Freedom. Or Perks?

It’s the time of year when we reflect on the past and look forward to the future. I’ve spent part of the past week at the Woodford Folk Festival and, unlike a lot of other festival-goers, for me it’s been a sobering experience.

Often we don’t notice the changes that occur in our everyday lives. The days slip by, the years flow on and we ease gracefully into other states of being. Well, that’s how I perceive it happening for other people. For myself any change is usually accompanied by much clashing and gnashing.

The first Woodford Festival I went to was a tribal experience. I drove up from Sydney with five others in a Kingswood called Gretel. We set up camp in amongst other people’s tent ropes and tarpaulins. I wandered wide-eyed and sleepless for the entire six days. I went to every jam session and danced all night in the Chai Tent. I joined the choir and made lanterns. I entered The Great Band Competition and circled every act in the program. I immersed myself in the Woodford experience and when it was time to resurface I couldn’t even remember my pin number.

My second Woodford Festival was spent as a performer. I played the Big Top and slept in the Performers’ Camp. I hung out in the Green Room and played in a few jams. I wore one of those coveted “access all areas” wristbands and got to watch packed out shows from the space beside the stage.

The next time I went as a radio announcer. It rained the entire time but I didn’t care. I was like a pig in the proverbial and there was plenty of that.  I interviewed as many performers as I could and when they played for me a crowd would gather. It was live radio at its best.

Since then I’ve produced and presented many national broadcasts from Woodford for the ABC. And when I became a published author I spent a couple of Woodfords on stage as a speaker. Every year I’ve had special privileges because of my position as a broadcaster, a performer and an author including parking spots, all-access wristbands, free tickets and speedy entry.

This year all that changed. It was the first year since that first tribal trip to Woodford that I’ve paid for a ticket. No access all areas, no special treatment.  At first I felt free; I had no responsibilities, no burden of care, nobody expected anything of me. I had no deadlines and no particular place to be. For the first time in almost twenty years I could experience the Woodford Folk Festival on my own terms. But when The Hubby and I had to park in the day parking area and catch the shuttle bus along with all the other punters, the reality sunk in and I didn’t like it. The truth is I enjoy being special. I love having perks and privileges. I scowled like a cranky toddler.

‘Don’t they realise who I am?’ I huffed.

‘Don’t you mean, who you were?’ The Hubby replied.

And it’s true. I love the freedom of retirement. Every day I’m grateful that I get to choose what I do, or don’t do. And after a lifetime in the public eye in one form or another, I adore the invisibility of anonymity. But freedom comes at a price. And for me that included the cost of a ticket and experiencing the festival as a mere member of the public.

So would I change anything about that experience? Would I shackle myself back to the burdens and responsibilities of a working life for the sake of a free ticket and more convenient parking?

I have had the experience of attending the Woodford Folk Festival in many different guises, and those roles of musician, broadcaster and speaker have suited me at the time. But times change and we change with them or we are doomed to a life of resentment and regret. Freedom is more important to me now than recognition, prestige and the perks of a media pass (even though, yes, sometimes I miss those perks).

So here’s to looking forward, to a life of freedom and choices based on that freedom. And if I get a bit huffy from time to time because I used to be someone, I hope I remember that I much prefer the someone that I am now.

Happy 2017.

How Michael Franti Saved My Marriage

Many years ago, when our relationship was just a young bud, I took The Hubby to the Byron Bay Blues Festival. I’d spent many years at music festivals of all different kinds, as a performer and a punter. I loved them. I loved music. I’d spent most of my twenties and thirties playing in bands, touring and recording. Now I was working in radio. Festivals were still on the agenda but this time I was usually presenting an outside broadcast or interviewing musicians.

The Hubby had spent most of his twenties and thirties in a very different world. A world of aircraft carriers, trackers, Orions and uniforms. Sure he liked music but his tastes were formed by the mainstream and restricted by what was available on board or at the base.

Bluesfest was an ear opening experience for him. I dragged him from one must-see, or must-hear, to the next. I was in heaven. The Hubby was not. He became decidedly downcast. He didn’t know any of the acts, he’d never heard of them and what he heard he didn’t like. I couldn’t believe it.  Here we were, surrounded by the best music in the world and he was unhappy, dejected, out of place.

