There’s an Octopus in the Room

There’s an Octopus in the Room

There’s an Octopus in the Room

‘We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.’
– Mary Oliver

In a week’s time, I will get to live my dream.

Over four days, I’ll sit in what is called in the industry, a ‘writers’ room’ with five smart, talented women and we will discuss how to turn my book, Things Without A Name, into a television series.

If my book makes it to the screen, it has to do something useful in the world. It has to make up for my failures on the front lines. And I hear Ru Paul’s words to his queens on stage, ‘Don’t f#@% it up.’

But it’s also the knowledge that here it is – the moment I have worked all my life for. I feel the heft of responsibility to the stories of so many women at my back.

I’m afraid that somehow this tender story will be ‘commercialized’ to make it palatable to viewers.

Years ago, when I insisted on the inclusion of the appendix which hits the reader hard with the realities of violence against women, my publisher was worried it would make ‘readers uncomfortable.’

‘Good,’ I’d said. ‘Isn’t that the point?’

‘Uncomfortable doesn’t sell,’ she’d responded.

***

I get up early on a Sunday morning. I like to get down to the ocean for my swim before the crowds descend.

‘Seriously?’ I mutter as I paw through the garbage my family has been too distracted or lazy to sort out during their nighttime forays into the fridge. I pull the soft plastics out and put them in the bag above the fridge. I wash out the hard plastics and tins and put them in the recycling. I pull out the banana peels and other food scraps and put them where they belong – in the compost under the sink. ‘How many bloody times do I have to tell you…?’

But telling people how to behave is not how you get them to care enough to act accordingly. I know this. How many times do I have to know this before I’ll figure out a different way to inspire a change of behavior?

***

Since I’ve become an ocean swimmer, I will watch anything about the ocean. So I settle down on my couch and begin the Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher, a South African production about a man, Craig Foster, who forms a relationship with an octopus over the span of a year.

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?

Things Without A Name is the best of my thirteen books – so when it was met with mediocre sales (and embarrassingly poor ones in Germany, the country in which some of my books have been bestsellers), I’ve often wondered if perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps the book means so much to me because I care so much about the issue – ‘the issue’ of violence against women and children. I spent six years as a woman’s rights advocate in South Africa in my mid-twenties. I set up a legal advocacy centre to end violence against women; I sat on a Law Commission which drafted the Domestic Violence Act. I ran workshops to educate police, prosecutors, magistrates, even judges on unconscious sexism and racism. I was, I guess you could say, an expert in this area once. Those were, without doubt, the worst years of my life.

Then, when my daughter was 18 months old, someone I love deeply was gang-raped. I suppose in a story, this is what has to happen – what you fear the most is what you must encounter on your journey, so you have a chance to meet it anew and transform yadda yadda yadda.

What it did was catapult my husband and I from our beautiful rental home in Rondebosch beneath Lion’s Head in Cape Town to another rental in Sydney with two small children before I could grab hold of my heart long enough to still it. Within three years, my life in South Africa became a backstory, replete with its imprinting wounds, holding the world that had formed me, the sky under which I’d been born, the earth on which I’d taken my first steps, the people who make me a person, you know – the kind of whole person you are when you’re not half gone.

It took five years of grief and not knowing what I would make of myself in this bizarre, beautiful, terribly repressed country with a racist history that rivals South Africa’s, for me to settle down to writing, which had always been a hobby, something I did on the side. It seemed benign and healing enough an occupation after the horrors I’d witnessed firsthand, the ones I needed to forget enough so I could be a semi-sane mother.

In my narratives, I could control what happened. People you loved wouldn’t get raped. Or murdered. You could write about love; friendship; the mundane stresses of motherhood. And so I did.

Until, one day, seven years into our immigration, the words of a woman sitting opposite me at my desk at POWA, resurfaced, the way a submerged object – even a body – will rise, eventually. Her sister had been stabbed to death with a pair of scissors. Forgive me for inserting this image into your mind, but those were the facts. The line I wrote was ‘There are not many useful things you can say to someone whose sister has been stabbed to death with a pair of scissors.’

And then Things Without A Name poured out of me, a long wail of sadness, grief and, surprisingly, hope.

