Swimming with Details

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 sunsets and colorful skies, and golfed on fairways frequented by goats.

One morning, we drove south of Kona to a beach commonly referred to as Two Step because of its easy gradation for swimmers into a popular, vibrant snorkeling destination. After carefully stepping barefoot over mounds of black lava brushed with a dust of golden sand, four of us sat on a mossy ledge at the water’s edge. With sunshine beaming on my shoulders, I put on my fins, mask and snorkel, and joined the gentle surf, returning to the warm, refreshing Pacific Ocean with a glide.

Swimming out, my neck became a swivel of curiosity, marveling right away at the colorful life below. White coral, purple leaves, schools of bright yellow tang, and sharp spines of black sea urchin filled my view. I studied hidden openings to see creatures darting in and out, parrot fish lingering, and a large school of black fish shuffling by.

I ventured out further after noticing where the sharp shelf of reef fell off to introduce a deeper, less color-filled, more barren territory. Drawn to ray beams of light that cut through the empty water to create an angelic-like display, I explored the place of open serenity. This new scene seemed like nothing compared to the brilliance of the reef, until I glanced to my right.


About Michele

Michele Susan Brown is the author of This Kind of Silence: How Losing My Hearing Taught Me to Listen. She is a writer and a speaker based in Northern California, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, and the wild birds that visit her backyard feeders. Michele enjoys connecting with others and engaging in deep discussions about the importance of listening to our own intuition, being brave and vulnerable, and the freedom found in authenticity and truth.

You can connect with her at www.wisdomwithinworkbook.com, and/or write to her at [email protected]

A pod of at least sixteen Spinner dolphins were suddenly beside me. Several seemed to greet me with inviting eyes, and I instinctively placed my hands behind my back, clasped them, and gently kicked my fins to increase my pace and join them. With grace, we all swam together. They gradually joined me near the surface where each took their conscious breath.

I stared at their pointy rostrums, their dark-lined flippers, the subtle shade changes on their bodies from belly to pectoral fins. I became one with them for moments that folded into minutes. My heart expanded, my eyes filled, and a surge of awe moved through me at the utter sense of oneness. We were the only beings that existed, and I enjoyed their company for as long as they allowed.

Later, sitting in a beach chair on uneven lava and feeling reflective, I started thinking about being a writer and the importance of being able to create vivid, strong scenes. I realized how my experience in the water could be an effective example and a reminder of how to do that. And I began to ponder deeper into how I might communicate the nuance in every moment, regardless of whether it is common or exceptional.

When I want to write important scenes, it helps me to visualize writing it as if watching a movie.

The “pan out” or larger view set-up, and then the zoom in and focus on specific action and detail. If I can think of myself as a movie director watching a scene unfold, I can ask myself questions like:

  • Where are we in space and time?
  • What’s visible and noticeable that calls to be captured?
  • What sounds do I hear?
  • What sensations are evident?
  • What details beckon to speak?
  • What emotions arise?

If I can linger there, draw out the experience by immersing myself in it with full presence, and capture it with visceral words, then I can link arms with my reader and take them on the journey with me.

Just as the dolphins drew me right into full presence alongside them.


Michele has just launched her book, This Kind of Silence, on International Women’s Day.

To learn more about the book and to watch Michele’s interview with Joanne Fedler, please click the button below.



“A beautifully written book that instills hope in the great mysteries of life and reminds us of the powerful connection between the body, mind, and soul. This story will return you to the deep wisdom of your own knowing. It may even make you believe in miracles.” —Joanne Fedler


The Biggest Birthday Yet

Good lord, it is two days to my 50th birthday. I am not ready to own such a majestic number, never mind have to blow out that many birthday candles. Also, it means I have to stop ‘turning’ 50 and just be 50. I have literally devoted my entire 49th year to getting to...

6 Unexpected Gifts of Well-Being That Flow From Writing

'Words have helped me understand who I am - all of me, not just the loveable parts I present to the world in a curated Facebook profile.' - Joanne Fedler, Internationally bestselling author and writing mentor I didn't start writing to become a better person. Back...

Unrequited Love

The first time my heart was broken, my mother, who’d never read a single self-help book in her life, passed me a tissue, and informed me that no man in the universe was worth one of my tears. I was going to wallow, write tormented poetry and spend six months in my...

