The end of August 2015 marks the 11 year anniversary of my father’s death. It is always an unusual time for me. I’m never quite sure how I’m “supposed” to feel. You see, I loved my father, but I long believed that to be a consequence of my nature rather than anything he’d done. In fact, until recently, I thought he’d taught me nothing about love.
Let me explain further.
My father suffered from serious mental illnesses (bipolar disorder and mild schizophrenia). Although he was prescribed medication, he rarely took it. To the outside world, he appeared to be fun-loving and carefree. To myself, and my triplet sisters, he was moody, demanding and volatile. I was a sensitive and shy child. As you can imagine, this was not a combination that resulted in closeness.
I know my father was aware of the lack of connection between us.
I know this, because, four months before he passed away, he came to me and apologized for being a bad father. He said if he could do it all again, he would have done things differently. When he asked if I forgave him, I said, “Yes”, and meant it. My father passed away, and life continued.
Events of recent months have made me reassess many issues from my past, including those related to my father. From what I understand, both of his parents were violent alcoholics, who smoked more than two chimneys could have. The parting gift they left him was lung cancer caused by years of passive smoking. He had his own unresolved emotional baggage due to his upbringing. I understand why he wasn’t able to love the way I needed him to. I’ve also come to understand that my father did teach me some valuable things about love.
He taught me:
*That understanding another, by seeing their wounds instead of their behavior, is an act of love.
*To never get to the end of your life and wish you’d loved differently.
*To tell people you love them before it’s too late.
*To show people you love them.
*That you cannot love others if you don’t love yourself first . . . and you cannot love yourself when emotional scars brick up your heart.
I am grateful for these lessons, even though it took me a while to notice them.
R.I.P. Vernon Douglas Crawford xxoo
I was 24, psychologically decimated from leaving my long term relationship, and living with my parents. For the first time in my life, I’d given up on the idea of true love. I retreated to a world that had always given me solace: the world of books.
Strolling through the aisles of a local book shop, none of the books appealed to me - another first. I was about to give up and leave, when I caught sight of one called, A Walk To Remember. I picked it up, flipped it over to the blurb, and realized it was a romance novel. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for love.
Or, so I thought.
As I was putting the book back on the shelf, I noted something else. The name of the author. Nicholas Sparks. A man. I stopped in my tracks, astounded. Since when did MEN write romance?
That intrigued me enough to buy it.
Later that night, I snuggled up in bed, hot chocolate in one hand, Nicholas Sparks in the other. By the early morning hours, I’d finished the book. It gave me hope, inspired me. I wanted more. I have read every one of his books since then (except The Notebook, but that's a topic for another blog).
Over the years, every time my heart splintered, and I wanted to give up, my faith in true love was restored by Nicholas Sparks, hot chocolate . . . and me.
I have reflected more on my time in an abusive relationship over the past 11 months than I did in the years that came after it. This has happened for various reasons, the most obvious being: writing and talking about my experiences after the recent release of my debut novel, See Her Run. Because the topic of domestic violence––an underlying theme in the book––was in my head so much of the time, I realized there was still emotional and psychological baggage to deal with. That is why I am writing this blog: in the hope that it will aid in healing that chapter of my life once and for all, as well as assist others reading this who might be going through a similar situation.
So, what have I learned from my reflections thus far?
First of all, I will never get that girl back. The one I was before him. The one who was too trusting for her own good with a lollipops and unicorns view of the world. For the most part, she is gone . . . and that is okay. I had to change. That relationship gave me a more balanced outlook on life and the world. A world that isn’t always fluffy, kind and well-intentioned. There are some people that will never have positive intentions toward you no matter how “good” you are to them. Sure, it was a hard way to learn that lesson, but, looking back, I’m not sure I would have learned it any other way. Having said that, there is one thing I still share with that girl: the belief that love can change the world, and the people in it.