***

I’ve always longed for an encounter with the divine. I don’t even know what I mean by this, to be honest. It has nothing to do with patriarchal religion which makes me ornery, verging on the irascible. I’ve been a self-help junkie, immersing myself in meditation, philosophy, mysticism and Sounds true podcasts over many decades. At one point I noticed I was hoping for an angel to appear at the foot of my bed to tell me that my friend Emma who died so tragically and so young, is very much still around. Or for a voice to speak into my ear that my dreams about my cat Tanaka mean that her spirit lingers over the cat bowl. Or that my Bobba Chaya who died when my dad was thirteen watches over me when I sleep.

I’ve grown out of that, thankfully.

These days, I go down to the ocean.

‘I ask for permission to enter and safe passage while I’m in.’

This is my morning prayer before I step into the water. I wait for the cold to bite me and I sink myself into its embrace. The moment you put your face in and you feel the water on your eyelids, is sublime. It takes a full two minutes for your body to register it is not in shock and then, as my husband wrote to me in a birthday card, ‘she is made of the sea.’

***

I am sobbing.

My husband looks up at me. ‘You watching that thing about the octopus? Didn’t realise it was a tearjerker.’

‘It’s not sad… it’s just… beautiful, look,’ I say, showing him my iPad screen where Craig is holding this octopus in his arms. ‘She’s caressing him.’

***

Things Without A Name is about Faith Roberts, who at 34, has given up on love. She works, as I once did, at a women’s crisis centre. Her best friend Josh, died when he was 16 of cystic fibrosis. Faith and Josh share a love for nature. Faith loves spiders. Josh sits with dying creatures, just to be with them. Neither of them fears insects or animals – only people. Faith meets Caleb, a vet. The violent men in the book are offset by men who are tender, gentle souls.

The book, I realise now, is not just about violence against women. It’s also about the way humans interact with the natural world. As I think about the writers’ room, I know that I want whatever we do in that room to evoke the same emotion I felt watching My Octopus Teacher.

The line that sticks with me most of all is Craig saying that bringing his son to the water is teaching him ‘gentleness.’

Imagine if all fathers taught their sons that this is the way to be a man.

***

The problem advocates of any social issue face is we tackle the issue head on. We shine a spotlight on cruelty to animals, refugees, women, children, the homeless, the disabled… and we say ‘THIS IS BAD. STOP THESE TERRIBLE BEHAVIOURS.’

No-one likes to be told how to behave.

Ask my family.

When I was a women’s rights advocate, I quickly understood that the language of advocacy and the words we used to draw attention to violence against women and children, did not achieve what we hoped – to end violence and change men’s behaviour.

One of my biggest breakthrough moments coincided with crippling cynicism – when I understood that the language of cost-to-business and ‘financial damage as a result of domestic abuse’ was what got the attention of CEOs. I have grappled, oh how I’ve grappled with the question of how to make people care.

But I realize now that that is not the right question.

The question is how do we get people to feel?

***

My Octopus Teacher is filled with astonishing footage as well as a mesmerizing soundtrack. When I am done, I feel light inside. My boundaries are soft. I recognize in it what I have never been able to achieve in all my years as an advocate. It is the highest form of activism, it is not shouty, condemnatory, blaming or shaming. It doesn’t tell us how to behave. This is what art is supposed to do. It makes you want to be a better version of yourself. It exposes you to the possibility that you are part of some greater family from which you have been exiled in consciousness and it invites you back in.

When an octopus hunts prey, it often fails when it lurches straight at it. Strategy is a patient game. The octopus watches and waits, surrounding the crab or other unsuspecting creature before closing its tentacles around it. I want to learn from an octopus to come side-on, corral peoples’ hearts and souls, trusting they will draw their own humane conclusions.

I’m not saying we don’t need advocates. Of course, we do. They are the voice of our consciousness. They raise a cry on behalf of humanity. They name the things we fail to. They give voice to silent suffering. They hold our collective grief, especially the grief we are dissociated from; the grief we will not acknowledge which is the consequence of our mindless, greedy, selfish, consumerist behaviours on this planet.

I once was one of them. But it is an exhausting, lonely, nightmarish podium on which to stand for too long and eventually ones’ legs give way. We burn out, become exhausted and disillusioned with humanity – these are all built into the job description.

I’ve done my time there. I’ve had my heart butchered, my soul excoriated and my spirit dismembered, just like that octopus had her tentacle torn off by the shark.

I thought I was done.

But octopus tentacles grow back.

***

‘How did you get your book optioned for the screen?’ a friend asks me. ‘Did someone just read the book and approach you?’

