Stories & practices that empower real change

Isabel Allende: The Heart of Creativity [Transcript]

Walter Link in dialogue with Isabel Allende

The Heart of Innovation Series

 

[00:01:05.26] Isabel Allende: We want stories. In stories we connect in stories we learn, in stories we are human. You first need to be in touch with yourself, know who you are. We are together, we are the same, we are connected beyond race and class and gender.

 

[00:01:23.05] Walter Link: I’m on my way to visit Isabel Allende at her home in California. Over the past seven years I’ve coached Isabel in her personal development, which in turn helped her to re-invent her creative process. Its been a fascinating journey of discovery, like other leaders in business and politics I’m working with, she found out that such inner work, not only is personally fulfilling, but necessary to have even greater impact in the world. And today for this program we will do something new. We will share our process with you so that you too can discover how inner work helps to develop our potential as human beings and professionals. It’s a journey into the heart of creativity.

 

[00:02:08.27] The Heart of Creativity

 

[00:02:19.14] Walter Link: Yeah, so tell us about these paintings. I mean you have a lot of wonderful art in your house.

 

[00:02:23.27] Isabel Allende: You know, like you, I have been a foreigner all my life. So I’ve been travelling, first I was the daughter of diplomats, then I was a political refugee, and now I’m an immigrant. All my life I’ve been travelling, so I don’t really belong in any place, and I have terrible memory. So my way of remembering the places I’ve been is getting some art that represents it somehow. For example a Buddha from Indonesia, some paintings from Ethiopia, things from Chile I have a lot. It sort of reminds me of, grounds me. That’s the thing. I don’t collect art, I don’t collect anything. Two things the same kind and I freak out. So, I really love the idea that it brings memories.

 

[00:03:12.19] Walter Link: And what about these two paintings here?

 

[00:03:16.00] Isabel Allende: These two paintings to me have a flavor of magic realism. And that’s why I love them. Actually they are done by Pate Lope which is a woman in New York. So why would it have that magic realistic touch, but it does. To me it’s very much like my books and that’s why I love them.

 

[00:03:35.11] Walter Link: How so, like your books?

 

[00:03:38.29] Isabel Allende: Because I think that in my books there is always the unexpected. The thing that is like sort of mysterious in a way. Cause that’s how life is. The more I live the more I feel that I know very little, Walter. And that there are so many dimensions of reality and its possible that a person can grow wings in the hair or anywhere. That that person what is she doing in the middle of nowhere in a storm? And then there’s the suggestion of an oil well in the back. She’s lost, as I am lost all the time. So I feel very identified with that. This other painting here was done in Venezuela, and to me its sails. It’s travelling. It has the idea of wind going through and that is also how my life is. Full of wind. And because of you, space.

 

[00:04:38.15] Music

 

[00:04:48.21] Walter Link: Most people of course know you for your literature work and um, you know when we see all this beautiful art, so that fits more into their image maybe, but how is that all connected to this deep human rights work with people that are exposed to so much suffering. What’s the connection for you?

 

[00:05:08.29] Isabel Allende: Well, I don’t know what the connection is except that that’s what I write about. I always write about people who are not sheltered by the big umbrella of the establishment. People who are in the margins of the society who who for some reason don’t belong. And that’s how I felt myself all my life. That I don’t quite belong anywhere. Not that I’m marginal in a way these girls are, but I understand the mentality of a person who doesn’t belong and doesn’t feel safe. And it was only natural that when I decided to create a foundation to honor my daughter, it would be to do the work that I have been doing all my life, which is working with women and for women, and girls.

 

[00:05:56.20] Walter Link: In the work with women, we talked about that many times. You went from being a real activist and author of course writing about them, to focusing more on the discovery of what are really feminine values, and what are the qualities feminine qualities that our society needs that men need as much as women to bring about a different…

 

[00:06:22.23] Isabel Allende: I don’t know if you remember when we met, Walter. We met in the weirdest place in the… what is it?

 

Walter Link: Waldzell.

 

Isabel Allende: But what was the name of the abbey?

 

Walter Link: Oh yeah. Melk Abbey.

