Category Archives: Writing

Sex, Drugs and Meditation – Sunshine Coast Launch

For those of you who couldn’t make it and for some who were there and would like to hear it again. Parts of the In Conversation I did with John Stokes plus a solo performance of Nature Girl – an angry and bitter song that, for some strange reason, everybody loves.

 

 

Writing for Small Spaces (ABC Open Blog)

Writing for small spaces

I knew my writing was good when my friend told me he read it in the toilet.

This post is by guest blogger Mary-Lou Stephens.  Moo (as she’s affectionately known around the studios) is a radio broadcaster with ABC Sunshine Coast.  Her memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month. 

I didn’t mean to become a writer.

Not of books anyway.

I always dreamed of becoming a famous songwriter. I played in bands, put out CDs and did the endless gigs that being an independent musician requires.

It was a fun journey but eventually led nowhere. The doors remained closed.

Writing prose came later and quite by accident. I returned home from a trip overseas with only twelve photos taken on a disposable camera.

A friend pointed out that photography was clearly not my thing and suggested I write about my trip instead.

I did, imaginatively calling it “My Holiday”. My friend enjoyed it so much he kept it in the toilet and read it on his regular visits there.

He told me this was high praise indeed. Higher praise came when he recommended my work to a journalist who was looking for a new columnist for the local paper.

A door began to open. But first there was an ordeal of fire. The journalist asked me for some sample columns.

“Don’t be surprised if I tell you can’t write,” he growled. “Most people can’t.”

I sent him three sample columns and waited nervously.

He rang back that very afternoon. “You can actually write,” he said. The surprise in his voice was obvious.

I wrote a column every week for four and a half years.

Much encouraged and with a lot of words under my belt, I moved on to short stories, a novel and a memoir.

For years now I’ve been writing never knowing if anyone, besides my writing group, would ever read the result.

A publishing deal is the prize is it not?

 Maybe, maybe not.

My memoir has just been published and I am grateful, thrilled that the reviews have been favourable and amazed that people I’ve never met are reading it.

But caught up in the heady spin of publicity I find myself growing anxious.

Am I enough?

Am I doing enough?

There is so much involved with getting a book out into the world, what else can I do to make it happen? A publishing deal is not a full stop, it is an ongoing commitment to do my best for those who have invested in my words.

It is not until I pause, find the space to clear away the clutter of my endless To Do list, and immerse myself in the writing that I find peace and a true excitement. It is a joy that comes from my soul.

This is where the doors swing wide open and angels sing.

I am connected at last, not lost but found, in the words and in the journey.

This is a gift, the true prize. Writing in itself is enough.

And if the toilet is the only place it’s read, that’s enough too.

Mary-Lou Stephens’ memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation was released this month through Pan Macmillan.

IMAGE CREDITS: Author: ABC Open Sunshine Coast

Madison Magazine gets Meditating

This was originally posted on the Madison Magazine website  05.04.2013 www.madisonmag.com.au/life/sex-drugs-and-meditation

One women tells how meditation changed her life, saved her job and found her a husband

I sit still, close my eyes and breathe. That’s it. Nothing more. Who’d have thought such a simple thing could change my life? A simple thing yes, but not an easy thing. Madisonpic

It wasn’t happiness that drove me to a ten day silent meditation retreat. My dream job had turned into a nightmare thanks to a new boss who was determined to make my working life a misery. I knew he wouldn’t change. If I was to keep the job I loved there was only one thing I could change. Myself. My colleagues were sceptical. I talk for a living. How was I going to last ten days without uttering a word? I did it because I was desperate.

I had done my research. I knew the physical pain, resulting from sitting cross-legged for eleven hours a day, was going to be tough. What I wasn’t expecting was the emotional pain. In those silent hours my past came rushing at me with all its attendant demons; my childhood as a neglected kid in a crazy religious household, my past addictions to drugs, alcohol, food and stealing. Waves of rage, fear and self-loathing threatened to overwhelm me but I continued to meditate as I was instructed; observe the breath, observe the sensations, remain aware, remain equanimous.

The theory is that when we’re confronted by painful situations, if we don’t react, then we liberate ourselves from past hurts as well as the present ones. They come to the surface, manifest as a sensation, then pass away. The basic tenet of the meditation technique is – everything changes. Why get attached to something that’s going to change? Why fear it, avoid it, crave it or hate it? It’s not going to last. Just observe it and let it go. When the demons were flying at me with jagged teeth and tearing nails, when the pain was so great it felt as though my bones would rip through my flesh, I found it hard to believe that theory. But when I was able to keep breathing, to observe the sensations and not react to them, miracles happened. The physical pain dissolved into a thousand effervescent points of energy. It’s one thing to know in your mind that everything changes but to get it on a physical level, in every cell of your body, is another.

