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–5 Tips for Rebuilding the Fantasy Novel

Reflection Moi

 

At a writing conference recently, an instructor told authors about a practice that involves cutting out 30 percent of a novel. This practice works for authors who overwrite, use too many filler words, include too much exposition, and dialogues that don’t propel the story forward. However, what happens for authors who underwrite and fall short of the genre word count?

When I revised my novel Enter 5D, I came up short 10,000 words. This started the wheels of my mind to churn ideas of ways to add more content to this fantasy novel. Here are five tips.

1. Add action and description to long dialogue or paraphrase the dialogue in chunks instead of as single sentences of direct speech.

I have been reading Sarah Addison Allen’s Lost Lake and this author uses this practice throughout her novel. She also includes different points of view while including pieces of backstory for several characters. Some experts in the industry advise against several points of view in a novel, but this is also my style with writing novels.

2. Spread chunks of exposition on the characters and even the setting or place throughout the novel while still moving the story forward.

Again, read Allen’s Lost Lake or her other titles for a good example of how this is achieved.

3. Spread the plot out by adding new twists or suspense. Keep the readers with a question in their minds for more chapters.

4. Add new characters for the protagonists to respond to but only if this doesn’t block the progress of the story.

5. Lengthen an important scene by highlighting the characters’ hopes and wishes or by them ruminating on their greatest fear.

The trick is not to pad the novel with unessential material. Also, use discernment when adding more words or pages to a novel. While many publishers have a minimum and a maximum word count, if a novel feels complete at 70,000 words or 75,000 words, adding more material might destroy its flow and deter readers with a short attention span (which is many readers including me).

I hope these and other tips on Belle Author are helpful for you as you craft your novel. I have been writing novels since 2005 and I’ve learned from pitfalls along the way. I never earned a Master’s degree in creative writing and I didn’t earn a BA in English.

However, I have received compliments from professional editors who have encouraged me to keep writing novels. Obviously, there is no shortcut to writing and publishing a novel. And even some of the novels that have been published were done so prematurely while many great stories have yet to become published books.

 

 

Write it–Inspiration for Tackling Rewrites

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Hardly any author enjoys rewriting their novels. A few authors enjoy returning to their story several drafts later. But each time you return to the manuscript and you make improvements, you build more confidence in your abilities as an author while possibly gaining new writing and editing skills.

Having said that, it’s still easy to get lost in procrastination or to set the novel in a file that gathers dust over the years leaving you with “what if” scenarios dancing in your thoughts. Rewrites are not as daunting as many think. And if you find the right copy editors and writer friends to help with the process, you can actually slap some new life into your work.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate the rewriting process that I gained writing five novels (several times over).

  • Start with a smaller project such as a rewrite of a short story
  • Check out writing craft books from the library (or buy them)
  • Take writing workshops focusing on character and plot development
  • Attend a writer’s conference and get tips from other authors
  • Attend a critiquing group or work with a writing buddy
  • Read articles in writers magazines on story development
  • Workshop your later drafts (it’s too self-defeating to workshop a first or second draft)
  • Discover your own writing process (some authors rewrite as they go along)
  • Work with storyboards or vision boards
  • Get to know your characters deeply and ask them about their motivations
  • Read and critique novels (of several genres)

Like many authors, when I wrote my first novel, I thought that was it. Little did I know at that time, that it would take me several years to redevelop the novel through rewrites. And that novel is sitting in an electronic file waiting for another rewrite.

But then the question becomes, “When is my novel completed?” Does this happen when the agent reads it and offers a contract? Probably not. The agent will most likely ask for some rewrites or at least have a professional copy editor go through it. And then the editors at the publishing company will ask for more rewrites, especially with newer authors. And some authors as they improve their craft over several decades, might return and rewrite their first few novels to get them back into print. So, possibly it never ends. As humans we are in constant expansion.

And one last tip, you might find that as you continue to write your novel, chapter by chapter, your momentum picks up. You redefinine your characters as you spend more time with them and you develop plot twists that take you to a conclusion you had not first envisioned. So, going back and rewriting the beginning launches a rewriting process. that puts more zing in the step of your novel.

I know for myself that my novels tend to pick up momentum by the third chapter. And agents often only want to see the first two chapters or first 30 pages. So, this is an area I’m currently working on–strengthening the introduction chapters of my novels.

