Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is Race a Racist Concept?

This is a tricky and sensitive subject, and I want to say at the outset that any form of discrimination or vilification based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation or any of the many other characteristics that differentiate between individual human beings or groups of human beings is completely abhorrent to me. Human beings are terrified of difference. They will latch onto any real or perceived difference in order to group people into “us” and “them”. Having an “enemy” appears to serve the dubious purpose of cementing together the group, the tribe, the gang. I have no doubt that at times in my life I have been as guilty of this type of discrimination as every other human being on the planet, certainly in the schoolyard if not later in life.

What this suggests to me, first of all, is that the dividing of people into groups is itself already part of the problem. As far as race is concerned, I would suggest that, from a biological and genetic point of view, the concept is, at the very least, questionable. The jury is still out on this as far as genetics is concerned, and probably will be for some time to come. This is one area where research is very unlikely to be “objective” (one of many, actually – perhaps one of all). It is quite possible that I, as a so-called Caucasian, have more in common genetically with some people of African or Asian background than with some other people of Caucasian background. The fact that one Caucasian has red hair and blue eyes, while her neighbour has black hair and brown eyes, may indicate more genetic difference between them than between either of them and a person from Asia or Africa. I emphasise that it may indicate that. There are many unknowns here. Of course, even if it were to be definitively demonstrated that so-called racial groups really could be clearly differentiated genetically, why would this really matter? Would it matter any more than knowing that a red-haired person differed genetically from a brown-haired person? Or that I am genetically different from you? Many traits are heritable. Race, assuming that it exists and is, indeed, heritable, is only one of those. And perhaps not a very important one. For me, emphasising the differences between races is as silly as emphasising the differences between short people and tall people. Most of us are actually somewhere in between. I would also suggest that most of us are somewhere in between when it comes to race. The similarities between people of different so-called races are much, much greater than the differences, just as is the case with short people and tall people.

I would argue further that it is actually the cultural differences between peoples in different parts of the world (or even in the same part of the world) that are actually the causes of conflict, rather than so-called race per se. That certain cultures happen to coincide geographically with certain “racial” groupings is probably just that: coincidence. Even if everyone on the planet was racially identical, such cultural and historical differences would still arise, and would still cause conflict and give rise to vilification of the “other”.

It is probably very naive of me to wish that we would stop this type of categorising. I don’t want us to ignore our differences, because it is our differences that make us interesting to one another. If we were all the same, there would be nothing new to see or experience in the world, nothing new to learn. Difference is good. Categorising is another thing entirely. Categorising is, by definition, limiting. People are categorised on the basis of very limited criteria. To categorise me as Caucasian and you as Asian or African is to segregate us into boxes based on very superficial and even trivial criteria. Suppose I have an orange dog and a blue dog, and an orange cat and a blue cat. If I were to put the orange dog and the orange cat into one box and the blue dog and the blue cat into another, it seems clear to me that I would have made a fundamental categorical error.  I have categorised them based on something which is in no way definitive of what they actually are. Perhaps the same is true of this thing we call race.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Please don't read to me

It’s probably just me, but I don’t like hearing someone reading aloud from a book, whether it is their own or someone else’s. Part of this is because people often do not read aloud very well, even when it is their own work. Being a good writer does not necessarily make you a good public speaker. For many years I have been a fan of T. S. Eliot, but I remember one day borrowing a tape (those long thin cellulose strips, wrapped around spools, inside a plastic casing) from the local library of Eliot reading some of his own poetry. Listening to him drone on in his flat, monotone voice almost destroyed poetry for me. Listening to someone read can simply be boring.

Another thing that I don’t like about it has something to do with the basic cognitive differences between listening to something and reading it. One of my characters (in a book yet to be published) has this to say:

Diane found the words on a page much easier to comprehend than the words vibrating through the air around her. On the page the relationships between words were clear and fixed. Words in the air followed each other sequentially, and if you missed one it was gone forever, and its successor would shrivel and die like a pruned branch. For this reason she found that attending to a conversation required much more effort than reading a book.

