Friday, December 31, 2010

a new year, new beginnings


Happy New Year!

Today is a very exciting day for me, apart from being the first day of 2011. I have just launched my new blog, One April Morning, at www.oneaprilmorning.net. I hope you like it.

At this stage, One April Morning will replace Life.Beauty.Laughter., meaning that I will no longer be posting here. Please don't worry, my new blog will be very much in the same vein as this one, just with a fresh starting point. And, hopefully, at least a little better. 

Once again, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of your love and support throughout the past year. 

Wishing you love and happiness for the year ahead, and I hope that you will keep in touch.

With love,

Laura x

Sunday, December 19, 2010

hiatus



Dear lovely readers,

Just a little note to let you know that Life.Beauty.Laughter. is on hiatus. I will be launching a new blog in the new year. (And by new year, I mean New Year's Day, at this stage.) I don't know much about it yet - the name, the look, etc. All I know is that it will be very similar to this one, yet a whole lot better. (Trust me. I promise.)

Please let me know if you would like me to email you when the new blog launches - you can either leave a comment or email me at laura[dot]valerie89[at]gmail[dot]com. I will try to get an ad-hoc newsletter thing going to keep you updated (being a "blogger" may imply that I am technically competent, but that is sadly not the case). Otherwise, I will let you all know via this page.

Thank you for all of your ongoing support. It means the world to me.

With love,

Laura x

P.S. Merry Christmas!

(Photo via Seven Dreaming Souls)

Monday, December 6, 2010

summer loving


Summer, for me, is really long holiday, marked by clear skies and hot weather, stretching into the expanse of the next year and beyond. Since exams, I have taken a break, taking the opportunity to do lazy things like watch Secret Diary of a Call Girl (my new guilty pleasure), read my backlog of magazines and paint my nails. (I do work, sporadically, don't worry.)

So I think it is time to use my freedom to get stuff done. The following are a few things I want to do... a to-list thrown in with a bit of goal-making. I will be expanding upon some of these soon.


1. Read some classics novels... Ulysses, Anna Karenina.

2. Run.

3. Write a chunk of my novel.



4. Move out of home with Andy (hopefully, probably).

5. Watch Love My Way.

6. Try Bikram yoga.

7. Write a screenplay.



8. Do some sort of Julie and Julia-esque challenge with my newly arrived copy of Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion. 

9. Save for a holiday to Ubud, Bali in July for a friend's wedding.

10. Celebrate my 7 year anniversary with Andy. 

11. Perfect a morning routine.

12. Secure a work experience stint for 2011.


13. Play around with watercolour painting.

14. Build the framework for a freelance makeup artistry business (on the side).


15. Read a book in French.

That's all! What are your plans for the summer?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

my #1 happiness tip



Just smile.

It's that simple. Those days, or moments - and I am sure you have them too - when I feel petulant or miserable, I force myself to smile. A big, wide, toothy smile. I usually take the time to do so on the way to whatever it is I am about to do, whether it is a meeting, a shift at work, a tutorial at uni, lunch with a friend, a date with my boyfriend... just contorting my lips into an upwards curve, which gradually, miraculously, makes me feel lighter and happier. 

There is, of course, a scientific explanation for the phenomenon. The act of smiling releases endorphins and seratonin, which gives us an immediate sense of well-being. I think there is a further benefit, though, other than the biological aspect. Smiling through my tears, anger or hurt makes me realise that my unhappiness is rarely, if ever, the result of terrible things happening to me - but, rather, a reluctance to be happy... usually because I am feeling acutely weary or nurturing a penchant for self-pity.

It's not that I think that unhappiness is something to be shirked at all costs. Sarah Wilson has written a couple of lovely posts about why it is perfectly okay to be sad. (Here and here, the latter is my favourite.) Life is not all rainbows and butterflies, after all. Sometimes it is really devastating and completely unfair and utterly irritating. Hiding, disguising or pushing aside our true feelings can be exhausting and honesty can be a good, healthy thing... best utilised, I think, when we are alone, or with those close to us.  

But there are, without a doubt, times when being sad is not conducive. Like when we have work to do. Or when we are celebrating somebody else's special day. Or when our lover arrives home from a long day at work. Or when we have to interact with perfectly innocent bystanders who don't deserve our wrath. It is those times, and many others, when the right thing to do is to rise above our melancholy and plaster a smile on our faces. Because that is all it can take, sometimes, to be happy. 


"Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you."
— Maori Proverb

Friday, November 26, 2010

eat pray love (the film): a review


I try to avoid reviewing books and films. In writing, at least. I do like to share what I love about them, what inspired me when I read or  watched them, but I don't like to criticise - because I know how much thought and effort is embedded within them. I try to restrict my criticism to politicians (with the exception of Obama, of course) and (the abomination)  Sex and the City II. So this review of Eat Pray Love, the film, will be a kind one, but one which will steadfastly defend the book I love so much.

I'm sure you probably know how much I love Eat Pray Love. It's not that I could relate to the book in its entirety. Elizabeth Gilbert and I are different in a lot of ways. She is of another generation, a different upbringing, a different culture. I have never been married, nor divorced. I am nearly two decades younger than she. We have differing religious beliefs. Nevertheless, I adore her. I don't think that we need to share life experiences or characteristics in order to be able to empathise with somebody's pain and joy. And because she is such a beautiful writer that you cannot help but fall in love with her... as long as you read her book with an open heart. Which I suspect a lot of jaded women have NOT been doing. (See, I am biased. Sorry!)

Anyhow, I watched the film a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it a lot. I cried in parts (three times, to be exact... the Thanksgiving dinner, Richard's confession and José's son leaving him). I laughed. I thought that Julia Roberts was a good fit for the role of Liz. I fell in love with the gorgeous Javier Bardem and James Franco. Ketut and Wayan were as charming as I imagined. The scenery was beautiful. 

The only thing about the movie that didn't quite sit right was the premise. Which, as you can imagine, is a pretty big deal. It seems to have ruined the film for people who have not yet read the book and now, are very unlikely to ever do so. David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz - two movie reviewers I admire very much - are just two examples of disillusioned audience members. You can read their review here. (Please do. It's pretty funny.) Here is an excerpt: 

MARGARET: It is interminable and twee and unbelievably self-indulgent and the trouble is that much as you want to enjoy this character I just found I couldn't. I found it - I couldn't understand why she abruptly breaks up her marriage to begin with.

DAVID: No. That put me off right from the start because the husband seemed so...

MARGARET: ... and she caused a lot of hurt in the process and, oh, she's going off to discover herself and it sort of immediately sets up a tremendously selfish motive.

DAVID: It's a me, me, me film.

MARGARET: And I should sympathise with this woman more but - I tried to read the book and I actually couldn't.

DAVID: Ah, okay.

MARGARET: So I'm a bit with you on this.

DAVID: So I don't feel so bad not having read the book?

MARGARET: No. No, don't feel guilty. Not that you ever would.

DAVID: Not that I would, no.

MARGARET: Look, I'm giving this two and a half stars.

DAVID: Oh, really? Okay, well, I'm giving it one and a half.

Now, I would never dispute their right to have an opinion. And it is a very esteemed opinion at that. But here exists a clash - a clash of pre-ordained judgments of the film and the film failing to address those inevitable preconceptions in its storyline. What I mean to say is that Eat Pray Love was always going a film that would be heavily criticised. It is, after all, now considered a cliché for women "finding themselves", and Liz's journey is often made light of, sometimes in a nasty way. This column by Karen Brooks, for example, is particularly scathing.

It is clear to me that David and Margaret saw the film with the impression that it would be a bit of a self-indulgent joke. And that impression has been fulfilled, to the tee. The film DOES portray Liz as selfish and delusional. Her husband seems eccentric and perhaps a little selfish himself... but, of course, that is not reason enough to leave somebody and cause them so much hurt and pain. So of course David and Margaret think that Liz is utterly self-centred, and therefore deemed the rest of the film completely frivolous and worthless. Because the insensitivity and superficiality with which the divorce was dealt cheapened the journey itself.

The thing is, the divorce was glossed over in the book as well. But not because Liz made her decision to leave her husband lightly. It was out of respect to him; she did not want to delve into their marriage breakdown at all. She just made clear that she had loved him dearly, but she was desperately unhappy. It was not only his fault, nor was it hers. Well, in actual fact, they were both to blame. And the gulf between them simply could not be bridged. It was over.

Despite that, Liz details the pain of the divorce in excruciating detail. The divorce spanned over two years. He refused to acquiese, no matter how much she bequeathed him. (This is her ex-husband, by the way. Word has it that he also took off after the divorce was finalised, traveling through the Middle East providing aid to the needy. No need to judge whose journey was more noble... but he seems to be a good person.) Liz spiraled into a deep depression which, despite her best efforts, could only be curbed by medication. The film-makers clearly decided not to cover that ground. I understand their decision, I suppose. They wanted to make a feel-good, inspirational film, and launch into the eating, praying and loving as soon as possible - which is so much more fun than heartache and depression. 

