Saturday, 29 December 2007



  1. The process, act, or faculty of perceiving.
  2. The effect or product of perceiving.

    1. Insight, intuition, or knowledge gained by perceiving.
    2. The capacity for such insight.


  1. The act or process of judging; the formation of an opinion after consideration or deliberation.

    1. The mental ability to perceive and distinguish relationships; discernment: Fatigue may affect a pilot's judgment of distances.
    2. The capacity to form an opinion by distinguishing and evaluating: His judgment of fine music is impeccable.
    3. The capacity to assess situations or circumstances and draw sound conclusions; good sense: She showed good judgment in saving her money. See synonyms at reason.
  2. An opinion or estimate formed after consideration or deliberation, especially a formal or authoritative decision: awaited the judgment of the umpire.


Last week saw a series of events that led to a major debate on perception/judgement between a friend and me. She was of the ‘perception’ (i.e. opinion) that ‘perception’ (i.e. insight gained by perceiving) was somewhat akin to, or even synonymous with, ‘judgement’ (i.e. the formation of opinion after consideration). She was of the opinion that people should not rush to judge each other after a single conversation or two, and I was debating the fact that ‘judgement’ and ‘perception’ are two different matters; just because people perceive others in a certain way does not mean that they are hastily judging or labelling each other.

Now... I am an English teacher. I make a living out of words strung together to create art, poetry, prose. I can debate the definition of words with the best of them. Yet, I also know which battles to take on and which battles to leave alone.

In my heart of hearts, I know that we all perceive those around us in sometime overly simplified ways; it is just the way in which the human mind processes information. When I go to a party, the only way you will stand out in my mind and be remembered is through my perception of you as so-and-so’s eccentric friend in the bohemian Sienna Miller style or the argumentative guy whose head is so far up his behind he cannot see past his nose, let alone my point of view. The next time I see you I may choose to befriend you or keep my distance based on the perceptions my brain has received in the course of our first meeting.

Judgement, however, is a matter of arriving at a decision based on initial perceptions. Judgement is when you take the information filtered through your perception, analyse it, and arrive at a decision, regardless of how flawed your analysis might be. Judgement is passing the verdict that the eccentric friend of so-and-so’s is a head case, based on initial impressions and no more than a few remarks that came out of her mouth, or deciding the argumentative guy is an arrogant tosser who does not deserve another second of your acquaintance, thereby dismissing these two to the black hole of memory’s oblivion.

I pride myself on being a non-judgemental person but I am also aware of the fact that one has to be super-human in order to avoid perceptions of varying degrees. We all perceive our surroundings and fellow humans in our own way, as they pass by the peripheries or venture a minute longer into the spotlight of our perception; that is the only way we, as humans, know how to cope with the world and the daily deluge of sights and sounds that crowd us. I cannot put my hand on my heart and honestly say I do not have any perceptions of people around me, God knows, they have perceptions of me; they have had perceptions of me all my life. CQ the cold one, CQ the quiet one, CQ the aloof one... In fact, their perceptions of me has coloured my judgement of myself so much so that even today, as bubbly as I am in social situations, I still think of myself as aloof and quiet.

Over the last fifteen years of my life, I have made a conscious effort of using the perceptions those people who were honest and courageous enough to share with me, in order to mould myself and develop the way I present myself and hence am perceived. Do I seem arrogant? What can I do to show people I am not? Do I seem too lacking in self-esteem? Is it the way I carry myself or the sound of my voice when I speak? How can I work on myself so that the next time I walk into a room I exude nothing but confidence and strength?

I believe other people’s perceptions help build us whereas their judgements hinder us. I try to keep my distance from judgemental people as I believe as soon as you’ve judged me, you have decided in your mind not to give yourself the chance to get to really know me. As far as I am concerned, if someone is not willing to make the effort and have already pulled the shutters of their mind down, they are not worth the breath I waste in talking or the sleep I lose in thinking about them.

