When writer Marian Keyes turned 60 earlier this month, she celebrated with a family party, Keanu Reeves-themed cupcakes and a birthday cake in the shape of Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. Her beloved novels including Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, This Charming Man, Anybody Out There and Grown Ups, have sold more than 35 million copies worldwide. Known for her “sudden wild enthusiasms”, when not writing she has thrown herself into hobbies such as oil painting, knitting and furniture upcycling. Over the years she has campaigned on issues such as reproductive rights and has spoken openly about overcoming alcohol addiction – in January she will mark 30 years of sobriety. As presenter, with Tara Flynn, of BBC Radio 4′s Now You’re Asking, she dispenses warm, wise and uplifting advice to listeners who write in with a wide variety of problems. Keyes, who lives in Dublin with her husband, didn’t reach her latest roundy birthday without picking up a bit of wisdom along the way. On the latest episode of The Women’s Podcast, she told Róisín Ingle about lessons she has learned over six decades. Here are six of the best:
1 News flash: Life is short
It’s true what they say. Life is shockingly short. I never believed people who said that. I always felt life was endless. I wanted the days to be 17 hours long, rather than 24 because there just seemed to be so much to endure. At 5pm I’d be wanting to go to bed but it wasn’t allowed, because there were still several hours to run. But now at 60 I’m looking back and I’m thinking: God, that was fast.
2 Happy moments in life are not a preview. Savour them
As human beings we have got into the habit of thinking that these little bursts of joy we experience are like movie trailers or previews of how we will feel when everything in our lives is fixed. When we have, in my case, finished the book I’m writing or dealt with health problems or when the people I’m worried about are okay. I think once all of those things are done, and I am fixed, then I’m going to feel those lovely feelings all the time. But these happy feelings are not previews of some future happiness, this is the happiness. This is as good as it gets. Don’t dismiss these moments. Revel in the happiness when it happens.
3 Be yourself. Paint in oil
We should all be who we are. This is very hard for human beings because we’re tribal and we want to fit in. For so much of my life, I pretended to like things that I didn’t like and buried the things that I loved because I thought they were stupid, or foolish or childish, or uncool. And that is a terrible thing for anyone to do to themselves – to deny your own truth. I told myself that the endorsement or the approval of others was more important than what I wanted. As I’ve got older, I’ve indulged my mad whims and I’ve done it in a way that has suited me. When I started painting some people were like “Will we start with watercolours and lovely little canvases?” And I thought: No. I want ginormous canvases and I want to paint in oil. And that was what I did. I didn’t let somebody tell me what I couldn’t do and I enjoyed myself so much. It is far healthier to just be yourself and like what you like.
4 Romantically speaking, there’s no such thing as ‘the one’
I suppose I’m saying this for the youngs: “the one” does not exist. There is no such thing. Don’t be wasting your time. You meet somebody and he’s really nice or she’s really nice. And then you find out they have awful taste in music or socks. Don’t burn it all down just because of that. We’re all just flawed human beings staggering around in the fog doing our best. One day you could be the person with the bad socks or the dodgy earrings to somebody else, and you wouldn’t like to be dismissed entirely. The people we fall in love with are as incomplete as we are.
... and stay away from so-called bad boys
I say this as a card-carrying, award-winning bad-boy follower. We should just call them what they are, which is bad men. We wouldn’t ever be platonic friends with somebody who was cruel to us, who lied to us, who cheated on us, who was dishonest, who undermined us. We just wouldn’t. But throw sex into the mix? Oh, “but he’s so passionate”. It’s not passionate, it’s unhealthy. And, for me, I was so incomplete by myself that I was using kind of the adrenaline of those encounters as a substitute for actual connection. When he’d finally ring I’d get this rush ... it was like a phenomenal pain reliever. Be with somebody who’s your friend, who likes you, who wants to protect you, who’s on your side.
5 Comfort zones are comfortable for a reason
Telling people to push themselves out of their comfort zone should be categorised as hate speech. Do a bungee jump? No, do nothing of the f**king sort. Why would I do something that terrifies me? Anyone who wants to do these things, go out there and do it. Godspeed, enjoy yourself. But for me, I keep my world very small, because I like it very small. I do as little as possible that scares me. Getting out of bed in the morning is frightening enough. I talk about my beloved niece a lot. She’s 23 and she said to me recently that she stays in her lane. And I was like, I want to stay in the lane with you. The people who want to change lanes, nobody’s stopping you, but if you have a comfort zone, cherish it. It’s comfortable.
6 It’s possible to become free from addiction
I think we are all in pain and we are all finding ways to get through. I was trapped in alcoholic drinking. I thought there was no way I could ever stop. I couldn’t imagine a life beyond it. Alcohol was the centre of my life. It was the love of my life. I was prepared to go wherever it took me. I was willing to lose everything. I thought I couldn’t stop and then I thought what would be the point, everything would be so f**king boring. And it’s not, it’s really not boring. I am in my comfort zone, I admit it, but it’s not boring in here. One of the real privileges of being sober is seeing loads of other people get sober as well. It happens all the time. And it can happen for anyone. No addict is beyond getting well.
This is an edited version of a podcast conversation between Marian Keyes and Róisín Ingle. For more listen to the latest episode of The Women’s Podcast