little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Tag: punctuation

Going his own way

I was helping the Cat tidy up a blog post tonight, putting in spaces and so forth, when I tried inserting a comma.

Kits,” he said. “I don’t do Oxford commas.”

Fair enough, son. Fair enough.

Finding my people

Being self-employed, working from home, juggling parenting, and running a small business — there’s a lot of fun and satisfaction in there and NO BOSS, plus you get to listen to whatever music you like while you work, and the only office politics are when you have to convince the children to scoot on out of your office and let you concentrate on your work, which may or may not include checking Facebook and reading The Toast (have you found this yet? you should) and watching reruns of The Cosby Show, or you have to negotiate with your partner for an evening or a weekend of work time while he does the Dad-ing. And if you get really into the zone and the proofreading’s flying, you may have to stop to make dinner or pick up the kids, but you’ll rarely have to push the pause button to go to a meeting that’ll get you so wound up you’re good for nothing for the rest of the day, so while you’re mothering and cooking and playing and all the rest of it, your mind can kind of keep trundling along thinking about words and ideas and what your logo should look like. Also, there’s all the stress about money and why there isn’t enough of it and where the next job is going to come from, but best we don’t think about that too much because this post is supposed to be upbeat.

But one thing you don’t have — and that you start to miss after a while — is co-workers, the good sort who instinctively get you and take turns making the coffee and never startle you with casual racism or sexism and who tell good jokes. The sort who make every project you work on together come out somehow much better than either of you could have managed on your own. And in the process of doing which projects, you have lots of those moments where you have a little jump inside because you’ve made sense of something that seemed impossible and found the right words and got the structure just exactly perfect and quite possibly written something that will change the world, or at least a small, tame corner of it. Anyway, forget it, because you don’t have them, those co-workers.

However, you do have a group on a social media website (which will remain nameless) of people who are just a bit like you, with the silly, wordy jokes and the incessant mulling over punctuation and syntax and the secret comma anxiety and all. So when you collapse into bed on a Thursday night after a day stressing about the workshops you’ve got coming up and making soup and reading stories, you roll into your partner’s arms and say, “I had such a great day; we had this thread running for hours about punctuation.” At which he sort of pauses, then says, “You’re really quite geeky, aren’t you?” But luckily, he finds that quite endearing, you think. And on a Friday, while making train sets and doing water play and chopping vegetables and walking the children home and getting everyone into bed FAR TOO LATE, you have this parallel fantasy in your head the whole time of working towards Friday night drinks with that virtual, barely glimpsed, desperately real out there somewhere group of not-quite-co-workers, the ones with whom you’ll pour a G+T and kick back, make increasingly bad puns, sit up in sudden, garrulous enthusiasm when someone mentions a book that no-one else ever seems to know about, but which you will quietly treasure for all time.

And that — and also the lovely, endlessly surprising, ever unfolding blogging world — is why the internet is QUITE A GOOD THING.

My small comma in the dirt

Mr Rabbit is unlocking some new characteristics as he heads toward two and a half. Namely, obstinacy, cheekiness, and a vigorous defence of his right to do Everything His Way All The Time. It’s okay, because he’s also big on the kisses and the love and the long, wayward chats about animals and food and plans and trains and buses and animals some more. On the way home last night, we established that the blue-ruffed lemur ate pears and apples and peas and spaghetti and sorbet, that it slept in a tree and sometimes with Rabbit, that it liked to sit on the sofa and watch Shaun the Sheep, that it liked cuddles.

So with all of that in the mix, I guess we can cope with the new big-ness and there-ness of Rabbit’s personality, and with the havoc he can wreck in the shortest time. Besides, he throws the most gentle tantrum you ever did see.

He was tired at the farmers’ market today and not very keen on our choices of direction and purchase. So every now and then, he would put his shopping bag on the ground and lie down on it, a small, pale comma against the dark ground, breath quiet, fingers knuckling in the dirt for a handful of stones. I knelt beside him and ran my hand down his back. “Are you cross, little one?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. And after a little while, he would get up and we’d wander on.

I guess he has the hit the decks part of the tantrum sorted, but hasn’t yet worked out that you’re supposed to include kicking and screaming. Or maybe he’s just doing it his way, as he does everything else.

Maybe he’s just finding his own scaffolding for the cross times, for when he needs to build a whisper-thin shell between self and world.

Fourteen things

One: Going home
Vincent O’Sullivan has written a 14-episode account of Ralph Hotere’s journey home. The number recalls Hotere’s use of the number, his referencing of the Stations of the Cross and of his 14 siblings. Frustratingly, the full version is only available to subscribers (when did the Listener change that?).

