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,

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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Bad Art Is Fabulous in So Many Ways

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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.

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How’s That Cynicism Working for You?

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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.

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I Am Well if You Are Well

I was a week away from my due date. I was enormous and uncomfortable as I stood barefoot on the deserted beach. I had survived the past year. Barely. Grief and sadness swirled in me like aurora borealis. Birth demands hope. You have to be an optimist to bring new life into the world.

As I scanned the horizon, my heart heavier than the heft of my unborn son, a whale leapt out of the water, twisted in an air-dance before it disappeared again. I gasped. I have seen many whales breach, but none so completely.

It launched again. And again. Each time, my gasps turned to whoops, and then to laughter. I looked around as people do in the presence of large sea creatures, to say, ‘Check out that crazy backflipping whale!’ but I was alone on that beach, the only witness.

Eighteen years have passed, but the magic of that moment remains unabbreviated in my psyche.

When that whale soared in defiance of gravity, I swear, I felt chosen: to be the eye that sees the tree fall in the forest, so that it can be said, ‘it made a sound.’

Sometimes when we’re unravelling, all it takes is an instant like this to rewire us and bring us back. It’s not every day that we’ll find ourselves the only onlooker to an uncommon sighting in Nature such as this. But there is an equivalent witnessing process we can each draw on whenever we need it. And it happens through writing.

When we put words on the page, two mystical processes are activated. Firstly, we take up our position, no longer as a victim of our lives, but as an attentive survivor. It requires of us new and brave eyes because if no-one else has seen our grief we may have begun to ‘unsee’ it too. When asked ‘how are you?” we may have taught ourselves to say, ‘I’m fine, really,’ and ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ We may have become sanitation experts of our experiences, with easy, manicured responses to some of our most profound suffering.

There is danger in this wilful un-witnessing. In his beautiful book The Smell of Rain on Dust, Martin Prechtel writes, ‘It is a terrible source of grief not to be able to grieve.’ When we do not tend to ourselves in this deeply present manner, we tolerate illness, loneliness and invisibility. It’s exhausting not to feel the truth of our experiences.

Writing reverses all that. When we write, we volunteer to be the eye that sees. Heartache and loss – which perhaps has felt unshareable – is reshaped. And I would go so far as to say that even if no-one ever reads our words, we have by our own action declared, ‘My life is worth bearing witness to.’ That alone, is deeply healing.

 

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?

Secondly, in writing, we summon our own hidden wildlife – it’s always there, just beneath the surface, the way the whales exist in the ocean long before we catch them playing in full sight. As we stitch language to emotion, we invite meaningful, creative conversations with ourselves about what it means to be alive. I believe this is what Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist meant when he said, ‘You have to learn to recognize your own depth.’

We may even fall back in love with ourselves when we receive – as we always do – a sign (the emotional equivalent of a breaching whale) that something powerful and beyond imagination survives within us. I have seen many people come back from the dead through their writing.

So how do we create an environment for this witnessing to flourish?

Martin Prechtel suggests we go down to the ocean to grieve, but never alone. Always with a ‘designated non-griever.’ Someone who ‘knows how to listen’ and who will not try to ‘cure you.’ The role of this person is to witness your grief, and to make sure you don’t drown. Someone to keep you safe, but not restrained.

As a writing mentor, I have started to think of myself as the equivalent of a ‘designated non-griever,’ someone who can remain compassionate and unflinching as people explore the desolations and wounds that have made them who they are.

The Shona tribe of Zimbabwe respond to the greeting ‘Are you well?’ with, ‘I am well if you are well.’

These words are  my invitation to anyone who wants to awaken through their writing. It’s been my dream to create an online community where people who have until now, felt alone in their suffering, can feel like they belong.

We have a shared responsibility to bear witness to one another’s grief, lest, as Cheryl Strayed reminds us, ‘the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live – well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease. We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.’

Storytelling is how we share this load with others and as a culture, carry one another forward. In telling our stories we put a call out in the universe, ‘Is anyone there?’ When our story touches another, who calls back, ‘I am here, if you are here,’ it’s as if for a brief moment a whale dances and hope leaps back at us, wildly and unjustifiably.

And we remember who we are and why we are here.

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