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...

Playing By My Rules

It is early evening after dinner, and I stare into the kitchen sink. I gently draw patterns with the bubbles that remain from the washing up. I herd them into the centre of the sink and I turn the tap on and let the water trickle slowly, washing some of the bubbles...

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book Part 1: A Focus on ConvictionI have a friend whose ex-husband drove an Uber for a while. As soon as there was a surge, he’d drop everything, and jump into his car to take advantage of the higher fee. It caused chaos in their family life. She...

Spotlight on Michele Susan Brown

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 ocean.

I’ve been working on being nicer to myself. We all go through times when we hate our bodies (trust me, I’ve been struggling with this for the past few months after my disc prolapse). We berate their frailty, ‘fight’ our illnesses or infections; and get mad at them when they don’t look the way we’d prefer or display weakness. 

But what if our bodies are actually on our side? What if pain, illness or infirmity was not an obstacle, but a call to heal – not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually? 

It’s an edgy question – most of us outsource our power to trusted doctors with medical degrees and medication you can only purchase behind the counter. But what happens when doctors tell you they can’t help you? Would you be called to a deeper internal inquiry?

She came all the way from California to join me on a writing retreat in Fiji in 2014 even though her husband tried to talk her out of it – surely, there were other writing retreats and mentors a little closer to home? For some reason, Michele knew she wanted to travel half way around the world to meet me. And both our lives changed when she did.

When I first heard Michele’s story, I got that weird, warm feeling when you sense the mystery that surrounds our lives beyond rational explanations, right in front of you. Here was Michele, a living example of everything I try so hard to believe about how healing happens.

Michele wasn’t sure she had a ‘story’ or could write a book about it – but I knew if she did, it would console, comfort and change readers’ lives. Because it’s remarkable, a little miraculous and simply true. It had the same ring to it as one of my favourite books – Tim Parkes’ Teach Us to Sit Still (which if you haven’t yet read, you really should).

After five committed years of writing, rewriting, editing and re-editing, Michele’s debut memoir, This Kind of Silence comes into the world (well, Australia, officially) and your hands. My team and I could not be more proud that Joanne Fedler Media is its first publisher. 

I’ve always believed in this book – but just this past week, we’ve secured an international rights agent to represent it worldwide. It’s big – huge, actually – for both Michele as an author and Joanne Fedler Media as a new publisher (it’s always so gratifying to get the recognition from impartial, quality-conscious agents).

Trust me when I tell you, you really do want to read this book.

About THIS KIND OF SILENCE: How Losing My Hearing Taught Me to Listen

Michele was a successful thirty-two-year-old school principal and married mother of two, when she woke up one morning and could no longer hear.

Doctors could offer no explanation. She spent three frustrating and desperate years searching to make sense of the medical mystery, but doctors told her there was little chance she would ever hear again. Even as she came to accept this bleak diagnosis, she never stopped looking for answers. Why would this suddenly happen to a fit young woman in her prime?

Then one day, a colleague asked, “What is it, perhaps, that you don’t want to hear?”

Michele was intrigued by this question. From that moment, she opened herself with curiosity to a path of self-discovery which led her back to the many silences of her childhood in which she had left parts of herself behind. As she began to tune in to her inner voice, her well being flourished. She began expressing herself in new ways and speaking up. But her twelve-year marriage began to unravel.

What began as a mission to regain her hearing became a journey of facing unspoken truths and breaking the silences that keep us trapped in the past.

This Kind of Silence is an inspirational story about gratitude for the small blessings in life, learning to listen again, and the quiet joys of stillness amidst the noise.


“A beautifully written book that instills hope in the great mysteries of life and reminds us of the powerful connection between the body, mind, and soul. This story will return you to the deep wisdom of your own knowing. It may even make you believe in miracles.” —Joanne Fedler



Michele Susan Brown is a writer, author, and speaker based in Northern California, where she lives with her husband, two dogs, cat, and the wild birds that visit her backyard feeders.

A former elementary school teacher, principal, and district-level administrator for eighteen years, Michele now spends time following her passions: writing, meditation, exercise, time in nature, swimming with wild dolphins in the Bahamas, and traveling on unique adventures all over the world with her husband, Gordon.

