Write It–Memoir: Revenge versus Telling a Higher Truth

Queen Anne tub, 1995
Photo from 1995: Taken by Liz Herlevi

I never thought I would write a memoir. For the most part, I find reading memoirs tedious as writers tend to include too many details and tell their story in a linear way. Many memoirists also seem to have barbs attached to their pens.

The reason why Eat, Pray, Love enjoyed success wasn’t because Liz Gilbert struck out to get revenge on her former husband or the lifestyle she was supposed to embrace. The memoir received worldwide attention because the author stripped herself bare while allowing raw, yet universal emotions to splatter on to the pages of her book. Gilbert also chose a non-linear structure for her memoir, even though her travelogue traveled from Italy, then India, and finally, Bali. Gilbert also tells her story in a self-effacing, humorous, and relatable voice–at least familiar to middle-class American women of a certain age.

But when I was wading through manuscripts on the defunct Authonomy website years ago, most of the memorists made several mistakes in my opinion. They used too many passive verbs, they regurgitated their lifestory instead of focusing on a slice of life, and they chose macabre topics without providing some brighter moments or comic relief. Some authors would have been better off hiring a ghost writer since their writing skills were rudimentary or told in a second language. And yet, an author learns a lot by critiquing other people’s work while also reading the top memoirs on the charts.

The main question for me revolves around baring one’s soul. How many sensitive topics or secrets do I reveal in my work? And am I revealing these secrets to tell a universal story or am I seeking revenge on a subconscious level? It helps to spend time in therapy while writing material with suffering rooted in childhood situations, as is the case with my memoir, Woman Sleeping on a Couch. And the good news is that the writing process proved cathartic and I did bring up these deeper issues during therapy sessions. But I still ask myself if my story is universal or just too painful to share with others?

Determine whether or not you’re shooting from the hip or if sharing your story has the power to heal others.

  • Will telling your story divide a family or cause a rift with relatives?
  • Will your story withstand the scrutiny of critics (both professional and personal)?
  • Can you write your story in an entertaining manner where you laugh at yourself and reveal your vulnerabilities (shadows and projections)?
  • Do you take responsibility for your end of the story or act like a victim?
  • Do you discern the difference between events that serve the story and events that serve the ego?
  • Will telling your story land you in legal hot water or liberate you?
  • Does your story share an arc with fiction? Do you have a strong beginning, middle and resolution or is your story open-ended?

Writing memoirs rubs the conscious raw. Writing memoirs strips the soul bare. And not everyone wants to read about people’s personal history unless it strikes a common thread. And the most popular memoirs revolve around travel, food, love/romance, and animals. If you take a more universal approach by anchoring your story in one of those themes, you have a greater chance of hitting the literary jackpot.

My sister and I used to have a conversation where she believed that everyone has an interesting story to tell. But face it, not everyone is a storyteller. And while it’s enjoyable to sit with friends, colleauges, and family members as they spin nostalgic and revealing yarns, a memoir stretches those yarns to 300 pages, which causes some yarns to snap and break.

However, if a story has a strong beginning, middle, and end with an overarching universal theme, then it is worth telling. Just be willing to rewite the “truth” through several drafts. And then depending on the material in the story, muster the courage to weather any storms that come from secrets and situations contained in the memoir. Once we let the worms out of the can, it’s too late to put a lid on it.

I’m an author and astrologer who provides coaching for creative professionals. Go to Whole Astrology to sign up for a session.

 

Write it–Remedies for Overwriting

Vancouver 2002I hope that you’re not a writer such as me who juggles several blogs, writes for publications, squeezes in short fiction, and rewrites several novels because if I don’t have something to write, I get twisted out of shape. Even writers of this ilk require rest for an exhausted brain. So, I’m going to share some practices with you to relax your mind and body, even when you feel an urgency to keep writing.

