The Past and the Present

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Ok, so here’s a revelation: unlike every other language in the world, the English language has only  two tense forms. Past and present.

An example of past tense: The girl walked to the shop.

An example of present tense: The girl walks to the shop.

Simple, no? But wait, you say, what about all those other tenses that put fine shades of meaning to our deathless prose? Future? Conditional? Surely they are there, I’ve used them myself!

Yes, they are, but they use the past and present forms. English expresses the other tenses by the use of auxiliary verbs. So the future tense is formed by adding the auxiliary verb will to the present tense.  She will walk to the shop.

There are arguably (and that’s one of the things I love about the English language, that people can actually argue about the grammar of it) eighteen English tenses:

  1. Present simple. She walks.
  2. Present continuous. She is walking.
  3. Past simple. She walked.
  4. Past continuous. She was walking.
  5. Present perfect simple. She has walked.
  6. Present perfect continuous. She has been walking.
  7. Past perfect simple. She had walked.
  8. Past perfect continuous. She had been walking.
  9. Future simple. She will walk.
  10. Future continuous. She will be walking.
  11. Future perfect simple. She will have walked.
  12. Future perfect continuous. She will have been walking.
  13. Conditional simple. She could/would  walk.
  14. Conditional continuous. She could/would be walking.
  15. Conditional perfect simple. She could/would have walked.
  16. Conditional perfect continuous. She could/would have been walking.
  17. Imperative. Walk!
  18. Infinitive. To walk is a pleasant activity.

Notice something? All of the tenses are based on just two forms of the verb. Walk and walked. With a host of auxiliary verbs such as has, have, been, will, be, could, etc these two forms create all the other tenses.

“Ah!” I hear you say, “but there is a third tense form in that list. The  -ing form.”

Well, yes, there is. But actually, no, there isn’t. Walked is the past tense, but walking is…well, what is it?

The  – ing form is the present participle. English has two tenses and two participles. With a regular verb, like walk, the past tense is formed by adding -ed. Walked. But with an irregular verb, like sing, things get more complicated.

Walk (Regular verb)

Present tense: Walk (I walk)

Past tense: Walked (Yesterday I walked)

Present participle: Walking (I am walking)

Past participle: Walked (I had walked)

Sing (Irregular verb)

Present tense: Sing (I sing)

Past tense: Sang (Yesterday I sang)

Present participle: Singing ( I am singing)

Past participle: Sung (I had sung)

So we use the auxiliary verbs with the participles. Of course, with regular verbs the past participle is the same as the past tense. But not with the irregular verbs. And there are many  irregular verbs in English.

So, you know all this. Or at least, you do because you get the tenses right every day, you just don’t know the grammatical mechanics behind it all. So what’s my point?

For some reason, some writers want to write in the present tense.

Why? This tendency seems particularly endemic to YA and teen writing. But it has crept (creeps/is creeping/has been creeping/will have crept…another beautifully irregular verb) into other demographics as well.

It’s actually harder to write in the present tense than in the past. So why do it? To make the action more immediate, I hear some writers say. How is it more immediate? I just don’t get it.

Call me old-fashioned if you will, but present tense writing smacks of pretension in my opinion, except when used for specific effect. For instance, I’ve used present tense to describe a dream sequence. It is also used in dialogue. A lot of dialogue is in present tense except during recount.

But it’s worse than just my opinion. As a teacher I’ve noticed that many students today think that you are supposed to write in the present tense. Or, even worse, they get confused and start writing in the past tense, switch to the present and then back again. Even the other tenses get mixed up because kids these days see present and past tense writing used so randomly.

So stop it guys! Use it for special effect, like a dream sequence, but not otherwise. I know, Charlotte Bronte slips into present tense occasionally in Jane Eyre, and then back to past, but she was Charlotte Bronte.

Russell Proctor  http://www.russellproctor.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Sin of All

The world has never been easy. Let’s face it, there’s a lot out there that’s downright dangerous,  misunderstood and unknown. Even walking to the bus stop can get you killed these days. Terrorism, poverty, global warming, pollution…Homo sapiens has done a pretty good job screwing up a planet that had been just great for billions of years. And we’ve only been doing it since the last few thousand years, since we stopped being hunters and gatherers and settled down into communities.

