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Today I turned 50!


The years that you remember only through photos.

The years you remember only through photos.

Most of us don’t remember our very first birthdays, and even though our family may have marked those events with a significant birthday bash and the photos are a testament to the wonderful time we had catching bubbles and licking our birthday cake and opening gifts our parents got us on eBay or Flyp, we rely on photos to remind us just how much fun it was. After that, most birthdays tend to blend in with each other, unless you’re Jewish and then you have a Bat or Bar Mitzvah to mark a birthday, which in the Jewish tradition is considered a rite of passage. After that, we tend to remember the significant birthdays that symbolize a milestone in our lives such as our 20th birthday, 30th, 40th and so forth. Notice that I purposefully ignored the Sweet 16 and 18th Birthdays and the reason is that I never had a Sweet 16, because growing up in Israel it was not a custom that we followed. Although birthday number 18 is definitely a milestone, again, when you’re about to start your two-year obligatory military service, freedom and emancipation have to take a back seat for a while and this gives the celebration a whole new meaning.

And it all happened because of these two folks.

A sad end to my 20s.

However, when I turned 20 I don’t recall any particular feeling; I wasn’t exceptionally happy or sad, and there’s a good reason for it. I was 20 for heaven’s sake and I felt invincible; I also had my whole life ahead of me, and I was positive that I could achieve absolutely anything. It’s the kind of naïvete that’s concordant with your early years and the excitement associated with the sublime and unexplored.  It’s the reason we never bother to put on sunscreen or perhaps eat healthy, because wrinkles will never happen to us and we think that we will always weigh 114 lb., and health issues allude us. Yeah right! In retrospect, my early twenties were nothing special; I worked for EL AL as a flight attendant and after getting the travel bug out of my system (temporarily), I settled into law school in Manchester, England, and earned a law degree. The school years were miserable, I didn’t enjoy them one bit. During my 20s I got married to an American, and moved to Buffalo, NY. As it turned out, the guy was more in love with his mother than he was with me, so that didn’t last long. But I also gave birth to Maya, and of course that makes the latter part of my 20s very special.

Somber 30s

Somber beginning to my 30s.

When I turned 30, it was a somber time in my life and a very cheerless birthday. I was served with divorce papers only a few days earlier—what timing. This was the end of my innocence, a harsh lesson in human nature and I felt disillusioned by life in general. But during my 30s I also began to heal from my divorce, and symbolically speaking it was almost as though I was trying to shed off old skin because I wanted to have nothing to do with the old Ilana and that included ditching my legal career. It was a bold decision and one that changed the course of my life forever. But I don’t think it would have happened had I not received a formal letter from NBC’s sensor who read a spec script that I wrote for one of the top shows at the time: Seinfeld. In the letter (I still have it), I was told to pack my bags and move to LA .

Once I moved, the show was cancelled and nobody bothered to answer my calls any longer. However, that was not enough of a wakeup call and it took me another twenty years to realize how things really work in Hollywood as well as in the literary world. One has to be recommended by someone in the industry in order for a literary agent to even consider reading their work . . .  the rest is history, albeit I continued to work hard and create a body of work, which included The Original Insult Company featuring 210 insult and passion cards, and I was known as the Queen of Insults or the Queen of Passion—I would actually get phone calls asking to speak with the Queen of Passion. I worked together with my sister Sharon and those years represented a stimulating and harmonious time in my life. This project garnered me regular radio appearances across the country and even an appearance on the Howard Stern Show. I also created The Venetians—a beach talk show that I wrote and hosted; was a collection of different shows that I wrote and directed, and it even included The Dr. Leon Show about advances in medicine. All this was much before YouTube, and I was definitely ahead of my time.

Just Maya and me.

Just Maya and me.

So I managed a few moments of success, even a face-to-face with executives at Paramount in order to discuss my show Youthtruth, and in a very mysterious manner they decided to shelf the idea, but then it came out in the same format as a whole new show altogether and I was not included. The thing is that it would have been totally different had someone actually represented me during those years, and my experiences would have probably been more positive than negative. However, these experiences kept me focused on the prize even though I remained on the periphery of the entertainment world. I thought that since I had a law degree, someone would see the value in hiring me and giving me a chance. Uh-uh, no way, even though I was pursued by a few people who would have helped me with my career, but sleeping with them did not appeal to me so much. I don’t have room to begin mentioning all the screenplays and stories and school plays that I wrote and directed during my 30s but phew—I had accomplished so much.


The man of my dreams.

The highlight of my 30s was meeting Greg.

