Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Live Shit Binge and Purge: Memories of Matt

Nope Nah No Way
Matt Wood: Big guy, big heart

Indulge me for a moment.

Imagine receiving some unbelievable news. Think for a moment about how you might feel if one of your relatives won the jackpot on the lottery; or you were at the cash machine and (insert famous person's name) was next to you.

Or if you found out one of your friends was killed by debris from a helicopter crashing into a crane in central London, whilst on his way to work.

Kinda stops you in your tracks right? Typing that last sentence seems like a sentence from a work in fiction. Not something that happened to me last week.

People die every day. All day. All the time. Death in itself is difficult enough to deal with. (I wrote about it here) What makes this one particularly difficult is two other things:
1) the shock of finding out and
2) the chances of this happening. 

When my wife asked me (after hearing the 11 o'clock news) if Matt lived in Sutton, and was 39 I just said yes. I assumed it was another Matt who had died. 

But when I looked at his Facebook I was shocked. Matt, 39 from Sutton was at my house for my birthday when I turned 35. Matty Woodster: mad, metal loving, mentalist. Larger than life in every sense. Surely not. Nope nah no way.

But it was.

Disbelief Is The Only Word. Then Slow Realisation. 

I called my Sister but didn't get to speak to her. Then I called my Dad (by mistake as he has my Mum's phone) Then I called my Mum. Then I called my best friend. 

The conversation was the same: How could this happen? Of all the people. What are the chances? It's unbelievable.

My best friend and I could barely speak to each other. Something that has never happened through the twenty odd years we've known each other.

Tributes began rolling in on Facebook.

Disbelief is the only word. Then slow realisation.

Early the next morning I spoke to my Sister. She was more upset than me. It was the shock of finding out. 

I had desperately wanted to be the one to tell her. Instead, seeing the missed call from her brother without voicemails she'd called me back and got no answer. Seeing the missed call from her brother's best friend as well a little nervousness set in. Receiving a message "have you heard about Matt Wood?" she went on Facebook. And was unprepared for the news. 

My sister wasn't the only one who had attempted to contact Matt that day when she'd heard about what had happened in Vauxhall. Lots of his friends did. And when they didn't hear anything, it's easy to assume it's all ok.

Thursday morning was weird. Twitter discussions were happening too. Mutual friends were talking about music - which was a huge part of Matt's life. I wore my usual black suit but this time with black shirt and black tie: Back In Black. I wanted to listen to Slayer all day in tribute but my Reign In Blood CD for the car was hiding somewhere. Instead I had Dirt by Alice in Chains. I played it at high volume all the way to work. And screamed along.

And I cried.

You Only Realise The Impact Someone Has On Your Life Once They're Gone

Music was in Matt's DNA. Music was what brought so many of us together. As the opening chords of Them Bones kicked in as I drove to work, so did my sadness. I knew that so much of what I listened to was in some way going to trigger off thoughts.

Naturally, through the day my thoughts began to turn to my memories of Matt.

I remembered incidents, images and pieces of conversation:

Hot Rocks
I was always going into Hot Rocks on Sutton High Street to see what CDs were in there. It was the nexus for anyone into a certain kind of music in Sutton, Carshalton and perhaps further afield. And Matt was at the very centre. The shop was actually more about hanging out with Matt and fun conversation. As an awkward 18/19 year-old I'd stumbled onto a place that offered solace from the peer-pressure driven nonsense I was surrounded by before during and after I went to university. Matt was a kindred spirit and my sister and I knew it.

My uncle started getting all his blues CDs from Hot Rocks. I'll never forget Matt saying how my uncle was 'scary'.

Walking in and Matt saying 'listen to this' and he played me Bored by the Deftones. I remember being shocked by the combination of vocals and guitar. I was hooked. They're now one of my favourite bands. If it wasn't for many of us would not have discovered so many bands. He was a great facilitator - and it came from two things: how much he loved music and how much he loved his friends...of course he didn't choose anyone to be his friend - you had to earn that...or be on the receiving end of his brutal sledgehammer humour...

