How to Love Time with Every Passing Birthday

How to Love Time with Every Passing Birthday

How to Love Time with Every Passing Birthday

We’re all just walking each other home.

– Ram Dass

 

It’s funny how much we fret about nonsense in the light of Ram Dass’s insight, isn’t it? How different would we behave if we lived each day with that as our premise?

So when the 31st August comes around, I don’t sigh, ‘Oh God, another year…’ and get all coy when people ask me my age.

Let me tell you, I’m happy to eat cake once a year, blow out a gazillion candles and get fussed over by family and friends.

Of course, it’s the job of birthdays to remind us of that ‘cottage of darkness’ (to quote Mary Oliver) that we’re all heading towards. But I’m tired of bemoaning the relentless ticking over of the clock, scheduling of calendars, passing of weeks, months and years and becoming bitchy and depressed about the bodily decrepitude that accompanies it. Sequential time (or ‘chronos‘) is only one limited way of Hourglassunderstanding our lives.

There’s another (far more upbeat) way to think about time – ‘kairos.’ It’s an Ancient Greek word meaning ‘the right, critical or opportune moment.’ It celebrates time vertically as opposed to horizontally. You know those moments – the ones that resonate beyond the period they occupy, the ones that ‘stay’ in and with us, even as days move relentlessly through us (that first kiss in the rain; when you heard your daughter sing for the first time; the time he held the moon in his hand for you; the moment you realised, ‘he loves me…’)

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?

Birthdays can be tiresome expressions of more time passing, or we can tune into them as timeless, blessed outposts marking our journey home. The best way I know how is to ritualize these days by waking to see the sun rise, dunking my shivery bones in the ocean and giving money to causes I care about. I drop all work. I let the day have me all to itself.

Birthdays pull me into the confessional of big soul questions like: Is my life meaningful? Am I happy? Are my relationships fulfilling? Why am I doing what I’m doing? And, if I died now, would my basket of regrets be empty or full? (If we don’t ask them on our birthdays, when do we ask them?)

Sunrise

This year’s birthday prep (which involved a vision board, journalling and a life-scan) clarified for me that I want to:

  • stop buying stuff
  • lie still and flirt with the sky (both the clouds and stars)
  • make love more often, maybe even every day
  • remember what my heart is for and let it do its thing
  • listen to what is calling to me through the noise of email and to-do lists
  • love my body more and more and more, blessed jiggle of flesh
  • do silly things – jigsaw puzzles, indoor rock climbing, vegetable pickling, aerial yoga, kayaking, dancing in my socks and singing One Republic’s ‘I Lived’ as if I were onstage
  • write, and write and write and write (at least one beautiful sentence each day).

Kazantzakis wrote: ‘leave nothing for death to take, nothing but a few bones.’ I love that. We’re here to ‘own every second that this world could give,’ (that’s from ‘I Lived’). As we do this big walk together, let’s try to skid more slowly from hour to hour, to be patient with the surprise we are becoming as we sink more deeply into the discovery of who we’re here to be.

Here’s a little writing exercise if you’re up for it – to nudge you into a bit of a love affair with ‘kairos.’

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Right Turn

Right Turn

‘Right Turn’
From the book The Turning
I chose bona fides
and other Latin terms you find
in law books
for it was easier, they claimed
to fall back on
precedent and stare decisis
than a line Tennyson wrote
that’s etched in your soul.
I turned left at logic
not right at longing;
opted for laboratories
over labyrinths
became encased in cases
tried to stifle stories
heed the judgements
of reasonable men
with careful opinions
and supportive wives.
But my shadow withered
grew taut in torts
without the cry
of darkened hearts
and birds that do not sing.
Joanne Fedler

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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?

In law there was no name
for the quiet snuffing
that numbed my core –
not even in Latin.
The poets called it
‘the divided self ’
it was all there
in The Hollow Men –
‘The horror! The horror!’
I did not want to be Ophelia
even in a robe and wig
there was no honour
in being called ‘your honour’
when the mirror
crack’d from side to side
and I wished that I
were dead.
And so
I freed my anchor
turned my ship
cargo-ed with
all that is born only to die
and found my way back
by the stars and their light
and the sound of the song
in the books
I would write.

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What Your Reader Doesn’t Want to See

What Your Reader Doesn’t Want to See

I’m a novice writer. But I’m an experienced reader, as most writers (novice or not) tend to be. As I sink my teeth into yet another book, I find myself frustrated with the writing, but intrigued by the content. The author had a clear vision of what the story meant to her, but a somewhat murky view of how a reader might perceive her penned words. I’m starting to believe a well written book with nothing to say is far more gripping than an interesting story told in a self-important or confusing manner.

