Empty Phrases That Annoy Me

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Lately, I’ve noticed annoying phrases that writers and speakers use. One of the phrases is, “At the end of the day…” Other phrases include, “When all is said and done,” and “Alternatively…” And everyone is using the word, “literally” in the wrong context without even caring.

These phrases sound empty and they become irritating after several YouTube hosts or podcasters use them (which is virtually in every video now). The problem with using empty phrases that we pick up through osmosis is that they add nothing to the sentence. They contribute zero emotional appeal to the theme presented. And the person using the phrases comes off as trendy instead of insightful.

Authentic writing comes from the soul. It comes from carefully crafted thoughts and paragraphs. And when we use simple language that gets us from point A to point B we are more likely to engage the reader or listener. We can also use language rhythmically which many great speakers such as Martin Luther King, Jr. have done. One exercise that helps with creating rhythmic writing is to listen to music from around the world or at least jazz syncopation. The later is what made Jack Kerouac a compelling author.

When we read classic literature even books from the twentieth century we hear authentic voices. No two authors were alike and part of that was that book publishing sought diverse narratives that told the stories of that age. Even genre fiction lacked trite formulas that appear in modern books. Have publishers lost sight of the art and craft of writing compelling fiction. Or have authors (and speakers) become lazy?

I’m an author who spends time crafting a perfect sentence. And I champion authors who take a painstaking approach to get every word right. It’s not about stretching the word count to meet the current genre requirements. Nor is about waxing poetry in every paragraph. Yet, some authors move their stories forward with ease while also using words beautifully and powerfully. I purchase their books as opposed to just checking them out from the library (then forgetting about the books).

I encourage emerging and established authors to read the classics as well as, read books from various genres written decades if not centuries ago. Explore the language of that time. Explore the speech of the characters and how that speech helps readers visualize the characters. Also, explore succinct ways landscape is described and how the landscape transforms into symbolic language.

I’m glad I took English literature classes in high school and at a university. This exploration formed the basis of my novel writing decades later. Any of us can study English literature by reading classics and even joining a discussion group. Also, search for inexpensive online courses. I found two excellent editing and revising classes on Udemy. I saw creative writing courses offered too.

When we delve deeper into the language which we speak and write we are less likely to use borrowed phrases from the prominent people of our time. Now, some people enjoy hearing people use trendy phrases. And when they start parroting those phrases of their favorite political leader, celebrity, or YouTube host, they fit in with their peers. I just find it irritating on my nerves that the world lacks original speakers and thinkers like it did in the past. I sorely miss Joseph Campbell.

Perhaps, you disagree with me. But before you leave a comment to debate my observations, consider my words. As authors we invent new phrases. We recreate language. And we make characterization compelling while constructing plots that seem familiar but with an odd twists (we’ve not read yet).

And my message to agents and editors, open your minds and think outside of the box. I realize you’re in the business to sell books, even if they are banal creative non-fiction ghost-written for celebrities. Or maybe you enjoy the dark literature which only contributes despair and more fear to a world already dripping with anxiety.

You are decision-makers who determine what gets read and what stays in a slush pile. And in doing that you might have thrown a future classic into the recycling bin. And if it wasn’t you, then it was an intern who had been trained as a parrot instead of an authentic thinker.

Personally, I prefer that a young intern out of grad school not determine my trajectory as an author. That’s disrespectful to us authors who have been crafting stories for decades. We might not possess the glamour of an actress-turned-social-activist or any number of who’s who for the twenty-first century (written by ghost writers).

These are my thoughts for the moment. They might sound bitter. Or they might sound jaded. But I’ve been in the literary trenches for several decades crafting real stories that if given a pair of wings would soar.

Write It–Rewrite, Refresh, Edit, and Submit

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Pixabay.com

 

So, you’re sitting in your house wondering how to jumpstart your writing practice. It’s time to dust off those old submissions and revise them and then submit to new editors and journals. Now, you have the time and the editors most likely are in lockdown too begging for stories to read.

Perhaps, this is the last thing you want to do when stuffing your mouth with chips and watching Netflix seems more appealing. However, don’t waste your time on other people’s stories. Write your own, even about your pandemic experiences. Surely, you learned something from this hero’s journey.

Or better yet, get out your stories and reinvent them. Tear them apart. Create new characters with old scenarios or new scenarios for the old character. or play mash-up with your stories especially if you write in several genres. Reread Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myths (what you haven’t already read it?) and reread books on the basic three-act structure. Or read classics to study the structure and character development, not to mention, character dilemmas. When I’m trapped in a writer’s block (doesn’t happen often), I reread Jane Austen’s novels.