Led Zeppelin vs. Black Sabbath
At some point this silly discussion started between us. It was more for effect than anything. Both of us had honed a caustic wit. Matt's intelligence was seriously under-rated: his brain worked faster than most and he *always* had an answer for anything and everything (as do I and my Sister...we were a lethal tag team). I remember saying how much I liked Led Zep. Matt in his typically oppositional way said that he thought Black Sabbath were better...and so it went...whenever we of us would somehow weave into the conversation that we thought one was better...

Star Wars
I'm not sure when our mutual geekery became apparent but I guess with blokes of a certain age Star Wars indelibly part of our childhoods. Conversations were constantly peppered with references and quotations...He was a Sith to the outside world but Jedi on the inside!

My sister and I had a few parties over the years and without fail if Matt was in attendance, at some point he would monopolise the music. My Sister reminded me of a time he was playing a load of particularly heavy metal stuff. She walked in and found everyone all depressed and down. She just walked up to the CD player turned it off. Matt of course began to go into a rant but before he could get too carried away she'd put on Suspicious Minds by Elvis. Matt merely went quiet and nodded in appreciation!

Eclecticism, elitism... 
It's *far* too simplistic to think of Matt as a heavy metal fan. Yes his roots may be there but he was a true music fan. He appreciated Elvis, The Beatles and Machine Head; Metallica, Pantera and Frank Sinatra: utterly eclectic. All he really cared about was music's ability to move people. But he was *absolutely* right about his own opinions: completely elitist. Disagree with him at your peril if you couldn't hold your own! His DJing gave him the outlet he needed and was a huge influence on so many. Matt might have gone to be at one with the Force but you can absolutely guarantee he's educating about music.

...and eccentricity
Matt was without doubt one of the funniest people I've ever met. He had a wild and twisted sense of humour based around saying the things that no-one else would. His wit was razor sharp - but he was no slouch - he was equally at home speaking to a bunch of teenagers as he was my Mum and Dad. That's no mean feat! Going against the norm (even amongst the stubborn heavy metal fans) came perfectly naturally to him. Perhaps because he's had to deal with a lot in his life - he had a different perspective - but he walked to the beat of his own (double-bass) drum.

These are just a few thoughts. You may have more.

You only realise the impact someone has on your life once they're gone.

Ageing But Not Growing Up

Although our circles crossed less as we got older, Matt was one of those friendships that remained timeless. He had seen me change and alter so much from when I was a teenager.

His love of Chelsea and his cats was *fully* documented in the age of Facebook. I'm not a football or animals fan myself but Matt made sure they became inevitably associated with him.

Perhaps less obvious - behind the exterior of his 'metal attitude' - his family and nephew were parts of his life that were close to his heart. I think because he'd been through so much over the past few years he kept the things that truly meant a lot to him.

I *really* missed him at my Stag do and at my Wedding. I was more than a little frustrated at the time because I wanted him there! I spoke to him some time after and got a sense of just how difficult life was for him: health, relationships...that brief chat allowed me to let go of my frustration.

Whilst he didn't necessarily mellow, he had a deeper perspective and outlook. When he came round to my house for my 35th it was as if we were much younger again.

We'd aged but not grown up.

And we both appreciated Led Zeppelin *and* Black Sabbath!

Live Shit Binge And Purge

So all these things played through my mind on my way to work; in conversation with my Sister and my Friends and in conversation with one of my colleagues who met him. Telling other people and seeing the slowly unfolding looks of shock and horror on their faces brought home to me how surreal this whole thing has been.

I'm learning a few things about myself and others through trying to process this. Writing this post has been a kind of binge and purge (although most people reading this should get the Metallica reference) but it's made me think of some stuff:

We all deal with death differently
Some talk, some cry, some write some get angry.  Some people process it all internally, others communicate. Over the weekend I ate. It sounds stupid and almost rude but I very rarely drink alcohol - chocolate and food are my things. So I did some live shit and binge in homage. Comfort eating works for me.

I can choose the memories I want to keep
I'd like to remember Matt in a particular way. Yes memories will appear from nowhere - especially in conversation with my Sister and Friends - but I can still choose to honour Matt in a cool way. I can let go of the bad stuff keep hold of the good stuff.

