A Loveline to Celebrate the Thread That Has Woven You Here

A Loveline to Celebrate the Thread That Has Woven You Here

A Loveline to Celebrate the Thread That Has Woven You Here

 

Today is my first birthday without my mother.

I don’t know quite what that means.

She began me and now I am finished in all the ways I know myself as her child.

She was always a quiet force of devotion, gravity and governance and in the months since she left, I have had to seek these strengths within. Without her, I am all alone inside myself. No-one and nothing stands between me and the winds and waves of life.

Today I am 55 – two years older than my father’s mother Chaya was when she died. She’d been living with cardiac failure for five incapacitating years, her great gentle heart collapsing ventricle by ventricle when her sister, brother in law and nephew were killed in the concentration camps.

It’s no good,’ she told my father from her hospital bed. Since thirteen, he has carried the burden of that mantra as heavy as any cross. It has been my task to unshoulder it so my children don’t become sherpas of that darkness.

My father needed her to leave him with a blessing. But terrified and literally heartbroken, knowing she was going to die, she could find no ‘good’ to balance the ‘no good.’

In this year of grieving, I have wondered if it’s possible to hold onto beneficence, even in times of agony and hopelessness.

Yeats’ poem, ‘My Fiftieth Year’ offers illumination:

My fiftieth year had come and gone,
I sat, a solitary man,
In a crowded London shop,
An open book and empty cup
On the marble table-top.

While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.”

To bless others, we must first feel blessed.

 

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?

If we relegate this to circumstance, we are at the mercy of outside forces, prisoners of situation, reliant on fairy godmothers and other such fickle tricksters. We wait, like Rapunzel in the tower for someone to come save us with hope or at least an escape route.

We have more power than that.

‘Being blessed’ is, I believe, a narrative choice. It is a love story we tell about our lives.

It’s how we unpick our ‘dharma,’ or our true calling from the muddle of our experiences and discern the ways we have lived in service to Life – beyond the transactions of hand-to-mouth, nine-to-five, quid pro quo. The ways in which have we handed over and passed on all we have, all we know, all we are capable of, is the deep story of who we are. Not what we do. Not what we earn. Not our roles, genders, achievements or failures.

There is a bright vein that pulses through circumstances, of how life has woven itself through you.

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford

Here is my loveline:

 

And here is a template for you to build your own:

How to turn this exercise into a blessing:

  • Come to it as a ritual (set aside time, light a candle, put on music, lenghten your outbreath, summon deep insight);
  • Pick a theme (creativity, relationships, music, writing, belonging, homes);
  • Build the loveline through years and time with words and images;
  • Remember what you have forgotten – the mistakes, losses and pain as well as the ‘successes’;
  • Give your loveline a name, like The Making of a Mermaid; Thirty Ways I Let Go; Who I Became Because of Chocolate;
  • Pass the template on to others.

If this inspires you to want to explore your loveline with greater attention, my course 7 Tricks to Writing Your Story is a perfect vehicle for this. And just for the month of September, I’ve lowered it to $54.45 which is 55% off the usual cost of the course with the voucher code JOIS55 – to make this an easy gift to give yourself.

May the thread that has woven you here, find you.

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The Joy of Midlife

The Joy of Midlife

The Joy of Midlife

Nearby is the country they call life
You will know it by its seriousness.
— Rilke

 

A certain age arrives where you believe yourself to be post-surprises. With enough been-there-done-that lodged in your bones, you may find yourself saying out loud, ‘Nothing could shock me.’

But the relief came as a surprise. When I turned 50, my kids were young adults, the vigil of my mothering had finally come to an end and I was still alive. If I died, no-one could rightfully mourn, ‘she died so young.’ At best, they might sob, ‘She died so middle-aged.’ It felt like both an existential and generational victory given how many women in my ancestral family died young.

But more than that, it was a giddy, unexpected liberation that was only the gateway to an ever-expanding sense of freedom I had no idea lay just beyond the trenches of mothering.

I’d always romanticized freedom, assuming it was either, like youth, wasted on those without a prefrontal cortex, or on men who left their wives and kids in the intoxicated fog of a midlife crisis. During the long sacrificial years of hands-on parenting, I’d quietly mourned that the days of wanton partying, shagging and shirking were well behind me, and all that was left was relentless responsibility and respectability and where the hell was the fun in that?

The eight kilos that had climbed onboard with menopause and settled in the apron of my midriff, seemed a minor mortification. So, I’d buy bigger clothes. Suddenly, hours opened up like startling blooms, where once was an endless landscape of (dermatologist, dentist, basketball, guitar) arrangements and appointments (none of which were for me). What would I do with such bounty? And why had midlife been kept such a secret? It struck me that knowing your fifties would be your #bestdecadeever might have come in handy as an incentive to get through the quagmire of the previous three.

I had spent my twenties steering myself towards motherhood like a moth to a flame. Every choice was shaped by the goal: find a man, make babies. Motherhood lay before me, an unconquered territory. That was hardly freedom. It was conscription.

In motherhood, I melted into the lives of other people where I became a blur of a person. I clocked up thousands of decisions about the well-being of others entrusted to my care. I wounded my heart worrying about whether they were the right ones, causing my husband to once remark, ‘Don’t beat yourself up, just because it’s your fault.’ The neurosis crippled me. There is no liberation in watching your children struggle when you’d pay good money to suffer instead of them but are powerless to swap places.

Who knew that at midlife, we come to know true freedom for the first 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?

We no longer fret about expiry dates (being left on the shelf or our biological clock). We either met Mr or Ms Right (or several versions of them) or we didn’t. We know – or should by now – that romantic love is a commercially funded and loaded business that sets traps for young women (maybe we were that young woman not so long ago).

