Jane Hutcheon


06 Dec

Who Do You Need to Forgive? Why? Personal Life deliberate life

Jane Hutcheon

Note: In the lead-up to Christmas, I often think of people who have fallen out of my life for whatever reason.  Sometimes forgiveness is something we need to do for ourselves more than a public gesture.

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04 Dec

My Answer - What's the Most Rewarding Journey You've Ever Taken

Jane Hutcheon

Dear Sarah,

Thank-you for telling me about your spur-of-the-moment North American holiday in response to my question: what’s been the most rewarding journey you’ve ever taken.

When I came up with this question, I was making preparings for taking my group to Ethiopia, so I had exotic travel on my mind.  However, I wanted people to interpret the question for themselves.  So, I put it out there... and I wasn’t disappointed.

Sarah, this community shared stories about risks taken, hobbies discovered, new loves and fresh passions.  We learned about sudden and deepening friendships and surprising connections.

You told me about an impulsive decision to take a holiday with your friend after she waved a newspaper ad at you.  The trip brought you joy and magic which you still think about four years later!

Sarah, can I share with you one of my most rewarding journeys? 

Dear Ms Hutcheon....

One day in October 2017, I got an email from a man in Texas I had never met before.  His name is Yuteh Ma. He was born in Shanghai and migrated to the U.S. in the 1980’s.  Yuteh had just read my first book From Rice to Riches and in the email wrote that his father had worked for my Mum's family, the Cumines.  He mentioned their first names, the big house where they lived. He particularly enjoyed the description in my book of a certain type of Chinese tea - Keemun tea - which has always been the preference of my Mum and her family.  Yuteh said his family only ever drank that kind of tea too.

(The Old House)

A few months, a few dozen emails and many FaceTime conversations later, Yuteh and I decided to meet in Shanghai and explore the places where our families had lived and worked.  Yuteh’s family history goes back centuries.  His mother and brother still live in Shanghai, in modern apartment buildings in the suburbs.  However, the era where his Dad worked for my Mum’s Uncle Henry was from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. After the Japanese occupation and then the Communist takeover, Uncle Henry lost all his property, and begrudgingly moved to London. 

The entire tale is too long to tell here.  However, I did elude to some of my Mum’s story in my parting interview for One Plus One.

Sarah, the most magical moment of the Shanghai trip for me was when Yuteh and I returned to the house where my Mum lived. It was built by Mum's Uncle Henry.  Despite Shanghai's modern make-over, it is still standing, in   the former French Concession where reminders of the past are tucked into every corner.  When the Communists came to power, the house where one large Eurasian family had lived since the 1920's, was subdivided into about six apartments.  Incredibly, Yuteh had an old connection to one of the residents.  His old friend agreed to show us around.In the grounds of the old house, I was desperate to find the rooftop flat where my Mum lived following the death of her beloved mother Elsie. As Yuteh and I chatted to neighbours near the entrance of the house, I noticed some greenery on top of what used to be a row of garages (Great Uncle loved cars). My Mum often spoke of the rooftop garden.  She said part of the roof had been partitioned and built-in to create the room where she stayed.

I asked if I could go onto the roof.

Within minutes Yuteh and I stood outside the door to the little flat.  Someone rents that flat now. The residents were not home.  As I closed my eyes, it was as if a lifetime of my Mum’s stories danced around me like a grainy virtual newsreel.  I could just SENSE that I was in the right place.

Yuteh and I are still friends and we talk about finishing our respective and connected Shanghai stories. 

So Sarah, while this particularly journey isn’t yet finished, unlike yours, I marvel at this serendipitous connection and the joy of an interwoven story.

Thank-you for your response and friendship.

Love, Jane

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20 Nov

My Answer - Who Would You Describe as a Role Model Personal Event FAQ deliberate life

Jane Hutcheon

Event Start: 2 weeks ago

Dear Richard,

Thanks for your response to a recent post where you spoke about a Captain Mark O’Brien who helped you when you most needed it.

I found your letter so touching Richard, when you spoke of attending his funeral, despite only knowing him for six weeks:

Today I saw how many lives he had touched, and how important he was to people in all sorts of different places. I learned that the many wonderful qualities I'd glimpsed in those six weeks were actually characteristic of him throughout a long life, and I marvelled at the courage of a man who must have been dying at the time (I met him) staying so true to himself.

Why do I grieve for a comrade I knew so briefly? Because he saved my life and probably my family's lives too. He took a chance on me (by giving me a public service job) when I was unemployed and practically unemployable. I was 45 years old and getting by on precarious casual work, with mounting debts and zero prospects. I don't believe I'd have kept our home, or a lot of other things the family needs, much longer. 

Certainly I'd lost much of my self-respect and was headed for complete collapse. Then this one man - a brilliant eccentric, kind-hearted, erratic, visionary, and introverted - gambled on me who so many others had rejected. He took me on, instead of the safer options who would certainly have fitted in more easily and caused less trouble for him. It has made all the difference. It was probably the last significant act of his naval career, and I hope he knew how much it mattered.

Richard, in an interview I did for One Plus One a few years ago with author Tim Winton he described the time a stranger turned up at the family home without notice, to care for his father who had been badly injured in an accident.  Winton’s mother didn’t know how she was going to cope had the stranger not appeared.

How amazing that you discovered your own angel in Captain Smith.  I wonder whether he knew that you were struggling when he gave you that public service job?  Perhaps he sensed your quiet desperation?

And how fortunate that you had the gift of seeing an extra dimension to Captain O’Brien by attending his funeral.  Now you know what a rare human he was and that some of his hushed magic rubbed off on you, leaving a lasting impression.

Thank-you for telling us honestly about your struggles Richard and for revealing this wonderful individual.




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13 Nov

Dear Jane: This is What It's Like to Feel Belittled Personal Event deliberate life

Jane Hutcheon

Event Start: 3 weeks ago

Dear Jane,

Far too many people have attempted to belittle me. I emphasise the term ‚Äėattempted‚Äô because in those situations I work very hard to ensure they don‚Äôt succeed - at least where my sense of self-worth and dignity are concerned.

Sometimes this can be immensely tiring.

Belittling actions occur on a spectrum - from a simple smirk to laughter and pointing. Then there are demeaning comments (often presented as statements or polite) to overt insults.

They hurt - they all hurt. 

How does it feel? Like a slight tightening in the chest, a bristle at the back of the neck, a quickening of the heart and breath.  In other words, the body prepares for a flight-or-fight response.  Meanwhile, I gauge the situation and consider whether to ignore or react.

Which option I choose depends on the event and the strength of my resolve. I haven’t cried in public because I am fiercely determined that my personhood is always carried through and communicated. However, I have shed countless tears in private and cried myself to sleep too many times. All too often I feel like I am in a battle, and it’s a matter of survival that a chink in the armour isn’t revealed and exploited.

At other times, belittling behaviours can occur through ignorance.   If that’s the case (and it’s not always possible to ascertain), then I will engage with the person or people because I consider that to be my job.  It’s my job as a parent, to inform and correct stereotypes or misinformation so that my child is less likely to be belittled.

I do get battle-weary. On those occasions I nurture myself through art, my family and a good dose of mindless TV comedy (Frasier, Big Bang Theory, Michael MacIntyre).

Jane, I hope this gives you a sense of what it’s like to feel belittled.

All the very best,

Debra Keenahan

(image used with the kind permisson of Robert Brindley:

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