What have been the most positive influences in my life?

2 Jan 2020, 5:50 p.m.

This is the second prompt from the January meme, from cloudsinvenice. It's a great question but a bittersweet one right now, as the first answer that popped into my head was a formerly very close friend who recently cut off our friendship. We had grown apart and I had done a lot less to hold up my side of the relationship than she had.

I'm obviously sad about how things have turned out, but glad of the opportunity to acknowledge that she introduced me to many great bands, experiences and spiritual ideas; encouraged me to be creative, to write and draw and dance without self-consciousness; and inspired me with her feminism and ambition. Her friendship was a lifeline when we were both weird, introverted teenage girls stuck in our hometown. I hope she looks back on it with as much love as I do.

Here are some other positive influences that have shaped me for the better:

My GCSE and A-level physics teacher, Philip Goodfellow, who relit the passion for science that had been damped by being taught by indifferent substitute teachers for half a year, after the previous Head of Science ran away with a sixteen-year-old student to her parents' timeshare in Malaga. Philip took me seriously and organised a school trip to CERN because I wanted to go; I still help out with it every two years. Without him, I doubt I would have gone to Cambridge.

Terry Pratchett. I know I'm not alone there. Also: public libraries, without which I would have been deprived of one physical refuge and a million imaginative ones.

The collective wisdom of AskMetafilter, which taught me a good third of what I know about human relations.

David, obviously, because he is unendingly patient, curious, just, encouraging and creative.

Finally, this Kurt Vonnegut quote, which I try to remember and live by. (Not just me, apparently!)

But I had a good uncle, my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life-insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, "If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is."

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, "If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is."