Self-awareness, self-examination, are the foundations of the spiritual life, and so unsurprisingly of personal and self-development in all its forms. We instinctively know that the end of the year marks, albeit arbitrarily in some ways, a turning point in which it is highly appropriate to review that chronological unit. I'd like to give you all my top ten experiences or achievements of my year, but then again I found in reviewing what has happened to me and putting it in rank order would be like comparing apples and oranges; all things are good to the healthy mind, but our preferences must necessarily seem somewhat idiosyncratic.
Thus, I am not going to labour on about three things that may obsess some people from 2016: namely, politics and whether or not Brexit or Trump are significant; my very personal good stuff, which is inevitably about my relationship with wife and family; and finally I don't want to go on about bad stuff that happens either. Partly because focusing on the negative drains energy, but more importantly, what is the bad stuff anyway? In 2011 I developed a malignant tumour that nearly killed me. Bad year? Not really; it led directly to the greatest experience of my life, so that I think, from the spiritual perspective everything has meaning, and everything can be good.
Given all these caveats, then, if I review the year it will be best to consider it month by month. A high point of January was an email from Evan Mantyk, the President and founder of The Society of Classical Poets, based in New York, and inviting me to join its Advisory Board. This was a great honour, and important for and to me because I have spent my life advocating real poetry, and form in poetry, and all the time have found myself swimming against the tide. There is so much non-poetry out there masquerading as poetry that it is important to find allies in the quest for the real ‘thing’.
No question here: in early February Linda and I put on a special launch for my new book, Mapping Motivation, published the month before by Gower. We put on a splendid do at the Radisson Blu 5-star hotel in Leicester Square, and to add to the pizzazz Ben Stiller and Jennifer Cruz decided to patrol outside to promote their new film, Zoolander 2. Some of our guests probably trod over their red carpet thinking it was for them!! And what fabulous guests we had, including our great editor, Kristina Abbotts. She, of course, was now a senior editor at Routledge, which had purchased Gower just as my book was being printed. Clearly, the real reason for Routledge’s acquisition was my book! The place was buzzing; we had booked the Penthouse Suite, which curiously was not on the 5th floor but the 8th, and so we had this marvellous view over London while all the merriment was going on. Food was great; sold lots of books; what was not to like? Before leaving February, though an honorary mention must be made of late February when my good friend Tony Henderson invited me to give a talk on motivation at the Oxford Technology and Media event. This was a tremendous event – wonderful people present, curious, engaged, and challenging. Thanks Tony.
Then March: well, early on we were given a conducted tour of Parliament by my friend, Robert Oulds, who runs the Bruges Group, and were given an insight both into Parliament (from an insider perspective) and into the forthcoming Brexit campaign from someone at the centre. Enough of that, though. The great event of March for us was getting away on holiday to Cannes and in particular to the Lerin Isles, especially St Honorat. What a place of peace and tranquillity – centuries of it. We bought the monk’s honey, only alas to have it confiscated at the airport on the way back. The sweetness, then, we never tasted.
April, too, was jam-packed with incidents, but what stays in my mind happened at the end: meeting up with Frank Chambers in the Crypt of St Martin-in-the-Field in London. I taught Frank Chambers English at Secondary school, and he had been my star “Macbeth” in the school production I had directed. But I hadn’t seen him in 32 years. What an amazing thing to meet him, catch up on 32 years of absence, and reminisce over old times. I gave him a special gift: a digitised recording of the whole play from 32 years ago! Nobody, apart from myself, had seen that recording in 32 years; I had the only copy. I understand Frank’s children were pretty amazed to see their dad in action all that time ago!
Mid-May a wonderful article on Motivational Maps, courtesy of our friend Carole Gaskill, appeared in The Guardian. This was a welcome recognition of the product. Near the end of the month Linda and I travelled to Taunton and to the classic Castle Hotel where we had a meal and a working session with our two fellow shareholders in the Maps company, James Watson and Rob Breeds. They are such great, upbeat, positive and creative people; it was a tonic spending time with them.
In June my poetry appeared on the Yellow Bus, circulating Bournemouth, as it were forever, with no escape! A prelude, perhaps, to a Dante moment. And I attended my niece’s, Samantha Williams’, wedding in my old Alma Mater, St David’s University College. She actually got married in the university chapel. We stayed a week in the area too and had an amazing time. But also that month I went on a 3-day retreat at Ammerdown, near Bath, to study Dante and his poem, The Divine Comedy. This was totally inspirational and I have been returning to Dante ever since. Indeed, my next collection of poetry will be based on my reading of him.
So after all these highs, it is pleasing to record that in July Linda and I managed something we had failed to do in 2015: we went swimming in the sea in Bournemouth. Heck, we live there. We managed 7 trips for a sea swim and each one was joy. On one visit down we ran into my dear friend, Chrissie Laban, and joined her for an oven-baked pizza. Chrissie, of course, was one of the surgeons who operated on my tumour in 2011. We caught her in time: she was leaving the Royal Bournemouth and about to serve in Southampton General. (Spoiler alert: and she is now in Royal Bath hospital – a wonderful surgeon).
August continues the holiday theme. The end of July saw us reading a 70th birthday poem in honour of my friend, Bob Sutton, in Bedfordshire; what a party that was! On to Durham, discovering Bill’s Restaurant, and finally ending up in Lichfield where we had even more great experiences. Then, curiously, Linda and I had a day out in Swanage. It was a perfect day. We used the chain ferry, the weather was fine, and the beach was packed, but somehow Linda found a wholly secluded spot and from it we went into the sea again. Like being re-born!
In September two very different highlights occur. First, I am a keynote speaker at the Dominion Theatre in London, which is a great opportunity. Second, my laptop blows up and I have had it, I am done with Microsoft, so I buy an iMac. Oh, heavens – what have I missed all these years? Why did I not believe the hype? Yes, they are that much better – no going back, as I type this now on my … iMac!!
And if 2016 hasn’t already been a fabulous year – yes, fabulous, as in a fable – then October steps it up further: I do a day’s training on our new product, The Organisation Motivational Map, to 8 colleagues. My first training in 10 months, since I am effectively retired from doing it, but I felt like an old Yoda going back to train the Obi-Wan- Kenobi masters, and yes, I still had the Force with me! Linda and I go to Avignon, and inadvertently I step into a live drama performance in the nave of Chartreuse Cathedral, and improvise in it. The audience applaud. The actress, after it is done, comes up to me and congratulates me: “You are very confident”, she says and smiles. I don’t want to disabuse her and tell her the truth: ‘No, I am just bl**dy old and don’t phase easy, baby’! My wife, of course, comments truly: ‘I can’t take you anywhere!’
My son Joseph Sale’s book, The Meaning of the Dark, comes out in November. It is a masterpiece in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and he is well on his way to becoming a great writer. We meet our friends Ross Thornley and Karen Rayner at the Ancient Technology Centre and listen to a live re-telling of the Gilgamesh epic, one of my great favourites. The story is nearly 2 hours long – there is a real log fire burning on a dark winter night – and the story teller does it without notes and without faltering once.
In December Routledge ask me to review a book for them and address me as “Professor Sale” – the absurdity, but it tickled my funny bone. And then later they agreed a 6 book deal with me to write The Complete Guide to Mapping Motivation. Phew! Awesome. And Christmas was on us – relax, reflect, and rejoice. So much omitted from this story; but so much covered too.
Let’s all focus on what we can do in 2017 – how we can make a difference, how we can be on mission, and how we can get joy from every aspect of our lives, even when we receive what we haven’t planned for! God’s blessing to everyone for 2017 – peace and joy be yours.