I hadn’t realised until I started writing this how much I agreed with her. It applies to reading aloud as much as it does to a conversation. When I read a book I can see the whole sentence; I can see how the words within it relate to each other. I can see how that sentence relates to the others around it. A sentence can sometimes be quite complex, and when read out it can be difficult to keep track of the clauses and subclauses. It is much easier when it is on the page in front of me. I am also certain that there are differences in the cognitive processes that occur when hearing words compared to seeing them. I am sure that they involve different parts of the brain. They also, I would suggest, enter the memory via different pathways. I am willing to bet there is a much higher probability that I will have forgotten something read to me ten minutes ago than something I read myself ten minutes ago. For this reason it is also much easier to lose the thread of something that is read to me than something I am reading.

If I do miss something when a passage from a book is read to me, what follows, as my character Diane points out, withers and dies. Once the track is lost, there is little chance of getting it back. This is not true of the words written on the page.

Finally, when I read for myself I can do so at my own pace. I can take a moment to pause and reflect. If I don’t quite understand something I can take the time to wrestle with it. None of this is possible when a piece is read to me. I am at the mercy of the reader's pace.

For these reasons, I am always reluctant to comment on someone’s writing when it is read to me. I prefer to read it for myself. For the same reasons, I am reluctant to read from my own work and have others comment on it. Although it is often done at writers’ festivals, reading groups and writing groups, I do not believe that books are primarily meant to be listened to. They are meant to be read. I also do not believe that it is particularly helpful (or even really possible) to judge, assess or evaluate someone’s writing on the basis of a verbal recitation. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The “Successful” Writer

I attended a workshop last night about self-publishing. I have been down that path enough times now to know something about the process, but I was keen to learn more about how to be “successful”. This was not one of those I-know-how-to-make-you-rich-and-famous-in-less-than-thirty-seconds kind of seminars. It was simply one self-published writer introducing the concept to other writers, talking about the process, and providing some clues about how to be “successful” at it. This prompted me to consider the word “successful”.

How do you measure success as a writer? I think there are many steps in the process.

Stage One

Sitting down and writing. Putting pen to paper (Pen? Paper? What are they?) – applying fingers to keyboard is the first success. For years we can wander around with the vague idea in our head that we would like to write a book. We may even have some vague notions about what that book will be about. Actually sitting down to start writing is the first successful step: turning the thought into action. It indicates that we have crossed some kind of threshold.

Stage Two

This can be any one of thousands of small successes that we have during the process of writing. It might be writing that magnificent sentence that we knew we had inside us somewhere. It might be finding just the right word. It might be a sudden insight into a character or a plot point. It might be completing a chapter. Along the way there are thousands of these successes. It is good to savour them.

Stage Three

Finishing the first draft. As I have said elsewhere in these blogs, I never really have a first draft. By the time I have finished the “first draft” earlier parts of the book have usually been through many, many drafts: I constantly rewrite and revise. Nevertheless, having the first complete version in front of you is a moment of great success. It took me thirty years or more to actually finish one of the dozens of books I had started. Those earlier efforts were not wasted. In some measure, small or great, they have contributed to my later efforts. But to actually finish an entire novel! This was a champagne moment.

Stage Four

Someone else likes your book. This is a success that will hopefully happen again and again, both before and after your book is published (if it is). We write for ourselves, certainly. There is an enormous pleasure in getting words on the page, in creating characters, in weaving the narrative. But it is wonderful when what we have created pleases or touches someone else. We have successfully communicated something to them.

Stage Five

Being published. Let’s be honest here: it would be wonderful to have a traditional publisher wanting to publish our book. We have reason to believe, rightly or wrongly, that they know a good book when they see one, that they know what other people will like. It is good to have that kind of recognition. Nevertheless publishing your own book is also a great success. It means that you have the courage to expose yourself to the market. You have put yourself out there. Perhaps even more importantly, this is the moment when you show yourself willing to let go of your baby. I am beginning to realise that writers are notorious at not quite finishing their work. There is always another tweak to be made, another opinion to be sought. Actually publishing your book is saying to it: You are ready to leave the nest. You are ready to stand on your own two feet. For better or worse, you are what you are. This is a big step.

