The original flap copy for THE ANTI-ROMANTIC CHILD described it as follows:
“Using Wordsworth’s poetry as a touchstone, Gilman speaks intimately of her poignant journey through crisis and disenchantment to a place of peace and resilience and shows how events and situations often perceived as setbacks can actually enrich us.”
In the past few months, many beloved people in my life have faced crisis and disenchantment, setbacks and challenges. Friends and family members have been confronted with a cancer diagnosis, a father’s death, the loss of a dear friend and colleague, the news that cancer has spread, the break-up of a marriage, a serious illness, the loss of a job. During this same time period, at bookstores, schools, and events, I’ve spoken to many parents who are in the first stretch of coming to terms with a child’s diagnosis of autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, or other developmental/learning challenges. When helping my friends and family members to cope with loss, sadness, and fear, when advising and offering compassion to parents terrified and disoriented by their child’s diagnosis or challenges, I am often asked: how did I get to the place described above, “a place of peace and resilience,” and come to view setbacks and difficulty as potentially enriching?
The first thing I say is that the “poignant journey” described above was not an easy or quick one, and it is one that I am still taking every single day! By posting encouraging, uplifting, and hopeful quotations via Facebook and Twitter, I am both sharing the lessons I’ve learned from challenge and actively nurturing my own resilience in the face of the difficulties life continues to present me and my loved ones with. We are all in this together, and a community effort of compassion and mutual support is one of the key elements in resilience.
Some synonyms of resilient: flexible, airy, buoyant, effervescent, elastic, expansive, hardy, irrepressible, pliable, quick to recover, rebounding, rolling with punches, snapping back, springy, strong, supple, tough, able to float and fly. What makes us resilient and how can we all develop a greater resilience in the face of life’s daily stresses, inevitable challenges, and serious crises? How can we remain optimistic in the face of apparently devastating news or deeply trying circumstances without succumbing to a Pollyannish blind faith or simple unconsidered denial? How can we be both realistic and optimistic? These are large questions that I’ll be exploring over the next few months on this blog, in interviews with inspiring people, via photographs and poems, and in my own musings and reflections.
On April 20th, I was privileged to appear on a panel called “Writing and The Art of Resilience” at the Woodstock Writers’ Festival. Organized by Gail Straub, a brilliant advocate, spiritual teacher, and writer, I appeared alongside luminous Wellness Warrior Kris Carr (diagnosed with Stage IV cancer at the age of 31 and alive and thriving nine years later), priest and author of the wonderful spiritual self-help book Moving Through Fear Jeff Golliher, super (and super nice) literary agent Ned Leavitt, who’s represented numerous authors interested in helping us nourish resilience from Caroline Myss to Christiane Northrup, and editor Nan Satter, who’s worked on a wide range of projects about wellness, spiritual tenacity, and finding hope in difficult circumstances. The discussion was a thrilling tapestry of insight, inspiration, and wise counsel; I hope to have a video to share at some point soon. In the meantime, here’s a link to a piece about the Festival, with a photo of our amazing panel:
At many of the talks I give, I recite this line from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” As I linger over the words, I can see the faces of my listeners relax and surrender to the incantatory beauty of Morrison’s prose and the deep wisdom of her idea. I look forward to surrendering to and riding the air as we explore what it takes to face scary situations with relative serenity and find enrichment in challenge.