A highlight from my 30s was meeting Greg on Jdate, and when realizing the random nature of our finding each other, it makes it all the more spectacular. He has been the one and only man to love me just the way I am. He supports me in every way and loves my writing and always helps with all the complicated technical issues that arise from being an independent writer. He even cooks breakfast every Sunday and serves it to me in bed. Okay, it’s only egg on toast and he’s never tried anything new, but the way that yolk oozes on my piece of toast is absolutely perfect–and with his expert sprinkling of salt and pepper, and toasting the bread to my liking, this egg dish is quite delectable.

40th birthday celebration at the Winn Buffet.

Celebrating my 40th birthday.

When I turned 40, I don’t think that I spent too much time thinking about it; however, I remember the day quiet vividly because I was one month shy of giving birth to Jack. The way I chose to celebrate it says a lot about my mind frame at the time; I asked to go to the Wynn Buffet, where Sharon joined us and we sat and ate for three whole hours.  We took our time eating—it’s easy when one trip meant a lonely slice of tomato with perhaps one small dollop of chocolate pudding on the side. But we had so much fun talking and eating and eating and talking that it was one of the nicer birthdays I’ve had. My 40s were also very productive years, and I think that I suffered from fatigue for the most part because Jack was not an easy baby. It was also the first time that I realized that I had aged. I remember how I felt when I woke up one morning to the sight of bags under my eyes—I was horrified.  I also realized that no amount of makeup can make you look as good as before, and that no matter how you dress and how you do your hair, you just don’t look as fresh and young as in your 30s.

Just so damn tired.

So tired during the early years of Jack.

It was definitely a transition. I used this time to continue to create; I wrote and directed a play that appeared at The Arts Factory and I self-published all of my books. I decided that I had absolutely no patience for rejection, and there was no reason to ever have to deal with naysayers or people who ignore me. I also learned to age with grace and accept all the physical changes wholeheartedly. I also started writing about aging, and one of my biggest pleasures is knowing how I’ve managed to help so many other women at a time that some may consider scary and unfair.

As the time neared my 50th birthday I became very retrospective and very unsure about how I felt. It’s a huge milestone—you’ve lived for half a century after all.  You suddenly realize that you’re much closer to death than to your birth, and I couldn’t shake out of my head the idea that when Jack celebrates his 50th I will be 90. In my mind it was an unwelcomed number, so mostly it was going to be a negative transition. And all this, even though I had spent ten years writing about embracing one’s age and aging with grace. To be fair, my negative thoughts had nothing to do with my physical appearance and more to do with what I had managed to accomplish in 50 years. I didn’t reach my goals at all, and those included getting some sort of recognition from industry professionals. I wanted to be represented by an agent and see one of my screenplays on the Golden Screen. I wanted to walk into a theater in order to experience the reaction of an audience to something that I had written. I wanted to be picked up by a traditional publisher so that my work would reach a larger audience—none of which happened.

I felt mentally worn out, and I was consumed with regret. I began to second-guess everything that I had done. I was afraid that I had wasted my time and I panicked. I also tried to imagine my life as an attorney and all those what-ifs bombarded me day and night. There was very little sleep during these last few months.


Fully committed to my kids.

Always dedicated to my kids.

When I shared my thoughts with Greg, he looked at me as though I had turned mad. He reminded me of my commitment to my children and everything that I had instilled in them in order to make them happy, clever and talented individuals. And so many times women, especially, tend to overlook the important role they’ve had in their children’s lives.  But I needed to know about my professional life, was I a failure or a success? And how does one measure success anyhow? I asked. Is it all about income or recognition, what the hell determines success? Greg told me that success is measured by the value that I’ve created in other people’s lives. And I think that for the first time this was an answer that resonated with me. I felt a sense of relief actually.

Also during this time, I received a beautiful letter from my uncle Ami whereby he explained the significance of every age according to the Jewish tradition. Apparently, once reaching 50, you usher in the age of wisdom and as such you can now rest a little and enjoy your new role of advisor.  At this stage one has already experienced it all: there is more understanding, knowledge, emotional maturity, family and a deeper understanding of man’s soul.

This makes a whole lot of sense doesn’t it? I think that my 50th birthday will be a reason to celebrate, and it’s also a reason for my parents to celebrate.  It’s definitely solidified a few thoughts; it’s forced me to take a long breath and take stock of it all. I know what’s important and I have a better sense of who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life, but most importantly I know how I want to live the rest of my life. I cherish my family and my friendships, some of which have carried on since my childhood years in Israel and have overcome such great distances. I realize that success is not measured by one’s career and only by the quality of life that you have led, and this further translates into so many different things.

And it all happened because of these two.

And it’s all because of these two.

When the clock strikes 12:00 a.m., I realize that there will be no significant change, I will still look the same, but I believe that something magical will happen as I have spent a lot of time pondering questions surrounding my life. I think that when I wake up tomorrow morning I will want to celebrate and make more memories with the people who matter to me the most, and I will continue to create because it’s part of my identity. I believe that as long as I feel good about myself, getting older won’t matter as much especially because most of the angst is in our own head anyway. Turning 50 is not the end of the world.















