A writer’s take on eating alone

Breakfast for one in a cafe—time and place long forgotten

Many people feel dispirited when they eat alone. At least half the fun of good food is sharing with friends or family or — anyone!

Eating alone seems to be particularly difficult for those who are widowed or divorced, at least initially. For years your meals were sociable occasions, and it seems hard to adapt to cooking a single serve, and hard to understand that you still deserve a proper meal. Hard to honour and respect your own needs. Hard to see yourself as good company at mealtimes.

Reading is feeding the brain

Reading was top on the list of restful activities in a recent international survey of 184,000 people. And, for the most part, we read alone: that is a major part of the attraction. Reading is restful because we retreat into our own private world. It’s not a sociable thing, reading.

Kurt Vonnegut says, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

So best to write for a single person who is savouring our book all alone. That solitary reader needs to feel satisfied at the end of the reading meal that we’ve cooked in a single serve.

Being alone may be the key to rest (BBC)

Photo: Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0

The big family get-together


Aaaahhh, it’s Christmas and in New Zealand that means a summer holiday, time to relax, preferably by a beach or pool. For some the holiday involves a big family gathering. We are a huge family and we love our occasional maxi-reunions, but not at Christmas. Then we drift off in different directions for smaller gatherings, which are seldom fraught. And anyone introverted or restless can slide away now and then for a breather.

But for some families, such events are a problem every year. So for all who struggle to cope with the crowd and the ritual, here’s a poem, shared with the permission of poet Adrienne Jansen.

The big family get-together

It’s like swimming in the ocean
when the Titanic has gone down —
trying to keep your head above water,
trying to grab the food drifting past,
trying to think of things to say
when talking about the weather
is not appropriate.

~ (c) Adrienne Jansen

from Keel & Drift (2016) Landing Press
buy the ebook on Kindle
buy the book from independent bookstores in New Zealand or from www.landingpress.wordpress.com



Photo by Keri-Lee Beasley, CC BY-NC 2.0. Athenree Estuary near Waihi, New Zealand

Writing heals: the story of Mrs D

Mrs D is Going Without. Lotta Dann. A memoir

Writing can heal. Some people discover this through therapy (or perhaps an online writing course like Write Over Divorce), and some people make it happen all by themselves.

Lotta Dann was a wife-and-mother with a perfect life and a drinking problem. One day she decided privately, suddenly, independently, urgently, to stop drinking alcohol. She didn’t seek help or join AA or go to rehab or tell a friend or consult a doctor. This enormous decision was her little secret.

Lotta did just one thing besides decide: she started a daily blog to document her first year of not-drinking, and called it Mrs D is going without. And that one spontaneous act became an extraordinary source of strength.

How blogging about sobriety helped Mrs D

Right from the start:

  • by recording her decision, she made it visible and impossible to deny
  • writing helped her to confront one day at a time without getting overwhelmed
  • she could encourage herself and remind herself of why she had stopped
  • blogging daily imposed a daily discipline
  • writing enabled her to explore and express a torrent of ideas and feelings.

Then something happened that surprised Mrs D: other people found her blog. An online community sprang up around her. Other people seemed to be experiencing her struggle vicariously, began to support her — and in a way, to depend on her. She had started alone, but now she was far from alone in her battle for sobriety.

How Mrs D now helps other recovering alcoholics

I’ve read the book of the blog and it’s a brave, vulnerable and honest story.

I salute Lotta Dann for her courage. I am amazed at the way she has used writing as therapy, meditation, cognitive training and human support.

She now uses her wisdom to help others online and elsewhere.

Poems hiding in the woods and under the bed


Hey, I write poems, you know. (Maybe you write poems too.)

Somewhere a poet
is cleaning a bathroom.
Somewhere a cleaner
is writing a poem.

If you like this blog for any reason at all, you may well enjoy the poems on my other blog, Poems in the wild

I adore having this outlet for poems old and new. I adore taking or selecting a photo that ridiculously contradicts or sweetly complements the poem. I kind of like it being almost a secret, but as it’s the gifting season, I offer you the URL. Take a peek. You might enjoy this other side of Rachel.

Poems in the wild: https://aybrow.wordpress.com/

When writers read: surreptitious analysis


Writing a book? Then read. Writing is an impeccable excuse for reading. And reading is a time-honoured strategy for improving your writing.

