Thursday, January 31, 2013
We are looking into having solar panels installed on the roof. A great idea in principle. But, now we have to make a choice. I am not so good at this whole choice thing. Making decisions gives me a headache.
Here’s how it goes: Company A tells me that the best option is a doohickey and a whatchama (with a 10 year warranty). Ok. Duly noted. Company B tells me that doohickeys are fine, but somethinorothers are better; and that whatchamas are to be avoided at all costs. They recommend thingummies (but they only come with a 5 year warranty). Ok, gotcha. Company C prefers doodads and splotchetts (with an impressive 25 year warranty). I’m tempted to go for the somethinorother and the splochetts, except that none of the companies provide that combination.
It’s all too difficult. So, in the end, it comes down to this... You see, the rep from Company A... well, his eyes were too close together. The rep from Company C picked his nose when he thought we weren’t looking. On the other hand, the rep from Company B was clever enough not to reveal any of his unpleasant habits or idiosyncrasies during the hour for which he placed himself at our disposal.
So it looks as though it will be somethinorothers and thingummies. Gee, I’m much better at weighing the evidence than I thought.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Dear politicians and candidates,
The Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yesterday announced that there will be a Federal election in September this year. This means that we, the voting public, have about eight months of official election campaigning to endure. Of course, these days you politicians always seem to be in election mode; but I fear that things will only get worse now that it is official.
My opening comments already indicate that I have a somewhat cynical attitude towards Australian politics. In that respect, however, I assure you that I am only reflecting the feelings of the general populace. We have come to expect very little from our politicians. And they usually fail to meet even these minimal expectations. I wish I didn’t feel this way. I wish I felt that our politicians were people whom I could respect, who were genuinely desirous of serving the community. I wish that they were people of vision. I wish they were people who could inspire me, and draw out the best from me. But they are not. You are not.
Will someone among you, among our leaders and potential leaders, please stand up: demonstrate to us your honesty, integrity and vision. Will someone among you please shrug aside the spin doctors, speech writers and media manipulators. I warn you, however: You will have a tough task convincing us that you are sincere. As things stand, be assured that none of us will believe a word that any of you have to say.
Yours in hope
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Here I go again. I am going to talk about self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for it. But, as I continue to read books for review, I become more and more discouraged about the quality of what is being produced. It is not just about spelling and grammar, although these things are important. The writing is appalling, the plots poorly thought through, the characters zero-dimensional. I have no objection to people writing whatever they want to write, however they want to write it. What I do object to is that these pieces of writing, which are not yet close to being ready for publication, are given five star reviews. The authors often claim that the book has been through the process of editing. If this is true, there are some very dishonest and/or incompetent editors out there.
I don’t want to discourage people from writing. But I do want to encourage people to take some pride in what they are doing. I seriously doubt, sometimes, whether the author has even bothered to scan their own work, let alone undertake any serious editing/proofreading, or get anyone else to do it for them. How can someone use modern terminology, such as: “24/7”, “suss”, “upbeat”, “legit”, and “dweeb”, in a story set at the end of the nineteenth century? How can they speak of “super glue” and “endorphins”? Ok, let’s grant that an author may make these kinds of mistakes. But what kind of editor would fail to point them out?
People seem to be in too much of a hurry to publish. They want to take short cuts. They are unwilling to undertake the hard slog that writing actually involves. I know I make mistakes. I know that there are almost certainly still some undetected errors in my work. But I care that they are there; and I will correct them as soon as I find out about them. If we want self-publishing to be taken seriously, we will make the effort and do the work.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
On TV, as I write this, is a show called Who do you think you are? Versions of this show are produced in the UK and Australia; I’m not sure if there is a US version. Each episode traces the genealogy of a celebrity. This undoubtedly reflects the increased general interest that people have in tracing their ancestry, in determining where they come from.
The desire to discover our genetic and social heritage is understandable. We are seeking to place ourselves, our lives, within a context. Accompanying this quest is a deep conviction that we carry our past within us, which is certainly true, both at the social and genetic level.
Of course, we are actually the result, each of us, of the combination of thousands of genetic pasts: the influence of any single one of those on our life here and now is likely to be very small. So if our great, great, great grandparent was a writer, anything in his or her genetics that influenced him or her in that direction will be extremely diluted in us. After all, we each have thirty-two great, great, great grandparents. The strongest influence on us is much more likely to be our immediate environment as we are growing up. Separating “nature” from “nurture” is, of course, extremely difficult, if not impossible. Nevertheless, the fact that I like to read is almost certainly directly attributable to the fact that my father has always loved to read.
There are two things that strike me as interesting about this quest to ground our lives, or uncover some imagined truths about ourselves, via genealogy. The first is the insatiable desire that human beings have to explain things. If I am a writer, and I discover that one of my forebears was a writer, I think that I have somehow “explained” something about myself. I haven’t, of course. Why am I a writer, for example, rather than an undertaker, which could have been the profession of another of my ancestors? We choose among the building blogs of our past the things that most appeal to us, as an explanation for who we are. But why the need for an explanation, anyway? The actual explanation may be much more proximate and mundane; but does it really matter? I make of myself what I am, from the building blocks available to me, whatever their source. I am a writer, because I am a writer, not because my great, great etc. grandfather was.
The second point is related to this. We are constantly seeking, not just explanations for things, but meaning in things. What is the difference between an explanation and a meaning? Explanation looks at cause and effect. In snooker, the red ball moved because the white ball struck it; the white ball, in turn, moved because the cue struck it. In genealogy, we are inclined to argue, first of all, in terms of cause and effect: I am a writer because my great, great, great grandfather was. But we add to this something extra, something very human: namely, the concept of meaning. In our eyes, the knowledge that our forebear was a writer makes our own choice to be a writer more meaningful, more significant. We see it as evidence of some kind of pattern, shape or purpose in the unfolding of events. In an almost mystical sense, it brings our ancestor forward into our own lives: we are continuing something that they started. They live again in us. As I write this, I find myself resonating strongly with it. And I begin to see it from a different perspective. The fact that both my ancestor and I are writers gives meaning, not to my life, but to his (or hers). I am keeping something of that ancestor alive, validating and affirming it, even if unknowingly. The fact that I now know it, that I am conscious of the connection, brings them back into the world, brings them into the present, to live on in some small way, in me.
I would like to think that my descendants will help to keep me alive in this way.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
I was very pleased the other day, when approaching the house, to see children playing cricket (that’s a funny game with a ball, a big stick, and some smaller sticks stuck in the ground, for the American audience) across the road. How terribly dangerous, I hear you say. How could the parents be so irresponsible? Well, bollocks, I say to that. Ours is a quiet street; and to see children actually outside, actually touching things, actually moving their arms and legs, and not just their fingers and thumbs, was a delight.
