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.

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.

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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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To My Sisters Who Are in Their Midlife

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.

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.

Dueling with a Four-Year-Old

There is a world, a ‘place of tomorrow,’ Kahlil Gibran writes, in which our children’s souls dwell, which ‘we cannot visit, not even in our dreams.’ That world of fairies and elves my daughter inhabits is a familiar, beckoning place. I delight in her lilting musings...

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...

In Search of Words about Writing

What is it like to write? When I first discovered Dylan Thomas in my early teens, it unbolted a mayhem of yearning inside me. I knew only that I wanted to do that with language, to cause a rousing inside another, simply by the laying down of words in a particular...

Why Books Are the Best Presents

Why Books Are the Best Presents and All of Our Wins in 2018   "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers."―Charles William Eliot ‘I’m so proud of you,’ I sniffed. I...

The Dynamics of Manifestation… I Get It Now

A couple of years ago, I wrote a book to help other writers get their story into the world called Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it. My aim for it was modest – I was going to self publish it, and it would be a gift to the writers I mentor and...

Bad Art Is Fabulous in So Many Ways

Bad Art Is Fabulous in So Many Ways

Bad Art Is Fabulous in So Many Ways

‘Our spiritualities will be found not in what we profess, but in where our energies are most invested most hours of most days.’

James Hollis

Bad art is fabulous in so many ways.

Instead of letting poor writing or bad movies depress you, you can use them to inspire you. They can be a source of deep learning. In talks or on retreats, I bring out two books to prove my point that anyone can write a book – Roundabouts of Great Britain and Images You Should Not Masturbate To, both published by traditional publisher. True.

I’m right in the heart of writing my new book, The Sabbatical, about a group of women in their fifties, in which I want to shatter and refuse to accede to the defeating clichés about midlife, you know – the despair about ageing, sunspots, wrinkles, crowsfeet, the paunch, urinary incontinence, the muffin top, the weight gain, the libido-MIA, senile warts, the onset of all kinds of age-related (age-appropriate) wear ‘n tear, conditions, even diseases. We are worn-down-to-death by these narratives, they offer us nothing but same-old stories; an accession to decrepitude; more of what came before.

The Sabbatical is the third in the trilogy of Secret Mother’s Business, and explores the empty nest, divorce, widowhood, sickness, regret, relationships with adult children and the deep questions of what our responsibility is to the younger generation. I just didn’t want to fall into the bemoaning trap: getting old sucks, we’re invisible, woe are our tired-dried-up bits; let’s have another glass of wine.

So I was excited to see Amy Poehler’s directorial debut in the movie Wine Country, about a group of old friends who go off to Napa Valley to celebrate one of the friend’s 50th birthdays. Finally, a movie about women my age – ’bout time. I settled down to watch this, with huge anticipation thinking it would surely give me inspiration.

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 am always loathe to take up the role of the critic, it being such an easy, lazy position, generally by people who don’t create themselves. But – and this is a strong opinion – I detested this movie. If that’s what women become in our midlife, we are surely doomed – ridiculous, alcohol-motivated, sex-with-younger-men-seeking ego-maniacs. I wanted to be no-one in that movie. I didn’t want a single one of those women as my friends.

I love the talent of the actresses in that movie, but I wish Amy Poehler had just asked herself: what do women in their fifties need to know about themselves that society doesn’t already push down our throats? What kind of role models are women who are not obsessed with romance, body image, children and getting independently wealthy? What ‘message’ or vision of life is this movie in service to?

James Hollis writes, in Hauntings:

‘The goal of life (these days) is not an afterlife, but apparently to enjoy this one. But the materialistic vision of our time leads to this dilemma: if the numinous is not experienced in the outer world, it will manifest either as somatic illness, internalized pathology, or we will be owned by our search for it among the objects upon which we have projected our existential yearning in the outer world. Thus shiny new objects, seductive technologies, sex and romance, hedonism, self-absorption and most of all, distraction, constitute the chief ‘spiritualities’ of our time.’

Wine Country has been a great inspiration for my new book but not in the way I expected. It has helped me clarify the kind of women, conversations and bigger picture message I want my book to convey by showing me what I surely do NOT want to reflect back to readers. I want readers to finish my book, excited about ageing; their inner wisdom and the strength of their life experience to offer light to the younger generation.

So, I guess, thanks Amy Poehler for the awfulness that is Wine Country which has helped me shape, conceive and give life to my characters – women who are, each in their own way, strong leaders, deep thinkers, and who are taking our responsibility to lives beyond our egos, seriously.