Stage Six

Yes, selling a book. This is another success that can happen over and over again, if you’re lucky. Someone else is willing to risk their hard earned money on your book, rather than on that Big Mac, or that next cup of coffee.

Stage Seven

Becoming a multi-millionaire. Well, maybe not. There are other potential successes that a few among us will enjoy. Having a best seller; seeing our book translated to the big screen. Most of us probably won’t breathe this atmosphere.

Stage Eight

Starting the next one. Even those who enjoy Stage Seven usually have to do this!

If our book becomes more than just an idea, we will all of us enjoy some of these successes. Maybe even having the idea is already a success. But what about the failures? Well, they are not necessarily failures at all. All those earlier books that I did not complete were not failures; they were steps along the path to the successes I later enjoyed. Those bad reviews? They are steps along the way to making the next book even better. Success is a little like a drug: each success has to be bigger and better than the last one to give us the same high. This is unfortunate. I hope that as I am writing the next novel I will feel just as excited about the next perfect sentence as I did about the last.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Normalisation of Gun Ownership

I was watching a documentary the other night about one of the mass shootings that occurred recently in the U.S.A. It was an attempt to get inside the life and mind of the perpetrator. In this case, the perpetrator had some serious psychological issues as a child and as a young man. The mother, who in all respects seems to have been a good mother, doing everything she could to help her troubled son, owned several guns. She taught her son to use the guns, and enjoyed going with him to the firing range. This was a time of bonding. It was one of the few ways in which she was able to connect with her son.

Sitting here in Australia, I found this very difficult to understand. But then, as the story unfolded, it began to dawn on me. What I understood was this: in the United States, gun ownership has been normalised in a way that has never happened in Australia. It is as normal to own a gun as it is to own, let’s say, a dog, or a camcorder, or even a car. Quite aside from the Second Amendment (which anyone with any common sense knows has to be taken in the context in which it was written), Americans see gun ownership as a normal part of life. This, I suspect, is why there is such a reaction against regulation (aside from the financial interests involved). It is as if the Australian Government were suddenly to legislate against ownership of cars that have the potential to go faster than a certain speed. The comparison is not gratuitous, as speed is one of the main killers on our roads. Personally, I think that purchasing a car that can go at 300 km/hour is just as stupid and wanky as buying an assault rifle.

Many Americans are now beginning to see that ownership by an ordinary citizen of these assault weapons with large magazines is not acceptable. However, it is argued that these weapons are involved in only a small number of shootings. My response to that would be to place severe restrictions on the ownership of all guns. However, having watched this documentary I now recognise the enormous difference between U.S. culture and Australian culture on this issue. I suspect that in the American mind, this would be like placing restrictions on the ownership of any car, not just the super fast variety. Gun ownership is normal. How one overcomes such a mindset, I have no idea. Becoming aware of it, though, may be a first step.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Alpha Males and Females

On news shows this morning we were shown images of Prince Harry (that red-headed English bloke who apparently has a famous grandmother) ‘receiving a rock star’s welcome’ in the U.S. First, I think it’s amusing how the Americans fawn over royalty, given the enthusiasm with which they divested themselves of George III. But the other topic to which this prompts me to return is the concept of celebrity. What is it about human beings that draws them to someone who is famous? What is it that generates in (apparently) rational, mature people (well, maybe not) this ridiculous devotion. As usual, I have a theory.

In many animal societies, including those of human beings, there emerges a hierarchy of power, with alpha and beta males and females. The alphas have special privileges, usually to do with access to mates and the right to other resources. For other members of the group it is clearly advantageous to be on the side of these alphas, to be in their good books. In that way we may win protection from our enemies and a share of those resources. My theory is that the pathetic fawning after celebrities that we observe today is a misguided expression of this evolutionary past. Celebrities represent the alphas, who are perceived to have power and/or access to ‘mates’ and/or access to resources (usually wealth). We think that by being near to them, by giving them our devotion, some of that power and wealth will flow down to us. If we can befriend them we will earn their (magical) protection. Of course, in present day society, this is ridiculous. First of all, the alpha status of the people we choose is ephemeral, fragile and based on nothing of value. Secondly, these people before whom we prostrate ourselves don’t give two hoots about us. In the tribal setting they would know us and, perhaps, take an interest in us; in our society, to them we are a blurred face in a crowd at best, or a never-even-glimpsed Twitter ID.

