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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Nobody Can Do This, But Me

Nobody Can Do This, But Me

Nobody Can Do This, But Me

When I was younger, I believed I needed rescuing.

One day, sitting at an airport, I realised I didn’t want to be that person. I was homeward bound, after galivanting with no purpose, when I suddenly recognised that I could take responsibility for myself, and that I didn’t need to sit around waiting for someone to do it for me. That was the day I began to grow. I took charge of me. I decided to hold myself accountable for the unfolding of my life.  And since that moment, I have grown and evolved into the person I am today. Once I was a lost, lonely girl waiting to be saved.  But now when I look into my past, and see the me I have become, I am in awe of what I have achieved, especially because back then I didn’t know I could.

I run my own Pilates studio now.  And at the beginning of last year I realized I was at another crossroads. I was tired. Tired of being beholden to ideas and thoughts that were not my own, of trying to make everybody happy, and of not sticking to my boundaries. I took a month sabbatical, and the time away helped me see things from a different vantage point. I became clear on what I liked about my profession (and what I liked about myself), why I wanted to teach, and what my boundaries were. I asked myself, ‘What did I want to impart’, ‘Who was I willing to work with (and who was I not)’, and ‘What was important to me?’ I worked on channelling my energy from ‘have to do’s’ to ‘want to do’s.’ I rediscovered my joy of teaching. I remembered what I wanted people to feel when they were in my communal space, and what I wanted to give back to those who trusted me to move them.

I began to see who I was again. I had never been one to put down roots, for years being a restless wanderer, but over the years this changed. I brought my energy, my trust, my process of belonging in my own body – of falling into my skin – to others who needed a safe place to learn to do the same. My sabbatical happened to coincide with an imminent house and studio move, and I realised I would be able to create a studio space to encompass these insights.

About  Robyn

Robyn Spacey is a born and bred Capetonian. Though she hasn’t travelled extensively,  with a mountain, beach and city on her doorstep, she believes she lives in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Robyn is an avid reader, a movement teacher, andmother to a young girl. In her work, she uses words to impart ideas to clients to visualise the unseen spaces under their skins. This trusting of words to bodies has translated into the belief in the power of her own story, the confidence to pen them onto the page, and a deepening into the process of writing her book. She is, has always been, and will continue to be a writer.

Get more of Robyn at www.movementsanctuary.co.za or www.thebookclubblog.co.za

With physical renovations being necessary, I also decided to rebrand my business. Both processes needed consideration and choices in different aspects. One asked questions of my external vision, and one of my internal. Now, my decision making process can be haphazard, leaning either to a firm no nonsense approach, or the complete opposite where I don’t know ANYTHING. (I blame the effect of the moon for this…) But, I persisted. I answered questions, visualised, stretched, and transformed. Finally, with a little help from a designer who managed to climb into my head, I now have a new logo, a new name, and a new space.

I did it. I made it happen because I am no longer waiting for someone to save me. I realized a dream because I believed in myself, and in taking that next step.

For me, 2018 was the year of change, and so while all of this was happening (renovating takes time), I was also writing the first draft of my book. And I realised writing is a lot like rebranding. It is a vision only I can see. A dream only I can feel.

My book lives only inside of me. Inside my soul. There are characters who slowly reveal themselves to me as I begin to trust my vision, my words. But this book requires tenacity, effort and persistence. Bravery. It requires that I put in the work. It demands belief in myself and what I have to say. It needs rescuing from the very heart of me, by me.

No one else is going to do the work. Only I can let the words out, one after another, to trap them onto the pages of reality, to become tangible. To be a reflection of what I can achieve, of who else I am becoming. It takes time and trust. Belief, even in my darkest moments of doubt. It takes re-writing as many times as I need to. It takes asking the right questions, visualising, stretching the mind, and confidence in the transformation so eventually, with a little help from my mentor, I will manifest my book into reality.

One word at a time.

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The Write Time

The Write Time

The Write Time

When is the right time to write? Or do anything for that matter?

There are proverbs, quotes, and metaphors galore, to justify time management – be it an excuse to procrastinate, or a drive to be productive.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. – Ecclesiastes 3.1

The trouble is, you think you have time. – Buddha

Almost everything will work again if you unplug for a few minutes. Including you. – Anne Lamott

Let’s start by taking a smallish nap or two. – Winnie the Pooh

Sometimes it’s perfectly okay, and absolutely necessary, to shut down, kick back, and do nothing. – Lori Deschene

(In the interests of complete transparency, I spent three hours procrastinating by searching for quotes on procrastination.)