Michele enjoys connecting with others and engaging in deep discussions about the importance of listening to our own intuition, being brave and vulnerable, and the freedom found in authenticity and truth.

Michele has created a companion to This Kind of Silence – a workbook called Wisdom Within – to guide seekers through reflection, help with self-care, and focus more on listening to our inner voice of truth. She is also facilitating an interactive Book Club experience on Facebook for readers.

If you want to learn more about Michele, you can visit her website at www.wisdomwithinworkbook.com or check out her Facebook page.
book, tablet, wisdom within by michele susan brown


It’s always wonderful to hear author’s speak about their writing journey,
so here’s my People with Passion interview with Michele.

Who Are You to Write? (On Stroke Correction and Conviction)

These are excerpts from my diary in 2001, four years before my first novel The Dreamcloth was published. Some years ago, I decided it was time to learn how to swim properly. I mean, I'd had swimming lessons as a kid, but stopped as soon as there was no danger I'd...

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...

Allow Me to Disappoint You

You wouldn't believe what an excellent track record I have in not disappointing people.I like to think it’s because I try hard to be a half-decent person. But what if it’s the consequence of pathology? A damaged neurological wiring that causes me to default into doing...

How to Write a Self-Help Book Guide

Our books will bear witness for or against us, our books reflect who we are and who we have been…. By the books we call ours we will be judged.” ― Alberto Manguel I’m a self-help book junkie. I started reading them in my early twenties, and I’ve never stopped. As soon...

How to Write a Book: A Focus on Conviction

How to Write a Book Part 1: A Focus on ConvictionI have a friend whose ex-husband drove an Uber for a while. As soon as there was a surge, he’d drop everything, and jump into his car to take advantage of the higher fee. It caused chaos in their family life. She...

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

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

That Dear Little Smear

That Dear Little Smear

When that big spunk of a Phys Ed teacher broke my virginity at eighteen, my mother did two things: she put me on the pill and sent me for a pap smear.

I didn’t like the sound of that. (Who gets smeared? What is ‘pap’?)

Next thing, I was on my back, feet in stirrups with a floodlight bearing down on my by-appointment-only parts which prefer the subtlety of dusk, as a man in a white coat and gloves chatted to me about the cricket while inserting a cold metal speculum up there, assuring me (as only he could know) that ‘this won’t hurt at all.’

Since then I’ve always treated pap smears, like dental check-ups and tax returns, an annual nuisance on my to-do list, an inconvenience wrapped in an indignity. Frankly, I wouldn’t know a cervix from a pancreas, having never actually seen mine. All I knew about my cervix is that mine refused to dilate during labour in my first pregnancy, getting to three centimetres and stopping in mid-stride like it suddenly remembered something and lost concentration.

The cervix is a shy little spot of the female anatomy, tucked inside us, like the toe of a sock with a hole in it, if the vagina were a sock, yet is rather important in our anatomy, connecting the uterus to the vagina, allowing menstrual fluids to pass and stretching during childbirth with staggering generosity to the size of a baby’s head.

The covert identity of the cervix is partly what drove women in the 1970’s, in groups, mind you, armed with torches, mirrors and a speculum to lie back and examine their insides. Annie Sprinkle, a porn star in the US invites the audience to come up and have a look at her cervix, ‘because it’s beautiful,’ which is true if mini glazed donuts do it for you.

Recently I got a call from my doctor to ‘come-and-discuss-my-pap-smear-results.’ On my way there, I made a mental note to tell my husband to marry our babysitter if I died, the kids really like her.

The doctor told me I had CIN III.

Was that good? Bad? Fatal?

I learned that on the cervix is a small patch of unstable cells known as the ‘transformation zone’ (TZ), where changes occur frequently but relatively slowly. It is a sample of these cells that is collected in a pap smear revealing normal, abnormal, CIN I, CIN II, and CIN III or cancerous changes. Cervical cancer is most often caused by infection with the sexually acquired Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Many of us become infected with the virus without knowing it. The virus can sit dormant for a long time before cellular changes show on a Pap smear.

The best news is that unlike many kinds of cancers, cervical cancer is easily preventable because of the Pap smear in which a layer of cells is scraped off the TZ and examined for changes.