If you have the cash, purchase Scrivener, or other writing software. I bought Scrivener recently and while I’m not up to speed with it yet, loading my novels on there will speed up the revising and editing process. The software (if you don’t already have it), has a cork board to hang up photos of your characters and you can even upload songs and videos. I wish I had this software five novels ago!

Another fun thing writers can do, besides joining Facebook groups for writers, is to do a Zoom session with several writers or an online writers’ group. Maybe you can even teach what you know about the craft via Zoom or sign up to teach on Udemy and earn money, especially if you’re waiting to hear back from editors, agents, and publishers about your pitches. Maybe you can even host a poetry night via Zoom. Use your imagination. If you are an author you have an active imagination.

So, hopefully, I have inspired you to write, edit, and submit. Let me know if you read this and if you follow my advice. Let me know if your work is published in the future. Get writing.

Write it–My Beef with MFA in Creative Writing

books by Nino Care
Image by Nino Care

 

Perhaps, I’m wrong, but I have been observing a prolific amount of authors with MFA degrees landing publishing contracts. This wouldn’t be a problem except that the book publishing industry, especially the literary journals have a bias for authors with MFA degrees. And any author without an academic degree is left out in the cold. What would Jack Kerouac or Jane Austen have thought of that?

I have tried to embrace this trend, except that I don’t have an MFA degree or even a BA in English or creative writing. Authors such as myself came to novel writing through the backdoor, the way, many masterful authors did decades ago. And hey, not everyone can afford to obtain an MFA degree which I’ve seen range from $75 to $100K.

So, I mucked my way from journalism to novel writing. I even worked as an editorial assistant for a literary journal in Seattle briefly. I attended conferences, joined writing groups (on and offline), critiqued other authors’ work, revised my own and attended writers conferences. And at 55-years-of-age, I’m no closer to securing a publishing deal for any of my several novels.

Not only that, not one of my submissions to literary journals was accepted in 2019, even if I received a glowing review for an audio story that I submitted to the Missouri Review. I suspect that the editors weren’t seeking actual stories with interesting protagonists and they preferred perfect sentences and clever writing instead. Oh, yes, and the MFA behind the author’s name.

The journal editors seem so welcoming on their submission pages. They tell us that they seek the work of emerging and veteran authors. And I suspect it helps if other literary journals have already published my work or if I obtained an MFA and landed $100K in debt (not at my age, thank you). This wouldn’t be so bad if the stories by the MFA authors actually held my interest. Many of the authors seem to obsess with pleasing their peers or their university students. They spend too much time constructing perfect sentences free of adverbs and adjectives and not enough time telling a universal story. Sometimes the authors confuse actual storytelling with abstract poetry. Yes, they provide clever word use but I just can’t relate and my brain starts to go numb.

I waded through an award-winning story published in The Writer magazine that made no sense. While I searched for a story with a beginning, middle, and end with the protagonist experiencing transformation, I didn’t find it. I’ve also waded through stories published in literary journals that kept me interested in the first page and then my mind started wandering and hoping for a real story to unfold. These stories most likely went on to win prizes too. But why? Some of the stories are pretentious like the kid in elementary school who spouts off unusual words to impress his peers. (And by the way, if I have to wade through another literary story with graphic sex, violence, or drug use, I’m going to scream).

And while I have no problem with transexuals, stories about transexuals don’t whet my appetite for a literary journey. And why do I have to tackle socio-economic or political issues to publish a story in a journal? I have no passion for that. While I have written a few tragic short stories, my forte is whimsical humor and magical realism.

I actually started reading YA novels to avoid adult novels which tend to focus on dark topics that cause me to flinch or challenge my attention span. And if I’m not reading YA novels then I’m rereading classics from novelists who never attended college at all but somehow managed to pen a work that we’re still reading a 100 or more years later.

Sadly, the trend for obtaining an MFA in creative writing has grown and continues to grow despite the high cost of tuition. And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to obtain this degree because it does open up opportunities to teach at a university level and to give lecture tours. The problem I have is the formulaic novels that have hit the stores and libraries in the last two decades. While I’m still able to find good reads and even by MFA authors, it’s become more challenging to find stories I can relate to or that I can read without feeling like I’ve been snubbed.