Our friends, true friends, do not judge us – or at least, they are not supposed to. But they are, if they are indeed true friends, supposed to tell us exactly how we are perceived in the outside - and not often friendly - world, so we use those perceptions as building blocks towards self-knowledge and self-development. The first step of that journey, however, is acceptance – not denial, not self-defence - that indeed every word we say, or even the way we say it creates a perception, and there may be some perceptions of ourselves we may not always be 100% comfortable with.

When I open my mouth to speak my mind, I do so with the intention of treating friends the way I’d like to be treated: with honesty and caring. Yet as much as I can debate definitions with the best of them, I know – or I learn along the way – which battles to take on and which ones to leave alone.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

The Art of Saying Goodbye and the Wisdom of Saying a Prayer

If you have to ‘google’ one name today, make sure it is Stephanie Williams; if you have to read one book in the new year, make sure it is ‘Enter Sandman’ by Stephanie Williams, published only weeks before her death from terminal cancer at the age of thirty two.

I spent Christmas eve leafing through old issues of Glamour magazine and came across Stephanie’s article ‘Saying Goodbye to My Life’ in the October 2004 issue, published only days after Stephanie’s death. Written from the heart, yet without sentimentalising her illness and the aftermath, the article charts Stephanie’s journey through life from the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer, only a few weeks after her thirtieth birthday. After ten years of working hard in New York City, she had recently landed a six-figure salary as a senior writer for SmartMoney magazine and had met a wonderful man on a blind date and found herself in a serious relationship within just four months. It was a week after her return from a trip to Egypt where she had spent her birthday climbing Mount Sinai overnight with her mum and a friend to watch the daybreak over the horizon, Stephanie found a lump in her breast. She spent the next two years undergoing, chemo-therapy, being tied to oxygen masks and swallowing a range of pills. Her cancer was incurable. She begins her honest reflections on living with cancer with the question, “What does it feel like to know that you don’t have long to live?”

In her quest to provide the truthful answer, Stephanie details a magical holiday to Milan she shared with her boyfriend, Daniel at the end of her first year of treatment. Until then, Stephanie had considered cancer to be a blip she would over come. It was on the third day of this magical holiday as a ‘normal’ couple, Stephanie mustered the courage to make that one important phone call home to find out whether her year long battle with cancer was in fact a blip. The results of a recent blood test, however, were shattering – the ‘tumour markers’, the by-products of cancer detectable through blood tests, were rising, suggesting the presence of cancer in her body.

Stephanie describes the rest of her trip as a daze, walking around Milan, sitting at the Sforza Castle with Daniel’s arms around her and calling her mum and her younger sister Laurie and hearing despair in their voices. Then Daniel and she decided to make the most of their holiday, aware that it may be their last. On the last day of their holiday, lying in bed with Daniel in her arms and staring across Lake Como, Stephanie told Daniel, ‘If I could fall asleep right now, I could die with no regrets.’

Her time on earth wasn’t up though, not for another two years. On her return to America, she started a more vigorous round of treatment which left her exhausted, nauseous and in pain, as well as menopausal. As she got too weak in body and in spirit to go out and spend time with friends, Stephanie took up writing her novel. Enter Sandman kept her fears about the imminent threat of death at bay as she focused on the plot and the two characters she absolutely adored. As her plot and her characters developed though, her relationship with Daniel was at a standstill, both of them acutely aware of the possibility of not growing old together. He would still visit as often as before, but they stopped calling each other ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’, as they had ‘quietly realised that the dream of a life together wouldn’t happen’.

Once Stephanie accepted that she was no longer moving to Providence with Daniel who was due to take a post there, she set out to make herself happier in New York City, first finding herself a garden apartment in a neighbourhood she loved, furnishing it in warm, cosy colours of orange and khaki, and adopting Gus, a mixed-breed dog with a broken leg whom she nursed back to health. It was only in her illness she realised that most people wait a lifetime to start their lives.
It was not just her physical environment though, as she notes, that had changed. As she slowed down her pace of life, she had noticed a change in her outlook on life as well: ‘For once, I have time to get to know people rather than zooming past them.’ She now had the time to sleep late if she wanted to, to watch TV all day long without feeling guilty, to see her friends in Providence, Rochester and Baltimore. ‘For what it’ worth, and it’s worth a lot,’ writes Stephanie, ‘I’ve had two great years of really living.’

