The Percolating Proofreader

(Editor’s Note: We are a little late posting this update from the bold, fresh-roasted David—but it’s still January and still legit to think about the new year. And it’s always legit to think about commas!—Brenda Gregoline, ELS)

I’ve been percolating through a sieve called December and am ready to be poured into a new year. When I imagine myself as dark liquid I also imagine I’m filling one of my favorite cups to the brim, usually a small tapered one with a pecking hen, though my foursquare Yosemite one sporting a cute raccoon and all-caps DAVID is a real winner too. But this is different: 2016 is no cup I’ve known, no mug, no chalice, no shattered past or graspable present. December 31 is intent on pouring me into a vat of pure future, of which the only knowledge I have is really a bag of assumptions, such as that the Chicago River will continue to flow backwards and the world will not end. A recent year had the distinction, until it was over, of being a candidate for the year it all ended, something no cool person took seriously but the less smug secretly pondered. Was that 2012? I should know; I was there. There was a movie about it, so let’s look it up: yes, 2012 is the movie, and other sources specify the date as December 21. Unless I’m oblivious, the world didn’t end then, but I do recall it beginning when, either that day or the day before, a person actually asked me if I thought it would end. She asked cautiously, sincerely, a human comma breaking the flow of unthinking acceptance that an unpunctuated worldview promotes. That was 3 years ago now, and I think not one of the 1000+ days since has passed without a moment of appreciation for that strategically placed comma.

Now what do you suppose I said when asked if I thought the world would end later that day or the next day, depending on which day the question was posed, which I’m irked not to be remembering, especially since I’ve already said the current world began at that moment, which makes that moment momentous, to say the least? I dug into myself and excavated an honest answer, which is that I thought it wouldn’t end because it hadn’t ended yet and I’m used to continuance, believing in it not as a matter of faith but as a matter of habit, expecting the sun to rise each morning because I don’t trust it to do anything else. As I spoke I realized that, in my own dim way, I was being as smoothly uncritical as the snarksters who, subtext curling lasciviously around the scientific method, dismissed the whole Mayan calendar thing as the kibble of bozos. I too was riding a wave of unpunctuated assumptions, though on a sea of dork instead of a sea of cool. The earnest question was dry land where there had been none, a bit of Moby-Dick calling into question the efficacy of sailors. Had it not been posed, the world would have continued without the slightest hesitation, but the human comma created a pause in which thought struggled to find itself and, failing somewhat, has been continuing the struggle through each of these past 1000+ days.

You might suggest that my human comma was more of a question mark, but you’d be literalizing my friend based on the type of sentence she uttered rather than the form her sentence imposed. A semicolon possibly; maybe even a period, given that she stopped the world cold and started it up again in a different water park. But a human question mark? I think not. She, or he, or whatever she or he really is–we’re all on a continuum, you know, but not an unpunctuated one, not (for me, anyway) since December 20 or 21, 2012– tossed a silken boomerang into the assumption stream and now, though I have no idea what lies ahead, or beneath, as I begin to tumble into whatever 2016 is or isn’t, I do find one sustaining idea limning the boomerang’s surface, that punctuation exists not to separate but to illuminate, to gently render intelligible the formless murk through which we pilot our masked faces and ringed tails.—David Antos


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