Artist-in-Reticence

Artist-in-Reticence

A month ago, I found out that I was going to be a literary artist-in-residence. I was shocked and delighted, but also uncomfortably pleased with myself for managing to secure such an opportunity. I felt honoured. And excited. Yet an underlying sense of hubris was there as well, with a scratchy voice in my inner ear like Gollum’s. “This is mine,” it muttered desperately and with uncharacteristic arrogance.

I was so disquieted by this side of myself that I quickly began turning inward. I started to question why I had applied for the residency and whether I deserved it. Who was I to represent an entire movement, shaking free from the societal norms of silence regarding infertility? What was I doing masquerading as a writer with ideas and skills to pass onto others? How could I have thought that my proposed programs would even appeal to the public, let alone connect them in any meaningful way to their own writing? Where had I found the audacity to even apply?

I spiraled. I sunk rapidly into self-doubt, and the inner critic I have spent the last year learning to dismiss crept up behind me, sunk her fingers into the flesh of my upper arms, and held on, hissing countless shortcomings against the back of my neck.

I spent the next three weeks flip-flopping. Some days I found myself grateful and looking forward to the residency. Other times, I couldn’t find reprieve from tension headaches and aching shoulders. I carefully programmed and diligently carried out preparations. I interrogated my motives and challenged my integrity.

The one thing I didn’t do was write.

.

About Jennifer

Jennifer wrote her first poem at the age of six, and she has been involved in the world of words as an editor, a blogger, and an article writer.  She is published in and shortlisted for a growing number of local, national, and international electronic and print publications, regularly reads at literary events, co-runs a writing group, and actively pursues educational opportunities to further develop her craft.  Most recently she had an essay, titled Bairnlorn, appear in the Globe & Mail, placed first in the My City, My Words poetry contest, and wrote and handcrafted two board books for her son.

You can follow Jennifer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or Pinterest.

I had allowed the denigrator inside to stay my hand – to leave my pen capped upon the table, my laptop still beneath a pile of disheveled papers. I was disappointed in my paralyzed state and worried of what it could mean for my forthcoming residency. So when a friend pointed out an opportunity to craft a story for a contest with a quickly approaching deadline, I chose to dismiss the snicker within and to embrace my competency and creativity.

I wrote. I edited. I reworked and polished. By the time I was done, I was proud of the piece I submitted, and – more importantly – I had reconnected to my belief in myself and in what I know I can accomplish as a writer. More to the point, I had gotten out of my own way.

There is a danger in too much analysis. Being someone who has elected to pursue a passion founded in looking and thinking deeply, I recognize the irony in these words. But if all we do is examine, prod and second-guess, we will never get to the work. Silencing the voices – be they unabashedly prideful or shriveling in their timidity – allows us to get what we must onto the page.

I know the cacophony of conflicting thoughts will return. Again and again, I will have to face the introspective noise of my mind. It is inevitable. However, I chose how finely I tune into the din and how I counter its effect. This time, I was able to prevail because of a deadline. Now and then, it takes breaking down my goals. It could involve the skills of a good listener or the bend in a familiar forest path. It may require the soft, arching back of a cat beneath my hand, the scent of Nag Champa as I meditate, or the sweetened bitterness of a caramel latte. The key could be space or perspective or focus.

Mostly, it is simply about getting myself into the chair, in front of my screen or notebook, fingers poised.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event (18-22 March) in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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I rushed to South Africa mid-December, when I got that call. You know the one. Your father is critically ill. During the 14-hour flight, I prayed. Please let him live. I cried when the lights went down. I didn’t know what I was flying back for. A protracted, drawn-out recovery? A father incapacitated? A funeral?

I went straight from the airport to the hospital to see my great big lion of a father lying unrecognizably helpless and attached to a squadron of machines that go ping.