I laughed even though the answer hurt.

In October last year, a friend of mine was brutally raped and tortured over many hours. I set up a GoFundme campaign to help raise money for her medical costs and recovery. Then some weeks later, Hannah Clarke and her children were murdered when her ex-husband set them alight.

I heard a voice say, ‘You’re not done yet with this issue. Take this story and find a way to tell it to more people.’

You could say I had an encounter with the divine.

***

So I made a list of every person I knew in movies and television and reached out to them.

I posted out many copies of my book.

I set up meetings.

I spoke about Hannah Clarke. The zeitgeist. #MeToo.

It happened quickly and without fuss. Bunya Productions optioned it for the screen.

Then I really got a fright.

That voice inside me said, ‘Now what, Fedler? Here it is, the opportunity you’ve asked for, a greater platform on which to tell this story.’

And so as I prepare myself for four days in a writers’ room to discuss the characters, plot and how to bring the story into peoples’ living rooms and hearts, I am taking my octopus teacher with me as my compass.

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What Took Me so Long?

What Took Me so Long?

There is an unease in the household.

It’s not only the terrible news of the murder of Hannah Baxter and Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey, her three children at the hands of their father.

It’s about an epoch of violence against women.

It takes place in the context of my own inertia, in taking pride in the fact that I think I am a #goodman, in the fact that Joanne Fedler would not be with me if I was not a #goodman.

So, as usual, I sit back, I tut tut, I nod in agreement at the outrage rightly bursting out.

I agree that the Queensland policeman was an idiot and ill-informed with his “man pushed too far” excuse.

I agree that the media – with some exceptions, women writers mainly – spin a narrative that portrays actions of a man who was a good father, an ex-NRL player etc… and that confounds me.

I lazily cling to the coat tails of everyone else’s outrage.

I am dumbfounded by the behaviour, I believe I could never be capable of that.

As if that is enough.

So I sit back.

Maybe waiting for it to all die down.

But it doesn’t die down.

And like the violence, it won’t die down, unless there is a move to act and change.

So, not unexpectedly, that unease came to a head tonight.

(It’s the coming to a head part and my wife’s relentless challenging of me that led me to end up here in the first place.)

“You’re a coward.

“I am so disappointed.

“It’s because men like you don’t speak up that this happens.

“You’re so quiet.

“You’re part of the problem.”

I aspire to be carefully prepared if I am to tackle something publicly.

I am measured, I need the facts, time to reflect, think about the consequences, I don’t want a flame war, especially in the easily misconstrued bluntness of the grammar of Facebook. I generally don’t post much beyond inanities, and what good will a few “likes” do anyway?

“What are you waiting for?

“Waiting for the right time?

“You should be fucking furious.

“What if it was your daughter?”

There is no answer to these questions, other than action.

This is all also taking place in the smaller context of me totally coincidentally reading Peter Harris’ In a Different Time, an account of a famous political trial in South Africa in the late 80’s.

And what motivated people to not only take a stand, not only to speak out, but to act and to move for change. At great personal risk… as far as facing the death penalty.

So, so what if things are misconstrued, or so what if I am seen to be weak. It’s not weakness to do the right thing.

When I saw the distress and frustration in the tears of my wife’s eyes, carrying the sadness of Hannah’s family, of every victim of domestic violence in South Africa, in Australia, in the world, I thought, what the fuck am I actually waiting for. This is not difficult, just a start is easy.

I am embarrassed by the males of my species.

I do feel like a coward.

I am outraged.

We have to stop being lazy, we have to speak up.

Stop turning a blind eye.

Starting in the small places where we can.

In the boardrooms where lip service is paid to gender diversity, but nothing changes.

On the sports fields where hand eye co-ordination trumps sexual violence.

Stop listening to bloated shock jocks and call out casual misogyny, not to mention racism and homophobia, they seem to go together, sometimes.

I know my mates are outraged (you wouldn’t be my mates if you weren’t) and you all need to stand up and say you are outraged.

I’m not sure right now what the next step is, I am not a leader, I am maybe one monkey, but this is my start.

PS: Please don’t fucking say that this post is brave, because it’s not, it’s easy to type.