The beauty of bearing her heart open in her writing is that it is clear to see Stephanie does not gloss over the losses she has suffered as a result of cancer, in a bid to focus on the positive. Perhaps the very strength of her writing comes from her dignified acceptance of loss – of a relationship which would have ended in marriage and a brood of kids, of the intense bond she has shared with her mother and her sister. As any honest writer and any honest woman would, Stephanie is also aware of the loss others will have to endure, the pain she will cause them in her departure.

As you read through the final few paragraphs, you can’t help but feel her pain and admire her strength in celebrating the last two years of her life and the bonds she had shared. As you reach the end and find out she passed away shortly before the magazine went to print, you can’t help but contemplate the transience of life, of love, of pain – of any human experience in this fleeting world. This is the story of a woman who thought she had it all at the age of thirty and that life was full of promises. This is the story of a woman who went through a painful ordeal and fell victim to a fatal disease. This is the story of a woman who wanted to be remembered, not just by Gus who used to run to her side to lick her tears away whenever she cried, or by Daniel who she accepts will one day be dancing with someone else at their wedding, or by her family – her mum who had spent the last three years caring for her, her dad who considered her his inspiration and her sister who would lament that they’d ‘never be little old ladies together’, but ‘by as many people as possible’.

Next time you look in the mirror and complain about the excess baggage on your thighs or the extra four inches on your waist; next time your significant other fails to call you first thing in the morning or the last thing at night, or the next time you check your bank balance only to find out you are flat broke to last till the next pay day, remember Stephanie. Say a little prayer for her, and say a little prayer that all your worries amount to one single phone call, or a few inches or a few hundred pounds.
p.s. This post is dedicated to Positive Girl who puts life into perspective through her positive posts.

Monday, 17 December 2007


How many moons have passed since you last received a love letter from me? It is not that I do not feel for you the way I used to anymore, or that I do not have the time or the inspiration to wax lyrical about how I feel for you... It is just that, in every relationship, there comes a time where people slide into an acquired comfort zone, that very phase of a relationship where you can sit around in comfortable silence without having to say a single word, or you look one look at the other and realise exactly syllable for syllable what is going through their mind. In that very phase we sometimes get so caught up in the day to day hustle of life, we tend to forget to express our feelings and let the other person feel just little bit more special for having our love.

This is exactly what I realised when I woke up this morning to the immense feeling of loving you, my husband, my homey, lover, friend. My hero... confidante... best friend... soul mate... partner in crime... The very one who knows me better than I know myself; the very one who loves me even when I hate myself...

I love you more than life itself. More than any word, any letter, any sound in any language can ever tell.

Looking back at the last seven years we have grown together gives me pride as well as joy, seeing just how far a journey we have taken together, hand in hand. I remember how we would spend hours on the phone, you running up your phone bill to exorbitant figures, me dragging myself to my dead-end part-time job. We’d stay up all night to chat. Sometimes we’d fight, you’d tell me some bitter truths about life, and I’d slam the phone down. I think of that April day when I met you for the first time and how you made me laugh at a time of my life when laughing was a distant memory. I remember how when you dropped me off that day you told me you’d marry me one day, only to have me turn around and say ‘not in a million years’.

I think of another April day, a year later, when I decided to take a chance on you, knowing you were still attached to someone else, knowing you were flat broke, knowing how you got my last nerve at times. I thank God I did. I thank God for that April day.

We’d share our last fiver so you could look for a job at the internet cafe while I went out to work and had enough change left of a fiver to buy my lunch. We’d eat egg and bread. We’d buy fake Chinese videos when I got paid on Fridays so we’d stay home and watch movies instead of wasting money at the cinema. Remember those Saturday mornings we used to have to get up early to move you car and keep on moving it around every two hours so you wouldn’t get a parking ticket? Or the time the bed in my box room came crashing down in the middle of the night and we spent the whole night and the next few weeks after that sleeping on the mattress on the floor? Or the time we were having a fight and I dropped the lid of the pot of stew on the floor and burnt a lid-size circle on the lino and had to raise £300 deposit? It wasn’t a walk in the park but we managed. You made it fun. You made every single minute of it worthwhile.

