Monday, April 12, 2010

Baby's first rebellion

I wasn't an especially rebellious child--in fact, I was something of a goody-goody. I didn't misbehave in school, and adult approval meant a lot to me. (Needless to say, this would cause problems later in life--but that's another story.)

But any decent artist has got to rebel, somehow, and my rebellion happened, like most of my life, on the page. I must have been eight or nine, and I wrote a short story in which I used the following series of symbols to express a character's incredulity:

?!!?

My teacher red-penned it. Not, she said, a valid punctuation mark.

Oh yeah?!!? I had just read it in a Peanuts cartoon. So it must be legit. Nope, it's not, said my teacher. I backed down, erased the two exclamation points and one of the question marks.

But in my mind, I knew I was right. "?!!?" expressed something I needed to express--intense, confused astonishment. Who was this teacher to tell me otherwise? I would remember this years later when a well-meaning copyeditor added about two thousand commas to my third novel, and I nearly tore holes in the paper STETting them back out again. If I say there's no comma, there ain't no goddam comma, Teach!

One of the first things I remember Rhian telling me about herself was that a teacher once told her there was no such word as "gamboling." Needless to say, I know a kindred soul when I meet one.

6 comments:

Russell said...

I wonder if such teachers aren’t in fact very good for us, in a perverse way. Punctuation is a set of conventional notations (added to the very few original alphabets only gradually). All conventions work to some degree because people agree about what they mean. You, can’t break the? rules without: having—an excellent sense of what! each; mark can do. Combinations like ?!!? work because they stretch what’s already understood. Your teacher, by thinking in black and white, made you mad but also played the Dark Ages to your Renaissance and Enlightenment. As for your copyeditor, he or she did a bad thing by not contacting you right away and saying, “You know, I’d like to introduce a bunch of commas . . . what do you think?”

Trevor Jackson said...

I used the word "cloyed" in a sensory assignment in my ninth-grade composition class. My teacher circled it, saying that it wasn't a word. I was just enough of a punk to go get the dictionary and show it to her.

rmellis said...

Of course, I've been on the other end of the snotty-know-it-all stick, too, having taught a few SKIAs in my time. And being a mother. It's amazing how many times I find myself saying, "A comma goes there because I SAY A COMMA GOES THERE and I'm your mother!"

Actually, I'm joking about that last bit. Our kids have a pretty good grasp of punctuation. The older guy can use a semicolon, something I didn't figure out until graduate school. He said he read about it on the website "The Oatmeal."

zach cole said...

The Oatmeal guide is actually helpful. For me, bright colors and bears are essential to remembering basic rules of grammar.

rmellis said...

The Oatmeal is great!

Sung said...

This post reminds me of a poem I once wrote in college, where all I used were punctuations. It was really fun!