How A Good Book Can Change Your Life

In the months I’ve been labouring through the latest edit of my wretched manuscript, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the writing process and the impact that certain books have had on my life.

Open book, lit up with fairy lights.
Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

I would like to clarify that my desire to have my own book published isn’t a narcissistic dream to become successful, living in LA and directing the movies to my stories. My motivation has always been to help other parents in our situation and to destroy the stigma around mental illness, i.e. to increase education.

And likewise, to learn about something new remains my main reason for reading.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have written a non-fiction account of what to expect from our situation – which, I imagine, would have been slightly easier to get published. However, I wanted to create a fictionalised account because 1) There are few fictions out there about ADHD, and 2) I believe that a good story resonates so much more. To tell my story in a non-fictionalised account, I would have to mask parts of the truth, to protect the privacy of others; in a fictionalised account, I can make my readers privy to the true feelings of the protagonists’ experience.

The power to change a mindset is crucial to me, because I am used to being on the other side of the reading process, and so many books have influenced my path.

I’ve missed books. And sadly, as a result of too many house moves, a shortage of space, my husband’s obsession with clutter, and our recent attempt at a minimalist lifestyle, we don’t own many any more.

That’s something I intend to change in the future: Firstly, because the living rooms I am always drawn to on Pinterest are the ones with metres of bookshelves; secondly, as much as I love its versatility, I’ve decided that the Kindle is a poor imitation of a book – God! I miss book covers – albeit that the screen version is much cheaper here in Australia; and thirdly, now I’ve seen how much pain the authors go through, I understand what a sacrilege it is to chuck them out.

We’ve kept certain books that mean something to us on a personal level. The old man has a dog-eared copy of some guide to golf by Nick Faldo, and a copy of Sapiens – a recent read that he believes changed his life, although not his ability to wipe down a bench top. And I have a copy of Little Women – which gave me so much pleasure as a child for the simple reason that the author had the same name as me. And The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion’s story of a neurodivergent mind – that resonated with me so much it inspired me to write my own interpretation of life as a kid with ADHD.

In fact, I loved “The Rosie Project” so much, I sent Graeme a fan-girl tweet about it that made it onto the inside cover of the UK version.

Then there’s Schindler’s Ark, a book the old man recommended to me when we started dating. The story of Schindler was undoubtedly my awakening to the imbalances in the world and the start of my crusade /against them. It was also kind of a freaky choice, because several years later when I was three months pregnant with NC – a very ill-thought-out plan in the first trimester of a pregnancy when you are permanently tired and cannot drink – we found ourselves watching the movie in a theatre in New York.

Clearly, I was very hormonal at the time, but the memory of that experience at the movies will always haunt me.

The story is obviously highly emotive, but when you watch the movie in the company of a mainly Jewish audience, their reaction stays with you. For that reason, I couldn’t watch it again, although I do believe that stories such as Schindler’s Ark have their place on the high school curriculum.

There’s a finale to this story. You see, a few years ago, I persuaded the old man to accompany me to a talk at the Sydney Writer’s festival where Thomas Keneally (the author) was interviewing another author. I wanted to put a face to the words of a book that had been so influential on me in my younger years. Back in my twenties in the UK, little did I know that the author was Australian, and lived a stone’s throw from where we live now.

And I would like to add that the man is a true character in every sense of the word, fully befitting of his reputation as a national treasure. He is one of those writers who sits passionately and publicly left of centre and is as compassionate and funny as you would hope.

You can imagine how appalled the old man was that I had (inadvertently) booked front row seats to the event, and yet during that hour in Thomas’ company, I didn’t even notice his awkward wriggles in the seat next to me as I hung onto every word that came out of the author’s mouth. It was one of those rare “moments” in life where everything felt like it had come together – literally from London, to New York, and finally, to Sydney.

Imagine if I had known as a child that one day I would find myself at a writers festival, sitting metres away from my icon. Le destin, as the French call it.

I do have one terrible admission when it comes to books, however. I am one of those awful people who can never remember authors’ names or the titles of their books – which, as you can imagine, has worsened in menopause. I couldn’t even tell you who wrote the book I’m currently reading, or its title, even though I am thoroughly enjoying it. And often, I will start a book, only to realise a third of the way through that I’ve read it before.

And yet, there’s something quite wonderful about that, as well. It’s like bumping into an old friend, who gently dislodges those precious memories that I filed away in another era, and takes me back to a place I wouldn’t ordinarily choose or have the opportunity to visit again otherwise.

The power of a good book to change the way we think is why I will continue to read and live vicariously through the lives of the many fascinating characters out there. It’s why I will always buy books. Minimalism is about spending money on experiences, and books fit that idea for me. They can be expensive, however, their ability to change the way we think in a healthier, organic way than social media, for example, is why they will be at the top of my Christmas shopping list this year.

Middle Age Is About Making Important Choices

I knocked back some paid work last week. Not that we’re rolling in money and I can pick and choose the hours I want, but this time my choice was based on my health. I knew that working five days a week in three different fields would have undone all of the good I got from my holiday.

