Intelligence, tenacity and wit only seems to get better with age and my client, Alexandra Alissandratou, is testament to that credo. Over 70 years young, this ingenue is using her creative genius to forge new ground: the world of blogging. A retired literature professor with accolades a mile long, Alexandra decided to humble herself and admit she needed help. Today’s new technologies seemed to baffle her and create unnecessary writer’s block. Tapping into the tigress within, Ms. Alissandratou has applied the skills learned in our weekly lessons with the fortitude of a wise, humble soul matched with the energy of a teenager. It’s been powerful to watch one of my older clients move through challenges and commit to the process. She has seen tremendous success in a very short time, all because of her dedication, hard-work and open mind. She is the epitome of “it’s never too late” and I think we could all learn something from this delightful spirit. I knew I wanted to start featuring my clients on my blog and of course, she was my very first sit down.
When someone asks you "What do you do?" How do you normally respond?
A retired academic and writer. When asked what I’m writing, I tell them about the blog and they say, “That’s fantastic!” I then use that opportunity to tell them about my long term goals and my novel.
So...Tell me about the novel!
It is a historical romance about the fall of Thessaloniki, in Northern Greece, in 1430 to the Ottomans, as well as the later fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the same. I’ve been fascinated with this time in history since I was 13 years old when I lived and studied in Greece. When I was leaving to meet my mother in Paris, I was gifted two volumes written by the Greek historical novelist Penelelope Delta: For the Fatherland and The Time of the Bulgar-Slayer. Shortly after my arrival in France, I developed acute appendicitis. While bedridden I devoured both books. They still have significant meaning for me today and I like to go back to them from time to time.
About three years ago I was sitting with a legal pad in front of me. All of a sudden I started writing and these characters began coming to life. The academic in me told me that it had to be historically correct, but I decided to build a fantasy with historical reference. I’ve just finished my outline and I’m working slowly toward my goal. The blog is a great outlet in the interim and helps me perfect my craft. It also starts to bring light to the work I’m doing for any interested reader!
You are truly an example of 'it's never too late' by taking on a huge venture after 70. Why now? What motivated you to move forward with your writing?
Back in 2008 I had been reading about the Byzantine Empire, self-teaching myself. I also was involved with the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute, an arm of the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley. The Director approached me to think about teaching a course about women in literature and I came out with an outline immediately. BUT, I found I was guilty of totally ignoring the Byzantine Empire. Though I wanted to include this important era of history, I didn’t know where to start. The Director referred me to a graduate student who was quite knowledgeable. And then I took off from there and expanded that list.
I’ve always wanted to take time to write, but didn’t really make space for it until after I retired. Now that I’m writing I want to put some organization around the process, hence the reason I was open to the suggestion by my daughter to work with a coach. I am fascinated by history, but most importantly about Byzantine women. Unfortunately you don’t hear a lot about them in the historical record, so I’m having great fun collecting as much research as possible to provide fodder for my characters.
What advice do you have for anyone who is in your age range?
I think it’s important to surround yourself with intelligent people as well as wonderful friends. I also found it useful to create a sacred space where I could focus on my vocation. I have my office and my extensive home library where I can pull books from the shelf for reference. Truly, it’s about choosing how you’d like to fill your time at this age. Writing gives me purpose. I highly recommend that anyone who is feeling a bit lost or lonely to find something that inspires them and makes them feel young again. Luckily enough I also get to be surrounded by my two delightful grandsons who keep me on my toes and give so much purpose to every day.
What's the best lesson you've ever learned? The best lesson you ever taught?
The best lesson came from my mother who taught me that once you start something you have to finish it. It’s a mantra that still lives in my head and probably what is influencing me to finish my novel! The best lesson I probably ever taught was to my own daughter (started when she was 7), the idea of free will. I wanted her to understand that she alone is responsible for her actions and her destiny. Actions have consequences, good or bad. It has served her well! She has built a life that makes her happy. I’m so proud of her!
Another lesson I’m told was a good one, came from my students. They told me that I taught them not only about writing but about the language of love and compassion. In my classroom, students were very free to express themselves without judgement, however they were taught to take into consideration the person next to them, to not offend.
