How to Stop the Great Unravelling at Midlife

How to Stop the Great Unravelling at Midlife

We have two lives,
and the second one begins when you realise you only have one.
– 
Mario de Andrade

You will wake up one day and without looking at your iPhone, you’ll know that you are running out of time.

This bolt of insight will have less to do with your age in chronological time than with the state of your heart. If you’ve been on the run all your life from the truth, that somewhere ‘out there’ is your last day, your last breath, this will come as something of a nasty shock, as if you’d just worked seven years for one bride, and only now discovered you’ve been tricked into marrying another. Or that the terms you thought you’d agreed to have been unilaterally changed and you now want a refund, because who in their right minds would agree to that?

You may want to throttle the teenager, turn your back on the husband, drop the career you’ve been so carefully climbing the ladder towards, never cook another meal again, sell everything, find a younger lover, walk the El Camino, learn to scuba dive, paint, build a tiny house and work out who the hell you are now that nests are emptying and your ovaries have said, “I’m outta here.’

Brene Brown talks about this as the ‘great unravelling.’ It may turn up in our lives as depression (is it just menopause?), anxiety (menopause again?), contemplating divorce or a career change (surely that can’t be menopause??), joylessness (definitely menopause), having an affair (seriously, if not now, when?), resentment at events long-past, late-onset-lesbianism or bisexuality (OMG, that’s an option??) unhappiness for no reason, feelings of irrational rage, disappointment (in ourselves, our relationships, our lay-byed dreams), emptiness, wanting to leave it all behind, directionless-ness.

In the middle of the journey of life, I found myself in a dark wood
where the true way was wholly lost.
– Dante

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?

The deepest questions of identity re-emerge to destabilize us just when we thought we had it all together.

Who are you?
Where did you come from?
Why are you here?

Seriously, after all we’ve been through?

Trust me, you are not alone.

In midlife, a seismic shift occurs between our past and whatever future lies ahead. Our ego-structures no longer work (who am I, again?), and we have to return to the labor of self-definition once more. We may have lost a parent or two. Our kids may have left home, or we realise we’re never going to have those kids we meant to have. The tummy pouch doesn’t help. The insomnia makes everything worse. We feel confined and belittled – by a stagnant relationship, stultifying routine or past failures and mistakes. Even our successes aren’t benign – we look back and are filled with sorrow at how many doors we never opened while we chased our goal of becoming an ‘expert’ or ‘specialist.’ It seemed like a good idea at the time – having something to ‘fall back on.’

We question why we were so quick to say ‘I do,’ ‘I’ll take that promotion,’ ‘sure, let’s have another kid.’ The roles and expectations we’ve been in service to no longer fit who we’ve become. Everything is too tight or too loose. We’ve outworn our responsibilities, graduated from our histories and outgrown the version of ourselves we’ve spent so long chasing.

We wonder, not just a little, what life has been suppressed inside us to get us to where we are.

And goddamit, we always wanted to write a book.

Dear soul, this is it.

This is where your second life begins.

Now is the moment to go back to retrieve what we left behind in our past as too painful or shameful. Here is when we arrange a meeting with those we swore we’d never forgive (that meeting may even be with ourselves). We divest ourselves of what is unnecessary – yes, it’s taken just this long for us to know the difference between what is and isn’t serving us.

Geoffrey Davis’s exquisite poem ‘What I Mean When I Say Farmhouse,’ takes him back to a memory as a boy, as loneliness and his parents’ unlived lives shadow his childhood. He ends the poem with:

             I want to jar the tenderness of seasons,
to crawl deep into the moment. I’ve come

             to write less fear into the boy running
through the half-dark. I’ve come for the boy.

At this midlife moment, our job is to go back for the parts of ourselves that we left behind and ‘write less fear, betrayal, suffering, pain, trauma’ into our stories. We integrate the place where the suffering began, with who we have become. We take the power of who we are now and lend it to the part of ourselves that was most powerless.

And in that meeting, something magical happens.

I want to create the perfect environment for this meeting and so I’ve created a transformational live event in Sydney from 18-22 March 2019. It’s the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough for 20 people who are ready to write into these stories.

Please come join me.

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Memoir Is a Moving Target

I thought I knew what my memoir was about. I was there after all. I thought it was a matter of working out where to start and where to end so I could settle my story down somewhere in between. How difficult could it be?

