Yesterday I opened a Twitter account @jlevinegrp.

This is a big step. For months now many of my valued blog readers have asked me if I have a Twitter account so they can become a follower. So now I can shout out, “Yes, I do. Hope to connect with you.” Several factors coincided to move me to act now. The first is already stated. I am so grateful to all my blog readers and those who take the time to leave comments on the blogs. One hundred and ten thousand of you in the last three months! Thank you for being so loyal and proactive. Not all the comments make it onto the blogs, maybe I am too discerning a censor? I approve comments from people who use a personal name (as opposed to a business label), I try to catch and trash all the porn and references to porn, and political or other, propaganda. Unfortunately I can’t approve those in a language other than English (I don’t know what they contain) but do approve the occasional comment in French. If someone left a comment in Afrikaans or Dutch, I can respond to those, too.

Secondly, the pressure and temptation to be a member of a social network is overwhelming. I am a social person, I love forging connections, networking, and as I wrote in a previous blog, we live now largely  in a brave new world on a LCD lit screen that we hold on our hands, balance on our laps or spend hours with on our desks. Addiction, did anyone say the word, addiction? This pressure only increased when recently I received an e-mail from an older friend, whom I mentioned in that same blog as being an unlikely kindle owner, asking me to be her friend on Facebook. This was a revelation to me and I decided (as they say) that I had better get with the program.

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Virginia Woolf said famously in 1928 at Girton when addressing a group of those first women to attend Cambridge University in Cambridge, England, the hallowed sanctum of male intellectual and creative life that helped to ensure male hegemony for the eight hundred preceding years, both in Great Britain and indeed the far-flung British Empire, (and that largely continues today) that if we have “five hundred [pounds] a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think…and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worthwhile.”

I was reminded of this sterling essay from one of my favorite thinkers and authors the other night when I attended a showing of a documentary Who Does She Think She is? This is hard-hitting, factual reportage of several outstanding women artists—potters, ceramists, painters, singers, film makers—to honor their creativity while juggling the raising of children, relating to spouses and partners, washing dishes and car pooling, in other words quilting a patchwork life.

The greatest toll on these artists is in relating to their spouses or partners, specifically male, whose expectations are shaped by society and familial expectations that the woman partner support their endeavors artistic or otherwise, and while they support their female counterparts—it is only to a point. Now of course there are variants on these themes but that is the general pattern. Surprisingly male children of these struggling artists—who generate their livelihood from their work primarily to feed their children—support, admire and honor their mothers.

The venue for this showing was a meeting room at a retreat center in suburban Philadelphia where thirty women writers (who are also teachers) were meeting for a weekend retreat of writing, sharing and networking. It was striking to me that the film- maker interviewing a male physician, an ardent feminist himself went on record reminding us that the great women writers and artists of the last one hundred and fifty years—ranging from Emily Dickinson, Colette, Georgia O’Keefe and Woolf herself—did not have children.

In discussion after the showing many participants shared that the struggles we had just witnessed on film still speak strongly to the patterns and events of their current lives. I thought of my life, the first woman in my family to attend university, my two wonderful sons, my political career in South Africa that included elected public office at a young age, my publishing career that began when I was an adolescent and fortunately continues, my love of teaching—but also of my divorce after twenty six years of marriage. I thought of my mother and the women of her generation and the generations that came before her without these opportunities and those women all over the world who struggle daily with this reality. It is my profound belief that we cannot create a “whole” world while more than half of humanity is barely valued and even more rarely acknowledged in public domains—such as that of artistic expression.

I will blog again on my thoughts of this retreat weekend, but now it is time for me to return after a many month hiatus to grapple with my current writing project that is requiring more “freedom and the courage to write exactly what [I] think” than I have experienced before.

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It is almost here, the December solstice, the one that coincides with the end of our calendar year. In the United States the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, in South Africa it is the longest. As I have noted in previous blogs time is a concept of change, nothing is permanent except our awareness of each passing moment. In our western tradition this is a moment to give thanks and share joy and blessings.

Thank you loyal readers, I love reading your comments. I appreciate your time and consideration in sharing your responses with me.

