Why writing about the past helps our future.

This post is a strange mixture of topics, but they hang together by a common thread of memories. Read on and you will discover the relevance of the photo of delicious koeksisters, what they are and the story behind them.


South African koeksisters (photo D. Gavin)


Writing is hard work, but it is worth the effort and I find it incredibly rewarding. I have written before of my goal of finishing my book before the end of the year and how I get up at 5:30 am and write a minimum of 1000 words every weekday morning. I have to confess that I have overslept after three late nights, but only missed one morning of writing since 23 June when I made the commitment to finish the book. The activity is becoming a habit and easier to stick to.

My plan of action is to just write until the book is finished, then edit, correct and improve it before publishing. I know that if I fiddle with it and try to make each chapter perfect, I will never finish it. That means that I will write many more than the 100 000 words needed for the planned book. I am already up to 55 000 words since I re-started and 78 000 in total.

The book is the story of my experiences in Africa, it’s the story of my life. Parts of the story provide material for my speeches and serve as examples in my work helping people overcome adversity.

What I have discovered is that writing about events from many years ago, reminds me of the successes I have achieved and failures I have survived. Memories of small, long-forgotten triumphs are triggered by writing about other things that happened at similar times. It ‘s a good reminder that I have achieved worthwhile goals in the past and an assurance that I will again.

As importantly, it puts failures and times of extreme adversity into perspective. I recovered from the failures and survived some bad experiences, some that I did not know if I would survive at the time. It puts my current life in perspective and makes me realise that any problems I may have now are trivial irritations compared to some that I overcame in the past.

Writing about your life can be good medicine. Take comfort from the successes and recognise the strength you found to conquer the challenges, try it, it will do you more good than watching the depressing news on TV.

By publishing a photo of food, I feel as if I am encroaching on Roberta of MoreThymeThanDough fame’s topic, no encroachment is intended.

Yesterday I went to a Public Speakers Association meeting in Kitchener. I sat next to another former South African, Denise Gavin, who I had met previously. As before I was entranced by her accent. Immediate nostalgia. Denise and her husband have a computer software business. They have recently started a new venture, making traditional South African baked snacks. One of the most popular is the koeksister. I am hopeless at trying to describe recipes, the best description I can offer is that it is like two rolls of doughnut type dough plaited together and baked. Crispy on the outside, soft inside, sticky and sweet, delicious.

Denise had brought samples to the meeting, while we were having coffee, she offered me one to try. As I bit into it, I was transported back in time over 20 years, to when I lived in South Africa and after that in Zimbabwe. The taste and the aroma of the koeksister brought back vivid images of bakeries where I would buy them, restaurants in malls where I would sometimes stop for a coffee or tea. It reminded me of walking into friend’s houses and inhaling the aroma of traditional Afrikaans cooking. Of buying them at Polo-Crosse tournaments, eating them while watching a game, getting my fingers sticky and then licking the last of the syrup off them. All those memories flashed through my brain while I was savouring the first bite. Pure Magic.

The experience was so intense that it brought tears to my eyes, and I always thought I was an unemotional old male.

With a clever and memorable play on words, the business is called The Cook Sista, click on the link to find out more.

If you want to remind your self how great you really are, reflect on your past successes, your triumphs, recognise that you have overcome setbacks and challenges. Even better write about them in a journal or start a blog. To add to the experience eat a snack that you haven’t eaten for years, you will be amazed at how it brings back good memories.

If you live in South West Ontario, contact Denise through her website and find out where you can get her koeksisters, you will enjoy them.




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  2 comments for “Why writing about the past helps our future.

  1. Roberta
    August 22, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    What a wonderful blog post on so many different levels.

    First of all the koeksisters remind me so much of my Hungarian grandmother and the donuts she used to make fort my brothers and me when very young. They looked just like what she made, except she made them from one roll of dough and then twisted them.. For some reason none of us can remember any more, we called these donuts, ‘birdies.’ I guess we thought they looked like birds.

    Those donuts were so delicious still hot after frying in the fat and some powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Sweet memories are the best.

    Yes, we have all survived down times and bad things that have happened to us. And yes, those times have – or can – make you stronger and better.

    I like the idea of writing them down. I think I am going to begin doing that. Not for publication. But just for me.

    I am a survivor. That is why I like the Gloria Gaynor pop song – I Will Survive. When I hear it on the radio I sing loudly out loud – and off key – because it reminds me that no matter what I will survive because I have already survived the worst and gone on to over come and risen way higher than before.

    I look forward to your book. I will be the first to buy it.

    • August 26, 2014 at 11:22 am

      Isn’t it amazing how reminders of food can stir up such powerful memories from childhood.

      The other advantage of writing about the past even if you just do it for yourself, is that it gives you more material to create blog posts.

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