My husband looks laser-focused as he reads my writing, his eyes darting back and forth across the words on the computer screen. When he finishes the blog entry he looks up at me with a stern expression. He says nothing. It must be because the writing is so good, so important, so relevant that he is mulling over his good fortune in having married such an intelligent woman.
“Alicia, you know… I love you very much…but you have got to cut it out with all those bloody commas“.
Ouch. I try to reason that excessive punctuation is ‘my thing’, but he says it can’t be, because it takes away from the writing. “But maybe I want to write like William Shatner speaks”, I crack. I am then punished for being a wiseass by having to read the essay aloud. Even worse, he goads me, “And say ‘comma’ when there is a comma”. He hands me the laptop, and settles back in his chair expectantly, his hands folded on his lap. “I was in Kindergarten at the time –comma—and all I remember was coming out of class –comma—and seeing my Nana –ahem, comma— smoking a cigarette –comma—and waiting for me”. Shit. It really does sound like Captain Kirk…you could make a little literary drinking game with all those commas. I put the laptop down and steel myself; being wrong is not a colour that looks good on me, and I won’t be wearing it today. Ben senses my annoyance and huffs: “I won’t give you notes if you can’t handle the criticism. I’m trying to help”. “No, I want your criticism…I just don’t want any of it to be negative”. And that’s fair right? Just take that comma out behind my back, I’ll never know the difference, there are millions of them elsewhere, be like pinching a loose diamond at Mariah Carey’s place–you could find them in medicine cabinets and the produce crisper, and pay off your student loans with what just falls off of her when she bends over.
To me, as far as my writing is concerned, his opinion is totally valid. He is the gatekeeper to any of my essays—he always gets the first read before I show it elsewhere. When I entered a writing contest, he read the endlessly edited piece upwards of a dozen times. Before I sent it away we sat in the office, he read it aloud to me and I read it aloud to him. I didn’t want an errant mistake to be missed, so we collectively combed through the words as you would a child’s lice infested head. I don’t know about other writers, spending enough time on anything becomes a blur of not seeing forests for the trees. Ben is my muse, has inspired so many stories, he’s also my compass, and always wants to steer me towards a clearer path. So when it comes to stuff like this…he’s (usually) right when he tells me I’m wrong.
Writers love readers who give feedback, and believe me, I need it. And the theme of the criticism is the issue of the past/present tense, run on sentences and of course the over-use of the comma. This is my least favourite part of the writing and editing process—the structure, the grammar, the tenses. I literally just yawned typing this sentence. Can’t I just do it Kerouac style, tape together 120-feet’s worth of architect paper and just write off into the sunset? Let someone else wield the red pen, I’ve already moved on the next story! Of course, I don’t hate the editing process, I’m happy for the writing to improve, but I suppose it is a matter of ego—you want your husband to be made speechless by your incredible ability to spin words…not because he is trying to figure a polite way to tell me to cool it with the slutty commas. Well, lesson learned, will be more comma chaste in the future. Thanks to Ben for being my seeing-eye-blog, for always wanting things to be better, and for the honesty that keeps my words from getting lost amongst all the bad grammar.