I used to talk endlessly about exercise. I thought about it often. But my kids were young, I was working, and I had a house to run, so there wasn’t enough time. Consequently, I didn’t have a healthy body or a healthy relationship with the hill outside my house. One morning I put my walking shoes on in the hope I might exercise later that day. While they were on, I figured I’d walk to the letterbox and back – after all, every little bit counts. Once I got to the letterbox, I kept going. I walked for an hour – including up the hill outside my house, and a whole pile of other inclines and declines of various degrees. All it required was the decision to start, and I was rewarded with the smell of the eucalyptus along the cliffs, and the salty wind in my hair and on my cheeks as I walked along the beach.

There’s no right time for most things – there’s only now. It’s easy to find a reason to procrastinate – I can name ten things I’m procrastinating on right now (including getting out of bed and having a shower).

Procrastination means something else has prioritised our time.

We all have the same number of hours in the day, but if writing is important enough, I’ll procrastinate on something else (having a shower) and attack the keyboard instead. If it’s not important enough, I’ll have my shower, drink a cup of tea, walk up the hill, and vacuum the floor. Sure, I’ll have a nice clean floor, but is that all I want to achieve in my day?

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About Simone

Crazy hair, solitude seeker, at peace in the natural world, Simone Yemm dedicated over three decades as a professional flautist and teacher. In 2008 she completed a Master’s in Journalism, specialising in editing, and continues to hone her skills as a writer. After a series of crises led to an emotional breakdown, Simone developed a passionate interest in mental health and shares her story to educate and support the wider community. With 25 years of marriage under her belt, she successfully raised three and a half young men and a chocolate-brown Burmese cat. A mean feat never to be underestimated.

www.simonelisa.com

Penning words is an incredibly important part of my life. When I write, I feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment, my mind feels clearer and more peaceful, and ironically, I become more productive with other aspects of my life (like showering and walking up hills). When I let the habit slip, my mental health declines, I procrastinate on everything else anyway, and I feel a sense of guilt for not having done the one thing I want to do.

I don’t need to write a book every day – every little bit of writing counts. I just need to make the decision to sit at the keyboard and start.

The right time to write is the same as the right time to do anything important or valuable in life – right now.

Whenever possible. I can’t wait until the perfect allotted time frame arrives – because that never happens. Maybe I only have fifteen minutes. Perhaps there are distractions everywhere. It could be there are twenty things I should be doing, and I have to choose. There is never a perfect time to exercise, eat well, have babies, start a business, or write a book. There is simply a choice about how to use the time we have. If the only available time in the day is early mornings, so be it. Or late at night? Okay.

Exercise was important to me, so I created time and space. For six years I’ve exercised regularly, and my body is grateful. 

Writing is important to me, so I create time and space for it. I sometimes lose the habit, but when I do get my thoughts on paper, my heart, mind and soul are all incredibly grateful.

And the more often I do it, the more writing becomes a part of my daily routine and a true priority.

To quote the wisdom of Gandalf the Grey, “All we have to decide, is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

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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 there as well, with a scratchy voice in my inner ear like Gollum’s. “This is mine,” it muttered desperately and with uncharacteristic arrogance.

I was so disquieted by this side of myself that I quickly began turning inward. I started to question why I had applied for the residency and whether I deserved it. Who was I to represent an entire movement, shaking free from the societal norms of silence regarding infertility? What was I doing masquerading as a writer with ideas and skills to pass onto others? How could I have thought that my proposed programs would even appeal to the public, let alone connect them in any meaningful way to their own writing? Where had I found the audacity to even apply?

I spiraled. I sunk rapidly into self-doubt, and the inner critic I have spent the last year learning to dismiss crept up behind me, sunk her fingers into the flesh of my upper arms, and held on, hissing countless shortcomings against the back of my neck.

I spent the next three weeks flip-flopping. Some days I found myself grateful and looking forward to the residency. Other times, I couldn’t find reprieve from tension headaches and aching shoulders. I carefully programmed and diligently carried out preparations. I interrogated my motives and challenged my integrity.

The one thing I didn’t do was write.

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About Jennifer

Jennifer wrote her first poem at the age of six, and she has been involved in the world of words as an editor, a blogger, and an article writer.  She is published in and shortlisted for a growing number of local, national, and international electronic and print publications, regularly reads at literary events, co-runs a writing group, and actively pursues educational opportunities to further develop her craft.  Most recently she had an essay, titled Bairnlorn, appear in the Globe & Mail, placed first in the My City, My Words poetry contest, and wrote and handcrafted two board books for her son.