So I started writing, in earnest, in the place I thought was the beginning. I wrote some more, and the beginning fell in love and became the middle. Then the end went off to boarding school and became the beginning of the end. The bloody middle lost weight and became invisible, and I killed the darling. The end got cancer and became the beginning.

It was like trying to teach overwrought grasshoppers to line dance.

I found myself walking up a hill every afternoon with “how do I solve a problem like my memoir” echoing in my head to the refrains of Rodgers and Hammerstein. I just wanted my story to stand still a moment so I could pin it down. But it wouldn’t. It kept on with its manic bouncing until one morning, I stopped trying to control it and allowed myself to rest in the confusion and chaos. This wasn’t a science experiment; I didn’t need to have a hypothesis on how it was going to end when I threw sodium into the swimming pool.

I learnt to focus less on line dancing classes and control, and to think more deeply on what was emerging and presenting itself in the writing. Writing memoir is a moving target. Maybe it is supposed to be a moving target; maybe it’s supposed to shake things up.

Maybe that’s the point: so as the target moves, you see the stuff behind, underneath, beyond.

.

About Barbara

 

Very little in Barbara Matthews’ life has turned out the way she thought it would. She certainly never thought the right side of her brain would amount to much – it seemed superfluous in a world of numbers and the periodic table. A midlife career change into the practice of Palliative Medicine in rural South Africa forced Barbara to find language for experiences resolutely resisting the boundaries of science. Her writing has become a practice of self-care and meaning-making as she makes friends with the angel of death.

It wasn’t only the story that was moving and growing and changing. I was moving too. I stopped standing in one place and began shifting my view. Something happens when we extract feelings, emotions, and memories from our neurology and metabolise them and set them down on the page. It’s a curious alchemy. Writing about your life is not about noting what you did on Friday the 14th of March 1986. Who cares? Unless it was the day you swallowed a shard of glass and your gut exploded and you had a near-death experience on an operating table in Cairo. Unless it was the day you turned down a marriage proposal from the boy next door who became a murderous stalker and opened a cake shop. Even then, the details only matter if you can pull meaning from them. Things start to settle when you begin to make meaning, and sometimes they may jiggle some more, until you look again. It’s okay, the moving and jiggling; it’s how you know you’re finding the good stuff.

I am no longer alarmed when the ground begins to lurch. I get out the trekking poles, put on the hiking books, and keep on climbing. It is the only way to get to a high vantage point, away from the emotion and participation of the moment remembered, to a place where I can glimpse the landscape. 

The writing is changing me. The changing me is changing the writing.

When I started, I thought I knew what it was all about. I didn’t know. The knowing can only come with the work, the reflection, the practice. Be brave, be bold, be curious. It’s the only way to hit that moving target.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

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I’m in the early stages of writing my memoir. At this point, I’m hunting, gathering, pulling things out and looking to see if and how they fit. I’m reliving scenes, moments, memories. Some are painful. Some are lighthearted. I smile as I write about the lighthearted ones. It’s like watching a favorite movie and knowing it ends well.

The difficult and painful memories are harder to work through. Writing them feels a lot like being right back in it. I know that I have survived those moments, but the trauma and emotions they bring up are very real when I consider them. It is similar to running a finger over a deep scar that isn’t quite healed. It can make you wince. It can make you cry. It can make you angry. It can paralyze you in fear and anxiety. But, I think it can also help you heal. If you come to it with a sense of compassion.

Since embarking on my writing journey in earnest, I’ve noticed a shift in how I see the world, myself, and my life. I see the ups and the downs, and I have a deeper appreciation for them. I look back and marvel at how far I’ve come, at how much I’ve grown.

Writing about the difficult moments in my life has allowed me to be gentler to myself. It has given me a chance to be more compassionate to the people who have contributed to the hurts. I can look back and offer forgiveness. I am not minimizing the impact that these difficult moments have had on my life. I’m not saying that the damage never happened, but I can see them as life lessons. And I can look for the ways in which these lessons have helped me become who I am today.

Meditation has helped me in the last five or six years in my own healing journey. It’s helped bring me back to my writing. It gives me a chance to dig deep within myself and see where the issues are. It allows me to look at certain areas of my life with more compassion. Compassion for my Self and compassion for others.

.

