It’s easy to miss the subtlety in the notion of reinvention. Consider the definition below, from the American Heritage Dictionary. Especially the second part.
1) To make over completely
2) To bring back into existence or use
It’s more than just out with the old, in with the new. Especially when you are talking about reinvention of the self. It is not just changing one pair of shoes, one job, or one partner for another. It’s also more than experiencing a dramatic shift in the circumstances of one’s life, although this can often be a catalyst for reinvention of the self.
Reinvention means transformation, not just change. The seeds of the new are found in the old, although we may not be fully aware of it at the time.
I have been through two midlife reinventions, although I prefer to think of them as transformative passions.
The first one was my journey to become a musician, after I fell in love with Cajun-Creole music on a 4oth birthday trip to Louisiana. The second one, which grew out of the first, was writing. Together, they led to my first book, a music memoir called Accordion Dreams.
Taking up writing was a return to an old love, although it was in a new form. As an adolescent, I wrote poetry. Then I moved on to other things. Thirty years later, I returned to a different kind of writing, when I took my first creative nonfiction class and found a writing mentor, who believed I had the seeds of a book in me.
My love for the accordion, on the other hand, had been a new and unexpected passion. It meant developing a new skill—on an unfamiliar and unlikely instrument. That was part of the charm for me, that this crazy love for a quirky, old-fashioned instrument seemed to come out of nowhere.
Except it didn’t. A few years into my unique new passion, I found an old photo at my mother’s house. There I was, almost four, in front of the Christmas tree, proudly playing my new toy accordion! Little by little, I came to understand: The accordion was in my blood. It was part of my own ethnic heritage, even though those Slovenian polka roots had been all but buried in my mother’s family. Eventually, my mother recalled one more bit of truth: her n’er-do-well immigrant father had played a button accordion.
Plans for the coming year? Well, I’m continuing on my quest to understand my immigrant roots. I have a new project * in mind, something on the order of an ethnic version of Julie and Julia.
I recently bought a vintage mid-century Slovenian American cookbook. It’s a crazy mix of ethnic specialties like potica and klobasa, along with 1950’s classics like jello salads and casseroles made with canned soups. I figure if I make one dinner a week out of that cookbook, it may be a way into the past. Stay tuned!
* Here's the new project: http://slovenianroots.blogspot.com/
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders