Lucky: What happened when I decided to throw away money

 

What follows is a true story. It seems so bizarre to me, even now, that I find it hard to reconcile with myself. Was that really me? Surely I didn’t do anything quite this crazy? But it was. And I did. Though whether it was really crazy or not, you’ll have to judge for yourself.

 

It started with Lisa Lynch. I’ve written before about her. She wrote a fantastic book called The C Word. The planned sequel was to be called Lucky, and while she was writing it, she asked a lot of us for stories from our lives on the theme of luck. As it happened, I had a story – a very strange one. So I sent it to her, and she sent me a note back to say how much she liked it, and planned to incorporate it. When Lisa died, the book remained unfinished. I’ve often thought about posting the story, but the time was never right. Then, the other day, I told it to someone else.

 

It still had a strange, irreducible magic about it. In fact, it freaks me out a bit. So here it is…

 

Danish Kronor nailed to the wall by Matt Potter

I’m a confirmed sceptic, science geek and logical positivist. So I don’t actually believe in luck at all – just average outcomes. This is a bad thing from the point of view of enjoyment, as it means that even when an incredibly good thing happens by chance – I catch a train and get a seat; I find a tenner; I happen across the very thing I’ve been looking for –  I wince.

 

Because I know I’ve just made a withdrawal, as it were, in the bank of average outcomes. The luck bank. And sooner or later, a deposit will be required.

 

So no, luck hasn’t been a great focus of my life. And yet. And yet. The facts still say this all happened.

 

And it all began with the Aphex Twin.

 

I read an interview in the early-1990s in which he put the fact that his noise/chaotic/atonal/uncommercial music had suddenly become hugely successful through absolutely no fault of his own with the fact that he’d recently moved flat. His new basement apartment, he explained, turned out to have been a bank vault before it was converted by the property developer. Aphex Twin, who hadn’t known it when he moved in, said he’d noticed that since the day he moved there, money seemed to keep wanting to come to him. He’d apparently even had a mini-crisis about it, freaked out, got paranoid in a slightly-stoned way maybe, and started trying to avoid making money, even give it away, for fear it was all a wind-up or that it was too good to trust. But the more he freaked, the more unsolicited cheques would arrive, the more cash would be dropped round to his house.

 

I just put that down to being a chaotic bloke who worked hard. He’d obviously forgotten all the productivity (like we all do) and so when records sold, he thought woah, what? Cash? What for? But then it happened.

 

OK, so fast forward to a point, a coupla years later, when I moved into my new house. Completely broke; overstretched; no money. I then split up with my partner, so I suddenly had a whole joint mortgage to pay off on my own, and had just had a job go tits up. As money got lower and lower, then minus, I began living off borrows. Hmm.

 

I was doing a bit of drunk decorating one night (it’s great fun, you get to splash it about like the Stone Roses and stakes is low with a white undercoat in a house you can’t afford to furnish or carpet) and I found an old coin between the floorboards. It was Danish, one of the Krønor with a hole in the middle. So I hung it on a nail over the door, and as I did so, I thought of the Aphex Twin, and then I thought, what the hell, hahahahaha! Then I had another drink. And then, giggling, I went a bit crazy with the old spare holiday currency pot.

 

By dawn, the entire house was a metal detector’s nervous twitch. I had secreted foreign coins inside polyfilla’d walls; wallpapered over old Polish Zloty notes; sealed invalidated French centimes behind skirting; the lot. I had a hangover, and a massive paint headache, I’d fallen asleep without washing and there was white paint on my bed, and I thought, well, that was stupid.

 

Next day was Monday. I got home from a meeting about a job to discover a message on my ansaphone (yeah, that long ago). Some articles I’d written years ago had unaccountably suddenly started selling on syndication, and would I agree to having some cash to let some Brazilian mag print them. But I didn’t think about the Aphex Twin.

