Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The possibility of love

I need release
I need my heart to stop beating
I crave your touch
because your touch was fleeting

Do you believe
in the possibility of love
that's lasting
it seems
it dies and all
that's left is pretending

I need a kiss
remind me that I am living
a moment's bliss but
life is unremitting

Have you ever
loved and lost your mind
I have
it was fine

It's like a melody
you heard and then forgot it
but feel it sometimes
lost on a wind
blows up from nowhere
once recognised
it's gone.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The price of health

This will leave you speechless if you read it all. With fury, if you are American and have a soul. If you can stomach this and not support Medicare for all, I don't know what to say to you. This is like a grand organised theft that is bleeding America dry.

To put it in perspective for non-Americans, generic drugs, the sort you buy in a Wal-Mart, are very cheap in the US. Cheaper even than here in Australia, where I can buy 24 paracetamol for 80c. 100 generic paracetamol (acetaminophen to Americans) will cost you $1.50. About an English pound. ONE paracetamol administered in a hospital will cost you $1.50. Yes, you read that right. A 10,000% markup over the retail price. From a hospital that buys them in bulk and is not even paying 15c a pill. If you went to a shop to buy a litre of milk and it cost $200, you'd recognise immediately that the shop was gouging you. You'd grumble at $2.50.

Don't tell me that wages are linked to value to society when a midlevel hospital administrator on the financial side -- a beancounter, not a doctor -- is paid $1 million a year. This person has  no value to society whatsoever. This is $480 an hour for a 40-hour week. In a country where some people will argue that $9 an hour is too high as the least we believe a person should be paid for their labour.

You don't even know me (1)

You don't know anything about me.

You know that I am forty-six years old. I feel like I should be younger because I have wasted years. Some people have wasted minutes, some wasted hours, some wasted days. I have years.

I do not mean I feel younger than I am. Everyone always  says they feel they are the same person they were 20 years ago. I have no idea who I was 20 years ago. You have no idea who you were either. You just feel like you must be the same person because that is what feeling like you are a person is like. It doesn't seem to you that anything "inside" has changed. But it always changes. It changes moment to moment because what you are is the chatter of dancing electrons, no more, no less, and you are interpreting yourself as being. But you are not. You are a mass of impulses, emotions, images and impressions that convinces itself that it has a continuing meaning just because the face in the front of the head that carries the brain it lives in looks the same from one moment to the next.

You know I was born in a country town in Essex. I always felt an affinity with it. When I was a child, I pretended I was player-manager of its football team and it played in a first division that was full of teams that were from places that do not have big football teams. Braintree would play Braintree United, Leatherhead, East Ham, Bath Spa, Penpol, Hayle City.

(I would draw up fixture grids and fill them in by throwing dice. Somehow Braintree did well always. I do not believe in magic. Do I?)

Penpol is the primary school I went to. Hayle is not a city.

Sometimes I wished it was. I would compare its population with that of other towns, as though the size of the town you live means anything. I spent hours poring through my gazetteer. It was part of the Pears Cyclopaedia.

I learned the names of all the scientific elements, the winners of the FA Cup throughout history, the kings and queens of England. Facts that did not make a narrative. I think this is why I do not have a good imagination for stories. I prefer what it is.

You know I taught myself to read by reading the encyclopaedia that my mum had been conned into buying by a travelling salesman. It was like Britannica, but although I don't clearly remember, I am fairly sure it wasn't. There were maybe 30 volumes, with pictures, maps, diagrams.

I could read maps endlessly. I still do. Sometimes I see the name of a town and look it up on Google Maps. I zoom in till I can read suburb names. Then I might pick a road and "follow" it out of town. I will see where it goes. See the towns it runs through and past.

I do not turn on the satellite view. I don't look up photos. I don't care what anywhere looks like. I do not even believe that photos are true representations of places, so how can I want to look at them? I only enjoy the truth.

When I read a book, if it rings false, I cannot enjoy it. It is not a problem that I know it is not true. It is only the pretence of truth I care about.

I have never known that about myself until I wrote it. I trust that that idea is right. Because I am wise now. I am so wise you could bottle me and sell me to fools. I know when I tell myself something and it feels like the truth, it is the truth.