I thought dancing together might cheer him up. Another disaster. When I’d played bass and then rhythm guitar in bands  I’d always sat just behind the beat. I liked to stretch out the rhythm into a relaxed lope. The Hubby, perhaps due to the military bands and all that marching, sat right on the beat, or even just in front, always vigilant, always aware. Our dancing became an awkward, wordless struggle. We were clumsy together and became impatient with each other.

In the meantime the kind of bloke I used to go out with was circling. A three-quarter boy with a lopsided grin, a cigarette and a pair of drum sticks. Yep, yet another muso. Charming and shiftless but talking a language I understood. The more The Hubby struggled with the sounds he was hearing, the more I was tempted to stray. Back to the world of talking crap and hanging out, of being surrounded by a pack of wise-cracking musicians strutting their stuff. The world I used to live in. The life I left behind. The pull back to that louche existence was strong in this time of doubt.

I looked at The Hubby and saw a stranger. The man I loved, the honest, soulful, wise and funny man, was gone. I couldn’t see him. Instead a saw a grumpy, rhythmless lump. A millstone. I wanted to be free. Free to enjoy the kaleidoscope of music, free to dance to my own beat, free to indulge in the sonic feast spread out before me. Free of my husband.

And then Michael Franti came on stage.

The Hubby stopped frowning. His body loosened up. There was a hint of a smile on his lips.

‘I like this man,’ he said. ‘I can understand every word he’s singing. His message is great. He has something worth saying. And I like the music.’

The Hubby nodded his head in agreement with Michael Franti’s words. The nod became a smile, the smile became a dance.

I stopped frowning. I loosened up. I began to smile.  I reached for my husband’s hand. If this man could love Michael Franti, I could love this man.

We were back. Back in alignment. Back in love. All thanks to Michael Franti.

Ten years later The Hubby and I were at another music festival. Michael Franti was playing. I said to The Hubby, ‘Let’s go check out his sound check, before the crowds get there.’

We sat on the grass in the natural amphitheatre at the Woodford Folk Festival. Michael Franti gave us, and the other ten or so people who’d had the same idea, a private concert. We danced, we cheered, we clapped, we laughed. And then he came down from the stage in his bare feet, walked over to the grass and sat with us for a chat and an acoustic song. It was magical.

And did I tell him the story of how he’d saved our marriage? You bet I did. He looked askance at first. Unsure of where the story was heading. But when I got to the end there was laughter and hugging. Lots of hugging. “Everybody gotta hug somebody at least once a day.”

Thank you Michael Franti, the man who saved my marriage.

Above is the song he sang on that magical afternoon. If you listen closely you can hear The Hubby and me singing along.

The Hubby Went to the USA & Met a Woman. This is What Happened.

LoveIf you’ve read Sex, Drugs and Meditation you’ll know it had a happy ending. I met the man I would marry.

And if you’ve read How To Stay Married you’ll know it’s about the truth of that happy-ever-after. The Hubby and I survived all kinds of disasters and losses and did indeed stay married.

Last month The Hubby went to the USA for a business conference. He didn’t end up spending much time at the conference. Instead he spent most of his time with a woman he’d just met. A woman who changed his life…so he told me.

I was a bit concerned I’ve got to say. This woman was single, drove a Mercedes and thought my husband was rather special.

However, he reassured me that their connection was purely spiritual. The Hubby is a very spiritual man. The woman in question, Renée, is also amazingly spiritual. She’s a conduit for healing and after one session with her The Hubby experienced incredible healing and change.

Renée is the real deal. Doreen Virtue is a fan. Louise L. Hay has said, ‘A session with Renée Swisko is a unique healing experience. Renée has the ability to assist you in making profound positive changes. She is a fabulous healer.’

I’ve spoken with Renée and we’re on the way to being great friends. Phew!

The Hubby came back from the USA very excited about sharing Renée’s gifts with those of us in Australia. Together they’ve arranged a group healing phone call that can transform you life into all that makes your heart sing.

I’ve got to say I’m looking forward to it.

If you’d like to join the call you’ll find all the information here. http://www.trustinmiracles.com/australia.html

It’s on Sunday September 27th at 10am and the session lasts for three hours. Once you’re registered all you’ll need to do is dial an Australian number on the day and let the healing and heart singing commence 🙂

Another true story and another happy ending.