We're all going to go some time...
It's sounds obvious but the whole dying in a helicopter crash thing made me uncomfortably aware of my own mortality. I mean - I drive to work every day - there's more chance of me dying in a car accident than being hit by a piece of flaming helicopter! I can appreciate what I have.

Perhaps the way we go reflects how we live our life
For Matt to go this way - in an extreme, over the top, media-filled way - it typifies how he lives life. No holds barred full on. I like to think he had his iPod on and was listening to some loud music when he departed: what a way to go. It made me think about how I live my life and how I might go. He's got a message for us all.

"A big guy with a big heart"

I heard his sister describe Matt as "a big guy with a big heart". I can't top that but I'd like to add something.

For me Matt was the embodiment of a proposition I first heard in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:
1) Be Excellent to Each Other and
2) Party on Dudes

Somewhere, Matt has attained a deep understanding of the great big cosmic joke.

For Those About To Rock, We Salute You.

May The Force Be With You.

(For more thought-provoking stuff have a look at my Daily Insight)

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

JDS Insights: December 2012

And there I was. Looking back and another year passed. It started so optimistically. And ended...well not un-optimistically. Just tired.

Commitment ended. And space began to emerge. No doubt something will fill it.

I also got to experience some live music - on a local level - at a venue I played when I was in a band. It reminded me how much I missed the experience: the sound, the sight and the smell. It also made me realise how much more at home I am in a dodgy venue with loud music compared to a smart bar in London with a thumping bass for company.

In other news...I managed to push the bounds of good taste this month. And offend quite a few people*. Sometimes it's the things you don't say that have a lasting impact. But using one particular word is guaranteed to have an effect.

It made going back to work interesting.

See which phrases below hit you first.**

Dec 01: It's easy for me to ignore what I accomplish and focus on where I fell short. Dec 02: The more I chase something, the harder it is to reach. Because I created it as a chase. Dec 03: Just because someone is no longer with us does not mean they're not around. Dec 04: Nothing has to be difficult. Dec 05: Create something, hand it on and let it take on a life of its own. Dec 06: Owning what I create gives me my sense of myself. Dec 07: Whether people remember that I created something is irrelevant. Dec 08: Nothing has to be difficult. We just make it so. To make life interesting. Dec 09: The true test is if the initial idea is still alive and being acted on - years down the line. Dec 10: My thoughts about something do not consistently match reality. So it's best not to let them guide my actions. Dec 11: Nature will always take it's course. I just don't always like it. Dec 12: Just talking about something doesn't make it happen. Dec 13: We forgot we made it all up. Dec 14: Sometimes all we need to do is let it go. Dec 15: We all have *an* answer. No-one has *the* answer. Dec 16: Do one thing at a time. Dec 17: Life works when, after using something, I put it back in the place I set for it. Dec 18: Not being able to find something is a function of not being present. Dec 19: I can only clear stuff up when I know what messes I have made. Dec 20: It's easier to pretend that I'm perfect than actually tell the truth about my imperfection. Dec 21: Anything can be interpreted as offensive. Dec 22: Learning can happen at any time. Dec 23: Stories have a deeper effect on us than telling the facts. Dec 24: Sometimes that which cannot be articulated is the greatest thing ever. Dec 25: We see after it's happened. Dec 26: Describing something necessarily limits it. Dec 27: We don't need a reason to be happy. It's our choice and action. Dec 28: We don't need a reason to be be anything. It's our choice and action. Dec 29: We create our reasons to be anything. Dec 30: All we do is create. Dec 31: Ageing is inevitable. More awareness and wisdom as we age is not.
*Work colleagues

Monday, January 07, 2013

JDS Insights: November 2012

This month there was death. And it was difficult to deal with. In the way that any death is.

It was also Ten Years of  YLGS. That made me think a lot. How much things have moved on. It's not about the person who starts it - it's more about whether the idea keeps going.

On a nicer note - the Deftones new album came out - and it's excellent. I think the shifting moods and darkness of the album fitted the month. They are in a class of their own.

