Oprah and Me

I often catch myself making comparisons between myself and women who’ve achieved things that I think are pretty amazing.  Needless to say, I don’t come out on top.   I know comparisons are a pointless exercise because there are always going to be people who seem – or who are – ahead of me in some way or another.

I was thinking about Oprah the other day.  It’s a dangerous comparison to make, but I made it anyway.   We’re about the same age.  We both got molested as children, and we’re both passionate about life and about unpacking the things that block us.  We both believe that there’s no coincidence and that everything that happens has value.

A lot of our ideas are so similar we could have been sisters.  We both question everything.  But alas that’s where the similarities end.  She broke through her own barriers and immense social ones to create an empire for herself where she has spread a lot of love and vitality around.

I’ve spent my entire life trying to break out of my own prison.  I’ve tried ferociously to pursue dreams that burned at me when I was a child.  And I’ve failed spectacularly.  Twice I’ve ended up at ground zero.   The first time I tried to put a plaster over the wound.  This last time I faced myself.  Now my brilliant career is a seedling sinking tiny threadlike roots down and pushing pretty tentative stem and leaves up above the surface of the soil.

Oprah pushed through to a brilliant career at a young age.  There’s no doubt about it.  She wins this ridiculous contest in my head, hands down.  Has she achieved more than I have?  It’s a no-brainer career-wise.  Does she have more value than me?  To most of the world, yes, without a doubt.  I sure like her and admire her and love her vitality.

So do I have any value at all?  Strangely, yes.  I know intrinsic value isn’t linked to what you can achieve, and we all have the same.  But I still want to achieve.  I don’t want to be as big as Oprah, but I definitely want to be much much further ahead than I am now.

Well, a friend of mine said people still do great things with their lives when they start at 56.  I hold on to that.  Because I love my own vitality too and my dreams are as strong as they ever were.   It’s not over until it’s over.  And even then, I suspect we get another chance to carry on from the place we managed to get to this time round.

Jane Fonda Talks to Oprah about Her Life So Far

Jane Fonda talked on Oprah the other day about her life so far, a book she had just published called My Life So Far, and about what it’s like for her to be in the third and final act of her life.  The first act is up to the age of thirty.  From thirty to sixty is the second – that’s the hard one.  It’s also where you build your life in a material sense.  From sixty to the end – that’s it folks.  The third act is challenging, because you really know  your mortality.  But it’s also the time when you know who you are, better than ever before. Especially if you’ve taken the time to pay attention and to try to understand, make sense of, where you’ve come from.

Things fall into place in many ways towards the end of the second act.  Jane said something that really brought a smile to my whole being – “it’s gets better”!  Halleluja!  But of course it must, because you’ve come a long way, and now you have wisdom, you know how to put your boundaries down, you don’t take shit from anybody – actually that one was Oprah’s.  She was very funny when she said it, but she was dead serious.  There’s such freedom in that, oh good god.  I can’t quite say that I don’t take shit from anybody, but I sure take a lot less than I used to, and it gets better by the day.

Jane was fabulous to watch and it was obvious that the “better” she spoke of was real for her.  She’s really in her power, and relaxed in her own space.  As Oprah is.   Jane is 72, and looks as if she’s a young and healthy 50.  That’s because she is young and healthy, both of body and mind, in the sense that counts the most.  She has a wonderful sense of humor and has reach a place of clarity within herself that’s truly inspiring.  I think it’s amazing that I live in this era where women have reached such focus and self-awareness, and can truly enjoy life at so many different levels.  They point the way for me.

I’m coming to the end of my second act, and wrestle with the reality that it was consumed with just trying to find my way back home to me.  Hard as I tried, I wasn’t able to build what I longed to.  It’s been pretty frustrating.  Now those years are gone, but the wonderful thing is that I understand what that coming home to me was about.  I know so much more about who I am now, where I’ve come from and where I’m going, it doesn’t matter what my age is.  I can still use the remaining years of my second act and all of my third to build.

Jane has a website at janefonda.com  I left a comment there today on her blog.  It was nice to be able to do that.  She replies, also.  She made a big impact on me, I’m grateful for how she’s shared her insights and experiences and for how she’s reached this place of being in her power.  I’m getting a lot out of Oprah in this final season of hers.  She’s so different – as if she’s quieter within herself, more relaxed, more at ease.  She’s beautiful.  I’m glad we’re only seeing the last season now in South Africa; if we’d had it last year I would have missed it.  I love it when the whole damn universe conspires to give me what I need.