The emotional pain also changed. I was shocked when an old wound demanded my complete attention. A relationship so wracked with obsession and betrayal it had destroyed my ability to trust. I thought I’d worked through it. Turns out I had only suppressed it. On day seven of the retreat there it was, slapping me around the face. I didn’t react. I kept breathing, kept observing. The result was a life-changing realisation and a sense of freedom I had never experienced before.

Having such insights in the closeted surrounds of a meditation centre is one thing but what about back in the real world? Those ten days have had a profound and lasting effect on my life. I used to be extremely reactive. My response to anyone in authority was one of resentment and defiance. No wonder I never got on with my bosses. I stopped fighting, started listening and kept meditating. My work life improved. Eventually my boss moved on but even while he was still there I was much happier. I didn’t have to suffer anymore. But the biggest change has been in my personal life. I was terrified of relationships. Although I desperately wanted to, I could never commit, the fear was too great. Everything changes. Within ten days of leaving the meditation retreat I met the man I would marry.

Words by Mary-Lou Stephens author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation

Living the Dream

If one more person said to me “When one door closes another one opens,” I was going to throttle them. But you know what? They were right. For years I’d been playing in bands, touring and releasing CDs. I’d had a great time but I was getting nowhere. When my last speedo dress Aug '95band broke up I knew I couldn’t do it any more. I was heartbroken and exhausted and had no idea what to do next. My only tertiary qualification was a diploma in performing arts and, at the age of thirty-five with no skills other than acting and performing, a series of dead-end jobs was all I could envisage.

Weeks after the band’s last performance, I woke to the seven am news on my clock radio. Half asleep, I heard the Queen sending her condolences to the people of Tasmania. That’s how I found out about the Port Arthur massacre. In shock and grief I went home to Tasmania for the memorial service. There, quite coincidently, I met up with an acquaintance who was broadcasting the service for the ABC. He took me to lunch later that week. I told him about the band breaking up and, even though it seemed trivial in the context of the horror at Port Arthur, how lost I was.

He paused, looked at me and uttered one life-changing sentence. ‘Mary-Lou, you want to be in radio.’

I knew he was right. It was a pure light bulb moment. ‘I do,’ I said.‘But I didn’t realise that until right now. How did you know?’

‘Because I know radio and I know you,’ he said. ‘It’s a perfect match.’

It was true. I came alive when I was being interviewed in a radio studio. I loved the sense of performance. I’d performed all my life in one form or another. Radio condensed performance down to one person, one microphone, one listener. A pure connection.

Days later, through another friend, I found out about The Australian Film Television and Radio School and on my return to Sydney I was asked to present a program for a public radio station. Within a week of discovering my true vocation I was being offered a gig on air. The doors continued to fly open. With help and support, and after three rounds of auditions, I was accepted into AFTRS and less than a year later I landed my first professional job in radio.2TM 2

I had always thought I’d be a famous singer/songwriter, and who knows, I may still be yet, but when I let go of that dream and dared to dream another, I discovered a whole new life of adventure, creativity and fulfillment.

My latest adventure is that of an author. My meditation memoir Sex, Drugs and Meditation is published this month by Pan Macmillan. 

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

Mary-Lou meditates her way to calm

by Rebecca A Rose for the ABC.

When Mary-Louise Stephens embarked on her first 10 day meditation retreat, colleagues were taking bets about how long she would last.

Now that she has just completed her 7th – and published a book on how it has changed her life – they are not so quick to scoff.

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Above: Mary-Lou at an OB with Annette Hughes

The ABC Coast Presenter is a renowned chatterbox and not even she can believe how much she enjoys staying quiet for so long.

“To be silent – it was a relief!” she laughed.

“When I was forced to be silent I realised how worried I am of the impression I am making, by what I say, by my level of knowledge and interest and humour – how much I want to impress people and want them to like me.

“A lot of (what we) talk is about that.”

Her life has changed so much that she decided to write a book about the experience in the vein of ‘if I can do it, anyone can!’ Her memoir will be launched at Ariel Books in Paddington tomorrow night.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is the story of how Mary-Lou went from heroin addict with a string of failed relationships behind her to happily married and serene, at one with her troubled past and optimistic about the future.

