The Practice–Writing During a Life Transition

DSCN1073Often, when I’m undergoing monumental changes in my life, the last thing I want to do is write. I feel as if the words lodged themselves behind a dam and I’m unable to interpret my emotions as I endure changes. Or I believe that no one wants to hear about the suffering I’m enduring or the play-by-play workings of my day.

However, this is the perfect time to write. This is where we find our creative spirit in raw materials. We can turn our experiences into gold by writing poems, essays, or blog posts such as this one. And maybe these words act as a balm for someone on the other side of the city or the world enduring similar circumstances.

I wrote most of my novels and screenplays during harsher times in my life. I wrote the original screenplay for Agnes and Yves when I was suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities. I did not have any furniture so I propped my word processer on pillows and wrote the screenplay from bed. When I completed Enter 5-D I was living in between homes (basically, homeless).

Here are tips for turning life experiences into gold on a page:

  • Get gritty during the rough draft. Allow emotions to erupt and pour out on the page. Stop and pound your fists into a pillow and scream if this helps with the process but get it all out.
  • Research other people’s stories of similar situations
  • Join a support group or a writing group that focuses on life stories
  • Journal and share your entries with a coach or therapist
  • Write every day even if it is just in a journal and even if it’s just one paragraph
  • Don’t censor yourself (based on how you should feel or act)
  • Let it rip
  • Tear the pages up if you must then clear the room with sage
  • Name your emotions and then befriend them

You might transform your blog posts or journal entries into a memoir, if you feel that it adds value to the world. But mostly, we use our writing efforts for catharsis as we make sense of events that visit us.

I offer creativity coaching using astrology, cards, and other types of divination. Sign up at Whole Astrology.

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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—Choosing Your Novel’s Music Soundtrack

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Glenn Gould informs my writing…

My writing process changed with each of my novels. When I wrote my first novel, Super-Natural Heroes, I handwrote the entire novel in two notebooks. Instead of writing my morning pages, I wrote three pages a day for my novel. Many of the chapters ended up as three page chapters. 

With my fifth novel, Enter 5-D, I wrote my plot lines and character traits on huge white sheets of paper which covered the floor of a 350 square foot apartment (really a converted garage). Both my first and fifth novels feature multiple plots and since I tend to go into a trance when I write, I needed concrete guidance which is why I drew my plot on the large sheets of paper. I also created a vision board for my novel.

The other practice I have with all my novels is that I listen to music which I would use for the movie soundtrack for my stories. When I worked on Love Quadrangle, I mainly listened to Glenn Gould performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations which does appear in my novel and in fact, provides a theme for the novel. I listened to Gregorian Chant while I worked on Super-Nature Heroes, and I listened to French cafe music (mostly French swing) when I worked on Agnes and Yves.

Since I’m currently editing my fifth novel, I’ll talk about the soundtrack music for this novel. I started listening to Nick Drake as I worked on this novel. And one song in particular, “River Man” became the theme for my Ferryman character. And the song plays in my thoughts when I am even thinking about my novel. Other Drake tunes that I associate with Enter 5-D are “Pink Moon,” and “Things Behind the Sun.”

Since my protagonist Eurydice is an opera diva who is best known for her role as the Queen of the Night (The Magic Flute), I watched Diana Damrau’s performances of this role performing “The Queen of the Night Aria”. I also include Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue in the background.

I’m a musician and have immersed myself in music my entire life. My mother even played music for me while I was still in the womb. So, music always plays a key role while I’m writing a novel. And it’s not just background music. I write from listening to tone, timbre, and rhythms. My novels have a sense of musicality in them. Silence plays a role too.

When choosing a soundtrack for a novel (and possibly the movie version later), let’s consider the following.

  • What are the characters’ dominant moods and personality traits? What songs would define each of the characters, even a phrase from a song?
  • What songs describe the landscape of the novel?
  • Songs provide melodic tension and rhythm.
  • Which songs honor the pace of the novel?
  • And which songs provide themes for the novel?

You can add other questions to this list. And don’t stick with the usual musical genres either. If you normally use pop music for your soundtracks, shake it up a bit and try classical or jazz chamber music. Why not listen to music from around the globe, especially if your story takes place in a foreign country?

If you would like a coaching session on becoming consciously aware of music or would like help coming up with a soundtrack for your novel, sign up for a coaching session. I am a music expert and I provide you with this blog Whole Music Experience which features reviews and interviews, as well as, some music examples. For world music, check out World Music Central.

Write It–5 Reasons to Write Short Fiction

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A favorite author of mine, Isabel Allende

When I turned my gaze away from journalism and poetry to writing short fiction, I came across an anthology of short stories edited by Isabel Allende. In the introduction to the anthology, Allende said that if a short story did not grab her within the first few paragraphs, it would not work as short fiction.

While I don’t agree whole-heartedly with Allende’s observation, I’ll say that short fiction is condensed and requires powerful writing. When we write short stories, we don’t have the space to introduce lineages of characters or complex plots. It’s not the format for including loads of description or delving deeply into a character’s emotional palette.

The short stories that work for me have odd twist in them, especially with flash fiction, which is a story told in 500 words or less. Allende is correct in that the lead paragraph and the final paragraph must leave impressions on the reader. You don’t want to start out slow and start meandering. The character’s call to action takes place in the first or second paragraph. You want to lead the reader into the story quickly and then keep him or her nibbling until they take the Final literary bite.

This brings me to the point of my essay which is five reasons to write short stories. But first let me tell you what short fiction is not. Short fiction is not a short novel. Short fiction is not a jumping off point for novel writing per se. Short fiction is not a lazy writer’s craft. And short fiction doesn’t necessarily pay the bills unless you are lucky enough to land your stories in a bigger name literary journal that pays authors for their stories. Most agents will tell you that they don’t represent short story collections.

5 Reasons to Write Short Stories

  1. Taking up the challenge helps authors to hone into what matters for the character and the story. Authors learn how to get to the point, use less words, and create on their toes.
  2. If a writer can land publication in literary journals and anthologies on a regular basis, this helps land a contract with an agent and subsequently impresses book publishers and editors.
  3. Short stories can be transformed into podcasts and uploaded on Vimeo and YouTube then showcased on author websites and blogs.
  4. Writing shorter fiction allows a writer to exercise their chops without having to write another novel. I like to take a break from writing novels and tackle the short form because I see my results more quickly.
  5. Sometimes short story characters and situations spark the next novel or screenplay.

If you would like a coaching session for unblocking your creative genuius, sign up at Whole Astrology. I use astrology, cards, and other tools in my coaching sessions. It’s best to sign up for a package and if you do so, we can work out a discount for one of the sessions, such as $25 off, if you buy 4 sessions at $100 each.

My background is in journalism, fiction-writing, teaching workshops, astrology, and other metaphysical topics. I was an arts journalist for over 25 years.

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