I have enough grey hair and laughter lines to remember the classic ‘80s comedy, Three Men & a Baby, with Tom Selleck cradling baby Mary while reading a bedtime story.

“The champ caught Smith with a savage left hook… that sent the challenger crashing into the ropes. Smith, his left eye swollen, and the cut above his right eye now much more bloody, countered with a barrage of vicious body blows.”

“What are you reading her?”

“It doesn’t matter what I read, it’s the tone you use. She doesn’t understand the words, anyway. Now, where were we? The champ began the fourth round like a man possessed, going straight for his opponent’s body.”

If four-month-old baby Mary can be mesmerised with big style and small content (and Tom Selleck’s beautiful blue eyes), I can too.

We have a vision of how our story will go (well – I do…) but, when it gets to the nitty gritty of putting fingers to keyboard, visions can get lost in a flurry of ego. Just because it’s written down, doesn’t mean an audience has to read it. For writing to extend beyond me, I have to envision the reader’s needs.

.

About Simone

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www.simonelisa.com

As a novice writer I’m not in a position to state what to do for successful writing. But just as politicians learned over millennia, and drum into us with negative campaigning, it’s easy to know what not to do. As I lurch my way through another memoir, here are a few things I’m learning not to write:

  • Exclamation marks! They’re so annoying!!
  • Presumed fact. Belief isn’t fact. Back it up or acknowledge it’s a personal belief. This is a fact.
  • Half-truths. It’s difficult to develop empathy for a character claiming everyone is wrong and they are right. With only one side of the story, I instinctively distrust the assumption of innocence. What aren’t you telling me? Be vulnerable – tell me the whole story.
  • 1+1=3 Whatever the scenario (fact or fiction), give me the numbers and I’ll finish the sum. Our lives are unique – to us. Our stories are relatable – to everyone. Grief. Love. Fear. We all experience them in one way or another. I haven’t grieved the loss of a marriage, but I have grieved the loss of a career. Show me grief in the guise of divorce, and I’ll see the sum of your despair.
  • Tyipng erorrs. It’s hard to proofread you’re own work, and even with countless professional eyes on the the manuscript, typos slip through. But if there’s more then one per page, ewe need better professionals. Excesive speling, gramattical, & structurall, erors disturb the most forgiving of reeders.

For 36 years I taught eager (and disinterested) young people to play the flute. As years went by, I discovered how much more we learn from mistakes than we ever do from successes. I want to raise my standards as a writer and continue to hone my craft, and paying attention to both what works and what doesn’t is helping me do that.

I want to see the villain’s face crumble. Hear the soldier singing. I need to touch the warm flesh of young lovers, taste the salty tears, and smell the charred remains. Whatever vision you have for the story burning inside you, make it one we can all see. Remember your reader. Because then, much like baby Mary staring adoringly into Tom Selleck’s eyes, your story will find an audience.

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Vision Quest

When I was two, I almost went blind in my right eye.

A close friend of my mother`s had noticed that my left eye was not tracking properly. It was turning out so that it appeared misaligned, and so a trip to the eye doctor`s was quickly arranged. I was examined and assessed and eventually given the diagnosis of constant extropia, also known as lazy eye.

Rather than attempt to saddle such a young patient with glasses, the optometrist opted to cover my working orb with a bandage to force my left eye to perform. For at least a couple of months I toddled more than most toddlers might as I explored my world with half of my sight literally under wraps. I have no memory of this experience but, with a son of my own so similarly aged, I can closely estimate how frustrating this must have been for both me and my parents.

Eventually, though, the professionals realized that they had made a mistake. In covering my good eye in the endeavor to exercise my poor one, the former had ceased to work. The gauze and tape had performed their task too well, and the perfect vision I had known in my right eye had been overturned by mandatory inertia. The doctor was alarmed by the severe inactivity upon re-exposing it, and he ceased the flawed experiment to try and remedy the eye`s unresponsiveness.

I was given thick glasses with a strong prescriptive lens on the left side and wire hooks curling out the arms and around my ears. My right eye reclaimed its dominion. And bandages were reserved for scraped knees.

Life returned to normal. For a time.

.

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She also tells terrible jokes.

When I was in the car one morning, being driven to my first grade class, I composed my first poem. It was a four-line ode to the sun and it was the inaugural beautiful hint at how writing might become a part of my life.

The next evidence, though, was not so sweet.

Four-eyes. Bookworm. Typing these terms of mockery still cover my irises with liquid pain. For all of elementary school, through surgery for my lazy eye when I was ten, and up until a couple of years after the procedure when I was finally told I no longer needed glasses, I was teased in such a way. I had been gifted with a mother who worked in the municipal library and whose vocation compelled her to share her love of reading with her children. So with plastic frames often perched atop a nose firmly stuck in a book, my childhood destiny was written.