Meditating in silence for 11 hours a day over ten days, Mary-Lou had some amazing revelations about herself.

b&w performance 1 1995 Above: Mary-Lou in her band.

Practitioners of mindful meditation focus on being present in the moment – by concentrating on their breathing they hone in on their emotions.

“The difficulty is breaking down the walls between the conscious and subconscious.

“When you get into that state, all of the stuff that really drives you – not the stuff you think drives you, but the internal stuff – comes to the surface.”

The theory that we are the creators of our own misery rang true.

“What I was doing before this was to blame everyone else for my misery. I was blaming my boss, management, old boyfriends. If I had nothing to be miserable about I would make stuff up.”

It is not just the silence, but the physical constraints of trying to stay still and the emotional turmoil of turning the spotlight on yourself so intensely that make meditation retreats such a hardcore experience.

But that doesn’t mean that every thought is on a higher plane.

“Sometimes I let my mind have a holiday and do what it wants to do – I had bought a lotto ticket and was thinking about how I would spend the money,” she said.

“Or I would worry about the house burning down because i had left the iron on!

Mary-Lou’s book covers some hair-raising days from her youth, including an unhappy childhood and drug addiction. It has taken her many years to write as she struggled to be as honest as she had to about how far she has come.

“It is hard because people are going to know all these things about me. Yes, I used to take heroin and I used to steal. I am concerned in some ways – what will people here think of me?”

In the end, her transformation is the story and according to Mary-Lou that was the reason it had to be told.

She has taken ten weeks off to promote the book as well as write the follow up, which will explain the nitty gritty behind the ‘happily ever after’ ending of Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Ten Terrifying Questions

Mary-Lou Stephens, author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

 by John Purcell, The Booktopia Book Guru

The Booktopia Book Guru asks Mary-Lou Stephens

author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation Ten Terrifying Questions

———————–

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in that part of Australia that’s often left off the map and in true Tasmanian style headed off to the big smoke as soon as it was a legal option. I hung out with drug dealers in Kings Cross until someone I knew was murdered. After that I ran back to Hobart to play bass in bands, it was safer.

For three years I studied acting at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne which helped me to realise that I preferred playing in bands. After years of being a singer/songwriter in Hobart, Melbourne and Sydney I retrained in radio at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Radio is perfect, it combines my performance skills with a love of music and gives my insatiable curiosity a valid outlet. And I get paid more than I ever did as an actor or a musician.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to be liked. I always felt like an outsider.

At eighteen I wanted to be Jean-Jacques Burnel from The Stranglers.

At thirty I wanted to be a famous and well paid singer/songwriter instead of an obscure poor one.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I thought I was immortal, that nothing could kill me; not drugs, not knives, not dark alleys at the back of the Cross.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

When I was in high school we studied Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It confounded, frustrated and astounded me. It stretched my heart and my mind.

Seeing The Stranglers at the State Theatre in Sydney in 1979. I turned to the punk next to me and asked “What’s that sound?” He sneered at me, he was a punk after all, and said, “That’s the bass guitar.” I decided in that moment that I would become a bass player. From being a bass player I became a song writer. The lyrics to three of my songs are in Sex, Drugs and Meditation.

Sigur Ros, from Iceland. Listening to their music is like being in a cathedral made of ice and vines. I have written whole scenes of my unpublished novel inspired by this band. Two of my main characters and thousands of other characters become entwined in the epic beauty of their songs.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a book?

I feel as though I’ve lived many lives already; as a bass player, an actor, a singer/songwriter, touring the country with bands. A friend of mine once asked me why all the good stuff happened to me, why I had such an interesting life while he was stuck in a small town in a small job. I told him it was because I said, “Yes.” Yes to adventures and opportunities and new experiences. I never had any money but I did what ever I wanted. I lived like a 17 year old boy with a driver’s licence and no responsibilities. When my last band broke up and I realised I was in fact a 36 year old woman, radio was there to embrace me.

After working in radio for a while I had enough money to go to the USA and visit the places where much of the music I loved was made. When I came back my friends asked to see the photos. I hardly had any. I’d only taken twelve on a disposable camera. A colleague at the ABC suggested I write about my travels instead. I haven’t stopped writing since.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

Mary-Lou’s dream job has become a nightmare. She knows Eliott Purvis, her young, ambitious, sociopathic boss, will not change. If Mary-Lou is to be free of the anguish and keep the job she loves, there is only one thing she can change. Herself.