About Sonia

 

Sonia Bryant is a Reiki master, healer, mother, daughter, wife and friend in no particular order. She enjoys reading, writing, cooking, gardening, spinning, pilates and finding interesting ways to stay connected to her son, friends and family. She is a Canadian currently residing in Switzerland with her husband, daughter and two dogs. Sonia chooses to accept the challenges that come her way as beautiful blessings and life lessons.

Meditation has helped me to remove my victimhood and see where and how I sometimes contributed to the painful moments. It has allowed me to choose to not let those moments define who I am as a person. It has helped me to see that what others think of me is not an accurate depiction of who I am. Instead, it is a projection of who they are and I don’t have to accept it.

Meditation allows me to see me.

Since I’ve started my memoir, I’ve incorporated specific intentions that relate directly to my writing. In my meditations, I send intention and attention to the flow of words. I open myself up as a channel for the words to come through me and to me. I’ve developed mantras that I write on index cards and place throughout my writing space. When I feel stuck, I read these mantras out loud. I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and repeat the mantras until the words start flowing again.

Taking a moment to refocus is often all that is necessary to move forward.

Above my computer screen, an index card reads, ‘I look for, and find beauty in the depth and complexity of all of my characters. Including myself.’ A powerful reminder that all of the people in my life and memoir are multi-dimensional. No one is all villain or all hero. Myself included.

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Honestly I’ve heard them all. Hell, I’ve used them all.

I’ve had ten books published, have six or seven partially-written manuscripts saved in three different computers and dozens of journals, have mentored hundreds of writers, and even published a few through Joanne Fedler Media. There isn’t a ‘why-I-can’t-write’ excuse I haven’t cross-examined close-up.

But I’m at the stage of life where I’m over my own – and other people’s – bullsh*t.  We just don’t have the kind of time these excuses waste.

Here are some of the guises we use to duck and weave out of writing:

1. ‘And how shall I begin?

Most of us never get past the thought, ‘I’d love to write.’ Why? Because we don’t know where to start. We just want someone to point out the entrance as if there is only one. The truth is you can start anywhere. Where you start writing and where your book or story begins are not one and the same. You do not need to know where your book begins until if you’re lucky, your sixty-fourth rewrite.  I’m telling you this because you need to hear it – dilly-dallying over where to begin is your way of delaying your dream of being a writer. 

2. ‘I’m stuck.’

Anyone – and this is true – can write a good opening chapter. It’s what happens after that, that counts. We may get stuck after a couple of chapters and don’t know how to move through the sludgy bits beyond the honeymoon phase. This is where infatuation becomes real intimacy. This is where we have to navigate ‘the seven-chapter roadblock.’ First – get clear on why you’re writing. Second, connect with your character or the message of your book. Third, keep writing. Or stay stuck. It’s up to you. 

3. ‘I can’t finish this.

At the outset we don’t realise there are stages to the writing process. Finishing can be the trickiest part. Finishing is about architecture, pace, consistency, the structure of revelation and pulling the narrative threads together in a way that is satisfying to a reader. Finishing strong is as important as starting powerfully. But perhaps we don’t want to finish because it means letting go of the ‘story’ (read: pain/trauma/narrative and the identity we’ve formed around them). Not finishing can be our way of staying in the same place. This is where we take a deep breath and face whatever fears finishing brings up for us. And then we finish. 

4. ‘My writing is unoriginal and clichéd.’

Our first thoughts are usually clichés. To get to the good stuff, we have to dig a little. For this we need a shovel to dig through the fluff – the platitudes, the one-dimensionality to access what is buried, hidden and utterly enthralling.  As writers our job is to go deeper, to arrive someplace interesting that takes patience to get to. Do not make readers read something they already know, like, ‘When people we love die, we feel sad.’ Like, really? What else do we feel? What emotions are layered into sorrow, and how can we express them?

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?

5. ‘I’ll never get published.

Maybe we will, maybe we won’t. Worrying about getting published before we’ve started writing is premature, and immature. Everything in its time. Getting published is at the ‘mastery’ end of the writing game when we are still novices. Anticipating ‘failure’ before we’ve even attempted to learn the craft or get a first draft on the page is our way of talking ourselves out of the joy of the journey. It’s like deciding not to live because someday we’re going to die. Yes, but so? Let’s not be obdurate and miss the point on purpose.

6. ‘I don’t have a big vocabulary and my grammar is terrible.’

