Every hero needs a nemesis (and no matter what anybody says, I am a hero).
Superman has kryptonite. Jerry has Tom. Batman has the Joker.
Well, mine is the humble comma.
This small, harmless looking piece of punctuation has caused me no end of anguish and worry.
Now I don’t mean I walked home one night to find it lurking menacingly round the corner, along with a drugged up hyphen and a drunken semicolon, all of them brandishing switchblades and threatening me unless I handed over my wallet. But what I do mean is that every time I complete a piece of writing, I then have to play: Lets guess where the comma should go, and try and figure out all the punctuation mistakes I have made.
Now bearing in mind that I am borderline OCD, and also an unbearable control freak as well, I have to have perfection in all that I do. If I don’t, then there is a fairly strong chance that the world will end. That's right, you heard me, the world will end!
So this natural urge for perfection means that in every written piece I finish, I will then read it again for errors. Then again. Then again. And then I will pause, and then read it again. Then read it again…..Then….re…ad…it……agai.....n…………
Net result from the hours spent obsessing on this is that all the words form one giant splodge on the screen, and all the punctuation marks I have made leap out from my PC monitor, form up into a giant punctuation stick figure man on my desk in front of me, and then throws a flaming exclamation mark into my screaming face (that actually does happen).
You see, I did study at school. I studied hard. But I think I must have been off sick that day in infant school when we briefly went over correct punctuation and grammar. I have always struggled with it. I have mastered enough to make sure anything that I write doesn’t look like the collective works of a hundred monkeys locked in the room with just one typewriter, and that people still seem to be reading this is testament to the fact that it must be, in some form, legible, but the perfectionist in me hates it when I spot a poorly placed comma on past works. I actually go to my punishment room in my flat and whip myself relentlessly with a bamboo stick, shouting, “DO NOT FEAR THE COMMA! THE COMMA IS OUR FRIEND!” Over and over again until my neighbours below start banging on their ceiling for me to shut up.
I think I have grasped the usage of most punctuation, but the simple placing of a single comma is one that causes me the most anguish. When I am writing, I can feel my tiny comma friend bouncing up and down with excitement beside me like an overexcited puppy.
I’m pretty sure I should go in there, it would tell me after I had completed a sentence.
“No, not yet, my small and eager chum.” I would reply (Yes, aloud. I live alone, I can do these things).
Ohhhhhh, put me in there. Right after that word, zombie, it would command me, positively squealing with pleasure, sure in the knowledge it would be used soon.
And then I would study the line I had just written, decide that my little comma friend was right, and then place it in. Then I would see that it was in fact wrong and my little comma friend was just lying to me, all it wanted to do was be placed on that clean, white page, and sit there gloating at my naivety. So I would then remove the comma, tell it that its mother was a alcoholic whore of an apostrophe, and banish it to the corner of my study, where it would sit there sulkily, throwing me dirty looks.
I have tried to brush up on my punctuation skills by reading various help yourself books. But as I am at the age of 31, my brain refuses to do any learning from books on the basis that school finished about 14 years ago, and there is no way we are going back to textbooks. As soon as I open to the first page, my brain sends me the message Hey buddy, let’s not read that boring old textbook. Let’s do something fun, huh? We could go over all your most embarrassing moments in life? Or how about we come up with a plan of how to survive a terrorist invasion in your apartment block like in Die Hard? Or we could simply analyse every aspect of your personality until you want to weep? Shall we do that? You wanna analyse every aspect of your personality? Right down to every obsessive detail? And I would nod my head dumbly in agreement and go find a quiet spot to do so.
So my way of getting round it is books. I love to read, so as well as getting a good story from the novel I am reading, I also study the use of punctuation as well. I look and see how the author has used his friendly little comma, how they have placed all the right bits, in all the right places. And I feel I am slowly getting there. I am much better than I was, say, this time last year?
Even so, the above has probably been proof read a thousand times, run through Word check double that, and will still probably contain a fair few mistakes. And the perfectionist in my will wince at every discovered error and still be editing it a week after it has been put up, just because simply it’s what I do.
But I will beat you comma.
Your day will come……….