So, don’t fear the rewrite. And if you would like a metaphysical coach to keep you on track, sign up for a session with me. And good luck on your journey as a published author. I look forward to reading your novels.

 

Write it–From Writer’s Block to Inspiration

writer-1421099_1920I was once a prolific writer. I wrote posts for several blogs, music reviews, book reviews, articles, interviews, essays, a non-fiction book, a memoir, several novels, short fiction, and screenplays and then life happened…

First, I struggled with finding permanent housing which wore me out. Then I began suffering from arthritis to both of my hands along with tendonitis. Meanwhile,  the urge to write never left me even as time seemed to grow shorter and the demands on my time expanded. And I developed sympathy for other blocked writers or authors with good intentions who found themselves bogged down by their life concerns.

Good news. We aren’t stuck. And by taking a few steps forward we reignite our relationship with our muse and turn into writing machines once again.

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Dealing with life demands:

 

  • Set appropriate boundaries with others (say no)
  • Carve out 30 to 60 minutes each day to write (and stick to it)
  • If the household is too chaotic write at a public library
  • Meditate and ground your mind
  • Organize your time efficiently with a day planner
  • Exercise before writing (it opens up the flow and you prioritize yourself)
  • Carve out space in your home to write

 

Get inspired:

  • Start with a short piece to get into the swing
  • Edit an older piece
  • Read one of two blog posts (yours or another’s)
  • Read a book on the writing craft (and do an assignment)
  • Free write longhand
  • Daydream and see if any characters show up
  • Interview existing characters
  • Revisit your short fiction and chapters in novels
  • Research topics related to your characters
  • Get curious
  • Describe your character’s bedroom in detail
  • Describe your character’s morning routine in detail
  • Hold a conversation with your characters
  • Referee an argument with your characters
  • Take a writing class
  • Attend a writer’s workshop
  • Attend an open mic for writers
Or do like I’m doing and write a blog post to inspire other writers. And if you would like to work with a creative coach steeped in metaphysics, contact me for a session through Whole Astrology.

The Practice–Speaking the Language of Your Characters

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I don’t know about you but I come up with my best ideas when I’m walking. And yesterday, I thought about writing a post about delving into the language of fictitional characters.

The thought came to me because I was considering the research that it takes for an author to create dialogue and scenarios around a character’s career, lifestyle, or region that they inhabit. Some people would call this the vernacular of the character. And just like architects speak and write about vernacular houses for particular regions, authors also populate their novels with the right lingo, terms, and language for their particular characters to make the story more real in a reader’s mind.

Now, some folks would say that they’re not writing a historic or a realism novel. But even if you are creating a new realm for your characters to inhabit you still need to define a language and liguistics for your charcters and scenarios. Think of J.R.R. Tolkein’s magical languages for his different groups of characters, as an example, or the Harry Potter series characters and their unique lingo.

This sounds simpler than it is. And many budding novelist fail because they use everyday and modern language for their characters based on shallow observations. They forgot to do their research and hone their characters’ conversations and daily encounters. For instance, if your main character is a doctor, then wouldn’t it behoove you to research medical terminology and spend time in a medical environment as well as, interview medical doctors?

With all my screenplays and novels, I delved into research, interviewing people in various real-life situations, reading books, and even picking up dictionaries with terminology or foreign languages and still, I left much uncovered. For my screenplay Love and Intangible States, I observed a life drawing class as well as, I traveled to Vancouver, Canada where most of the story takes place.

And for my novel “Love Quadrangle” I set the story mostly in a local setting where I could visit the places where my characters inhabited. And for Quebec, since I wasn’t able to travel to the Canadian Province, I researched through books and interactions with people from Quebec as well as, a French language teacher who had a friend who lived in Quebec.

I also researched brain damage, and different types of music by sending questions to neurologists who study music and brain damage. And I observed an architecture firm to research my architect character and interviewed an architect. She also read one of my earliest drafts of the novel which she found realistic.