Yes I Can – Avoiding the Gloom and Doom Virus when looking for a Publisher

Being a first-book writer looking to nose your way into the publishing market is the weirdest thing, it elicits the most incredibly negative outlook from people.  Either that or no two opinions are the same, although everybody is an authority.  Of course.  Generally, negative comments rule.

You can’t do it without an agent.

It’s really difficult to find an agent.

It’s impossible to find a decent agent until you’ve had some success.

It’s an impossible market to get into (being published).

You don’t need an agent for a self-help book.

You need an agent for a self-help book.

It’s easier in the US.

It’s much harder in the US.

You’ll never be able to get your first book published.

Funny thing is, though, every single published author once had to get their first book published. And they succeeded.  That’s probably millions of first book writers.  Millions.  Which means it can’t be impossible.  How people can hold onto these negative ideas when they’re so completely irrational beats me.  I think it’s just that people love to be dirgy, it’s like a societal addiction to misery.

Since nobody in the world can tell how and when I’m going to find my publisher, the responses are just choices based on pure speculation.  Why choose the worst?  Why not say variations on I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty at all?  Why not say the nicest and most supportive thing they can think of?  Because they don’t want to give a person false hope?  So they give them false misery instead.  Well that makes a lot of sense.

One thing I do understand, is that publishers are besieged with manuscripts now because so many people write these days.   So generally they tell you that you won’t get a response before 3 to 6 months.  But it still doesn’t mean it’s impossible, because somebody might just flip through the pile of manuscripts waiting to be read and like the look of mine.  They could read it overnight and call me the next day.

Anything can happen, and it often does for people.  In fact maybe it’s more likely to happen for the people who refuse to be infected by the gloom and doom virus.  It’s depressing to believe you haven’t got a chance, it makes the journey so much more difficult.  I had a great fantasy the other day about Oprah calling me up and saying I loved your book!  The fantasy made me feel upbeat, had me laughing and whooping it up.   It was pretty motivating.

I’ll take ideas that carry prospect and the pleasure they give me over morbid, gloomy doomy ones any day.  Imagine believing the worst and getting really depressed about it and then something fantastic happens.  I’d have wasted all that time being unnecessarily unhappy.  Perish the thought.  I wonder how many people told the Pointer Sisters that they couldn’t, they wouldn’t?

Those three little words yes I can are like nourishment to the seeds of powerful dreams.

Lisa Marie Presley Asks Oprah Why Am I Having This Experience Again?

Imagine being Elvis Presley’s daughter.  He was a phenomenal man with a charisma that seemed unearthly, but I wonder what it was like for Lisa Marie growing up in the shadow of that out-of-control ego.  In an interview with Oprah she said when he shone his light on her, her whole world lit up.  Trouble is, he could switch it off, too, so she grew up knowing the intoxication of his attention, but never knowing the kind of real unconditional love that a child needs from its parent so that it can grow up knowing its own worth.

Then she married Michael Jackson.  And he was exactly the same kind of person, with almost inhuman capacity to seduce people with his brand of charisma.  So Lisa had the same experience, all over again.  She spoke of how incredibly high she got when he lavished attention on her.  But the other side of the coin was that if you didn’t give him what he wanted he iced you out.  You were gone.  So she was completely dispensible.  Just as she was for her father.

Somehow, though, she found strength to leave him and she went through a period of massive anger and refusing to speak to him.  Probably the healthiest thing she’d ever done in her life.  But when he died guilt got to her, and in the interview with Oprah she spoke about how she felt she let him down, and she made all sorts of excuses for him, for the way he behaved towards her.  I hate it when women do this.  I understand it, because I’ve done it myself.  Haven’t we all.

But the thing is, it’s not healthy, it’s the same dynamic that pulled us into the relationship in the first place.  Putting him first, at the expense of ourselves.  If we do that, we’ll never get out.  And our partner may die or we may divorce, separate, but if we haven’t learned how to put ourselves first, we’ll find ourselves back in a similar situation.  Lisa Marie said to Oprah, why have I had to go through this twice?  What do I have to learn that I’m not learning?

So many women think that the lesson is about forgiving their partner, or their father, or whoever has hurt them, but it isn’t that.  It’s about learning to put yourself first, demand respect, walk away when you don’t get.  It’s about refusing to comply with the rules of that game called I’m going to ice you out if you don’t please me.  It’s about understanding why you let yourself be so vulnerable, and forgiving yourself.

Until we learn that lesson, nothing is going to change.  Because we’ll keep giving our power away.  And when you’re in that place, it’s unfortunate but true that you don’t give it away to decent, balanced, healthy partners.  You give it away to partners who need yours because they don’t have enough of their own, who live by sucking the life force out of others.  Who exploit and control and don’t care who they hurt.