After I Blow the Whistle, I’m in Your Hands

Several years ago, one of my books published by one of the top five publishing houses in the world did so dismally I contemplated giving up writing. It had taken two precious years of my life to research and write it, and all my publisher could say was, ‘I’m sorry,...

Sometimes, People Don’t Trust Me

Sometimes, people don’t trust me. Here's why: When someone comes to me with a burning desire to write, or a story that’s wormed its way into their core, I am a cheerleader. Like the craziest, wildest, noisiest fan: ‘Go!’ ‘Keep going!’ 'You can do this! You’re almost...

What Every Writer Needs on Her Shelf

Finding the right word may take more than just a click of a mouse... I inherited a Roget’s Thesaurus from my late grandfather. It has one of those hard-covers made from cloth. My grandfather’s signature is on the front page with the date 10-3-36. A few pages in is a...

Spotlight on Michele Susan Brown

Happy International Women's Day. I hope you're going to make some time for yourself today - to listen in to your heart, and to reconnect with the life inside you that is only yours. Maybe do something kind for your body. Give it a compliment. A massage. A dunk in the...

7 Things the Writing Community Can Do for You

Being part of a writing community has changed so much for me. I have been a writer my entire life, but I have almost always navigated the ocean of words on my own. Only in the last year have I come to realize what it means to my journey to have other oarsmen in the...

Swimming with Details

I just returned from a family trip to the Big Island of Hawaii where we celebrated my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. We experienced vast views of lava-filled fields against turquoise waters, watched white puffs of whale blows, cheered breaches of power, savored...

How’s That Cynicism Working for You?

How’s That Cynicism Working for You?

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 as oppose to entirely emote.

However, I have spent too long amongst cynics and sceptics. Not that I don’t flirt with these energies on occasion. But here’s what I’ve noticed. I am usually cynical and sceptical when my vibration is low. When I’m not focused. When things aren’t going my way. When I allow my ego to be my boss.

I ‘came out’ on social media as a spiritualist – as someone who believes in a higher force, in ‘spirit’ or ‘God’ or whatever name you want to give the mystery. I’ve finally owned that my work is overtly ‘spiritual.’ I risk mockery, not only out there, but in my own family in which my teenagers have said, not so kindly, ‘Mum, we’re just not into all that spiritual shit.’

Spiritual people talk funny. We speak about invisible forces that cannot be measured. We pray -which to the cynic, looks like ‘talking to yourself.’ We don’t know all the answers. We believe in things. Like the power of intention, surrender, service, abundance and other such fluff. We risk being misunderstood as ‘religious.’ Which perhaps some of us are – but I am not.

So here’s my question: where does cynicism and scepticism get you?

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?

Let’s think for a moment about the energies of both of these states: they’re ‘I don’t believe in… (God, magic, homeopathy, fairies, angels, life-after-death, organic food… just pick your favourites.) ‘ And that’s fine – we shouldn’t just ‘believe in stuff,’ but by the same measure, we shouldn’t diss everything too.

Scepticism’s synonyms are doubt, uncertainty, distrust, disbelief. Cynicism’s are pessimism, sarcasm, contempt, suspicion, disparagement, scorn.

Yikes.

I, for one, am completely over those energies in my life. And since I’ve given them up, my heart is light, my work feels meaningful, and as a bonus, many of the ‘dreams’ I had when my ego was my boss, have come to fruition. It’s just that I recognize now, that ‘I’ didn’t make it happen. The mystery did. Maybe even Spirit had a hand in it. Who knows?

Not me. And I bow my head and say ‘thank you.’

Ask the universe for help. Give thanks for the blessings in your life. Stay attuned to the wonder around you.

Why I Struggle to Share My Writing on Social Media

“You should share all your work on social,” an editor told me firmly, some years ago. And from then on, I did. Every time one of my articles was published, I dutifully posted a link to Facebook. And each time I felt miserable, as I anxiously awaited the...

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...

Artist-in-Reticence

A month ago, I found out that I was going to be a literary artist-in-residence. I was shocked and delighted, but also uncomfortably pleased with myself for managing to secure such an opportunity. I felt honoured. And excited. Yet an underlying sense of hubris was...

The Stories Our Wardrobes Tell

‘Can I wear this?’ my teenage daughter asked, holding up a black silk shirt from my wardrobe. ‘I need a black top for drama and I don’t have one.’ ‘Ummmm….’ I paused, remembering that the last time I wore that shirt, it was ripped off me in a moment of passion by 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...

Being with What Is Leaving Us

I have never nursed a dying person. Regrettably, I have killed many a plant. Not on purpose. But it seems as if I’m afflicted with a negligence – perhaps more generously understood as a failure of translation – between caring for fauna and caring for florae. I have...