And there are many reasons why we’ve done that. Not settled down, I mean screwed up the planet. But there is one thing that drives the destructive gene in human beings, that is the seed, as it were, for all the other stupidity we’ve managed to pull off since we climbed down from the trees and decided walking on two legs was a good idea (which it wasn’t).

I’m talking about ignorance.

You know what that is. We’ve all been guilty of it. Hell, I’ve managed to look pretty dumb on the odd occasion. But by ignorance I don’t mean just not knowing something. I mean deliberately deciding not to know something.

There are four types of ignorance. I mention these in my novel Plato’s Cave, but here they are again:

(1)   What we know we don’t know. For example, we know that we don’t know if there is life on other planets.

(2)   What we don’t know we don’t know. Until we know about it, we can’t actually know that we don’t know something.

(3)   What we think we know, but don’t. Maybe apples don’t really grow on trees, it just looks that way. We’ve been fooling ourselves with appearances.

(4)   What we don’t think we know, but do. Maybe we already possess the key to time travel. We just haven’t realised it yet.

Those types of ignorance are fine because they allow the possibility that our ignorance will one day be lifted. If we keep asking enough of the right sort of questions and keep looking for the answers in a practical way, there’s a chance our ignorance will change to knowledge. In other words, the four types of ignorance listed above are scientific. Used properly, they have the ability to lead a sufficiently curious anthropoid ape towards the truth.

But there is another type of ignorance that actually lies beneath these four. And that is the type I’m calling the greatest sin of all.

(5) What we choose not to know.

For many reasons, there are people who deliberately decide not to know about something. The knowledge they eschew might conflict with their own personal beliefs. If they accepted the truth, it would contradict what they choose to believe, and that keeps them ignorant. Or, they might think that discovering the truth is too much like hard work. Or it requires them to associate with people they don’t wish to acknowledge. There are many reasons. None of them are legitimate.

This is what makes that type of ignorance a sin.

A few examples:

  1.  Homophobes choose to be ignorant about why people are LGBT. They think there is a choice in the matter, that gay people somehow, at some point in their lives, choose to be gay. The homophobes don’t want to know that gay people are gay because they are gay. They were born that way. Maybe homophobes object on religious grounds. Maybe they think gay people have some kind of hidden plan to steal children because they can’t have their own. Or that there is some kind of  “gay agenda”. (If there is I missed the memo). All poppycock of course. It’s worth remembering that the word “homophobe” means “fear of man”. That’s what their hatred stems from. Fear. Not knowledge.
  2. Literature.  Love it or hate it, it’s still a necessary part of our lives. I am a teacher and when I teach poetry I tell my students that there are only two types of people who read poetry: other poets, and students who are forced to read it by their teachers. That’s not true, of course, but it breaks the ice. I then tell them that the reason people don’t like reading poetry is because it forces them to think. And who wants to do that? Then I ask them what pop songs they like and get some responses. Their interest in poetry usually shifts after I explain to them that songs are just poetry set to music. They already like poetry, they just weren’t aware of it (see types of ignorance number 4 above). So too with other types of literature. Reading helps relieve ignorance. But some people choose not to read because it interferes with their decision not to think about things, or it’s too much hard work.
  3. Global warming. Most people accept global warming. A few don’t. A dangerous few. They have chosen to be ignorant for commercial reasons. Because the fact of global warming interferes with their desire to make enormous wads of cash they refuse to accept the truth. These people unfortunately have the capacity to influence politicians who decide to accept their dangerous disbelief because it keeps them in power.

There are many other examples. War. Religion. Conspiracy theories. World hunger. Terrorism. Astrology. All of these stem, ultimately, from deliberate ignorance.

That’s why I became a teacher. I help take some of the ignorance away from the world. Sometimes I despair when I go on the internet and find someone touting homeopathy, or warning that the world will end next Tuesday week. But I keep trying, because deliberate ignorance can be fought and defeated.

Russell Proctor   http://www.russellproctor.com

 

#Andanotherthing

Hashtags. According to the Cambridge Online  Dictionary, they are: (1) the symbol ​# on a ​phone or  computer keyboard (2) used on social media for ​describing the general subject of a Tweet or other post. We all know them. Of course, the symbol # existed long before the word hashtag did. Some of us remember when the thing was called a pound sign and could be used as an abbreviation of the word “number”.