Secondly, I cannot emphasize enough how vital it is that you keep your voice. I was rarely “allowed” to voice my opinion, needs or wants. It was all about him, all of the time. I became so used to it, I forgot I had my own. After leaving the relationship, it took years to figure out what I believed, and even longer to feel comfortable expressing those thoughts to other people. This is what it taught me: once somebody controls your voice, they control you. Speak your truth. Loud, proud, and often. Some people won’t like it, some people will outright hate it. Speak it anyway.
Thirdly, always believe what your heart tells you about your dreams. I hadn’t told anyone about my dream to be a writer. It felt like the holy-grail to me: a perfect and unattainable treasure. Yet, my heart refused to let it go. I finally worked up the courage to tell my ex-partner. His response? The PG version of what he said was, “Who do you think you are? Only smart people write books”. I was devastated. It seemed like the axis of the world had shifted and I was standing on the wrong side. I tried to persist with my dream, but his continued interference in my attempts at writing made me give up. Well, at least that’s what I made him believe. In reality, whenever he wasn’t home, I would write. I hid the pieces of paper in a box underneath the bed. He never knew. As you are reading this on my blog, you can see that I have indeed become a writer.
That leads me to my next point. Vulnerability. By confiding my secret dream, I opened up and exposed myself . . . and was shut down in the most humiliating way. It was not the only time. I could not cry, be sensitive, or show any hurt feelings in a way that was considered acceptable to him. Writing and speaking about my experiences has forced me to let go of the need to appear strong and unaffected in each moment. Even so, something I’ve noted that still needs work is knowing who to trust my vulnerable side with. I am confident I will get there.
Another issue I am still working through is the fact that somebody else’s opinion of me is not my business. My ex-partner said many nasty things about me––both privately and in front of others––and I took each one as gospel. I never thought to question his motives or the truth behind the words. Sometimes these memories are activated by the interactions I have with other people. I am learning to see them as opportunities to practise self-acceptance and discernment.
There have been many more things I have come to understand as a result of my reflections over the past 11 months, but the one that has shocked me the most is this: I forgive my ex-partner. For everything. There is not one cell in me that wishes him ill. In fact, wherever he is, I wish him well on his journey through life. I hope he learns to love himself, and others. It is the same wish I have for everybody.
P.S. Yes, I still have that box of papers J
Before I became a full-time romance author, I worked as a professional astrologer (with a focus on western, Arabic and Celtic astrology). I am also an amateur astronomer. The night sky, and the bright lights that dot it, have fascinated me for as long as I can remember.
For those with no astrology background, the planet known as “Venus” rules love, pleasure and relationships. There is an interesting 40 day celestial event coming up for this planet: Venus retrograde. As such, I couldn’t resist bringing two of my favorite subjects – love and astrology – together for this blog.
What does “retrograde” mean?
Due to the orbit of Venus (and other planets), there are times when the path of the planet appears to stop and travel backward. This illusion is known as retrograde, or redux, movement.
When does this cycle occur?
The Venus retrograde cycle happens roughly every 18 months. This year (2015), it will begin on 26th July and end on 6th September (AEST).
What is the main theme of Venus retrograde?
Evaluation of the true meaning of love (more on this below).
How is this likely to affect me?
To give you a specific answer to that, I would have to study your birth chart (please don’t email me requesting this, I don’t have the time!). What I can say is this: Venus will retrograde through Virgo and Leo. If, like myself, your sun, moon or rising (also known as the ascendant) is in these two signs, the retrograde movement is most likely to affect you on a personal level.
But how I hear you screaming?
By making you re-examine yourself, your values, your relationships and, of course, the way you view love. You could discover that what you thought you knew about love is wrong. Or, you might find you have outgrown a particular relationship. Perhaps what you wanted isn’t what you wanted after all? The people in your life can seem to change before your eyes. You will ask “what does love mean?” more than usual. All of this is Venus shifting your perception.
What about those with no Virgo or Leo sun, moon or rising?
In general (regardless of star sign), there can be disappointments in love and/or your love life slows down. It is a time of lower social interaction and greater emphasis on the self, and what an individual wants from their romantic relationships.