I suppose it’s a shortcut to study with master teachers and have access to author peers. I was able to collaborate with peers prior to the internet which did change the playing field. I still recall and editing groups that met once a week at Border Books in Seattle during the 1990s and I still remember the DIY literary journals that published my poetry. And I still remember the chapbooks I published in the 1980s which I sold at my music gigs. I miss those collaborations and the learn-as-you-go spirit that surfaced in the 1980s and continued through the 1990s. Back then, it was rare that an author had an advanced degree.

I am thinking of Margaret Atwood who obtained her degree in the late 1960s and Julia Alvarez who wrote Yo and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and who taught at the University in Vermont. When I met Isabel Allende after she published her best-seller House of Spirits and even her memoir Julia, I don’t believe she held an MFA in Creative Writing. And she’s one of my mentors.

It’s not the MFA degrees I have the problem with. It’s the trend of gatekeepers discriminating against self-made authors. Just like I suspect the late brilliant vocalist and song interpreter Eva Cassidy never trained with a vocal coach, as an author I don’t want to compromise my voice or my style in favor of following a set of rules that include not using adjectives or adverbs in my stories, or not being able to publish stories written in the three-act structure. I prefer that editors or agents don’t tell me to conform to the current trends or tell me how to write the stories in my head. Am I the only author who doesn’t want to jump on board the MFA train or have some expert tell me how to pen my stories?

BTW, I’ve already sacrificed too many things from my life such as gluten, dairy, sugar, and nightshades. Do I have to give up adjectives and adverbs too?

Sometimes, I tell myself, “Why even bother sending your work out?” But like every author, I have a story to tell and I would like an audience for that story (or stories). I might not have studied with a master in person, but I have read and studied the prose in thousands of books over the decades. When I was six-years-old, teachers told me that I couldn’t read because of dyslexia but I didn’t let that stop me. And I won’t let the snobby gatekeepers prevent me from publishing my stories (with adjectives and adverbs included). And as far as the forbidden prologues, I’m keeping those too.

The way I see it is I paid my dues even if I didn’t cough up thousands of dollars to earn a post-graduate degree. I didn’t learn how to write in a cloistered academic setting. I learned how to write stories by living in the real world and starving at times to keep improving my craft and become a better author. And I know that I’m not the only author who has taken this journey.

There are some brilliant authors with higher academic degrees and there are some who lack any emotional depth or storytelling skills, despite the university degree they hang next to their laptop. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are still some Gen-X authors who learned to write through internships, small publications, and cooperative writing communities. And there are still authors weened on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth (I’m in that camp).

Face it, I think the MFA programs were invented to keep authors in line. It’s another type of programming on the mind which basically insists that authors not think for themselves and give their power away to the book publishing industry. It’s part of the 3rd-dimensional reality and the Matrix. Conform, conform, conform or perish seems to be the message. And I’m sure that not all publishing houses participate. Someone out there is still looking for that raw and vulnerable voice shouting in the wilderness.

Write It–Savoring Literary Fiction & Poetry

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I don’t read novels slowly and I don’t read them quickly. At least not when it comes to literary fiction. Literary fiction (poetry and prose) begs us to savor each nuance in the way that gourmet chocolate or wine does.

When I read a literary novel, a non-fiction narrative or a poem, I choose to roll the words on my tongue and absorb the nuances of the work through all my senses. It’s true when we read genre fiction, we race towards the end or with romance novels, we skip to the juicy parts.

Although, with a well-written fantasy, we delve into the rich descriptions provided by the authors. We find ourselves swimming in the characters’ thoughts or even roaming the earth through their bodies. With literary fiction, the authors invite and welcome us to enter their crafted worlds. Perhaps, a thriller or a romance asks for speed reading, especially if we are reading a series.

However, literary fiction begs for a slow read that resembles meditation. In fact, bringing a mindful attitude to the story only enhances the reading experience while enriching us along the way. Picking up a novel with craft in mind indeed demands more of our time and attention. It is a commitment that might or might not pay off. Many readers would rather not take the risk. Or they recall the required reading from middle school, high school or college and have sworn off arty novels where they must decipher metaphors and leitmotifs embedded into the story.

I admit that when I’m in search of a quick read that I can engage in during a ferry commute, I choose to read lighter material. It’s only when I have a luxurious period do I pick up literary fiction. I tend to read the classics and poetry during the winter months when I don’t feel like being outdoors under a darkened sky.

As an author, I read the novels slowly because I am also learning from the way that the author creates dialogue, develops characters, and launches plots. I study the novels to see how backstory is handled and I also study the way the author navigates the middle of the novel (not an easy fete). I often learn new words and phrases when I’m reading a literary novel. Reading poetry takes me to a whole other level.

