What do you do when the power goes out? You improvise and turn it into a creative act.
At the age of 22, confronted with a leukemia diagnosis amid the tumult beyond her control, Suleika Jaouad made a profound decision to embrace the art of journaling. Deliberately opting to distill insights from her affliction, she endeavored to endure her newfound residency in a Manhattan hospital in a meaningful and aesthetically resonant manner while giving ink to the intricacies that proved profoundly challenging to articulate.
Her journey began with a daily journal and evolved into Life, Interrupted, an Emmy award-winning column and video series showcased in The New York Times, chronicling Suleika’s experiences from her hospital bed. This transformative narrative later manifested as a best-selling memoir, Between Two Kingdoms, which spent an impressive 19 weeks on the prestigious New York Times list. In contemplating liminal spaces and navigating these gray areas, Suleika delves into the significance of ritualizing transitions—honoring and appreciating them for what they truly represent in that messy middle. Additionally, she shared her profound insights in a compelling TED Talk titled, What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living.
In the words of Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Today, she speaks to that experience of being in the in-between space—where everything feels messy, where you’re mired in uncertainty. Our lives are not ones of befores and afters—but are marked by constant, gradual transitions. It’s predominantly shades of gray and the perplexity inherent in the in-between.
“Creativity is a gift that we all have access to and that we can all benefit from.”
– SULEIKA JAOUAD
Our conversation revolves around her leukemia diagnosis at a young age, the relinquishment of independence and identity in the throes of illness, the transformative power of writing as both agency and healing, and the embrace of the tumultuous and uncertain in-between space that defines life post-illness.
We also discuss her newly intimate Netflix documentary, American Symphony. The film is a beautiful exploration of Suleika and her husband, Jon Batiste’s lives individually and together. It’s an excavation of what it means to live a creative life, to be in a creative, collaborative relationship, and to navigate hardship. American Symphony is a study of extreme juxtapositions, a narrative oscillating peaks and valleys. It’s absolutely captivating and mesmerizing.
I hope this exchange will be a wellspring of inspiration for you.
Peace + Plants,
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- Connect with Suleika: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter
- Netflix: American Symphony
- Book: Between Two Kingdoms
- Suleika’s Newsletter: Sign Up HERE
- The New York Times: Life, Interrupted
- The New York Times: ‘Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted,’ by Suleika Jaouad: An Excerpt
- The New York Times: Suleika Jaouad Does Not Want to Be Your Mountaintop Sage
- The New York Times: Interrupted, Again: Suleika Jaouad on Cancer and Healing the Second Time Around
- The New York Times: A Tragedy, a Symphony, a Love Story
- Today: Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad talk powerful new documentary
- Harper’s Bazaar: For Suleika Jaouad, Survival Is a Radical Act
- Vanity Fair: The Love Story of Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad
- NPR: Jon Batiste and Suleika Jaouad share journey of ‘two extremes’ in American Symphony
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