The Pap smear is the invention of a Greek doctor, George Papanicolau in the 1940’s who studied the sex differences in the water flea. He and his wife emigrated to the US, with no English and very little money and worked at Gimbels Department store selling rugs before finding a job at Cornell University in a department researching the effects of alcohol on guinea pigs. Borrowing a few spare female guinea pigs to further his study of sex differentiation, Dr Pap figured that to obtain their eggs before ovulation, he needed to extract their vaginal discharge, (I mean, that’s obvious, right?) Using a small nasal speculum, he scraped off guinea pig vaginal cells, smearing them onto a glass slide (hence the name Pap Smear) to examine under a microscope. Because of the expertise he had gained by working with the water flea for many years, he detected patterns in these vaginal cells.

Here’s where it gets interesting. At some point in all this study of the vaginal cells of guinea pigs, a version of the following conversation must have taken place with his wife:

‘My dear, I wonder if I could prevail upon you for a small favour after dinner.’

‘Certainly, George, what is it?’

‘I was wondering if I might scrape some cells off your cervix?’


Your Story - How to write it so others will read it - out now

In this no-excuses book, written for aspiring writers and emerging authors, Joanne Fedler shares her original techniques, frameworks and strategies for life writing to ensure that your story connects with readers and doesn’t bore them to switch to Facebook scrolling.

Mrs P. agreed. Not once. Not twice. For twenty years, almost daily, she submitted to these examinations, as a result of which Dr Pap observed normal changes in the cells in different parts of the vagina through a menstrual cycle and then from one menstrual cycle to the next. This research was the beginning of a scientific journey into examining the abnormal changes in cells. What began with a water flea has led to the most successful pathology test to prevent cervical cancer, a disease with which approximately 1000 women in Australia are diagnosed annually.

When it comes to taking responsibility for our health, these days we are fortunate to have a range of options. Regular check-ups – mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies can literally be the difference between us living to see our grandchildren or not.

Using condoms in sex is still the best way to avoid contracting HPV. The yardstick is that if it’s not sterilized, it shouldn’t be going up there in the first place. Most tampons are not sterilized, though a new sterilized tampon (Pureste) has recently come onto the market which is lovely and all, but remember you can’t catch HPV from a tampon.

Secondly, cancer research has yielded some miraculous breakthroughs including the world’s first cancer vaccine against cervical cancer involving three doses over a six month period, recently introduced in Australian schools for girls from the age of 12 as part of the federally funded National Immunization Programme. In November 2006, the government offered those who had already left school (up to the age of 26) a two year ‘catch-up’ period which ends on 30th June 2009 (unless the first vaccine has been administered in which case the remaining boosters will be available until 31 December 2009). This vaccine immunizes young women before they become sexually active against HPV types 16 and 18, the two strains associated with 70% of all cervical cancers. Interestingly, a third of the female school going population has elected not to have the vaccine. Some parents perceive it promotes sexual promiscuity by giving the impression the vaccine makes unprotected sex safe and are anxious about the side-effects of the vaccine.

Because HPV causes cervical cancer, it makes sense for us to know whether or not we are carriers. Recently a new test kit called Tampap (in similar style to home-pregnancy tests) makes it possible for women to test themselves at home for HPV by inserting an ordinary tampon, and sending it off to a lab where it is tested for the presence of the virus.

Despite all these latest developments, the pap smear is still the best and most effective way of detecting cervical cancer (sorry, girls) and we’re all advised to have one every two years, unless we’ve had a bad result before, in which case we should go annually.

Now if ever I wince at the prospect of discussing cricket while pretending I don’t have a salad server in my delicates, I spare a thought for good old Mrs Pap, that great unsung heroine of women’s health who offered up her cervix to science and who, in her generosity, saved my life and the lives of countless other lucky women.  

Published in Vogue, Australia, July 2009

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?

Playing By My Rules

It is early evening after dinner, and I stare into the kitchen sink. I gently draw patterns with the bubbles that remain from the washing up. I herd them into the centre of the sink and I turn the tap on and let the water trickle slowly, washing some of the bubbles...

How to Make ‘I’ Contact

One of the first rules of public speaking is to make eye contact with the audience. That’s how we connect and earn trust. In writing, our challenge is to make ‘I’ contact. We have to be connected in with our own story in order to connect people in to our story. Who we...

