Here’s the plan…

  When I first heard that the breast cancer I’d had in 1993 was back and chewing on my ribs, I was worried I wouldn’t make it until next Christmas. That’s because, in the last few years, a number of my friends have only lasted one more year after the cancer returned. But, my specialist has convinced me that it is highly likely that I have years yet. Woo hoo!     The thing that annoys me is that, last time, I had such a great peace about it.  I decided I’d take my medicine and then I’d get better; it was just another illness. This time I know that eventually, no matter what we do, I won’t get better. My struggle has been to find the same level of peace as last time. However, rest assured dear reader, I’m getting there. One of the things that has helped me, is to remember that everyone dies of something, some time. None of us knows what will cause it, or when it will be. I could die in a car crash tomorrow. Having cancer doesn’t make me immune from everything else in life (which is a pity!).     In a way, people with a life-threatening condition are privileged, because we’ve been given warning and we’re forced to get a different perspective on life. It’s made me take another look at what is important to me. So that’s a good thing. As a result, I’ve narrowed my focus: family (including the animals, of course), friends, faith and fiction. (I want to say my work – reviewer, editor, writer – but I couldn’t resist the alliteration.)     I’ll be honest: there are times when I get a little scared. I’m not afraid of being dead. I’m scared I won’t get long enough to do everything I have on my list, and I’m a little nervous about the process of dying. I don’t want to die  “badly”. I want to be a good role model to my kids and grandkids and I don’t want to distress them any more than is necessary. I don’t want to make my faith seem futile. And, I guess like everybody else, it’s the fear of the unknown. Death is the last uncharted territory. BUT, that’s not going to happen for quite some time – and then a bit more than that – so I’ll try not to worry about it until I need to.     Meanwhile I’m just going to live as though life’s continuing as normal (which it is!). After all I don’t want to waste the rest of my life being self-obsessed or only thinking about death. (Perish the thought!) Life is for living, dagnab it. I’m grateful that the cancer has forced me to concentrate on being the person I’m shaped to be and to enjoy the day I’m in. Sounds like a plan, right?     Have a nice day, everyone, and enjoy being...

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The polite assassin.

Two nights ago I had a very vivid – full technicolour – dream. In the true the-next-morning fashion of dreams, some of the details have already left the building. However I can share with you the main gist of the thing. An assassin was stalking my “loved one”. He was dressed in a very smart suit and spoke calmly, politely and seemed a very personable man. He very courteously warned me of his intentions. For some time he simply stood outside the house, across the road, and watched. Me and mine watched him, watching us. Then he moved closer to the house and stood in our garden. We locked the windows and doors, and pulled down the shades so that he couldn’t see into the house. But, we could still hear him speaking to us, calmly, politely and, even, pleasantly. “You can’t stop me,” he said. “I will eventually kill my target. You are simply delaying the inevitable.” The next thing I knew he was inside the house, standing in my kitchen. The mother in the dream sobbed and yelled and beat him, all at the same time. “How dare you!” she said. “Your intentions are wicked, evil, heartless and cruel. How can you do these things and live with yourself?” He simply hunched his shoulders and endured her tirade. The child in the house then joined in, kicking the assassin in the legs and shouting, “Please don’t do it, mister! I don’t want to be left alone!” I simply stood to one side, with tears streaming down my face and watched them attack the man. Eventually, I opened the kitchen door and told him to get out. He walked outside but, as he did so, he said to me, “This doesn’t change anything. I will kill my target eventually.” I said, “You can try.” I bolted the door behind him. Now it doesn’t take a psych degree to realise this was a cancer dream. It was my first and I don’t expect it’ll be the last. It was very upsetting and when I woke up my heart was still bashing against my chest. What surprised me was the way my subconscious chose to depict cancer: in spite of its deadly intentions it was so well-dressed, so urbane, so reasonable. And yet, it was those very qualities that made it so frightening. Lately I’ve been pondering how to get my head around the thought of this malevolent intruder inside me. How does one adjust to living with a fatal disease? How do the guys on death row get through each day, knowing any day could be their last? How do I live in the land of You’re-Sick-Even-Though-You-Think-You’re-Well? Perhaps my dream has a few clues: shut the windows, bolt the doors and don’t make it easy for the bas***d to get in. Then, if it does, beat the daylights out of it so it decides to retreat for a while. Do any dream-interpreters out there have an opinion on this? Any suggestions? That River in Egypt is one of my favourite places these days. There’s nothing like living by de...

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Commas: apply with care

Brace yourselves as we enter the world of the Comma: misunderstood, mistreated and underestimated. The poor sweet baby! (I’m going to stick to the basics here. I suggest that if you don’t know whether to put one in or not, leave it out. Get an editor or G.O.I (Gramma Obsessed Individual) to make the final decision for you.) When I was young, back in the time of the dinosaurs, we were told to insert a comma where one would naturally take a breath. That was in the days when corsets were de rigeur and extraordinarily long sentences were a sign of erudition. These two factors guaranteed a plethora of commas running rampant throughout the text. Ironically, just when we finally eliminate corsets and develop decent in-halers for asthmatics, so that we’re all able to take decent breaths, the long sentence is no longer fashionable. As it is, the previous sentence is wobbling precariously on the edge of acceptability. If I had my editor’s hat on I’d have found a way to cut it in two. These days less is best. What is a comma? It’s the full-stop’s poor cousin. It says, “Take a breath, take a small break, but don’t completely stop.” It links words or phrases but, unlike it’s stronger siblings the semi and full colon, it isn’t strong enough to hold two sentences together. This doesn’t mean it’s weak or unimportant – it’s just different. (So, please don’t judge.) The careful application of a comma in the right place will determine the intent of a statement. Put in the wrong place it can drastically change the meaning. Without this cute and curly punctuation mark chaos could ensue. When does one use a comma? Lists: The comma separates the individual items in a list, or a series of phrases, thus bringing clarity and a sense of order. The “and” is the indicator that the list is about to end. The conjunction (joining word) performs the same function as the comma, so an extra comma is unnecessary. (See how the comma joined those two phrases? Neat, hey?) (1) When I have some free time I like to read, watch television, play computer games or soak in the spa. (2) I had eggs, toast and orange juice for breakfast. If you wish to add a comment or qualifier after the list, you must use another comma. EG: I wolfed down the eggs, toast and orange juice, while Fred waited patiently. Extra information: Commas are used in a similar fashion to brackets when a qualifying phrase is added into a sentence. We’re talking about the phrases that, if left out, won’t affect the overall structure of the sentence. EG: The little town, nestled at the foot of Mount Doom, had seen better days. Other important bits: (1) Use a comma before a personal name. EG: “Thank you, Kylie,” John said. The name is there to let the reader know to whom John is speaking. It’s an added extra. (2) Use a comma before “which” but never before “that”. EG: I put it on the table, which was a big mistake. EG: I put it on the table that stood near the door. I expect most of you know the wonderful example using the panda and the bamboo shoots. But, just in case you haven’t seen it, here it is. The panda eats shoots and leaves. = The panda consumes the shoots and leaves of the bamboo plant. The panda eats shoots, and leaves. = The panda consumes some bamboo shoots and then leaves the restaurant. The panda eats, shoots, and leaves. = The panda consumes some bamboo, fires a pistol, and then leaves the restaurant. See what power commas have? Use them wisely my...

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