I believe this has already started happening to me, why is this?
Those sensitive to planetary movements will have felt a shift around the 6th June. This is expected to last until October 9th. If this is you, try to remember that it will be easier if you are honest with yourself and others.
To sum up, Venus retrograde is a time when you are forced to look within yourself and find the meaning of love. The question is: will you have the courage to apply these new found answers to your life?
I will end this blog the way I used to end my astrology feature column: wishing everyone a happy Venus retrograde with the stars!
Clammy palms, heart dancing a fox trot, knocking knees. The questions: Will I make a fool of myself? Will I end up standing alone in the corner? Will they want to talk to me?
Classic first date nerves, right?
I have been to half a dozen writing festivals as an author and experienced all of the above symptoms before I even stepped through the door!
No matter what anybody tells you, it does not get easier with practice (again, similar to dating).
Knowing this, I prepared myself for my attendance at this year's WriteFest, held annually in Bundaberg, Australia, the same way I would for a date: by pasting on a confident smile and faking it.
As I took my initial step into the building, I held my breath. It released with a rush of relief when I was greeted with a warm smile and welcoming wave by an acquaintance, fellow author Shelley Russell Nolan.
I couldn't help making the connection to first dates, when the man I was meeting had reacted the same way. It felt even more like dating once the awkward small talk and "getting to know you" was out of the way, and I realized I was having fun.
The festival progressed with a variety of guest speakers and presenters.
First up was fellow romance author, Shannon Curtis. Her talk focused on plot development and novel structure. I found her guidelines to be applicable and useful to aspiring, emerging and established authors.
During the lunch break, I spoke with a number of people I'd met at previous writing festivals as well as some new faces. The most memorable was a member of the Bundaberg Writer's Group. I've chosen to keep her name anonymous for her privacy. She wished to discuss my debut novel, See Her Run. A story with strong domestic violence themes. She told me she was aware of my history as a survivor of domestic violence and shared her own tale.
I was also asked to jump into a photo with Bundaberg Regional Councillor, Lynne Forgan!
After lunch, I met and chatted with the talented and approachable Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect). His talk on screenwriting for authors was not only informative, but relevant to the writing process. It made me see novel writing in a new and interesting way.
Overall, my experience at WriteFest 2015 was a heady mixture of nerve-wracking, exciting and fun. The way any good date should be.
*Click on the links below for more information on:
Shelley Russell Nolan
Bundaberg Writer's Group
Bundaberg Regional Council
I can’t tell you what it was that made me leave that night. Nothing abnormal happened. I was making dinner––honey mustard chicken, his favorite––when he strolled into the kitchen. He opened the fridge door and looked inside. A few seconds later, it slammed shut so hard, the fridge shook. He was in my face before I could take another breath. The yelling began. He wasn’t pleased with the way I’d wrapped the leftovers from lunch. His face was red, his eyes were fireballs, his mouth was twisted. I’d seen it so many times before. And, after too many years together, I knew what was coming.
Yet, for a reason I still don’t understand, a deep calm penetrated my soul. I remember I stared at him and whispered, “I’m leaving you.”
He didn’t take the news well.
After a scene upstairs, he said he was taking something from the car’s engine so I couldn’t go, and stormed downstairs. Banging and crashing sounds echoed through the floorboards. I knew the lower level would soon match the destruction he’d left around me.
My heart pounded. How could I get away if I had no car? At night? The neighbors wouldn’t help, as usual. I began to panic. If I was still there when he came back upstairs, I knew the situation would get worse.
Again, I can’t really explain what happened next.
I felt the same deep calm I’d experienced in the kitchen . . . then something inside me yelled, “Run!”
I grabbed a bag, stuffed the bare essentials inside and crept toward the front door.
Outside, the night sky seemed blacker than usual. I couldn’t see well even with the street lamps lighting the way. The noises made by the wind made me think I was being chased.
