What the Panda ate

I have a new respect for copy editors. I really, truly do. I now understand just how annoying it is when you have to undo over 4000 versions of the ‘yob’s comma’ as termed by Lynne Truss, author of Eats, shoots & leaves, because it serves no purpose whatsoever and thus makes you, a yob.

I’ve taken to carrying around Truss’s book like paper worry beads in the hopes that I’ll magically be transformed into a punctuation doctrinaire (while I wade through the minefield of my first draft), instead of what I am, which is someone who is guilty of gross punctuation abuse. Culpable commacide.

It’s an awful thing to realise about yourself, like seeing yourself from the side angle in a change room for the first time – you turn, colour draining from your face and extremities, “good lord, is that my bum? (You knew it was big, but weren’t quite aware that it jutted out so, where it could, in fact, offer storage solutions. (For you and the whole family!)

I knew my punctuation and grammar prowess needed some work, just not how much.

It’s had me wishing I had a Delorean and could go back in time and shout at my ‘free-and-creatively-expressive-self’ who peered disdainfully from the tops of her much-thumbed thesaurus, and much accumulated awards for purple prose, at all those ‘grey-souled language pedants’.

What can I say? I was young and stupid, and as I have mentioned, rather capable of yobbishness.

In my quest for poetry over prose, I forgot to pay stricter attention to the rules, which has now caused me, as an adult to enter retrospective grammar therapy, like someone who gets their driving licence after having driven illegally for years … it will take just as many years to unlearn all my bad habits, and comma yobbishness in my case. But it is necessary. And my latter day embrace of the importance of it has helped me to learn, that even Wordsworth had to know how to count in syllables, so that he could walk, his unique poetic talk. (He timed his poetry to the sound of his footsteps. After I found this out I never wrote a poem again, out of respect.) While, over the years, I’ve recounted my sins, still it would have helped to have grasped their significance earlier in my youth …

I feel the need to go on a mountain retreat in the Himalayas for a few years  to become a grammar monk. I’d be given robes of sparkling white, and a belt made entirely of semicolons. I imagine my time would go something like this:

Year one: the comma. (Quiet reflection, with Zen rooms featuring tinkling-water features where mindfulness will reign, and yob abstinence will be central.)

Year two: the apostrophe (an active year where you will learn that sometimes multitasking is necessary, and that bananas don’t actually own anything apart from their skins.)

And so on…

I’ll sit quietly doing yoga poses every day, getting in touch with the semicolon, making friends with hyphens, flirting with dashes, and bowing before the en rule … but alas, like the hungry panda; grammar and punctuation wait for no one, and misplaced commas are a boomerang, ready to fire and come back to bite at will. So I can only shake my head, and pray to the grammar gods to send me their muse.

P.S. Pandas eat shoots and leaves, and grammar for breakfast.


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