Poetry and Prejudice


A Rembrant

A Rembrandt (photo credit, Levinsky).


Old Poetry Similar Ideas

How interesting to read old poetry and learn about the prevailing attitudes towards youth and beauty through this art form. We’re all familiar with paintings by the Masters that depict full-figured women as their objects of beauty, so in a way, it’s strange that when reading old poetry the notion of acceptance that you might assume as commonplace years ago, isn’t generally reinforced by most of the old poets. Wider hips and a protruding belly were considered beautiful enough to be immortalized in paintings, but a woman’s age remained an essential component of her desirability and usefulness. In those poems time is the enemy of beauty and love.

To the Virgins

In Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem titled “To the Virgins to Make Much Out of Time,” the theme is about making the most out of life and seizing the day; although, I can also see a little more to the poem’s initial positive stance. Taking into account the era and women’s inferior standing in society, I can’t help but think that Herrick remains steadfast to preconceived notions of beauty and aging. In this poem he emphasizes the need to act fast before the passage of time, “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may”—a nagging reminder of a woman’s precarious position with respect to time that we never see when mentioning men. “And this same flower that smiles to-day To-morrow will be dying”—this personification cuts straight to the point, and it emphasizes the fleeting nature of a woman’s beauty. If that were not enough reinforcement of the obvious, he goes on to say “That age is best which is the first When youth and blood are warmer“—a woman should take advantage of her youth and virginity if she ever wants to marry. And today, what’s different really? I remember that when I was single, my own grandmother would express a similar sentiment and tell me that I didn’t have much time left, and I was wasting my best years etc. Honestly, all I could do was giggle, she meant well and had married young and her own mother married at age eight! These days people tend to marry at an older age, at least in the West, and have kids in their forties, but with respect to work and career those archaic notions of age as a determining factor to one’s success, still hold true today, especially for women.

Married at 37 but too old as far as my granny's concernd.

Married at 37 but too old as far as my granny was concerned (photo credit, Levinsky).


You Never Can Be Old

Those of you who’ve read my novel The Diary of a Wrinkle may remember the Shakespeare quote in one of the opening pages of my book:

“To me, fair friend, you never can be old, For as you were when first your eye I eyed, Such seems your beauty still.”

In other words, in Sonnet 104 Shakespeare is saying that as far as he’s concerned his friend will never age; in his eyes he will always look just as beautiful as the day they met for the first time. Indeed a very powerful message.  He goes on to describe the transience of time but his love interest remains as green as before, “Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned, In process of the seasons have I seen; Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned, Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green.” Green coveys renewal and rebirth, youthfulness—the type of positive outlook we’d love to hear more often, I’m sure. We all want to be viewed as beautiful and relevant, regardless of age.

Shakespeare employed ambiguity in his writing, and he loved to tease his readers about his love interest’s identity. There is so much speculation about these sonnets and the identity of a young man he often addresses, or the true identity of a mistress whom scholars have called the Dark Lady, because he describes her with dark features and a dark nature. It’s widely believed that his love interest in Sonnet 104 is none other than a man, and in that case it’s just as interesting to see whether his generous ideas on beauty and aging differed with respect to women.

Fading Beauty

In Sonnet 18 we delight in his use of the sun as a metaphor to describe his beloved’s beauty, but the sun doesn’t quite compare to that beauty either as his love’s beauty is “more lovely and more temperate.” Shakespeare is concerned with the idea of fading beauty and he continues to distinguish between the unstable nature of the sun and his love’s beauty; it can be too hot, too dim, the season doesn’t always last very long, whereas his love’s beauty will never fade. But in the final quatrain Shakespeare is determined to make this beauty last forever, in a way he concedes to inevitable aging because he tells us that only the written word could survive the passage of time. But he uses this to his advantage by promising to immortalize his love’s beauty through the eternal power of his words. “When in eternal lines to time thou growest: So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”

Queen Elizabeth l

Queen Elizabeth l (photo credit, Levinsky).


Shakespeare was talented and prolific but he also suffered from a healthy dose of prejudice towards women, which was pretty commonplace among the white male population during the Elizabethan era. Ironically, this was the case even when Queen Elizabeth was known as a talented linguist, with impressive fluency in several languages. For most women, only very basic education constituted the breadth of their knowledge and while the privileged may have furthered their education more—adding to their overall charm and appeal—though heavier emphasis was on home economics as there were no career opportunities for women once schooling was over.

Disparity in the treatment of women is further expressed in Sonnet 20. Here, the object of Shakespeare’s affection has natural beauty, as opposed to made-up and unnatural beauty. His love interest has the grace and features of a woman but is devoid of guile and pretense, and this too is a generalized idea of female characteristics and so is the idea that all women suffer from mood swings and empty, false flirtation.