By avoiding the melodrama of the book, however, the film presented as Liz's story as shallow. What on earth did they hope to achieve by the ridiculous divorce settlement scene, for example? Was it supposed to be humorous? Because all it did was make divorce seem like some sort of selfish bourgeoisie game. Which it is not. It is difficult, hurtful and incredibly sad. So, with all that in mind, it is natural that people who did not read, understand or relate to the book find the movie excruciating.

Please know that I am totally aware of the fact that screenwriters need to condense an entire book into a relatively short film, and that many nuances will be left by the wayside. Of course that is inevitable. But since that is the case, it should have been that the screenwriters had the foresight to realise that they would never be able to capture the complexity of a marriage within a few short minutes. And so they should have, quite rightfully, glossed over it. But with sensitivity. With the message that: "This was painful. This was hard. Whether or not it was the right thing to do, we will never know, but Liz was desperately unhappy and, after trying and trying to make it work, she did the best thing she could do for herself, and for her husband."

Okay. So I know that I am no professional screenwriter. In fact, I know absolutely nothing about it. Except that I watch films. And I like Elizabeth Gilbert. I don't like it when people criticise and don't offer a viable solution. So, for those EPL afficionados out there (for I know many of you exist, even if you won't admit it), here is my ideal exposition.... I would start with the famous bathroom scene. Where Liz is desperately asking God what on earth to do, because she doesn't want to be married anymore. That scene would reveal the gravity of her pain. With no need for explanations or justifications. Then go to Bali. Meet Ketut. Then tell her husband she is leaving him. I wouldn't have made him a character, as such. More of a shadowy being to represent Liz's intense unhappiness and dissatisfaction with her life. (Somewhat like the opening scenes of Antonioni's L'Eclisse... for film buffs.)

That's it. I think those three scenes would be enough. Then they could have launched into all the fun yummy stuff, like her love affair with bedroom-eyed David, traipsing through the streets of Rome, finding clarity in India, bicycling through the Balinese jungle and making love to Penelope Cruz's husband. Because that is all perfectly lovely and heart-lifting. But without the underlying backstory - without the journey from one state of being to another, which was the whole rationale behind the trip in the first place - it just has no meaning. The audience cannot be truly happy for their protagonist, because there is nothing to validate the transformation she undertakes. All we see is an incredibly beautiful woman sweeping from one privileged life to the next, from one loving man into the arms of another... and another. Why on earth should we care?

So that is my first review. What did you think of the movie? Have you read the book? I would love to hear your opinions!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

beauty secrets, part five: summer essentials


It is hot. Really hot. Humid, too. With that heat and stickiness comes new beauty needs. Summer calls for a pared-down, low-maintenance beauty regime that presents itself as effortless, pretty, glowy and fresh. Of course, sunscreen is a given, but here are a few of my other product suggestions for the coming months...

1. Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser SPF20 - Illuminating 


This is one of my all-time favourite makeup products. Boasting broad spectrum SPF20 protection, it provides a beautifully luminous, even-toned complexion. It is hydrating, but feels ever-so-light on the skin, with a coverage that is on the fuller end of the tinted moisturiser spectrum. Simply put, it is incredibly pretty and if you buy one beauty product this summer, make it this one. 

2. By Terry Light Expert


As I mentioned in my last makeup post, I have a debilitating weakness for Terry de Gunzberg's luxurious products. This magical wand eliminates dull, tired skin, replacing it with a gorgeous, soft-focus glow. I love mixing this with Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturiser, to make my skin look even more radiant. It provides light-medium coverage but does wonders for evening out the skintone (especially redness), and has what I like to describe as a "velvet matte" finish. This click-pen with an attached brush is designed for the busy modern woman, so it is perfect for travelling and tossing in your handbag to touch up during the day. I am often disloyal to this gem, but when I return to it, I realise that it truly is one of the best foundations on the market. 

3. Nars Blush in Orgasm


Nars Blush in Orgasm is a classic, cult product - for good reason! Patted softly on the cheeks, the silky pigment imparts a perfect peach-pink glow that instantly brightens the skin and mimics a healthy, natural flush. Not too cool, not too warm, it suits almost all skintones and has won countless "best of" awards. Nars products are always of beautiful quality and this is no exception. Confession: I bought mine over two years ago and it is still going strong. Definitely a worthwhile investment.

