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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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To My Sisters Who Are in Their Midlife

To My Sisters Who Are in Their Midlife

To my sisters who are in their midlife,

I read a piece yesterday about how ‘invisible’ women over 50 become. It was one of those old cliched tirades against menopause and ageing and how she’s going to wear her short skirt and go to clubs and get drunk and do what she wants because she insists on BEING SEEN. And you know what, we’re better than that. I’m frankly tired of the clichés and old narratives about this time of life.

If we want to focus on the desperations of menopause, and how sweaty, exhausted and bloated and forgetful it is making us, we can. But like, why? If we stop for one mindful moment, we may just get an idea of what a worn-out old story this is, I’m talking ‘sacrifice-your-only-son-for-I-am-the-Lord-Your-God’ boring and outdated and not written by or for me.

For one thing, ageing is a privilege. Our kids may not get to age. We’ve all got girlfriends who’ve died young. Can we remember them when we start feeling sorry for ourselves?

Secondly, in addition to the weight-gain, forgetfulness and whatever other disruptions ageing brings, midlife also heralds wisdom, clarity, self-acceptance, humility, equanimity, courage, whole-heartedness and all the qualities that eluded us during our hyped up and over-pimped ‘youth.’ And I feel sexier for it, but in a new kinda sexy way, because it’s for ME. No-one else.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

I wish Facebook would stop pushing anti-ageing products on me. If my boobs droop – that’s one of the honours of getting older. My wrinkles? I’ve earned each and every one of them, and you want me to spend money on erasing them?

And as for us womenfolk, can we please stop carrying on about how invisible we are?

To whom? To men? To people who legislate about our bodies when they’ve never changed a tampon or been in labour?? To those who don’t know the fear of walking home alone after dark? To those who sit around boardroom tables and share locker room jokes? Have we EVER been seen in a way that is empowering beyond what men want to do with and to us?

What does our anxiety about being ‘invisible’ even mean about how we value ourselves? If no-one wolf-whistles as we pass by; if men don’t harass us based on how we look, how much power does that return to us? Being ‘invisible’ to those who can’t see us is a symptom of a cultural blindness and makes us incredibly dangerous in the ‘they-will-never-see-us-coming’ way. Armies spend a lot of time and money on these strategies.

The more ‘invisible’ I’ve become to men (if that’s even a thing I could give a single fuck about), the more visible I’ve become to myself. That is the gift in turning your gaze inwards, to stop caring what others think about how you look, how you speak, what you wear, and who you choose to be.

Please take some time in front of a mirror and look closely at that face.

See yourself.

Become visible.

Let’s stop perpetuating this poor-me-no-one-can-see-me shtick. We have shit to fix. We have work to do.

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