Life is a stern task-master / mistress.  Speaking for myself, it’s never let me get away with not taking care of myself adequately.  It’s kept shoving that awful, painful experience of being used and exploited in my face until the experience got so unbearable that I started saying I don’t ever want to be back here again. That’s when I started facing the unfortunate truth that I was the one letting myself be used.  So I had to learn how not to, how to  pay attention to the cry that comes from my heart what about me?  How to take it seriously and say I hear you and from now on I’ll listen to you first. 

The lesson isn’t about loving them more.  It’s about loving me more.

The Loss of Innocence and Finding My Way Back Home

Oprah’s interview of Tyler Perry was flighted here yesterday, the day after, in therapy, I opened the door into facing the loss of my innocence as a little girl, and what it did to me.  I was talking about how things were clear for me at one point in my life but they’ve become so muddied, I’ve become so confused right deep down in the core of me, and I have to fight so hard for clarity.

It seemed there was a time when I had clear vision.  The image came up of me standing in a field; the sky was blue and I could see forever.  There was nobody around, not one other person in the whole world.  Then there was another part of me running in the dark, stumbling, terrified.  Pursued.  I can’t see my way.  My vision doesn’t work.

When did it become dark?  I didn’t know.  I sat, scrolling through my memory, scanning for that moment.  I started to get a sensation in my mouth which I remember having in my early teens, although I can’t remember when it started.  It would happen when I was going to sleep.  My tongue would start to feel as though it was swelling and it would just get bigger and bigger.  In my mind I could see a white kind of picket fence, quite high and something spilling over it, overwhelming me.  Disgusting.

If I opened my eyes and forced myself awake, the horror would fade.  But as soon as I succumbed to the desire to sleep it would start again.  I had it for years.  Eventually it faded, but I started having nocturnal epilepsy.

That sensation started happening in therapy yesterday, but I still couldn’t find that time when my vision became unclear and things got dark.  All I knew was that it had something to do with sex.  My therapist said it sounded like the loss of innocence. Time stopped for me for a while.

When you get abused in childhood you’re never the same again.  Life gets very confusing.  Nothing is safe.  It’s dark inside your world. There’s no place to go, no person to turn to.  Yesterday Tyler Perry talked about how he would find this park in his head where kids were playing, happy and safe, loved.  He would go there when his father abused him.

I realized, the image I had of that place where my vision is clear isn’t before I lost my innocence, it’s the place I went to after I lost it, like Tyler’s park.  Trying to describe what it was like for him as a child, Tyler said: something in you dies.   I think it’s rather that the spirit of the innocent child goes into a place you can’t reach.

When you dissociate, you move into your teens and early adulthood absolutely lost.  Acting out, taking drugs, stealing, being promiscuous.  Lashing out at society or people or yourself.  Hell-bent on destruction, seeking a way to escape the pain of acknowledging that your innocence is lost and your spirit is in a coma.

But miraculously it calls out to you constantly, and slowly you start to hear.  You begin to find your way back to it, because it’s the core of who you are.  It’s a rough journey and a long one.  Trying to make sense of the confusion, learning how and who to trust, how to forgive yourself, how to rebuild the foundation of your life and develop a core capacity to self-protect so that it never happens again.

When Oprah asked Tyler what he would say now to the innocent child that he was, his reply was that he’d do the best he could with his life to honor the child and what he went through.   I say to the child in me.  I hear you, it’s safe to come out of hiding.  You didn’t got through that for nothing.  I’ll never let myself be abused again.  Like Tyler, I’ll spend the rest of my life doing the best I can with what I’ve got, embracing life in a safe way. I honor the dreams you had and I’ll do what I can to make them a reality. 

Oprah Talks to J.K. Rowling and I’ve Finished Writing A Book

I watched Oprah interview J.K. Rowling the other day – in fact the day before I finished writing the first book I’ve completed that I think is publishable.  I’ve written 5 others, 4 of which are  truly embarrassing – thank God nobody would publish them –  and one which had potential.  So fine, I’ll work on that one.  But this one?  This one I’m very happy with.  My mind is a much more organized animal now than it used to be.  Good thing too.

Well the writing was challenging and fun and rewarding and a pain in the arse sometimes.  But overall, it moved along nicely and I never lost sight of where it was going for longer than a day or two, when my inner critic would kick in and yell at me – you think anybody’s going to want to read this? Why would they?  It’s crap!!!   Yes, those days happened, but somehow I got beyond them.  What the hell, every writer worries about that at some point.  I just decided that even if it was true I might as well finish the book and see for myself.