 

Isabel Allende: The Melk Abbey. Beautiful little… in Vienna I think… in a beautiful beautiful landscape. And it was monks and religious people and somehow we two met.

 

[00:06:47.21] Isabel Allende: We were two lost souls in a corner eating these little hors d’ouevres and you said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And I said, I’m supposed to give a speech. And you said what’s your speech going to be about and I said, well about feminism and women, and very softly, very softly you said something about, that men should, are just in the same situation as women are and men had to be incorporated into this, or something to that effect. So I started thinking about that and I had to go to my room and re-do the whole damn speech again because with one sentence you shifted something that I had thought all my life.

 

[00:07:28.25] Isabel Allende: That this was a struggle a sort of war for justice, for equality, for freedom. And suddenly I realized that the enemy was not men. The enemy was a culture a patriarchy that had to be changed and that men are trapped in that cartoonish masculinity that makes them so limited, just as it limits women. So the struggle was not against them, the struggle was to liberate us all. And you changed that in one sentence.

 

[00:07:59.28] Music

 

[00:08:07.25] Walter Link: So we’re sitting in your casita in the writing studio where a lot of your books have been written over the past years. And I want to talk more about the creative process. What do you do to support yourself, to be in the right condition to be creative?

 

[00:08:29.05] Isabel Allende: I don’t know, because I wrote my first book in the kitchen of the apartment in Caracas at night. I worked twelve hours a day in a day job and then at night I would come home and cook and after everybody was watching TV, I would just go in the kitchen and write. There was nothing to support me. My second book was a closet that I put a board and a light bulb. So I could at least close it and there was some privacy, I didn’t have to carry my papers all over the place. So it wasn’t until my fourth book or fifth book that I had a space of my own to write.

 

[00:09:02.05] Isabel Allende: And that supports me now. The feeling that I have this space, and I have the first editions and the photographs of the people I love, my dictionaries and the research that I’ve done, so that supports me a little. But I think that what really supports me now probably is the infrastructure around me, like my husband, that takes care of half of this stuff. Lorie in the foundation, my daughter in law, Juliette, my assistant in the office. All of those people create silence and space for me to write. And that’s I think what I need. But if I didn’t have it, as I didn’t at the beginning, I think I can do it. With a computer though. I don’t think I can go back to the typewriter. But if you want to do something, its like being in love.

 

[00:09:55.21] Isabel Allende: I mean if you’re in love you make love in a Volkswagen. So you don’t really need anything to support your love. You just do it. And I think it’s the same with this impulse, this need to tell something. That is pushing to be told.

 

[00:12:33.22] Music

 

[00:12:43.25] Walter Link: So you said that you feel lost a lot. But obviously you’re not staying lost. You’re also somehow finding your way then into action into creativity. So, how is it like to feel lost and then find that way forward in your way?

 

[00:13:04.23] Isabel Allende: Maybe that’s why I write, Walter. Because I’m trying to find an explanation, or find a way for something, something that bothers me, that wounds me, or that I have been obsessed with all my life. Because I see that in the twenty books I have written and thirty years of writing, the themes sort of repeat themselves, in different shapes. You won’t even recognize them. But I know that the themes are always there. Justice is one of the themes that always appears. Freedom, that is not the freedom of the flag and the patriotic stuff, its the inner freedom, choice, the freedom to choose what you want to do with your life. Love, is always there. All forms of love.

 

[00:13:58.17] Isabel Allende: And loss. That go from the loss of your innocence to the loss of your life, and the loss of your country and the loss of love. And the loss of people who die. So those themes keep coming back always. So when I say that I am lost, it is because often I am confused, I don’t know what the heck is going on, I don’t know where I am, what I can do. Suddenly all the horrors around me come together and I feel lost. And then I start writing, and in the writing, in the writing process, something happens.

 

[00:14:37.19] Isabel Allende: In choosing the words in which you are going to define reality, you find your way. And I always remember that when we first started working together you would say what do you feel? And it’s very hard to define a feeling, put an adjective to a feeling. And you would say what color is it, what texture is it? Define it. Because when you give it a word, when you define it with language, it becomes real.