The Long View of Creativity

How long is my vision? Does it have a depth that can rival oceans? Has it curiosity akin to a child’s? Will its manifestation mean something even if I never get to see those results? These are questions I ask as I embark on a new writing project. Queries exploring the...

Books Are Like Besties

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

Sometimes You Just Need a Little More Time

If you ever want to learn how to build a successful business, grow your team, create online programmes, become a publisher and burn yourself out in a few short years, just follow my example. Since 2014, I’ve been on an exhilarating, heart-opening, community-building...

I Dare You to Read This Without Taking Offence

Large change doesn't come from clever, quick fixes; from smart, tense people; but from long conversations and silences among people who know different things and need to learn different things.Anne HerbertMy son is over six foot. He wears a size 12 shoe. For all...

Women’s Bodies Over the Twentieth Century

Women’s Bodies Over the Twentieth Century

‘Civilization is a circle squared . That’s why in civilized societies, women’s lot and Nature’s lot has been such a sorry one. It’s the duty of advanced women to teach men to love the circle again.’
– Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

If ever our bodies held secrets like how and why women menstruate; like where our pleasures are located in square millimetres, like what soft spoken miracle melts an ovum and sperm into foetal life, the twentieth century blabbed them all out like a nosy neighbour with nothing better to do.

Once shrouded in mystery and obscurity, women’s bodies in the course of Western culture were put on pedestals, idealised, veiled, and corsetted. Men swooned over bare ankles. A Victorian author upon discovery that women are not spared the baseness of defecation lamented, ‘Oh how I nearly lost my wits, Celia, Celia, Celia shits!’ In Africa, women have always worn their body parts on the outside, swaggering pendulous breasts white men could only conjure up in their imaginations. Yet they too have been pretty much damned by their biology. In history, women who have been lucky enough to escape being burnt as a witch at the stake or dying in childbirth while their husbands either paced corridors or sat around fires, could only count on the utopia of compulsory domesticity and maternity. Or alternatively, a complete descent into madness. Choice and control were not buzzwords in those days.

But times have changed. Modesty and coyness, once the charms of the female sex are passe. Dead and buried is the etiquette that rendered the ‘Rape of a Lock’ of hair a violation of woman’s chastity. The longing to imagine what delicate curves and crevices are hidden beneath a tent of skirts has long since been sated. This century there was a sale on flesh and anyone could purchase a month’s worth of wanking from the local corner cafe, swelling Hugh Hefner’s empire built on beaver shots. Madonna, once an icon of religious sanctity turned up this century as a lascivious pop star with XX-rated fantasies. Virginity, prized by all self-respecting young women, a ticket into marriage, went stale these past hundred years, becoming a neurotic condition far more feared than sluthood.

In the past, women inhabited their bodies in dimensions defined by male needs. Either as the painter’s model, the poet’s muse, the bearer of the master’s seed, the wet nurse to his child, concubine or whore to the gentleman or tribesman, woman, derived from Adam’s rib, has, throughout time been valued for her parts. Cut up into titbits, dismembered into fractions, woman’s bodies have been subject to a romanticized objectification.

In the twentieth century the forces of feminism and technology have teamed up to form a partnership which has stripped the mechanics of our bodies down to the last proton, and radically altered the imperatives of biology.

Feminist consciousness gained momentum this century as a political force. The isolated voices of ‘disgruntled’ spinsters, madwomen and artists coalesced into a rousing blast, unhushing the codes of secrecy around women’s bodies which had kept them deeply misunderstood. In the 1920’s Georgia O’ Keefe painted flowery fannies, and Sylvia Plath scribbled her poetic torment, revisioning women as something more whole than the sum of Picasso’s cubes. In 1935, Virginia Woolf wrote that it would still be decades before women could tell the truth about their bodies. For the secrets and lies that kept women’s bodies mysterious, also kept them powerless and choiceless.

As the consciousness of sexual inequality brewed, truths began to emerge, like earthworms after a rainstorm. Women started to question the biology is destiny curse and to pose immodest questions, like ‘what the fuck about ME?’ Realisations that there was more to life than unmitigated maternity created a powerful shift in the ways women understood their bodies. In 1970 Shulamith Firestone wrote, ‘Pregnancy is barbaric…the temporary deformation of the body of the individual for the sake of the species. Moreover, childbirth hurts… like shitting a pumpkin.’ (The Dialectic of Sex, 188-9, 1970).