When I was a boy (he says, rinsing his teeth under the tap) we used to play outside all the time. Nowadays, we are too concerned with wrapping our children up in bubble-wrap, to protect them from the evils and dangers of the world. The children themselves are more concerned with virtual than “real” reality. Schools have regulations forbidding children to climb trees. Our children have to be driven to school and picked up afterwards, to protect them from the evils that lurk in the streets. We are constantly sending a message to our children that the world is a dangerous place. We protect them all the time from difficulty and hardship, to such an extent that they will have no idea how to deal with these things when they inevitably face them later in life. We obsessively (but futilely) protect them from bacteria and viruses. If we were successful, they would have no natural defences in the future. Because we are not, they have no psychological strategies for coping with illness.
It is a cliché, but we learn from our mistakes. It is a cliché, because it is true. Learning generally occurs through struggle and hardship. Because we make life easy for our children, they are unwilling to make the effort. Effort doesn’t always feel good, at the time. If our children are taught to avoid all pain and discomfort, is it any wonder that they have no desire to subject themselves to pain and discomfort in order to attain a goal? It seems that we want to create a flat world, a world without hills and mountains. It hurts, after all, to climb a steep hill; and pain is to be avoided at all costs. Actually, the world is a dangerous place, and that’s a good thing. It provides us with opportunities to strengthen and better ourselves. Protect us from this new breed of “flat-earthers.”
The truly ironic thing is that, in this world full of dangers, probably the most dangerous place is the home. The evils lurk, not in the streets, but in the home. When children are harmed, it is far, far more likely to be by someone who “loves” them, than by a stranger. So let’s get the kids out on the streets again, where it is safer.
Friday, January 25, 2013
When I was visiting Adelaide, just after Christmas, I was pleased to see how many homes had installed solar panels on their roofs. Yes, I am back on the roof again. It had been 18 months since I was last in Adelaide, and the change was astonishing. I would estimate that up to one in three homes had panels, at least in the area where I was staying. Coming back up here to sunny far north Queensland, the proportion is much lower.
It is great to see so many Australians (particularly in the south) embracing the solar alternative. Of course, the motivation for this is largely financial, rather than environmental. Now that solar panels have become less expensive, it is possible to make a fairly quick return on your investment, particularly with power companies paying for energy fed back into the grid. It has always been my belief (or, at least, my hope) that the conflict between economics and green policies would prove to be a furphy in the medium to long term. (I probably need another aside here to explain that “furphy” is an Australian slang term for an exaggerated story, a false report or a rumour.) The use of solar panels is hopefully an early example of this.
My hope is that it will soon be compulsory for all new buildings, be they private homes or otherwise, to include solar panels during construction. This would represent a fairly small impost in the context of any building project.
All-read-E: Helping you to become the great writer you already are.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
I am curious to know what people think about the use of local colloquialisms, idiom and slang in a novel. I am not talking here about direct speech, where this is probably desirable and even necessary, if the author wants to reproduce the flavour of the place and time. Even in this case, though, I wonder if this can be overdone. I remember reading Wuthering Heights as a teenager, and finding the passages, where Joseph the servant spoke, quite unintelligible. But this is an extreme example, and I am not really thinking here so much about trying to convey an accent in writing (this would be another blog in itself) as about the use of phrases and vocabulary that is more or less specific to a particular time and place.
The problem is particularly acute when a novel or story is written in the first person, as though the narrator were addressing an audience. It is important that the narration reflect the time and place of the narrator. But to a reader from another time and place, some of the language used might be incomprehensible. I have been assessing/editing a book which fits this description: it is a first person narrative, in which the narrator directly addresses his audience. I have encountered some phrases and expressions that I struggle to understand. I hesitate to cite them here, because for some of my readers, these phrases might sound perfectly normal. For my own part, I cannot always decide whether a phrase or sentence is poorly written, or simply colloquial.
To illustrate the point, I will write a short passage that draws quite heavily on Australian colloquialisms, idiom and slang, without being a caricature:
“I wondered back the other day from me mate’s house, where we had a barbie. It weren’t half bad. There were snags and prawns, as well as all the other usual tucker. We all tipped back a fair few tinnies, and some of us were thoroughly pissed by the end of the night. I legged it home to avoid the booze bus. I got to thinkin’ about some of the great times me and me mates had. Like when we all went down to Schoolies at the Gold Coast. One year in particular, when some of us got into a bit of a blue with some blokes from over the border. We had some great times in those days. When we weren’t bored shitless.
“These days we’re just about all of us married. Workin’ our butts off. I took a sickie the other day, though. Took the tinny out and did some fishing with the boy. ...”
You get the picture. I am curious to know if non-Australian readers had any difficulty with this. (I’m hoping the aussies didn’t.) In Australia, we are exposed more often to American and British idiom, than Brits and Americans are exposed to ours, so we can usually follow what is said. Not always, though. There are times (whether in writing or on the screen) when I still have difficulty with some British or American language.
Personally, I love such variations. Nevertheless, I suppose when writing we should all be careful to ensure that we can still be understood across the cultural divide.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The word “liberty” is frequently bandied about in political and media circles. It is impossible to argue that liberty is not a good thing. We all celebrate the liberation of slaves, the liberation of women and other oppressed groups. Most of us recognise the need for freedom of speech and for a free press. We cherish the right to live our lives as we choose.
Yet the word “liberty”, and perhaps the very concept, can become a tool of oppression. We often defend our own liberty at the expense of someone else’s. We defend our own liberty most vigorously when it gives us an advantage over another. Conversely, we become an opponent of liberty when it threatens our own comfort or well-being.
Those who parade through the media with the god/goddess of liberty held high, are misguided. Liberty is not an unqualified good. It is only one good, which needs to be balanced against others. A society, which consists of a large number of people who agree to live together in quest of some mutual benefit, must always balance individual liberty against other equally worthy values. Those who hold up liberty as a deity are perfectly well aware of this. They agree, implicitly and explicitly, to the curtailing of liberty on every side. Often, those who advocate liberty, also support the strongest sanctions against those who transgress society’s laws – which usually involves at least the loss of liberty, if not the loss of life. Those who advocate liberty also protest most loudly against, for example, the right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy, or the rights of a same sex couple to marry. Those who most loudly advocate liberty often wish, in fact, to curtail it as much, and probably more, than those who are often disparagingly called “liberals”.
In fact, the louder and more often someone shouts “liberty”, the more I am sure they are simply interested in shoring up their own positions of power, which also, inevitably, limits the freedom and rights of others.