 

[00:15:05.21] Isabel Allende: And becomes, you embrace it, you own it. And I think that that’s what happens with me when I write. And that’s why writing is so important. I start with a question. I start with something that is painful, and in the process of defining it, refining it, changing an adjective, changing the tone, I read a paragraph aloud and it’s grey. I don’t like it. It’s grey. It’s not what I wanted to say. It doesn’t convey the feeling. So I pick up three or four adjectives, I change them. And the whole paragraph changes. And if I had time I could give you several examples…in which you change four words and the feeling and the meaning changes. And so I think that through the writing I find my answers. I find my way, my little roads… And I find myself also, who I am.

 

[00:16:01.28] Walter Link: And you would say I am changing words. You know, its like your active participation of course, but it also sounds like you are, like in the inquiry process also you are listening ever more closely to what you’re describing. Whether it’s a situation, or a feeling. And it is actually that close contact with the actual reality, the living reality of that feeling. Or that situation that then brings forth a word. And because that word is precisely describing and emerging from that experience, it kind of opens up.

 

[00:16:47.26] Isabel Allende: It opens up, exactly. It opens up and it helps me find the way. Find the story, the real essence of the story. Without imposing my truth on the story or my beliefs on the story. But it also allows me to get in the story and be part of it. When I really feel each word, I am the story. And when I do any inner work, it’s the same. By defining it, in words, I feel it more deeply, I understand it more deeply, and then I see how it starts to change. And feeling that could have been of oppression for example, that I often feel, I often feel like I can’t breathe, and a hand here and I can’t breathe, and then as I explore and as I define it, and as I call it names, it starts to open up, open up, and change into something different.

 

[00:17:50.07] Walter Link: It’s a very powerful thing that is very mysterious in a way, we deal with it all the time but we don’t necessarily reflect about it all the time. The power of the word.

 

Isabel Allende: Yes.

 

Walter Link: And I think it has a lot to do with the power of truly understanding something. And understanding not just intellectually but understanding by becoming it.

 

[00:18:14.24] Isabel Allende: I don’t think I would be an effective writer if I was not each one of the characters. I am them. I feel like them. And its an automatic process in me that transports me too. If I write about slavery, I am the slave. And by experiencing what she experienced in that book, I learned something really important about slavery and about myself. And about why it is so important for me to have a choice about everything.

 

[00:18:51.28] Isabel Allende: To control, in a certain control of my life, to be independent. Not to have a master. Which of course is so different from the experience of the slave. But I can feel the experience of the slave. I remember when I wrote Island Beneath the Sea, one of the concerns of my editors in the United States was that I was a Latino woman writing from the African black slave. And these are realms that are very separated and it is as if you own a certain story and nobody else can tell it.

 

[00:19:32.14] Isabel Allende: Who can tell the story of the Holocaust except a Jew? Who can tell the story of black slavery in the United States except an African American person? I don’t think that that’s true. I think that we are all human, and I can be anybody. So in that concern I also had, and I thought the critics will jump on me. Nobody did actually, only once, I was in New York in a reading and one person in the audience said, a black person, said ‘who are you to tell our story?’ And I said, I am you, I am you, you can tell my story, I can tell yours. What’s your problem? You’re right, he said, he came for the signing and it was fine.

 

[00:20:20.00] Music

 

[00:20:29.06] Walter Link: Over the past years you have also started to integrate meditation and inquiry into your own practice, into your life. How is that related to the creative process?

 

[00:20:42.00] Isabel Allende: I don’t know what, because its hard for me to separate it from the rest of life. It seems that the creative process is integrated into everything else I do. If I’m making necklaces, there is a part of my mind and my soul that is in the story. And I’m already working on the story. So its not that I’m making necklaces only, and its not separated. In the same way I think that in meditation, or in inquiry I learn more about myself, and I’m at peace. I’m settled. Its, I have my feet on the ground. And my mind and my soul are in space that is open, and that helps the creative process but its not separated from everything else.

 

[00:21:30.00] Walter Link: So you know for many people maybe when they hear the word meditation, or inquiry, it really doesn’t mean anything. What does it mean for you? I mean, how you do it every morning, you bring it in to your writing process, you bring it into your life. What is it? How do you explain that in normal language? What’s actually happening as a process and what it does to you?