In return I want to share with you a blog on a more personal note. I want to introduce you to my two wonderful sons who are the joy and blessing of their mother’s life. I cannot imagine anyone being more proud of and grateful for their children than I am of my boys. I know many of us feel this way, so you can share my moment. They are both grown men now with their own lives. One is a teacher at a university and a writer, and he identifies himself as “a writer who teaches.”  He is a serious outdoorsman and a loving son. He can complete the Friday and Saturday New York Times crossword puzzles (I cannot). This feat impresses me. His first book has just been published. No-one can be prouder of his birth as a serious writer than a mother (who is also a writer) than I am of him. Here is the cover image of his book, (© Yale University Press) A Living Man From Africa.

© Yale University Press
Published December 2010

My other son is also a writer (his book will be published by John Wiley & Sons in 2011) and a teacher (an adjunct professor at a business school.) Through his astute entrepreneurship he is on the forefront of innovative developments in the non-profit sector that are already having a major impact on the direction of philanthropy to end world poverty. You can read about his work at www.theginn.org. He travels the world and on any given day he can be in India, England, somewhere in Africa or at home. He is an amazing whirlwind of energy, ideas, and caring. And there is always time for a call to his mesmerized mother.

My most grateful best wishes and blessings to you, dear reader, and your family, for a bountiful 2011 filled for us all with happiness and peace of mind.

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What is Time? Such a seemingly simple question but it can lead to intensely elusive searches for a concept that defies easy answers. Sure we have schedules, and clocks, and calendars based by our ancient forebears on their observations of the wheeling stars and planets. But we also have so many postulations by so many philosophers and cosmologists and various scientists that one’s head can spin from it all. What is Time? Some say Time is a synonym for God. Others that Time is change. Saint Augustine said a thousand years ago, “Intuitively I know what time is, but if you ask me to explain time to you I cannot do so.” What is Time? If all human life disappeared from this planet would Time cease to exist? In other words does our consciousness conceive of Time or does it exist whether we are here or not?

A woman in Soweto, South Africa, a tour guide for a group of harried Americans, wanted to stop at a museum but was asked “Do we have time?” She answered, “I don’t know if you have time. I know you have watches…and I know I have time.”

T.S. Eliot one of the most famous poets of the twentieth century wrote one of his master works The Four Quartets as an exploration into Time. In Burnt Norton, one of the quartets he writes, “Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past./…all time is eternally present…”

All time is eternally present. What you need to know is that Eliot studied Eastern spirituality as an undergraduate at Harvard and had in depth knowledge of the teachings of the Buddha. One of the Buddha’s seminal teachings is that Time is an unceasing succession of transient nanoseconds through which our lives pass and of which passage we need to be aware as our ephemeral future so rapidly becomes our fleeting past. Or in other more colloquial words we need to live in the present moment. Not the past. Not the future. But the present moment. To be truly alive we need to bring all our attention and awareness to every moment of our lives: to our loves, our activities, our preoccupations, our commute, to our emotions, to eating, bathing and on and on. Then perhaps we can begin to understand what Time is and what Time is not.

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The world is changing, yes, I know, it always is, but in many ways at this juncture of space and time, change is speeding up and seems to be happening around us as we watch. “The time is out of joint” said Prince Hamlet and cursed his fate that he “had to set it right.” I don’t feel the need to set anything right, I am just a minuscule microorganism in the quantum vat of broiling time, but I do feel a need to try and be aware of the waves of change, even if only in some vague and uneasy way. Change is changing change in dizzying fashion.

This is nowhere more apparent to me than in the area of the ever-changing world of the Internet because I am involved in bringing my new novel “Leela’s Gift” into the flow of virtual words in cyberspace. Twenty ago when my political memoir  was published, it garnered attention in the print world of book reviews (there was no electronic world), being widely reviewed in prestigious and well-known places. One thing lead to another in an orderly and time-honored way. Ten years later I adapted a personality system for educators and parents and published these two psychology books. In the fine print of book contracts the words “electronic rights” were now seen, and (of course) belonged to the publisher. Who knew what was coming? While reviews on the young Internet were welcome and easily published by web–site customers, print reviews still had some cachet.