Before we make a god (or even a “lady”) of liberty, let her enter into dialogue with justice and compassion.
Available at Amazon now.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The wet season has really hit Cairns today. There is nothing like a real tropical downpour. It’s especially exciting when you are on the roof cleaning out the gutters. You think it is raining heavily; and then it really rains. Except that then it really REALLY rains. I had an American friend back at the university in Lausanne to whom everything was “awesome”. No. This is awesome.
This is Australia, burnt in the south, drowned in the north.
From the roof I have a different perspective on the world. Down below I see mainly walls. From up here, I see islands of palms (for the most part) above a sea of corrugated iron. The sun pulls aside the curtain of clouds for an instant and the iron roofs shimmer. The palm fronds are cast in gold. A green tree frog leaps from the gutter, pausing first to glance its annoyance in my direction, before landing on a palm frond that sinks beneath its weight. A TIP (Torresian Imperial Pigeon, to those in the know; a Torres Island Pigeon, more often) flies into the crown of a nearby palm. Water cascades onto the pavement below. I have the unusual experience of being on the bird’s level, seeing the world as he or she sees it. I try to replicate its call, that deep “wee-uh-woooooooo” that, for me, always heralds spring, as these beautiful birds fly down from the islands up north for the warmer months. I fail miserably. After picking at a few remnants of fruit, the white pigeon, with black-tipped wings and tail, flies away disdainfully.
The sun retreats into hiding once more. The jewels on leaves and fronds – holding tiny captured suns in their depths – fade, and are no more than water again. My gaze turns to the nearby hills. There are only fragmented glimpses of these from below. From my present vantage they march along the coast from north to south. The clouds rest their feet lazily in gullies and ravines.
Some of those clouds, launching themselves away from the hills, throw themselves back to earth as enormous, joyous droplets. I am drenched. The water thunders against the corrugated iron. And I am content.
Monday, January 21, 2013
I was having trouble thinking of something to blog about today. Then I saw the word “triangles” written in a children’s book open on the table. Ok, then. There’s the challenge: blog about triangles, the simplest of all polygons.
There are some very important (or, perhaps, infamous) triangles in the world. Love triangles and the Bermuda triangle come to mind. There are equilateral triangles, isosceles triangles, and the ever-popular scalene triangles. There is the percussion instrument of the same name, which even I have a chance of mastering. Let’s not forget the all-important tripod, whose feet make a triangle upon the ground. For the mathematically inclined there is Pascal’s Triangle. How about the Sierpinski Triangle (yeah, I had to look it up too)?
In fact, we can thank the triangle (via Pythagoras) for giving us a entire branch of mathematics – trigonometry. I know many of you will be deeply grateful to Pythagoras. I know how many of you longed to hear the next episode of trigonometry’s story. Remember that night, the night after you learned about sines and cosines? How you longed to hear about tangents the next day! Hypotenuse, adjacent, opposite – pure poetry.
Of course, the triangle’s claim to fame is really due to its famous cousin, the circle. Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will have come across circles before. What do those sharp, pointy things (triangles) have to do with those smooth round things (circles)? Angles. The concept of an angle only makes sense in the context of the circle. Degrees – we are talking fractions of a circle. π (as in The Life of...), radians – these building blocks of trigonometry are so very circular.
I am not a mathematician, and I know that the sight of numbers, let alone Xs and Ys (how very triangular), sends some people into anaphylactic shock. Nevertheless, mathematics is beautiful and astonishing. It never ceases to amaze me how these concepts hold together. They are like conceptual snowflakes.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Teen suicide has been in the news here in Australia again. It is said that this is on the rise, and I imagine that claim is backed up with sound research. It is difficult to know whether suicide among teens is more prevalent now than 50 or 60 years ago. It was probably covered up more then than now. It is also difficult to ascertain how many fatal car accidents, then and now, are actually suicides. However, any suicide by a young person must raise concerns, and it is certainly more common than one would hope.
There is something that doesn’t quite feel right about asking why “teenagers” commit suicide. Each of these people is an individual, with their own story, their own pressures and their own concerns. There will not be one single reason or group of reasons that explains every act: some kind of “general law” of teen suicide. We want there to be, because it would make the issue easier to tackle (or so we think). Clearly there are external factors, interacting with internal factors, that lead to such a decision.
I think that for many people, young and old, it is not a question of finding a reason to kill themselves: it is a question of finding a reason not to. It’s actually quite easy to find reasons to kill oneself. I’ve lost my job and I don’t have the resources to find another. My marriage has ended, and I can’t face life on my own; I can’t face starting over. Someone I love has died, and I can’t live without them. The world is going to hell, and I don’t want to be there when it does. Sorry to depress you all.
It seems to me that the key to it all is finding a reason to live, despite the pressure, the pain and the loss. Even if it is a trivial reason. I could kill myself, but I want to see the Eiffel Tower before I die. I feel like killing myself, but what if I write down some of these thoughts and feelings so that others might understand. I could kill myself, or I could learn Spanish. I would kill myself, but chocolate just tastes so damn good! Please understand that I am not trivialising this. I have been very depressed at times in my life, but I have never actually been suicidal. Why not? Because there has always been another book to read. There has always been a movie I really wanted to see. There has always been somewhere else in the world that I wanted to go. There has always been another game of Trivial Pursuit to play with the family.
Having something to live for is the key, and it doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic, epic something. Maybe it’s the pleasure you get from stroking your cat, and from hearing her purr in your arms. Maybe it is the smell of roast lamb cooking. These are wonderful things, and as long as I can, I will hold out for one more opportunity to experience them.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
I remember way back when, in the days when I first considered myself to be a Christian (which, I hasten to add, I no longer do), I became friends with some “born again”, fundamentalist Christians through my girlfriend at the time. These were very intelligent people; both, if I recall, were school teachers. Two stories come to mind from the time of my acquaintance with them.
The man – let’s call him “Tom” – spent a great deal of time studying the Bible. As with many fundamentalist Christians, this mostly meant the Old Testament. Perhaps this is simply because there is so much more of it to study than the New Testament. His particular fascination was with the genealogies in the book of Genesis. He spent a great deal of time studying these genealogies, making all kinds of calculations. Each time I saw him, he would enthusiastically report some new “fact” that he had discovered. Did I know, for instance, that Adam was still alive during the first few years of Lamech’s (Noah’s father) life? Did I realise that Methuselah, Noah’s 969 year old grandfather, died only seven days before the flood? No I didn’t know these things, before he told me. I didn’t know them afterwards, either. Because even then, in my early days as a Christian, I knew that this was bollocks. Well, let’s just say, that I did not think that we were meant to take these things literally. What I thought most of all, though, was how sad it was that someone could waste so much time and energy on such meaningless trivia, instead of, perhaps, gaining some insights from the collected wisdom that these writings might contain. (As an aside, I do not discount the possibility that the Bible may contain valuable insights into life, alongside the more questionable aspects.)