 

[00:21:58.12] Isabel Allende: I can compare it with my life before meditation. That I was always like in the instant future. That I was always thinking what needed to be done next. Short-term or long-term. Or I was in some feeling or in some thought of the past. In meditation, what its all about is that you are silent, quiet, in a comfortable position. I don’t meditate like the Buddhists do, in a very uncomfortable cushion. No, I meditate sitting up straight in my bed. And it’s still dark. So I close my eyes or not, but I have no distraction. And then there is nothing for a while. There is just no thoughts, just breathing. Getting in touch with the breath brings me to the body. And then I start asking myself what I feel. What do I feel? So that I can go back to me. For me it’s very easy to get lost. I close my eyes and I go into a space that is foggy and light and so pleasant. There’s nothing there. And it’s very pleasant because I don’t feel my body. I don’t feel anything.

 

[00:23:19.04] Isabel Allende: But then when I start inquiring then I have to go back to the body, say what is my body feeling? Well, I feel something that is similar to sadness, for example. And where is that sadness? It’s something strangling my heart. It’s a fist in my heart. How does that feel? How do the rest of the body feel? And then I go back to the body, so in that sense, that is what is meditation is for me. But when I’m walking in the park with the dog, I try to be in the park with the dog. With the trees and with the flowers and with the wind. And not thinking what I have to do when I get in the car. And like that everything else. If I am writing, of course I am in the writing. I’m completely absorbed in the writing. But if I have a break, I try to go back to my body and what am I feeling? Am I tired? If I’m tired, let’s listen to the body.

 

[00:24:18.20] Isabel Allende: If the body is tired, listen. Before I didn’t. I would just stretch my working time to ten, twelve hours a day. And by the time I would get up from the computer I couldn’t stand up. Because I was so sore all over from being without movement for twelve hours. Now I don’t do that anymore.

 

[00:24:40.14] Walter Link: Cause I think actually you know, the power of books is also that while reading, you are really in a certain kind of meditation. You are… [Quiet.] quiet. You are focused. And you are inviting all your senses, all your forms of experience to be awakened while you are deeply listening to something that’s happening.

 

[00:25:13.28] Isabel Allende: I discovered that the process of meditating and inquiring about myself is exactly the same as inquiring for the character. So when, if I am the character, if I am in touch with the feeling of that character in that very moment, the person who is tortured, the person who is lost, the child who has been abused, the woman who is in love, if I can be in that feeling, really really close, I am really being with myself.

 

[00:25:40.13] Isabel: But I discovered that when I, in meditation and in the work with you, I said, well, what am I feeling? Why I never asked myself that? Why did I always ask what is the character feeling? I never realized that it was what I was feeling.

 

[00:26:00.09] Music

 

[00:26:08.17] Walter Link: What were the markers that really helped you to mature and develop into who you are now and the insights that you have now?

 

[00:26:17.23] Isabel Allende: Of course we all have a journey and its years of walking in that journey that makes people mature or not. But I think that the threshold, the moment when everything changed for me was that year that my daughter was in a coma and her death. That was the year I turned fifty. And it was the year I left behind my youth. I became a mature woman. It was the year of menopause. But it was a year of losing everything, the year of grief. And I wondered then why was it so long? And I can’t say that I’m glad it was so long, but I can say that that year allowed me to stay in the pain. There was no escape. There was no way out. You had to be there day and night holding her hand, watching. Praying for something. Praying for her to open her eyes. To wake up. And when that was not a possibility, praying for her to be comfortable. And then praying for life to take me instead of her. And then it was about just let her go. Praying for her to go in peace.

 

[00:27:45.09] Isabel Allende: That was a moment of, a moment that changed my life truly. And from, I have the feeling that during that year I let go first of Paula’s voice, of her graciousness, her elegance to move, her charm, her laughter. And then let go of her mind, and then let go of her company. And one by one, you let go of everything. And there, there’s nothing else but a body, paralyzed in a bed, and something trapped in there. Something that is her spirit or something trapped. And then when she died you let go also of that, and then that also goes. And then you only have the memory.