If my theory is true, this is yet another example of how we, as human beings, are hopelessly and blindly at the mercy of our evolutionary past.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Down to Business

I have been spending more time lately trying to promote my business and generate more work. This has been to the detriment of my writing, both the writing of my latest novel and the writing of this blog. Trying to generate work is itself almost a full time occupation. As with any new business, it is not easy breaking into the market. I am trying to find my niche and to be innovative in my approach, while reaching as wide an audience as possible. This sometimes takes me outside my comfort zone. I would much rather just be writing or working on someone’s manuscript than trying to generate work. Unfortunately, the latter is essential.

There is, of course, all of the social networking to do. I am assured that this is essential and somehow yields results, although the amount of time invested may not warrant the return on that investment. The jury is still out, for me, on that one. Quite how I will ever know whether it has paid off remains unclear to me. At the moment I am searching through writers’ groups and organisations, contacting them by email and, when the information is available, contacting individual members by email or following them on Twitter. Does this make me a spammer? I actually don’t think so. I am not indiscriminately mass emailing, in the hope of getting the occasional “hit”. I am not sending out hundreds or even thousands of emails at once to people on an emailing list. I don’t have such a list, except the one that I keep to make sure I don’t email someone more than once. I don’t use a “bot”, whatever exactly that is, to trawl through web pages in search of email addresses. What I actually do is much slower, and quite a lot of work!

The slight discomfort I feel doing this “cold calling” is offset somewhat by the conviction that I am actually offering a very useful service, although it will certainly never make me rich.

Some people are inevitably offended at having received an “unsolicited email”. On the other hand, among those who do respond (and, let’s face it, many people will not see the email because it will disappear into junk mail, or they will delete it without reading it) there are more friendly and positive responses than offended and unfriendly responses. Among those who are offended (and there really aren’t many who take the time to inform me of the fact) the main source of offence seems to be my audacity at thinking that they could possibly have any use for my services. Have I seen their credentials? Have I noticed how important they are? Well, I simply remind them, and all who may be offended, how easy the delete button is to find and operate.

In the meantime I am trying to build up my Linked In profile. By all means join with me if you like, using this email address if it prompts you for one: And if you have time, perhaps you could endorse some of my skills. I would love to see you there.


It's not too late to buy an eBook for Mother's Day. Check out what I have to offer here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Guest Post: Author Su Williams and Dream Weaver

I am doing something a little different today, and hosting my first guest blogger. Su will tell you a little about herself and her new YA novel, Dream Weaver, the first in a series. I am looking forward to the next instalments! Here is a link to a sneak preview of her novel in PDF format.

Thursday, May 9 Philip Newey (All-read-E)
Who can find an honest man?
Before I get started on my guest post, I wanted to let readers know how Philip and I met. One of us ‘followed’ the other on Twitter and I usually at least read the ‘about’ info before I follow someone or follow their link to their website. So, I went to the ‘All-read-E’ website and discovered Philip is an editor (who charges amazing rates, btw.) Now, I’ve kinda discovered that I do pretty good proof-reading other people’s work, so I asked Philip if he’d be interested in an apprentice. Well, considering I’m in the US and he’s in Australia, it wouldn’t work, but he’s also a fledgling business and not able to hire on at the time. We chatted back and forth for a while, and then, bless his heart, he bought a copy of Dream Weaver. Now, I was nervous. A real editor was going to read my book.