I know what you're thinking. Monkey, you have become so good at lying to yourself that you no longer know when you're doing it.

What did you think wisdom was if it is not exactly that?

I am done for now. There'll be more but right now I'm sick of writing.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Alien universe

I want to die.

There, I said it.

Now you can tell me all the reasons I should want to live. Count out my blessings, my purposes, my desires, my aims.

Prove you do not have an answer for me by showing you do not understand the question.

I have always wanted not to exist, to twist what I have into a ball and kick it into infinity.

I have never wanted anything. If I have never wanted anything, I do not ever have to be disappointed, to be tormented through sleepless nights and the empty grind of meaningless days by what I cannot have.

Tell me what I have. Tell me how lucky I am to have it. No one understands except those lonely in the depths of their being that what you cannot have has infinite weight in any scales you choose against what you do.

Tell me that I should not mind that the world is not right, that you are evil and ugly and I should not mind it. I mind it.

I mind being on an alien world, in a universe that has no rules, no order, no justice. I mind living and dying. I mind the glimpse of eternity, the shuttered nothingness of my room on a warm evening, the moment before I met you.


I want to live.

Friday, February 15, 2013

About Zenita

Zenita comes into my room. It must be three in the morning. I feel awful when I wake up. Still high and my head is hurting because my body hasn't worked through it.

I can't breathe, she says.

I turn the shower on and make her stand in the steam. We give her a suck on B's puffer. It helps a little. I wrap her up and hold her in my arms and soon she is asleep.

It must be an hour I lie there holding her while she sleeps, unable to get back to sleep.


When she was first born, she did not breathe. It's almost as though she was not ready. Mrs Zen always thought Naughtyman was unwilling to be born, because he came out with his fists clenched and his eyes tight closed, but Zenita soon became bouncy and personable, so she didn't worry about her.

But I do.

And did then. She spent her first night on an oximeter in the nursery. I spent an hour sitting watching her, a perfect, beautiful baby. I cannot describe how I felt. Words are nothing, really. They are hollow, signposts to meaning but never quite containing or carrying the meaning we feel within us.

But I loved her. It is as though the love was something that happened to me, rather than something I did, like a tide that I was caught in.


My children are different from each other and different from any other child I've known. They are each a novel better than I could ever hope to write, unravelling before me, revealing themselves as who they are. But of course I do not read them passively.

Not that reading a novel is passive. You have to interact with a novel to make it work. You have to interpret, visualise, help the author create their world. But with a child, you are also, mostly in ways you do not and cannot understand, predict or control, helping to put the words on the page.

I did write long screeds about my kids here, but I've deleted them. I know what they're like. I don't need to tell myself any more about them. They constantly astonish me, not just in themselves, in what they do, what they achieve, what they feel, but by the love they elicit in me. When I was a teen, I thought I could not care for other people because I lacked empathy. Then when I fell in love with women, it felt real, but in time I realised that it happened easily and was hard to calibrate. I mostly loved them for loving me.

I mean, if you asked me why I loved Bella, I'd be lost for any good reason beyond she was nice to talk to and she was into me.

But my kids I feel a love that blows me away, that feels deep and unstructured, ineffable, unstoppable. I feel carried away, infatuated, passionate about them.

It is the single best thing not only that has happened to but ever could happen to me.


The thing about the screeds was just that the contrast is plain. Both Naughtyman and Zenella wear their sensitivity on their sleeves. They are focused on themselves, much like me. But Zenita is outward looking, a people person. She has a lot of pep. You'd insta like her. But none of these things should be taken for granted. She is giving us the lovely little girl she is. Each of my children appeals to me in different ways, and I suppose Zenita's way is that she is so easy to fall in love with.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More or fewer or less

When it comes to English, I am somewhat caught between two stools. As a student of language, I am of course a descriptivist. No one who has a decent understanding of what language is can think it's desirable to take a prescriptivist line because we do not speak in accordance with an academy, the Oxford Dictionary or Fowler, or any other authority except our internalised rules.

As an editor, I do of course apply rules quite strictly.