I often wonder if a fear of death causes me to keep writing, even when the words appear blurry on my laptop screen. It’s not that I wish to immortalize myself, but I feel like I cheat death if I have a project that requires completion. Or maybe there’s something else lurking beneath the surface. And perhaps, all artists struggle with this urgency to create at all cost to the mind-body-soul.

And yet, we can’t create from a dry well. And we fill the well through rest, relaxation, and recreation. I like the word, “re-creation” because it suggests that when we enjoy ourselves we become more creative. And it doesn’t matter if recreation revolves around canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, walking, or engaging in a group sport. Photography also provides a form of recreation, if you don’t make a living as a professional photographer. And writing poetry also counts if you’re not writing poems for publication. Even, journaling provides an outlet for recreation, especially if it is combined with camping, hiking, or other outdoor activities.

Healthy Escapes from the Overwork:

  1. Stroll around a neighborhood block or take a long walk across town or a city. Go some place you haven’t been before.
  2. Travel short-distance by train or a commuter bus. Allow your mind to drift as you gaze out the window. You could bring a journal, but it’s better not to write down the thoughts. Instead, get lost in tangents.
  3. Listen to music.
  4. Play music, such as drums, guitar, flute, or jam with other musicians. Music is a good way to get back in touch with your physical body. It also entertains the creative muse.
  5. Put on music and dance.
  6. Practice yoga.
  7. Meditate.
  8. Go to lunch with friends or take yourself out to lunch at a cafe.
  9. Sit in a city park and observe others.
  10. Take the dog for a walk.
  11. Go the beach and build sand castles. It’s good sometimes to make things that have a short lifespan.
  12. Bake cookies or bread.
  13. Cook a meal for a friend.
  14. Clean house.
  15. Work with singing bowls or tuning forks to clear your aura.

Try not to:

1. Spend too much time on social media

2. Rant

3. Gossip

4. Get drunk

5. Shop for things you don’t actually need

I like the idea of recreation. And I also like the idea of delving into the subconscious mind and healing toxic beliefs and patterns that turn us into workaholics. We have nothing to prove to the world. No one really cares how many words we type each day unless we work for an editor or we are way past our publication deadline for a book.

And one last piece of advice. If you tend to overwork yourself there is no danger that anyone will ever call you lazy. You have nothing to prove to the world. And you don’t require anyone’s approval. But when you’re relaxing, you’ll discover the part of you that requires healing, which is probably a punitive parental voice in the back of your mind.

Sign up for a creative coaching session with me. I use astrology, cards, and channeling as tools to help you to show up as the best version of yourself. And also check out my metaphysical articles.

 

Write It–Geeks for Greeks

Orpheus

When I was around ten or eleven years old, an elementary school teacher bravely introduced our class to the pantheon of Greek gods. I’m pretty sure this was done through the telling of Greek myths. However, with my obsession for superheros or humanoids with special powers to shape-shift and transform, discovering the Greek gods and goddesses felt heaven-sent.

Then when I was a bit older, I saw my mother digging through an old steamer trunk that held her mementos from her childhood and young adult years. A collection of Catholic saint cards fell out of the trunk and captured my attention. Again, I learned that these humans also had “special” abilities in that they created miracles. So, as I grew into an adult, my subconscious mind started mashing saints, superheroes, and Greek gods into a creative stew.

So, when the ideas for “Super-Natural Heroes” and “Enter 5-D” drifted into my conscious mind, this all felt familiar to me. Without getting too astrological on you (the reader), I was born with my Moon in Pisces–the dreamy sign that is most likely to gravitate towards speculative fiction of the more fairy-unicorn-superhero variety. While I have never worn a superhero costume or even T-shirt as a child or an adult, I enjoy humans stepping out of any limitations or as they say in the spiritual communities, stepping outside of the Matrix.

Sure, people could say that super humans don’t exist until they meet a shaman who can shape-shift into a creature. Shakespeare’s Hamlet also spoke of the extraordinary experience we can experience on Earth.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

So, what’s the point of my blog post? Sorry, I’m having another one of my this is your brain on Neptune moments. Greek gods bring magic to my writing. They bring hope that there are other worlds still worth exploring. They also show us the wreckage caused by power-hungry ones which provides cautionary tales for our political elite who some times act like the Titans residing on Mount Olympus.