My Writing Space

My Writing SpaceWhen I first started writing I had to have absolute privacy and absolute quiet. I was extremely self-conscious about what I was doing. There was no way I could write in a cafe. I had to be somewhere where I wouldn’t be interrupted. Door closed writing. Through the years I’ve become a little more relaxed. I’ve had more practice and that makes it easier to write wherever I am. Some of my second book How To Stay Married was even written on the couch with The Hubby beside me.

I still prefer privacy though and these photos are of my writing space in the spare room. IMG_1426Yes there’s a bed in there in case I need a good lie down after a vigorous writing session. The Hubby and I have a signal when I don’t want to be disturbed, not even for a cup of tea. You see that beautiful hand-made felt chain of flowers hanging on my desk lamp? I put that on the door knob of my writing room to serve as a warning beacon. ‘Do not come in on pain of death.’ I feel like a teenager with a Keep Out sign on my door but without the confidence of being able to write freely my ability to get the words down on the page can often be inhibited.

IMG_1425There are some treasures that surround me in here. Pebbles from the beach at Findhorn in Scotland, a little Eeyore (my favourite character from Winnie the Pooh), photos of my dad, my wedding and my former life as a singer/songwriter, a wooden writer’s organiser from The Hubby and various angels, hearts and paperweights given by friends. Oh, and copies of my books, reminding me that I can indeed write an entire book, look I’ve done it twice and that’s just the published ones.

I hope you can see how filthy the windows are. Proof that I’m not a procrastinator. IMG_1427I have friends who’ve cleaned their entire house and even the shed rather than sit down and write. Not me. But I am a very slow writer. I do a lot of pondering. It astounds me how slow I am. However I get the job done in the end.

Mary-Lou Stephens studied acting and played in bands before she got a proper job – in radio. Her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was published by Pan Macmillan in 2013. It tells the story of how she changed her life, saved her job and found a husband, all with the help of meditation. The sequel, How To Stay Married, is the truth about the happy ending. 

Mary-Lou is now writing fiction in her own special slow and pondering way.

Get your free copy of Mary-Lou’s  7 Tips For Your Best Relationship Ever 

*** This post was first written for Word Farm. Check it out and while you’re there why not give Word Farm a Like.  (PS My desk is now a lot messier 🙂 )

The Beatles Were Wrong

Untitled designThe most entrenched beliefs we have about love are handed down to us through popular culture; the fairytale ending, the handsome prince, the knight on the white charger, the perfect man. Then, there’s advertising. Some of the beliefs we have about relationships are insinuated into our heads through commercials depicting happy-ever-after couples. The idealization of love in popular culture in everything from music, writing and film is enough to make your head (and heart!) spin. How can we help but be convinced that when we meet our one true love, they’ll complete us and we’ll gaze into each other’s eyes in blissful happiness for the rest of our lives? And for some, for a while, that might work.

But what usually happens is this: You disappear off the face of the earth and your friends stop hearing from you. Then, as soon as the cracks appear in the fairytale, you seek them out to cry on their shoulders. And they’re there, if they haven’t moved on to friends who are there for them in return, and not just flit-props for the latest dalliance.

When you’re in love, it feels like nothing else matters. It’s so easy and seductive to let your life go — your friends, your interests, your beliefs, your hobbies. I get it. It feels good and it’s fun and smoochy and yummy. You don’t need anyone or anything else. You’re feeling smug wrapped up in your love cocoon. And that’s the way you think it should stay. But what happens when he wants to go watch football with his friends? Or she goes on a girls’ night out? How could he possibly want to be apart from you for even one minute? How dare she have a life of her own? You just want to be with her all the time. He’s all you need. Love is all you need. The Beatles were right. Wrong.

Talking to your best female friends is different than talking to your romantic partner. Best mate drinking talks are different to relating to your love interest. There’s so much more to life than your primary relationship. Conversely, having other friends and other interests bring more life into your relationship. Other voices, other opinions, other senses of humor and other connections all add up to a fulfilling life.

Khalil Gibran’s words in The Prophet have been quoted often. His writing on marriage really does feel wise:

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.”