Shere Hite, in the same decade embarked on a campaign to resurrect female sexuality in the wake of the Freudian and Masters and Johnson conspiracy which decreed women as sexually passive and hysterical, imagining molestation by their fathers. One might be forgiven for assuming that the clitoris was the invention of the twentieth century. Nestling in a quiet spot, it could not outbrag the phallus. Shere Hite’s research introduced the possibility of the vaginal orgasm and multiple orgasms which posed a David versus Goliath challenge to the pecker because that sneaky little clitoris could bring down the heavens, again and again and again. However these discoveries have not come to the rescue of girlchildren who, in lesser visited tourist destinations, Alice Walker and Pratibah Parma document in Warrior Marks (1993), are still subject to female genital mutilation.

Though pornography is as ancient as the male response to which it panders, it is only recently that the question of women’s arousal (how, what and where) has been asked. Nancy Friday’s collection of women’s sexual fantasies in Women on Top (1991), reflect that women’s internal worlds teem with a libidinous lust, only vaguely interested in penetration by male organs. Female self-gratification is now very much in vogue, and women these days find joy in private collections that not only refer to a range of perfumes, but to latex and plastic object d’arts with switches that do the internal jitterbug, in search of that elusive G-spot. With the decline of the popularity of the penis this century, came the rise in the celebration of lesbianism as more and more women decided that they needed men like a fish needs a bicycle.

This century unequivocally raised the possibility that women’s sexuality is more advanced, more economically packaged and has a longer endurance than male sexuality. No longer unknown to themselves, women’s bodies are now being experienced not only as object, but as subject too. Annie Sprinkle, a modern day porn performer, in the spirit of reclamation of the female body, invites her audience up onto the stage, to take a peek at her cervix through a speculum, not only to ‘demystify the female body, but because it’s beautiful.’

Menstruation, once a conversational taboo, is now the subject of hundreds of commercials advertising the best and most efficient ways of dealing with light, medium, heavy and ‘oh-boy-am-I-bleeding’ flows. Since the marketing of tampons, ‘specially designed by female gynaecologists,’ which expand every which way and can absorb up to a glass and a half, women do not have to give up swimming, dancing or any other activity that requires a padless crotch. The past hundred years have resoundingly confirmed: not only do we shit, but we fart, we bleed, we ache down here.


The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

What Nature withheld, technological advances this century found ways to take. The Pill in the 60’s, introduced sex without reproduction, so women no longer had to miss periods, attempt back street abortions or get married just cos an itch needed scratching. But what the pill did for women’s sexual liberation in the 60’s, the AIDS holocaust in the nineties has quickly revoked. As it turns out, women are more susceptible to HIV infection than men due to their risk of unwanted unprotected intercourse and the wide surface area of the vagina which acts like a sponge. Virginity until marriage, once scorned in the era of flower power, has made a dramatic comeback as women grapple with how to have fun and survive at the same time. Technology once again scratched its head and came up with the female condom – a sort of genital raincoat that requires a sense of humour and an indifference to squeaking sounds during lovemaking.

Scientific advances have given us mammograms and cervical smears for early detection of female-specific cancers so women can live even longer. And some Goddess-inspired medical breakthrough in the form of epidurals has neutralized the malicious misogynist Biblical injunction of ‘bringing forth children in pain.’ But more women in the past decades, who possibly due to the influences of feminism, did not rush into maternity at the first erect opportunity, are struggling to bring forth children at all. No problem: it is now entirely possible to take a sperm and an ovum out of their homeground and to place them on a blind date in a petri dish and surgically force a marriage. If it is not the raw DNA that is needed, but rather wombspace, surrogate mothers rent out their uterus’s for the period of gestation for a fee. Procreation in these ways have necessitated revisionist versions of the birds and the bees, such as the test tubes and the pipettes.

Medical ingenuity has allowed us a window into the impermeable space of the womb. Lennart Nilsson’s breathtaking book of the 1980’s, A Child is Born brought a camera nose to nose with mitotic cells, developing moment by moment into a foetus. However, these intrusions which allow us to know far more about the unborn than the Almighty ever determined we should, such as early sex detection, have resulted in the abortion of female foetus’s in some countries where boys are still the first prize.