The second story also concerns Tom. Perhaps his wife was a little more grounded. Tom kept tropical fish. On one occasion some of these fish became mysteriously ill, so Tom decided to pray that God would heal these fish, and protect the others from this illness. Here comes one of my “Hmmmms”. Hmmmm. Perhaps, I suggested at the time, it might be wise to remove the infected fish, to protect the others. Unfortunately for the fish, Tom’s faith in God’s healing ability (and, apparently, His goodwill towards fish) was strong. If only Tom’s faith had been a little weaker, some of the fish may have been spared. It was not to be.
I’m sure most Christians, even fundamentalists, would agree that there are more useful things to be gleaned from the Bible than the fact that Methuselah was there to watch Noah build the ark, perhaps cheering him on. I’m also sure that even most fundamentalist Christians would concede that God may have better things to do than respond to someone’s ridiculously trivial intercession on behalf of a tank full of fish. Perhaps God might think He had done enough by giving us a brain.
Oh well. What would someone like me have to blog about if there weren’t intelligent, but stupid, people like Tom in the world.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Everyone is talking about Lance Armstrong, so I am not going to. But I am going to consider some of the issues his case raises. Actually, as I think about it, there are probably so many issues that considering them all would fill books – and probably will. So here I will limit myself to just a few points.
The need to win
The drive to win, whether it be in competition with ourselves or others, whether it be against an illness, whether it be in a conflict, is deeply rooted in the human psyche. It is difficult to label it as a bad thing. Without it, we would not have overcome so many of the difficulties that the human race has faced over the millennia. Without it, we would not see the human spirit rise to the heights that it sometimes does. The drive to be the best that we can is, surely, a good thing. At some point, however, it is fair to ask: at what cost? I may want to be the very best at what I do. But if I achieve this at the cost of my physical or mental health, or at the cost of my relationships, or at the cost of my children, surely I have lost perspective. It is easy to become addicted to victory, to success, or, at least, to the adrenalin rush that accompanies it. This addiction is as destructive and harmful as any other. In fact, this addiction is a terrible side effect of the evolutionary process that has enabled us to be so successful as a species.
Our society seems to value success in sport more highly than it values other kinds of success. The Australian of the Year title has been awarded to a sportsperson in 13 out of 52 years. It has been awarded to someone within the medical community 11 times. It has been awarded to someone in the entertainment/arts community 11 times. Perhaps sports people are our gladiators. We certainly admire people who push themselves to their physical limits. Again, I would not say that this is a bad thing. I enjoy it too. But perhaps we do not have the balance quite right.
Of course, because we value sport so highly, we also despise cheats in this area more than in other areas. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, and various other clichés. I understand why we admire people who show outstanding prowess at some particular physical challenge. But why should we expect them to also show any particular prowess at being human? Why do we expect them also to be “good” people? “Because young people look up to them. They are role models,” I hear you say. But this is not really an answer to the question. This might be why we want them to be good people; it does not explain why we expect them to be. Perhaps part of what needs to change is our expectations.
Then there is money, of course. Enough said about that.
This is an Australian term, and I am not sure if it is current anywhere else. It refers to the tendency of Australians to want to “cut down to size” anyone who becomes too “up themselves”. In other words, to cut down the tall poppies. We don’t like people to get uppity, and so there is always a little delight when the “mighty” fall. Perhaps this makes us feel better about ourselves. So, despite our delight in success, paradoxically we also secretly take delight in spectacular failure. I would not like to be someone that the mob had in its sights. Of course, as soon as someone is caught out, they immediately become a bad person, in every respect. Previously we knew they were good at something (let’s say, cycling) and for some reason we assumed that they were also good in a deeper sense. Now we know they did a bad thing, so they must actually be bad. Somehow, the idea that good people can sometimes do bad things, or that bad people can sometimes do good things, eludes us. To put it another way, we live under the illusion that there are good and bad people when, in fact, there are only people.
Lance Armstrong’s sin was to reveal that he is after all, human. Eventually he may feel relieved to have been stripped of his divine status.
If you haven't yet checked out the new cover for my novel Maybe they'll remember me, take a look here.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
It’s about time for another reflection about time. Time, after all, is a very peculiar notion. It was peculiar when Kant declared it to be an a priori inner sense, rather than an actual attribute of the external world. It’s peculiarity continued unabated, when Einstein declared that it was relative – it passes at different rates for different people, travelling at different velocities. But then, what on earth does the phrase “time passes” actually mean?
Is time moving? Hmmmm. We can tell that a thing is moving when we look at it over a period of time and see that it change position. So to detect whether or not time is moving we would have to watch it for a period of time. OK, I feel another of those headaches coming on.
If it makes no sense to consider time moving, as in passing, perhaps it is we who move through time. So time is a “river” and we swim upstream – not, apparently, ever downstream. Or maybe it’s the other way around – who can say. Except that if time is flowing downhill, and I am being swept along with it, that means that time and I are moving together, and that it is always, therefore, the same time, where – er, when – I am. It’s a migraine now.
And then there is the fact that we often say, “Time passes really slowly when I...” or “Time passes really quickly when I...” Here we are thrust into a more psychological concept of time, which apparently, again, is both relative and more to do with us than it is to do with external reality. Objectively, we know that the hands of the clock have not slowed or speeded up – note that, even if they had, this would not mean that time had done any such thing. And yet we experience the acceleration or slowing down of time. Rather, what we mean is that, what was actually a day, felt more like an hour, or what was actually an hour felt more like a day. By this I think we mean to express the idea that more – or less – happened during that time than is normally the case. There seems to be something that “fills” time, and when time is full, an hour seems like a week... and so on.
Time and space, if I understand modern physics correctly, are inseparable. So when the universe occupied no space, during the instant "before" the Big Bang, there was also no time. So, of course, it is pointless to ask what preceded the Big Bang. I know this makes no “sense”. But that is because time is an a priori category that precedes all our thinking; and timelessness is, by definition, inconceivable. Or something like that.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
I admire those who write science fiction or fantasy, because it requires such an extended and profound act of imagination. To create an entirely new world or a new universe, to people it with strange new creatures, to devise entirely new “natural” laws or sciences – these are things I would not have the patience to even attempt. I love reading science fiction and fantasy, and have done so since I was a small child.