Now several years later (change is exponential) the landscape is completely different. Aside from the venerable “New York Times Book Review” print reviews of books (and indeed newspapers and journals themselves) are disappearing, although sometimes there are two–three sentence blurbs on books in trendy magazines. Yet, paradoxically, the world of words and books is exploding, growing like a virus on steroids inside the box on your desk, or sitting on your lap, or indeed being held in your hand.

This I know from my recent foray into the world of eBook publishing where scores of web sites all over the globe that have no general name recognition electronically carry hundreds of thousand of book titles that you or I can download almost instantaneously at the click of a button to one of many hand held reading device and often for free.

Amazon.com rules the publishing waves. Hand held reading devices, as has been promised for twenty years, will soon be the most common way to read—anything. Even an elderly friend, who is by choice a technological Luddite, uses and loves her Kindle. If she does, so will we all.

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My new book, a novel, “Leela’s Gift” has been released. In fact it can be viewed at http://lulu.com/spotlight/JLevine1. It will soon be (early August) available at amazon.com and many online venues where book are sold as well as in book stores (remember www.indiebound.org and independent book stores). “Leela’s Gift” is the story of a luminous inner spiritual  journey. It is set in New York and high in the Himalayas near Darjeeling in northern India. The novel uncovers archetypal and highly relevant spiritual teachings. East meet west in Leela. The book offers teachings on meditation and yoga,  practical paths to freedom from the often dispiriting and desperate quality of our contemporary lives. The novel intertwines Leela’s journey with modern philosophy  and primal wisdom and is infused with some of the inner teachings of Buddhism and the Enneagram. “Leela’s Gift” tells a story as old as the human heart.

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© Janet Levine 2010

Coming soon to online and brick book stores.

Seven years ago, one July, on a clear but cold winter’s day on a beach in Nature’s Valley, South Africa, one of my sons asked me. “What is your next book?” (“Know Your Parenting Personality” had recently been published.)  I replied that  I would like to write a novel somehow using the personality types of the Enneagram. He thought it was a good idea and we spoke about it a bit. Through many twists and turns “Leela’s Gift” took on a life of its own and became much more than the sum of its parts. I am pleased it will shortly be available (by August) for readers who love fiction and who love to delve into the depths of spiritual and philosophical matters.

In the beginning after two years of working on several drafts , my ex-agent did not like the structure of the material. Two more years, and two more drafts, she still did not like the material. So we agreed to part. Over another year and because certain characters refused to leave my mind and insisted on being in the book,  I rewrote it to incorporate them. I shared drafts with a group of readers, had it professionally edited and hit the slush pile over another year in scores of agents’ offices. So hard to be flushed out of the slush pile, I share great empathy with every writer who tries. But the manuscript idea did grab many agents and I do have a publishing record so “partials” and “fulls” went flying across the virtual world of the wide web.

The problem is I like to be on the cutting edge, I like to write hybrids, I like to break new ground. This is true of everything I have done in my life, from my anti-apartheid activism to how I live my life to my writing. So my manuscript did not fit a “niche”, a “genre”, it is an original. The New York publishing cartel does not take chances on “originals”. I am not a product of the American grad school MFA pipeline.

Agents “loved the writing” “appreciated the material” “enjoyed the well-developed characters” but (and the following are by far the two most common responses) “…I do not have time for a special project like this” “…I can’t give a project like this the attention it deserves to see it published.” What is it agents do, if they don’t have time to be an agent? “No publisher in New York will even ask to read it” one honest agent told me, and when I inquired why, he said “Traditional publishing is in paroxysms of decline and panic and does not know how to save itself…”

Okay…so now what? An agent-friend for over twenty years, semi-retired now, agreed about the decline, “We are in a revolution in publishing, self-publishing is not defeat, it is an exciting avenue to amazing new ebook and other markets. You don’t know how many other authors, well-known, well-published authors can’t find a traditional publisher and I have suggested to them: self-publish. So, yes, do the research, self-publish, you believe in this work, don’t you?”

I believe in this work.

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