Day 1936 – Day 1939
I was saddened to learn, this week, that the Apostrophe Protection Society has been disbanded. One of my pet peeves is poor grammar, punctuation and spelling. I had the opportunity to be an editor for a couple of literary magazines, in college. In my early career, I worked in book publishing and in filmmaking, as a script reader and story editor. I have read many manuscripts in my time, and when something is rife with errors, I blame the editor.
On this website, I am both writer and editor. The buck stops with me. Lately, you’ve been getting 75 cents on the dollar.
When WordPress updated its software earlier this year, my spelling and grammar check disappeared. Regular readers will know that these posts are meant to be a first draft. I try not to spend more than an hour or two writing a post and I usually don’t do much editing. I do move, change and delete words, and sometimes a stray word or letter will cling to the screen, where it was meant to be gone.
This week, I went back to edit my last post. I wanted to use it for another purpose but, was sure that my first draft would need serious re-writing, given my self-imposed challenge to write more frequently. I was dismayed – trypos and stragglers are were everywhere! Browsing my past posts, I see at least one error in each. If I were clever, I’d call it my “style” and do some branding around it.
It is difficult to edit one’s own work. The brain fills in what it expects to see, rather than what is actually there. I take responsibility for my work, as I do my actions. I apologize for the errors in my posts and am grateful that my readers overlook my mistrakes.
Like many people, I suffer some humiliation whenever I make a public mistake. As a child, I learned that mistakes were bad. Going to school was like going to war and bringing home less than straight A’s meant that my errors, rather than my achievements, were highlighted. I became identified with my work and my worth became dependent on being perfect.
That’s quite a setup.
I can still be hard on myself now, failing to recognize an accomplishment if it falls short of my own ideal. For years I answered compliments with that old classic: “Yeah, but….” I succeed, in some measure, at pretty much everything I do, but I don’t know if that is because I’m truly gifted, obsessively driven or because I edit from my life those things that don’t come naturally, and where I might make a mistake or fail.
As a child, of around 5 or 6, I received a damning comment on my report card: “Does not handle scissors well.” From that point, visual art was out; Math and English were in. My recent efforts to paint are a departure from my comfort zone and long-held self concept. There are two exceptional people for whom I’m grateful: my friend, and artist, CMF, who encouraged me – at this point in my life – to skip the long route of classical training, if what I really wanted to do was paint, and the artist Jesse Reno, who dared to tell me, and then show me, that even I – who still struggles with scissors and can’t draw a straight line – can paint.
As an intuitive artist I am not aiming to be a good technical painter. I aim to step out of my own way and let the elements of design create form for whatever wants to be born and when I’m at my best, I’m not the painter; I am the conduit. That detachment makes it easy for me to put my work out there, to be seen.
Unfortunately, I’ve been writing since I could form words. The baggage of my perfection-dependent self worth clings to every phrase. I wrote a play in college that was produced and was a hit. When I submitted it to a “Modern Day Monsters” contest, I was rejected (I almost edited that but left it; I am still too closely identified with my work). The reader sent back notes that I imagine were meant only for the judges’ eyes because they were truly unkind and assessed me as needing psychological help. The reader made the mistake of not recognizing that my piece was a dark comedy about the way humans can be monsters and that the worst monsters are often those closest to us who have the power to shame us and devour our souls. I was crushed by the feedback and I don’t think I’ve submitted a piece of writing to a contest, producer, or magazine since. When I left college, I quit ‘creative’ writing for a very long time.
There have been other times in my life when I have failed. I often think of a time when I worked for years to position myself into a particular job. Once in the job, I misread the unwritten culture of the department (which contradicted the official culture of the organization) and it became impossible for me to stay. After only 4 years in the position, I left the best job, under the worst circumstances, I’d ever known. I haven’t recovered from that and a dream that was more than a decade in the making simply died.
Am I, then, a success or a failure? That is a judgement call.
How helpful has judgement been to me, really? I think my disdain for grammar and spelling mistakes comes from a secret fear that I will be caught out, making one, myself. I want more courage to take risks for the yearnings of my heart and soul and to stretch beyond my current limitations, mistakes are inevitable. I must edit my conditioned shame response from my life.
I ordered the WordPress for Dummies book and I will try to figure out how to re-install my spell check, because I respect you, my readers. The truth is, I’m going to continue to make mistakes and I trust that those who are meant to walk with me on this journey of ten thousand days will accept me, waart’s and all.
Thinking back to my early career, I’m grateful to an award winning film producer, MJ, for whom I worked. I was anxious about not reading fast enough, about being measured in my reader’s notes (for fear they might end up in a rejection letter), worried about missing the gem of a manuscript in the slush pile (I did) or recommending a stinker (which, I also did). MJ modelled for me the idea that mistakes are not bad; they can be opportunities for development. “Relax,” he said to me. “We aren’t curing cancer, we’re just making movies.”
If I misspell a word or leave in an extra letter, nobody is going to die. Some good, even gratitude, may come of it.
Language Warning – PG 13+
For what are you most grateful, this week?