Because so much creative energy is devoted to generating entire new worlds, histories and cultures, sometimes other aspects of writing are neglected. Character development is one of them. Even if I am reading about five-legged, four-eyed, semi-transparent sentient cacti, I still want the characters to have some depth and multi-dimensionality (in the non-SF sense). This is no easy task if the author is also trying to evoke an alien psychology. The story also suffers, sometimes, in favour of minutiae, on the one hand, and epic elements, on the other. Some detail about how this new world works is both necessary and enjoyable: too much is tedious and distracting. A balance is necessary. One way of dealing with this is via appendices, which the reader with autistic tendencies can read if they like, but which are not essential for understanding the story. The epic elements can have a similar effect. I don’t mind the occasional galactic scale battle, but too much will quickly have me nodding off to sleep. The same is true of events taking place at the scale of the society or the political system. This needs to be balanced (perhaps even over-balanced) with “human” scale elements. Few SF writers are good at both of these scales, and it is often the human scale that suffers.
Another thing that epic SF and fantasy tends to do is introduce too many characters, with too many individual story threads to follow. I, as reader, have usually forgotten who someone is, by the time they reappear in the story. This is also true when too many “races” or planets or cultures are introduced. To the author, this is all probably very clear in their mind; but not necessarily so for the reader. This is made worse if races or characters are given difficult or incomprehensible names.
Then, of course, there is length. Why do SF and fantasy writers think that a good story requires several million words, in several volumes, to be told well? I often get sick of waiting for the next volume; and, of course, I have forgotten most of what happened in the previous volume by then.
SF/fantasy writers live in a world inside their head, which they can see, smell and taste clearly. We mere mortals cannot always share their vision. Brevity and conciseness are virtues to be embraced; “keep it simple, stupid” is worth keeping in mind; less, is sometimes more (to borrow another cliché).
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
I have been using the social media increasingly over the last few months, and I think I have enough experience under my belt now to make a few observations about Twitter.
When I first started using Twitter, I had an account under my own name, I chose to follow just a few people (no more than 20) and I usually had between 15 and 20 followers of my own. Very small scale – nothing I could brag about at Twitter parties. But it worked in this sense: I could read all the tweets. Recently I have started another Twitter account for the proofreading business, and for this account I have been trying a different tactic. I have been following many people, mainly writers or those connected with the writing business. As a result, many more people are now following me. However, because I am following many more people (still a fraction of the number that some people follow) I actually see very few of their tweets. If I am away from the computer for a while, there are hundreds of new tweets waiting when I return, and I generally only look at the top five or so (by then there are always more waiting). Of course, I realise that the same is true for all of the people who are following me: what are the chances that they actually see my tweet? Very slim, I imagine.
Then there is the question of the content of the tweets. Actually, “content” might be too grandiose a word. Many tweets look like this:
RT @jpLANEauthor Powerful players, ruthless people. A TANGLED WEB of passion & international intrigue. http://viewBook.at/B007Z5Y3ZQ
Do I have any incentive to follow this up, especially given that I have just received dozens if not hundreds of others just like it, and perhaps even this very tweet several times before? No, I have no incentive at all. Similarly, I doubt that those receiving my tweets have any inclination to follow them up.
So what is the point?
The only thing I can see that might work, given that my ultimate objective is to promote my business, is the process of following new people. There is often a direct message in response when people are added to my “following” list – at least I know that they have noticed me (except, of course, that some of those responses are automated). When someone new follows me, I send them a direct message (not automated). I also use direct messages if I happen to have looked at some of their writing and noticed errors that I, as a proofreader, would have picked up.
All in all, though, I remain unconvinced about the effectiveness of Twitter, at least as a promotional tool. And that is certainly what almost everyone that I follow is using it for. I doubt that the return is worth the investment. I will, however, give it a while longer. I hope to be proven wrong.
Monday, January 14, 2013
I am going to use my blog post today for something different: a book review. Here is my review of Avalon’s Lost, by Ryan Clapper.
I am not a young adult, and it's been a long time since I was one. So it's not easy for me to know what kind of book a young adult today might enjoy. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this, and I reckon some of you "young folks" might enjoy it too.
It is a fast-paced, well-written tale, with three main protagonists, Nick, Erica and Mel (male), three teenagers who set out to discover what has happened to Erica's older sister. They find themselves caught up in a series of perilous adventures, entangled in the world of drug dealers and gang wars. The story is told in the present tense and in the first person, from Nick's perspective.
The three main characters are well-drawn, with sufficient depth and complexity to make them real. Nick's artless narration is honest and straightforward, the voice realistic, the range of emotions convincingly expressed. The secondary characters are also well-drawn: most of the "bad guys" are fleshed out in three-dimensions, and we are able to see the other side of many of them. The main exception to this is Brian Edgeworth, an unrelentingly nasty villain. I am happy to permit the author one such character.
The story is well-paced, with fast action sequences interspersed with periods of relative quiet - time enough to fill in some of the back story, get to know the characters and enjoy some bantering. For the most part, the author succeeds in creating the right level of jeopardy and suspense, when necessary. I did occasionally have difficulty knowing how much time had passed, and was sometimes surprised to learn that it was, for example, still only 10.30 at night, when they seemed to have been running from one adventure to the next all night long. This was exacerbated by the fact that the parties they had already attended by then probably wouldn't even have started much before midnight - correct me if I am wrong kids.
It is a challenging task to write a novel of this length (it is around 95,000 words) entirely in the present tense. I like this, because it gives an immediacy to the action, and places us alongside the protagonists - we go through it with them. Nevertheless, this is difficult to sustain, and I detected a few places where this faltered.
The main issue with the book is the number of errors. At first, I noted them down, with the intention of providing a list for the author; but after reading 15% of the book I gave up. There were simply too many. Otherwise, the book was well-written, the language good and appropriate, and the point of view and voice of Nick consistently maintained.
I give this book 4 stars, and am happy to recommend it to young (and even not so young) readers. I also strongly recommend that the author has the manuscript proofread and corrected - this will greatly improve the experience for the reader.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
I can’t help reflecting on how many “best-selling” authors there are out there. Perhaps the word “best” is another of those English words that is losing its meaning. Perhaps, in the context of selling books, it now means “I sold a book once”. This is the kind of promotional hyperbole that I find irritating. Tim Minchin – yes, Tim Minchin again – I wish I were as clever and witty as Tim Minchin – watch a Tim Minchin DVD... Sorry, I lost my train of thought there for a second. Tim Minchin told a story in one of his shows about when he first performed in New York. (Forgive me if I don’t get the details and wording exactly right.) He was staying in a hotel somewhere in New York and was feeling a little hungry. He decided that he would go downstairs, wander the streets for a while – perhaps he would find a deli nearby. He stepped out of the lobby onto the street, and there, across the road, was The Very Best Delicatessen in the World. He knew it was the best, because the sign told him so. “Well,” says Tim to his audience, “what are the odds of that! I step out into the street and there it is: the best deli in the world! Imagine the market research it must have taken to verify that!”