 

[00:28:41.28] Isabel Allende: And then I realized in the process of writing the book right after she died, the book ‘Paula,’ that I can let go of everything. That I have come here to lose everything. And to gain other things probably that my spirit might gain, but I think that what happened was that I lost the attachment to everything, to people to success to my, the things I thought sustained me. The crutches that I carried around. Because I couldn’t use any of that during that year and what followed.

 

[00:29:25.28] Walter Link: What did you gain by losing that attachment to all these things? What happened as a result of letting go of all the things that you thought you needed and this kind of raw meeting of life?

 

[00:29:44.10] Isabel Allende: Freedom. Freedom happened. Maybe a new form of strength, but I would say freedom. That I, that I realized that what can happen that is worse than that? What can happen? I mean, whatever happens, I’ll be able to cope. And if I can’t cope, okay, I’ll die, and so what? What am I afraid of today? Of course I’m afraid for the world, I fear for, that my grandchildren might get in terrible trouble. I fear violence, that someone may, might break into my house and beat us to death. Of course those are like vague fears that everybody has, but truly, I can start again. I can, I think I can overcome almost everything.

 

[00:30:46.24] Walter Link: So you talked about something very important that we also experience in our work together, that seems very contradictory to normal people’s way of being with life, which is instead of trying to get away from pain, instead of going away from what is so difficult in this dying process of your daughter, you stayed with the feelings. You came closer and closer to them, and opened into the feelings, and it was that kind of intimacy with what is apparently unbearable. And which you discovered that it was bearable, and not only that, that it set you free. That if we really meet whatever life offers, openly and with courage, that it can transform.

 

[00:31:49.08] Isabel Allende: Well I didn’t have a choice Walter. Later in life with you, I have learned to be in touch with feelings and stay within feelings. As, to do that purposely, that year with Paula, I had not met you yet. And I didn’t have a choice. There was no escape. I, before that in my life I had been in situations in which I thought I could not stand it any longer. For example the dictatorship in Chile. I just could not stand it, and I ran away. I got out.

 

[00:32:29.14] Isabel Allende: I got out of a marriage that wasn’t working. I got out of a relationship of things were not working for me, or were traumatizing me. But with Paula there was no escape. The only liberation for her was death. And that was something that it took me a year to accept. So the idea of staying with the pain was not something that I decided, it was something that happened. And after that experience, when in my work with you, it’s easier. It’s always easier because anything that happens, any emotion is less traumatizing than that.

 

[00:33:10.07] Isabel Allende: And less long than that. So I can stay with whatever comes.

 

[00:33:14.22] Music.

 

[00:33:24.12] Walter Link: I’m reminded for example about the inquiry process we did where you were discovering death. Not as an idea,

 

Isabel Allende: As a real experience of death.

 

Walter Link: How was that? Tell us more about that, how that was.

 

[00:33:40.26] Isabel Allende: We were together and you had me breathe and breathe and I don’t know what happened, I started breathing deeper and deeper and suddenly I had an experience that at the beginning was very similar to when I took Ayahuasca, the drug in the Amazon, that it sort of leads you into a journey that may end in an experience of death, although you don’t die.

 

[00:34:08.12] Isabel Allende: But I had, at the beginning, more or less the same experience that I floated, that I went into a white space, and then eventually into nothing. And the nothing was no body, no ego, no soul, no connection, no memory, nothing. And I stayed there probably seconds only, I don’t remember, because I was not aware of anything. But at some point you brought me back, and I realized that I had died, that was death. That that thing that was not, that is almost impossible to describe because you cannot relate it to anything personal. To anything that your body experiences or your mind is used to experience.

 

[00:34:56.15] Isabel Allende: And its not as if you become a spirit and you’re an eagle flying somewhere. It’s a void that is also full.

 

[00:35:06.20] Walter Link: And how did it impact you to have that experience? Often people are scared of death, they fear exactly this disappearing and this void. How did it impact you?

 

[00:35:23.20] Isabel Allende: Oh, for me, it’s tempting. It’s not that I want to die, I don’t have a death wish, but it was a perfect state. It was perfect. Because you are everything and you are not you and you are nothing really. And at the same time you are everything. It’s very hard to explain. But there’s nothing to be afraid of. I felt extremely comfortable. It was hard to come back.