 

Then I found a purse, and a diary in a hedge. I called the numbers, the person was happy, she asked me to keep any cash in the purse. There was £30. I didn’t, I just gave it back. That afternoon she came round with £50 to say thanks for everything, and for giving the money back when I could have kept it. In 48 hours, I got an unexpected expenses rebate. A building society got taken over and sent me cash. My phone company said sorry for something I wasn’t aware they’d done, and sent me some cash too.

 

A bell rang in my head. I started to do the Aphex Twin thing, and see what would happen if I actively turned down money. And sure enough, it started coming in.

 

I won’t bore you with details, just to say that the number of odd windfalls was truly freakish, and in direct and inverse proportion to the amount I tried not to earn.

 

On the third day – all this happened in that short a space of time – I  turned down the job offer – which I would normally have jumped at – quite deliberately pricing myself out of it, just because I now figured something would come up anyway, what with my hot streak. Unexpectedly, they came back with a yes. Then an old mate rang to say he’d got a job on a daily and wanted me to do a daily column.

 

It genuinely did start rolling in, the more I tried to waste it. I never do lotteries. But a friend gave me a scratchcard as a joke-shit present, and it won. I never bet. But I bet on the Derby, and made a packet. Before, I’d never say no. But I did, and more and more people came back offering more for whatever it was. I was briefly minted. I bought new furniture I’d never have bought before. I paid off shitloads of mortgage. I even bought a suit and started drinking cocktails. Because I could.

 

Of course, it didn’t last. The momentum, or maybe just the novelty, the sense of liberation, faded. And as it did, I went back to being suspicious of chance, risk-averse, and poorish. I’ve thought about it, and of course it’s the return to the mean – bad luck and good luck are illusory patterns we impose with our minds onto a series of random, or at least disorderly, happenings.

 

But I also think it’s all about an odd ‘cheat’ or jumpstart to your confidence: believing – or even playing without really believing – that you’re ‘lucky’ can give you the balls to make decisions or take paths that you’d otherwise be too craven or risk-averse to take. It’s shamanism, in a way: the berserker’s invulnerability in battle. The hoodoo. The placebo for your sense of adventure and positive risk-taking.

 

It’s not whether you’re lucky at all. (You’re not.) It’s whether you feel lucky.

 

So tell me, punk. Do ya?

 

Premiere: Official preview clip from ‘The Notorious Mr Bout’

 

There’s a great documentary feature film on arms smuggler Viktor Bout at Sundance 2014 this week.

 

I’m part of it, but don’t let that put you off – it’s by the team who made the award-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer last year. There’s more detail below, but in the meantime, here’s the official trailer for The Notorious Mr Bout.

 

 

I’m available for comment or press purposes around the release of the film. Contact me through the comments here, or on Twitter where I’m @MattPotter. For film or TV work, contact Rebecca Watson at Valerie Hoskins Associates.

 

1,217 words for absence

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Lena is a close friend. She’s been my friend for more than 20 years now, so I’m lucky. She’s a beautiful, playful, kind, lovably geeky girl/woman – from Uganda by way of North London’s Jubilee line Big Yellow Storage hinterlands, then Gloucestershire, Cambridge and the Big Smoke.

 

We were flatmates for years – the years of back-to-mines and shared laundry runs. Lena married Rich, another of my closest friends – they have a marriage that’s loving and occasionally complex, just like all the best ones – and our close-knit little group, with Lena at the centre, has shared too many nights out to remember. (On one, she developed an obsession with a trance club’s crowd-roaming bongo player, and kept following him through the crowd like a duckling after its mum. ‘Bongo Man’ is our codeword for getting too wrapped up in something, work, whatever. Which, being Lena, happens often.)

 

What you really need to know, though, the key in a way to understanding everything else about Lena, is that so much about her is hugely, winningly incongruous. She’s a fearsomely intelligent polymath without an ego; the sociable introvert who holds our group together; a source of support and advice who carries her own sadnesses patiently; a Russian-, French-, Italian-speaking, law-firm partnering, multi-instrumentalist whose nature is to look up to people, and who seems genuinely baffled by her life’s big puzzle, which is of course that the rest of us love her so deeply. Her learning sits so lightly on her as to be invisible if that’s what she wants; and she wears her reading glasses with the same slightly amused elegance with which she sports her hangovers. I’ll tell you more about her in a minute. You’ll like her a lot.

