Isabel Gillies, actress and author, chronicles the demise of her first marriage in the New York Times bestseller, Happens Every Day . She takes readers through the pain of finding out about her husband’s infidelity and candidly recounts a life experience that many women can unfortunately relate to. Despite the grief, she manages to inject humor into the memoir and makes it evident how much she loves her two young boys. However heartbreaking things were for Isabel, she proves that with inner strength, optimism and a strong support system, there is always a light on the end of the tunnel. She is now happily re-married and lives in New York City with her second husband, two sons and her stepdaughter.
She recently spoke with our contributor Jeana Lee Tahnk to discuss the process of writing the book, life lessons she learned and advice she has for women who have gone through a similar experience.
In your bestselling memoir, Happens Every Day, you very honestly take readers through the breakdown of your first marriage. What motivated you to document such a personal experience?
I think it was just the story I needed to tell, so I did.
Was it difficult for you to be so open about such a painful time in your life or was it cathartic to get all your emotions out on paper?
People ask me frequently if I found writing the book cathartic and I have to say that I don't think that it was. I found it interesting to sort out how I felt about that time in my life from a distance. It didn't feel like having a good cry, it felt like breaking something down. I am emotionally in-tuned with the story, but in a very different way than I was actually going through it and I had told my version of the story orally so many times (as one does) and so it felt very natural to write it.
What was the most challenging part about going that experience with two young kids?
Knowing that something is happening that ultimately will be very difficult for them to live with and feeling like there was very little I could do to block them from it.
Who and/or what had the most significant impact in getting you through to the other side?
Well, my family and friends were incredible. I needed their wisdom and kindness and ears and I had that support, but it I think what really gets people through anything difficult is just the sheer will to survive, to be happy and to be there for whoever needs you, in my case it was my children. It's an ongoing process.
What are the most important life lessons you took away from the experience and what did you learn about yourself?
My father gave me this great piece of advice: Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. That is a huge life lesson because it keeps you moving forward and forward is where you want to go. Also, it's important to take stock of what you have instead of what you don't - even if it's something tiny like a sunny day or awesome cup of coffee. And maybe the most important lesson that I still try to put into use every day is that nothing is black or white. It's important in these complex situations to be able to hold on to a number of different feelings at one time. You can love and hate something, you can be happy and sad at the same time. Ambiguity and confusion is actually good.
How has the divorce changed the way you parent, if at all?
Of course it has! Divorce informs a lot about the way you and your children's other parent raise your family. It makes a big difference for one family to live in two households.
You mention towards the end of the book that events after the dissolution of the marriage could “fill up another book.” Was that a hint at what your next project is?
I am writing a second book that will be out in 2011 all about what happened next. It's about re-building in many ways.
What advice do you have for women who are going through a similar experience and also have children?
Well, there is a ton of advice and it's a huge topic, but maybe to remember that your kids really need both of their parents. They can't feel like one of them is "the bad guy" or that whoever their step-parent is repels the other parent. I think when you get divorced and your life takes on another shape, it's really important to be as open and accepting as you can about the life the kids have when they are not with you. And that goes both ways. You have to stay positive, have good will and trust. The life you have or your children have may not be what you imagined and that can be disappointing, but instead of fighting it, accept it and put lots of energy into making it something that works and is more easy for them than not. Be generous, be friends - or something close and keep an open mind.
Author Isabel Gillies was interviewed by Jeana Lee Tahnk . As a writer and professional photographer, Jeana's work and personal essays on parenting have appeared in high profile outlets as The Boston Globe, NPR's This I Believe and Woman's Day. She is also a public relations consultant with an agency in San Francisco. She currently splits her time between her dual careers of PR and writing from her home on the North Shore in Massachusetts. Photograph of Isabel Gillies is from Jason MacDonald.