My beef isn’t with the symbol. It’s a cute symbol. Easy to produce, fun to look at, and, on a large scale, convenient for playing tic-tac-toe. I’m not even complaining about its use as a hashtag, to describe the general subject of a tweet or post. I move with the times as much as anyone.

No, my complaint today is about its overuse. It pops up everywhere.

People, is it necessary to flag every comment made on social media? Even if no one is even remotely interested in it? Is someone seriously going to search for the hashtag #itallhadtobeexplainedtohim, which is one I saw recently? Or #dontthinkillpickhimuptonight? Another one I saw.

Is this some desperate attempt to get a post noticed by people? Hashtags have to stop.

Seriously.

How about this one? #nooneisinterested

 

 

 

Unconditional Love – A Eulogy for Elaine Proctor

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Last Sunday (appropriately Valentine’s Day) my family had a Celebration of Life for my mother, Elaine Proctor. She died on 24 January 2016 from kidney cancer. She also had Alzheimer’s at the time which was considerably advanced. Initially diagnosed with four to six months to live, she went downhill very quickly and was dead within a month of diagnosis.

It wasn’t a thing she dreaded. Mum was happy to go. She was 87, had lived a good life and her Alzheimer’s had made her not want to continue. We respected her decision.

At her request, and our agreement, there was no funeral. not even at the crematorium. Mum didn’t want any fuss and certainly didn’t want anyone turning up in dark-coloured clothes all teary-eyed. She had told us well in advance that we were just to have a simple get-together of family and friends and have a few drinks.

So that’s what we did. A morning tea and a champagne toast. I gave the eulogy, and I thought in respect to my Mum and those who perhaps couldn’t make it, I’d put it here. So this is it:

When I sat down to write this eulogy, I wanted to be able to sum up Mum in a sentence, some concise few words that would embrace her essence, her character.

Eventually I came up not with a sentence but just two words: Unconditional Love.

Mum loved her family without question. She married a fantastic man who loved her just the same. In case you don’t speak French, the Edith Piaf song you heard at the start of this celebration , “La Vie en Rose”, is about how the love of a man and woman can make them both see the good things in life, see each other through rose-coloured glasses. That’s how Mum and Dad saw each other, through a filter of unconditional love. And we, her three sons, had the benefit of that love as well.

No matter what happened, Mum’s love was always there. She would stress over us, worry about us, try to solve our problems even when we didn’t want her to, correct our behaviour when she thought it necessary and always sought the best for us. Mum always had an opinion, but she was sometimes shy of expressing it to those outside the family or close friends. She was a woman of remarkable intelligence and ability, guided in all decisions by what she saw as the right thing to do.

I don’t know if many people knew it, but Mum kept a diary. It wasn’t a daily thing. Sometimes whole months or even years would go by without a record, but especially when we three kids were little, Mum recorded incidents and conversations which she felt summed up her family life at the time. She would show these to us, sometimes to our embarrassment, years later because she wanted to share those moments when we were too young to see the funny side.

So today, at the risk of embarrassing both myself and my brothers, and one or two other people present, I’m going to read some extracts from the early years. This then is the dark underbelly of the Proctor family during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Russell has six teeth and is crawling everywhere. I always grubby. We got the gates for the top of the stairs to keep Russell in. He promptly climbed to the top aged 8 1/2 months. He can say Dad Dad and click his tongue and never stops doing it. Such an accomplishment.

***

Jeremy and Susan [cousin] have had a field day with the car. One day’s haul was 3 rags, 2 pegs 3 ice cream sticks and a screw driver put down the petrol tank. Also on several days handfuls of dirt all over. They’ve also had my handfuls all over their respective bottoms.

***

Today Mark asked for 2 pounds of butter to hold so he could see how heavy they felt as baby polar bears always weighed 2lbs when they were born. This is the middle of the breakfast rush.

***

Tonight at dinner the children were playing guessing games. Jeremy said “Something small, beginning with ‘r’ and it lives under the water.” Russell said, “A hippopotamus.” :That’s close,” says Jeremy. “Actually it was a rabbit.”