 

[00:35:59.22] Music

 

[00:36:08.24] Walter Link: We talked about this first meeting that we had, you know talking about feminism and the feminine. And what I was really struck with then and have been struck with since then, is how you are able to listen deeply and then let go of something that was in a way strongly held, a strong world view, a strong opinion, and to change, and to take on something else. Cause I think many people somehow feel they are defined by their opinions and their positions and they hold onto them, especially when they are famous or powerful. And it seemed like you were just hearing it, letting it in, that made sense, shooo, you went. What’s that? What makes that process possible for you to be that open and flexible?

 

[00:37:09.21] Isabel Allende: I don’t know, I have no idea, I can’t answer that, but if something strikes me as a new road that seems possible and I had not seen it before, I want to explore it, its curiosity. To see, why was I stuck in one place if there are other roads to explore. I may come back to the place I was before, but at least let me see what its about. And I think that way in politics. I feel that way, in almost everything except religion, I realize. That I’m not open to religion.

 

[00:37:48.21] Isabel Allende: When someone talks to me about religion, I feel something closing down. It feels to me so limiting. So that’s one thing that I need to also explore, what is it in me that is so reluctant to go there.

 

[00:38:08.26] Walter Link: Well if you have a look now, what is it that’s so reluctant to go there?

 

Isabel Allende: [To go into religion?]

 

Walter Link: Religion. Yeah why is religion kind of a specially difficult topic to open into?

 

[00:38:23.01] Isabel Allende: Because for me it has all, I can attach to it all the adjectives and all the ideas that I have been fighting against all my life. Its about hierarchy, dogma, belief, I know you don’t know, patriarchy. Its always male, god is male. The organization of all religions is masculine. Always women are put down, always have, women have to lose a lot with religion. And however, women are so attached to religion, so there’s a lot about it, that I have great conflict with.

 

[00:39:09.27] Walter Link: And that makes a lot of sense, maybe what women and other people are finding in religion is that there is a other side to it, a side that has more heart, more service, more kindness, more redemption.

 

[00:39:27.16] Isabel Allende: But who needs religion for that? You don’t. I think that the best part of my life is the times that I have been able to serve or do or give to somebody something. But I don’t need religion for that. And I don’t think that religion has the monopoly of morality or goodness or why? The most moral people I know are not religious. It’s a contradiction. And often that people who are more religious and most fanatically religious are the ones who do the evil in the world. And this is historical so that’s maybe one of the points that I am so… that doesn’t mean that I’m against or I don’t like religious people. It’s the idea of religion. But I have, one of my best friends is a priest. A Jesuit priest who is now in Burundi, and we correspond constantly. And we have this huge argument about life. Because he sees life from the Jesuit male point of view, but we love each other and I totally understand him.

 

[00:40:45.00] Isabel Allende: So it’s not against the person who is religious, it’s against what it is.

 

[00:40:52.03] Music

 

[00:41:04.08] Walter Link: What I noticed in us spending time together also with other people, is that you are kind, have a capacity to break down that boundary of you being a famous person and that you really attempt to meet them as human beings and to make yourself vulnerable in that sense to be humorous about yourself, self-deprecating. So what do you try to get at when you are in this contact with other people? What are you looking for?

 

[00:41:41.18] Isabel Allende: I’m looking for connection. I want connection with my readers. I want connection with my audience if I’m on stage. I want connection with you if we’re talking. With you behind the camera. I really want the connection. Because it’s in the connection that I get something back. And something grows in this fertile soil that we mentioned before. Um. And I think that I have nothing to lose by being vulnerable. I haven’t done anything so awful in my life that I can’t share it.

 

[00:42:14.26] Isabel Allende: I have never tortured an animal or a person. I have never done anything that is so awful. I am ashamed of things I’ve done, but most people have things they’ve done they might be ashamed of. And we can share that. So I’m not so protected. And that doesn’t take away any power from me. I remember when I wrote Paula and I completely exposed my raw grief at losing my daughter. And many people, including my mother, said why do you expose yourself like this? Why do you give away everything? Nothing’s left. You don’t guard anything. And I said, if it’s not in the things that I say that I become vulnerable, it’s in the secrets I keep. What makes me weak and frail and vulnerable is what I hide not what I give away.