 

But what I want to tell you first was how it went the day we buried her. Or at least, how it went for me.

 

As the days pass it sometimes seems as if I wasn’t properly there. (Did it even happen? I still catch myself pretending we just haven’t spoken for a couple of months. That Lena’s out there on the other side of town, waiting for the moment to pop up on my timeline.) But then come the joltingly clear memories.

 

The icy blue sunshine and high, painter’s clouds – refugees from the mountains who still haven’t got the hang of blending in among the towers and flats.

 

My last look up at the side of the spire, doing that falling-back thing it does as it soars away from you. At the streets, thinking how out of joint were all the vans and chattering teenagers and shopping mums. The darkness of the threshold. The church, huge, flooded with light, smelling churchy.

 

Then Lena’s family wandering into the church. They moved to all the right places, but looked like they’d lost their direction somewhere.

 

The light that fell across Lena’s mum, dad, brothers and sister. They nodded, and smiled, and sat, and fell silent. They sat across the aisle from the rest of us; her friends, her husband, her in-laws. I felt ashamed somehow, inappropriate: I couldn’t help them. The girl who had died was their daughter, their baby sister.

 

I couldn’t stop looking across at them. Their grief had her bemused, sad-laughing eyes, and a sort of patient, scholarly attentiveness that I’d seen in Lena a million times. Her sister moved her head with the same listening gesture. I remember thinking how their shoes were all polished. My shoes weren’t polished. I worried at it, tried to think of an injoke between Lena and me that would have justified my lapse, made it OK.

 

When I resurfaced, the church was full.

 

I found myself amazed at how many different Lenas we were burying.

 

All this time, I had known just one. Rich, her husband, knew another. Maya and Sema, her BFFs, each had their own, subtly different Lenas. But here was Lena the baby daughter, childhood classmate, little sister, boss, mentor, steadying family influence, benefactor. Those Lenas were all here, you could feel them filling the church, each with her own companion.

 

And for a moment I felt a strange euphoria, seeing my friend as if she were arriving, really becoming whole, instead of departing. All along, she’d been all this. To so many people. And each of us, even as we claimed her as our own, had merely borrowed a little bit of her for what felt, in the end, like the blinking of an eye.

 

So I tried to keep that in my head, but the vicar was talking. I couldn’t focus. I kept looking at my friends now; the ones who had known, more or less, the Lena I had. I wanted to speak with them about this feeling that we were all together in witnessing something extraordinary, the way you try and seek out others who witnessed the same event, saw the same gig. “You saw that too, right?”

 

Or: That was someone very special, wasn’t it?

 

Here were the university friends and acquaintances, too. Some I’d seen in the 20 years since we graduated, but not many, and not often. (I don’t know why, except there’s something in me, or there was at least, that doesn’t live well in the midst of groups and reunions. That fades with age too.) They were good people. I’d been really fond of them back then, in my spiky-young-man way, and I hadn’t seen them in decades. There we stood, smiling, or crying, or attentive, or stony-faced. Together.

 

Inside that church, now deep inside the service – with time slowed to an excruciating thick, dreamlike crawl and nowhere to look but up, down or across – I saw them all clearly for the first time. Not composed for upbeat hellos or wearing expressions of sympathy; not thinking about the clothes or the hairlines or the kids; but naked, and with all their years.

 

Two of my closest, Al and Fi, stood behind me. I couldn’t see them, but I could hear him moving his arm through hers, and her crying softly, just by my left shoulder-blade.

 

Lena’s best friends were speaking; Sema and Kofi read poems, then Maya began her eulogy. They were lightning conductors, drawing all the crackling and confused babble in our minds, the awful mix of emotions, and speaking them out again in a way that couldn’t hurt us. They took it on them, and they fought hard, and it helped.