I believe that novelists benefit from immersing themselves in other people’s poems as well as, writing their own. I’ve often seen poetic phrasing and beautiful descriptions appear in genre novels. Not all genre novels are formulaic or written for mass appeal. Some sci-fi and fantasy novels became classics and share much in common with literary fiction, despite falling under a specific label. Lord of the Rings comes to mind. Granted, that series was written early in the last century and we’ve moved on to other conventions and traditions as authors (as described by the host for the Writerly YouTube channel).

It’s not that we can’t read genre fiction or even YA novels slowly. I suppose the pacing of the story also determines the speed in which we read it. And this is cleverly executed by the authors of the book, especially if they understand pacing and rhythm (every author requires this ability).

Personally, when it comes to page count, my novels fall on the shorter side. I tend to write economically, especially after I heard that adjectives and adverbs are out and watertight phrases are in. My goal is to write sentences so tight that you could bounce off them like a trampoline. However, this takes finesse and over twenty years of working at my craft as a writer.

Whether you write genre or literary fiction, read the work of others slowly with a writer’s gaze. Learn from the authors’ mistakes and their successes. If you find yourself imitating other authors, think of that as flattery to the authors. However, never forget to seek your authentic voice in the process. Nothing written now is completely original and we’re all standing on the backs of literary giants.

A writer who never reads the work of others can hardly call themselves an author. This is because we are not only participants in a tradition, we are also part of a collective and the continuum.

What are your experiences reading literary and genre fiction? How do you approach novels and poetry? Leave your comments below. And thank you for stopping by and following Belle Author. Also, don’t forget to follow Belle Author on Facebook.

 

Literary Essay: The Unexpected Path

MaryMagdalene PixabayMy fifth novel, Enter 5-D begins with “For Eurydice Dukakis, it wasn’t supposed to happen the way that it did.” So, I thought about this line and the way that it speaks for the current era.

Often I have told people that my life was not supposed to turn out the way that it has. I wasn’t supposed to end up back at my parents’ house in a town I despise. I wasn’t supposed to still be renting apartments and houses after the age of 45. I was supposed to own my home, have published my novels, and feel empowered.

I wasn’t supposed to be sick, be tired, or feel disappointed with the road that I walk.

And others who live in vans or cars could say the same thing. People going through a divorce after once saying the words, “Until death do us part,” also wonder where life went wrong. And yet, a hero’s journey always begins with an unexpected challenge which is actually a calling to expand one’s worldview.

Still, my current life circumstances hardly feel expansive. As I type these words in a room the size of a walk-in closet, I don’t see my outer life going anywhere. As I raise funds to relocate and the money drip into my life rather than pour into it, I just feel frustrated. I relate to my character Eurydice whose life just took an unexpected turn for the worst.

Imagine if your entire life shaped and formed you to become an opera diva and then a draconian government bans all musical expression outside of the political State. Imagine if you also lose your home and are banished to the underground. And this is only within the imagination since I’m talking about a novel.

However, in real life many people are living the implausible because they feel that they did not sign up for their current circumstances. And yet, what is life without an adventure that tosses in the wrench? If we find ourselves always walking on Easy Street, then we cannot grow as people and Easy Street is actually pretty boring.

And yet, many of aspire to the safe middle road, which might not even be the right path for us. In fact, someone else, perhaps the media, prescribed the middle road. And we just went along with the program until…until something happens.

And that’s how all great novels begin with an insight or an incident. Authors know that they must use some kind of gravitational force to get their characters moving in a different direction. And while we’re not looking for a rollercoaster experience, we do need to write peaks and valleys.

So, whether the character starts out the story living in a car or watching his wife pack her suitcase as she prepares to leave him, what seems like a restrictive beginning later leads to expansion, but only after all the deep inner work has been accomplished. And so it is with real life too.

As with all my novels, my characters do much soul work. And I’m reminded of the lines from the movie French Kiss where Kate tells her former fiancée that when she walked around the streets of Paris penniless, she did some deep thinking. And she came to the realization that there is never a relationship that is safe enough, etc… Life only brings us constant change and it’s a matter of getting with the program of transformation. A story without transformation or metamorphoses is not a story. Rehashing one’s circumstances is also not a story. It is cheap drama. Boring. Draining.