You can follow Jennifer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or Pinterest.

I had allowed the denigrator inside to stay my hand – to leave my pen capped upon the table, my laptop still beneath a pile of disheveled papers. I was disappointed in my paralyzed state and worried of what it could mean for my forthcoming residency. So when a friend pointed out an opportunity to craft a story for a contest with a quickly approaching deadline, I chose to dismiss the snicker within and to embrace my competency and creativity.

I wrote. I edited. I reworked and polished. By the time I was done, I was proud of the piece I submitted, and – more importantly – I had reconnected to my belief in myself and in what I know I can accomplish as a writer. More to the point, I had gotten out of my own way.

There is a danger in too much analysis. Being someone who has elected to pursue a passion founded in looking and thinking deeply, I recognize the irony in these words. But if all we do is examine, prod and second-guess, we will never get to the work. Silencing the voices – be they unabashedly prideful or shriveling in their timidity – allows us to get what we must onto the page.

I know the cacophony of conflicting thoughts will return. Again and again, I will have to face the introspective noise of my mind. It is inevitable. However, I chose how finely I tune into the din and how I counter its effect. This time, I was able to prevail because of a deadline. Now and then, it takes breaking down my goals. It could involve the skills of a good listener or the bend in a familiar forest path. It may require the soft, arching back of a cat beneath my hand, the scent of Nag Champa as I meditate, or the sweetened bitterness of a caramel latte. The key could be space or perspective or focus.

Mostly, it is simply about getting myself into the chair, in front of my screen or notebook, fingers poised.

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In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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Catching Up to the Stories Inside

Catching Up to the Stories Inside

Catching Up to the Stories Inside

Catching Up to the Stories Inside

I recently went to see A Star is Born at the movies: the remake with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. Bradley Cooper directs and also plays the lead male character, Jackson Maine – a singer/songwriter and alcoholic.

The morning after seeing the film, I read a New York Times article about Cooper and the movie. Here’s an extract from the article:

“In 2011 Clint Eastwood talked to Cooper about the role of Jackson Maine. But Cooper was hesitant. He was 36; he didn’t think he could play someone that weathered. ‘I knew I would be acting my balls off to try to be what that character was, because I was just too – I just hadn’t lived enough, I just knew it,’ he said.”

Later that year, Cooper went home to take care of his father, who was dying from lung cancer… Cooper held his father in his arms when he took his last breath. In that moment, everything changed for the actor.

By 2015, he felt ready to play the role (of Jackson Maine) in A Star is Born. Now he looked in the mirror and saw it. “Honestly,” Cooper said. “I could see it on my face. I just felt it.”

A few weeks ago, I was trawling through notes to help me start writing a chapter in my book, and I came across a questionnaire Joanne Fedler had asked me to fill out before she started mentoring me – way back in July 2013. The first question on the form was ‘What are you writing or what would you like to write about?’ And right in front of me was a one-liner I’d written which summarises EXACTLY the book I’m writing now. Not the one I started a year ago, but the one I started in October, because the first one wasn’t working.

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About Elana

 

Elana Benjamin is a writer, qualified lawyer and mother of two. Her work has been published in Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life, Essential Kids, Debrief Daily (now Mamamia), SBS Life and the Jewish Book Council blog. She’s also the author of the memoir/history My Mother’s Spice Cupboard: A Journey from Baghdad to Bombay to Bondi (Hybrid Publishers, 2012).

And it struck me that like Bradley Cooper, who wasn’t ready to play the part of Jackson Maine in A Star is Born until 2015, I wasn’t ready to write my story back when I filled out that form. Five years ago, I just couldn’t have written that book. I had to learn the craft of writing. I needed time to process my experiences, get some distance from them, and make sense of them on a deeper level. I had to live more. And I had to write more.

I’m not suggesting that anyone else needs five years before they write their books. But I would compare it to being sure that you want to be a mother, or a doctor, when you’re just 10 years old. You have to live many years before you can begin to realise such visions. And in the meantime, you have to be patient and never lose sight of your dreams.

I haven’t been doing nothing in the intervening years (and nor did Cooper – he acted in other movies and a stage play after 2012). All along, I’ve been reading and writing and taking notes and listening to podcasts and working and raising my kids and living my life.

Now I am ready to write my story, the one I knew I wanted to write back in 2013. I can, as Bradley Cooper says, “just feel it.”

