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Author Eve Ensler’s tips for success: Be emotional but make room for laughter

Habits Illustration. Eve Ensler. Credit: Anthony Jenkins / The Globe and Mail

Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

Make 'em laugh to make 'em learn

When I was a younger writer, I wasn't funny and the plays didn't do so well. I had the great experience of being mentored by Joanne Woodward and Shirley Knight. We were doing this play about nuclear disarmament because we were all obsessed with Reagan and nuclear war. I remember showing my first draft to Joanne. She said the characters are good and the structure's good, but you need to make it funny. I was like, "It's about nuclear war," but she said, "You're funny – go make it funny." In the end I wrote this really funny play and it reached a lot of people. When people are laughing they don't realize what thoughts they are letting in.

Tis better to give (a massage) than to receive

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The best thing anyone ever told me was to give what I want the most. I'm not even sure where I first heard it, but basically it's like, if you want something really badly give it to somebody else. Either that will get rid of the need or it will transform it. Let's say you really wish someone would give you a massage and someone comes along and they look equally tired and you give them a massage. It takes you out of your own state of feeling really achy and grumpy and by making someone else feel good you transform your own hunger. If you're waiting for someone to take care of you or heal your wounds, you will wait forever.

Do be so emotional

People say don't be so emotional. I think we should be far more emotional. Emotional intelligence is highly underrated. We've been taught to disconnect with our hearts and our feelings. We're so often in this state of somnolence where we're not feeling anything that's going on around us. Our empathy capacity is on mute. If we were more engaged we could respond so much more directly and immediately to things that are going wrong. The people who I admire and who I trust to lead are informed by their experience and their emotion as well as their vision.

When in pain, change the frame

Even when I was younger I have always had the ability to to turn pain into something. Pain to power, suffering to beauty. It started as a survival mechanism – I started writing at a very young age to see if I could make something out of the madness that was my family. [During my recent battle with cancer], I had an amazing ex-therapist who sat with me through chemo and said to me, "What if the cancer isn't poisoning you but the perpetrators and rapists and your father? What if it's going to get rid of them forever?" That changed everything. Suddenly I couldn't wait to get to chemo. Because of the help of people around me I was able to reframe the experience and it really did burn away a lot of my past. How we frame and name things really does determine our experiences.

Typecasting isn't so bad

If my tombstone says "Here lies the vagina lady," that's good news. During this tour I've met so many people who tell me how they can talk about their vagina and know their vagina and see their vagina and feel good about it. I'm not an essentialist, but I do believe that how a woman feels about her vagina determines how we feel about ourselves and how we will be in the world, so if that's what I'm know for, I'm proud of it.

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