 

To my surprise, I was ready for the grief, the helplessness and even the guilt. You feel them jostling and bumping into you, trying to get you to look at them. You feel them in your cheekbones and jaw, around your eyes, your chest, your clenched hand. But you are ready. You can stand, and you can fight them fair.

 

What I wasn’t prepared for – and today, looking back, it might even be the dominant note to the day – was an odd kind of tenderness for the people around me in that place. I remembered a story about Neil Armstrong. Standing on the moon, he had looked up and seen the Earth out there in space. For the rest of his life, the feeling never left him. It was of being overwhelmed with love for this tiny thing he suddenly saw as alone, fragile, and infinitely precious.

 

And because I was unprepared, it threw me, in a way that grief could not.

 

I tried not to look that feeling in the eyes, even tried to invite the grief back for a quick go. But that second thing kept creeping over me, in quietly booming waves.

 

It was waiting for me at the cemetery, as handfuls of earth were thrown over Lena, and a bright hailstorm flashed and was gone; it clung to my elbow in the cramped suburban community centre where the wake was held; it slouched at the bar in the dark cocktail club in Soho where the party ended up.

 

I looked at my contemporaries properly for the first time – not the first time that day, but the first time ever. The young women and men – boys and girls, really – I had known at college were all 40 now. They had changed the world in small ways, become notable, achieved what they said they would, or they had not; they had filled out, thinned and thickened.

 

Many had plateaued in the careers they’d dreamed about back then; more had found those careers weren’t for them; others, late bloomers, were still officially biding their time. Some wore the marks of family life, some of fulfilment, some the pristine glow of loneliness. They had suffered disappointments, and sometimes suffered successes more. They had children, divorces, lives, and they looked… Well, they looked beautiful.

 

The saplings don’t see it themselves as the forest grows around them, its slow accretions of bark and scratches transforming them over slow decades. But I saw it now, those same years, scratches, accretions on all of us.

 

The crooked trees were as beautiful as the straight, and the broken as beautiful as the unbroken. The ones I had been close to, the ones I’d hardly known, all stood together. We were together on that tiny, far-away Earth, and one less. How small the differences seemed.

 

As afternoon stretched into evening, the day took on a quiet glow. It ended with the usual sense of drift, the gently mounting sense that there were things to be done elsewhere. Things to be done: for Lena; for her family; for Rich, her husband – and for ourselves, and our families, and for all those we loved but hadn’t spoken with or seen or held in too long.

 

I remember thinking: “Lena will be OK from here.”

 

As if we were dropping her off at home, somewhere safe.

 

I tried, days later, in the stumbling way people try to say the most important thing on their minds, to articulate a strange feeling that comes in small moments amid the dreadful empty powerlessness and loss: that I was happy for Lena. I meant, because she went without knowing. Because she made us all feel like this, and that doesn’t just happen on its own. Because she’s kind, and good, and gone, but not gone at all. Because she is loved.

 

But words got in the way, as ever. And people looked at me and smiled, and said, “But she’s dead.” And I think I laughed at my foolishness, and muttered something about being a klutz. Lena is dead. And I miss her.

 

I’m not surprised I couldn’t explain, not really. These things have a habit of staying where they form, and going with us on whichever bit of our own journey is most private. And if there’s still a little part of each of our love for Lena that remains with us alone and can’t be told, that’s OK too.

 

Still, I thought for a long time about trying again. But it’s something I can’t quite grasp myself. Faint stars always vanish when you try and look at them directly. So I thought perhaps writing it down would help. But even now, after 1,217 words, I’m not sure I’m any closer.

 

DOWNLOAD: Cool fabricator: The strange and beautiful case of Tom Kummer

Bad Boy Kummer: The poster for the inevitable biopic

In the course of researching my new book on resignations, I’ve been wading through a lot of parting shots from journalists.

 

Well, they have the public forum. Most of us pass through our careers without leaving a trace. We speak as representatives. We curtail our language. We stick to the script. This makes workplaces strangely preliterate, at least in terms of studying them. In the absence of personal testimony, we need to turn anthropologist.