In case it's not clear, the difference between a descriptivist and a prescriptivist is this: a descriptivist says that the "correct" way to speak or write a language is the way people actually speak or write it. In other words, language users are the arbiters of what is correct. Prescriptivists say that languages have right and wrong forms and the "correct" way to speak or write them is judged by how closely utterances approach the standard, where there is a standard.

The descriptivist view does not say that anything goes. But it says that it's horses for courses. If you are writing for potentially any reader of what you write, you should write close to the standard, because your purpose is to be understood and by writing standard English, you maximise the chances of your readers, no matter their idiolect, understanding you. If you're writing a text to your bro and he's cool, the rules are different.

I think it's useful for an editor to understand that even in standard English, there are levels of "correct". There are things we would all agree are correct: one must agree verbs with their subjects in number. (Weirdly, even though no one would dispute that this is a rule of English, it's often breached. How often do I read compound subjects given a singular verb? "He found that truth and beauty is rare in Australia" is simply incorrect. I believe this mistake is common because people make a false analogy with "or". "He found that truth or beauty is rare in Australia" is correct. So is "He thought flowers or beauty is the best thing in this world" because the rule is simply to agree the verb with the second (or last) element conjoined with "or".)

There are things that are disposed of in the house style guide. These are often items on which you could make a choice, and the house style makes the choice for you. Some are what you might call quasi rules of English. For instance, it is not incorrect in English to write "the man which I saw", although it is rare to see it these days. It's rare because most style guides admonish editors to use "that" for restrictive clauses. Even absent a style guide, I would enforce this quasi rule, which is quite defensible against even the most obtuse author.

I will have more to say about quasi rules in a moment.

Then there are things that are matters of choice. In some cases, the choices involve a former rule. So you might say "due to" for "because of" or "owing to", but I don't. They used to have quite defined slots for use, but the definition has blurred. (In case you don't know this quasi rule, see whether you can replace "due to" with "caused by" in a sentence where you wish to use it. "The game was postponed due to rain" is incorrect. "the postponement was due to rain" is correct. This is because "due" is an adjective.)

A personal peeve is the use of "thus" for "therefore". I prefer "thus" to mean "in this way" and "therefore" to mean "because of this". But note that this peeve is only worth having because there is a clear difference in meaning.

One quasi rule that style guides usually prescribe is not to use "like" for "such as". This poses difficulties for most of us because the distinction is lost in the spoken language. "I'd like Leeds to buy players like George Boyd" strictly means "players of the same type as George Boyd (but not George Boyd)" but of course when I say that, I mean I want Leeds to buy George Boyd.

Personally, I think this distinction is sufficiently dead that it's not worth preserving. There is a difference in meaning but it's abused so readily with so little impact that it seems barely worth the fight.

When you read "I want something to eat like a sandwich", you don't think "he wants something to eat that is the same type of thing as a sandwich". You think, "he wants a sandwich".

Another distinction, and the point of this post, is that between "fewer" and "less". It is almost the pedants' shibboleth. But there never was an actual difference in meaning between "fewer" and "less", only that one can be used with one type of noun, the other with another.

If you don't know, you may only use "fewer" with things that you can count, and you may only use "less" with things that you cannot count. You would never use "fewer" where you would use "less" (fewer money is ridiculous), but you might well use "less" where you would use "fewer" (less coins does not feel very wrong to most of us, if at all).

The plain fact is that "less" now means both "a smaller portion of an uncountable thing" and "fewer of a countable thing". We've been seeing lanes marked "12 items or less" for so long now, we've even stopped mentally yelling "12 items or fewer" at them.

I think it could be dispensed with. It is probably more common to see "less" these days and for all quasi rules, there's a tipping point where the battle is lost, and you stop being a defender of correct English and start being a pedant if you try to hold the line.

Nothing much is lost. Eventually, we may lose the word "fewer" but actually, languages lose and gain words all the time, and are none the worse off for it. We still understand each other and that's what counts.

The important thing in English is not to get the pedantries correct. You probably do not write well if you write loose, no matter how many quasi rules you obey. If your writing is clumsy, mannered, filled with jargon and redundancy, it does not matter that you do not strictly fail in grammar or "correctness", nor that you never put the wrong word; you still write badly.