Dueling with a Four-Year-Old

Dueling with a Four-Year-Old

There is a world, a ‘place of tomorrow,’ Kahlil Gibran writes, in which our children’s souls dwell, which ‘we cannot visit, not even in our dreams.’ That world of fairies and elves my daughter inhabits is a familiar, beckoning place. I delight in her lilting musings about their whereabouts and wardrobes, her wonderment at dust particles caught in sunlight, her vain attempts to keep awake to catch a glimpse of the tooth fairy at work. I mean, how offensive really, is the idea of tiny mercurial winged incarnations mischievously going about their business of harvesting milk teeth and glittering the world?

But there is a place in which my son’s soul dwells – and that is another matter altogether. It is a world shrouded in Japanese secret culture. A world based on an ancient Egyptian fighting game. In this world, my son, would you believe, is a Master. So he tells me. A Yugi-Oh Master. And he is only 4.

Yugi-Who?

‘Yugi-Oh,’ Mum, he sighs impatiently, shuffling his deck.

With a handful of cards, frayed from months of being clutched in grubby paws, streaked with the odd trace of peanut butter and salami grease, my son – that tantrum-wielding, two legged, accident-about-to-happen irrational scrap of maleness – is transformed into a self-possessed, wily and secretly knowledgeable warrior.

The skill of the Yugi-Oh master is as prized as the mystery of the ancient Millennium Puzzle. And somehow, my son is part of the cult dedicated to possessing both. I do not know how it happened. One day he was belting out ‘Bob the Builder, can we fix it, yes we can!’ and the next, he had become a hustler. A dealer. Speaker of a code. Joey Wheeler. Yami Yugi. Seto Kaiba.

Apparently one of the children at his kindy who has an older brother gave him a Yugi-Oh card. Just one card. And a terrible monster was born.

Consider that, despite having been told a few hundred times, he cannot remember to flush and wash, and yet, though unable to read, he will unfailingly recite the full name of every single card in his deck of 80-or so cards. And mind you, the names have not been designed with a four-year old’s slight lisp and semantic ignorance in mind. Forget ‘Tinky-Winky’, ‘Dipsy’, ‘Laa-laa’ and ‘Po.’ No. Try ‘Helios Pterosaur,’ ‘Ryu Kishin Powered,’ or ‘Darkly Big Rabbi.’ Try ‘Mobile Castle Alive Cogwheels with Gear Golem.’ Or ‘QJ Dragon of Cyan Eye.’ Or ‘Polymerization.’ ‘Humanoid Worm Drake.’ ’Nobleman of Extermination.’ ‘Rabid Horseman.’ He rattles these off with the same deft proficiency as the rhymes from Cat in the Hat and with the blurry indistinct enunciation of a little person’s tongue.

The images on the cards are nightmarish. Ghouls, monsters, boars, fierce and furious beasts. My personal worst is ‘Ultimate Sacrifice,’ with someone’s head being cut off, resplendent with exaggerated gushes of blood in gory Japanese comic book style.

Okay, I won the ‘no-guns-in-our-house’ battle. I would even go so far as to say I am close to victory on the ‘we-don’t-torture-the-cat’ battle. Time will tell whether or not I have succeeded in the ‘war-is-evil’ indoctrination. But somehow, under my very nose, these evil, wicked, ugly, violent (my words), cool, powerful, magical (his words) cards have found their way into our home, and into his heart. I have to reign in every shred of my instinct that wants to say, ‘You cannot have them.’ They are his beloved cards, and with them in his hand, he is The Man. How can I deny him?

‘Let’s dool,’ he instructs me.

And so duel we do.

I sit opposite him and wait to be handed my deck of cards. Somehow he always manages to manipulate events so that – as if by sheer luck – all the dragons, the block attacks and the other powerful cards end up in his deck, not mine. I can never win.

Not that I would know how.

We sit facing each other. I follow his lead.

‘I meet you with Mystical Elf.’

I nod solemnly and turn over a card.

‘Yes, and I have Trap Hole.’

‘As you wish,’ he says. ‘Now prepare to meet your doom,’ and he turns over Uraby. ‘It’s all over for you,’ he reflects.