Ten days of silent meditation is the solution she chooses. During these ten days Mary-Lou is forced to confront the demons of her past; drugs, alcohol, food and religion. She also has to deal with the demons in her mind; paranoia, self-hate, fear and murderous rage. She relives her time spent in Twelve Step programs, her years at acting school, the joy and heartbreak of her former life as a musician and the journey that led her to work in radio.

For ten days and nights she battles her memories, mistakes and fantasies. The rigours demanded by the long hours spent meditating result in excruciating physical pain. The overcoming of this pain enables her to understand, on every level, the basic tenet of the meditation technique – everything changes.

She is shocked when an old wound she thought had healed demands her complete attention. A relationship so wracked with obsession and betrayal it destroyed her ability to trust. Through the eleven hours of meditation a day she finally releases the resentment and blame and comes to a place of forgiveness.

When Mary-Lou returns to work the challenges remain, but she went to the meditation centre to change herself, not her job, and the results are surprising. At a dinner party a week later, despite all her best efforts and worst habits, Mary-Lou meets the man she will marry.

Click here to buy Sex, Drugs and Meditation from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is a story of transformation. It’s the story of a woman who is at breaking point and very close to losing all hope. I went and sat in pain and silence for ten days and things changed. I changed. I’d like people to recognise that there is hope, no matter how dark things seem. I’d like them to consider meditation as a possibility for creating that change. But more than anything I’d like them to enjoy a really good read and feel uplifted after they’ve turned the last page, knowing that anything is possible.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Anyone who finishes writing a book. So many people say they want to write a book, some may even start, but to those who start, stick with it and finish it – I admire you, even if you never get published.

As far as published writers are concerned this is a tough one for me. Books pass through my hands like water. I have a regular books and writing segment on ABC Local Radio and I read like a fiend. It’s important to me that I read the book before I interview the author, which I’m told is rare. I admire every author I interview because their lives are usually ones of tenacity and inspiration, hard slog and brilliance.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’d love to inspire people to know that change is possible. I’d like my books to give people hope as well as being a really great read. The book I’m writing at the moment is the sequel to Sex, Drugs and Meditation. It’s the truth about my happy ever after; the story of how I stayed married – against all odds. I’d love to see this book in print, as well as the novel I’ve written and the many others I have planned. Much as I love my work in radio, one of my ambitions is to make a living from writing.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I’m going to assume that most aspiring writers are already reading voraciously and writing compulsively, those being the basic building blocks of a writer. So my advice is to get yourself some writing buddies. People who will become your allies and your cheer squad. Friends who will give you honest feedback when you’re feeling strong and heap praise upon your writing when you’re feeling vulnerable.

A writing group who evolve together and whose bonds strengthen as the years go by. Writing can be lonely and people who don’t write often can’t understand why you won’t go out on Saturday because you have to write or why you spend so much time doing something that may never see the light of day. Your writing buddies will get it and they’ll get you.

Don’t be lonely, there’s no need to feel misunderstood. A small writing group of like-minded souls to encourage and to challenge your writing is the balm to soothe and sweeten this writing life.

Mary-Lou, thank you for playing.

_____________________________

Click here to buy Sex, Drugs and Meditation from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

My Player Profile from Boomerang Books

Player Profile: Mary-Lou Stephens, author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation


by  – 

mary-lou-stephensMary-Lou Stephens, author of Sex, Drugs and Meditation

Tell us about your latest creation…

Sex, Drugs & Meditation is my meditation memoir. It’s the true story of a woman with a talent for self-sabotage who learns to sit still, shut up and start living – and loving.

Where are you from / where do you call home?

I was born and raised in Hobart, studied acting at The Victorian College of the Arts and played in bands in Melbourne and Sydney before I got a proper job – in radio. I’ve worked and played all over Australia but since discovering the Sunshine Coast I’ve been inclined to stay put.

sex-drugs-meditationWhen you were a kid, what did you want to become?  An author?

I wanted to be an archaeologist. I had a desire to dig up the past, which ironically is what I’m doing now with my memoir.

What do you consider to be your best work? Why?

I love Sex, Drugs & Meditation. It’s a great story and it’s all true. There are lyrics to three of my songs in this book from my time as a singer/songwriter. The song about my father dying, “Strange Homecoming” took me two years to finish and just as long to be able to perform without crying. It still affects me to this day. My best work is my most honest work.

Describe your writing environment to us – your writing room, desk, etc.; is it ordered or chaotic?