I revisted the Greek pantheon and its victims because they mirror the world we currently reside. And I chose to take a humorous approach simply because I’m so tired of this dead seriousness which has taken the planet hostage. Don’t you know that humor raises the vibration? And that scientists have proven that we are all made up of vibrations. So, if this makes me a geek for Greeks, so be it. I’m having a good time learning from human errors too. And I’m also a geek for Shakespeare.

Watch my latest narrated chapter from Enter 5-D.

Hidden Reality (Metaphysical Fiction)

 

 

retro-1291745_1280
Photo from Pix a Bay (Public Domain)

Angel parks her SUV parallel to a pale blue minivan at the market’s lot.  She rummages in her overcrowded purse for her shopping list.  Thinking out loud, she considers unloading all of the debris that has piled up in her purse and consequently her life.  She tosses out an ancient roll of Tums–a good start.  She finally locates her grocery list: A dozen eggs, a dozen oranges, two gallons of milk, organic bread (even though it costs more), and Sugar Loops for the kids.

She begins to feel dizzy as she climbs out of the car.  The world spins and the parking lot becomes a kaleidoscope.  Then a tornado sucks her up and tosses her into a dark forest.  She lands on the ground; jolted into a hidden reality where the world appears upside down and backwards, like one’s reflection in a mirror.  She reasons that she hit her head on the car’s doorframe knocking her unconscious.

She feels like Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz and she makes a joke about Kansas.  The forest, though, seems familiar to her, but she can’t say why.  She’s never stepped out of the suburbs where she was born and still resides.  She’s never seen a forest or a river and she’s never climbed a mountain, yet this forest feels like her real home.

She rises slowly from the ground while brushing off her floral skirt.  Patting down her tangled hair, she then checks her makeup in a compact mirror.  In the distance, she notices a muddy trail leading to a cabin, so she decides to walk to the cabin and seek directions back to the suburbs.  As she staggers, shoes slipping on the slick trail, she smells a mixture of pine needles mixed with roses.  The roses cause her nose to itch, but she ignores this and keeps walking towards the cabin.

Angel quietly raps on the front door.  She hears someone shuffling his way to the door as she waits apprehensively for him to appear.  Although she would like to run away, she musters up the courage to confront her fears coupled with her longing for answers.  An old man answers the door and shouts at her.

“It’s about time you showed up!”

He introduces himself as Uriel, the guardian of the forest then he invites her into his modest home.  Growing increasingly uncomfortable, Angel stutters when asking Uriel for directions back to the parking lot.  She tells him that she must buy food for her family or they’ll go hungry.

Uriel explains that the only one starving is Angel.  “Your soul needs to be fed with a nourishing substance.  You don’t even remember that you have a soul and this causes me grief.”

Uriel leads Angel to a modest table where a king-size banquet awaits them.  A variety of thick, dark breads sit next to a bowl of lime-green apples, dark cherries and blushing peaches.  Angela’s eyes scan over the fruit and bread that wait to be consumed by her.  She notices three large pink and blue crystals the size of a small cat.

“Why have you placed crystals among the food?”

“These crystals all contain magic that can help you see into hidden reality.  Each crystal represents a different part of you. The light blue one represents your past and the pink and blue one represents your future.  The largest one represents your truest potential of living in this moment.  The crystals help you map out your journey into other realities and they guide you on your journey into the future.”

He waxes on, “You’ve lost sight of your life’s purpose and you’ve grown bored with the role of everyone’s caretaker.  Work with the crystals on a daily basis and you’ll discover that you indeed have a soul and a purpose for your existence.”

