Joan Didion, “On Self-Respect”

Laurel's Reflections:

I found an enormous amount of food for thought here tonight. Thank you to the wonderful friend who sent it to me at just the right time!

Originally posted on coldhearted scientist وداد:

Once, in a dry season, I wrote in large letters across two pages of a notebook that innocence ends when one is stripped of the delusion that one likes oneself. Although now, some years later, I marvel that a mind on the outs with itself should have nonetheless made painstaking record of its every tremor, I recall with embarrassing clarity the flavor of those particular ashes. It was a matter of misplaced self-respect.

I had not been elected to Phi Beta Kappa. This failure could scarcely have been more predictable or less ambiguous (I simply did not have the grades), but I was unnerved by it; I had somehow thought myself a kind of academic Raskolnikov, curiously exempt from the cause-effect relationships which hampered others. Although even the humorless nineteen-year-old that I was must have recognized that the situation lacked real tragic stature, the day that I did not…

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Today’s Happiness

My beautiful Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ in full bloom, a year and a half after I bought it in memory of my mother, Tessa. It grows in a beautiful pot in my garden, one of a set that was given to me more than a decade ago by my aunt Kari.



Five hours of intensive work in my garden, planting, weeding and watering. It is deeply satisfying to ‘ground’ myself somewhat again.

Delicious winter sunshine.

My husband’s scrumptious homemade ostrich burgers.

Finally buying an electric blanket to combat the winter chill, after more than a year of saying we should probably get one.

Watching my youngest son laughing in utter, unselfconscious delight and pure amusement whilst watching ‘Bambi’ for the first time.

Remembering to breathe deep, let go of resentments and pain, and step forward positively into each new minute – because how I face the realities of my life comes down to my own choice.

Delighting in feeling creative energy flowing through me again.

Happy memories of a laughter-filled, connecting and loving date with my amazing husband last night.

Drinking the last of the first batch of lemonade we have made together as a family, and looking forward to many more years of experimenting with perfecting the recipe.

Remembering to express gratitude

Today I am grateful for…

My More to Life Enrichment group meeting again for the first time in a couple of months, and feeling reconnected, revived, and ready to recommit.

Having a family I love to come home to tonight, and always – no matter what I am coming from, and how wonderful it may have been – actively and consciously looking forward to getting home to them.

The release of tears.

Remembering that I have the power to choose – not always what happens, but how I respond to it.

Home made lemonade awakening my sleepy taste buds.

Being reminded to be kind to myself.

Knowing my wonderful bed is waiting for me to collapse into the comfort of it.

Committing once again to daily gratitude lists.

The Consolation of Having a Conclusion

While I have an instinctive dislike of television, I am an avid lover of stories. I have found great delight in novels for as long as I remember – having fallen asleep to the sound of my mother’s voice reading The Lord of the Rings to my older siblings years before I was old enough to discover the delights of reading for myself – and I derive great enjoyment from films. Books have, to resort to a cliché, been constant companions, and I have found within their covers not only comfort and escape, but great –if often subtle – learning. As my mother’s favourite author, Ursula K. Le Guin, wrote, “When we’re done with it, we may find—if it’s a good novel—that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we’ve never crossed before.”

With my husband away, I have been indulging in watching films about Paris, daydreaming about my ‘one night in Paris’ to come later this year, following our 11th wedding anniversary and at the very end of a sports tour that will take us to both Belgium and France in September. With a little over 24 hours to indulge in the city before flying back to South Africa, I am free to daydream of boat trips down the Seine, and feeling the wind in my hair at the top of the Eiffel tower (will there be a wind? Will it be raining, or warm, and does it really matter? I find the joy of exploring new places generally makes me grin with delight, even when it isn’t at all as I have imagined, and my feet ache from a long day of traipsing unknown streets). I am surprised, somehow, that after nearly eight years of living in London, and fairly frequent travels to Europe, the closest I have been to Paris thus far in my life is driving around it on the motorway in rush-hour traffic, seeing little more than concrete walls and frustrated or resigned motorists.

I find myself, however, feeling somewhat exasperated tonight that films and novels – stories, that is – almost inevitably wrap everything up so neatly. Ah, that old, bitter ‘Happily Ever After’ vexation we all feel sometimes I’m sure.

There have been numerous times in my life when, facing difficult and potentially life-changing decisions, I have wished to know how the story ends: what will the overall tale of my life be, and how will this particular decision fit into it? It reminds me of some lines from a poem I wrote as a teenager, twisting an assigned essay on the famous line ‘All the world’s a stage’ into a poem – something that broke the rules, as was my tendency at the time:

But if all the world’s a stage
And we play our parts page by page
Then why can’t I cheat
And just take a peek
At the future, the past and the present? Continue reading

Woza Moya Little Traveller Movies

I don’t spend much time on social or online media these days, as I have been consciously putting focus and energy into the here and now, and creating rather than absorbing. I do, however, thoroughly enjoy it when following the occasional link on facebook takes me somewhere that makes me smile. Tonight, I stumbled across some old videos with a few very familiar faces, including Tholakala, an amazing Gogo (grandmother in the Zulu language) I have had the privilege of getting to know during my time at the wonderful Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust, and of course the little traveller dolls I adore! I find, when something brings me joy or makes me smile, I always have an impulse to share it. So, here it is: Woza Moya Little Traveller Movies.

Her Voice

Wanting to bring Ouma’s voice to her memorial – to bring her memory alive, somehow, and feel the comfort of her presence – I read out extracts from her letters over the many years during which we corresponded.

Harfield Village

Dearest Laurel,

As the winter approaches, I’m becoming a ‘kitchen dweller’ – the sun shines in here at the back, in the afternoons especially, while the front bedroom and the lounge remain chilly and gloomy. Today is one of those pearls of days, between gales and storms, just sunny, and still, and clear and lovely.


Thank you for your letter a while ago – we are always delighted to hear from any and all you grandchildren. We note that “The Boyfriend” – poor chap – still doesn’t have a name! Do extend our sympathies to him!


Dearest Laurel,

Your letter was most welcome – many thanks. Glad your week alone at home was cheered up with friends and videos, and congrats on producing those delicious meals. You are so fortunate that you’ve had the experience of learning to cook and having to share the preparations of meals for the family for some years already. I landed up as a new bride 50 years ago with such very basic culinary knowledge! It was a long, difficult learning experience before I was reasonably confident about cooking. Continue reading

Favourite quotes from ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Sunaina: Do you love me, Sonny?

Sonny: My feelings cannot be reduced to a single word.

Sunaina: It is a nice word. People like hearing it.


Evelyn: There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. Only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.


Evelyn: The person who risks nothing, does nothing. Has nothing. Continue reading