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It’s Too Late to Leave

It’s Too Late to Leave

(Trigger warning for climate change denialists and anyone with a broken heart)

‘I didn’t know I loved the earth
can someone who hasn’t worked the earth love it …
I didn’t know I loved the sky
cloudy or clear…
I didn’t know I loved trees…
I didn’t know I liked rain
whether it falls like a fine net or splatters against the glass …
I didn’t know I loved so many things and I had to wait until sixty
to find it out sitting by the window on the Prague-Berlin train
watching the world disappear as if on a journey of no return
Nazim Hikmet

I’ve been thinking about Nazim Hikmet’s poem Things I Didn’t Know I Loved each morning as the eerie pink sun rises through the smoke haze.

I didn’t know I loved a golden sunrise. Opening my window to let in fresh air. Dark stormy clouds that shatter with rain.

‘Only know you love her when you let her go,’ Passenger sings.

‘And you let her go.’

***

My late Granny Bee used to say, ‘If you have nothing nice to say, rather say nothing at all.’

She meant this in the context of an unfortunate outfit choice, but it applied to the losses of her life. I once tried to get her to talk about her mother’s death from tuberculosis when she was 16 (her mother just 36), and the miscarriage at six months of her unborn son. But the most I could wrestle from her was, ‘my darling, in those days, you just got on with it.’

Getting on with it, plastering grief with politeness, made of my granny, a fabulous liar. She could mask pain with a dab of powder, a sweep of blush and a smidge of lipstick. She was, above all, a lady and it was decidedly unladylike to speak of hard things.

I’ve tried to live by her ‘be nice or be quiet,’ principle. My online personality is as an optimist, motivator, cheerleader. I am, by nature, an enthusiast, so I haven’t had to lie much to keep this persona up.

But, dear friends, I’m all out of nice.

As fires have raged across Australia, we are in a time of irreparable loss – millions of animals and ecosystems are burning, our oceans are coated in ash, our air is barely breathable, and our government remains in denial about climate change.

I am close to tears all the time. I’m confused, saturated with grief and my New Year’s Eve was characterized by my fury that Sydney went ahead with fireworks and our PM took a little ‘well-deserved break’ in Hawaii while firefighters cancelled their Christmas lunches to save homes and lives.

So, I’ve gone quiet. I haven’t wanted to inflict my agony on any of you good people, dealing with your own agonies.

I have no fucking idea what is being asked of me and how to be of service anymore, amidst the chaos, choking smoke and unrelenting despair.

Some days, my only solace has been an ocean swim when the air outside is breathable and the ocean is not toxic with ash. I’ve been collecting shells the ocean sends my way, diving deep down to the sea floor to retrieve them. I only take the broken ones – little elders of the sea. I started adorning them with bits of silver and gold jewellery, gold leaf, precious and semi precious stones. I’ve called them ‘ocean kintsugi’ shells. I’m going to fill them with healing prayers. When the time comes, I will take them to places which have been ravaged by suffering and grief, and plant them there.

 

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.

In Australia, bushfire warning systems alert people about the fire danger, to help them make decisions about whether to evacuate or stay and defend their properties.

If it’s ‘too late to leave,’ you’re stuck. There is no way out. The roads are closed. You’ve left your decision to evacuate too long either because you were overly optimistic that the fire wouldn’t come close enough or you were in denial about the severity of the threat. Either way, you will have to defend your property with your life, and pray.

This is exactly where we find ourselves – all of us. Climate change is upon us; it’s arrived. This is not a drill. It’s not a mild threat, it’s a catastrophic one. And it’s too late to leave.

So what do we do now?

The way I see it, we have two choices. We can remain in denial and carry on with our lives-as-before hoping we can outrun it.

But if we do, we become the dead weight those who are conscious, awake and taking action have to lug with them. We’re taking up space and resources and making their work much, much harder. It’s the selfish option and we’re kind of running out of room for selfish on this tired little blue globe.

Or, we can face head on what is coming our way – which is more of what is already unbearable. To do this, we need to be well prepared for the interminable griefs that are still to come.

None of us is protected from what lies ahead. Our wealth, status or distance from Australia won’t save us. Every single living human being right now is bound and affected by this omnicide (the destruction of all life around us) and solastalgia (ecological grief for the worlds we are losing).

And if we cannot come together as one now, well, folks, we’re truly fucked.

Australia is the canary in the coalmine for the rest of the world.

Please let our devastating losses not be for nothing.

Here it is – the defining moment where we can change.

Maybe we cannot alter the trajectory of destruction that awaits, but we can change who we are and how we travel forward into this burnt new world.