And it’s the same with our “real” lives. Without change we die and even death is transformation from the physical into the ethereal. Think of the rocks that become sand due to the friction of the sea.  Think of the worm becoming a butterfly. None of this is easy and all of it is painful but we find value in sand and with butterflies.

Even though we sit in our rooms lamenting the shape and form of our current lives, know this. If we do the soul work and if we read the hero’s journey often, we’ll know that life forces are shaping us so that we find our true paths and then, and only then, we expand into the vastness of the Universe.

There are no happy endings. We experience happy moments. And life always churns out more circumstances that shape us. And as life shapes us we feel poised for the next chapter in our lives. It’s best to approach life circumstances with an open mind and an open heart.

While my character’s story begins on a tragic note it ends with transformation. She ends up living a life she would have never imagined. And Eurydice would never have met intriguing people or learned of her courage had she not traveled down the unintended path. And she only had two choices–to go with the program or to fight it every step of the way and not transform.

I am an author, astrologer, and creative coach. Learn more about my spiritual work at Metaphysics 4 Everyday Living or Whole Astrology. Sign up for a session at Whole Astrology.

Bedfellows–Guilt & Procrastination

DSCN6933Some people might never write a novel despite saying that they dream of becoming a novelist. And others buy the books, take the workshops, attend the conference and they still don’t write the novel. Then an author like me who has written novels, gets stuck in the procrastination mode when beginning a new novel.

If you have watched the movie, Under a Tuscan Sun, you’ll recall at the beginning of the movie when Frances tells a fellow professor that she has a guilt-inducing and chocolate-eating process called procrastination. But once she got over the procrastination part she becomes a writing machine.

So, I’m now working on my 6th novel. I actually began writing it the spring of 2017 and I’m only on page 35. Well, originally I thought I was writing a short YA story, not that I had a clue of where I would publish it. And the story idea and the characters enticed me to write at all because I had already written 5 unpublished novels so I either needed a vacation or to call it quits.

But then, I was like the pregnant woman who doesn’t want to have anymore children but at age 48 she finds that she’s pregnant. I didn’t actually feel like I was done writing novels, but I wanted a long break from writing long form. Writing 300 pages, developing characters, battling with a plot, etc…is often draining.

I promised myself that I would write three pages today. But other things came up. I walked the dog. I made lunch twice. I went to the thrift store, I washed what I bought at the thrift store, I spent too much time on Facebook, and I watched Bangles videos on YouTube, all of which had nothing to do with writing three pages.

I wrote only a few paragraphs. And I researched ancient African queens for one of my characters. Usually when I writer procrastinates the reason revolves around not having enough informtion. Or maybe the plot is half-baked and walking around the block or walking the dog loosens the brain. Walking helps us get into the flow or it adds another distraction to the list especially if you jump from tangents the way I do.

Or maybe, I just need to take a nap. Other distractions include asking my oracles cards the same question over again, folding my clothing several times, cleaning out my desk drawer, or cleaning the entire house when I was only going to wash one window. And since spring is on the way, isn’t it time to sort through clothing and give some away…I digress because I am procrastinating.

Instead of writing my novel I am blogging about a writer’s block. And then, I’m fighting off doubts the way a horse swats at flies with his tail. And one of those doubts that nags me asks, “Who are you to write a young adult novel?” (So, this doubt is the culprit. Naughty doubt).

I’ll answer that question in another blog post. Until then, I’m going to roll around in my guilt until I beome a writing machine.

Write It…Once Upon a Time & Other Beginnings

typewriter-584696_1920Unless we’re writing fairytales, we require original launches into our stories. Short story authors especially, wrote essays on succinct and enticing starts to short fiction. And this is doubly important with flash fiction. 

I once read a foreward to a short story collection where author Isabel Allende (one of the editors of the collection) mentioned that if you can’t nail your story within the first paragraph or two, the story won’t succeed. However, this sort of thinking often leads to writer’s block and other forms of procrastination.

For people such as me who free writes short fiction as oppose to plotting out my stories, I often balk at writing the introductions to short fiction. And yet, at other times, the stories come to me fully written complete with a seductive opening line.

Here are examples of introductions to both my short fiction and my novels. And my trick is to get everything on paper or on to a Word file. Then, I go back and rewrite the opening paragraphs. My writing grows stronger as I delve in more deeply with my characters and watch their movies in my thoughts.