Notice which words jump out as you read the text below.*

Nov 01: People really are the same - yet different - everywhere. Nov 02: There's much less space between us than we realise. Nov 03: We communicate with more than just words. Nov 04: The past can change according to what we are in the present and what we want for the future. Nov 05: History is only the truth from one person. Nov 06: Commit and some part inside grows bigger. Nov 07: The future hasn't happened yet. Nov 08: Years can pass in the blink of an eye. It all depends where you're looking from. Nov 09: Practise and lay the foundations for something cool. Nov 10: Being open to what life has to offer is the challenge. Nov 11: Make it scary or simple. It's a choice. Nov 12: We always have everything we need wherever we are. Nov 13: What happened months and years ago can feel like yesterday. We are part of something much bigger. Nov 14: Dreams enable deeper understanding and insight. Nov 15: Listen. It'll always help. Nov 16: That voice/ thought/ feeling in my head isn't always me. Occasionally it's divine to listen. Nov 17: "God's" always sending the message. Who's receiving? Nov 18: Start with 'I don't know' and go from there. Nov 19: Small things done regularly build up into big things. Nov 20: Insecurity comes from an unwillingness to acknowledge how I truly feel. Nov 21: Insecurity is kept alive by me thinking my feelings are the truth. Nov 22: Forgiveness creates room in my own head. Nov 23: Death cannot be avoided. Neither can our reactions to it. Nov 24: Death is not always as final as it sounds. Nov 25: Stuff happens. And then I make it out to be horrible, annoying, frustrating, upsetting etc. Nov 26: Feelings are not permanent. They take practise. Then they become routine like any habit. Nov 27: Denying how I feel keeps that feeling alive. Nov 28: Apparently the universe is just a big photocopying machine for what I really, really really feel about something. Nov 29: Communicating something grants it existence and then disappearance. If I keep talking about it, I keep creating it. Nov 30: Nothing leaves a permanent mark unless you let it. Even chewing gum.
*All Mine!

Saturday, January 05, 2013

JDS Insights: October 2012

Holiday...can you tell?

This month I was another year older. My ambivalence towards ageing increases with each year that passes.

But the holiday was a chance to relax and drink in another perspective.

And also forget.

So I did.

Read the block of text below and have a think about what emerges.

Onward to victory...
Oct 01: Being autocratic leads to inflexibility and an inability to deal with life's inherent flexibility. Oct 02: The need to control everything isn't far off being permanently stubborn. Oct 03: Ageing is inevitable. So is attempting to deny it. Oct 04: The more at-home-with I am with where I am, the easier life becomes. Oct 05: Comprehending my numerical age and my sense of my self is the challenge of growing old. Oct 06: My age in years is different from my age in experience. Oct 07: The whole is changed by the sum of its parts. Oct 08: My self is not constrained by my age in years. Oct 09: Chronological age is not consistently linked with maturity, wisdom or knowledge. Oct 10: People want to contribute to me more than I let them or realise. Oct 11: Those I give respect to and listen to know my capabilities better than me. Oct 12: I am always committed to something. Oct 13: I am not always conscious to what I give myself to. Oct 14: It's easier to moan about life than appreciate the good things. Oct 15: Appreciate, participate and grow. Close down, shy away and shrink. Oct 16: Everything can alter, change and shift in a moment. Oct 17: Everything runs its course. Oct 18: Uncertainty and ambiguity is a bigger challenge than finality and inevitability. Oct 19: There's no going back. Why would I want to? Oct 20: Change perspective to allow space for growth. Oct 21: I can absorb any shock to my system as long as I let it out. Oct 22: Enjoying life doesn't have to be difficult. Neither does getting the results. Oct 23: Time away can only rest and refresh with a commitment to resting and refreshment. Oct 24: Doing nothing is more challenging than we initially realise. Oct 25: We all require different levels of stimulation. Oct 26: Inside can be as stimulating as outside. Oct 27: Speaking another language, living in another country or having another culture doesn't obscure the fact we're all human. Oct 28: Some things connect us beyond language. Oct 29: Anything can open your mind. Oct 30: Understand the past, gain awareness in the present then create the future. But know that there are an infinite number of versions of the past. Oct 31: Lie about the past and it makes no difference in the present. The future's made up anyway. Oct 31: There's always a different way to look at things.