4. Dior Diorskin Poudre Shimmer in Amber Diamond


This is a recent discovery I made after many, many recommendations from fellow makeup lovers. I dust this on the planes of my face that are naturally hit by the light - my cheekbones, the bridge of my nose, chin, forehead  and cupid's bow - with my Nars Yachiyo Brush (which I lost this weekend - can you believe it?) It has a beyond lovely bronze sheen, and looks absolutely gorgeous in photographs. 

5. Stila One Step Prime Colour in Bronze Babe


This newly released tube has fast become one of Stila's best-selling products. I have always wondered how starlets achieved those perfectly bronzed cheeks I see so often on the red carpet... the bronze that is not too orange, not too brown, with the perfect balance of shimmer and matte. Well, this is it. And it is stunning. 

6. Bobbi Brown Day-to-Night Palette in Warm


I don't know how fast these have flown off the shelves so apologies if this limited edition palette has already sold out! Consisting of a matte highlighter, a matte taupe brown, a dark brown matte contour or eyeliner, two shimmering bronzes and a dark brown shimmer, this perfect array of colours can work in synergy to create an endless supply of eye makeup looks, from barely there, to a soft smokey eye, to a dramatic evening look. A must-have in your makeup wardrobe!

7. Stila Lip Glaze in Starfruit


I have tried a lot of lipglosses in my time, but this one has to be one of - if not THE - most universally flattering of them all. Not quite nude, but not too bright either, it is the perfect shade for a polished, elegant, understated summer look, all the while looking fresh and pretty.

8. Nars Lipgloss in Easy Lover


I have to add a second lipgloss because, if you are anything like me, one is not enough - we need options! This one looks scarily bright in the tube, but goes on sheer, and looks a little something like this...



Yes, it really is that adorable.

9. Hei Poa Beauty Oil


Tahitian Monoi Oil, derived from coconuts, is the Polynesian woman's secret to her beautifully long, thick, strong locks and soft, flawless skin (or so I have heard)! I use this oil to protect my hair and skin (on my body) from the horrors of chlorine, before and after my daily swim. Hei Poa's pure monoi oil is available in a selection of "flavours", including vanilla, coconut and frangipani.

10. Aveda Pure Abundance Hair Potion



I first bought this irreplaceable product on the advice of Zoe Foster, who has dubbed it "magic dust". All you do is sprinkle the dust onto your fingers, rub it sparingly through your roots, and suddenly you have achieved that coveted lived-in, tousled look so effortlessly modeled by ingenues worldwide. 

11. Korres Milk Proteins Foaming Milk Cleanser


Another recent discovery, this beautiful skincare product is one of those rare cleansing gems that manage to hydrate and nourish the skin while leaving it feeling fresh and clean. It is ideal for targeting the simultaneous oiliness and dehydration that accompanies the onset of summer. Korres has recently elevated itself to one of my favourite brands - its Wild Rose Face and Eye Serum and Pomegranate Cleansing Scrub are equally lovely. 

12. Diptyque L'Ombre dans L'Eau


This eau de toilette from French perfumer Diptyque is described as a "bouquet of roses and blueberry leaves". Designed to evoke the aura of a green riverside garden, amongst the trees, it is subtle, fresh and gorgeous - a perfect blend of florals, fruit and greenery. Plus it looks so charming in my room! (With its room spray and candle counterparts, called Baies.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

thirteen virtues

(via Miss Bonaparte)
When he was young, Benjamin Franklin transcribed a list of thirteen important virtues that he felt were important guides for living. At the end of each day, Franklin would record his progress and transgressions in a book. It is not the virtues themselves that inspire me (Franklin seems to have wanted to limit his pleasure, while my desire is to enhance it), but rather his daily act of reflection and mindfulness. Franklin admitted that he often lapsed in at least one of his virtues; but he always resolved to do better the next day. And it is, I think, the promise to do better that makes us better. Not necessarily being an angel (or, as Franklin said, achieving "Moral Perfection"), but striving to be.

So I have created my own virtues. Actually, I don't know whether they should be called virtues - maybe just things to remember; or, things to keep in mind as I go about my day. Most of them are quite simple but surprisingly easy to forget in the messiness of life. I don't think I will actually assess myself by marking them off, but I will reflect upon them each night, and peruse them again each morning. My hope is that, one day, they will become so ingrained in my frame of mind that I will abide by them, subconsciously. Living lightly, joyfully and lovingly, each and every day.

