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Tower of babble casts shadow over the greetings card game

It is my birthday and so far everyone has been most tactful. No unkind telephone calls from friends asking what it is like to be nearer to 40 than 30. Even the cards have been more or less innocuous with the possible exception of the fat pink hippo from my two-year-old daughter.

Solace also presents itself in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times for a book of short essays on maintaining one's personal equilibrium in a stress-filled world, one for each day of the year. It is called Simple Abundance. A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.

The entry for my day is displayed as if just for me. "Why Self-Confidence Can't Be Bought but Can be Borrowed", reads the top of the page. There are quotes from Bette Davis and Eleanor Roosevelt, and this nugget of advice: "When you're unsure of yourself but life requires you to be otherwise, it is comforting to remember that you can always borrow a self-confident attitude from your authentic self". Pardon?

The shelves and airwaves of America are so crammed with this self-help babble that you might wonder why the entire country is not wildly happy and prosperous rather than hooked on Prozac and analysis. Among the books listed on last week's New York Times best-sellers' list was: Chicken Soup for the Soul (stories meant to open the heart and rekindle the spirit - on the list for 77 weeks) and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (244 weeks).

Now even the greetings card industry is getting in on the mass-therapy act. Among those I received this morning, none were from Paramount Cards from Rhode Island. And for that, I am most profoundly grateful. On the whole, you do not want to be a recipient of a Paramount card, pretty though they are, especially if it is from its new Paper Rainbow Press imprint.

The Paper Rainbow cards are apparently designed for people who have something delicate to communicate to their partner but somehow cannot find the words - or, more likely, the courage - to say it out loud. Buy enough of these cards and you could virtually hold an entire conversation with your loved one (or not) without opening your mouth. The relationship would be unlikely to survive until the end, however.

With its water-colour of a pine forest and blue hills, there is this, for instance: "This isn't easy for me to say, but I'm starting to think that things aren't really going anywhere with us, and that maybe we're just not meant for each other". And that's just on the outside. Inside it goes on: "There are certain things we simply don't have that are necessary to make a relationship work, and that's why I think it's best to end things now, before either one of us gets really hurt". Well thank you, darling.

Or for the couple fighting over who should pay the phone bill: "I think it's safe to say that most couples will argue over money at one point or other. But what troubles me is that with us, it seems to be more than just a minor source of conflict". Inside: "I'd hate to think that the issue of money could eventually come between us, especially when there are so many aspects of our relationship that are good. I know we've been over this many times before, but maybe it's time we try putting our differences aside and work on a solution we both can live with".

Featured - though in giggling tones - in New York magazine's most recent consumer column, the Paper Rainbow series also includes a "We need more spontaneity" card and a "We need more common interests" card. There is even an in-laws card. "We have a problem that's been building . . . We both know what I'm talking about . . . "

I wonder if they have one protesting another year on the ageometer. Addressed to God: "You up there. We have a problem. You know it and I know it. You have to stop with this receding-hair-line, bulging-stomach, crashing-bank-account business. Quit it, or it will be all over between us".

XXXX Lots of love,