a comma can let us hear a voice break, or a heart
Countdown to Tier 2 lockdown for Londoners… here we go. While there already seems to be a lot of stuff out there about lockdown Christmas, I just can’t think that far ahead. Taking it a day at a time. Hoping to get more rest this lockdown, and not go fully nocturnal, which is always a danger for me.
The piece is short, but dense with poetic imagery, and is a masterclass in the deployment of commas, of course. It reminded me of how I’ve learned to read all my writing out now - something I knew before this year, but that stand-up has made all the more obvious to me.
Reading out loud highlights all the word repetition that I’m prone to in a first draft (ugh), and any knotty bits of writing that are hard to say, which could well lose the reader. Running out of breath during an especially long run-on sentence tells me that I need a few more commas - reading out loud lets me imagine myself in a position closer to the reader’s than my own. These are tiny details, yes, but they matter, as Iyer says in the essay:
A comma, by comparison, catches the gentle drift of the mind in thought, turning in on itself and back on itself, reversing, redoubling and returning along the course of its own sweet river music; while the semicolon brings clauses and thoughts together with all the silent discretion of a hostess arranging guests around her dinner table.
That paragraph suggests such an intimacy between writer and reader, doesn’t it? Which leads me on to this next bit of amazing writing:
🎃 Suchandrikargh S. Pumpkins 🎃 @SuchandrikaC“Just say what you mean. Make the reader feel things. The end.” - @hhavrilesky Thanks for listening (and feeling what I felt), @WritersSalon! https://t.co/hn2RYeJxUD https://t.co/CH8bnjFYUL
Have a read of Heather Havrilesky’s Twitter thread in full. I read out a slightly condensed version at Writer’s Hour last week, and it really struck a chord with the others. One of my favourite bits is this:
You find a way to make other people feel what you feel, or what you felt. It doesn't have to be fancy or elaborate. You don't need big words or long sentences.
Sometimes, just a well-placed comma can make all the difference. I’ll have to remind myself of that if I manage to be at all productive during Lockdown 2, and find myself reading out a hastily-scribbled passage at the wall. It’s a weird process, but it’ll be worth it, to make the writing better, to make the reader feel something.
Back to Iyer for the last word on this:
Punctuation, then, is a matter of care. Care for words, yes, but also, and more important, for what the words imply. Only a lover notices the small things: the way the afternoon light catches the nape of a neck, or how a strand of hair slips out from behind an ear, or the way a finger curls around a cup.
Even the tiniest edit could change everything - maybe that’s your work for the day done?
What I’ve been up to
I’ve written additional material for tonight’s News Quiz on Radio 4 - click through the tweet at 6:30pm BST to listen live, or click afterwards for the podcast:
I was on Mariella Frostrup’s Times Radio show yesterday, as part of a panel of comedians discussing whether ‘cancel culture’ is killing comedy. The other comedians were Laura Lexx, Leo Kearse and James Meehan.
[The panel was put together in response to this Times Radio interview with Dawn French on Monday]
Click through the tweet to listen, from 13:52 minutes in:
Fellow freelancer Isabelle Roughol (of Borderline Pod) and I teamed up on this project for Falmouth University’s flexible part-time, online MA Journalism
Links of the week
And here’s the new, official podcast, hosted by Ed Gamble:
I’ve been really enjoying The Week Unwrapped since appearing on it a few weeks ago. This week’s guest is Kieran Yates, last week’s was Abdul Tahhan, and I’m really enjoying the stories that the panels have chosen.
The whole time they’re talking about love, of course.
I didn’t make the connection when I asked Alison to read that passage at my wedding, but it also describes us. Alison made me real. Alison ruined me. And I am better because of it.
I’m finding this 2017 piece on digital Blackface in reaction GIFs more relevant than ever in 2020:
Ultimately, black people and black images are thus relied upon to perform a huge amount of emotional labor online on behalf of nonblack users. We are your sass, your nonchalance, your fury, your delight, your annoyance, your happy dance, your diva, your shade, your “yaas” moments. The weight of reaction GIFing, period, rests on our shoulders.
Great opportunity from Substack for newsletter enthusiasts:
This is a little square full of truth for journalists. As a freelance, I’m neutral / true good, but on staff I’m chaotic evil. Hbu??
I’ve been cooking up different versions of this lovely pasta sauce, and it’s a great base for substitutions, including aubergine, or meatballs. Don’t forget that ricotta, and who knew that *frying* capers would be such a gamechanger?!
This new podcast on fantasy holidays, from fellow members of the London Writers’ Salon, Joy Cox and Barrie Tankel, looks really fun. A necessary listen for those of us who didn’t manage to get away on holiday at all this year (wahhh poor me).
If you enjoy my work & fancy buying me a virtual coffee, I’d be delighted (and will hopefully experience a virtual caffeine rush):https://ko-fi.com/suchandrika
That’s all from me this week, byeeee x