We either had babies or we did not. We stop waiting for someone to come and save us, and find we are strong and smart enough to do it ourselves. We cease bitching about our skin/hair/weight because our sister/girlfriend/colleague didn’t make it past forty.

Once we’ve buried people we love, some of whom should have outlived us, (as if ‘should’ has anything to do with dying), we become less cavalier about every moment; and more fastidious about how and with whom we spend them.

We understand time is running out and behave with a sudden-bowel-movement urgency around things that matter.

A woman at this stage of her life is wildly untethered. She’s a terrifying creature if one is fixated on control and containment. She becomes a ‘termagant’ – a term I only just learned: a ‘violent, overbearing, turbulent, brawling, quarrelsome woman; a virago, a shrew.’ In midlife, women shrug off marriages, switch careers, go back to university, start businesses. We stop owing anyone our patience, civility or decency.

Vagueness, a not-sure-what-do-you-think? people-pleasing personality trait lest we not be liked by the average so-and-so, vanishes. Everything blurry clicks into sharp focus, like a lens in those optometry frames which turns an O into a D.

Questions we have delayed for too long nestle in the pistil of our decision-making: where would I like to live, now that ‘near the best schools’ is irrelevant? Do I want to eat meat, since I don’t have to cook for a teenage son? Do I need a television set? A husband? A car? A bra?

Perhaps we find ourselves in our petrification at the rising tide of age, lining up for Botox, facelifts and liposuction, so as not to become invisible. But invisible to whom? We become ever more evident to ourselves as our Emersonian beauty ‘steals inwards.’ Invisibility is and has always been a superpower. Midlife gives us a free pass into our own blessed autonomy.

Behind us lies the rubble and blah-blah of all our successes and failures. We finally have the freedom to leap beyond self-recrimination and bless the work we did even if it did not yield the results we hoped for. We can choose (the zenith of all freedoms) to forgive ourselves for all the mistakes we promised we would never make, and chuckle at the hubris of thinking we could control the outcome.

Then we can toss our greying hair in an insouciant manner unbecoming for a woman our age as we head out in the direction of our ‘at-long-last’ dreams.

We survived our early lives thinking it was our only chance at happiness.

In midlife, we get another go at it. 

Joanne Fedler is an internationally bestselling author of 13 books, her latest is Unbecoming (Lusaris, 2020). www.joannefedler.com

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There’s an Octopus in the Room

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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.

I only hope that whatever we create together in that room will resonate with the delicacy, soulfulness and brilliant beauty of one man’s love song to an ocean creature.

I see it, all the connections. That little octopus with her tentacle torn off by the pyjama shark is women’s bodies. The human is the male psyche.

And I wept to witness that wild, precious creature caressing the hand and chest of a gentle man who would do her no harm.

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What Took Me so Long?

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.

Doppelganger

You are my terrible twin.We were knotted together even as I slipped,womb-blinded, from the darkness into light,the cord severed. We will always be as Janus was,selves torn between the ancient facethat looks forward from the doorwayand the young one that looks...

A Room of One’s Own

When I was five years old, during a routine game of hide-n’-seek, I hid in the cupboard in the spare room, amongst the hanging fur coats and long sequined dresses my mother would never wear again. I was there a long time. Even when my seeker had ‘given up’ and rallied the adults to help find me, though I heard people calling my name, I kept silent, not wanting to betray the sanctuary of my hiding place.

Books Are Like Besties

I equate the experience of reading a good book to sitting alongside my bestie and listening to her share a story in a raw and relatable way. I’m there in the story with her, her words evoking a variety of uncontained visceral responses. I’ve been known to snort, laugh...

Not Pretty Enough

I was never a pretty girl. Not for want of trying or wishing. But there it was. I longed to be someone other people refer to as ‘adorable’ but there was always too much of me for it not to sound ironic. My father put it straight very early on. ‘You will never be a model, my darling,’ he said as if it truly did not matter.

What One Special Mother Did to Bring the World Alive for Her Blind Daughter

What sort of people do we want to be? What sort of people do we want to raise? The answer to both these questions came to me when Tanya Savva approached me with her children’s book, The Adventures of Kenzie-Moo. I created Little Wings Books, the children’s book...

That Dear Little Smear

When that big spunk of a Phys Ed teacher broke my virginity at eighteen, my mother did two things: she put me on the pill and sent me for a pap smear. I didn’t like the sound of that. (Who gets smeared? What is ‘pap’?) Next thing, I was on my back, feet in stirrups...

It’s Too Late to Leave

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.

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...

Don’t Tell Me the Moon is Shining: A Golden Rule of Writing for Aspiring Authors

Anton Chekhov wrote, ‘Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ One of the trickier 'golden rules of great writing’ that can be difficult to understand and execute is the ‘show don’t tell’ rule. What does it mean? It's the...

Bringing Inequality Back into the Bedroom

I came to marriage by a circuitous route. As a radical feminist, I avoided it, certain it was for unintelligent girls who had no aspirations to travel or write books. I was never going to be ‘given away’ or called ‘Mrs’ Someone Else’s Surname. Working with abused...

Keeping Faith

You can tell when someone is hungry. People who are hungry have dry lips. Chapped with dry bits that stick every so often when they talk. They do not pause to lick them, the frayed seams at their mouths. Most of my clients at (POWA) People Opposing Women Abuse, a...

Where Don’t You Want to Go – Go There

My friend Ilze, who is a gifted group facilitator, says, ‘You can only take others as deep as you have gone yourself.’ Writing is like facilitating – it’s leading people (your readers) into the places you’ve visited within. As writers, we’ve tacitly undertaken to our...

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...