I feel a little that way when I look at the people I am following on Twitter. What are the odds! He is the best-selling author of... Oh but wait, she is the best-selling author of... And he is..., and they are... That poodle is the best-selling author of...
And so it is confirmed for me. Clearly I am doing something wrong. Obviously it is easy to sell books. The world is full of best-selling authors, while I... well, I am only a “slightly better-selling” and “mostly worse-selling” author than most. No superlatives for me. The best I can manage are a few (sometimes favourable, sometimes unfavourable) comparatives.
Then I comfort myself. I am, after all, the best-selling author in this room! I have sold more copies of Maybe they’ll remember me than anyone in several universes.
More words of wisdom from the best-selling author of ...
Saturday, January 12, 2013
I know that many people think that an excessive emphasis on grammar and spelling is pedantic and tedious. They are probably right some of the time. I have been reading many self-published books, or free samples of books lately. Perhaps I am being pedantic when I notice a spelling or grammatical error. Does it really matter that “battlefield” is one word, not two. Does it really matter if people write “it’s”, rather than “its” to indicate “belonging to it”?
Some things matter, some things don’t. Some things matter today, and won’t matter tomorrow. Language is a living , evolving thing. There are not really rules and standards, but guidelines and common usage. For the sake of creativity, these guidelines can and should be broken.
Sometimes, however, not using the correct grammatical form or spelling can result in ambiguity and misunderstanding. We are probably all familiar with the fact that Eats, Shoots and Leaves can mean very different things if the punctuation changes. This is not a trivial matter. It is not simply a matter of pedantry. The author may not realise that he or she has introduced ambiguity or misunderstanding by writing what seems perfectly clear and unambiguous to them.
Should we only care about spelling, grammar and punctuation when it makes the meaning unclear. If th meenin is cleer, duz nuffin els matter? It is a question of degree, like most things. It is good to standardise spelling and grammar so that everyone is on the same page, so to speak.
I hope that those who profess not to be concerned about spelling and grammar are not simply being lazy; or are not just ashamed about their own lack of knowledge in this area. It doesn’t hurt to know what the acceptable usage is, even if one chooses to ignore it. It gives the author a choice.
One thing I notice all the time in writing is “the comma splice”. This is the practice of linking two sentences together with only a comma, it is not good usage. I did it there, in that last sentence. Did you notice? Did you care? There are several ways of writing this sentence correctly, but the simplest is as two sentences: "This is the practice of linking two sentences together with only a comma. It is not good usage." Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Perhaps you think that the rule or guideline is silly. That’s fine. Ignore it if you wish. But don’t “ignore” it because you didn’t even know that you were doing it. For someone who is serious about being a writer, who wants to be recognised as a good writer, it is important that you try to follow these guidelines as well as you can; and feel free to ignore them when you really want to.
See what you think of the new cover of Maybe they'll remember me
Friday, January 11, 2013
Over the last two or three weeks there have been some horrendous bushfires throughout parts of Australia, with terrible devastation. This is Australia, where such extreme events are not uncommon. However, in all likelihood, climate change is exacerbating the situation. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has recently taken the extraordinary step of adding new colours to its maps of temperature in Australia (BOM). Temperatures were previous capped at 50°C (122°F), but this is no longer high enough. The range now extends to 54°C (129.2°F), well above the all time record temperature of 50.7° recorded in 1960. This is scary stuff.
Add to this the fact that many of these fires were probably started by arsonists... Well, what can one say! Just this: there are times when I am ashamed to be a member of the species, Homo sapiens, subspecies sapiens. The term "sub species" seems only too appropriate here.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
I have just been to another movie, this time the gentle, British production called The Quartet. It is unusual for me to see so many movies in such a short time. Within the last few weeks I have seen The Hobbit, Les Miserables, and The Quartet.
The first two movies, although very different, are both massive productions, with oodles of CGI. The last movie is a gentle, small scale human story, with, well... actors. I can enjoy the blockbusters and their special effects; but there is something particularly pleasing about a gentle, very human story, which is about nothing more or less than people and their relationships. Perhaps quite surprisingly, movies like The Quartet perform quite well in today’s market, which seems to always want more, bigger, louder. Per unit of investment, these smaller movies may even perform better than the blockbusters.
There is always a danger that the human element is lost in the large productions. Les Miserables is, of course, also a very human story, and I don’t think this element was lost beneath the huge production numbers, the huge sets (CGI or real) or the huge ideas. Anne Hathaway’s rendition of I Dreamed a Dream was the stand-out moment of the movie for me, and was deeply, deeply personal. I would rather watch that, I would rather watch the subtle interactions between people, I would rather see a smile, a gesture, a word, subtly but masterfully rendered, than all the special effects in the world.
The same is true of what I read. Of course I can enjoy the epic sci fi or fantasy novel, and even the occasional mystery thriller. But what I enjoy most of all is the subtle, truthful portrayal of the human condition.
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Does advertising work? The difficulty with this question is that, if an ad doesn’t seem to work, it can always be blamed on the fact that it was not a very good ad. So the question should perhaps be: does good advertising work? But then, I suppose that one can only really tell that advertising is good when it does work. I feel a headache coming on!
I’ve no doubt that people in the advertising industry will tell you that (good) advertising works – but then they have something of a vested interest in wanting us to think that. They may be right. But I struggle to think of many cases when I have bought an item or a service because I saw it advertised. It could be argued that I have been influenced subconsciously, but it would require some serious scientific research to establish that. Certainly advertising works if we measure success in terms of brand recognition. We all know the Nike tick, but I have never bought a Nike product. We all know Coca Cola, but I never drink it. Toyota ads are probably those I remember best among car ads; but I have never bought a Toyota.
Over the years there have been many great advertising campaigns, many that I have enjoyed enormously. I remember there was a very clever series of coffee ads – unfortunately, from their point of view, I forget the brand – but... I don’t drink coffee. There are great ads that I have watched via YouTube. They are very successful ads... or are they? Have I ever bought a product as a result of watching them? No.