They finish their feast and their conversation.  Uriel gives Angel directions to a mammoth oak tree with a human-size hole in it.  He tells her to dive through the hole and find herself in the market’s parking lot.  Angel embraces Uriel.  She thanks him for the meal and directions back to her day-to-day life.  Reluctantly, she strides to the tree, glances over her shoulder, then dives into the gaping hole, which sucks her in and spits her out in the parking lot.

When she gains consciousness, she finds herself lying on the pavement next to her SUV.  She reasons that she must have fainted from a dizzy spell.  She hopes no one saw her lying on the ground.  As she rises, she notices three crystals gleaming in the sun.  She wonders where they came from then she recalls a strange dream in which she was sharing a feast with the guardian of the forest.  He gave her three crystals, but how did those crystals make their way into this reality?

It’s possible that the forest represents reality and that Angel dreamed up the life in the suburbs.  Then she has control over her boring life living among minivans, shopping malls, and parking lots.  She can always wake herself from that nightmare.  And maybe this time someone will comfort her.

By Patricia Herlevi (previously published). All Rights Reserved

 

Short Fiction–Disintigration of a Marriage

FSCN3164I wrote this story when I lived in Mount Vernon, Washington, circa 2010-11. Actually, I adapted a short story called, “The Bats” which I wrote and performed with Los Nortenos in Seattle. I don’t recall which year that was or for which event I read the story with the Latino literary troupe. The story gives me chills, in a good way.

Los Murciélagos

(The Bats-Disintegration of a Marriage)

By Patricia Herlevi

Hispanic Voice Series

Margaret saw it coming as the rift in her marriage to her taciturn husband Peter Olsen widened.  Their son, Peter, Jr. died in a war which itself seemed hard to believe.  Then the government added further insult, by refusing to send the soldier’s remains for a proper burial, stating something about the progressive media distorting facts.

Staring at her husband across the expanse of a large polished maple dinner table, she noticed Peter’s dry eyes after receiving the rejection for their son’s burial.

Unlike him, tears flowed from Margaret’s eyes and softened her skin dried by the harsh Minnesota weather and the stress she endured losing her only son.  She glared at her husband of twenty-five years.

“He died an honorable death so why won’t the government we pay taxes to allow us to find closure?”

Peter looked away from his wife.  “I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You’re the one who supported our son’s cause to fight in Iraq.  I was against it, but you gave him that patriotic speech and now…”

Peter shrugged, “That’s the chance we take when we go to war with another country.  Parents lose their children…”

“How can you act so detached when that someone was your son?”

Peter rose from the table and he ambled from the dining room.  As he walked through the hallway he gazed at the family photographs—vacations in Wyoming, a trip to Hawaii when Peter Jr. was in his toddler stage, and a photograph of the birth of his premature son.  The pain crushed his soul and ripped at his heart, but the tears refused to surface.  He knew also that his marriage lain in shambles.  Later that night when Margaret slept, Peter packed his suitcase, climbed in his BMW sedan and drove off into the night.  He thought of leaving a note, but considered that he already said everything he could on the topic.

The next morning when Margaret awoke she sensed that Peter had left her for good.  All the years of spending quality time with each other, building a family and a life together crumbled like Humpty-Dumpty’s wall.  She went through the motions of frying an egg for breakfast, but everything she ate tasted like cardboard and after crying for days, her eyes were left in a bone dry state.  She lived in denial.

Perhaps the news would sink in after the ink dried on the divorce papers or upon her son’s birthday that loomed in the future.  A velvety darkness descended pushing Margaret further into an endless tunnel.

The same family photographs housed in their gilded frames that destroyed her husband only reminded Margaret of bittersweet memories frozen in time.  They reminded her of everything that she lost.  Once the neighborhood wives envied her, but now Margaret became a target for their pity.  She learned to avoid their constant stares and found comfort in her nightly dreams.

