Written by Renae Failla

Around the world, lockdown and isolation continue with long term impacts of COVID-19 lurking, many are struggling to come to terms with what a COVID Normal will look like.

Tom Stodulka, named 2019 Australasian mediator of year is reinforcing messages of positivity in these challenging times. Contrasting COVID-19 to experiences of war, he reminds Australians of how we have overcome and survived what has been thrown at us. “Sometimes it is easy to forget that as a nation, we’ve survived wars, conflicts, depressions, and economic uncertainty all before COVID-19,” And stresses focusing on the small moments of positivity to help get us through “We should remember that life is about enjoying what we can in every single moment. Enjoy the world around you, because happiness is found in every single one of those moments, especially when you’re being active and creative.”

Tom is no stranger to life’s hardships, with his birth taking place in Bathurst 1951 in one of Australia’s post-WWII refugee camps after his parents fled Czechoslovakia in 1947 during a time of political unrest, while his older brother was born in a UN Displaced Persons Camp in Italy. His parents primarily spoke German in his childhood years which added an extra burden to his school years and English essay writing. Seemingly a very distant memory, Tom went on to study law, join the Royal Australian Navy and secure a full-time career as a mediator and facilitator.

He is now an inspiration to people all over Australian. With three reprints of his first book and the support of his loving wife and three children, Tom now hopes to spread messages of hope to Australians experiencing their own hardships.

His new book Life is a Dance, explores the way in which we are challenged as life unfolds but despite whatever is thrown our way, life is about enjoying what we can in every single moment. Hence, Life is a Dance, not a journey. 

So as we wake up each morning and type “Daily Coronavirus cases” in our Google Search Engine to read the news and lasting impacts COVID-19 is having around the world to determine when we will go back to work full time, when we will be able to see our family, ponder on when we will be able to leave the house without a mask, wonder when we will next be able to travel overseas… it’s important to find the positivity to enjoy that singular moment – Like the added time at home with a loved one, your newfound cooking skills, the opening of your new business or the introduction of a new exercise routine. Celebrate those small wins!

Tell us more about your latest book.

It’s exciting to have a second book out there called Life is a Dance it’s a follow on from a previous book that I wrote about 2 years ago called Storm Clouds and Silver Linings: My Journey and I thought rather than repeat the word ‘journey’ I would try and look at things from a different perspective and again look at things positively with ‘Life is a Dance’. Someone then said to me when they stumble they did part of a dance and I think that’s very positive.

Some people have asked me why the word dance and when you think of music and people’s need for entertainment and gaining some pleasure or joy often people meet in life through dancing, certainly in the old days – maybe not so much now but it’s nice to think of those concepts and those actions of people dancing. Whether they danced together, alone or in a group a lot of people are inspired by dancing – sometimes in a group running across cultures like for example Australian, Indigenous, European, African, Asian and South American so there is a cultural play in it too.

Fun fact: The cover of Life is a Dance features the backdrop of a painting of a Bush Fire scene that Tom’s Dad had painted in the 80s. He selected it as the cover of “Life is a Dance” as Australia was going through the intense bushfires last year when the book was being prepared for publication.

Can you tell us what inspires you to write poetry?

It’s something that is inspired by nature, our surroundings and people because the poems in both books are about people and about trees and the changes in weather and scenery. Many aspects of Nature are a given in our lives but its not always positive with storms, cyclones and droughts but there is always a perception that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

There’s a change in the seasons or a change in the weather. When you think of the terrible droughts across Australia a year ago and the bushfires and then it’s a very Australian thing to think of a return to a better result with sea change in the weather and people have been over the moon across the country to have their dams full again or to be able to grow plants and agriculture is thriving in many ways again thanks to the changes of the weather. There’s a connectivity between everybody and everybody in Australia is affected by the things that occur right across the country.

So many people have been looking for positives despite all the stresses that they have experienced. Just to hear today that all the kids are going back to school today in Victoria and its sort of like a new beginning for so many people – there’s an amazing hope again. There are some people who have really struggled with COVID and the lack of connection with their friends and family. As you may know, I am a mediator so I work a lot with families with conflict and dispute and that’s something that from working in the field you’re always looking at remaining positive.

With poetry, like music, there are so many ways to be creative in our world.

 

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During the COVID-19 what has kept you inspired?

Always to think in a positive light (7.31) because magazines like yours that are real community literature, I’ve been reading those because magazines like that are able to pick up what’s happening in society and what people are doing, what’s inspiring people to keep going or do things differently. All these new ideas – fantastic new ideas like Food Services for people working in hospitals, they were really struggling to get their meals and to virtually keep going. These community incentives, community motivation and community-driven to feed thousands of people that are sort of futurists in a way whether its writers or musicians – some of these writers capture the moment noticing all the good things despite the stresses. One of these positives, for example, is the loads and loads of wattle that line this road in the Sunshine Coast.

I’m very inspired by people and what they are doing like the people living with very serious illnesses, these people that have lived through some of the most tragic experiences can come out being so positive. Like Turia Pitt for example or the lady that lives up in Sunshine Coast in Maroochadyre who had a fall doing some things around the house and it just didn’t put her off she just came back being stronger than ever before and that’s what can make life better for so many people.

I have developed this perspective as a mediator to work with the concept of a ‘glass half full’ so you can give it your best shot and get the people you are working with to adapt and adopt an idea or concept of looking at things which can be helpful.

 

Can you pick one of your most memorable poems and explain why?

On page 42 of my latest book Life is a Dance there is one that is dedicated to my writing teacher Linda Henderson. It was her amazing capacity to inspire and encourage people to recognise that they have actually got something to give by their writing. This poem talks to the influence of people around you which not only focuses on messages of hope like many of my other poems but is a different aspect of positivity.

Below is an excerpt from Life is a Dance:

Imagination and reflections 3 April 2018 by Tom Stodulka

The Commonwealth Games are about to begin.

Let the best win,

Let the other’s too enjoy the din.

And bask in the glory and the sun.

You fantasise many a thing,

What may it all bring?

Even one day a lotto win.

Reality lost, as reality is not always kind.

May even start playing on your mind.

And get you into a bind.

You try to be a cool dude.

Hopefully never rude.

Patience sometimes sorely tested.

Still staying in control.

Though not always very droll.

The drum may start to roll

Beating at your very soul.

The bell also may toll.

Sharing and caring are best.

As you ride high upon the eagle’s crest.

Full of zest.

Taken up to the very highest nest.

You still soar and conquer, but too often never rest.

Let the young give you a jolt,

Just like a young colt.

Give up some of that control,

As you accept, that you too may one day have to accept the dole.

Imagined for certain.

Just avoid the final curtain.

What’s next? And how has COVID-19 impacted your planning?

I’m hoping there might be a third book in the works. I have thought I might not be able to manage a third book with me writing less – I’ve only written 10 poems in the last year whereas previously I was writing 1 or 2 a week and I think COVID has had that slightly negative impact in some ways I should have more time but then works picking up again and there is a lot of working via zoom and phone and this completely different way of operating. The very nature of life has changed, there’s no more of that going out to have a coffee before meditation starts and that interconnection with people has been very important to my life.

The coffee culture has changed and all of a sudden we have lost that ability to meet up, we’re now so restricted and that can have an impact on you. That’s why it’s important to write about the positives.

To learn more about Tom or purchase his new book Life is a Dance for $24.99, head to his website.

 

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