***

Larry passed his exams and we are all pleased for him. Now we have had 5 months wonderful relaxation and he’s finding it hard to start study again. More exams in Sept. 2nd part DPM [Diploma of Psychiatric Medicine] as we have a wonderful offer of a year’s locum from Nev Parker.

***

Mark is a cub scout again and is loving it. He went to the pictures in town today by himself. I took all three on Tuesday toAlladin” and “Tarzan” and even though Russell did spend half the time among the ice cream cartons on the floor at least this time we stayed the distance.

***

Larry and I, or just Larry really, has to finance 39 years of school and university. Still, I guess we are spending our money on the best commodity available.

***

Mark loving Churchie [school]. Is captain of his football team and captain of his school class. This is his third term at Churchie. We are very proud of him.

***

The purpose of these extracts is simply to show that Mum’s family was the uppermost thing in her mind. That she wanted to be where she was, doing what she wanted. When we had grown up and fled the nest, Mum went to university to study sex therapy in order to help Dad in his career. Now she was able to earn extra income because she no longer had to look after us on a day to day basis.  She still found a way to help the family even when she didn’t really have to. She was a woman who saw the importance of a career. She’d had one before she was married, and she still wanted one afterwards.

That’s what Mum was like. She could have taken it easy, but she didn’t. Contributing to the family was always in her mind.

Neither Mum nor I are spiritual or religious. But one day, when I was still going to school, I asked her if there was a meaning to life. Why were we put on this Earth? And she came up with an answer I didn’t expect. She didn’t know about anyone else, she told me, but she was put on Earth to have the family she did. Three boys who would grow up as three very different individuals and do things that no one expected. In other words, her purpose in life was to give life. Both her own to her family, and to help create the family itself.

And the family wasn’t just her three sons. She had grandchildren, Alissa and Emma, and now great-grandchildren, Maya and Arielle, who are also part of Mum’s legacy.

So, Unconditional Love. That was Mum’s gift to us. Love to show us that giving to others, for others, was what made her happy.

It made us happy too.

I will miss the good times and the bad. I will miss Mum’s smile, the way she obsessed over Humphrey the Cat. I will miss how when I was in primary school I would read Winnie the Pooh stories to her while she cooked dinner. Many other things. But we three sons carry with us the memories that will never leave us. If we miss those things such as those incidents I read out from the diary, then it was our pleasure and privilege to have experienced them.

So what do we say as our final words to Mum? Good bye obviously, We Love you, certainly. But there is one other phrase that must be said.

Mum – Thank you.

 

 

The Stranger in Our House

THE STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE

 The day starts early,

Sweeping the kitchen floor

Because of the ants.

My mother is still asleep, but drenched in sweat,

When she wakes up I will help her out of bed

Despite the pain,

Strip her down,

Find a fresh nightgown for her,

Put her in the shower and see she doesn’t fall as she cleans herself.

 

I’ve already had breakfast,

So I make her some.

But she doesn’t eat it.

She’ll be dead soon, she says, so what’s the point?

 

The cat has been fed and watered,

So I put the laundry on,

Since her sheets needs washing after the night-bathe of sweat.

Dressing her takes a while

Because she can’t get her arms above her head,

Because of the pain,

Because the new underpants are the wrong colour.

 

I hang up the sheets,

Put her in front of the television after swallowing pills

And giving her a heat pack

Because of the pain.

Kneeling before her to tie the heat pack on is like doing worship.

 

She falls asleep in front of the television,

Which gives me a little while

To do the things that must be done

For me.

 

We spend the afternoon among her hallucinations,

Discussing her friends and our family,

Whose side am I on?

(I’ve no idea,

Since there are no sides.)

“I’m on your side, of course.”

She asks me why my mouth is black

(It isn’t, but this is her fantasy, remember)

So I wipe my mouth.

She wants to know why there were only six roses

On the cat’s grave.

(The cat is curled up asleep at her feet,

Alive and well.)

 

I make dinner, and she goes to bed early

As usual.

I keep her door open and the bathroom door and my own.

So she can wake me in the middle of the night

To help her out of bed.