Two: Favourite birds (my son will be so cross that I haven’t used the proper full names, but the truth is, I can’t remember them)
mandarin duck
black cockatoo
superb lyrebird

Three: Books that got me through my childhood, and my children’s
Corduroy, Don Freeman
Any of the Frances books, Russell Hoban (illustrated by Garth Williams)
Tell Me What It’s Like to Be Big, Joyce Dunbar (illustrated by Debi Gliori)
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham
Big Momma Makes the World, Phyllis Root (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury)
The Ramona books, Beverly Cleary
Big Sister and Little Sister, Charlotte Zolotow (illustrated by Martha Alexander)
Virginia Wolf, Kyo Maclear (illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault)
Come On, Daisy!, Jane Simmons
The Raft, Jim LaMarche
The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, Judith Kerr
Dogger and everything else, Shirley Hughes
far too much by Noel Streatfeild
Anne of Green Gables and all the rest, LM Montgomery
bonus: Kitten’s First Full Moon, Kevin Henke + about a hundred others

Four: Authors I’ve found myself consuming in bulk
George Perec
Italo Calvino
Primo Levi
Laurence Fearnley
Janette Turner Hospital
Nigel Cox
Sara Maitland
Jeanette Winterson
Maurice Gee
Philip Pullman
Ann Patchett
Jim Crace
Michael Ondaatje
(see the children’s list above)

Five: Foods that make life better
smoked salmon
salad, lots of it
roast chicken, then chicken soup
poisson cru
fennel seed and olive oil biscuits

Six: 14-letter words

Seven: What I want in a house
a chair by a window, just for reading
a kitchen that I can eat, cook, talk, and read in
a space for the kids to play
a front porch
a sheltered space to eat outside
plenty of trees
a glasshouse
vegetable patches
a workspace
bookshelves in every room
a woodburner

Eight: Condiments, loosely interpreted
lemons — fresh, juiced, zested, preserved
fennel seeds
sea salt
tomato sauce
a book
a friend

Nine: Punctuation that makes text prettier
fanciful ampersands
the Oxford comma
double quote marks
full stops
question marks, sparingly
well-placed commas
tidy, well-aligned bullet points
parentheses, occasionally

Ten: Plants I like to have in my garden

Eleven: The elements of a fine day
a small boy’s arms around my neck
that first cup of coffee
a shower
a walk, run, or yoga class
a kiss
seeing something through my children’s eyes

Twelve: A 14-year-old dancer

Thirteen: Colin McCahon’s Stations

Fourteen: A sonnet, of course
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers’-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
“Look what I have!—And these are all for you.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay

From pie charts to paper craft

So what I want to know today is, “What font shall I use?” And, “Do I have to go to the supermarket, or can I make do?” Speaking of which, “Is it time for morning tea?” And also, “How does the nation grieve an artist, one who has helped us to see who we are, who we might be, what we mustn’t become? How do we keep looking?”

In the meantime, some distractions:

Oscar-nominated films as pie charts

Look! New punctuation marks

At it’s best, the loveliest of fruit

A bookbinder’s blog

One for the kids (big and small)

Making your mark

Came across this page the other day (thanks, edit-y people of Facebook). It tells you how to create a HUGE range of typographical characters. Enjoy!

Ultimate cool characters

Laying down the grammar checker

For a while I’ve been slowly unpicking my tendency to snark about other people’s grammatical waywardness, becoming aware of the snobbery inherent in the snark and the stories behind how we write and what we know.

My working position now is that I’ll seek out and celebrate writing that chimes well with me, and if someone asks me for corrections (or better still, pays me), I’ll do my level best to help them create a strong, coherent, engaging document, free of error and jargon. But otherwise, you write your way, my friend, and I’ll turn my editing eye aside.

Anyway, this morning I was visiting The Lady Garden and found a link to this blog post about literacy privilege. Here’s a bit:

Do I sound angry? That’s because I am. I’m angry that linguistic elitism is so deeply embedded in our social discourse with so little critical analysis. I’m angry that it took me four years of being slapped in the face with the daily realities of poor literacy skills before I finally relinquished my own prescriptive bayonet. As a member of a marginalized group myself, I am hyperconscious of other, more well-recognized types of privilege – male privilege, white privilege, straight privilege, able-bodied privilege. I want to be vigilant about the ways that I might be contributing to the marginalization of others. And the more I understand about my fellow human beings, the more I recognize the importance of taking the time to stop, listen, and learn about their struggles before unleashing my own careless judgements. I have by no means become a saint in this regard – I still have redhead moments where I snark before I think – but I am committed to finding better ways to engage with people whose opinions, experiences and means of expression are different from mine.

The whole thing is great; have a look. The discussion in the comments is worth reading too, and the follow-up posts. Something to chew over.

Speaking of which, I’ve got a stellar quote for you, but it’ll have to wait until my sister finishes reading my Christmas present.

Bad grammar between friends

The Lady Garden

Literacy privilege

Fancy up your punctuation


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