 

“Marcos first encountered her face glimpsing through a crowd of shoppers. Next, he saw her slight frame draped in a black skirt that clung to her thighs and swirled around her knees, her white blouse hugged her torso and a pendant swung around her breasts like a pendulum.  Her body appeared and disappeared down the aisles of the natural grocer as she rushed about tossing tomatoes, mushrooms, mangos, and bags of flours into her cart, then ticking items off of a list—a true picture of elegance and efficiency.”—Apple of Seduction (short fiction)

“He never gave her the china cabinet or piano.  He gave her jewelry, clothing, china, and trinkets from countries he traveled to, but he failed to grant his wife the two things she wanted most in her life.”–The China Cabinet (short fiction)

“Miranda saw Pierre’s face reflected on a window of a coffee shop.  She battled against her doubts and stood frozen by the shop’s door, realizing that she could’ve pretended to browse the various exotic bags of coffee beans that strewn the shelves of the old world style shop. She could have drunk in all the smells of pastries baking in the back or reveled in the French swing jazz that wafted through the shop, but instead she dashed to the bus station to catch her connection.”–Love Quadrangle (novel)

“She fascinated me–the way Maggie flipped her hair back with a whisk of her hand while she played her instrument. All in one motion she swiped the hair away from her face and strummed her guitar without missing a beat.  In my foolish girl heart, I imitated Maggie–carefree and indifferent to consequences.”–Maggie Magdalene (short fiction)

I think this suffices as examples. I still go back to my old stories and rewrite or polish the introductions. As we evolve as writers, we owe it to ourselves to revitilize our archival stories by applying new tools and techniques. And often times, this proves more fruitful then starting from scratch.

Often times, our original stories already have solid bones. As we improve as writers, we don’t need to reinvent the stories but we do need to reinvest in them. Some stories haunt us for years until we flesh them out, polish the beginnings and strengthen the conclusions.

I have written screenplays, novels, and short fiction since my thirties. I concentrated on mainly poetry and song lyrics in my twenties. And I’ve learned that we must show up with courage in our hearts to embrace the creative spirit or muse. Some stories require finessing over the years until we get it right or get into the zone.

We surrender what doesn’t work and then we wait it out until inspiration fires us up. That could be one day, two weeks, or three years before that happens. In the meantime, we go back to the drawing board with a different story or work on another creative project. Then when the time is right and inspiration strikes, we write that seamless story that leaves our readers breathless.

All Rights Reserved, copyright Patricia Herlevi

Except image which is from Pix a Bay.

 

 

 

 

Essay: Revisiting the Winter Olympics

skaters
Pix a Bay image

In 1980, I watched the Winter Olympic Games for the first time. I had watched the Summer Olympic Games throughout my early childhood, but the Lake Placid Winter Games introduced me to bobsled racing, the luge, speed skating, and ski jumping. Mostly, I felt drawn to figure skating–the costumes, the glitter, the artistry, and the power of the skaters.

 

Although I never watch television, I again feel drawn to the Winter Olympic Games. I am wondering why the games are occurring in South Korea given the international tension with North Korea, but so far so good. And this year while I’m catching glimpses of the various competitions revolving around skates, skis, sleds, and snowboards, I experience conflict with my American origin (during a dark time in this country’s history), and I have never believed in the concept of competition since I am an INFJ personality type.

In 1988, my friends of that time and I sat around the television screen watching the Winter Games. Again, the ski jumping, luge; various skiing and skating events captured my attention. But the most memorable moment for me was the Jamaican bobsled team that captured the attention of the world. We wondered how Caribbean people were inspired to partake in a winter sport, let alone at a high level of championship. And even though, this team did not win any medals, they won the hearts of millions of people who rooted for underdogs.

Just like other viewers, I am in awe of the spectacular power and strength of a well-trained body. I am amazed at the artistry, determination, and grace that goes into an athletic performance. I too, watch athletes hang, suspended in flight, or soar off edges, and then land perfectly like a cat with 9 lives. I enjoy watching the glitter and glamour of figure skaters dancing on ice to rumbas, mambo, and other Latin rhythms. I appreciate the dedication and sacrifices the athletes made in manifesting their Olympian dreams.

And yet, I see the irony as I sit in a chair watching these athletes with perfectly taut bodies and I just want to walk around the block a few times. I feel overly inspired to get my flabby muscles into shape. I might envy their youth a bit. And I know that chastising my 53-year-old body is just a form of self-abuse. However, I still made the joke that watching the games makes me want to sign up with a personal trainer  (not that I have the money to do that), to get myself into better shape.