So, here is a list of learning the language and lingo of your characters:

  • Research, research, research
  • Read through terminology and language dictionaries for words
  • Interview people with the same professions as your characters
  • Hang out in the locales of your characters (for realism novels)
  • Join social media groups of your characters lifestyles, interests, and professions
  • Read similar books (but don’t just rely on that)
  • Travel
  • Spend time in a library collecting notes until your brain is overflowing with details
  • Write short scenarios with dialogue before beginning the novel
  • Interview your characters
  • Watch realistic movies (documentaries as opposed to fictional movies)
  • Try out your conversations and character languages on a native of that language or lingo or profession

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Some authors love research and others despise it. But there is nothing more enjoyable to the reader as a well-researched and defined novel. Readers need to gain trust with their authors and they do this when the authors make their stories believable. We all appreciate researched novels.

As a journalist, I gained research skills in my early twenties at the same time I was developing my poetic voice. Both skills have served me well. And I appreciate reading well-researched and engaging novels. I think we all do.

If you would like creative coaching with astrology, experience in the arts, and metaphysical tools, sign up for an hour session with me or we can negotiate a fee for a series of sessions. I have experience with self-publishing, the writing process (over 30 years), and motivation. Just ask. And check out Belle Author on Facebook and Patricia Herlevi on YouTube.

Lately, Queen Mamadou (YA Fiction in-progress)

African Queen Pix a Bay

Synopsis:

Fourteen-year-old Maggie Shatterly just wants to fit in–whether at school, in her artistic circle of friends, or at the dance studio. Her life is awkward enough without an ancient African queen showing up to teach everyone a lesson about living one’s life with freedom, abandonment, and joy. Queen Mamadou, hailing from a 15th Century West African kingdom, taught her unwitting students to gyrate their hips and to drum up a new life.

This young adult comedy began as an idea for a short story. However, the narrative keeps developing so I think I’m writing my 6th novel–and my first official young adult (possibly middle grade) novel. My fifth novel, Enter 5-D has crossover appeal. I never thought I would take this path since I was firmly entrench in writing sexy romantic comedies, but the world’s children call to me now.

Introduction to Lately, Queen Mamadou

She despised visiting the dance shop, located in a derelict part of town near the port and the Mission.  Maggie’s mother, an artist-at-heart, enjoyed exploring the seedier side of towns.  She told Maggie that artists thrive on diversity but did this mean that Maggie Shatterly should have to waded through litter, broken beer bottles, and stepped around people with shattered lives? She had hoped not.

On this particular day, rain poured from the midwinter skies, tumbled down the sides of build and then formed streams on the sidewalks and the streets. The only reason Maggie ventured outside at all with her mother was to buy the pieces for her costume. They had waited until the last minute as usual since the recital was that night. Maggie would have felt a case of nerves except that she placed her focused on her giraffe costume.

Her dance instructor Darcy created choreography based on Noah’s Ark. But Maggie wondered if Noah had giraffes on the Ark. She didn’t remember any giraffes mentioned in Noah’s Ark back when she took Bible classes. Of course, she didn’t remember much of anything from those days when she lived in Arcadia, back when her parents were still married.

Now, she shuffled between California and Washington, often flying alone on Alaska Air. Her friends at school envied her since often she spent the winter in sunny California while her friends in Bellingham shivered in the damp and breezy dance studio. One time, her father Ted, took her to Hawaii for Christmas. Maggie felt at odds among palm trees swaying in a breeze and a local Native playing “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” on a ukulele. And this was before ukuleles began trending outside of Hawaii. She recalled one Native Hawaiian woman, quite large, and decked in a flowered mumu playing “All I want for Christmas is my Red Mumu,” fashioned after the famous song about the two front teeth.

End of excerpt

Copyright Patricia Herlevi, 2017-18

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

 

From Lincoln Logs to Social Media (50th Year Anniversary)

Photo taken in my 20s

(This article was originally posted on my blog PNW Author. The essay is now 3 years old.) When I find myself starting a conversation with, “Back when we used typewriters…” I feel old.  I come from a generation who started out playing with Lincoln logs, Easy-Bake ovens and whose mothers made Shake & Bake chicken for dinner, that is, if we weren’t stuck with Hamburger Helper (yuck) or tuna casserole.

We watched reruns of “Bewitch” and then later graduated to “Charlie’s Angels” as preteens.  But turning 50 goes beyond pop culture icons or midlife crisis myths.  I don’t know many men my age wearing toupees or racing around in red sports cars.  The word out on the street is “50 is the new 30” and with the help of supplements, natural hair tints and a healthy vegan or raw foods diet, it’s possible to look 35 at 50.  The old cliche goes, if I had a dime for every time someone exclaimed, “You don’t look 49 or 50,” I could retire and live comfortably on the money by age 55.