Avarice
The most important things in life aren't things.

Beauty
What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.

Begin
Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand-and melting like a snowflake…

Career
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Change
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Cherish
Cherish your visions. 
Cherish your ideals. 
Cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts. 
For out of them will grow all delightful conditions, all heavenly environment, of these, if you but remain true to them, your world will at last be built.

Consciousness
I have no advice for anybody; except to, you know, be awake enough to see where you are at any given time, and how that is beautiful, and has poetry inside. Even places you hate.

Courage
Nothing external to you has any power over you.

Decisions
The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.

Dreams
Tell everyone what you want to do and someone will want to help you do it.

Faith
What you are comes to you.

Freedom
Man is free at the instant he wants to be.

Friendship
We won’t always know whose lives we touched and made better for our having cared, because actions can sometimes have unforeseen ramifications. What’s important is that you do care and you act.

Hope
The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.

Humanity
Oppression involves a failure in the imagination. A failure to imagine the full humanity of other human beings.

Joy
Life will bring you pain all by itself. Your responsibility is to create joy.

Kindness
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.

Life
You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, and understand, for all that is life.

Love
Do everything with so much love in your heart that you would never want to do it any other way.

Nature
The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.

Peace
It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.

Reading
That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.

Success
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children... to leave the world a better place... to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Today
Every morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.

Writing
Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer.

Work
It's what you do that makes your soul.

(NB These are all quotes from some of my favourite writers or thinkers; the only reason I have not credited them in my list is because I know them from memory. They are as follows: Avarice - Anthony J. D'Angelo; Beauty - Scott Westerfield; Begin - Marie Beyon Ray; Career - Harold Whitman; Change - Anne Frank; Cherish - James Allen; Consciousness - Jeff Buckley; Courage - Ralph Waldo Emerson; Decisions - Flora Whittemore; Dreams - W. Clement Stone; Faith - Ralph Waldo Emerson; Freedom - Voltaire; Friendship - Charlotte Lunsford; Hope - Barbara Kingsolver; Humanity - Margaret Atwood; Joy - Milton Erickson; Kindness - Mother Teresa; Life - Jiddu Krishnamurti; Love - Yogi Desai; Nature - Anne Frank; Peace - Chuck Palahniuk; Reading - Scott F. Fitzgerald; Success - Ralph Waldo Emerson; Today - Siddhārtha Gautama; Writing - Barbara Kingsolver; Work - Barbara Kingsolver.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

some light (and heavy) reading

Since I am still exhausted after finishing my exams, I thought I would be lazy today and just share a few things I have come across lately. They are divided into heavy and light, depending on your mood.

Heavy

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff explores the factors and events which culminated in the death of an innocent child in Detroit, one of America's most impoverished cities. Seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was asleep on the couch when police stormed into her family's apartment at midnight, looking for a man who lived in the apartment above. They threw a grenade through the window, burning Aiyana's blanket, and shot her in the head, killing her instantly. The police were flanked by a reality TV crew, intent upon creating and capturing drama. Disturbingly, the hideous corruption goes much deeper. 

Jon Swain recounts the amazing story of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been on house arrest in Burma for 15 of the last 21 years. She sacrificed her comfortable life in Britain, as well as her relationship with her loving husband and two sons, to fight for democracy in her country of birth, which toils under one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Suu Kyi was finally released on Saturday, greeted by over a million rejoicing supporters. Her husband died in 1999.

Emma Woods' 4-year-old son Nayan died when a young driver's car span out of control at an intersection and struck him, as they were walking home from the shops on a rainy day. She was spurred to write this piece when a newspaper columnist, Michael Laws, criticised her for "forgiving" Nayan's killer, Ashley Austin (a falsity in itself), accusing her of being "foolishly compassionate". Emma clarifies the glaring inaccuracies in Michael's argument and explains why she did not believe that Ashley should be sent to jail.

Light


Why Making Dinner is a Good Idea by Jonah Lehrer.
This article in Wired magazines reaches the hypothesis that the longer we take to create something, the more pleasure we take in consuming it. It suggests that people who overeat are not gluttonous but, rather, have to eat more in order to acquire the same pleasure as a moderate eater. In this world of fast food, perhaps our desire for convenience has made us forget how enjoyable it can be to invest time and effort into creating something special for ourselves and our families. 