Whilst far more is known about what lurks and gurgles on the inside of the curves and bulges of our flesh, the beauty myths of this century have left us dumber than ever before. In 1959, the debut of the Barbie doll brainwashed generations of girls that to be beautiful was to be nippleless, hairless except for a mane of blonde head hair and to have feet which can only wear high heels. Designed to be round, women have shrunk and starved themselves into twig-like angularity. Unable to shake the obsession with parts, this century saw us going for the burn and developing ‘buns of steel’ to the dulcet tones of Jane Fonda’s home videos. And if sweat does not do the job, there is always the scalpel. Liposuction and plastic surgery have now given us the options of sculpting a tit, carving a thigh, moulding a belly or aligning a konk. Sagging flesh can be trimmed. Shaggy wrinkles can be smoothed out. The only excuse for ugliness these days, it appears, is poverty. Dolly Parton confesses, that ‘it costs a lot of money to look as cheap as I do.’ The slogan of our era ‘You can never be too rich or too thin’ has meant that women this century spend more time looking in the mirror or the inside of a toilet bowl than they do at literature or computer screens. Princess Di, a tragic icon of humanity, hid her bulimia for years behind a stunning wardrobe while she smiled for the camera. Even Black culture, which always favoured the spherical has assimilated this obsession with wormy androgyny. Audre Lorde in her poem Song for a Thin Sister wrote ‘I was so sure that skinny / was funny or silly / but always / white.’ But white has not, in this instance, as in so many others, been right.

In the twentieth century, feminism and technology have blasted open the vaults of mystery and ostensibly created a universe of infinite possibilities for us, through knowledge, as much and more than we ever wanted. But is it knowledge, in the words of Coleridge, that ‘returns again as power’?

The truths we face are that the majority of female bodies on this planet are ravaged by poverty and are subject to some form of gender abuse, whether it be in the form of foot binding, female genital mutilation, rape, domestic violence, dowry related femicides or other cultural practices. And despite the infinite choices the information age has presented the privileged among us, there is still a weeping – for pregnancies unwanted; for unbudgeable infertility; for bodies too thin or too fat; for children born with HIV. The control we have gained has been offset by fragmentation into new states of enslavement in our lives.
The alienation from our bodies has been replaced with an ambivalence – even a contempt borne from familiarity. We may do well to remember that women still live longer, look better and do 90 per cent of the loving compared with the other homo sapiens species on the planet. A dose of forgiveness for a fat bum, hairy eyebrows or a first-born female may bring us closer to the romance with our bodies that is long overdue.

I am still holding out for a few inventions that might swing the balance of power somewhere closer to mid-field. Firstly, an anti-rape device, called ‘The Bobbit,’ to be worn internally like a tampon, that with a squeeze of those pelvic muscles we are told to exercise in preparation for childbirth, neatly snips off any uninvited protuberance. What about an antidote to Viagra, called, ‘Not Tonight, Dear,’ which only allows men to get erections when women want them? And what if the defence budget could be turned into the maternity budget, so that every time a woman has a child, it would be like winning the lottery?

But in an age in which science and anger have exhausted their energies, we need to find new ways to cherish our womanliness. Because despite what we think we know, there is an elusive something that we cannot get online or see through a microscope. Call it the mystery. Call it self love. Without the plumpness of self-integration where women embrace our bodies as extensions of our minds and spirits, the circle Tom Robbins speaks of, will be filled with an emptiness bred from too much soulless information. I am tired of the barren enclaves of self-pity and dissatisfaction that have characterized our history. We need the kind of power that comes from the certainty that without us, the show does not go on. Before we can teach men to love the circle, we have to fill it with love ourselves.

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

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

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...


1 It is four years to the day. The pillow next to mine whispers this in my ear just before I open my eyes to the careless daylight. I wonder if it is a deficiency – perhaps a leak sprung in me after he died - that in all the time that has passed since we lay together...

The Art of Reframing

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...

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...

How to Write a Self-Help Book Guide

Our books will bear witness for or against us, our books reflect who we are and who we have been…. By the books we call ours we will be judged.” ― Alberto Manguel I’m a self-help book junkie. I started reading them in my early twenties, and I’ve never stopped. As soon...