That was the night I learned to run.
And I didn’t stop there. I ran, figuratively speaking, from every other man that came into my life, especially if commitment or intimacy seemed probable. Most didn’t make it past the first date. None made it to the third. I became reconciled to the idea that I’d be single forever.
Three years passed that way. Then, one of my sisters arranged a blind date for me. I agreed, thinking I would give dating one last try and be done with it. His name was John. It took about half an hour before I noticed something different about him. I liked him. Really liked him. He asked me out again. And again. He made it past the third date. It was official. We were ‘dating’. Friends started making jokes about love and marriage.
That’s when it all went wrong.
After another fantastic date, the reality of commitment closed in on me. My lungs squeezed the air from my chest, my heart raced and my mind spat ‘what-if’s’ at me so fast I couldn’t think. I had a full blown panic attack.
Of course, I reacted the only way I knew how: I ran . . . straight to one of my sister’s.
After making me a chamomile tea and letting me freak out, she asked, “And how is he different from (ex’s name)?”
That question made me stop. The more I talked with her, the clearer I saw things. My sister asked me to give John one more chance before I made a decision about calling things off. I’m so glad I listened to her.
Less than three months later, we were at a lighthouse overlooking the sea. The weather was perfect: no clouds, soft breeze and bright sun. He popped onto one knee and proposed, with strangers smiling and looking on. I said, “Yes,” without hesitation.
That was the day I stopped running.
And I haven’t since. Turns out, it was easier than I’d expected.
I was nine when I wrote my first love story. It was about a boy in my class at school who I was head over heels for at the time. He was tall (for a fellow nine year old), tan and blond. I won’t mention his name because he is now a well-known Australian Triathlete, Olympian and Iron man! I know, I couldn't have written a more perfect romance hero, right? What I will say is it ended with him confessing his undying love for me and vice versa.
Of course this didn’t happen in real life, but it didn’t matter, I’d developed the writing bug. My teachers would complain in my report cards that I was an excellent student who had a tendency to “daydream” and “stare out the window”. Little did they know I was developing plot twists.
Over the years, I continued to scribble stories and ideas in notepads, but didn’t consider attempting a full length novel until I turned seventeen. As it does, life got in the way and I pushed plans of novel writing aside.
Until a series of dreams in 2011 changed that.
For three nights in a row, parts of a story played out in my dreams. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The characters, the town, the story was so real to me, and because of the subject matter––domestic violence, which I have experienced––I felt a particular affinity to it.
I told my supportive husband that I thought the dreams were a book and needed to be written down.
He said, “So write it down.”
My childhood scribbling returned. So did the daydreamer and window gazer. By the end of 2012 I had a full length manuscript of about 84000 words. Ah. But what to do with it? I sent it off to publishers and agents and entered competitions. Any feedback I received I used to improve my manuscript. I attended workshops and conferences, booked myself in for master classes and read books on the craft of writing.
In 2014, I applied for, and received, an interview with the Commissioning Editor at Pan Macmillan. I was ecstatic. As a result of that interview, I was offered a contract for the release of my book through their digital imprint, Momentum. I thought I would hit the clouds I was so high. Never in my childhood imaginings did I think this would happen. But it has. On 26th February 2015, my debut novel, See Her Run, the result of those dreams in 2011, will be released through all digital formats.
There are some people who don’t believe in dreams. After reading this, I hope they do.
Everybody knows that Valentine’s Day evolved from the martyrdom of St. Valentine right? Right? Well, not exactly. The real origins of this celebration have a deeper, more ancient, and Pagan link, which has nothing to do with love and romance.
In ancient Greece, the period around the middle of February celebrated the Hieros Gamos (sacred marriage) of the Deities, Hera and Zeus. Not to be outdone, the Romans had Lupercalia, a fertility festival in honor of the Goddess-wolf Lupa, and Lupercus, the God of wolves and shepherds, which was observed around the 13th to 15th of February each year. Other parts of Italy celebrated ‘Juno Februa’, a month long festival dedicated to Juno, the Goddess of marriage.