 

It’s not like that with journalists. Everything they write is a personal testimony. Their/our careers are (often, at least) all footprint. And sometimes, the testifying is all there is.

 

So I’ve been wading through the last flare-outs of Jonah Lehrer, Johann Hari, Jayson Blair and others. And those cases reminded me of another that I’d known more than a decade before. This case never got quite the fame in the English-speaking world; but then, if it hadn’t been for our anglophone insularity, perhaps it could never have happened in the first place.

 

It’s the strange, strange story of a Swiss-German Hollywood reporter called Tom Kummer. He was Germany’s man on the inside throughout the 1990s. Nobody – not the LA Times, not Vanity Fair – could get the access he got; or get the stars to open up like him. He interviewed Brad Pitt about his bogies; Courtney Love about dinosaurs; Sharon Stone about post-structuralism. The world asked: how did he do it? What was his secret?

 

Well, you can guess. But there was a twist to Tom Kummer’s story that nobody saw coming. I wrote a feature about him in Jack magazine back in 2003. So I dug it out. Here it is.

 

It’s not perfect. But it sure is weird.

 

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News: New book, ‘Parting Shots’ out June 2013

 

I can finally share some details on the next book. ‘Parting Shots’ is going to be the secret history of our times and society, as revealed through resignations.

 

And I’d like your recommendations! Mostly, we’re talking Rebekah Brookses and Thatcher cabinet ministers, but I’d love to quote some unknown examples, too – and spectacular/fun/vicious/poor/epic/drunk/great/unwise resignation letters or speeches. So if you’ve ever sent, received, said or heard any particularly good ones, would love to hear about it. I’ll credit you in the book, and pay in booze/Amazon vouchers for any I quote… I thank you!

 

Watch this space for an update in the next couple of weeks…

News: Catch Matt performing in the Literary Death Match at London’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival, June 2nd!

I’ll be facing off against some of Britain’s best writers and comedians in the 26th Literary Death Match at London’s hipsterest literary festival this June.

 

If you’ve not yet had the pleasure of sampling Outlaws Inc., or enjoyed it but suspect what it might be missing is a live, onstage setting in which its woefully under-prepared author reads bits of it out on stage for a panel of comedy judges, vying with four other authors for a place in the final of some tipsy, nerd-friendly version of a gladiatorial contest, then Stoke Newington Literary Festival on June 2nd 2012 is the place to be.

 

The 26th Literary Death Match sees me lining up against ace novelist Anna Raverat, top comedian Andy Zaltzman, and acclaimed author of 50 Ways To Find A Lover Lucy Ann Holmes. (My performance will be the only non-fiction reading on the bill, so not sure how that’ll go down.) The performances will be analysed, lampooned and otherwise picked apart for the entertainment of the baying mob, by a panel of all-star judges. After each pair of readings, in which authors face off, the judges  select their favorite to advance to the finals based on “literary merit, performance and intangibles” and give their own often hilarious commentary on each story.

 

Literary Death Match is everywhere at the moment. Billed as a “competitive, humour-centric reading series… part way between Def Poetry Jam and American Idol without the nastiness”, it brings together writers from different disciplines with comedians and critics, in a night of live literary performance.

 

Literary Death Matches are now a regular fixture from LA to Berlin. It sounds like a circus, admit the organizers, but “That’s half the point. Literary Death Match is passionate about inspecting new and innovative ways to present text off the page, and the most fascinating part is how seriously attentive the audience is during each reading.”

 

My performance/potential mistimed Pinot Grigio car crash begins at 8pm in the Library Gallery on Stoke Newington Church Street. Tickets are just a fiver each – you can book them from Ticketweb here – and you can bet there’ll be lots of booze and good vibes.