Here are some soulful ways in which we might evolve: Can we drop the ‘me-me-me’ shtick? Can we conceive a future defined by values other than money and our own personal comfort? Are we able to treat every human, animal and plant species as something other than a resource put here for our personal benefit?

Can we remember (Australia, I’m talking to you), that there is a karmic cost to turning away every refugee or displaced person who arrives on our shores on a boat? That there is a legacy to coal mining? That the reason the world has not rushed to our shores to help put out our fires is because we are an arrogant, racist, smug island with a PM who thinks a good old game of cricket will cure a summer of scorching fires? Can we listen to indigenous wisdom? Can we stay humble and humane?

Here we are, then – in a time when we’re remembering all the things we didn’t know we loved because they are disappearing around us. The era of self-help is over, I’m sorry if you missed your chance to be the best version of you.

But it’s okay – what each of us wants personally or individually is frankly, irrelevant. If we continue our carbon-heavy overseas holidays, avocado smash brunches and shopping sprees, let us do so, knowing that we’re fiddling while Rome is burning.

Our children’s futures depend on our ability to think transpersonally about the years ahead – in other words, even if it doesn’t suit us, or it doesn’t personally benefit us (as in planting trees under whose shade we will never get to sit). This is our chance to rethink how we spend our time and money; and to stop wasting – time, resources, electricity, water and energy.

We can each take responsibility for the tiny corner of the planet we’re lucky enough to still inhabit and do what we can to heal it.

We can’t fix the whole damn catastrophe. But we can’t do nothing. Please don’t throw up your hands because you think, ‘what’s the use of doing this one small thing?’

Your small thing holding hands with my small thing and everyone else’s small thing, might just tip the scales.

Let’s do everything to become people who deserve the earth we didn’t know we loved.

Let’s not let her go. Even if she decides to let us go.

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Ocean Pash

Ocean Pash

Ocean Pash

‘Your mother and I worry about how far out you swim.’ My father’s voice got serious. He tends to hold the phone so that instead of his face, I’m looking up at the ceiling, or at his nostril. He still hasn’t got this whole look at the phone screen while you’re WhatsApping routine down. But I’m not complaining. This time last year he almost died. I’m happy to see his nasal or ear hairs while we speak. ‘What about the sharks?’ he asked. ‘Why aren’t you scared?’

It’s a fair enough question, and one I am probably just about ready to answer. It’s (almost to the day) a year ago since I prolapsed a disc in my back. I had just arrived in South Africa, rushed to the hospital where my dad was in ICU, tentacled to too many machines. And as I left that ward, my disc popped. For the next eight weeks, I couldn’t stand or walk.

Finally, back in Sydney, I started walking in an ocean bath to get some movement back. That became a few gentle laps of swimming, which took me out into the bay, and finally into open water. To where the sharks are.

‘Dad,’ I said, ‘of course I’m scared.’

It would be foolish to swim out into the vast expanse of the ocean and not be conscious of the fact that I am in shark territory – not to mention in the neighbourhood of jimbles, blue-bottles, manta-rays, octopus and jellyfish.

How do I explain this to my father?

I have lived most of my life in a state of fear, saying NO because of what might happen when I am out of my comfort zone. I’ve avoided experiences because of my fear of failure; my anxiety; my lack of trust in my body. I still cannot ride a bicycle. I have a weak back. Physical strength is something of a mystery to me. As is a sense of safety. I think all women feel this way to some extent.

But I swore, when I was flat on my back this time last year – that I would never again take my mobility or my body for granted. I would no longer live my life as fear’s bitch.

The Finnish have the concept of Sisu – which is the art of doing difficult things. It is often spoken of in the context of ice swimming and translates as grit, fortitude or perseverance – or ‘not taking the easy way out.’ Doing uncomfortable things creates a certain resilience and tenacity. It turns a flabby consciousness into a sharp tool we can draw on to overcome challenging experiences. It allows us to tap into mental strength beyond the limits of what we think we have in reserve. It takes us to the edges of our own tolerance, discomfort, and courage.

If we’re always only doing the things that feel easy to us, how will we grow? Growth is always about stretching ourselves outside the choreography of previous situations. My friend Faith laughed at me the other day when she heard I’d done a 4km ocean swim: ‘Jo, you’re so extreme.’

 

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.

But you know, until I stepped out of the water that day, I didn’t know if I could swim 4km in rough seas. I went in, as Zed encouraged me, ‘trusting my training,’ but unsure of whether the ocean would co-operate and let me finish.