So the book is done.  I typed that tiny word “END” with a smirk and a whoopedy doo-dah, and felt a rush of energy which kept me awake until 3 in the morning.   Today I started on my quest to find appropriate publishers and possibly agents.  Well, I only want one of each, of course.  I asked in a book shop whether I should send my manuscript to lots of publishers all at once, and the person said no, because the publishing world is a small one and you don’t want everybody to think of you as being desperate.  So send it to a few select publishers.

I thought what a load of bollocks.  As if all the publishers who receive my manuscript are in the habit of calling each other up and finding out if Jennifer Stewart also sent them this damn book she’s written.  So, I’m making my list and my letter of enquiry is going to as many appropriate publishers as I can find.  I think it’s a fine book with a big potential market and will make some lucky publisher a fortune.  Me too.  None of this cap in hand crap for me.

So, I’m on my way with this.  But enough about me, and back to Oprah and J.K. Rowling.  I was so inspired to hear her talk about how she was on the dole, and at one point got so poor she was nearly on the street.  Then she wrote her book.  Oprah asked her if she knew somehow that it would be successful.  J.K. said she knew it might be difficult to find a publisher, but that once she did, her book would take off.  Well, 12 really dumb publishers (who must all be kicking themselves now) turned her down.  Now she’s the wealthiest author in history.

It’s impossible for me to have invested so much energy and brain power and heart stuff into a book without believing it will touch people’s hearts and be successful.  I’m going to let myself have that dream and the enormous pleasure of it while I go about the practical business of getting published, and I won’t let the challenges of that stop me.  I’m going to carry on imagining Oprah phoning me one day and saying “this book – I couldn’t put it down”, and being on the New York Times best seller list.

Oprah’s Gifts To Me

I’ve been watching the reruns of Oprah’s last season for the past two months.  Her shows reach me in a way that no others do because they confirm for me that I’m not alone in what I believe.   I believe life isn’t random, that nothing happens without having been caused to happen, that all our experiences reflect back to us the state of our awareness, of ourselves and our world.  I believe the point of life is to embrace, not to deprive.  And that our experiences show us either where we’re empowered or not, what we can do and what we’re not so good at doing, what we believe, where our beliefs are inadequate and trip us up.  Every experience has what we need to be able to move forward, to know better and do better next time.

I believe that uncomfortable is horrible but it isn’t bad and if you face it things get better.  That joyful experiences are a good thing, and it’s okay to be happy when so much of the world is in trouble.   That whatever your needs are, they’re important and you have the right to take them seriously.  That you can run but you can never hide forever.  From yourself.  Life won’t let you.  And that’s a good thing because cliché or not, the truth sets you free.

I grew up in really psychology-ignorant and emotionally very unfluent culture and sometimes I still doubt that my current beliefs are sane.  There was no real depth of understanding of what makes people do the things they do, of what self-esteem and entitlement are about, what drives behavior, what creates belief, and how powerfully the experiences of childhood impact on each person.  The idea was never even considered that where I’m at, at any point, is the result of all the choices I’ve made from moment to moment over the years, or that I could do anything about choosing differently.

Life was a scary thing to me, it made no damn sense.  Well, I’ve learned to find that sense.  I’ve learned that self-esteem can be healed, entitlement built, emotions felt and dealt with, needs can be acknowledged and met.  Life can be a thing of flow instead of just obstacle.  Problems come with solutions.  They may not always be apparent, but you can find them if you persist.  The best thing I’ve learned is that real unconditional and consistent love can be a reality, not just a faraway dream, and it’s the thing that empowers us the most.

Oprah has been such a consistent companion in my journey of my awakening and understanding  myself and my world.  Today I was thinking, I suppose there are people in the world who have never watched her shows.  I can’t imagine what that would be like, and I feel very sorry for them!  I’ve been so inspired by her capacity for honesty, for joy, for having tremendous fun, for holding on to her integrity, and for being thoroughly consistent.  These things have been a wealth of gifts to me.

All the people she’s interviewed have given me great gifts too, with having the courage to tell the truth about their lives and the things they’ve tried to overcome or have succeeded in overcoming, lighting the way for the rest of us.  They’ve let me know I’m not alone in any of my challenges.  They and Oprah have helped keep alive and burning bright the flame of my belief that I’m not a screwball, I’m not alone, that my destiny is to be happy and fulfilled, that I’m not the right track for me and that life is inherently a good thing.  To all of those people, and to Oprah, a thousand thanks!