Surely I am not the only one who, when shopping for a product, will consider the price, and whether that particular product meets my particular requirements at this particular time, ahead of considering the brand. It’s true that I might know one brand name better than others, but does that make me buy that brand? I don’t think so. Does it make me notice that brand ahead of the other options? Possibly. Does it make me consider it longer than the other options, before making a decision? Possibly. Does it mean that I buy it? No. Not unless the price suits me and if it best provides what I need. Some might say that advertising has convinced me that it does just that. Well it hasn’t, unless, of course, the price actually does suit me, and the item or service actually does provide what I need! In this case, I can thank advertising for providing me with some useful information. Of course I could have been misled. But surely it is not the purpose of advertising to deceive. Hmmm.
Now I will not claim that advertising has no influence on me or anyone else – I would need to back up such a claim with some serious research of my own. But does the extent of its influence justify the amount of money invested in it? Hmmm. Perhaps the best and most successful advertising campaign in history has been to convince people that advertising works.
Well, let's see if it works.......
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
The other day, I went to see the new cinematic production of Les Miserables. Whatever one might think about the movie or individual performances within it, I was once again struck by the grandeur and profundity of Victor Hugo’s story. I read the book again last year (I am proud to say that I read it in French). It is an astonishing undertaking (the writing, that is; although the reading is not a bad effort either). I suspect that one could spend many hours discussing the various messages that the story contains. Here I just want to say a few brief words, mainly about two of the central characters, Jean Valjean and Javert.
It would be easy to regard Jean Valjean as the hero of this piece, and Javert as the villain. Certainly they are antagonists. Nevertheless, I don’t believe it was ever Hugo’s intention to paint Javert as a villain. Jean Valjean certainly doesn’t. Javert is a good man. He is a moral man. He is a man of duty. His behaviour is faultless, in terms of the moral values that he holds dear. The contrast that Hugo presents is not between an evil man and a good man, but between a good man and a holy man. Jean Valjean is a saint, in all but name, despite being “immoral” according to the standards of the day. I think that Hugo is trying to point out that holiness or saintliness transcends morality. Morality is highly dependent on the context and culture of the day. What was considered immoral one hundred, fifty or even ten years ago is not necessarily considered so today; and vice versa. But holiness or sanctity is a timeless quality that transcends such human and social contexts.
If there is an embodiment of evil in Les Miserables it is to be found in Thenardier. He is the true villain of the piece. Unfortunately this is obscured in the musical version of the story, which turns him and his wife into the comic relief. Interestingly, the other figure in the novel that to some extent embodies saintliness is the daughter of this evil figure: Eponine. Despite the extreme poverty into which the Thenardier family has fallen, despite the hardships that have ruined Eponine’s health and appearance (she is not “pretty” in the novel), she exhibits saintliness when she brings Cosette and Marius together, despite her own love for him; and she exhibits saintliness when she sacrifices her own life to save Marius. Saintliness can and does arise from the filth of evil.
Les Miserables is a wonderful exploration of evil, morality and holiness. Holiness is not embodied in the people of perfect morality; on the other hand, the imperfectly moral person can be holy. But the perfect morality of someone like Javert is not considered evil by Hugo – just limited, narrow and oh so terribly human. If we can force ourselves to consider the possibility of both positive and negative transcendence, true evil is itself something that transcends morality, but in the opposite direction to holiness. This is Thenardier.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Today is the day. Today I have launched my new online business, All-read-E. I am now offering manuscript assessment, copy editing and proofreading at what I hope are affordable prices, particularly for self-publishing and independent authors. I have tried to set the prices at rates that people can afford, but which will also allow me to make enough to live on. Those who have been reading my blogs will know that I have been reading and reviewing self-published books. Many times I find them full of basic grammatical and spelling errors. Others need work at a slightly higher level, in that sentences, paragraphs and even chapters are not well organised. Finally, for some writers, the plot and character development needs considerable work. Many of these books have already (apparently) been subjected to editing and proofreading. If this is so, I can only say that they have failed terribly at their job. I can do a better job than that, and for considerably less money.
What I am offering with All-read-E are services that I would like to be able to access myself. I have recently submitted a manuscript to someone else for an assessment. They have charged me AUD 430 for this service, for a manuscript of 51,393 words. I would charge approximately AUD 231 for the same service. Furthermore, I submitted my manuscript for assessment in October last year, and it is likely to be another two months before I hear back. I guarantee a much faster response time than this.
This is a blatantly self-promotional post. I want people to use my services. But I am also offering a very good deal for you, if you are in need of services like this. So please check out my new web page, detailing the services that I offer, and the pricing regime.
Helping you to become the great writer you already are
Sunday, January 6, 2013
There are naughty words in what follows, so, if you are sensitive, read it with your eyes closed.
The other night I watched a DVD of Tim Minchin at The Albert Hall in 2010. Australians and people from the U.K. might know about Tim, whereas people in the U.S.A. probably won’t. One of his most recent projects has been to write a musical version of the Roald Dahl story, Mathilda. You can get a taste for Tim on Youtube, but I should warn you that he will probably say something to offend you. He is a satirist, who uses mainly songs to get his message across.
In what was a very brave move, Tim brought onto the stage a copy of the Qur’an, together with a copy of a Harry Potter novel, and began to discuss what might make a book “sacred”. I won’t go into details, except to say that it was very clever. What interests me about this was the evident nervousness of the audience, and even of Tim himself. I should emphasise that he said nothing offensive about the Qur’an, unless, of course, it’s very presence on the stage may have been construed as offensive by some. Nevertheless a certain tension was palpable.
The important point here is that Tim did not satirise this book, or any of the beliefs derived from or associated with it. If it had been the Bible, he would have had no qualms at all about describing it as a collection of misogynistic fairy tales, written by bigoted people, and which has generated nothing but hatred and oppression throughout its history (or something along those lines). Not long afterwards, Tim had no problem at all in singing about the Pope as a “mother-fucking fucker”, or words to that effect, in relation to the Catholic Church’s history of paedophilia. Tim said, at one point in the show, that he recognised people’s right to believe whatever they wanted to believe, but that those same people had no right to tell him what he could, or could not, satirise. Nevertheless, as courageous and outrageous as Tim is, there are forces at work in the world which do exactly that: they tell us what we cannot satirise. And even Tim would not (I suspect) be able to set himself against those forces.
This is an insidious hold that another culture has on our psyche, and I am not comfortable about it. I would encourage every other culture to feel free to take the piss out of our culture and our beliefs. Please do. Help us to see our shortcomings. And make us laugh about ourselves. We are, after all, pretty ridiculous. As are you.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
In something of a follow-up to my previous brief post about obesity, it is probably worth re-iterating that we are a society that consumes everything, not just food. This becomes very obvious over the holiday period. One could probably psychologise or philosophise about the emptiness within that we human beings are trying to fill by owning (and eating) more and more. I will leave that for another time and to other people. What I want to reflect on today is the economic, rather than the psychological, drive to consume.