Glee S2E6: Never Been Kissed by Tom and Lorenzo.
Especially for Glee fans. Tom and Lorenzo review the latest Glee episode (the one that aired last week), exulting the show's revolutionary depiction of a gay "Prince Charming" romantic fantasy. Their ecstasy is infectious. 

A Life on Facebook by Maxime Luere.
A surprisingly touching short film unfolding a man's life, exclusively through screencaps of his Facebook profile. 

Listen by Cherice.
I am an absolute sucker for Susan Boyle-type moments. Glee fans will know Cherice as Sunshine; others may know her from appearances on Oprah and Ellen. If you haven't heard of her, please watch this regardless. Cherice is a Philippines-born 17-year-old (I think she must have been 16 in this clip) with a phenomenal singing voice. She began entering talent contests at a young age and has gradually risen to prominence in the USA. I think she outshines Beyoncé's version of this song with this performance... but you be the judge!

And even lighter still...


Don Draper says "What"
The title says it all.

Bold and the Beautiful in 6 Minutes
You cannot get much lighter than this. A complete, chronological recount of the ridiculous antics of Ridge, Brooke, Taylor and co over the last 23 years. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

the right thing to say


Yesterday, one of my relatives discovered that he is dying. 

I think all I can do is examine this situation from my perspective, as selfish as that may seem. I can try to imagine what he and his children and wife and father and brothers and sisters and friends are going through, but I will never know, no matter how hard I try. I have not experienced somebody close to me dying; even if I had, my experience would be different to theirs. I desperately want to be supportive and sympathetic, but I am paralysed by the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing; of making the situation worse, if that is even possible.

This paralysis is something I struggle with constantly, albeit on a much smaller scale. I have an acute and debilitating awareness of the effect my words or actions may have upon others. Before I say something, I practice in my head first, which means that I take too long to react to things. Sometimes I don't say anything at all, because the delay is so drawn out that the moment passes. It reaches the point where I have to ignore that warning voice in my head, in order to function. So I say the wrong thing, after all. To put it simply, I am awkward. I am not one of those people who seem to know, instinctively, how to comfort somebody in their time of need. I am drawn to those people; I think I have a subconscious desire to absorb some of their emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, it is not contagious. 

I read an article by Christopher Hitchens today. It was timely. Christopher is one of my favourite authors, and he is dying of cancer. Stage four, metastatic, esophageal cancer. He writes a monthly column for Vanity Fair and his latest, "Miss Manners and the Big C", is the one I read today. Christopher writes: 

I recently had to accept that I wasn’t going to be able to attend my niece’s wedding, in my old hometown and former university in Oxford. This depressed me for more than one reason, and an especially close friend inquired, “Is it that you’re afraid you’ll never see England again?” As it happens he was exactly right to ask, and it had been precisely that which had been bothering me, but I was unreasonably shocked by his bluntness. I’ll do the facing of hard facts, thanks. Don’t you be doing it, too. And yet I had absolutely invited the question. Telling someone else, with deliberate realism, that once I’d had a few more scans and treatments I might be told by the doctors that things from now on could be mainly a matter of “management,” I again had the wind knocked out of me when she said, “Yes, I suppose a time comes when you have to consider letting go.” How true, and how crisp a summary of what I had just said myself. But again there was the unreasonable urge to have a kind of monopoly on, or a sort of veto over, what was actually sayable. 

When my grandmother died, two acquaintances' reactions were etched into my mother's memory. One was that of a work colleague who said, "but she was sick for a long time, wasn't she?" The other was a lady my mother knew briefly, whose son was in my brother's class at school. Although they were not close, she knew exactly what to do. She did not say anything; she simply hugged her. And that, my mother told me, was the most perfect thing anybody did for her.

So maybe it is not a matter of constructing the right thing to say, nor avoiding the wrong thing to say. It could just be enough to offer sympathy, in the most unselfish way possible. Not to attempt to understand how they are feeling or what they are thinking, but to show them that we care and that we are sorry that this awful thing has happened to them. To acknowledge that life is unfair. It is unkind. Terrible things happen to good people. We don't need to convey that sentiment with words. Most things - the most important things, at least - don't need to be said. Just a look, a hug or a clasping of hands can be enough. Or even pure presence. Just being there can express, in an unspoken language: We are on separate journeys, but you are not alone. I love you.