In 2009, I visited The Elephant House in pretty Edinburgh. It was a bit like visiting Café de Flore in Paris, where Ernest Hemingway often wrote. If there are any Harry Potter fans out there, The Elephant House might make you smile. If you’re not on the Hogwarts Express, then The Elephant House is a tea room in the heart of Edinburgh’s raindrop-coated streets.
It’s also the café where a brave woman, coming off the heels of a disappointing divorce, started a new life. Slowly but surely, she began rebuilding – all while caring for her daughter. During that time, streams of story ideas that accompanied her on her journey home were being penned onto paper.
J.K. Rowling is our Glossy Girl of the month because, as the summer winds swirl into fall, there’s one fashion accessory that the likes of Anna Wintour would never deny – and that’s tenacity. It’s a staple in Rowling’s wardrobe. She’s cloaked herself in it for decades. Care to go cloak shopping with me?
From the moment J.K. Rowling could decipher her first word, she was an avid reader. At age six, she wrote a story about a rabbit named Rabbit. (Does it get any cuter than that?) At age 11, she wrote her first novel about seven cursed diamonds and the people who owned them. Doesn’t it sound like cursed diamonds are an allusion to greater stories to come? A psychologist once told me that, if you ever feel lost and directionless, think back to when you were about ten. What did you like to do? Rowling is a beautiful illustration of this.
Very rarely does one coast easily into the soft cushions of a happy and fulfilled life. Usually, it comes with a whiplashing, mind-numbing series of unfortunate (and fortunate) events. Perhaps one of Rowling’s greatest traumas was the loss of her mother; she was only 25. She’d later lament the misfortune that her mother would never read her work. (Remember Harry suffered the tragic loss of his parents, too? As books and movies transport us out of our lonely lives, it provides a magical release for the writer, too.)
At this stage, devastation had secured a long-term parking space on the corner of Rowling’s heart. Boldly rolling the dice, she moved to Portugal to teach English as a Second Language and tempt the fates into giving her a clean slate. In her new life, Rowling met and married Jorge Arantes. Sadly, their relationship didn’t last and, with that, Rowling sought out one more fresh start. She moved to Edinburgh – a little closer to her roots – to live with her sister, Di. With her young daughter and three Harry Potter chapters in tow, Rowling went on to make one of the most monumental choices of her life.
“It’s our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
— J.K. Rowling
Those soft cushions of life did not greet Rowling at the airport. Not initially, anyway. Life, being a rare one who doesn’t always play fair, continued to push back on her tenacity. Living in someone else’s home – and jobless – Rowling fell into a major depression and was “woman enough” to admit she even contemplated giving up on life. She was brave enough to venture out into uncharted waters, but she was met with little more than bashing waves and bouts of seasickness. It’s hard not to feel like a failure, even if you’re really quite a marvel.
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”
You know the cliché, “Every step along your journey has brought you here today,”? Well, there’s a certain amount of truth in clichés. They get repeated because they repeatedly apply. Cloaked with enviable strength, Rowling pushed through her feelings of failure to write tales of bright, resilient children full of magic. Perhaps her stories and movies are so relatable because they intertwine with the whole of the human struggle. From little more than a corner in her sister’s apartment to sprawling estates and bankrolls of money donated to charitable causes, that’s quite the come up.
J.K. Rowling kind of has the Oprah effect. You’d just love to sit down with her over a pot of tea. If only a smidgen of her self-confidence and attitude toward achievement could wand your way, things would surely start looking up. The thing we often overlook, however, is that self-confidence and attitude are already ours for the taking. We have only to make the choice for the garden gate to creak open.
Like the ancient oak trees that whisper secrets of promise and hope in my new hometown of Savannah, I’m reminded that some things are everlasting. Opportunities come and go. People come and go. But, J.K Rowling is a woman who knows her mind and knows how to push through the pain. These are character traits that will never die. I wonder if the café I’m sitting in now can brew me a pot of tea filled with tenacity instead of tea leaves, resilience instead of creamer. Care to join me? Oh, how I’d love it if you would.
Feature photo: Landmark Media/Shutterstock