Andrea Adler is the author of Pushing Upward, a novel about an actress in L.A., 21-year-old Sandra Billings, who discovers the I Ching, the ancient Chinese oracle; and uses it as her GPS to navigate a torrid love affair, battle with demons of the past, and search for meaning and truth. I recently had a chance to interview Andrea. Below is the transcript of our interview…
Andrea, you have been a Broadway actress, a journalist, a business owner, and a pioneer of holistic marketing, (HolisticPR.com). You have written three non-fiction books: PR for The Holistic Healer, Creating an Abundant Practice and The Science of Spiritual Marketing: Initiation into Magnetism. Now, you are about to launch your breakthrough novel, PUSHING UPWARD. What inspired you to change direction and write fiction?
I never really shifted direction. While I went from one occupation to another, there was, since my twenties, a story brewing inside me – wanting to be told. I would get glimpses of this story, but I never knew exactly what the whole story was about until the end. As the years went by, no matter what endeavor I was involved in, no matter how much I had on my plate, this tale kept growing inside me. It would not let me go or let me off the hook!
Contrary to my other books, where I would sit and write knowing I was on a timeline, Pushing Upward was a gradual unfolding. I would write for a few months, put it away for years, pick it up again, focus on a chapter, and put it aside. Then, there would be times when I couldn’t do anything else. I was obsessed, and found myself getting up in the middle of the night and working through weekends. I’d be on fire, writing this story non-stop for months and months, and then . . . I’d have to pause again.
This momentum that carried me all these years, stemmed from a love and an appreciation for a woman I met through a newspaper ad – a woman that changed my life. So, you see, I never really changed direction; the passion for this story simply kept getting stronger throughout the years.
You are calling the book fiction. How much of this story is true?
As in most fiction, there are pieces of a writer’s life and pieces of other people’s lives that get incorporated in a story. When I worked with Neil Simon on Broadway, I remember him saying, “I don’t write anything, I just walk around and listen to what other people are saying.” I loved his comment and never forgot it.
There are segments of my life in Pushing Upward that I place in the story, however I wanted to make my story a universal story, which meant I had to create a fictional character out of myself. Sandra Billings is not exactly me. I stretched certain elements of my life into fiction by creating new scenes, embellishing actual incidents, to make it more than my story, but it was my own journey in this one year that was the inspiration.
How does spirituality play into the main character’s life? And how does it play into yours?
In the novel, twenty-one-year old Sandra Billings tries her best to lead a spiritual life. She isn’t aware of what that means, she simply has this intense desire to bond with her soul, create this internal awareness, and this connection to Self. For Sandra, this includes a conscious awareness as to how she is living her life. It’s her barometer. This spiritual dimension requires her to look not only at how she is living her life, but why she is doing the things she is doing. Of course, she bitches about what happens to her. She’s not always happy with the outcome, especially when she jumps into things without thinking. But at the same time, she is probing her soul, questioning her intentions, and exploring her moral fiber. This is why this year in her life is such a roller-coaster ride. She fluctuates from being totally spontaneous, to thinking things through.
I have personally studied meditation for 36 years, I have lived in meditation ashrams and centers on and off for 15 years. I can say with some sense of certainty that you can’t pretend to be spiritual – you either have this sensibility about your life or you don’t. And the serious players know . . . it’s not an easy path. It’s a tight wire one walks on . . . minute-by-minute. But in the long run, if one can commit to this form of existence, one can be saved from years of suffering.
How does the I-Ching help Sandra, the main character?
I had a challenging time making decisions when I was in my twenties, perhaps because I had very little emotional support around me. When I found the I Ching, it helped me to unravel and unearth so many of my fears and concerns. It forced me to look deeper into myself, into the questions I was asking, evaluate the answers and my motives. Many times, it would answer questions I didn’t even know I had.
In Pushing Upward, the I Ching shows Sandra what underlying forces are at work in her life, how she can develop mentally, spiritually, and how to better relate to the challenges that confront her. It helps her to look at these forces from a different perspective, opening her up to new insights.
I wanted to share this exquisite oracle with young adults in particular . . . show them a way to explore their own inner turmoil and how they can move through it . . . consciously . . . from a higher perspective.