A couple of days later, I get an email from Philip. He says he’s done with his review of Dream Weaver but wanted me to see the review before he posted it. My heart sank even worse when he said he knew I’d probably rather have more stars. But I opened the review and read. Inside, I found an honest constructive review. Philip had some great things to say about my book and told me, if he were a ‘real’ business man he’d tell me it was laden with mistakes, but he’d rather be an honest man. If I wasn’t a Philip Newey fan before, that cinched it for me. He may have only given me 3 stars—my first and only 3 star review—but I wear those 3 stars like a badge. Philip’s review of Dream Weaver

I’m so glad I got to meet Philip and am 100% willing to recommend his skills as a professional editor. He has two things that are mandatory in an editor—honesty and integrity.

OK, so Philip asked me to write about how Dream Weaver and I met. The best way I can think of to explain is to tell you how I met all the characters.

Birth of the Dream Weaver
I knew I wanted immortals in my story, but vampires were not an option. At the time, and still, vampires have been done to death. So, my immortals are mind-benders. Offspring of the Nephilim called Onar Caphar or Dream Writer in the Greek. Over the centuries, Dream Writer evolved into Dream Weaver, especially after Gary Wright’s song.  Most people believe that giants were the offspring of Nephilim/human pairings, but in my world their progeny have less ‘large’ traits and more mental powers. Caphar cull and control dreams and memories. They can read, revise, delete or exchange any memory. They can guide night terrors into blissful dreams. And their counterparts, the Rephaim, can immerse the human mind so deeply into nightmares that insanity is often evidence of their presence. (Hmm, maybe we should check the psych wards.)

Emari Jewel Sweet
I needed a protagonist, though at the time I had no idea that’s what they were called. And Emari Jewel Sweet appeared out of some inane doodling during a break at work one night. In some respects, Em is a little like me. In others, she’s a little like my daughter, Sarah. But mostly, she’s a conglomeration of every emo/goth girl I’ve met or read about. She’s a little dark and disturbed, for obvious reasons. She teeters on the precipice of life and death at her own hands, and the compulsion to release her inner pain through outer, physical means.

Nickolas Anton Benedetti
At first, Nick was my Edward, but I knew I couldn’t call him Edward. So, I went where I usually go to get a name for a character. My local cemetery. Now, I’m going to disclose something very odd about myself, here. Since probably junior high, I’ve visited this cemetery on a regular basis. But not just the cemetery in general. One person specifically: Maria. This woman died in 1917. Just a few years before I was born. But she’s been my muse. I’ve gotten so many ideas just sitting by her headstone and talking to her. And, that is also where I found Nickolas. In the grave right beside her.

I found a good deal more of Nick’s story in the cemetery office. It seems that Maria’s name was entered as Felicia in the cemetery tome. And her marker gives no indication whatsoever that her infant son was buried with her. So, Nickolas Anton Benedetti became the husband of Felicia, who died during childbirth due to complications from typhoid. (There was an outbreak about that time in Spokane.)

Sabre James
My oldest daughter, Aundraic, used to have a friend by the name of Tabor. Cool name. Not a cool guy. I didn’t want my character to be related to this ‘not cool’ guy, but I liked the name. Somehow, it evolved into Sabre. And because he can be a bit ruthless for a good guy, I gave him the last name of the notorious outlaw Jesse James. Heck, they may even be related. Sabre’s been around since the early 1750’s and hails from England. (A short excerpt of his early years is available on one of blog posts.) Sabre has been Nick’s mentor since his rebirth in 1917. He believes that mortals and immortals should stay apart as much as possible. He’s a bit of a researcher, and has no qualms about testing his abilities on others, even Emari. And as Nick consistently proclaims, Sabre is an ass.

The Rest of the Cast
Ivy is Emari’s best friend and co-worker at Cash’s department store. Funnily enough she’s the only character I haven’t given a last name. Ivy is loosely based on my girlfriend Heather.

Jesse DeLaRosa is another very good friend of Emari’s who has a secret crush on her.

Eddyson, Emari’s 8 week old tri-colored beagle puppy, is her anchor to sanity.

Officer Molly Elliot, roughly based on Officer DeRuwe, a Spokane police woman and sometimes media liaison, investigates Emari’s assault and becomes a new friend.

Wrapping It Up
So that’s an introduction to the main characters and a little of their stories. My mind works in mysterious ways and each character and story line has evolved from historical facts, life in general and twists on the familiar. I hope it’s enough to pique your curiosity about Dream Weaver.

Philip, thank you for the opportunity to guest post on your blog and sharing your followers with me.

As always,
Dare to Dream!


Thank you, Su, for your blog and for your kind words. You can purchase Su’s book, Dream Weaver here:

And you can find Su hanging around these shady joints:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Playing Politics

I don’t envy politicians. I would not like their job. I most certainly would not like the pressure under which they are placed by the media, their own party colleagues, the opposition, and us. I can be tough on politicians at times, but I also appreciate the difficulty of their task.

I once stood as a candidate for a minor political party in Australia. Actually I stood twice, once at the state level and once at the national level. It was something of an indictment of the party that they would accept someone as young, inexperienced and incompetent as myself as a candidate. I would no longer ever wish to belong to a political party that would accept me as a member, to paraphrase Groucho Marx. I was, indeed, young and inexperienced, and surrounded by people who were, for the most part, just as young and inexperienced. I should point out that, although this was a minor party, it was not a fringe, weirdo, whacko party. It was not the “Rescue-Kittens-out-of-Trees Party”, or the “Bring-back-Darning Party”. We represented a small, but fairly mainstream, alternative. We boasted some quite well known and well respected people among our ranks and candidates. We actually already had several members in the upper house of both the state and federal parliaments.

The federal election in which I took part was actually a by-election, and, as such, attracted quite a lot of media attention. I was interviewed on radio, and even had a five second grab on television. I attracted further attention because I was, at the time, also a practising Anglican minister. I tried my best not to embarrass myself or anyone else, but, the sad truth was that I knew very little about any specific policies (even my own party’s) and was driven and sustained only by a rather vague idealism.

That idealism suffered somewhat as a result of this process. I was supported by a team of people who really did not know what they were doing. We managed to offend the national leader of the party, a senator at the time, by not inviting her to participate in the campaign. I say “we”, but I really had little say about what took place. I was scarcely in a position to make sensible suggestions about what we should do. The crunch came for me when, at a campaign meeting one evening, it was seriously suggested that I should walk along a major highway in Adelaide in my underwear, holding up a sign to the effect that “they” (the government, presumably) were ripping the shirts off our backs. I, at first politely, then not so politely, refused to participate in such a stunt. The people of Adelaide were spared.

During that by-election I seem to remember that the candidates of both the “Rescue-Kittens-out-of-Trees Party” and the “Bring-back-Darning Party” (names are changed to protect the innocent) polled better than I did. It was in the course of all this that I became somewhat jaded about the whole political process. But all credit to those who stick with it. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Revisiting the Comma Splice

I am currently reading The Tree of Man, by Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel laureate for literature to date. It is his fourth novel, first published in 1955. I have been astonished to see how frequently he uses the comma splice! I have become more and more aware of the comma splice lately, as it is so widespread in the books that I edit. I am wondering if I am noticing it more now in the work of established writers as a result. It also occurs very, very frequently in French novels, to the extent that it seems quite normal. Perhaps they do not have the same “rule”. I must admit that when an “error” becomes this widely used, I have to start wondering if it is an error at all.

I will quickly remind you what a comma splice is, it is when two grammatically complete sentences are linked only by a comma. Those who are alert to these things will have noticed that the previous sentence is an example of that. I should have written:

I will quickly remind you what a comma splice is. It is when two grammatically complete sentences are linked only by a comma.

Or possibly:

I will quickly remind you what a comma splice is; it is when two grammatically complete sentences are linked only by a comma.

Now I sometimes commit this error myself when writing, although I rarely, if ever, do it intentionally. Other technical grammatical errors, such as sentence fragments, I use quite frequently for effect. The comma splice I have never found useful for any particular effect. But is it an error at all, or simply a question of style?

