REDWOOD: Aren't we always in periods of transition?
BREHONY: If we really think about it, sure. We’re transiting as we sit here and speak. But the big ones sometimes jump up and knock the wind out of people in a way they’re unprepared for. One of my chapter titles is "Straw Houses." I use the metaphor of the three little pigs, and ask, "What kind of house have we built for the inevitable blowing of the wolf?" Some people, many of whom come from dysfunctional families and hard backgrounds, do have houses of straw, though not all, because I've met lots of people who you would expect to have very little resilience, and they have plenty. Then there are other people who seem to have had a lot of things that we think go into making a person strong and able to deal with challenges in life, and they’re not as good as somebody who had a hard time.
REDWOOD: Is growth possible without pain?
BREHONY: I'd like to think so, but I'm afraid I'd be wrong. Here's why. Most people don’t come home on a Friday night and say to their spouse, "You know what I’m going to do this weekend? I’m going to grow." Very often it is exactly those events that knock the wind out of us that cause us to say, "Okay." It's an initiation. I like the alchemical metaphor of having to be broken down sometimes, to fall into the abyss. Then I think we come back differently, and that's the hero's journey. We can come back differently if we only allow ourselves to be open to the experience.
REDWOOD: In your own life and those of people you have worked with, do you find that the drives for security and creativity are often in conflict?
BREHONY: Quite often. It's funny you should ask.
REDWOOD: How does one, and how do you, deal with that?
BREHONY: I think you hold the tension of the opposites. I just wrote a 4000-word letter to my 23-year-old nephew. For Christmas, I wanted to give him a couple of books that would matter to him. He’s a musician. He's 23, and in love for the first time in his life, with a young woman who has a 14-month-old baby. The family has always been very supportive of Madison pursuing his love of music. He's very good at it and works hard at it, too. It's not just, "I want to be a rock and roll star." He really writes beautiful music and lyrical words with a depth that you wouldn’t expect of a 23-year-old. But his friends -- not the family, but his friends, non-artist friends -- have said to him, "When are you going to grow up, man? You can't support a family and take care of this baby if you’re going to be out until three o'clock in the morning playing music, making $100 a week."
So I wrote him a 4000-word letter. I told him I wished I were the kind of auntie who wrote with a fountain pen on handmade paper, but it would be all smeared and I don't think my thoughts would come out as quickly as they can on computer. I told him that I thought what had to happen was holding the tension of the opposites, which is to do both/and, as opposed to either/or. To say yes, my life is going to be creative and this is what I'm here for, this is part of the natural talent, the natural reason for why I exist. To bring that out and share it with the rest of us.
On the other hand, there are the pragmatic realities of rent to pay, food to put on the table, and particularly if you have other people riding in your boat with you, children or other people you're responsible to. So one of the things we’re going to be doing over Christmas (he also teaches music) is that we’re going to sit down over a nice glass of Merlot, and we’re going to brainstorm all kinds of creative, good marketing ideas to making his teaching business work. And if he has to work part-time at a 7-11, that’s what he's willing to do in order to make his music happen.