Can you give us a brief history of the I Ching?
The I Ching or the Yi Jing, as many refer to it, is one of the oldest classical divination systems known to man. First written in approximately 1000 B.C., this book is regarded as the foundation text of Chinese wisdom and philosophy. Used by scholars, sages and kings for centuries, the I Ching helped them in making important decisions.
Based on the philosophies of Taoism and Confucianism, the I Ching offers us a way to see into difficult situations––especially those emotionally charged ones where at times our rational knowledge fails us. It helps us to get in touch with both our inner and outer worlds, allowing us to make more accurate decisions.
Beneath the surface of the I Ching, is a living, breathing oracle — a patient and all-knowing teacher who can be relied upon for advice at crucial turning points in our lives. In Pushing Upward, the I Ching is used as a thread Sandra re-connects with throughout her journey ––regardless as to whether she listens to it or not.
There are literally hundreds of translations of the I Ching in countless languages. However, the one I have used over the years and the one Sandra uses in Pushing Upward is the English version translated by Wilhelm/Baynes (published in English in 1950).
Carl Jung, the renown psychologist, whose Introduction in the Wilhelm/Baynes version of the I Ching, led me to my deep exploration, and respect for this profound oracle, writes:
The I Ching insists upon self-knowledge throughout. The method by which this is to be achieved is open to every kind of misuse, and is therefore not for the frivolous-minded and immature; nor is it for intellectuals and rationalists. It is appropriate only for thoughtful and reflective people who like to think about what they do and what happens to them—a predilection not to be confused with the morbid brooding of the hypochondriac . . .
The I Ching does not offer itself with proofs and results; it does not vaunt itself, nor is it easy to approach. Like a part of nature, it waits until it is discovered. It offers neither facts nor power, but for lovers of self-knowledge, of wisdom—if there be such—it seems to be the right book.
Who is the audience for this book?
I believe Pushing Upward will strike a chord with a broad audience. For the elderly it confirms their usefulness, reminding us of their importance and wisdom. For people in their thirties, forties, and fifties, Pushing Upward becomes a reminder and a catalyst for processing their young adult experiences. For teens and twenty-year olds who strive for independence, trying to digest their lives at full throttle, battling to maintain a sense of peace in the midst of mayhem, Pushing Upward may very well become –– a powerful mirror.
Someone said: “Pushing Upward is a story that will move people from laughter to despair to liberation.” I say: “Pushing Upward is not a bra. It’s a state of mind.”
What is the most important message in Pushing Upward?
I believe there are a few: One is the importance of intergenerational mentoring. Our society has so little respect for the elderly, when in fact they can be one of our greatest resources. Their love, understanding and wisdom can save lives. One of them certainly saved mine. Two: the only way to move out of experiencing the confines of our demons is to acknowledge them, accept them, forgive those that hurt us, and move on. Three: I think the main reason we fluctuate making decisions, is because we keep balancing our desires with our moral compass. Like Sandra, I have a strong desire to get rooted within this state of equanimity and to live on this planet with one foot on God, one foot on the world; keep my balance – and my sense of humor.
From day one, I saw Pushing Upward as a screenplay and started writing the screen version very early on. My co-writer on the script is Gerald DiPego who wrote (Phenomenon (with John Travolta), Message in a Bottle (with Kevin Costner), Instinct (with Anthony Hopkins) and the Forgotten (with Julianne Moore). The screenplay is currently being shopped to production companies.
What can we expect from Sandra and you . . . in the future?
I have started writing the sequel to Pushing Upward: Pushing Further. But before I settle into the sequel full time, I want to present a new workshop entitled: Pushing Upward: The Art of Living and Thriving. I am excited about this course, as it synthesizes the principles of Holistic PR, Eastern thought, and life lessons learned from the novel. I think it’s time we bring our business life and our personal life into harmony, so there is balance.
I am looking forward to presenting this workshop to students, not-for-profit organizations and groups around the world.
How can we get a copy of Pushing Upward?
People can go to the Pushing Upward website and order a copy or go directly to Amazon.