In a few cards time, he has unilaterally consigned a number of my cards to The Graveyard.

‘Good dooling, mum,’ he says. ‘Better luck next time.’ And off he saunters to wallow in yet another victory.

I want to hold him from ugliness, keep him innocent just that little bit longer, before he releases my hand and dissolves into the crowd of his peers, into a tyrannized world at the mercy of media, misguided politicians, the price of oil and terrorism. But I watch over him, even from a distance. And from there I observe that the four corners of his life are ruled by the artistic creations of Japanese cartoonist Kazuki Takahashi who began to draw the Yugi-oh series in 1996 following a weekly comic series. My son’s soul and pocket are owned by Konami, the same Japanese company that marketed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What chance do I have?

I log onto the internet to find out more. What is Yugi-Oh?

It means literally, ‘King of Games,’ and he is king who can use his fighting monsters each with different abilities and traits to defeat his opponent. Skill and strategy determine the outcome (forget Pokemon, a game of collecting and training a set of rather cute little monsters – that’s way too tame). In Yugi-Oh, each monster has a number of attack and defence points as well as an attribute: earth, water, wind, light, dark and fire. Each has a strength depicted by the number of stars on the card. Some monsters can fuse together to create a new and more powerful monster. Some monsters have magical effects – either by making monsters stronger or weaker, or by altering the conditions of the battle field. Dueling is regulated by a strict code of conduct: declaration of a move in a loud, clear voice before play; truthful answers to opponents questions about cards in your graveyard and an injunction against touching an opponents’ card without asking permission. Somehow, my son has absorbed this complex world of a war waged with a deck of cards, and like a language it has seeped into his pores, and become his interpretive grammar.

On the Yugi-Oh website is a page called The Parents Guide to Yugi-Oh. Included there are questions like: is the content appropriate for my child? Is it a good use of my child’s money and time? Is there any educational value in these cards?

The answers are surprisingly candid: the content of some of the cards may be ‘a bit racy’ and ‘may include concepts that might not be appropriate for some children.’ And ‘we do not think it a great idea to have your children spend every waking hour doing any one thing…’ and ‘..overall, its value as an educational toy is probably minimal.’

I’ve done the research, and I’m still none the wiser and still a pretty lousy dueler. I’m not convinced it’s good for my son, it may even be bad for him. All I know, is that a secret contest was raging for my son’s soul, and Yugi got there first. I have to accept defeat.

I am not a gracious loser. I take a strategic approach: there must be something in it for me. Yugi-Oh is now part of my arsenal. I can get my son to do just about anything with the threat of Yugi-Oh deprivation or a reward of new Yugi-Oh cards. And holy yami-yugi, they now make Yugi-Oh toothbrushes, and so endeth the battle of Getting-Teeth-Brushed. I’m thinking of starting a campaign for Yugi-Oh sunblock (a Block Attack against Ultra-Violet Poison), Yugi-oh branded broccoli (Anti-oxidant Defence against Microscopic Cell Destroyers) and Yugi-oh bubble-bath (Soap Attack to strip Dirt Invaders from Hard-To-Reach Places).

If there’s anything I’ve learned from Yugi, it’s that sometimes, a sacrifice is the only way to transform into an unbeatable monster.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Good lord, it is two days to my 50th birthday. I am not ready to own such a majestic number, never mind have to blow out that many birthday candles. Also, it means I have to stop ‘turning’ 50 and just be 50.

I have literally devoted my entire 49th year to getting to this birthday, and there’s something about the anticipation that is devotional and romantic as opposed to the actual attainment which is often something of a let-down.

On my 49th birthday, I decided to spend the whole year ‘turning’ 50. I could feel the pivot, the angling away from youth, even motherhood, vanity certainly, consumerism, excesses, and the internal curving towards the second half of life, though in reality, I have absolutely no plans to live to 100, so it is more like the last third.roses | Joanne Fedler

I do not wish my children gone, though they are leaving me in all kinds of ways. I do wish my periods gone. I am so damn ready for menopause to settle me down – I have plans for what I’ll spend my monthly tampon budget on and they involve roses – the blended kind.