You don’t need to be academically smart or have a huge vocabulary to be a writer. You can be dyslexic, have ADHD, be a quadriplegic or even blind and still be a bloody good writer. Great writing comes from great feeling and being willing to be vulnerable on the page. As Bukowski says, ‘Stop insisting on clearing your head – clear your fucking heart instead.’ (But – and I cannot be dissuaded on this point – there is ZERO excuse for not being a great reader, which you must be to be a writer).

7. ‘There are things I don’t want to write about.

Fine. Try and not write about them. What you will find is that they sneak under the doorway, whisper through the keyholes and trickle through the cracks in the walls anyway. Everything we resist, appears in our writing either consciously or unconsciously. It’s our choice how we want to work with our ghosts and demons. But they will insist on getting in one way or another. Remember too, that we can only take a reader as deep as we are willing to go – writers are guides, and so the writing journey is about how fearless we are able to be with ourselves. We never have to write about our pain, but we have to write from it. Which often means writing about the things we don’t want to write about either to get them out of the way, only to discover that they really are the things we need to write about.

8. ‘I can’t decide–’

… whether to write fiction, non-fiction, short-stories or poetry. I can’t choose a name for my main character or decide where or when the story takes place.

Writing is about making decisions. It demands commitment. It’s not for the wishy-washy. Make a decision and move on. You can always come back and change your mind later if your initial decision doesn’t work. Don’t get stuck because you can’t decide whether your protagonist should be called Wayne or Wilfred. Really, don’t.

What other excuses do you have?

Whatever shape they take, label them for what they are – excuses. They are bullsh*t and you are bigger than your own bullsh*t.

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People with Passion Interview with Tanya Savva

People with Passion Interview with Tanya Savva

‘I love this part the best,’ I said to my husband this morning.

I had just finished nominating Tanya Savva’s new book, The Adventures of Kenzie-Moo for the NSW Premier Literary Awards.

There’s something deeply happy-making about helping other people reach their dreams. I never could see myself in pompoms and a miniskirt, but I love being someone’s cheerleader.

Since word has gotten out that we’re now PUBLISHING BOOKS (like for real), we’ve had a steady flow of submissions from aspiring authors. I’ll always consider a manuscript, no matter where it comes from, but what makes Joanne Fedler Media different is that I created it to publish the writers I’ve mentored. I wanted to promise them certainty of outcome – that if they finish their books, they won’t have to search for an agent, or languish in slush piles. We will publish them. And we’ll pile all our love and energy into getting their books into the world.

See for me, a book is not just about a great story, or beautiful writing or even what’s ‘commercially viable.’  It’s a chunk of the person who wrote it – their soulful bits. It’s a pop-up of their consciousness, a hologram of their values, and beliefs. Someone could write like Liane Moriarty but if she’s a bitch, I wouldn’t be interested. Prose like Toni Morrison only impresses me if the writer isn’t a princess. I don’t want to have to deal with a diva. Man, life is too short.

I love books because I love the people who write them (just listen to the humility, intelligence and sensitivity of a writer like George Saunders to appreciate the magnificence of Lincoln in the Bardo). Publishing is about the relationships I get to form with writers, and about sharing their growth and transformation as they become authors, and we learn to become better publishers.

I want to know the person behind the book. What do they love? What have they lost? What does this book mean to them?

That’s why we interview our authors on my People With Passion series. You can watch my interview with Tanya below. What has it been like to raise a blind child? Why did she write this book? What does she hope the book will do for others? These are some of my questions to her. Warning: tissues may be required.

Tanya is in my Masterclass where she is writing a memoir about raising a child with special needs as a single mother, and the choices she’s made to live aligned with her soul purpose, in the face of adversity. She is passionate about empowering women who care for others to create inner freedom and joy no matter their circumstances and runs carer retreats for mothers with children with special needs.

Mackenzie is a magical and confident imp of a girl who continues to triumph through challenges she has faced since birth. She is an exceptional storyteller, horse rider and piano player, and creates joy and laughter wherever she goes with her cheeky and hilarious disposition. A true creative spirit, she shares her unique vision of the world with all those whose lives she touches.

To follow Tanya and Mackenzie’s journey, visit www.tanyasavva.com


If you order your copy now, you will receive a limited edition of The Adventures of Kenzie-Moo in this gorgeous packaging, signed by the author. As a special bonus, you will also receive a link to the audio version of the book spoken by Mackenzie. 

How can you resist?

(What better Christmas or Channukah gift can you think of for a child in your life?)

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