I am quite sure that economists will tell us that if we were to stop eating the food we don’t need (and barely even want), or to stop buying the things we don’t need (and barely even want) the economy would collapse, and civilisation as we know it would come to an end. So, in fact, we have a moral responsibility to consume, and consume and CONSUME. It is our duty, as responsible citizens, to keep feeding the economy. So, all you people out there who stop eating when you have had enough, who don’t buy the third or fourth car, who don’t buy the 25 foot television screen – stop being such selfish buggers. Get out there and eat and buy and throw things away.
Of course, it’s always a mystery to me why we ever take anything that an economist says very seriously. Some of their crystal balls aren’t even crystal (at least those who have the most up to date, disposable models). And if by chance they did turn out to be correct and civilisation did collapse (because the dollar was too strong; because the dollar was too weak; because interest rates were too low; because interest rates were too high; because the deficit was too large; because the deficit was too small), well.... there are probably worse things that could happen. Like sitting for 13 hours on a plane next to an economist.
Friday, January 4, 2013
I am once again led to reflect on the phenomenon of New Year’s resolutions. On the one hand, these reflect a recognition on our part that we are not everything that we would like to be. There are things about us that are not quite right, that don’t quite work, that could use some improvement. If there is anyone alive on this planet today who doesn’t think that this applies to them, I would say that their major flaw is a lack of insight.
This lack of perfection is a good thing. I have always thought that perfection would more or less equal stagnation. This striving to change and, hopefully, improve ourselves is one of the great dynamisms that drives us forward, as individuals and as a society. Perhaps it is not always forward; but this process will always be fraught with risks and mistakes.
Yet at the same time, both as individuals and as a society, old patterns of behaviour and belief are very difficult to change. The changes that we do achieve are often fairly superficial. I know, within myself, that I constantly repeat thought patterns and, as a consequence, behaviours, from which I long to extricate myself. We are ultimately creatures of habit. I do not know the physiology behind this, but I suspect that many of the neural pathways in our brain become quite fixed and strongly reinforced. Our energy is constantly directed down these pathways, making it very difficult to change. We are addicted to our thought and behaviour patterns. At the level of society, there is a huge inertia that makes change enormously difficult; which is why it often takes major upheavals, crises or catastrophes to bring about significant change. Perhaps this is also true of us as individuals.
I do believe that we can change. But even when we have succeeded in changing, at moments of weakness and tiredness we can still fall back into the old patterns. Those old pathways remain in place, and our energy is easily diverted back into them when the going gets tough.
Once again, one of the key issues here is awareness. Even if we are unsuccessful at making the changes that we want to make, even if, sometimes, we slip back into the old patterns at moments of weakness, the key is to be aware of this process. The real danger is that we follow these patterns of behaviour unknowingly, or perhaps even deceive ourselves about their existence or their deleterious effects. This seems to me to be one of the big problems at both the level of the individual and society: denial. I have spoken before about my over-developed “self-consciousness”, this process of standing outside myself and observing and evaluating. The positive side of this is that I am often painfully aware of my failures. This does not always help me to overcome them. But at least I don’t fool myself that they don’t exist (except, of course, for those failures and weaknesses that I, too, still manage to hide from myself).
Thursday, January 3, 2013
As I write this, it is the last day of the year, 2012. I am not a party animal, so I won’t be out celebrating anywhere tonight. By the time you see this, New Year will be over, and life will be heading back towards some kind of normality after the slightly crazy holiday season.
Although I don’t party, this is still often a time to reflect back over the previous twelve months. I suppose the greatest achievement for me was to write three novels. One is published and two others will be published this year. A fourth is currently in the process of being written, although I admit it is not coming as easily as the first three did. I am hoping that the writing will settle into a nice rhythm when I am finally able to settle into a new rhythm myself. At the moment, life is sloshing around in the bowl too randomly and erratically. Chaos theory is needed in order to identify any patterns that may exist.
I suppose it is telling that what I regard as my greatest achievement has nothing to do with the job I was being paid to do in Switzerland. I cannot claim to have achieved much in that regard, which is a shame. Like so many things in my life, it all started with great promise, but delivered very little. Still, it was a good experience. My time in Switzerland has opened my eyes. It has been different than just being on a holiday: I now have some understanding of what daily life can be like in another place, in another culture. Admittedly, it was a very privileged and perhaps even elite culture. Nevertheless, Australian life is no longer the only benchmark that I have. Before I left Australia, I would probably have thought that I could never live anywhere else; that, despite its failings, Australia was probably the best place on Earth to live. I am no longer so sure of this. I am not as deeply rooted in Australia as I once was. Perhaps in time I will be again.
I think those of us living outside the U.S.A. become a little tired of that country’s claims to be the greatest nation on earth, and its constant lauding of the American way of life. From the outside, it is easy to see the falsity and hollowness of those claims. I think that Australia is not entirely immune to such self-delusions. From the outside, you begin to see more clearly the cracks and flaws in Australia’s façade. I am not going to constantly knock Australia here. There are some great things about Australia and the Australian way of life. But I hope that we can be open and honest about our mistakes and flaws too. There are many things that we do not have right here. For example, perhaps instead of the usual Australian xenophobic response to other cultures, we might try to learn and understand more about them. Instead of the usual, “If they want to live here they have to accept our values and way of life”, which is an understandable reaction, we might just take the time to also learn from them. I think we do, actually, without realising it, and without acknowledging our debt to them. “Our way of life” is not what it was fifty or sixty years ago, thanks largely to the influence of other cultures on ours. Yet we still feel threatened by any new culture or way of thinking that we encounter. New cultures will influence ours, and, in the end, we will almost certainly be grateful for it.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I have just been walking around a local shopping centre in suburban Adelaide, and one of the first things to strike me was the large number of overweight people!
This is not just a casual observation. According to World Health Organisation figures for 2010, in Australia, 75.7% of men were overweight or obese. In Switzerland, the figure was 56.5%. In the USA, of course, used to doing everything bigger, 80.5% of men were overweight. The figure was lower for women in Australia and the USA: 66.5% and 76.7% respectively; while in Switzerland, a higher percentage of women were overweight: 58.9% .
So, people of Australia, especially the men, it’s time you got up of your fat arse, ate fewer refugees and did some more exercise. Seriously, how about it folks (and while we’re at it, let’s include the USA in this): how about leaving some food and other resources for the other inhabitants of this planet!
I think I am ready to resume regular services here now!!