Wish I’d said that

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Some people know how to squeeze ever ounce out of life without needing to read my book (strange but true smile !)

As my Aussie friend Jane prepared to head home after four years based in the UK she had this to say:

“In 4.5 years
I have had 75 trips to 23 different countries
I have seen either 4/7 or 5/7 of the ancient wonders of the world depending on which list you choose to use
And 4/7 of the wonders of the medieval world
I have swum in or crossed every sea/ocean in the world (I think)
I have touched 5/7 continents in the world
I have climbed the Eiffel Tower 4 times
I have paraglided off a cliff in Turkey
I have kayaked across two and hiked up one ffjord
I have been to 7 international music festivals, 48 gigs and 17 west end shows
I have been to Ascot, Wimbledon twice, and the Oval
I have seen Australia play Ghana at football.
I have bought 15 pairs of nearly identical, but entirely needed black heels
I have experienced a white Christmas twice
I have spent a new year’s eve in Red Square in -30 degree temp
I have spent a new year’s eve on Southbank in London, watching fireworks over the Thames
I have ice skated in 7 different cities
And been to every Guggenheim except the new one in Dubai.
Not a bad effort quite frankly.

There’s an unfortunate p.s. to this list since Jane’s attempt to add an eighth city to her ice skating total ended in a broken ankle, torn ligament, and the need to travel straight home from New York rather than lazily through Canada and Hawaii.

But what a great list. I may even get around to writing my own this New Year’s Eve as a reminder than even when I feel as though I am standing still there is plenty to remember, celebrate and be grateful for.  How about you?

And given the subject of my last blog I just want to share one more line from Jane’s message. “My boxes are mostly packed. (I’ll need 4, not 3 as I originally thought, which still isn’t bad given I’ve been here as long as I have and came with 3 boxes!”

See what you can achieve when you shed a bit of the baggage?

Posted by Jane Matthews on 10/19 at 04:08 PM
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Left Luggage

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I knew we were in trouble when less than 30 minutes into the move mum insisted she wanted to keep the pile of bus timetables dated May 2007 and flyers for concerts that took place a year earlier than that.

Part of picking up the pieces from mum’s stroke - and the cancer that came to light during innumerable hospital appointments - has been realising she needs pretty much constant attendance, which in turn means accepting she won’t be able to return to her home on the south coast. It’s taken almost a year to get to this point but, when a house came up for sale next door to my sister we bit the bullet and put mum’s home of 24 years on the market.

So, we booked a week, begged boxes from every supermarket within striking distance, and took a very deep breath. Every life has its clutter: cards from a special birthday, old school exercise books, packs of photos that never made it into albums. My own clutter includes a shank of coarse hair from the tail of our childhood pony, a yellow Chelsea Girl carrier bag (which may not mean anything to the River Island generation but, in the early 70s, was a badge of my cool-ness), and a bronze swimming medallion - as if I might, one day, produce it for my great-grandchildren when they ask if I won any medals in the war. “No, but I did once swim 50 yards in Luton municipal pool.”

weighed down

Somewhere between stuffing the sixth big box with yellowing newspapers (The Falklands, Twin Towers, floods, hurricanes and every other imaginable form of disaster - with only the odd royal wedding for light relief) and discovering three lifetime’s supply of ‘Personality’ soap bagged up at the bottom of a wardrobe, I realised why mum had talked about moving closer to us for the last decade but never done anything about it.

The sheer volume and weight of everything she has accumulated made even simply contemplating change inconceivable.  The only kind of house that could accommodate her life’s clutter would be an even bigger one. And if she lives another 20 years to celebrate her 100th birthday it still wouldn’t be enough time to read every one of the 1,500 books in her collection, or go through the tonnes of folders of ‘useful information, deciding which really are.

(Actually she wouldn’t have time for either of those because to get through all that soap she’d be spending most of her time in the bathroom, endlessly washing her face.)

Put simply, she was too buried by her past to move forward.