It will be a good story someday. But it wasn’t when, later that night, I prolapsed a disc in my back, and ended up in the same hospital as my father for treatment. Two days after that, my older sister nearly fainted and was admitted to hospital for a week with labyrinthitis. We were dropping like soldiers on the frontlines of a poorly planned military expedition. I spent Christmas, New Year and all up four weeks in physical pain that brought me to tears; dosed to the max on painkillers, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants, unable to visit my father again while he recovered slowly in hospital.

Joanne New YearPain is a strict teacher. She demands attention and doesn’t let it stray from the present moment. While everyone was making bold New Year resolutions, I just wanted my body back. Facebook was torture – it was excruciating to see everyone’s celebrations, overseas holidays, or simple joys when I could barely make it to the loo. I learned just how sorry I can feel for myself when I am not upright, strong, capable, dependable, a fixer, a do-er, a person others can rely on.

With each passing day, I was shown a different side to myself, and I struggled to like her.

I’ve known for some time that I’ve been shuttling at a warping pace. I have needed to slow down. Well, here it was. Enforced rest. Enforced nobody-ness. I became someone who could barely stand on her own two feet. So I did the only thing I could – I lay on a bed and worked on my new book.

 

About Joanne

Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 10 books, writing mentor and publisher. In the past seven years, she’s facilitated 12 writing retreats all over the world, mentored hundreds of writers (both face to face and in her online writing courses), set up her own publishing company, Joanne Fedler Media, and published four debut authors (with many lined up to follow). She’s passionate about publishing midlife memoirs and knows how to help people succeed in reaching their goal to become a published author.

Sometime during this season of horizontality, I wrote this poem:

How to console
the bruised animal of the body
become the kind of hero
you never really want to be
because who would ask
for this pain
even in the name of
transformation and self-development?
Then to find
the spare change of compassion
a true charity
for everything in you that is broken
and may never be fixed
to seek metaphors
for the injury
try to see it through God’s eyes
not take it personally,
this affront to the ego;
trust the story
that is telling itself
through your wretched hours
and call in the happiness
of small mercies
like the water
on your skin;
the sun shaft through the window
that lands on your face.
 
My friend Gabriela asked what I wished for 2019. ‘Just to be free of pain, strong and healthy,’ I said. To which she wisely responded, ‘None of us will ever be pain free in this life…. Perhaps wish for pain you can handle. Or even better that your faith in a higher power changes your perception of pain so greatly and gives you other things to prioritize that you forget about your own pain. Or even better yet…that you are able to soothe the pain of so many other souls that yours becomes infinitesimally negligible. Right there is a prayer worth praying.’
 
Harder to bear than the pain itself, was the treacheries of my own consciousness. I wanted more than anything to trust these words of Mary Oliver:
 
‘All things are inventions of holiness, some more rascally than others.’
 
My family and I have had a rascal of a time. But perhaps I am exactly where I am meant to be as I learn to love the parts of me that are no ‘use’ in the world; the person I am when I can offer nothing to anyone; when I feel small; unaccomplished; terrified.If You Can Write, You Can Draw - Dov Fedler
 
I had hoped to write a different kind of New Year email to you all – to inspire, lift you up, tell you of the great plans I have for 2019 and the opportunities I want to open up to any of you who want to write. I still hope that email will be written. But now is not the right time as I navigate the uncertainties of the coming weeks – like whether my father and I will both be well enough for us to launch his book If You Can Write, You Can Draw, and how I will manage the flight back to Sydney at the end of January.
 
 
My incredible team have rallied around me, and assured me that they will make sure we are able to offer the 7 Day Free Writing Challenge again to anyone who didn’t finish it or would like to redo it. We’ll be launching my brand-new website soon with heaps of beautiful resources, materials and courses. I will be so ready to offer The Midlife Memoir Breakthrough workshop in Sydney in March (I think we have one or two spots left).
 
And as soon as my body releases me from solitary confinement, I hope to bounce back into the world, with renewed insights, offerings and energy.  

I wish you all a sense of belonging  to your body and soul  no matter what 2019 brings your way.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day (18-22 March) Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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