I also try not to chastise myself for not having the bravery of the athletes who hurl themselves in the air, who lift skaters over their heads not fearing that a blade could come down on their head at any unexpected moment or that one mistake or wrong footing could lead to death or ending up as a quadriplegic. I suppose their are different types of bravery.

In our regular day-to-day life, courage shows up in the form of a single parent raising children during a heartbreaking economy. Courage comes in the form of someone living on the edge of homelessness or in a homeless camp. Courage shows up in someone showing up at an AA meeting for the first time after hitting bottom. Courage shows up in a middle-age person changing their diet, stop drinking alcohol, and facing their demons one at a time.

So, perhaps, watching the Winter Olympic Games reminds us of our individual gifts and talents. While we will never become champion skaters or ski jumpers, by showing up in our own lives and loving ourselves where we are, we too are champions.

And as far as healing my wounds with my country of origin (as another empire crumbles), I expand my vision to include the concept of world citizenship. I don’t sit on the sidelines rooting for one team over another or one country over another. I choose to sit back and take it all in–my fellow world citizens expressing the depth and breadth of the human spirit through endurance and artistry. No wonder I’m drawn to the Winter Olympic Games. I just wish I was content with my ringside seat.

Write it–5 Practices to Develop Memorable Characters

Dolores
Mexican Actress Maria Del Rio

I feel fortunate that most of my fictional characters came to me. In other words, I didn’t develop them from scratch. I either borrowed from mythology, past lore, or the characters popped into my head one day like a friend popping over for tea.

However, having said that, I spent time learning the nuances and secrets of these characters before writing the novels or short fiction in which they appeared. Some characters actually traveled around with me sometimes for months, and other times, for years, before I sat down to pen their stories.

And since I find it a major literary sin to write flat characters, I work with tools and practices to nurture fleshed out characters. They don’t just take up ink and paper. I write characters that will enter the headspace of my readers (or future readers) and stay there for years like a well-worn classic. My goal is to create characters as memorable as Holly Golightly or Elizabeth Bennett.

  1. So, here are 5 practices to help you create unforgettable characters: Work with an astrologer (if you don’t know astrology) and draw up astrology charts for your characters. 

If you are an astrologer or are versed in astrology, you can do this yourself. I had an online friend for many years who was both an astrologer and an author. I was astounded when she told me she produced charts for all her characters. At the time, I was only giving my characters Sun, Moon, and Rising Signs. This is the quickest way to psychologically understand your characters, their shadows, strengths, and methods of sabotage. You can also draw up relationship charts for the characters.

2. Create vision boards (one for each character)

If astrology is too intense or complicated, the next best metaphysical tool to creating characters is to create vision boards. And this is as easy as ripping pictures out of magazines and pasting them on to a large sheet of paper. You can also add buzz words, stickers, and even write affirmations for the characters on the boards. I like this practice because you can give your characters physical attributes based on the people that appear in the magazine pictures.

3. Base the characters on people you knew in the past or met along the way

I based two of my women characters on women I met on a bus. One woman seemed like a younger version of the woman she sat beside. And when these two women disembarked from the bus, they walked in opposite directions. In fact, I didn’t only get characters from this encounter, I also came up with a storyline and a plot. These women characters appear in my screenplay, Love & Intangible States.

4. Keep a dream journal and create characters from dream people

I used to keep dream journals and I include channeling and telepathy in this category. My characters, Pierre and Miranda came from the telepathic communication I had with an architect for several years. I combined this with an encounter with an attractive man I saw working in a cafe who sat near a window working on his laptop.

5. Reinvent mythological or legendary people 

Actually, this is trending right now, especially with commercial and fantasy novels. When I researched the market for my urban fantasy/commercial fiction Enter 5-D, I discovered a plethora of modernized or reinterpreted gods and legendary people. You could also reinvent folktale and folklore characters.

Even though there are many versions of Orpheus and Eurydice, I didn’t feel that these characters were fleshed out, so I reinvented the characters. I gave them occupations and invented new realms for them to occupy. I had a blast doing this.

I am both an author and metaphysical coach. If you are looking for inspiration and coaching, sign up for a session at Whole Astrology

 

Lit Essay: Re-Use, Recycle, & Simplify

DSCN3139I’m even reposting this recycled essay…

Discarded but Not Forgotten

Essay on Volunteer Simplicity

When I was still firmly ensconced in my middle-class formative years, I thought I would grow up, find a good job and purchase the North American dream.  I started off in the right direction by attending and graduating from a university, then after I moved to the big city and decided to pursue a career in music, “reality” hit home.  I found work to support my musical endeavors, but my paychecks could not afford the price of new furniture, let alone, the purchase of a home.