But amongst the traumas of pre-pubescent bullying, I can still find ways to be grateful. Without those trying, formative years, I would not have become discerning in my selection of close friends. I learned a great deal about how to read people and understand the nuances of expressions, words and even emotions. My people watching skills surely developed while I pumped my legs alone on the swing, and my ability to gain solace with my own thoughts and company must have had their foundation in the field`s perimeter of gravel and dirt, over which my two feet carried me on countless recesses.

These are the skills upon which I began to create my authorship, both as a girl who contributed a couple of articles to the school newspaper and as a young person trying to write a happy ending for her life. Those glasses, the names, and the way my vision had to adapt and then adapt again – all of it means something. Each flicker of experience has contributed to who I am now, and to how I am able to share parts of myself on the page.

I am thankful my eyesight was not permanently marred by an optometrist’s misguided efforts to help. More so, I am grateful for the opportunity to remember how we can’t cover up what is working and concentrate solely on what is dysfunctional. Too often we focus on the negative, but in doing so we rob ourselves of examining a full life. I, for one, want to explore the width, depth and height of who I am and what I have been through with a writer’s vision: with eyes wide open and lifted toward the shifting colours of an infuriating, peaceful, grieving, joyous, confusing and insightful horizon.

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A Loaf of Bread

A Loaf of Bread

A Loaf of Bread

‘I’ll have the one with the sesame seeds,’ I say pointing to the shelves of loaves, lined up like newborns in a maternity ward. The shop is cozy, a cubby-house of crispy sourdough, dark rye and milky coffee.

Amir takes a sheet of translucent tissue paper and picks up a loaf using it as a kind of glove. He is darkly Mediterranean, boyish, Turkish maybe. Amir? Could he be Israeli? He does not hide that he likes me, always overly keen to serve me, to ask me how I am. He has no idea how old I am. Today I’m sure my age shows.

I had maybe three hours sleep last night, woken by the retching sounds that came from the toilet as Jamie spewed up Thai food every hour or so. I had stumbled towards the gagging, then stood there helplessly. It is not easy to mother a nineteen-year old. When she was still mine, I’d have held her hair out of her face, clucked words of comfort, patted her back. She had looked up at me in between retches, ‘Can you please not watch me?’ I’d skulked back to bed. Sleepless for the rest of the night.

Amir puts the loaf in a brown paper bag.

‘Do you need a bag?’ he smiles.

‘No, no plastic, the paper bag is fine.’ I beam back at him and he winks at me. This slight interaction with a man of Middle-Eastern appearance who is in his early thirties is one of those small guilt-free pleasures like finding a $2 coin in the pocket of your jeans, or someone exiting their parking spot just as you pull up.

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?

I hold the bread against my body, a swaddle of sustenance. It is deliciously warm and the wind on this spring morning is having an autumn memory. The Rabbi’s wife walks by, pushing a pram with one of her innumerable grandchildren, flanked by two pre-schoolers, one with payot and yarmulke, the other with long plaits. We exchange niceties. She motions to the bread I’m holding and asks if the bread at the new shop is any good. I tell her it’s the best, defaulting into unnecessary superlatives as if overcompensating for my failure to ever show my face in her husband’s synagogue. The best? I wince at myself. Am I twelve or what?

She wishes me a Shana Tova. I do the same.

Down on the beach, I cuddle the bread on my baby-holding hip. I always wondered about that – how naturally it felt to hold a child on the left when I am right handed. I remember once reading that Nature designs it that way so women can multi-task, hold the baby while leaving their dominant hand free. It has been nearly fourteen years since that hip was gainfully employed, yet it still remembers. That soft spot. That ache.

I take the long scenic walk home, not rushing as I might have back when having a sick child at home stripped me down to the purpose of my presence, the very bones of my being. When there was nowhere else I could possibly be, no place I was needed more than sitting vigil, making soup, tending the temperature.

I gaze out at the ocean and sigh, before turning back.

I have done my motherly duty. I have brought her bread. From the best shop. When she surfaces from the fever and wretchedness of this bug, there it will be. The fresh bread with the sesame seeds Amir took off the shelf this morning, wink and all. When there is colour back in her cheeks, I will slice it, toast it, boil the kettle and bring her Vegemite toast and weak black tea with honey on a tray in bed. Shrugged from her life as a neurotic nuisance, banished from all tenderness, I can still be her mother.

I bring this warm loaf to my heart. I hug it and sniff it, and close my eyes into its goodness. I carry it enfolded in my embrace all the way home.

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