Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Trouble with Commas

Yesterday I gave a piece of my writing to an old professor. I really respect and admire this person and wanted some feedback.

It was the first time I had done something like this; asked an old professor to spend time on me and my sometimes feeble and awkward attempts at writing. I felt like I was handing him an imperfect piece of my soul. I wanted to take it out of his hands and go over it just one more time with a heavy red pen to make sure it was good enough to be inspected. To say the least…I felt vulnerable.

As I handed it to him and watched his eyes begin to move across the page (my page) I began to apologize and say it had a few mechanical errors. I trailed off, unable to finish my pathetic sentence. What could I have finished it with? “…so there is no point in you reading this piece of junk, especially if I feel the need to make excuses for it”?

As I walked away all I could think of was this quote from Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye where Holden’s roommate explains why he doesn’t want to write a composition. He says it’s because he doesn’t know where all the commas should go. Holden comments, “He wanted you to think that the only reason he was lousy at writing compositions was because he stuck all the commas in the wrong place.”

It was in that moment I realized I need to stop making excuses for the misplaced commas in my life. If there is a problem it’s not in the misplaced commas. It seems like once the vulnerability sets in all I can do is look for the little errors and condemn myself.

There are countless blogs, only half typed or jotted down on some spare piece of notebook paper or old assignment, that will go unread. I have unfinished painting after unfinished painting, half brush stroke, half sketch line. And those are the lucky ones…they rarely even make it to the canvas.

How ridiculous. While I’m not an advocate of showing the world everything in its raw and natural state, sometimes isn’t the integrity and intensity of the color of black in a piece of coal just as beautiful as the full spectrum of colors in a diamond?

I realized that if it’s bad, correct punctuation can’t save it. And if it’s good, flaws could be tolerated, even appreciated.

After all, Shakespeare was known to end on a preposition or two.

And that is why, even though it will make me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, I will push the “publish post” button, misplaced commas and all.


hennchix said...

Oh Ande! I love reading your blog! You have a gift for expression, and for sharing yourself with the rest of us. And by the way, I didn't notice any misplaced commas; it's probably a good thing I'm not an English major!

Neighbor Jane Payne said...

Ande, I agree with hennchix, you have the gift of expression. And the way you express yourself makes me think.

What a good post. I'm going to be thinking about it.

HeatherM said...

Ande-I am a proofreading nut. You should see Matt's reports and some of the work e-mails once I'm done with them. All that to say - I've never once, even in passing, noticed grammatical errors in your posts. Believe me, I notice them EVERYWHERE. But, I'm so pulled in by what you have to say, that if they are there, they are not distracting to me a bit. The quality of the writing, if not the punctuation, is unsurpassed. Please, carry on. It is a blessing to all of us!

Anonymous said...

ande.....but i want to know what the professor said anyway....I want to know the rest of the story as paul harvey would say...your dad

Rebecca said...

Oh Ande, such a simple life's lesson you put so poetically! let's see if I can apply your message to my more medical and less grammatical mind...A bandaid can't save wound, but if you got your wound in a war, people will admire the scar. uh, okay, I think I'll just leave it up to you to write beautiful, meaningful, selections! Thanks for letting us read it!

Monkeys ARDently In Sinc said...

Wow, you write as "gooder" as your mom! I might have to stop in now and again, as I only get one newsletter a week from the Neighbor....excellent writing (and punctuation)!
I'm with Heather, in that I notice grammatical and spelling errors, and it BUGS me! It was smooth and engaging reading for your post!

Cali said...

Oh Ande,

That was so well thought out and so well put. I loved reading that. IF I had a goblet in my hand right now, I'd raise it and cheer, "Hear, Here!"

(that was clever huh?)

Ande Payne said...

Yes Cali...very clever. Give this girl a goblet, I've always wanted to be "hear-hear-ed".

Newsy Nibby said...

Ande...this was fantastic. I always love reading your posts and every time I get on here I wish there were ten more to read. Also..I'm reading the Book Thief. Can't put it down. :)

Renny said...

Ande, you inspired me to post again; openly, and honestly. :)