I know how lucky I am to have that option, but that’s because we have made choices about the way we live. We sold the family home and rent an apartment now, and the old man is we’re careful about what we spend. In the past, both of us have struggled with stress and anxiety – which have been exacerbated by our problems with Kurt – and so we are well aware of our limitations.

I believe fervently in the importance of recognising those when it comes to your mental health, particularly in middle age when menopause can trigger anxiety and reduce our tolerance for working with dickheads for someone else. Sometimes, when I listen to friends who constantly moan about their jobs – and who are fortunate to have those options – I want to shake them and ask them exactly what they’re waiting for?

I am aware that there are people out there – mostly self-employed – who love their work, and that perhaps my view sounds somewhat narrow-minded. But I learnt about the fragility of human life very early on, and I’m also fortunate that I can do some of my paid work from home.

Instead of working on those days I was asked to, I took my first dip in the ocean since the end of winter. I lay in the water like a pig in shit, looking up at the blue sky, and acknowledged how lucky I am. The water in Sydney doesn’t get higher than 24 degrees and it was predictably icy, i.e. enough to shock my body into questioning what the fuck I was doing. Nevertheless, it was clear, bathed in sunshine, and personally I can’t think of any better experience.

So I won’t be getting that new dining set to replace the one we’ve had for over twenty years, which is now so old it has come back into fashion – much to the old man’s delight. But I did experience another of life’s precious moments, and without being maudlin, who knows how many opportunities I’ve got left to do that.

Has Western Society Compromised Community For Adventure?

I read this article  by Hugh Mackay this morning, and it reinforced my view that one of the main reasons behind the increase in mental illness in the modern world is a disappearing sense of community and isolation. The accusation that perhaps we’ve got our priorities wrong in terms of our lifestyle choices makes perfect sense to me. adventure-1867386_1280-1

 

After the old man and I had one of those weekly regret-box conversations the other night, about where our lives went wrong, we came to the conclusion that we’ve moved house, neighbourhood and countries too often in our thirty-something years together – a decision that has not only affected the state of our personal wealth but more importantly, our connection to others.

 

We have good friends in both countries and in the neighbourhoods we’ve left behind, but the old man says that if my itchy feet hadn’t forced him to jump ship so frequently, we would have deep-rooted friendships by now and a true sense of security borne of being an integral part of a neighbourly community.

 

So sayeth the introvert.

 

‘But we’ve had more experiences,’ I always counter to his argument, ‘and anyway, you hate people…’

 

‘But we wouldn’t know what we’d missed if we’d remained in the same house for twenty years,’ he retaliated, the finger of blame pointed squarely at me.

 

Yawn…

 

Of course, there is hyperbole in my re-enactment of these discussions, because I’m certain that we are as fundamentally happy with our lot as the next middle-aged couple prone to whinging at this final stage of our quest for happiness in our lives. The influence of alcohol has a lot to answer for, because it increases this scourge of self-pity about our first world problems.

 

Which is probably why old people stop drinking.

 

And inevitably, I always come to the same conclusion that we are nothing more than spoilt, glass-half-empty, over-thinkers who will find something to moan about no matter how close we are to our neighbours and what decisions we make. That even though both of us are aware of the irrelevance of regrets, the ‘what if’ need to seek perfection culture  is something we share along with anxiety, and it can be hard to control as age and fear of death creeps up on us.

 

I’ve spoken many times before on this blog of the blight of migrant homesickness that can infuse our happiness as we age. Yet we made the choice to leave our motherland. Pity the other migrants, the Asylum seekers and refugees who switched countries for reasons of safety or even survival.

 

So ours must simply be a mild case of middle-class internal dissatisfaction that has emanated from ‘making our bed’ and questioning now why it isn’t completely perfect; an issue that has recently become more sensitive as we watch world borders being strengthened in the wake of the potential increase in fascism, and since NC broached the delicate topic of leaving Australia to go back to the UK to work. Needless to say, my anxiety has flipped into overdrive as I consider all the potential implications of both kids leaving us, being forced to raise grandchildren without us, and having to wipe my own bum in old age.

 

In reality, I know that many parents all over the world are deserted by their adult children and that it is nothing we’ve done wrong; rather, we should see this as a parental success. And it can be advantageous for the economic stability of backpackers-Central such as Earls Court in London, that would never have survived without its influx of Antipodeans. I know this, because I help those very same ambitious millennials on the ground here in Sydney, the fresh batches of twenty-somethings driven by opportunity, the promise of success, who each have a hunger for new experiences and the adventures they know they must enjoy before they have toddlers yapping at their heels.

 

I don’t doubt that there are friends of mine in the UK who sometimes sit in their kitchen and regret that they didn’t do more, didn’t travel more, or didn’t live in another country like we have; while I sit on my deck swatting flies and thinking melancholically about frost and The Sunday Times.

 

I do miss aspects of the community we gave up, yet I refuse to negate the opportunities and experiences that we’ve taken advantage of due to improved travel and communication technology. It’s not all bad. Many have been amazing experiences. No-one’s life is perfect and perhaps my infatuation with FB exacerbates the feeling of homesickness over what I’ve gained. Had we remained in England, I suspect that we would have still been nomads, just chilly ones.