One reoccurring dream featured thousands of bats.  In the dream, she didn’t run away in horror and her fascination for the bats grew.  They’d never harm her and instead of sucking her lifeblood they lead her through a transformation.  She believed that they promised her a new life.  When she felt that she lost her sanity, the bats’ whispers seemed logical and comforting.  They guided her as she descended further into the tunnel.  Margaret groped and stumbled searching for the proverbial light that would eventually appear.  Even if the light failed to materialize she grew accustom to the darkness, void of any dreams, hopes or desires, but also of suffering.

Although Peter died, she felt as if she was the one being lowered into the damp and wormy soil.  She felt the crushing weight and her bones disintegrating into ashes.  Decades from now, she thought, archeologist would dig up her bones while searching for stones and artifacts in the blurred future.  They’d say that she was a solid-built woman with upright posture with a dark complexion, or so she thought.  They’d search for a husband and next of kin, but come up empty handed then the experts would extrapolate on an Isis-Osiris theory of the 21st century on NPR.

However, a real death didn’t await Margaret, but a symbolic one followed by her rebirth.  At some point she’d sell the house and leave her memories behind.  She’d journey across the desert and across the sea, forgetting her son who never showed her courtesy and a husband who buried himself in his work.  And only then, she finally cried tears and shed the weight of her regrets.  Those tears only came to free her from the burden of someone else’s dream.

In time, Margaret emerged as a powerful woman who knew great sadness.  When she looked in the mirror she finally saw someone staring back at her.  And the fleeting glimpses of the future recalling a fox hiding in the foliage, gave Margaret the courage to keep moving towards a better life, a different life.  She reasoned, just because she couldn’t see it didn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Her salvation came in an intangible form when she relocated to Southern France and started a new life as a gardener.

Meanwhile, Peter quit his job, bought a sailing boat and settled his grief out at sea. He drowned out his memories of family life listening to Bach’s preludes on his portable CD player which sounded tiny and insubstantial in comparison to the waves that hit the side of the boat and the wind that whistled in the sails.  The smell of salt often misted his eyes and his sleep brought memories that would forever haunt him.  He felt dismembered by the loss of his marriage and the death of his son. But he had faith that the grief would subside in the way that tempest subside in the morning light leaving the sun sparkling on the renewed ocean, earth, and sky.

But one memory, the evening when his marriage to Margaret disintegrated played out like one of the Mexican soaps his wife so dearly loved and he despised.  Why all that drama?

That evening, Margaret set out Peter’s favorite meal of roast beef with baby potatoes drenched in rosemary butter, and an expensive bottle of wine.  She finally cleaned house after weeks of neglect and pulled herself together to shop for groceries and prepare that meal.

When she sat the platter with roast on the table, Peter could barely drum up appetite. He avoided eye contact with his distraught wife, but not because he didn’t feel love for her.  Sensing that she had more strength than he’d ever acquire in a lifetime, he stared at the newly polished silverware and his glass of wine. He envied her.

Margaret sighed.

Peter finally gazed at his wife’s haggard face.  “I’m sorry.”

Tears slipped from Margaret’s eyes.  “Why won’t they allow us to see our son one last time?”

Peter placed his hand on Margaret’s hand which she yanked away defiantly.

“You heard the news that none of the parents will get the chance to see their children. Why should it be any different for us?”

Margaret raised her voice in a passionate plea. “There was a time when we would have organized and pulled out our picket signs.”

“What good would that do now? We’re not even permitted to discuss our son’s death with the reporters.”

“Not that I want to and I’m sick and tired of those reporters sniffing around here and their attachment to other people’s grief.  But that might bring closure if we could talk to someone.”

“No, we’re on our own this time.”

Margaret stared defiantly at her husband and headed back to the kitchen.

Peter covered his face with his hands attempting to erase the tragedy that visited him.  He once thought he had all the answers, but those days had passed.

As the sun rose over a distant island, Peter drank a cup of black coffee and stared out at the sea, the smell of salt and roasted beans mingled in his nostrils.  He thought about Margaret and wondered where she was at that time.  He regretted walking away from his marriage. Now that the dust finally settled he obsessed about second chances.

All Rights Reserved Copyright owned by Patricia Herlevi