You won’t find me wearing spinster’s black or lamenting that I wasted the first 50 years of my life.  People might ask, “Where’s the husband or how old are your children?” and I can only respond with a shrug. I had other things to do and other worlds to conquer, including dealing with a myriad of inner gremlins and a long bout with depression, in which the only way to emerge was to develop self-love.  My greatest accomplishment isn’t ten years as a professional musician, producing a compilation of Seattle bands that receives acclaim two decades later, or the completion of four novels and 4 screenplays.  No, my greatest accomplishment thus far is to love myself.

When we glance back at the origins of that journey we either cringe or experience goosebumps.  I recall two episodes of self-loathing at this time.  The first incident involved an art professor who took slides of each student and asked us to draw a self-portrait.  Easy enough, right? I experienced trauma doing this and I cried while I stared at my face enlarged.  I focused on faults and chastised myself for not resembling the super models in magazines or the movie stars on the big screen. What a painful experience! I despised the art professor during those moments and also when he showed the slide to the other art students, who thankfully were too busy critiquing their own faces, to critique mine.

Another incident happened in therapy.  A psychoanalyst told me to talk to an empty chair with my jacket draped around it, a conversation with myself.  I cried and resisted this exercise.  I felt so horrified having a dialogue with the part of me that constantly hurt.  After all, if I had landed in therapy then there was definitely something wrong with me and wonder if I couldn’t fix it.  This happened in my late 20s.  And during my late 20s, I spent my nights exorcising my inner gremlins on stage as a musical performer or a poet.  Sylvia Plath was my idol during those  years, if you can imagine.

I didn’t breeze through my 30s, but I grew in wisdom as I read every popular self-help book, enrolled in self-development workshops and wondered why the Dark Night of the Soul wouldn’t just disappear. In my imagination I walked El Camino with Paul Coelho, went on medicine women journeys with Lynn V. Andrews, and learned to talk with animal spirits.  I discovered shamanic journey work, but none of this work led me to developing self-love which goes along with self-empowerment.

I celebrated my 40th birthday in a public venue by hosting a poetry and music event dedicated to compassion and kindness.  Gathering with other artists gave me a boost and set me forth on the next part of my journey.  In my 40s, I relocated twice, returned to college at the age of 45 to learn new computer technology, I landed a contract job with a newspaper and then lost the job 14 months later.  But most important in the past five years, I confronted the frightened woman inside me and learned how to love her back to health.  And I’m not alone in this.  I hear women my age saying the same thing when they phone into spiritual radio shows or join live streams.  Our crisis doesn’t involve dumping the husband in favor of the college co-ed (no Mrs, Robinson here), but our crisis does involve questioning our liberation in a world that wishes to brainwash and enslave us.

Things I learned in the past year include, drinking an unsweetened smoothie is healthier than drinking fruit juice, that yoga, breathing and meditation takes years off, and that we don’t require to go gray like our baby boomer elders and can use natural hair tints that won’t give us brain tumors.  If we choose, we can unplug, and engage on a journey to self-discovery.  We can dress anyway we choose, even buying clothes in the young adult section or wearing natural fibers.  We can opt out of fake patriotism and stop playing games to fit in with a mad society.  With new supplements on the market to build collagen, we can avoid Botox or face lifts.  Finally, we have worldwide access to women our age so we can compare notes and share wisdom.

Why do we focus so heavily on physical appearance? Is this part of self-love or self-loathing? I know that kindness to ourselves means that we stop finding fault with our bodies as they age.  I know that it’s frightening to watch people age around me.  I know that I feel tempted to turn back the clock one or two decades, and if only I could bring the ones I lost back into the fold.

age 50
age 50

I’m fortunate to sit here typing this post on my 50th birthday.  I know at least two friends who never experienced this milestone.  The first friend died before her 18th birthday when she was injured in a car accident, two weeks prior to high school graduation.  The second friend died at 34 from heart failure, 2 weeks before her 35th birthday.  So on this rainy Sunday, I won’t lament the passing of years.  I’m darn lucky to have survived and I give myself permission to thrive this second half of my life.  And for all of you turning 50 this year, many happy returns.

Did you know that life actually begins at 50?