We would lay down on the bed at night, you caressing my hair and me daydreaming of a day in the future where I could have a decent room in a decent house share and you would tell me to dream big. ‘Why just a room?’ you’d say, ‘Why not our own house?’ and I would laugh.

When my dream was a small room, your dream was a six bedroom house. When glass was half empty, your glass was always half full. When I despaired, you dreamed...

We moved into our own place a year later, perhaps the first time I realised the power of dreams. After a whole year of angst with flat mates and weekend trips to Milton Keynes which had in time become my safe haven away from the stress of London, I had finally made the move to Milton Keynes for good and taken that giant step towards life-time commitment by moving in with you.

It was the same year I got my first teaching job. After three long months of self-questioning and soul-searching, I had finally got my first full-time job. All those sleepless nights worrying about how it was all going to come together, you were there to hold me tight and kiss the tears away. All those days I used to come home, exhausted and clueless as to how to survive a job I wasn’t formally trained for in a department where I was being bullied by the head on a daily basis, you were there to offer a warm plate of food and a back rub. All through the months of self-doubting, you believed in me and encouraged me to go on. You believed in me more than I believed in myself; you believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Then it was time to face my mum... She wasn’t happy about my choice of a future husband. It was not easy for you to patiently wait until I summoned the courage to confront my mum, yet you waited – quietly, patiently, without judgement or bitterness. When things came to a head, you hugged me tight and told me everything would be fine. And guess what? They were in the end... despite the worry, the pain and the heartache. You taught me to have faith in life and its power to sort itself out.

When you quit your job to take up photography, I had doubts. True to form, I worried, I analysed, re-analysed, then analysed some more. You put your own worries aside to put my mind at ease. When I used to laugh at your dreams of where the business would be in a year’s time, I used to laugh at you, and you used to just say ‘ok o, just wait.’ With hardly any money coming in, with unexpected twists and turns on the journey of life, with the pressure of my worries on top of yours, it would have been so easy to blow your top and lash out, but you never did. You taught me the virtue in waiting and seeing.

There were so many times I scoffed at your dreams; being the natural born pessimistic cynic that I am, it was an unconscious habit to laugh at dreams, bracing myself for the worst. Every time I braced myself for the worst, you would encourage me and pull me up to your level of optimism and big dreams. Every time I beat myself up for each and every failure, you would tell me just how wonderful I was. You never laughed at my fears. What is more you never laughed at my fears. For every single weakness in me I pointed out, you would point out a strength. In time, you built up my confidence. In time, you made me feel stronger than I had ever felt in my life. In time, you taught me how to dream big.

I look back at the person I used to be seven years ago: timid, negative and deeply lacking in self-esteem; and I look at the person I have become in the seven years I have shared with you. Through the ups and downs, through the sunshine and the rain, you have always been there. You have taught me to dream big even when I am living small, to not beat myself up for my failures and to celebrate my successes, to pick and choose the battles I take on; but above all, you have taught me to believe in myself and believe in life no matter what it throws at me.

In the last seven years, we have grown together. And in every single moment of that long journey, at each single step we’ve taken together, you have given me unconditional love and utmost respect. You have raised me up to all that I can be and more; you have raised me up so I can see what lies ahead. What lies ahead is amazing... What lie ahead are a six bedroom house, a coupe cab, four beautiful kids, all the Vogue and Elle covers we can dream of shooting, working together, working from home. What lies ahead is looking back, like we’ve done yesterday after an eight hour shoot, at all that we have been through with a smile, giving ourselves a pat on the back for the journey we have made together, proud of how far we’ve come.

I thank you for every unforgettable moment of the last seven years and for every single moment I look forward to sharing with you. And I thank you for all those times you have stood by me, stood up for me, stood behind me. And I thank you for being the wonderful, amazing you. And I love you more than any word, any letter, any sound in any language can ever tell. I love you more than life itself.