Sometimes, our lives have to catch up with the stories that are deep inside us, that we somehow know we must tell but perhaps aren’t ready to yet – because we are scared, or don’t have the tools or the hindsight we need. In the meantime, we just need to keep living and writing.

Come and Join the Midlife Memoir Breakthrough

A Five-Day Live Event in Sydney with Joanne Fedler

In this hands-on, intimate workshop (an eclectic mix of teaching, instruction, writing exercises, meditations, ritual, sharing and other joyful activities), I will teach you how to take the material of your life – the moments that counted, no matter how shattering or modest – and weave them into a memoir that makes sense of it all.

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I come from a family of Oh My Godders. In my family, everything was a potential calamity: a sore throat. An impending storm. A parking ticket. Being late. Being early. Now if you grow up in OMG-hood, you learn to panic. Without much provocation. Everything in life is...

Why I Struggle to Share My Writing on Social Media

Why I Struggle to Share My Writing on Social Media

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 dopamine-inducing ping of a ‘like’ or ‘share’.

It wasn’t just that one editor’s comment. My writing mentor also insisted that my social media profile was essential to getting my work out into the world. I needed to build my Personal Brand, as if I was the next Dyson, or Ben & Jerry’s. But to me, constructing my own brand felt like corporate-speak for what was really Shameless Self-Promotion.

My writing mentor admonished me when I told her how conflicted I felt. When you share your writing, you give people the chance to be touched and feel something, she emailed. Sharing your work is a gift to others, not about ego or self-promotion.

But still, I struggled.

You see in real life, I’m an introvert. I’ve always preferred having a few close friends to being part of a large group. And I don’t like being the centre of attention. But posting links to my stories on Facebook and LinkedIn catapults me right into the limelight. This leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable, like I’ve turned up naked to a fancy dress party.

Despite my aversion to sharing my work on social, I couldn’t help myself. After posting a link to one of my articles, I’d compulsively check my Facebook page, as if a ‘like’ or ‘share’ made me happier, or a better person (it didn’t). But while I was thrilled by the positive feedback, I was deeply troubled by the ‘friends’ who stayed silent. Why hadn’t cousin Sophia ‘liked’ my article, especially when she’d ‘liked’ cousin Katie’s holiday snaps, posted just minutes earlier?

.

About Elana

 

Elana Benjamin is a writer, qualified lawyer and mother of two. Her work has been published in Good Weekend, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sunday Life, Essential Kids, Debrief Daily (now Mamamia), SBS Life and the Jewish Book Council blog. She’s also the author of the memoir/history My Mother’s Spice Cupboard: A Journey from Baghdad to Bombay to Bondi (Hybrid Publishers, 2012).

My Facebook feed, I realised, was tapping into my deepest insecurities. My fears of failure. Of rejection. Of embarrassing myself. And, perhaps most importantly, my need to be liked. I tried repeating author Steven Pressfield’s mantra: “You are not the work.” Logically, I knew this was true.  But I had difficulty separating myself from my words.

My ambivalent feelings towards social media continued for years until a few months ago, when I decided to conduct a little experiment. I’d had an article published online but decided not to share it on social. My words were in the public domain, but some of the most important people in my life didn’t know.  This felt lonely, like spending a birthday without family or friends. And I realised that by trying to shield myself from vulnerability, I was missing out on one of the most joyous parts of writing: interacting with readers.

After that, I called a ceasefire in my battle with online platforms. I still find that sharing my writing on social media dissipates my energy, but I’ve learned to tolerate the discomfort.  When I post one of my published pieces to Facebook or LinkedIn, I accept that I’ll probably feel destabilised for a day or so, like I’m on a roller-coaster ride. I force myself away from my screen, and go for a walk or a swim. Or I bake scones to eat with my kids when they get home from school.  Anything to help me feel more grounded.

These days, I know that even if people read one of my articles, they’ll soon move on to the next story. And then it will just be me and my laptop again. So I try to enjoy the fleeting moments when I connect with readers, knowing that all I can control is what I write, not how other people react. I focus on the feedback that I do get, instead of zeroing in on those virtual bystanders who don’t respond to my posts. And over time, I’ve learned to disentangle my self-esteem from the success (or lack thereof) of my writing.

Yes, social media can feel like a very public popularity contest. But Facebook and other platforms are gold when it comes to spreading our stories. The trick, I’ve learned, is to use social media as a tool to serve our individual needs as writers. We must look confidently at our Facebook and LinkedIn feeds and be clear – just as my son told me defiantly when he was four – that “You are not the boss of me.” And know that regardless of what happens in cyberspace, our worth as humans in the real world remains intact.  

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