Over the past few years, I’ve become sick with possessions. The books, the scatter cushions, the niknaks, the overstuffed wardrobe (when in reality, I always wear the same few items over and over again). I have dozens of fancy outfits for occasions that by now, I know will never come – red carpet affairs, fancy dinners, celebrity events (which, by the way, I only tolerate in my imagination and detest in reality).

Four holidays in a campervan with Zed over the past years have switched me on to the lightness of being that comes with owning next to nothing: two sundresses (one to wear, one to wash), a pair of sandals, a sunhat. The peace of dispossession. The clarity of thought and emotion clutter disrupts.

I got a professional declutterer in who, over a period of two full days, helped me go through every cupboard, every item I have bought, collected and hoarded. She asked me hard questions like, ‘does this object bring you joy?’ and ‘why are you holding on to the past?’ As a result, I got rid of at least 40 percent of everything. I was shattered with exhaustion by the end of it all, but felt like I’d just had a colonoscopy of my entire consumerist existence.

On my 49th birthday, I made a list of everyone who has made a difference in my life and decided to track them down and write a letter of gratitude to them. I opted not to send emails. Despite my love affair with keyboards and the time I’ve spent in front of computer screens, I still keep a journal. I love stationary and who, to this day, doesn’t love to receive a letter in the post? I bought expensive, beautiful, handmade paper and envelopes.

There’s an intimacy when a letter is penned by someone’s hand. I write more slowly by hand than I type, and I wanted slow. I also wanted no record of the letter. I wanted it to be a one-off; that once it left my hands, I would entrust it to the ether, the postal system, the forces that be. And how I was rewarded with this. Recipients were overwhelmed – some had no idea how they’d impacted on my life.

The Turning | Joanne FedlerI have just now finished the last of the 81 letters. I feel utterly replete and complete.

For the past few years, I’ve been toying with the idea of a Vision Quest to mark my 50th birthday. To this end, I’ve been having sessions with a spiritual mentor to help prepare me mentally because the thought of spending 4 days without food (only water) out in the bush, alone with just the spiders and the snakes and the sky and the trees, actually makes me want to vomit. But I’ve begun to appreciate how all the activities that inspire nausea in me, are precisely the ones I still have to tick off on my ‘TO-DO-BEFORE-I-DIE’ list, even though I have spent a lot of time with my back turned against this knowledge. Perhaps I’ll conquer this in the coming year.

I collated and produced a book of poetry, The Turning: Poems from my life on my 50th birthday which needed a publisher, so I… ahem… became a publisher. I will give away copies to all my friends and family and anyone else who cares enough to want 50 TMI insights into my life.

I have opted for no party – just an intimate ritual with my absolute closest circle of friends and family where I will light 50 lanterns and give thanks for this life and the people who love me. Lantern | Joanne Fedler

When Thursday dawns, I’ll be down at the beach doing a sunrise yoga class with one of my favourite yoga teachers (if the forecast is wrong and it doesn’t rain) and I will probably get into the ocean, which I will hate but has to be done.

I want for 24 hours to be, in Mary Oliver’s words, ‘a bride, married to amazement.’

I will remember my friend Emma, who left when she was 35 and never got to be 50. I will think of my late grandparents – the ones I knew and the ones I never knew. I will think of my late nanny Violet who fiercely protected me – from nightmares and foolishness. I will miss my family and friends who are far away. But my sister Carolyn arrived over the weekend and we have already started the festivities.

I am giddy with excitement and gratitude for this chance to grow another year older. What a gift.

