Friday, July 31, 2009

It's The Journey, Not The Destination. Right?

First, I wanted to thank all of you who stopped by and left such sweet comments on my last (uh, first) post, buzzing by from sweet Sarah's blog. I am thrilled to meet you, hear your thoughts and to visit some of your blogs--which I will continue to do as I go. Wow, this can really be addictive! You're all so interesting!

Years ago, (don't ask me how many) I found a book called "The Writer's Journey" by a guy who taught at UCLA Extension named Chris Vogler. It has since become something of a bible in the screenwriting world when it comes to developing structure and it was based on Joseph Campbell's 1000 page epic, "Hero With a Thousand Faces," which, if I had two hundred years, I might attempt to plow through.

Vogler's book ( a condensed version) was kind of life changing for me. It was all about myth and The Hero's Journey. You know...character arc and figuring out how characters change in your story? Anyway, there are these stages that characters go through--out of the darkness and into the light? It's all very riddled with adventure and angst! At least, that's the way it's supposed to go. His title, "The Writer's Journey," eluded me for a while. I was so distracted, figuring out how my characters could use this structure in my stories.

But as I embarked on this new empty-nest chapter of my life (ie.-- flapping like an under-feathered baby bird in the grass, crying "Mommmeeee!") it occurred to me one sleepless night as I channel-surfed mind-numbingly bad infomercials that I had just stumbled into my own Inmost Cave! My own Tests, Allies and Enemies! The inevitable Crossing the Threshold! (Sorry, that's Vogler-speak for the *&^% is about to hit the fan!) All that I knew to be true was about to be tested. I was up a tree and some nameless force was throwing rocks.
What? I'm a character in my own life?? Hmm. This was an interesting concept. And as I looked around me, I realized it was true. And not in any archetypal sense either. For real. And most of my friends had inadvertently stumbled into it, too. We were all suddenly in this weird scary place, smack dab in the middle of our lives and none of us could figure out where the light switch was. The trick was, how to get to the other side with the prize. My own personal prize--if I could find it--would be to be figure out who I was. This new me.

I began to plot my way out of this fix. I decided to be--(er, I contemplated being) proactive, like any good hero. (Okay--in the interest of full disclosure, my husband latched onto this new idea with the optimism of man whose last floatation device has just drifted by.) He literally sent me dozens of emails during the day full of possibilities for story lines, ideas for jobs, connections for jobs.... Finally, he ran into a friend who had just come back from this fabu place in Vermont where she'd apparently unleashed the inner Her! She had a One-Woman show going up that had been part of a project she'd done for this place. My husband forwarded me the web site. Then, an application. He was relentless.

So, of course, I did the next logical thing. I applied for Grad school.

Be kind to yourself--Barbara

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


When I decided to do this blog, I contemplated what it would be about. I mean, it has to have some kind of focus, right? Had I started it a few years ago, the focus would have been my kids, my family and BTW, my writing. Not that writing wasn't important in my life then. It has been years since I sold my first book-- a romance novel for Zebra/Kensington.

When I began seriously writing, my daughter and son were little. So I put my desk in my living room, near the front window, where I could be part of things. Where I could see my kids as they ran in and out and, when on a horrid book deadline, give them a hug, or stop to talk about their days. I wasn't the kind of mom who said, "Don't bother me unless there's blood!" Because, frankly, blood makes me queasy and I always figured it was prudent to intervene before things got that far.

But back then, I knew who I was. I was a mom. My real job was to make sure my kids survived childhood. (Seriously.) And to make sure they were happy. Amazingly enough, they did grow up to be wonderful adults who are now off and running in their own lives. My son is following his dream in the film industry and my daughter and her darling husband just had a baby--our first grandchild! The little Boo. (see above)

Okay, now I'm totally distracted by the deliciousness in this picture....Sorry.

After my kids grew up, went off to college, there was this....long pause in my life. Those of you who've been through this know what I'm talking about: It was kind of a "Now, what?" moment. Or...a "What the hell?"moment. Okay, fine. It was a full-on identity crisis. Which was ironic, really, since I'd always thought my book writing would save me from that. I thought I'd know who I was because I had this whole writing career thing going... I'd breeze through, buck up and write. All would be well.

Could I have been more wrong? I don't think so.

My writing life skidded to a screeching halt. Not a word found its way to the computer screen. The blinking cursor mocked me. Repeatedly. I thought I'd give it some space. Allow myself to be in my empty-nestedness for a bit. Then I'd be okay. But the longer I went without writing, the harder it was to get back to it. I feared I'd never write again. This went on for a couple of years. My husband gave me foot-rubs and told me it would all be all right. (Did I mention that I love my husband?) But I still grappled with dark questions like: WHO AM I? And WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFI?

Then, in the grandest of ironies, writing saved me. Lifted me right up and cradled me against its bosom. Angels sang and clouds parted and my muse stepped right up and--

What? Oh, right. My muse has asked me to inform you that none of that is true. No bosom cradling was involved. A couple of shin kicks, a shiner, as I recall. Some other injuries I won't go into here. But the part about writing saving me is true. But it didn't happen without serious determination on my part. Some call being stuck like this writer's block. I don't really like that term. I think it's life-block, because if I'm so stuck I can't write, there are definitely other reasons why. It's not about the writing.

Did I mention I teach writing? No? The only reason I mention it is that I get to see from a completely different perspective why people stop writing or doing any creative thing they love. And believe me when I say, it's not because the muse stops talking. It's for other reasons. Reasons that are important to address and work through. Ignoring them simply aggravates them. So, deep down I knew this. I knew I had to take action before the whole thing got away from me and I slid down that slippery slope I'd seen so many of my students take who'd given up on themselves completely. And despite the old adage, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach," I wasn't finished with writing yet. Besides, what good would I be as a teacher if I couldn't walk the walk, talk the talk...write the books?

(to be continued...)

Be good to yourself-- Barbara