 

If you’re there, do come and say hello. I’ll be the chap who looks like a smaller, slightly drunker – perhaps older somehow – version of my avatar, and reading from a book with my name on it, but which I appear never to have seen before in my life.If you want to contact me, I’m on Twitter as @MattPotter (see what I did there), and you can email me at matt [at] mattpotterbooks [dot] com. I sign books for warm wine, and for crisps I’ll draw pictures too

 

You can follow Literary Death Match on Twitter at @LitDeathMatch, and Stoke Newington Literary Festival at @StokeyLitFest too. The full programme of Stoke Newington Literary Festival is here. And it’s a corker.

 

Comment: The best writer I know

 

While I was in New York, running around promoting the book and doing things I thought were all terribly important, something else happened.

 

Jetlagged and excited, I sat on a step outside a Starbucks close to 5th Avenue to check my emails. There was a cheery, round-robin, letting-you-know email from a good friend and fellow journalist – I’ll call her X here, because though her news is now more or less public, I’m guessing it would only embarrass her if people knew who she was from reading this. It started in the way she always starts important news – the chatty, importance-deflating opener, the joke or two just to settle you in, then (wallop) the Big News, always with the same casual, pick-that-out-of-the-net delivery. I love the way she does news.

 

As I began to read it, I remembered the last time I’d seen such an off-hand opener to a piece of amazing gossip from her. That one had said something like, “So whaddyaknow. I got a book deal.” I’d loved that. I read on.

 

So whaddyaknow (…the jokes…) the big news is (…and the casual netside smash…) she’s got cancer.

 

I read it back again.

 

X has got cancer. Actually, she’s got cancer back. And this time it means business in a way that makes even her previous brush – aged 28, breast, stage four, double removal and reconstruction, more major surgery, chemo – look like it was just messing her about. Three years on, it’s in her bones. And while it can be treated, it cannot be cured.

 

Then the jokes again, and the Bossy X thing, telling recipients to get a damn grip, put it in perspective and look out for her husband, brother and family. It was a hell of an email. I sat there and looked at the email, while 5th Avenue did its fast-motion thing around me and my inbox.

 

Then something weird happened. Something that was almost as surprising as the news itself.

 

But for me to tell you what, there are three things you now have to know about X.

 

1. She’s the best writer I know. This is something I said, both to her face (OK, Twitter face) and others (everywhere) before this note. A good thing too: if I told her now, such is her aw-shucks modesty she’d assume I was “just saying it”.

 

2. When I say the best writer, I actually don’t mean just the best writer. Her tweets, her journalism, her blog, her book, her conversation – especially, her conversation – all have something that make people want to be a part of them. I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s a sort of empathy. There’s this thing when you’re at the pub or work or wherever and chewing the fat with X, where you see her absolutely rapt in the narrative (joke, tall tale, laugh, polemic, whatever) of the moment. You tell a story, and you notice she’s primed, ready for the laugh. Essentially, I believe this is what informs her writing. She’s up for the story in a way that a lot of journalists aren’t, and will follow a line of humour for the reward, where other writers might pull back. It’s a sort of nose for the good bit. An instinct for entering into the spirit of things. It makes her writing fun, and true, but it also makes it really human. A lot of journalists don’t necessarily do things like human, warm, empathy. I love slipping into them, but for her, they aren’t fancy dress; they’re like housetrousers.

 

In fact, I think that’s what makes her a great writer: the same thing that makes her such fun to have as a mate. And if you’ve read her books, her articles, but don’t know her, here’s the news: you do know her. Because she really is the person you hope she’ll be when you laugh and tut and generally hang out with her page-self.

 

3. That’s what I think. And I’m not even one of X’s super-close friends. We’ve worked together, jabber over social media quite a bit, meet for a drink occasionally. I’ve met her man and he’s a great guy too. I guess/hope they both know I’ve got their backs if it comes to it. But in that oh-so-London way, I still don’t know her home address.

 

So why do you have to know all this? What comes next that’s so surprising, so hard to understand?

 

For X, I felt (feel) pissed off, powerless, sad, guilty (Woah! Where did that come from?), and lots more. But something in what she wrote, or how she wrote it, made me weirdly hopeful. Or maybe inspired. Something. I didn’t know why. It wasn’t hopeful or inspiring news. So that messed with my mind for a few days. And (a week on) I think I’ve figured it out.