Thank you all for being part of my journey so far.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

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How to Avoid These Mistakes When You Start Writing

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But I see aspiring authors stumble over the same mistakes:

  1. Thinking there’s nothing to it.
    Even if we have the most riveting story in the world, have overcome the worst illnesses or suffering or have a never-before-been-done idea for a plot, a book isn’t finished until it’s written. So until you’ve sat in front of your computer until your eyeballs sweat, we can’t really have a conversation about getting published. We all have to pay our dues and put in those 10,000 hours. The time we spent actually putting words on the page is as important as the years we’ve invested in honing our craft, reading and working our words. Writing a book is a big job. Not everyone can pull it off.
  2. Thinking it’s impossible.
    On the other hand, believing you can’t do it before you’ve even given it a chance is equally self-defeating. It’s hard, but it’s not impossible. The challenges along the way weed out the fainthearted and the opportunists. I truly believe that those who hold their passion and focus around their book will eventually get published. Don’t let fear of failure decide your fate.
  3. Underestimating how much time it’s going to take: some people can write a book in a few months.
    Some people tell me they’ve written a book in a few weeks. I take two years to write a book — and that’s when I’m doing it full time. (My first novel took 10 years, but I was doing it as a hobby back then.) Give yourself time to write your book. It’s not a blog post. It’s a container for the depth, breadth and courage of all that you are expressed in words. The best books are richly conceived—the reader can feel the time, effort and thought that has gone into it.
  4. Not getting feedback or investing in mentoring, workshops or manuscript assessments.
    Our manuscripts need many eyes, many voices, many hands to help us get it over the final draft line. Invest in the best professional help you can.
  5. Not understanding that a first draft is the toddler version of your final manuscript.
    It has a long way to go; and it needs direction, education, love, support, nutrition, discipline and a lot of time to grow up. Find the best people to help you raise your book into adulthood.
  6. Not breaking the immense task down into small, bite-sized chunks.
    You aren’t a python, you don’t need to swallow the thing whole—you don’t need to know how your book ends, or even what will happen. You just need to start it. And keep working away at it, scene by scene, or chapter by chapter. Shawshank it. You can tunnel your way out of a maximum-security prison one pocketful of dirt at a time.
Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Books That Made a Difference in My Life

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How books and reading shaped my life:

My father, who is a cartoonist, used to tell us stories when we were little and then he would draw the most astonishing pictures for my sisters and I to colour in. Every now and then I would attempt to draw the stories in my head, but invariably, I was disappointed with what came out of my pen. In my imagination, the princess was always more beautiful, the fairyland more magical, and the prince, so much handsomer.

When I was in my early teens, my father introduced me to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood, a play for voices. I became enchanted with language. I loved the way words could paint pictures for me and how thrilling a sentence like, ‘It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched courters’-and-rabbits wood limping invisibly down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea,’ could be in the mouth, to the ear. Words became my pictures. They never disappointed me. In fact, words enhanced the beauty of my princesses, fairylands and princes. And pain could be parsed out on neat lines, contained.

All through my childhood I wrote stories and poems and at 16 started keeping a journal. In Standard 9, I had a wonderful eccentric English teacher who wrote on an essay I handed in on Loneliness (about my sister’s hearing impairment) that it was ‘too good to give a mark, but since she was forced to, she had to give it 100%.’ She believed in me when I was just a pipsqueak, who used too many adjectives and tended to overkill anything I was writing. When The Dreamcloth, my first novel came out, I tracked her down and sent her a copy in which she is mentioned in the acknowledgments. Today she is my greatest fan, and when I write, I often think of her as my audience.

At university, I studied both English and African literature and fell in love with Emily Bronte and Olive Schreiner. I also studied literary theory where I learned that how a story is told is sometimes more important that the story itself; that, in Yeat’s words, there is a mysterious connection between ‘the dancer and the dance.’

The books:

1. The Old Testament: some of the first stories I ever heard were Noah’s Ark, Isaac on the altar, Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt – I studied the Old Testament in school in the original Hebrew, and only as an adult did I come to appreciate the Bible for what it is – a collection of marvelous stories about fascinating and flawed characters. Bible stories are metaphors, which work at many levels – emotional, spiritual and psychological. When I write, I get excited whenever I figure out ways in which things become containers for deeper meaning – roses for revenge; cigarillo stubs for infidelity, artichokes for motherhood…

2. Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume is a journey through three stories that interlink – one of which is about King Alobar who must stay eternally young or else he will be executed. Tom Robbins uses language as a playground for the imagination. He grabs the reader with a first sentence like “The beet is the most intense of vegetables.” At 19, I wrote to Tom Robbins, who actually wrote back – I still have that letter.

3. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is, in my opinion, the most beautiful book ever written. I adore all her work (especially Sula), but Beloved is the book that made me want to write. It asks a lot of the reader – Morrison does not invite you in easily. But like a lover you have to seduce with great patience, when you’re finally in the embrace of her narrative, you never want the moment to end. I read Beloved like a poem – slowly and over and over again. At the end I said, ‘I want to write a book that will do to people what this book did to me.’ I keep my well-thumbed copy of Beloved on my desk as a touchstone of everything literature can embody. From Morrison I have learned that if you are going to write, write something that matters. And with a kind of unbearable beauty that is spatial, sculptural. Make your words places readers return to.

4. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love is a first person narrative in which the author spent a year in Italy, India and Indonesia, learning how to eat, pray and love respectively. It is a spiritual voyage, exquisitely written, full of insights and emotional courage. Gilbert has taught me that good writing is brave and authentic; that self-reflection is enlarged in the sharing. And that eating is sublime.

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (a miraculous achievement) is about the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl, who looks down from heaven as her family comes to terms with her death. I am in awe at how Sebold has turned an unspeakable topic (I started the book four times before I could actually get past the first chapter) into a curiously uplifting tale about how the living must let go of those they have lost and how the dead must also let go of the living. My next book tackles a similarly uncomfortable topic, and I will rewrite it a hundred times so that readers will want to continue reading when every sensibility is shrieking for them to put the book down. When it comes to the seemingly impossible task of transforming what breaks the heart into a container of hope, Sebold is my guru.

6. Lines from the poetry of 16th century Sufi poet Rumi like: ‘lovers don’t finally meet somewhere / they’re in each other all along,’ give me shivers. When I am feeling creatively bereft, I open Rumi. I read a lot of poetry – Yehudah Amichai, Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnel, Yeats, Adrienne Rich. Poetry nourishes my creativity with one perfect little parcel of words. If people read more poetry, I suspect the world would be a slower, and more patient place where people invested time in understanding meaning rather than the minimal expectations of ‘entertainment’ that require zero effort.

7. AA Milne’s Winnie The Pooh is a children’s story that I have enjoyed more and more as an adult. When you write, you learn that story comes from character. AA Milne has created some of the most finely conceived, emotionally interesting and hilariously funny characters in Winnie The Pooh, Piglet, Owl, Tigger and my favourite, the misanthrope Eeyore.

8. I have read too many books on the writing process. The two best ones are Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write and Stephen King’s On Writing. These books affirm that good writing comes from anywhere, can be about anything; and requires faith and dedication to the simple act of sitting down and writing. King is also a great proponent of killing your adjectives, something I am still learning. In writing as in life, letting go sets you free. And less, is always more.

Published in O Magazine

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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When we start writing, we’re told we have to find our ‘voice.’

Naturally, we begin looking for it.

It’s not under the pile of unopened mail. And we didn’t leave it like an umbrella in a restaurant. It’s in us. In our words, somewhere. In the mess of our thoughts and feelings as they tumble out onto the page.

Here’s how I think of ‘voice’:

Finding our voice is the combination of our willingness and capacity to feel the things that have happened to us as deeply as we can; with our ability to use the craft of writing to evoke the emotional experience in such a way that others can feel what we felt; with the ability to find a bridge from the utterly personal into the universal (to find a way for our experience to have meaning and significance to a reader).

We know it when we flow onto the page. We are not copying anyone else. We are not lapsing into cliché or sentimentality.

Julia Cameron says, ‘Finding our voice has to do with finding our safety.’ And safety comes from trust. Trusting that what we say has value; that we are not trying to belong to an experience dishonestly.

Your voice will sparkle with your personality – your humour, your insights, your felt experience.

As Mark Nepo, the poet, writes, ‘If I had experienced different things, I would have different things to say.’

Or as Dr Seuss wrote, ‘Today you are you, that is truer than true, there is no-one alive who is youer than you.’

Trust yourself. Goethe reminds us, ‘when you trust yourself, you will know how to live,’ How to write too.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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