My writing space is the spare room. I have a big trestle table so that I can pile everything up and out of the way when people come to stay. I love it when my husband goes out or away because then I can take over the lounge room, slouch on the couch with my laptop, surrounded by notebooks and paper.

When you’re not writing, who/what do you like to read?

I have a regular books and writing segment on ABC Local Radio and I focus on Australian writers. I always aim to read the book before interviewing the author. It doesn’t matter what genre, or if it’s fiction or non-fiction, the books I enjoy reading are a good story well told.

What was the defining book(s) of your childhood/schooling?

I’m one of six children and we were raised on the C.S Lewis Narnia series, so much so that I gave one of my brothers the boxed set for a wedding present. We also had all the Beatrix Potter books and some of the recorded versions as well. Every Saturday morning we’d go to the library and I’d get out the Mary Plain books. The Magic Faraway Tree was a favourite as well. When I was in high school we studied Saul Bellow’s Henderson The Rain King. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before. It confounded, frustrated and astounded me. It stretched my heart and my mind.

If you were a literary character, who would you be?

Mrs Tiggy-Winkle (Beatrix Potter), making endless cups of tea surrounded by the smell of fresh laundry. Only trouble is I’m allergic to ironing. The ending of the book has a strange and bittersweet melancholy to it that I’ve always been attracted to. “Why, she’s nothing but a hedgehog.”

Apart from books, what do you do in your spare time (surprise us!)?

I love playing Scrabble. The only reason I joined Facebook was to play Scrabble with my interstate and overseas friends. And at the moment I’m playing my guitar a lot. It’s been a while since I used to play in bands and I need the practice. As well as talking about my book I’ll be playing the songs from it. I’d like it to be a pleasant experience for everyone.

What is your favourite food and favourite drink?

Anything with coconut in it is a firm favourite, my latest food fetish is coconut butter by the spoonful. Apart from water, tea is my favourite drink. There is a whole section of the pantry dedicated to it.

Who is your hero? Why?

Maggie Beer. She’s smart, hard working, creative and generous. Her work with Alzheimer’s Australia is admirable, as is her passion for improving the food in aged care facilities. Her food is delicious, her recipes always work and everyone feels as though she’s their friend even if they’ve never met her. I was lucky enough to meet her and she’s genuinely warm, engaging and funny. And she’s like the Queen, she doesn’t carry any money.

Crystal ball time – what is the biggest challenge for the future of books and reading?

Screen time. I love reading but even so I find it hard to drag myself away from the lure of social media and the endless sticky strands of the web. I work in radio and that hunger for the immediate is ingrained in what I do but nothing gives me more pleasure than reading a book.

Follow Mary-Lou:

Website URL: http://maryloustephens.com.au/
Blog URL: http://maryloustephens.wordpress.com/
Facebook Page URL: http://www.facebook.com/maryloustephenswrites
Twitter URL: https://twitter.com/MissyMaryLou

 

Digital Heaven

And now, along with the cassettes from years gone by, my extensive collection of CDs, the collection I valued so highly I had it listed separately in my contents insurance, has been 2012-12-27 09.12.55dispersed. Lugged to the charity shop in boxes and bags to be picked over by bargain hunting music lovers. And what joys they will find there. A collection of memories, adventures, passion and heartbreak.

Was a time when CDs were essential to my world. The CD player at home was always in a whirl. The stacker in my car was always stuffed. When The Hubby told me he was thinking of buying me an iPod for my birthday a few years ago, I told him not to. I would never use it. He bought it for me anyway. I never used it.

But everything changes. He vowed he would always read real books, that he loved the heft, the smell, the reality of them. Now our bookshelves are denuded and he reads from a device. I still read books made from paper and glue but for how long I wonder?

We bought ourselves a new stereo. A tiny thing, with a dock for my iPod. It is also capable of playing digital and online radio stations. I spent hours loading my CD collection into my computer ready for transfer to the iPod I said I would never use. And when all my CDs were loaded and all my musical memories were nothing more than bits and bytes in my computer, I gave them away. All except a few old friends; Sigur Ros, Harry Manx, Frank Sinatra. I hang on to them just in case the world of binary code comes crashing down. We have a universe inside my iPod now, so much music in such a tiny space. A Tardis of sound. But do I use it?

When tuning in to online radio stations I found one that both The Hubby and I like. And now, when we press the button on the remote control, that’s what starts playing and that’s where we stay. My iPod sits in its dock and waits, all the music I have ever owned inside its silver shell. The internet radio station plays on. My iPod gathers dust. I am, if nothing else, a woman of my word.