A truly concerned blogger would have posted this long ago. To make it up to you, I feel terrible. But I've been running myself ragged recently doing a new type of project, making myself into a reporter. I'm gathering material for a book on resilience.
It all began with my idea to write a book about the exciting, cutting-edge science about the long-term effects of violence, the kind of thing our courts (including, let it be said, even the second candidate for sainthood named John Paul) (try Googling "John Paul Stevens big shoes" and watch what happens) take absolutely no, as in zilch, responsibility for requiring the rest of us to live with.
My agent pointed out, with the ruthless logic of the consumer society, that no one other than me could be other than repelled by a book about the long-term effects of violence and other trauma.
"Okay, how about resilience, the children who grow up in the worst sort of environments and nonetheless make their guardian angels proud by succeeding beyond all reasonable dreams?"
That, my agent thought, showed a certain degree of promise. It would be uplifting. Chicken soup for the intellectual's parched soul. And it would still tell the same story about what the brutality embraced by our criminal courts is doing to the most vulnerable among us.
So last week I was in southern California - you know that earthquake in San Diego? it was for my benefit, striking just as I was checking into the hotel - and the aftershocks, once I got to my room, were 25 cents cheaper than Magic Fingers - interviewing one victim of epic trauma and a startlingly original researcher into the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences.
This week I'm off to the Bay Area to interview in depth a couple other survivors. A more dedicated blogger wouldn't allow that to distract him from his real life's work. And, you know, my cats like it when I sit in front of the cat-sized radiant heater that is my antique cathode-ray monitor, so it's kind of ungrateful to them that I don't do it more often. But (*sigh*) such is life, or (paraphrasing Elvis Costello) something quite like it.
Anyway, if you know of other resilient survivors of trauma, from refugees to the victims we churn out every day here in the U.S. of A., who would like to talk to a writer about how they overcame it, could you have them contact me, or tell me how to contact them? (JudgingCrimes@gmail.com)
This is a preliminary description of the project (with the catchy working title of - wait for it - Resilience), prepared for my agent, bless her commercially-savvy heart:
Cutting-edge research in the last 20 years has finally proven Freud right, at least in his original insight. Early childhood experiences can alter a person's entire life course, and even lifespan. Children who suffer adverse experiences – including neglect or abuse, but also death of a parent, poverty, or parents' divorce – exhibit changes in their blood chemistry and brain structure that only in the past few years have become measurable by medical technology.
Long-term studies on huge populations show a strong, proportional relationship between the number of adverse experiences in a child's early life and cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, hallucinations, obesity, depression, IV drug use, autoimmune diseases, sexually-risky behaviors and suicide attempts. The list, unfortunately, goes on.
While the science is exciting, the results seem at first depressing – until one looks at the other side of the coin. To say that children who grow up in adversity are at a greater risk for dire outcomes is another way of saying that many of them avoid such outcomes. Many children with rotten childhoods are damaged profoundly, but many others are amazingly resilient. They are, as the title of one landmark book puts it, Vulnerable but Invincible.
Resilience is a hot topic of research in the social sciences. New discoveries come tumbling off the presses of a dozen scholarly journals. From a professional point of view, it's easy to understand the scientists' excitement. If we could bottle the essence of resilience and sell it as an elixir, we would provide a cure for many of the leading causes of premature death.
But for a reader, the science means little until it is put into the context of individual lives. Above all, resilience is the triumph of individuals, and the amazing human capacity for adaptation that allows some of us to thrive in the least-nurturing environments.
Resilience tells the stories of remarkable individuals, describing their triumphs over trauma and adversity. Interwoven with their stories are the related tales of a different series of triumphs – those of the scientists, from molecular biologists to anthropologists, whose discoveries have made resilience the 21st century's most exciting field of research. Connecting lines are drawn from the science to the lives of individuals and back again.