Antoine De Saint-Exupery, a French aristocrat, author of The Little Prince, poet and aviator also clearly knew a bit about love:

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward in the same direction.”

That sums up marriage for me. You’re finished with the infatuation stuff and into the real meat and depth of a relationship. The part where you have each other’s backs. You know, love and support each other and you’re building a life together that will be much greater than the sum of its parts. That’s where life and love get truly delicious.

Get your free copy of Mary-Lou’s Seven Tips For Your Best Relationship Ever

How To Stay Married – Book Launch

How to Stay Married 2Mary-Lou Stephen’s first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation told the story of how meditation changed her life, saved her job and helped her find a husband. How To Stay Married, is the truth behind the happy ending. How to Stay Married takes us around the world; from the glitter and glare of Las Vegas to the sub-zero temperatures of the French Alps and the tropical heat of Thailand, all with cabin luggage only. The discoveries Mary-Lou makes regarding herself and her marriage are a modern-day parable about learning to travel light in life, love and relationships.

While How to Stay Married isn’t your regular ‘how-to’ book, it is about creating the kind of relationship you want. This is the story of a marriage; a journey from fear, resentment and financial devastation, to a place of love, joy and trust.
Mary-Lou Stephens studied acting and played in bands before she got a proper job – in radio. She writes whenever she’s not behind the microphone or heading off to a meditation retreat.

Mary-Lou has garnered rave reviews for her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation, the true story of how she changed her life, saved her job and found a husband, all with the help of meditation. She lives on the Sunshine Coast with that very same husband, their dog and a hive of killer native bees. Mary-Lou is a blogger for The Huffington Post, a columnist for Holistic Bliss and a regular at writing festivals and events. She is presenter for ABC Sunshine Coast and a wonderful friend of us all at Annie’s Books.

The Launch of  How to Stay Married
In conversation with Annie Gaffney

TUESDAY 24th MARCH – 6.00pm  

Annie’s Books on Peregian 8 Kingfisher Drive, Peregian Beach,
Queensland 4573 Australia

WINE & CHEESE – This is a free event, but notice of your intention to attend would be appreciated – (07) 5448 2053

Right or Happy? What Would You Choose?

2015-02-24-nARGUMENTlarge-thumbThe first time my husband and I argued it was terrifying. I thought it was the end of our relationship.

I’ve done a lot of meditation so during the argument I knew I should walk away, sit outside and observe my breath. It is a good tool, however it doesn’t solve anything. And in this case it just made my husband angrier.

“You just can’t hide away and meditate,” he said. “We have to talk about this.” I wished he’d go away so I could keep meditating. I was happy when I was meditating. I didn’t have to deal with anyone else and their points of view and their big voices. But unless I’m going to become a hermit (tempting at times), then I need to learn how to deal with disagreements.

What I’ve found? It really works to just listen to the other person. When my husband wants to vent I let him and I don’t take it personally. I usually know it has nothing to do with me. It’s his opinion and he’s entitled to have it. He might want to blame me for something, that’s okay. It might have been my fault, it might not have. If I’m able to observe my thoughts and emotions, to keep breathing and not get all caught up in the heat of the moment and keep listening, things usually go okay.

Arguments and disagreements are going to happen. They’re part of life. And the most important step to repairing them is to hear the other person’s perspective and to let them know you’re really listening. To respect their opinion. And naturally they need to do the same for you. We’re not being doormats here.

OK, so that’s what happens in an ideal world. What happens in the real world is that you get scared, upset, angry and most of all you want to be right, you want to win. When someone I respected, who was helping me sort through an issue, asked me, “Would your rather be right or be happy?” I said “Right of course. It’s important to be right. If I’m right then I am happy. I get the best of both worlds. I am right and I am happy.”

She looked at me as if I was an alien.

It’s taken me many years to work out that having to be right all the time was making me miserable and lonely. That most people don’t want friends who put more importance on being right than they do on being happy. Old grumpy-pants self-righteous me might have thought I was right. But it felt all wrong.

In an argument, take a breath, listen and ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?” Then, remember, that sometimes, you might prefer to be right, and that’s okay too.

Get your free copy of Mary-Lou’s Seven Tips For Your Best Relationship Ever