Throughout my twenties, I thought that toiling at my music would land me a recording contract, the musical equivalent of winning the lottery, but Lady Luck was not looking my way.  By the time I reached my thirties, tired of various occupations and watching my dreams fade to black, I learned an important lesson about downsizing.

Some people volunteer to downsize their lives.  They give up lucrative careers and become stay-at-home parents or they seek out the true meaning of existence.  Best-selling authors wrote books about this painless process, Volunteer Simplicity (Duane Elgin) and Your Money or Your Life (Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robin).  The difference between the volunteer simplicity crowd and me was that I never chose to downsize and by the time I read those authors’ books, I had already reached ground zero.

I never owned a home, real furniture or any possessions besides musical instruments, equipment, several futons, books and compact discs.  I was already living the “simple life” other envied and I learned that with a little trust intact, the Universe does provide.

I watched Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972, Italian), that chronicled the early adulthood of Saint Francis of Assisi, better known as “the first societal dropout”.  In the film, based on true events, the son of an upper-class cloth merchant, Francesco (his Italian name), stripped himself bare and in his vulnerable state he walked naked into the unknown.  Francesco trusted that God would provide for him like he provided for all of nature and he also believed that we could not worship the Divine and materialism at the same time.

Add to that the ecological impact all our stuff has on the earth and downsizing along with recycling our possessions sounds like reasonable plans.  Incidentally, Saint Francis of Assisi is known today as the Patron Saint of Ecology.

Another film, a documentary by the French filmmaker Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I, focused on the people of France that live off of discarded goods.   Agnès chronicled the rural people who glean (collect) tons of vegetables, fruit, and grains that was abandoned after harvest.  She also aimed her camera eye at urban dwellers that salvaged discarded furniture left on the sidewalks of Paris.

I have also found abandoned furniture left on sidewalks in good condition, clothing, and books in free boxes as well as, learning how to barter and trade my talents.  Somehow I survived a richer person who found wealth in the simple pleasures of life, listening to free concerts, watching free movies, spending time with friends or strolling through nature.

While acquiring money has its benefits, most people put a lot of time and effort to build their palaces and then more effort to fill their palaces with stuff they can no longer appreciate.  I have observed various people with big homes, vacation cottages, luxury cars and the works, but they are too busy to enjoy what they possess.  Some of them neglect their children, their spouses, and friends, in favor of building another wing onto their palace.

They simply do not see all of the unused rooms in their houses, the dust gathering on their belongings or time racing past them as they rush out into the world to earn more money so they can buy more things.  It is unfortunate that these are the people society envies.

Mansions, luxury cars, and designer brands play a greater importance than majestic mountains, vast oceans, and wild animals.  They take on a greater importance that the joy of companionship, listening to music for the sake of music without boasting expertise or getting in touch with nature without cell phones and other electronic devices to distract them.

People such as myself who choose not to live the “high life” fade into the background, yet many of us (and I am not talking economic poverty), have found spiritual and other sustenance in knowing that the Universe provides for us.  Of course, we still need to make the effort and practicing trust is more challenging than people think.  Now, that more people find themselves abandoned by a gasping economy, they seek out a new meaning for their lives.

I know of at least one dot.com downsize victim (this essay was written in 2003), that turned her life around by pursuing a vocation as a Reiki practitioner and I have known others who found a spiritual practice after losing lucrative careers.

I lost many jobs in my life and I lost my music career after suffering from a long-term illness.  I did not think I would survive and yet the natural world beckoned to me, giving me hope.  Similar to Francesco of Assisi, I relied on God to provide for me and I gained a talent for resourcefulness.

We all have many talents that other people need in this New Era and it is time to return to the concept of barter and trade.  Perhaps then we develop a new confidence in ourselves and we will find security in our connection to the spiritual realm as opposed to the material one.

When people discard belongings, they are in fact, giving those possessions new life.  When we outgrow something we can pass it on to the next person.  And in the end, those things once deemed important in our lives are discarded but not forgotten.  Since I believe that living beings are more important than things, by sharing what we do have with others, we acknowledge the bond that connects us.  The most important lesson I learned in this life thus far has not been how to earn lots of money, but how to contribute my talents to the world without living the North American dream.  And besides, I don’t really care for white picket fences.

Originally written the summer of 2003, copyrights Patricia Herlevi

This is the only authorized version of this essay.