Midlife Transformation – Using Old Letters to Create New Words

Calligraphy by Cristina Acosta
New words with old letters © Cristina Acosta

Midlife transformation is inevitable for women. Menopause is irrefutable and for most women, a defining experience. Whether a woman has had children or not, reproduction and nurturing as defining metaphors in our lives are now replaced with reinvention and renewal.

And all of that change and midlife transformation requires a new vocabulary of a sort. A reinvention of new words from the same old letters we’ve been working with our entire lives. An anagram for renewal, real and new can define this new phase of our lives if we allow ourselves the opportunity.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of reinvention quite a bit as I’m in the middle of the biggest reinvention phase of my life (so far). Much of my life as I knew it has changed these past few years and I’m starting again. A situation that is exhilarating and energizing as well as depressing and scary.

While trying to  stay focused on exhilarating and energizing this past week, I found myself visualizing calligraphy. For about ten years of my art career, I painted signs, paying for my art degree at the University of Oregon and then transitioning into a career as a billboard lettering and mural artist until the trade ended with the advent of computers. One of the foundations of sign painting is calligraphy, the hand drawn art of letterforms.

I found myself thinking about the twists and turns of line I could create with the motions of my body transforming brush and paint into meaning. There is a lovely sensual pleasure to brush calligraphy, a quality that varies with each letter and each grouping of letters as they form words. Surprisingly, actually feeling the visual forms a word takes enriches the feeling the word invokes, even when the feeling of creating the word with line is counter to the meaning of the word.

Those memories in mind, I realize that the midlife transformation I am going through now offers me the opportunity to reform the letters of my life. Those letters being the skills, experiences, wisdom and attitudes I’ve developed over the years, and re-ordering them into new words, creating new meanings for myself.

New words and meanings denote a new reality. Here are a few examples: I have been making art, painting or drawing for decades, but now I have different thoughts and feelings about the process and different (fewer) expectations . I have been cooking for even longer, filling in for my single mother of seven when I was a young teenager, working in restaurants, then being a homemaker and mother. But now, when I cook I see more than a quick meal or a beautiful spread, I understand the connections and spiritual qualities of food much differently than I have in the past. Life feels richer.

There is an old Zen proverb that goes something like this: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Midlife transformation can be a type of enlightenment, a time when the familiar meanings and perceptions of the shapes and forms of our lives transmute into new beginnings.