 

At two o-clock we are awake again

Because her room is full of spiders

That aren’t there.

—Russell Proctor

http://www.russellproctor.com

Life and Death

My mother is dying.

This isn’t an easy concept to come to terms with. The woman who gave me life is coming to the end of hers. She has Alzheimer’s, which for those who have never experienced such a thing is utterly incomprehensible. You can learn about Alzheimer’s, you can read about it. But the only way to know it is to go through it.

It’s probably one of the worst diseases of all. Here in Australia there used to be a TV series called “Mother and Son”, in which Ruth Cracknell played Maggie Bear, a woman with senile dementia. Her son, played by Gary McDonald, spent many “hilarious” episodes dealing with his mother’s affliction in such ways as caused much laughter.

Fuck off.

Alzheimer’s is a shit disease. There’s nothing funny about it. Nothing at all. While we’re at it, let’s laugh about cancer. Let’s laugh about 89 people killed in a Paris nightclub by terrorists. That’s the amount of fun Alzheimer’s disease is.

My mother is dying, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And it tears me apart, because the disease causes disruption between myself and my mother. I’m not angry at her, I’m angry at the disease which is killing her mind. But she does things which make me angry, things neither of us can do anything about.

The worst thing is, my father had Alzheimer’s too. And my mother had to look after him for the last four years of his life. Now she has it, and while I would willingly give my life for hers, that is a totally useless gesture in the face of this killer disease.

My mother is dying.

I will be the one to discover her corpse. That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? One morning I will walk in to discover my mother dead in her bed. That’s not something I’m looking forward to, but it’s going to happen. Each morning I wake up and check on my mother sleeping in her bed and make sure she is still breathing.

Life and death. And love. Because that’s all I have left.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com

The Next Book

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This year, 2015, has been an interesting one for me. I have two novels published, with a third due out in December. I have also had three short stories appear in print, with another two also due in December. So as far as writing goes, things have been going pretty well. More than a lot of writers achieve, less than others, but for me, very credible.

However, lately a couple of darker matters have reared their heads to remind me that life isn’t always the way you’d want it.

First up, yes, I have had two novels published with a third one on the way. However, I have my fair share of rejection slips and some stories and books that have been completed but have yet to find a home. This always leaves a writer frustrated, especially those stories that have gone out several times and been knocked back with polite “no thank yous”. You start to feel just a bit sorry for them, as well as yourself as a writer.

I’m working on it.

On a more personal level, my mother has Alzheimer’s and requires more and more care as time goes on. I am her full-time carer, so quite a bit of my day is taken up looking after her and coping with her inability to remember things. This leaves less time for writing and even when I am writing means a lot of interruptions.  Not that I begrudge her need for ongoing care, but I think you know what I mean.

Besides, I’m not the picture of health myself. I have glaucoma and psoriasis, both of which are inconvenient if not particularly dangerous in us if treated. I’ve had to live with them all my life.

So it isn’t all going my way, particularly recently.

But back to the good things. At the end of October this year I decided to enter NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is an international writing challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. To save you doing the Math, that’s 1666.6666 words a day. Call it 1667. There’s no prize other than the satisfaction of having completed the challenge. I decided to use NaNo to kick start a new science fiction/horror series, The Scream of Years. Now, on Tuesday 24 November, I am on 54,000.

That’s something to be proud of, with 6 days to go and already four thousand words over the target. Of course, it isn’t necessary to stop at 50,000, so I can keep going and really make a start on the first draft of the first book, which has the working title Shine and Shadow. It’s been a full-on experience, given that my writing technique consists of having some sort of vague idea of what I want and making it up as I go.

So, I have a books and stories without homes at the moment, although they will get one, don’t fear about that. And my personal life isn’t one I’d recommend. But here’s the thing: I’m focusing on the next book.

And that’s really the heart of being a writer. The next book. Not this one, or the ones that have found homes or are still at the orphanage, but the next one. That’s the most important book of all.

A writer should never stop being a writer. Whether you spend a lifetime plugging away and get one short story printed in your local paper, or whether you’re the next John Grisham, never stop being a writer. Always make a start on that next book.

That all that counts.

Russell Proctor http://www.russellproctor.com