Thursday, May 26, 2011

Camouflaged Commas

            An egg lay frying merrily in my skillet as I frantically raced around the kitchen looking for the salt. “Where the heck’s the salt? Maybe the living room.” I dash in there. Nope. “Dining room?” I dash back. Nope.
The egg crackled loudly, overcooking my yolk. “Why can’t I keep track of the flipping salt?!”
            Stepping back into the kitchen I see a rotund figure crouched beside the white KitchenAid mixer, the shaker’s clear glass body half full of salt. White salt. White mixer. Camouflage!
            That’s what’s happened to our story as well, but the subject being camouflaged is the endlessly debatable comma, about which debates always begin, “Which style are you using?”
            We have apparently made up our own style. I want a pause, I put in a comma. (Wait. Wasn’t that a run-on sentence? Should I use a comma? Where’s my damned book?!”)
            Going through our group’s revisions, including those from a professional editor who can quote usage rules, I apparently don’t know how to use a comma properly. When in doubt, put it in. See what I did there? No idea if it’s accurate, but it felt right.
            I comma by feel.
            It didn’t used to be that way. When I was working on my degree, just a few years ago, I was never charged with dodgy punctuation. Now commas hide themselves in the mosaic tapestry of unforgettable prose, well camouflaged, and undetectable by all but the most seasoned grammarist.
            I also used to be able to keep track of my salt shaker. It was always on the back of the stove. Sometimes there were two, each begging to be the one chosen.
            Maybe it’s age—or laziness—making me less than organized and accurate.  Or maybe commas cleverly camouflage themselves as pauses, and I’m overlooking them, because they sound right when I read the sentence out loud. Therefore, many commas have met their demise during this revision process, thanks to our resident editor.
            On the upside, at least I don’t have to race around the house looking for them.

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