 

There’s been a fair bit of cancer flying about in my family recently, and there’s nothing good about it. It’s a mean-spirited thing. It doesn’t just take your health, or your loved ones’ health; it tries to mess with your mind. It puts things off limits – not just activities but whole subjects of discussion, even feelings. It puts up barriers between people. It stops them doing, saying, even thinking what they really want (need) to do, say, and think.

 

People become prisoners to it.

 

They want to talk to their families like they did before, freely and with love, and without baggage.

 

Cancer says No.

 

They want to say ‘I love you’ without the other person thinking they’re only saying it because they have cancer.

 

They want to be told they are loved without thinking, “This person is only saying this because I have cancer”.

 

Cancer says No to that.

 

They want people to see them, argue with them, say hello and goodbye to them, hug them, catch up with them, share a joke with them, without the other person seeing a cancer-sufferer instead of a mum, a brother, a sister, a wife, a dad, a grandma, a son, a husband, a daughter, a friend.

 

They want to talk to people without cancer subtitles appearing at the bottom of the screen.

 

They want to watch TV, listen to some music, read a magazine, have a conversation, without half-expecting that awful moment when innocent turn, chance remark, supporting character (something they would have skated over a million times before, something innocuous or coincidental) brings them out of the moment and back to their cancer, and its shadow.

 

Cancer says No.

 

Cancer says No to a lot of things. It tries to close us down. It can be very isolating. X knew this, because in the book she wrote about the last time, she even thanked the friends “who just didn’t know what to say”. At different times, that’s been me.

 

I’ve never had cancer. But like I say, more than one member of my close family has had it, this past couple of years. And while they had it, they got further away. And that always seemed to me the cruellest thing.

 

The No is always the same. It’s a shake of the head, something filled with doubt and isolation. But everything X does, everything she says, and everything she writes in response – even in the email that informed her friends of its return – is a far more powerful affirmation of her closeness to people. Humour beats doubt and awkwardness every time; humanity, openness and generosity of spirit will always kick the black dogs of depression and helplessness out.

 

And then there’s love.

 

That – sheer bloody love of life, of the people around her, of the ongoing story, of the moment before the laugh, of her husband, family, friends, of people at large – is what comes through in her writing and conversation. It’s in that email, her ongoing blog, her book, and her journalism on damn near any subject; it’s in her tweets and status updates, and (especially) it’s in the times in pubs and offices and on Twitter that she’s made me laugh and think how much I’d like to be her when I grow up.

 

And those things combine in her to make a great big fucking YES, about million times louder than anything the cancer can muster up.

 

YES to friends, yes to humour, yes to honesty, yes to closeness, yes to all the precious stuff cancer tries to deny. Yes to still loving life, yes to seeing the world wide open. Yes to the moment before the laugh. Yes to the continuing story, whatever it holds.

 

That word. Somehow she managed to sneak it inside every single one of the other words on that email. You couldn’t see it at first, you couldn’t read it, but you could sure feel it. Like I say: the best writer I know.

 

 Update, 29th September: So the cat is out of the bag regarding the person identified as ‘X’ in this post. And since it is, I’m adding it here, so readers can chase Lisa Lynch’s work down – and her blog entry on the subject, which contained much of the text from the just-letting-you-know email – and see what I mean for themselves. And as for her book, The C-Word, just buy it. 

 

Check out the Daily Q&A

I’ve added a new section to this site: the Daily Q&A. It’s a chance for you to ask whatever you want, and for me to give you some ‘DVD extras’ in the form of insights and extra content on Outlaws Inc and on my writing in general. I’ve called it the Daily Q&A, because I’ll check it every day, but don’t hold me to giving you daily answers. OK, maybe short ones. Send questions to matt [at] mattpotterbooks dot com.*

Another Daily Q&A gets off to a relaxed start

*Unless you’re a spambot or a troll, in which case WOAH! Hold the email and take a look at this instead. I like it. (I can’t figure it out, but I like it.)