Best year/worst year: it’s the same thing…

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I can’t help thinking how ironic it is to be publishing a book about having your best year - when there have been so many times this year I’ve felt 2010 is truly the worst year of my life.

First mum had a stroke. For someone who’s always shrugged off the idea of ageing and, until late last year was still hurtling around looking after everyone else, it’s been such a cruel blow. Losing her mobility, having to learn to write again, feeling tired all the time: mum’s new physical reality is bad enough. But what really hurts her - and those of us who adore her - is realising that her love of life, her overpowering sense of purpose and excitement at each new day, has gone too. My mum, who taught me by example about living a rich life, full of interest and usefulness and, above all, friendship. And now along with this kind of greyness that’s descended we have discovered she is dealing with cancer too.

And then there have been seismic shifts in one of my other main roles in life - as a parent. Mum’s sickness coincided with school being, finally, well and truly out for my wonderful children. Right now that doesn’t feel like the end of a chapter so much as reaching the last page of War and Peace (and every parent will know why I choose that particular classic!). For the last 20 years everything I’ve done, everything I’ve thought, the person I’ve been, has been somehow tied up with their lives.

Now, as they start to create their own futures, there have been moments of feeling adrift. My head is telling me I should be celebrating the fact that the 20 years I invested has produced two brilliant human beings and that, were it not for having to assume the role of mum’s carer, I’d be entering the heyday of my life: that period of freedom that comes along with having learned enough about life and having the resources to enjoy it.

But my heart is telling me something different, especially when I linger too long over the box of photos I’m trying to label and sort. Looking at pictures of us on beaches, messing about in the garden, wacthing junior football, helping at school fundraisers, I want them back.  The truth is I haven’t finished letting go enough yet to be able to turn and grab hold of the freedom that comes in their place. It’ll come, but perhaps I have to accept that sadness and loss are where 2010 is at: the twin themes of this challenging year.

choosing a new pespective

And perhaps I also need to remember one of the book’s themes - that there are many meanings to ‘best’; many ways to have a best year. It comes down to how I choose to think about it.

After all, the years that really count are the ones when we feel most alive. And life is exactly what these things the year has brought are about. Endings and beginnings. Letting go in order to embrace something else. Learning to flow with the seasons of life rather than resisting them. And understanding more powerfully than ever before -  precisely because of how these losses feel - the depth of the love I feel for those I’m closest to.

Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/31 at 10:19 AM
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On celebrations and sex toys

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It’s three months to the book’s launch and I should really be well underway with planning how to promote the book. One of things my previous titles have taught me is that the writing is actually the easy bit. It’s persuading the rest of the world to read it that takes the time and effort.

However, instead of sending out draft copies of the text to folk who might be persuaded to write a testimonial I’ve been writing a guest list for the launch party. This will be my sixth book but I’ve never yet had a proper launch. I suspect it’s the journalist in me who’s already moved onto the next thing long before those carefully crafted words make it into print.

Last year, however, I attended the launch of my friend Susan Quilliam’s new book, a new version of the classic The Joy of Sex, with Sue reworking most of Alex Comfort’s words and some of his wisdom, for the Noughties generation.

I have to say one of the evening’s highlights for me was the goody bags we got when we left: none of the usual flimsy face cream samples or money-off vouchers for products that were over-priced to begin with. These were x-rated goody bags, stuffed with sex toys as befitted the occasion. It was a bit like someone buying you the biggest, stickiest cake in the shop: so long as it’s a gift it’s OK to have it - even if it does require smuggling into the house.

But sexy gifts aside, what the evening also showed me was how good it is to celebrate. Writing can be a lonely business and you never know, as you sit and rework a page for the umpteenth time, if it’s really any good.

I’ve been living with this book for far too long to be objective about it: by the time its October publication comes around it’ll be almost three years since I first started sketching out a plan for a new kind of self help book. What I do know is that it would have been a heck of a lot longer but for the support of family, friends, and a whole bunch of people who have inspired me, taught me important lessons along the way, and believed in me.

The launch party will be my way of celebrating them every bit as much as the last three years.

All I need do now is work out what I can possibly put into the goody bags to match my mate Sue’s…

Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/18 at 07:49 AM
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