The recent release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has made me contemplate what a truly inspirational woman JK Rowling is. I am not a small child nor even a teenage fan. I am five years older than Jo herself, and I am at a point in my own life when I am seeking the example of women to admire and aspire to - women who exemplify the kind of woman I wish to be. One person who often springs to mind when these thoughts begin to churn is JK Rowling.
I believe it was shortly before the premiere of the first film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, when I first saw an interview with JK Rowling. I do not, now, remember what the television program was, but I still clearly remember how I felt after seeing it. I felt alive. I felt connected to my own desire to write. I felt inspired by the possibilities. And I felt that it was high time I read Harry Potter.
Everyone who has dipped even a little toe into the Potterverse knows JK Rowling's story: divorced, unemployed, single mother, struggling to keep hearth and home for her baby daughter and herself... until one day on a train ride through England, a small, skinny boy with glasses who didn't know he was a wizard popped into her head. I'm certainly not the first to remark that Jo's own life is at least as magical a story as her young hero's. But it isn't the improbable nature or extent of her success that inspires me. I am stirred by who she was as each event crossed her path, and who she has continued to be as the juggernaut called Harry has marched through the world.
JK Rowling has a tremendously positive attitude. In that first interview, I remember her telling the story of her living and working situation when she began to write Harry. It wasn't her difficult life that hit me - everyone has difficult circumstances at one point or another. What struck me was her attitude. She said that she had been fortunate, because her daughter couldn't go to sleep without being pushed in the carriage. So, every afternoon, Jo would walk through town, pushing the pram until the baby went to sleep. Then she would go to a café, where she felt herself to be lucky that the people were kind and supportive of her, and would let her sit for hours and write, though all she could afford to order was a small coffee. She saw this as the perfect situation to help her accomplish what she wanted. She wanted to write, and her life gave her enforced, undistracted writing time every day.
Now, in truth, I believe that most young women in Jo's position would have pushed the pram around until the baby went to sleep, gone home, and fallen into bed while they had the chance. There are, perhaps, a few highly motivated women who would say, "Well, it was very hard, but I was determined, so I stayed up and wrote the book." My best hope is that I might, sometimes, fall into the latter category. When I do, I feel very virtuous and worthy, for being strong enough to overcome my difficult life. But Jo saw herself as fortunate - fortunate that her child's sleeping patterns supported her writing and that the café owner was kind.
Counting one's blessings is a powerful antidote to depression and self-pity. Jo inspires me to reflect on my own blessings and trust that what I am given is what I need in order to achieve what is best for me.
When I contemplate the creative force that is JK Rowling, I am quite humbled. Having known all her life that she wanted to write, Joanne Rowling wrote. ALL THE TIME. She had never been published, and I have heard her say that she knew most of what she had written before Harry was, in her words, "Rubbish." But she kept writing, because there was something in her that wanted to write, and she honored it. She didn't say, "When I get back on my feet, when my daughter is older, when I get a great idea, when I have more money, when I have more time, when I'm not so tired, when I feel like it..." JK Rowling said, "Now."
When Harry dropped into her lap on that train, she didn't have a pen, paper, recorder, even a lipstick, to write with. The train was very delayed. But she followed the idea through, on that train journey. She did not say, "Oh, drat... nothing to write with... Well, I'll come back to it later." She stuck with it, exploring her ideas and willing herself to hang onto them until she could write them down.
I have heard Jo say that as Harry's world began to unfold, she got a sudden jolt one day when she looked down at the page and thought, "Oh. There are unicorns in this place. I'm writing fantasy!" She realized that she really didn't know anything about fantasy. She doesn't read it, and had never written it. She had also never written for children, nor ever imagined herself as a writer of children's literature. After having this epiphany, she went straight back to Harry and his friends, and continued to tell their story anyway.
I have thought about what my reaction might have been under the same circumstances. I can't be certain, but I suspect that I would have become very intimidated by my 'lack of knowledge.' I think I would have felt that I should change directions, or perhaps that I should even stop writing for a while and study until I knew enough to continue. But Jo's direction was clear to her - she knew what she was writing, and she didn't let a perceived lack of knowledge stop her. Her choices didn't please everyone, and that was okay with Jo, because, in the final analysis, Jo was writing to please herself. In the process, she succeeded in creating something... well... magical.
Jo understands how to live by the words, "To thine own self be true." In doing so, she has created a level of personal, artistic and financial success that is unrivaled among authors. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince sold almost 9 million copies in the first 24 hours. I find it inspiring and fascinating that this tremendous success has come to someone who has followed, not the prevailing wisdom of what will be "successful" in the market, but her own wishes with regard to her work. Jo has known how the series would end since long before the first book was finished, much less published, and she has never veered off course. The last chapter of the seventh and final book in the series was written years ago. She says she wrote it so that she would always remember that she knows where she is going, and that there is a way to get there.
In remaining true to her vision, Jo has positively touched millions of lives. Only July 15, thousands of people of all ages, all over the world, stood in line for hours and stayed up all night to read a book. When has that ever happened? Joanne Rowling has made readers out of millions of young people, many of who say that they didn't like reading until Harry Pottercame along. She has made herself accessible to them, answering their questions and honoring their role in her life. She has created work for hundreds - perhaps thousands - of people who now find themselves gainfully employed by the many enterprises that have sprung from the books. She has shown generosity of spirit with her abundant wealth, giving her time, talents and money to a variety of projects and organizations. She has remarried, given birth to two more children and continued to build a life for her family under Harry's Media's watchful eye. And, through it all, she has continued to write.
For fifteen years and counting, Jo has written and watched her literary child grow from a lonely, awkward little boy to a confident, gifted and principled young man. I search my own life to find something that I have given that much dedication and effort to over such an extended period of time, and I come up short. I have a deep wish to connect with something that I can dedicate my efforts to as Jo has to Harry; to be inspired by some vision to push beyond myself and offer something to the world that will positively impact others' lives as well as my own.
I wait with mixed emotions for the seventh and final chapter in Harry's saga. I want the book, and I don't want the book, because having Harry's unfinished story hanging out there is somehow comforting. As I struggle to find my own way, my own answers to life's challenging questions and tasks, so does Harry. And so does Jo. As I cringe and whine about what I have to do today, I think about Jo, steadfast to her vision for over fifteen years, no matter what. And I am inspired.
I hope that I can continue to strive to live from those qualities that JK Rowling exemplifies to me: gratitude, creativity, vision, humor, generosity and being true to that for which the deepest part of my being cries out. In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry is accused of excessive loyalty to his wise mentor, Albus Dumbledore. He is told, "You're Dumbledore's man, through and through, aren't you?" And Harry says, simply, "Yeah, I am." Harry knows whose example to have faith in and to follow. And so do I. I am proud to say that I am Jo's woman, through and through.
I still don't like your tone, boy. If you can speak of your beatings in that casual way, they clearly aren't hitting you hard enough. Petunia, I'd write if I were you. Make it clear that you approve the use of extreme force in this boy's case.
Aunt Marge Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 2, Page 24
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released on July 21, 2007, and sold 11 million copies on the first day of its release, breaking Rowling's earlier records for the fastest selling book of all time.