Where it started

A list going round on Facebook, February 2016: "which of these items have you experienced" etc. Some yes, some no, some didn't interest me. However, it put some ideas into my head, and I figured it was time I followed some of my friends in committing them to (virtual) paper. And then trying some of them out. The first challenge was undertaken on 1 March 2016, and I have no intention of ever completing the list: the more I tick off, the more I'll add.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Reasons: for Clare

In May 2016 I spent a superb weekend with friends. We took a fairly long (12 mile) walk through the beautiful Wiltshire countryside; spent the night under canvas; shared chat and laughter and information and life stories.

I shared this experience with a particularly good friend who lived nearby. Clare and I had been planning to get together for months (she was in Oxfordshire, I in Norfolk), and this seemed a great opportunity. We took a full weekend for me to share not only the above walk, but also a magical day in the wonderful city of Bath with Trudy, fellow founder of APDO, of which Clare was a highly active and vital member. Such happy days.

I couldn't have known that this was the last time I was to see Clare. She was troubled by illness across that summer, and had several stays in hospital and an operation. Her positive attitude throughout reassured her many friends and professional colleagues that she was on the road to recovery. However, in early November, I received a devastating message from her, letting me know that she had been diagnosed with inoperable stomach cancer, and that she might have "as little as six months". (In the event, it was less than two months.) Just at that time, I was on a course with the Mother Nature's Diet group, many of whom had met Clare on that wonderful May weekend.

Clare continued to be in touch with many friends, sharing and creating experiences with her loved ones, never once showing fear or anger or self-pity. Her glowing personality continued to shine through as she shared love with us all.

I planned to visit her in mid December, and was saddened to hear a few days beforehand from her lovely son, saying that visits were no longer possible from any but immediate family. I consoled myself with the memory of that beautiful few days in the May sunshine, enjoying the open air and friends and exercise and food and companionship, and knowing that this would remain with me.

Clare passed away on the penultimate day of 2016. In just over 59 years, she had achieved more and given more love and happiness than many do in a further two or three decades.

On Thursday 2 February, I met with many of Clare's friends and family, including five other members of APDO, to celebrate her life.

Her End of Life Celebrations Fund - which sadly she had too little time to make much use of - has been reinvented, as per her wishes, as Clare's Legacy Fund, intended to help people at a crossroads in their life.

There is no greater reason for continuing my Life List activities - and, indeed, all my life activities - than the pursuit of love. As Clare said in her message to me about her diagnosis, "It's all so simple really when it comes down to it, love really is the only thing that matters. And living life to the full, which I intend to do for whatever time I have left."

I turned 54 years old just a week after Clare's death at the age of 59. I may reach her age, or not; I may surpass it by weeks or years or decades. None of that matters. What matters is what I do with each minute, each hour, each day that I am granted.

Rest in peace, beloved Clare. Your friendship was the greatest gift, and your example the finest inspiration. Thank you.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

As nature intended

One of my more challenging items on this list was 'to pose for a life drawing class'. Having become at least somewhat more comfortable with my body - in its clothed state, at least - I wanted to see how I managed with the idea of nakedness (in front of a specific and appropriate audience, of course).

My good friend Sian spotted this item on the list when she was surveying this blog looking for inspiration to create her portrait of me last autumn. Being an artist, and having other friends with similar interests, she promised to set up the opportunity for me to have this experience; and was as good as her word. In her living room, I posed for Sian and two fellow artists (plus another friend who came along to make the tea!), otherwise only observed by her cat - who happily refrained from jumping on the model...

I undressed before the other artists arrived and put on a robe until we were ready to start. The house was warm, we had tea and hot apple juice, I knew three out of the four people present personally, and all was very relaxed and cheerful.

When we were ready, I felt quite un-stressed removing my robe and taking up a comfortable position on the sofa. Sian told me to make myself as comfortable as I could, and that they'd start with a couple of five minute poses so I could get used to it. (Dawn, who was on tea-making duty, timed the poses on her phone.) As we went on, we made the poses longer - 10 or 15 minutes - and I would often remain in pose beyond the allotted time to allow the artists to finish.

Seeing the first images was curious. All artists had (logically) focused on the body and left the face blank, which gave an odd sense of freedom in its anonymity - even though I was happy for them to be published later and identified as me. The body is neither perfect nor particularly toned - although it's a lot healthier than it was - and the most difficult area for me (the breasts) is shown in its unsupported, middle-aged glory. Accepting that as part of the way I am was one of the most important lessons of the process.

There was no sense of shame or fear in the event; I was surrounded by friendly and accepting people, who appreciated my curves, my skin and my femininity in all its imperfections. As I managed to keep still (most of the poses were very comfortable) for the duration, I was told that I was a good model. I was proud for that to be so.

The erotic element to this was interesting. There was no feeling of being cheapened or at risk in any way; but that doesn't mean to say that it was without its sensual side. There is an extraordinary feeling of empowerment when feeling comfortable with a safely exposed body, and when feeling appreciated rather than objectified.

We continued with the session for some three hours in the end, including a break for warm drinks (and for me to cover up for comfort!); by the end I was surprised that time had gone so fast. As I said above, to relax and feel appreciated without fear or threat was amazingly empowering and surprisingly positive in its emotions.

The artists put their favourite works out for me to photograph afterwards. They all showed sensitivity and skill, and it was a privilege to be the subject of their creativity.

Sean's simple line drawing was wonderful:

I especially liked Julia's final study in blue and gold, which captured the relaxed quality of the whole evening:

and I simply loved the whole range of  'Cassie's Rainbow', created by Sian by using coloured pastels on appropriate coloured paper:

This is a challenge that I know I will be more than happy to repeat. It's also brought me to a slightly shifted perspective in how I view my body, my imperfections and my good points, and how I feel about its health and happiness rather than that difficult and self-critical barrage of "I must" that is normally so disruptive of true self-acceptance. Thank you to all my friends, and especially to Sian,for helping me to open that door.