I have no objection to writers deliberately breaking the rules of grammar to create an effect. As I have indicated, I do it myself all the time. I do become concerned, however, when people do so carelessly, or out of ignorance for the correct form. I use the comma splice carelessly sometimes, and feel embarrassed when I am caught out by someone else. My main concern is that people often use this form because they are not quite sure what constitutes a sentence, and/or do not understand the correct use of different conjunctions or conjunctive adverbs. The following, for instance, is incorrect:

There is no admission fee, however you will be responsible for any food you order.

While this is correct:

There is no admission fee, although you will be responsible for any food you order.

The first sentence is a comma splice, and should be written thus:

There is no admission fee. However, you will be responsible for any food you order.

“Although” is a conjunction that introduces a concessive clause. Here “however” is used as a conjunctive adverb which requires something stronger than a comma (either a semi-colon or a full stop). Unfortunately, this seems to be something that you simply need to know. (It is very difficult to explain subtleties like this to people for whom English is a second language.)

However, the comma splice is used much more widely than this. It is used even when no conjunction is involved. It would not surprise me at all to see the previous two sentences written thus:

However, the comma splice is used much more widely than this, it is used even when no conjunction is involved.

It seems to me that people feel that a sentence needs to be a certain length, and that neither of these clauses is quite long enough to constitute a sentence on its own. But, of course, a sentence can be very short. “I cried” is a sentence. Perhaps people think that two closely related ideas should be contained within a single sentence. I agree. However, the two parts need to be separated by a semi-colon.

Is grammar losing the battle over the comma splice? Is the comma splice becoming acceptable usage? In one book that I copy edited, I estimate that at least one in three sentences were technically comma splices. Should I, as an editor and proofreader, be correcting each and every one of those, or should I accept it as the writer’s style? In the end I corrected them, because I believe the author was unaware of what he was doing. I also explained to them exactly what they were doing. I think I was right to do so. What do you think?


If you need a manuscript edited or evaluated, I am All-read-E to be of assistance

Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Death comes equally to us all..."

I wonder why it is that human beings have this desire to live on and on and on. Why are we as individuals and as a society always striving to extend human life? If we are not trying to do it medically, we are trying to do it via some religious belief system, either by means of eternal life or reincarnation.

Almost every day on the news we hear of some breakthrough that will extend human life, or of some new avenue of research with this goal in mind.  It seems to me that for human beings to live longer and longer is not good for this planet or for society. The planet can barely sustain the human population today. Extending our lifespan will only lead to further increases in that population. With what consequences? Younger generations are already struggling financially to support an aging population. How will society cope with an even more top heavy age structure?

Yet the drive to extend the human lifespan rolls on relentlessly, without any consideration of these broader consequences. We are like an addict, who knows that their drug of choice is doing them irreparable harm, but goes on using anyway because of the perceived short term gain. In fact, selfish, short term gain seems to be what ultimately drives our society.

I am happy to go on living as long as I am reasonably healthy and happy. For each of us, the point at which this ceases to be the case will differ. However, I do not want to be sustained in life by taking dozens of pills a day. I do not want to be continuously rebuilt when I start to break down. Death is a natural and essential part of life. I don’t fear it, and I don’t perceive it as an enemy that needs to be defeated. I don’t necessarily welcome it either. But I do recognise its necessity, and I will not surrender to that selfish and egocentric drive that demands that I go on forever. I reject the promises and assurances of both medical science and religion. I will die. I should die. When the time comes, younger people with new ideas should and will replace me. I hope, when that time comes, that I will have done a reasonable job, that I will have made my contribution.

I will finish this piece with two “ifs”.

If, when I grow older and my health begins to fail, I too try desperately to cling on to life at any cost, it will be because I have succumbed to fear and that terribly strong egocentric drive that haunts us. Or else it will be because I perceive myself to have failed in some way and want a chance to do better.

If science is going to continue this pursuit of extending human life, we as a society cannot ignore the broader consequences of this for the planet and for society. We need to be willing to tackle courageously the problems that this brings about. At the moment, we are too deeply buried in denial.

Visit my writer's page and find out about my published books here.