I was going through a particularly hard time when I walked past a bookshop and saw Christina Patterson’s The Art of Not Falling Apart waving at me from the window. The title spoke to me instantly and I thought I have to read that – if anyone has any advice on keeping themselves together then I’m all ears.
Buying that book that day was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s a brutally honest book that shows that sometimes life can deal us a cruel and unjust hand, but it also gives us the really positive message that no matter how broken the pieces of your life may be, there’s always a way to put them back together. There’s always a way to keep going, to keep moving. There’s always something after.
The Art of Not Falling Apart is an incredibly moving true story of what Patterson went through in her life. A story that celebrates and embraces the adventure of life even when it seems like all the plans you made go out the window, Patterson helps us raise a glass and power through what can be less than ideal circumstances.
In a recent interview, Patterson opens up about the making of The Art of Not Falling Apart and how this book helped her, and so many others, get through some tough times.
We plan, as the old proverb says, and God laughs. But most of us don’t find it all that funny when things go wrong. Most of us want love, a nice home, good work, and happy children. Many of us grew up with parents who made these things look relatively easy and assumed we would get them, too. So what do you do if you don’t? What do you do when you feel you’ve messed it all up and your friends seem to be doing just fine? For Christina Patterson, it was her job as a journalist that kept her going through the ups and downs of life. And then she lost that, too. Dreaming of revenge and irritated by self-help books, she decided to do the kind of interviews she had never done before. The resulting conversations are surprising, touching and often funny. There’s Ken, the first person to be publicly fired from a FTSE-100 board. There’s Winston, who fell through a ceiling onto a purple coffin. There’s Louise, whose baby was seriously ill, but who still worried about being fat. And through it all, there’s Christina, eating far too many crisps as she tries to pick up the pieces of her life.
Q: What was it like writing a book where the starting point surrounded itself with some of the hardships you were going through?
CP: I found it cathartic and energising, actually. As someone who has earned my living as a writer for many years, I have learnt that writing is the best way for me to process information, think about what has happened in my own life, and in other people’s lives, and try to make sense of it. All art is an attempt to make order out of chaos. That’s what writing is, too: imposing a form, a narrative and a rhythm on the random events that make up a life. Writing is hard, but not writing is harder. If you’re a writer, you need to write and if you don’t, the pain of whatever you’re going through is compounded.
Q: Was writing this book therapeutic to you in helping you discover that life sometimes isn’t all you expect it to be (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing)?
CP: I think I learnt rather a long time ago that life isn’t all you expect it to be! In the book, I talk a bit about my sister’s schizophrenia, which cast a heavy shadow over my childhood – and, more importantly, hers. From an early age, I’ve known that things can go wrong in life, sometimes catastrophically, so there were no surprises for me on that front. The question is how you cope when they do. People who appear to have had a charmed life sometimes cope much less well when things do go wrong. And they go wrong for everyone, eventually. Parents get ill and die. Relationships break up. Jobs are lost. As Frieda Hughes says in my book, “The question is: did you do the best you could with the tools you had to hand?”
“The thing was,” said Frieda, “if I’m lying on my death bed, who would I have pleased by not living how I need to live, in order to have a happy, or reasonable, or successful, or productive, or even a completely non-successful, but, you know, quite muddling-along-in-an-OK-fashion life? It’s up to us how we get from A to B to C to D. I might never light up the sky. None of us might. It doesn’t matter. What matters is: did you do the best you could with the tools you had at hand?”
― Christina Patterson, The Art of Not Falling Apart
Q: A lot of people have described this book as being so honest and brave, was it your intention to write like that when you started?
CP: I think everyone who knows me would say that I’m a pretty honest person. I’ve never been good at dissembling, and I’ve never particularly wanted to. I’m with Keats. I believe that beauty and truth are the things that matter most in life. That, and kindness. If it’s brave to be honest in the way I’ve been honest, then that’s nice to hear. But life is short and I believe in looking reality in the face, and trying to be as truthful as you can about what you see and find. I believe that’s what all writers and artists should try to do.
Q: What was it like speaking to so many people and having those kinds of conversations?
CP: It was fascinating, sometimes humbling, sometimes moving, and sometimes we laughed together, because what else can you do? We learn from other people by asking questions and listening carefully. I think there’s not nearly enough listening going on in contemporary life. Everyone wants to be heard, but you only learn if you really take the time to sit down and listen to people whose perspectives and experiences are different to yours.
Q: Having gone through your own experiences and listened to those of others, do you have any advice for those going through a rough patch?
CP: Well, that’s what the book is about. So my best advice would be to buy and read it! But certainly cultivate your friendships, because you will need them. Try to find joy in small pleasures. Do what you can to change your situation, but accept what you can’t change. Keep getting up in the morning.