 

[00:43:17.25] Isabel Allende: And that is something that I always remember. And I remember it in my personal relationships also. Very intimate relationships like the relationship with my husband that is always a power struggle because we are two very powerful strong people. And I realize in my relationship with him that if I open up and I show up, what I want, what I need, what I fear, what makes me mad, we can connect, and I don’t lose anything. I don’t become weaker or dependent. No, and he needs to learn that, its harder for Willie though. [laughs] It’s really hard, he’s learning though. As he gets older, he realizes that there’s a form of vulnerability that its not really dependency. It’s just being more human. More of person, more of a heart.

 

[00:44:13.11] Music

 

[00:44:23.28] Walter Link: So we’ve been talking about you know kind of the new feminine leaders that are not trying to be men, not forced to be men by culture, but rather really find a new powerful femininity for which to lead, and you were suggesting that the Chilean president Michelle Bachelet as an example like that. Tell me more about her leadership.

 

[00:44:46.18] Isabel Allende: Well, Michelle Bachelet is a very interesting person because she was 15 years old when the coup happened in Chile. And her father was a military and he was arrested, and he died in torture. Torture by his own peers. And she was arrested with her mother and they were both tortured. And then she left eventually with her mother, and ended up becoming a doctor in Germany, she speaks perfect German and French and English and Spanish. And as soon as she could she returned to Chile and worked in the opposition to the dictatorship.

 

[00:45:23.08] Isabel Allende: When we had democracy in Chile she was first minister of health, because she’s a doctor, a pediatrician. And then she became minister of defense; the first time we had a woman minister of defense, who job it was to give back to the armed forces the respect of the population, that they had lost during all those years of atrocities. And she did it perfectly. And she has the military bearing because she comes from a family of soldiers. Now, then she became president and everybody thought it was impossible, no one want to vote for her in this macho country. It’s impossible. She’s a single mother, she’s an atheist. She’s a socialist, no way, and she’s a woman.

 

[00:46:08.10] Isabel Allende: But she was elected and she did the most wonderful government, and she finished her government with the highest approval rating ever in the history of Chile, 81%. And she’s the figure that if she goes back to Chile she would be elected again. She’s now doing a very creative job in the United Nations putting together all of the women’s organizations to create something similar to, organizations we have for children for example, or workers. So it would be wonderful if she achieves that. But her leadership is the mother figure.

 

[00:46:46.13] Isabel Allende: She’s feminine. She’s a strong, powerful mother. And she brought that to the presidency. She’s a very good administrator, great common sense, works in a team, very democratic in her, and yet she has authority. She knows when to act as a president. And very courageous. People loved her.

 

[00:47:09.28] Walter Link: Even while you don’t run a government, or a large corporation, you are a leader to many people because they buy your books for inspiration, for guidance for many reasons. What’s the kind of leadership qualities that you have, we talked about balancing the feminine and masculine and discovering in a way what that is. What are these qualities that you experience in yourself.

 

[00:47:40.10] Isabel Allende: I don’t lead a country or a corporation, so I don’t deal with a lot of people. I’m not really a leader in that sense. But I would say that you first need to be in touch with yourself, know who you are. You can’t fake it. You have to be yourself. And from knowing who you are and what you can give, what you have to offer, to put on the table, then you can be effective. I know that there are certain things that I can’t do, I don’t try. And there are other things I’m good at, so I do that, and for those that I can’t do, I bring in people who do it for me. So we do it together. And I think that qualities that are needed for a leader is capacity to take risks. Courage to confront crisis. Compassion to understand others and listen. And I will have to repeat myself, common sense.

 

[00:48:49.04] Isabel Allende: Because often, we lose that. When I write, people say, for whom do you write? And most writers would say I write for myself. I don’t write for myself. Without the readers, my books wouldn’t exist. Because a book becomes a book when somebody picks it up and reads it. So, I have the common sense of knowing that I have a readership, and I have to listen, be tuned to that readership. Know what is this exchange of me giving the story, them receiving it, then giving the feedback. All that is a process that requires not to be up there separated from everybody else. You have to be in the world, with the people that you are supposed to be leading.