The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare

The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare (photo credit, Levinsky).


To be fair, for proper insight on Shakespeare’s ideas of love and beauty, one must look at his entire body of work, which is impossible to do in one post but with the few sonnets I’ve mentioned we are still able to get a general feel for aging and beauty in Elizabethan times. However, if I’ve learned anything of value from Shakespeare’s writing, it’s that he can’t help but humanize even the most vile and hated characters and he’s employed this type of empathy when describing his female characters as well. In The Merchant of Venice, there’s no doubt that Shylock is portrayed in the same racist light the rest of society had viewed Jews, but then Shylock says: “I am a Jew, Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?” He’s giving the audience a chance to empathize with Shylock, with a Jew. Some scholars believe that his mistress, the Dark Lady, was really Emilia Bassano Lanier and she was the illegitimate daughter of a Jewish, Italian musician from Venice named Baptista Bassanoa. In the play, one of the characters is named Bassanio, and Shylock is definitely portrayed with a little bit of humanity.

Beauty Standards

We can find the same sentiment in Sonnet 130, which is a parody of the ridiculous standards attached to women generally or the clichéd way that other poets describe their beauty. “If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun.” “And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.” He then qualifies all of those disparaging remarks with “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.” Shakespeare’s mocking of other poets is interesting to me, it means that despite the prevailing views about women and beauty, despite the many literary devices he used to portray negative images of women in some of his works, conversely he was also sensitive to the majority view of beauty and felt the need to express otherwise. His wife, Anne Hathaway, was eight years older than him but I am not entirely sure that this had any impact on his ideas of age and beauty because all we have is a lot of speculation about the state of his marriage. He also left his marital home and spent the majority of is life in London. I think that what it comes down to is a type of hubris, and his ability to argue conventional ideas in the most literary means possible.

And you see this further in Sonnet 95 when he demonstrates a balance of sorts because as he describes his love’s beauty, it’s not devoid of a realistic observation as well. He compares the young man’s behavior to a rotten spot on an otherwise beautiful flower. In other words, the young man’s beauty will allow him to get away with bad behavior, but bad behavior will also distort his beauty. There is a moral question he addresses in this sonnet, it’ one of personal and moral responsibilities and those will determine one’s visage at the end of the day.

Has Anything Changed?

Centuries later, we find that the very same ideas about beauty have remained intact. And we see it now, more than ever, the notion that youth is the one and only answer to achieving success, whether in the workforce for a better job and career, or with respect to our ability to find love, or a “good catch.” If that were not the case then we wouldn’t be bombarded with so many treatment options for enhancing our youthful appearance, it wouldn’t be necessary for a female news anchor to fill her face with Botox and fillers in order to secure a prime time position in front of the camera. Why can a male newscaster sport grey/white hair and still be regarded as a top notch journalist or anchor? Anderson Cooper’s hair color has never been a deterrent for employers or viewers, he’s been able to hold on to his position on CNN for years but where have we seen a grey-haired female journalist or anchor before? I haven’t.

Of course I can see the appeal in young and flawless, and when I’m watching one of those pretty women on TV, after the initial reaction of “wow she’s pretty,” I become more focused on the content rather than how beautiful and flawless her skin is. On occasion, when I’ve watched Barbara Walters on one of her specials, I’ve never been concerned with her age, albeit she’s had a few procedures done, it’s obvious, and her older looks would never be the reason for which I’d switch to a different channel either. Similarly, Joan Rivers never fooled anyone with her artificially enhanced younger looks, she talked about it openly and with much humor, but the point is, she still looked like an old woman who had altered her looks, so I never really understood her need to keep pulling and stretching her skin.

The Pressure to Change

I liked her for her humor and bluntness anyway, and for anyone who remembers what she looked like before she started to alter her looks, well, it just doesn’t make any sense. Unless she too was influenced by the domineering male presence in her field of work where there was stiff competition, including a few lots battles, maybe that’s what drove her to the plastic surgeons table.

I’m not a critic of all the Joan Rivers of this world, but I’m definitely carving out a different path for anyone who’d like to join me and feel that it’s okay to show age; it’s okay to have wrinkles or grey hair and still feel confident and beautiful. And it’s okay to demand that first-class job. Let’s read old poetry in the context in which it belongs, in a time long gone when women barely had a voice. So much has changed since that era, and change is a good thing most times, it shows progress and the acceptance of new ideas.

Spreading the Wrinkle Revolution across the country.

Spreading the Wrinkle Revolution across the country (photo credit, Levinsky).


My hope is that this generation’s idea of beauty will be a brief phase at best and that less emphasis will be placed on one’s looks and that a varied interpretation of beauty will open doors for so many women who would otherwise be ignored and missed. Join my Wrinkle Revolution will ya.





Link to Book.



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