I come to the water as a visitor. I behave as a guest. I stand at the edge and I ask permission to enter. I wait for an answer. Some days, I feel the answer is ‘no.’ Then, I go for a paddle in an ocean bath. If the answer is yes, I ask for safe passage. Only then, do I head in.

When I am back on land, I’m aware it’s only by the grace of the ocean. I never take for granted that it’s something I’m owed, or I can rely on.

This relationship is teaching me to trust the water, and that in turn is helping me to meet parts of myself I’ve never met – I’m obsessed with the parts of my brain that are just sitting dormant in my cranium and how to unlock them. How might we evolve as a human species if we all used more than just fractions of our brain power and imagination? (If I hadn’t become an author, I’d love to have been a neuroscientist).

So, yes, perhaps I am always looking for places I haven’t been to. I’m always wondering what else there is – not just out there in the world but inside me. Some people take this literally and travel. But we don’t have to fly to new places to encounter ourselves afresh. We can simply know what we’re afraid of, and venture into its waters.

I don’t expect to ever not fear sharks. That would be to misunderstand who and where I am.

But the truth is that I am more scared of human beings. I’m more afraid of Trump, Boris Johnson, Scott Morrison, and the cruelty and idiocy of ignorant, greedy people, the lack of compassion and disregard for nature than I am of a shark looking for its next meal.

I am more afraid of the world in which the oceans become sharkless because of our brutality and violation of the laws of nature. An ocean that is icy cold and full of sharks is a healthy one. That’s the ocean I want to swim in. That’s the ocean I pray for every day.

It is also statistically unlikely that I will ever become shark bait. It’s far more probable that I will get hit by a car or struck down by one of the many somaterric diseases that our pollution of the planet has made an almost inevitable fate for many of us.

And, I would rather be swimming in an ocean with sharks than flat on my back with a prolapsed disc.

So, what can I tell my dad?

Dad, I want to know myself in the light of experiences I have not yet had. It’s why I wanted a natural childbirth (how much pain could I tolerate without drugs? Never got to find out – had to have Caesareans). It’s why I did the 4 km instead of the 2 km swim. I want to know what my own personal thresholds are. It feels like a good practice.

Because someday everything that is comfortable and familiar will be taken from me – including you. And when that time comes, I want to be a good practitioner of discomfort. Pain is a good teacher. Grief, of course is the best teacher of all. While I’m lucky enough to be pain-free and skirting the edges of grief, I go to the ocean and I ask the sharks to be my guides.

Here are two photos – one from this time last year and one from now. I am grateful for the journey that brought me here.

There’s an Octopus in the Room

‘We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.’- Mary Oliver In a week’s time, I will get to live my dream. Over four days, I’ll sit in what is called in the industry, a ‘writers’ room’ with five smart, talented women and we will discuss how to turn my...

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...

The Art of Shutting Up and Keeping Secrets

When we start writing, we get excited and want to share our happy news like a newly pregnant mother-to-be. We want to blab to everyone, ‘Hey, I’m writing a book.’ It’s hard to keep a secret as big and beautiful as this. But we must. If we care about what we’re doing,...

Grabbing the Reins of Creativity

I remember as a kid thinking creativity was this wild, carefree, easy-going emotion that you just got into, rather like finger-painting. But as I have started using the innovative side of my brain as an adult, I realise what a fragile, ethereal thing creativity really...

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...

What Would Happen If You Just Stopped?

Yep, you know what I mean. Just stopped. Did nothing. If you'd asked me this question during the past 18 months while I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, it would have baffled me. I love hard work. I've got what we call 'zeitzvleis' - 'sitting-flesh' - I can do...

May It Happen for You

May It Happen for You

May It Happen for You

Sometimes

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscatel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you

– Sheenagh Pugh

As we hurtle towards the end of 2019, I’m rounding the year up, harvesting the insights and trying to work out how I’ve become that weird and crazy person – you know, the type you see down at the beach in winter, swimming.

The year began with me flat on my back. That L3 L4 disc. I had to draw on my entire life savings of spiritual work to keep me steady and ‘trusting the story’ that was playing out.

It played out.

I took to water to learn to move again – I had to be reintroduced to gravity, like a disloyal friend who has to earn back our confidence.

