For much of my life I’ve avoided old ladies. Not that I didn’t like them.  Mostly, they just didn’t interest me much.  A few of these almost invisible women come to mind:
            My grandma Anderl, a pudding of a woman who lived with my family for several of the last years of her life, sipping her daily glass of bourbon, doctor-prescribed, she insisted. 
            Mrs. Kauffman, the housemother in my college sorority with her precisely lacquered hair and manicured nails, who taught me how to iron my marriage sheets. 
            Ms. Pedersen, the spinster English teacher in the room next to mine, recycling meticulous forty-year-old lesson plans on the use of the subjunctive and asking if I’d like to borrow them.
            The elementary teacher in the room down the hall, who at sixty, attained her life’s goal of becoming a school principal, just in time to be asked to retire. 
            The Medicare-eligible counselor, dissatisfied with daytime TV, returning to her job on the kindergarten story rug, even though it meant getting on all fours and leaning on at least one five-year-old to rise up.
            My unnaturally coal-black-haired, crepe-skinned, neighbor, with her push-up bra decolletage, searching the Internet daily for a newer, younger bedmate.
            The raggedy woman in the plastic rain cap, sitting on the park bench talking to anything that moves, squirrels even, about her dead husband, probably a sister of the wild-haired shopper at Fred Meyer leaning over the head lettuce, asking how it’s doing today.
For years, I observed these women and others like them.  From a distance, smiling a little, turning away. They had little to do with me, with who I was, with what my life was all about.
And now I’m one of them. 
Today I heard myself talking to the Brussels sprouts in the vegetable section.  ‘Nasty little buggers,” I said as I piled a dozen of them in the plastic bag. “Why did I marry a man who loves you?” 
Last week I ironed our new 500-count cotton sheets because the developing permanent wrinkles in the top hem chafed my chin.  “Should have bought polyester,” I muttered into my ironing board. Mrs. K. didn’t have that choice back then.
For some reason, in spite of already having a man to sleep with, I sidled into Victoria’s Secret this weekend and, with boobs smashed into steel-like armature pretending to be a bra, felt as if I were an ancient stand-in for Super Woman. I also gave up on the idea of hair dye.
A couple weeks ago, I advised the copyeditor of my about-to-be-printed book that her use of salt-and-pepper commas needed to be tamped down; also, semi-colons, not to mention colons and M-dashes. “Want to borrow my Strunk/White?” I asked. I could hear Ms. Petersen cheering.
This lazy morning, I drank a third cup of coffee and glanced at the obituaries, followed by the want ads. Someone needed a tutor proficient in English skills willing to work with reluctant learners. I almost called for an interview when I realized I truly am not able to get up off the reluctant learner rug.
This evening I poured myself a glass of Scotch and watched the seven o’clock news on PBS.  It was a nice way to end the day, even if my doctor did not prescribe it.  Grandma knew.
Tomorrow, I will receive the proof of Graffiti Grandma. I am to give the go-ahead on its publishing.  This will be a little like getting a principalship and then realizing that you don’t have the time or the energy to create your perfect school. And that from here on out, my goal will most likely be what it is for all old ladies:  one day at a time, seize that day, breathe, be glad to be alive and kicking; always carry a plastic rain cap in a coat pocket.

Who’s Ruling the Rules?

I’m thinking that folks writing books in this flowing stream-of-consciousness manner are either would-be, envious, behind-the-times  Joycists  or angry  anti-Strunkists revolting against every red-inked correction they ever received from instructors whose job was to make their writing readable.
But, then, I’m an old lady, taught the conventional punctuation of the early 1900’s by Teacher Kuhnau, who was born in Germany and understood that rules are important.
And I went on to teach teenagers the same rules he taught me.  We diagrammed in my classes. We rewrote essays until they were close to perfect. For years–until I began to realize that the red marks I was making on all those papers weren’t creating better writers, only better punctuationalists. Then I loosened up a little, wrote more Good!’s
and fewer Run-on!’s.
Only when I started writing full-time did I discover that my own writing was loosening up also.  I used fewer commas, forgot what semi-colons were for, got in the habit of  creating phrases instead of sets of words that could be diagrammed.  Forgot how to diagram.
Felt good, this sense of freedom. Maybe overdid it sometimes. I still believed in quotation marks, though, and my paragraphs had places in them to breath.
Then, through an attempt to get Graffiti Grandma into a Publish on Demand format, I paid for the manuscript to be proofread. The novel came back with digital red marks (the way it’s done now) on every page.  For a minute I thought Teacher Kuhnau was back. It took a number of hours and numerous pots of coffee to get through my reader’s corrections.  I learned a lot: that dumpster is spelled with a D; that too many had’s are deadening; that incomplete sentences are okay, for emphasis; that commas and semi- colons create a rhythm; that M dashes sometimes work even better than commas– a little like my old German teacher taught me.  I like the new look of Graffiti Grandma.  I’m inspired to try to get it published again; it breathes so well now, with at least one hundred new commas. 
So, I’ll never write two-page paragraphs with no commas unless I get inspired by too many cups of coffee and the event of rain outside my window after three months of yellow light and sweat when I walk the dog and try to find a cool place to read the latest novel by a post-modernist who is protesting the control he’s lived under for forty years and can finally throw off the chains of punctuation and write the way he’s always wanted to but no teacher would accept his premise that periods are a barrier to inspiration and  no publisher would even read his dystopia novel until a courageous young MFA’s short un-perioded story was accepted by a cutting edge literary magazine and began the revolution that is causing havoc in much of the reading world as it tries to read and inhale at the same time and which has brought these novels to my desk on this rainy day.

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