When the Holy Roman Empire adopted Catholicism as its official religion in 313AD, many of the pseudo converted Pagans continued to celebrate Lupercalia, the Hieros Gamos and Juno Februa in secret. To combat this, in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius established Saint Valentine’s Day as a kind of compromise.
Still, the strong romantic, rather than fertility and marriage, based connections to the day were more or less unknown. So, why do we associate love and romance with this day in modern times?
We can thank poet Geoffrey Chaucer for that. His 1382 ‘Parlement of Foules’ (the Parliament of Fowls) is the earliest existing evidence that links Valentine’s Day with romance, courtship and the Deities of love:
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there his mate to take . . .
I will not serve fair Venus nor Cupid,
In truth, as yet, in no manner of way . . .”
As to why Chaucer made this connection, nobody knows for certain, though there has been plenty of speculation.
The next, and arguably most famous, reference to a romantic Valentine’s Day after this is over two hundred years later in William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, where it states:
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day . . . and I a maid at your window, to be your Valentine”.
By the 1800’s the exchange of love notes and cards on Valentine’s Day was the norm. From here, the day continued to gain popularity, along with the link to romance, until it became the celebration of fuzzy teddy bears, helium-filled balloons and chocolate roses that we observe today.
However you decide to mark Valentine’s Day, whether the old way, the new way, or not at all, I wish you a happy one.
Like a rose, love comes in many varieties – and is all around you, waiting to be plucked. The ancients knew this. They wrote about it, performed plays about it and debated it. Modern life, the media, culture and outdated religious views have combined to skew what we think about love and how we experience it. We are told that one person (‘The One’) must fulfill every emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual, physical and intellectual need we have. Being aware of the different types of love can help you think about it in new and fulfilling ways, and change your experience of it.
So, what are the seven types of love?
Eros is sexual love. Whenever the word ‘sex’ is mentioned in regards to love, most people think of a fiery, passionate, can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you kind of feeling and, whilst there is that aspect to it, according to Plato, ‘divine Eros’ is that deep connection you obtain through sexual union. It is closer to Tantra, felt within the body but also the soul. It is not experienced through sexual attraction based on a conception of physical beauty (what Plato called ‘vulgar Eros’) or one night stands, or even sexual release. It is a soul connection deepened by the act of sexual union. Eros fills a sexual and spiritual need.
2. Agape (pronounced a-gop-aye)
Agape is spiritual love, based on a sense of connection to all people and/or things. This type of love sacrifices for the greater good. The ‘other’ is considered as much as the ‘self’. It is not self-deprecating or abusive, but rather, the united ‘all for one, one for all’ comradeship of the Musketeers and the ‘Metta’ (universal love) of Buddhism. Having said that, it must be noted: religion has nothing to do with agape because it is not dependent upon belief in any particular Deity or dogma in order to feel it. Agape fills a spiritual need.
3. Philia (also called Platonic)
Philia is the fondness you feel toward those you consider close friends. Sex (i.e ‘friends with benefits’) is not a feature of this type of love. At its highest incarnation, it is what the Irish call ‘Anam cara’ (soul friendship). With an Anam cara you can ‘be yourself’ and share your innermost desires, dreams and fears without judgment. Philia can develop into Eros, but it is not to be confused with the distorted sexual compulsions often found with this suffix (i.e. necrophilia, pedophilia). Philia fills an intellectual, mental and emotional need.
4. Storge (pronounced store-gay)
Storge is familial love. That innate bond or tie we feel toward family members (immediate and extended), our children, other people’s children and even pets. Most times it comes without any real effort (though sometimes it must be worked on to remain strong or develop). The level of storge bond one experiences varies, and may not be reciprocated at the same rate; different family members will elicit different experiences of a bond. There is nothing wrong with this and is normal. Furthermore, although storge is ‘familial love’, it is not a necessity to have blood family in order to feel it. Many of us have people we meet with whom we ‘click’ instantly. This is storge – an innate bond or tie – as much as anything felt by those we share blood. Storge fills an emotional and physical need (note: ‘physical’ does not mean ‘sexual’. It refers to non-sexual touch such as hugging).