The small forays in the ocean baths became swims across Coogee bay and that in turn has led me to the greatest love of my life (Zed knows, he’s good with it). Learning how to be in the ocean – to read the tides, understand the rips, manage the swells, use the waves – has taught me humility, courage and stamina. I’ve  now done four open water ocean swims – the kind of thing I consider a little reckless and extreme. The most thrilling part is that I don’t know who I am anymore. I used to ‘hate cold water’ and was ‘afraid of big waves and sharks.’ These are all still a bit true. But a little less true.

The ocean has become a life theme, a foundation of my every day, and it has helped me hold steady through a year of big decisions (letting go of my crazy busy-ness); writing a new book (The Sabbatical – the third in the Secret Mothers’ Business trilogy), staying somewhat sane while my 22 year old daughter was travelling alone through Europe for 6 weeks; big griefs and sadnesses. 

 

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.

In April this year, l lost a beloved friend, Carol Thomas. She was maybe the best obstetrician and gynecologist, but without doubt, one of the magnificent humans you’re lucky to meet once or twice in your life. I met her when we were both women’s rights activists on the Reproductive Rights Alliance in South Africa many years ago. She delivered my son Aidan in 1999. Her death seared my heart and brought me to my soul’s knees. I kept swimming, sobbing my grief into the water, my goggles filling with tears.

It was a blessing to then come upon Stephen Jenkinson and his two astonishing books Die Wise and Come of Age which have literally changed me – how many books ever do that? Jenkinson says being an elder is about ‘having your heart wrecked on schedule.’ And so it has been.The water has held me through it all – the stingray, the blue gropers, the small silver and gold flecks of fin, the jimbles that have stung me ragged, the speckled wobbegongs, the large manta rays that have terrified and thrilled me, even a small Port Jackson shark (harmless, by all accounts) I came a little too close to one morning.

The sea has offered me daily astonishments with which to actively forge joy – a mercy in the face of all that has crept in as cruelty and suffering, including the terrible effects of climate change around us that are hurting our earth and the future of all sentient beings.

Of course, life is always mottled. Beauty shines like the gold resin that holds broken pieces together in the Japanese art of Kintsugi. A happy collaboration with talented artist Margaret Rolla came to fruition this year in a little book of Meditations and Visualizations for Aspiring Authors and Writers  as we turned the meditations from my signature Author Awakening Adventure course into an exquisitely illustrated book. It is Marg’s first book, so yet another celebration. Lucky for you, it’s just in time for Christmas and Chanukkah gifts.

Aren’t her illustrations exquisite? I hope you’ll grab a copy or two to gift over this festive season.

After I’ve finished the rewrite on The Sabbatical, I’m planning a couple of retreats next year – some will be for writers (I’m especially interested in working with women leaders who need support and mentorship to bring a book into the world). Others may involve healing through storytelling, family constellations and even ocean swimming (When Wound Meets Water) through collaborations with some spectacular and powerful women. In this way, I hope to cross paths with some of you in 2020.

I wish you all a blessed festive season and new year. As the Pugh poem above goes, sometimes goodness prevails.

May it happen for you.

My Triumvirate: Meditation, Mantra and Memoir

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...

Twelve Things Your Mum Was Right About

There’ll come a point in your life when you’ll suddenly have a flashback to your childhood. And it will be your mother’s voice. And you will concede – graciously or otherwise – that all those irritating things she used to say to you when you were a kid were actually...

For the Brave Ones

When I was asked to curate a series of blog posts for 16 days of activism against gender violence, I quickly discovered I was unprepared. I had to approach these stories like a child on the shoreline of a cold, dark ocean. I was scared to rush into the immensity of...

How’s That Cynicism Working for You?

I went to law school. I got not one, but two law degrees – one at Yale. Yippee for me, right? Actually, my entire life since then has been a recovery from legal thinking. Not that I don’t value logic, clarity, causation and an understanding of what it means to think...

What Writers Can Learn from a Cake Mix

In the 1950s, General Mills launched cake mix under the Betty Crocker brand. Everything was in powdered form. It was aimed at the busy housewife – all she had to do was add water and bake. But surprisingly, the cake mix didn’t sell. A team of psychologists was brought...

Who Are You to Write Your Story?

Over the past years, I’ve been working with ordinary women who are writing the ordinary stories of their lives. 'Why would anyone care about my story?' each one asks in her way. 'Who am I to write my story?' 'What does my life matter? I’ve done nothing special. I’m...