘Not Drowning, Waving’ in The Big Issue in December 2016.
On the second Saturday of every new year, the waters around Lorne heave and churn like a deep fryer of boiling oil with a wire basket-load of chips tossed onto its surface. People pay money to be one of those chips.
The Lorne Pier-to-Pub is the world’s biggest ocean swim race with entries now capped at 5000.
The race has been going for thirty-six years. Organisers introduced a ballot system after 2008, when all available places sold out on the first day of registration.
The car crash that left me with a sardine-can car and a broken neck happened seven years ago. I thought I had avoided cameras for the three months I was in that Minerva brace. Until this photo arrived in my inbox —–>
It happened just this afternoon in Seuilly. Yes that’s Seuilly. France. Two days ago I moved from one slice of French paradise to another just five minutes down the road. My current abode is a light-filled self-contained apartment off the beaten track with a view to die for and a cute little bakery van that drops in twice a week with a fresh baguette.It is the perfect setting for a runaway writer except for just one thing: no wifi…
We used to laugh a lot…. My oldest friend Lindy and I were always best friends at school, and little has changed. We still act like 17 year olds in each other’s company and have a language that no one else in the world understands. With a word or a look we can set each other off – into gales of laughter or on a trip down our own long memory lane. Continue reading →
It was only when I heard the talk back caller announce that she was a white witch that I gave the radio my full attention.
Transfixed, I listened to her sing the praises of her car parking goddess Asphaltia, who never failed to provide her with a parking spot whenever called upon to do so. The only proviso was that the Benefactress must be thanked, and that the lucky recipient of Her bounty must attribute the procurement of the parking space to Her, and not to Luck. To do otherwise would be considered ungrateful, and the driver an unworthy candidate for future good parking deeds.
The unbridled enthusiasm of the caller transcended the airwaves, and found its way into this cynical heart. I resolved to give it a try next time I went shopping. And lo! It came to pass. Not just once, but again and again. And never once did I fail to thank Asphaltia for her intervention. Buoyed by my success, I shared the secret with my children. Continue reading →
It’s human to have a secret, but it’s just as human to reveal it sooner or later.
― Philip Roth
I used to think baring one’s soul was a by-product of being a writer.
And maybe it is. But not all writers are secret-sharers. I know writers who are keen observers of humankind but prefer to remain unobserved themselves. I admire them but can’t emulate them. Such people do well not to let me into their secrets. For while I’m a great sharer of my own, I’m a reluctant holder of others’.