Friday, January 04, 2013

JDS Insights: September 2012

What if he was *my* chemistry teacher?
September: the days draw in, darkness descends and we return to school. Summer is over. The longer I've taught, the more attuned I've become to the rhythm and routine of the year. September is a month that really marks the beginning of the cycle; another year begins.

This year felt different though. After a couple of weeks back at school I realised what it was - I had a sense of competence in my job. I actually felt as if I was a pretty good teacher. Oh how quickly illusions can shatter.

Apart from going back to school, September saw me fully caught up on a particular TV series - the genius of which was only appreciated recently. By this I mean Breaking Bad. I could see what all the fuss was about.

I actually received season one as a birthday present in 2011 - and just never got round to watching it. Starting earlier in the year, everything reached its peak in September. I describe the series as the 'white-collar' side of drugs. That's if The Wire is blue-collar and more immersive. Breaking Bad is a journey into one man's journey into the Dark Side (ha - got Star Wars in there). Thoroughly enjoyable...and I can't wait for the second part of the final season to start!
During September, I also actually did some writing. I was inspired, but knew that whether my writing would be published is a whole *other* matter. I've had confirmed what were only vague suspicions - when writing, one's audience are the most important thing. More difficult is choosing an audience to write *for*. On my blog - it's easy - friends, pupils or whoever stumbles upon (haha did you see what I did there?) this writing is the audience - there is no particular specialism and there's no reason why anyone would be interested in what I'm writing.

But writing *for* a magazine demands a particular discipline. There's work to do.

Perhaps that's something to explore: pick a specialism and write about that. My favourite blogs tend to do that...only trouble is - I can't think what to specialise in...

...enjoy the insights. Same format as August!


Sep 01: I spend most of the time unaware of what others see of me: good and bad. Sep 02: I can never gain awareness of how I am perceived until I give room for it. Sep 03: My life is just a blink in the universe. But it's a blink that still happens. Sep 04: We are hugely insignificant and minutely important at the same time. Sep 05: Once I can hear with my ears I can then listen with my heart. Sep 06: Feelings can either control us or guide us. Either way they only have the meaning we put on them. Sep 07: When commitment, action, expectation and results collide there's stress or power. Sep 08: Complaining to others who can do nothing about it, makes no difference. Sep 09: Being a complaint is different from having a complaint. Sep 10: We make committing to things far more difficult than it actually is. Sep 11: I am not scared of commitment. I am scared of giving myself fully and it not working out. Yet, if it doesn't work out I grow. Sep12: I fear mistakes. But I fear not growing. Yet without mistakes there is no growth. Sep 13: True freedom is the space to fail massively, succeed wonderfully and keep a smile. Sep 14: I spend my life chasing something outside me, only to discover inside is where it lies. Sep 15: There are things I love doing, yet I am afraid of doing them because I feel I should be better at them. So I stay still. Sep 16: It's never too late to say you haven't been listening. And then listen. Sep 17: I can't predict the outcome of any action with certainty. So I am left with a choice: act or not. Sep 18: I will either take the risk and grow or not take it and remain still. Sep 19: I am more committed to being safe and secure than taking risks in service of growth. Sep 20: Standing takes energy. Moving forward takes energy. Neither is inherently bad. Sep 21: We are all made from the same stuff. Sep 22: There are some things that are universal; there is a deeper connection between us. Sep 23: Having the choice between good and bad is true freedom. And it makes life interesting. Sep 24: Light doesn't actually stop shining; it just goes from one place to another. Sep 25: Speaking from the heart is only half the story. Speaking to another's heart gets the message through. Sep 26: Mostly, I don't have a clue and I am making it up as I go along. Sep 27: Sometimes the drama in my head is more fascinating than real life. Especially for avoiding dealing with something. Sep 28: I am more unconscious than I realise or am willing to admit. Sep 29: It's simpler to be more like a zombie than a human. Sep 30: It's easier to be asleep to most of life than participate fully.