 

[00:49:43.04] Music

 

[00:49:48.14] Walter Link: And somehow you must be able to come to something very essential in humans because your books are loved all over the world, its not that you are particularly read in the Latino world but not in Germany, or not in the U.S. So what is it that makes it possible for people in apparently different cultures to appreciate what you are bringing, what you are writing?

 

[00:50:19.14] Isabel Allende: I think I write about human emotions that are common to everybody. We all feel the same. We all feel fear; we all want our children to do better than us. We all feel love the same way. We all get mad the same way. And I don’t know why my books are successful in 30 languages all over the world, but I recently read an article that a professor of the university of Virginia wrote, Professor Donald Shaw, and he talks about the boom of Latin American literature that was in the 60’s, 70’s part of the 80’s, all male, all male authors that created the incredible movement of Latin American literature that told the world who we were. And told us who we were. They were mirrors with which we could see Latin Americans, our own faces.

 

[00:51:16.03] Isabel Allende: And he says that the vision of the men of the boom was existentialist, fatalist, pessimistic, a very, and also very male. And then what, I, and I don’t belong to the boom. I came, I’m the post-boom, start another movement. It says that the difference is that I see the world exactly in another way, I see it in a positive way, with hope. And I believe that love redeems everything. That there is a natural justice that is not the happy ending. But that there is a natural justice and balance in everything that exists, and that love is a force that redeems. And I think the readers might find in that explanation something, something. I have never thought of it, I just read this two weeks ago. So I have it fresh in my mind. But I think that that’s the way I see life. I see life as a very, of the world as a very troubled place.

 

[00:52:24.16] Isabel Allende: And awful things happen. But there’s beauty. There is constant, permanent beauty. And there is this incredible force that we all have, and sometimes it’s so crushed that we don’t even perceive it. If you think of half a million women raped in Congo to the point that they can’t even walk, then you say what happened there? What happened? But in spite of that there is redemption. And these women help each other, and they are going to stop it. So there is hope. There is always hope. And in my long life, Walter, I have seen a lot. I was born in the middle of the Second World War, when they threw the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time of the Holocaust. When millions and millions of people were killed systematically. I was born in a time when feminism was not a word yet. Where child labor, union labor, I mean it was, nobody talked about it. Racism was rampant. Half of the world were colonies of Europe. All that has changed in my lifetime. So I have seen the world go through terrible crisis and we seem to walk in circles, but it’s not a circle. It’s a spiral. And we seem to go pass again the same place. Yes it is. But we’re a little higher and higher. And in my years, I have seen that the world is a better place, no matter what. A much better place for more people.

 

[00:54:00.25] Isabel Allende: Still much needs to be done. A lot. And I’m here to help do it, but I’m not at all discouraged. I think that my grandchildren will live in a better world than my grandparents did.

 

[00:54:12.28] Walter Link: What are the, you know you talked about these different movements, the women’s movement, the different political movements, different movements in science and the economy that are bringing about change. That are a promising new society of civilization that’s emerging in the midst of all these crises. What do they all have in common? You spoke for example of love. What are these qualities, these underlying values, these visions that are spread all across the world, all across the sectors of society to bring about this new beginning, or this new continuation of the development of humanity?

 

[00:54:58.26] Isabel Allende: I think we are at the end of a period, of an era. At the end of a certain civilization. And many people hold on to whatever there is because they are afraid of change. So there is all these emergency of religions and nationalities and ethnic problems, but at the same time as you say, there is a movement an undercurrent of change. And its all, its mostly among the young people. And the first word that comes to my mind is connection. People want to be connected. And that is the miracle of the new technology. That has brought people to the idea for the first time in our known history, the idea of a global community. That anything that I do here has a ripple effect that can have consequences in Africa, somewhere else. And that we can be connected. There is the technology that connects us. And people long for community. What’s happening today in Wall Street, why are people camping in Wall Street? They’re camping against greed and Wall Street and the banks and all that, but what is the force there? We are together. We are the same. We are connected beyond race and class and gender. We are human and that idea that we are global and we are human and we can be connected is the great force that is emerging in my opinion.