Stephen King says:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

You’d better believe it. He isn’t just talking about books for writers, either. Whatever you read can help you to raise your sights and raise your game.

A writer reads for pleasure, like anyone else, but every now and then the critical factor clicks into action.

The process of surreptitious analysis is personal, eccentric, subconscious. You notice things that are just what you need at the time.

For example, you might think, “I skipped that paragraph—why?” Or “I see, they put an asterisk when the point of view changes…”  or “So every chapter has a title, not just a number. What effect does that have?”

Joy of reading: joy of writing

I’ve found that surreptitious analysis happens mainly when I am actually in the process of writing something. I guess it happens because you are writing and are therefore super-receptive. Some of these accidental insights are truly exciting, shifting your vision or boosting your skills in one stroke. Reading becomes even more rewarding.

On other occasions, the analysis is deliberate, not subconscious. I’ll suddenly stall when I’m puzzled by a technical detail—reach out for another novel and flick through it. To solve my current problem almost any novel will do, from the simplest little romance to War and Peace, and preferably both.

I think the reading fix is common among writers. As a research method it is quick and easy and intuitive. Another novel usually solves your problem much more quickly than a book about writing: it shows you what to do instead of telling you…


My first video course: Write Over Divorce

Write Over Divorce: banish the pain with a pen

For months and months I have been working on my very first video course for Write Into Life. Topic: Write Over Divorce — how to get over the lingering pain of a broken relationship in three weeks simply by working through a series of writing exercises.

Now the course is ready! It’s public! It’s available! This is an advertisement for something I’m offering free to 20 followers of this blog. You are the first to know, because the course is close to my heart and yet I feel pretty darned nervous about showing it to anyone at all, let alone the world. I’m hoping you might view it with some understanding of my aims.

I’m also favouring you, my blog friends, because I’m a beginner. That is, I’m a very experienced online instructor, having taught writing online in a different way to over 5,000 people in the last ten years. However, I’m not at all sure how the scenario evolves from now — what I’ll have to do as an instructor at Udemy, the online learning site that I have joined, or how these coupons work.

Why write over divorce?

For my first course in this new-to-me format, I deliberately chose a topic that I imagine nobody would ever want to do, a unique (crazy) topic which would allow me to quietly learn all the things I have to learn about creating a video course.

So far, so good. The course is not technically perfect: I know that. But I have learned heaps about lighting, recording, sound quality, and video editing. And I’m proud of my unique content, which walks you quietly through three stages of healing and growth, from heartache of divorce to a more optimistic and realistic frame of mind — happiness.

Check out the curriculum and sample 3 free lectures. If you feel this brand new online course is what you need, be among the first to do it. I’m offering it free to 20 people who read this blog post in December 2016.

Free coupon: click this link to Write Over Divorce

Because you have clicked this particular link, the price will show as $0, in other words, FREE. (People finding the course from any other source would see the regular price of $40.) When 20 people have enrolled, the price reverts to $40 (still a bargain).

And please, if anything puzzles you, let me know!

Yours in some trepidation


Feeling old? a counter-intuitive prescription

I was old again for a couple of months this year, and then I stopped.

Old age started abruptly, out of the blue. I began feeling tired every day and worrying in a boring way about a work overload. Something was wrong.

One day I had been reading after lunch in the sun. Then it was time to get back to work.

But no. I felt tired—again. Tired? How daft was that? I’d already been resting like a dear old Methuselah for the last half hour or more.

I drew the logical conclusion, or so I thought: maybe it’s time I began to work less, relax more. So I stayed in the chair and read another chapter.(A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a fascinating book with an onion of a story, hard to stop reading. It’s Anthony Marra’s first novel, set in Chechnya, 2004.) By the time I finished, my hands were shaking: I was more tired, not less.

Off to the GP to be diagnosed with a harmless little condition that is, I’m told, almost universal after a certain age: postural hypotension.

Life tips for myself

  • Don’t stay too long in the same position, whether lying, sitting or standing.
  • Drink enough water and not too many coffees.
  • And when you feel tired, don’t just sit there — move!  Get that blood pumping again.

Knowledge is power. Now I know what to do, I don’t get so tired. I’m back to normal, which is full of beans. Work overload? Bring it on. That’s normal too, and no reason to worry.