I also told them that they could disagree with me! However, just as I defended my opinion, so, too, were they challenged to defend their ideas. The best teacher needs to be open to the possibility that they might be wrong from time to time. At the same time, the classroom is the ideal venue for the exchange of ideas, for debate.
What excites you? What turns you off?
What excites me the most is watching my grandchildren grow and watching their own excitement over accomplishments. The other day they had completed their task of reading 10 library books and were overjoyed to run off to go get their prize. I’m also inspired by new ideas, new ways of thinking. New Years 2019 I was in Istanbul visiting a friend. We were invited to brunch at her sister’s house, where we were surrounded by some young professionals in their 40s. They started talking about technology and a healthy discourse ensued. I felt like I was back in the classroom, though this time I was not the professor.
A turn off for me would be any empty discussion. I’m not a good cocktail party person. I can remember a party where I sat down in an armchair and pulled a book from a shelf. Finally my date came looking for me. I’m not good at small talk. Meaningful talk feeds my soul.
How do you overcome writer's block?
I have my accountability coach (Jackie Stone) and essentially it’s about forcing myself to sit down and write. Jackie offers tons of encouragement on our weekly calls. She also taught me about Morning Pages (which I do on my computer) where you just free write every morning. I call it my data dump. This helps me clear my thoughts so I can get organized and write more clearly. I think the toughest thing to do is write unedited. I like to try to edit as I go, but I’m constantly reminded by my coach that my writing is always a work in process. It’s going to be messy in the beginning. Letting myself truly be free seems to move the blocks. Actually, this is what I taught, but somehow Jackie had to remind me to practice what I’ve preached.
Why did you decide to hire a marketing/accountability coach?
My daughter presented me with the idea and she convinced me to just set up a call to get an idea about what Jackie had to offer. I did and I realized I needed help getting organized. I also needed some help with technology. I really wanted to start a blog but didn’t know where to start! Now Jackie wants me to branch out onto social media...and I’m trying to stay open to the idea. I owe Jackie for being a huge help in overcoming my own vulnerability and my inner critic. Sometimes that can be my biggest block. Jackie is always so supportive, helping me find the courage to expose my most vulnerable side. It’s been terrifying and exhilarating.
What has been your favorite part of the process? Your least favorite?
I can’t say I have a least favorite part, but sometimes I rebel. For example, there was a poem that was very personal to me and I felt quite vulnerable about exposing it. Jackie had me watch Brene Brown’s video on vulnerability and it encouraged me to post my writing. To this day that poem is my most read post. I’m grateful I listened and opened myself up.
My favorite part is the challenge. I love how Jackie pushes me to be a better writer and to overcome obstacles. Recently she challenged me with Haiku. I really wasn’t a fan of the medium, but it was a very powerful exercise and now I’m having a lot of fun with it! She also required that I give her an outline of my novel as I was feeling scattered. Within an hour I had written a whole outline chapter by chapter. The professor has become the student! I used to require my literature students to write outlines: I had to laugh when it became my very own homework.
Would you recommend Jackie (Bubblegum and Duct Tape) to your friends?
Absolutely! I think her a great fit for anyone who is serious about their craft. Though primarily a marketing coach, she is an excellent accountability coach. I wanted to get serious about writing and I knew that I needed to show up, find accountability and become organized. She has helped me achieve many of my goals in a short time. This has been a very humbling experience. I’ll admit, as an academic I thought I knew it all. It’s been extremely beneficial for me to work with someone else, and especially someone younger, who offers fresh ideas and insights into technology.
Again, I’d happily recommend Jackie, she’s delightful; however, you must be committed and serious about working with her. She expects you to come prepared to each session, but she shows up as well. It’s hard work, but so absolutely rewarding.
What's the best way to become part of your tribe? How do we stay in touch?
You can find me on my website - www.alexandraalissandratou.com and please sign up for my newsletter! (Shameless plug suggested by my marketing coach!) I decided to go back to my maiden name for my pen name. I’m being challenged to be my most authentic self, and going back to my Greek roots (Alissandratou rather than Alissandratos) felt like the best fit. With my coach’s encouragement you’ll find me on social media soon enough. According to Jackie, you can become a social media superstar at any age! I love her positive energy.