In with the new

Those of you who choose to work through ‘Have the Best Year of Your Life’ will soon see that letting go of Stuff - both physical and emotional - is a bit of a theme with me. Firstly, I believe a healthy life is one in which we review all our choices from time to time, whether that’s the things we’re giving house room to - or those we’re giving head room to. I also believe that doing it regularly - tackling one drawer or one corner of the garden shed, or fillling one bag for Oxfam once a month, prevents the sort of overwhelm that, eventually, makes it impossible to contemplate any kind of change, as it did with mum. 

Letting it just pile up, and refusing to consider that you might just have outgrown some of it, is like trying to go on holiday with half a dozen suitcases. You’re far too bothered about lugging it all around and keeping it safe to enjoy the new views, new tastes, new faces and places.

And that’s my other point about not letting anything go. How ever are you going to make room for anything new?

I used to keep every good book I read in the belief I’d want to return and reread them again one day. I was well into my 40s before I understood myself well enough to know the world will keep producing new books and there’ll always be something new I want to read. I can afford to pass the books I’ve read on to someone else to enjoy so there’s enough space on the shelf - and in my life - to experience another writer, another perspective, new ideas.

Here’s an idea: today, why don’t you grab a book you enjoyed - but are now finished with - and leave it in a bus shelter or on a park bench for someone else to discover? I’ve tried it myself (with qualified success it must be said) and blogged about it here.

I’ve seen the alternative and, believe me, those boxes are just going to get in your way as you start your journey…


Posted by Jane Matthews on 10/09 at 06:11 AM
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It’s a new day, it’s a new dawn

Monday, September 13, 2010


There are new dawns and there are new dawns.

In Have the Best Year of your Life I suggest that for at least one day in the year you should set the alarm to ring before dawn, grab a duvet or jacket and sit outside to watch the sun rise. Watching a new day dawn is as invigorating as emerging from your house into a surprise blanket of snow: fresh, virgin, unmarked. As you sit and hear sounds usually drowned by the noise of lives,  and smell the delicate perfume of leaves washed by the dew, you feel in that moment you could write absolutely anything on the surface of the day.

I’ve just got back from Greece where every day I was able to watch the sun rise. At 7am the mountains of the mainland became backlit by a curtain of pale yellow, intensifying every few minutes until the yellow deepened into a thick fringe of gold, tracing each needle point of the range, until the sun burst free and sent a burning pathway, unfurling across the channel of sea separating the mainland from Lefkada island where I was staying.

It was breath-taking: a freshly minted world every single morning.

Actually, I wasn’t really on holiday, but in Lefkada in response to an invitation to deliver a Heal Your Life workshop at Serenity Retreat – a new holiday centre for solos on a personal development, spiritual or 12-step (recovery from addiction) journey.

It was powerful stuff, and somehow the location seemed to have the same intensifying effect on what our small group went through as the clear Greek skies had on each day’s sunrise. In the course of a week’s sessions we looked at our baggage, our pain, the emotions we try and surpress; we looked at the habits and beliefs that hold us back; and we looked at forgiveness and what brings us alive and writing a new story for our lives.

And then the week was just about over and for the final time the first suggestion of light in the east filtered into the apartment where I never drew the curtains precisely so dawn would wake me. I slid from bed and onto the balcony – just in time to see a small fishing boat chugging to the pebbled beach below. Next door I heard a key turn in the lock, footsteps heading down the stone steps, then crunching lightly across the beach. And then the same small boat pushed off from the shore into that golden path of sunlight and silhouetted under its tarpaulin one of the group who’d been on the workshop, sea breeze rippling the long white blouse she was wearing over a swimming costume, dark hair burnished gold just as the mountain tops had been, eyes raised to the sun, as she shouted to her new Greek fisherman friend, and to me, awestruck on the balcony:  ‘wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.’

What she’d been through during the workshop is between her, me, and the other amazing members of our group. But of where she was heading, there was no doubt.
It was a new day, a new dawn, a new life…and we were all feeling gooood.

Posted by Jane Matthews on 09/13 at 03:42 PM
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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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