Thursday, April 24, 2008
There's that number on my cellphone again. It's a number I don't recognize, from an area code I don't know. I have, apparently, four missed calls, two messages, and a series of agitated emails.
No, it's not my mother. It's my editor.
My maiden published poem is going to press this week (hooray!) and the editor of the magazine, a woman with a clipped, mannish name and a high, sweet voice who teaches poetry at a university in the wilds of Maine, urgently needs my input on three semicolons and a comma.
Three semicolons and a comma! I punctuate the way I walk: automatically, with my mind on words or difficult children or cheese. The last time I stewed over a semicolon was during the Reagan administration. Yet, here she is, my editor. I call her in the closet on my lunch break and listen as she waxes, impassioned, on why I should remove the comma after "yet" before the line break. Then there's the matter of my parallel series of descriptors, in which I used semicolons the first time around and later, once I elided the "is" and no longer needed to upgrade my commas, did not.
I pick up and drop scraps of orange peel. I finish my last bite of peanut butter sandwich. I tell my editor, yes, she can trash the comma, and the semi-colons can march, like Ceasar, triumphantly down the page. I cross my eyes.
It is heady, this level of attention. It is also deeply, insanely uncomfortable. I've made it through life thus far clinging to the comforting truism that no one, NO ONE, is paying you even a fraction of the attention they are paying themselves. Those infinitesimal changes you make to your Facebook profile? Your new haircut? No one cares. They're too busy updating their My Space pages.
But occasionally, once in a great while, you have it: someone's undivided attention. I can't decide if it's medicine or gall.