As the name suggests, pragma is pragmatic love. I like you because you can offer ‘x, y, z’ to me and I can offer you ‘a, b, c’. Even though it is unromantic in nature, and based on practical, mutually beneficial, business-like considerations, it is possible to have a fulfilling, long lasting, committed romantic relationship with this type of love. However, for most people, this is where we place networking, acquaintances and business associates with we feel a connection deeper than ‘stranger’ but less than ‘friend’ (philia). Pragma fills an intellectual, mental and sometimes even emotional need.
Philautia is love of the self. Again, when you say that, people think ‘selfishness’. Philautia is not about being selfish, it is having a healthy (i.e. no egotistic or narcissistic) sense of value directed toward the self. One cannot experience any of the other types of love in a meaningful way without first having philautia. Loving yourself will help you understand what you need where the other types of love are concerned.
7. Amour courtois
Amour courtois (courtly love) is my favorite type! It is the outward expression of feelings of admiration, connection and respect for one person by another. Romance is definitely a part of this, though not in the way most people think of it (i.e. a man buys a woman roses and chocolates). In the middle ages, where the idea of courtly love originated, both people showed their feelings for the other in a tangible, visual way. For instance, knights would go off on adventures in their beloved’s name and bring her back treasures; Damsel’s would embroider pieces of their hair into handkerchiefs (there’s some ideas for Valentine’s Day!). It is not sexual (that’s Eros), but can certainly be physical. Intimate caressing, hand holding and kissing fall under this category. Numerous studies have shown that all human beings cannot thrive without positive physical contact. Therefore, amour courtois fills a physical as well as emotional need.
Now you are aware of the variety of love available to you, go out and pluck it with both hands. And remember: love more, love often, love unconditionally.
Bruce Lee was a prolific writer. He wrote letters, jotted ideas down in notepads and even wrote in the margins of books (I know, shock horror for an author right?). The master of martial arts is known for many quotes; and some are relevant to the art of writing – in fact, if you Google it you will find a top ten list of Bruce Lee quotes for writers (see picture below if you are interested). However, the one I find the best is this one:
‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is not; add what is uniquely your own’.
Let me break this quote down into three simple steps.
Step one: Absorb what is useful.
In other words, learn from other writers. What has made them successful? What techniques, style and voice have they used? Read books by successful authors on the art of writing (I recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’). Take what you find useful and incorporate it into your own craft.
Step two: Discard what is not.
To achieve this, you do the reverse of the first step. All of us have read books that we hated. Why? What was ‘wrong’ with it? How did the author write? Was it their plot? Style? Word usage? Book length? Figure out what it is you dislike in other books then be mindful of making those same errors in your own writing.
Step three: Add what is uniquely your own.
This is the hardest of the three steps (I’m sure Bruce Lee would have agreed). How do you add what is uniquely your own? To answer, ask yourself the following question: what comes naturally to you when you write? Everybody is unique, even in their writing. How are you unique? Look over your writing, compare it to other authors. Where do you differ? Is it style? The way you use point of view? Your dialogue? The way you plot your stories? The characters, or lack of, that you use? Do you add something that other authors don’t? Do you discard something that other authors don’t? Sit down and discover what makes your writing unique.
As a final note, remember another Bruce Lee quote: ‘Even today, I dare not say that I have reached a state of achievement. I’m still learning, for learning is boundless’.
The journey for the writer is never finished. You will learn, absorb, discard and add for as long as you write, for the art of writing too is boundless.
About A.K. Leigh
A.K. Leigh is an international-selling romance author, identical triplet, writing instructor, incurable romantic, love guru, self-love advocate, amateur mystic, mother, sometimes blogger and vlogger, and trauma survivor.