“One of the things I like about my job is that it draws on the entire person: not just your knowledge of grammar and punctuation and usage and foreign languages and literature but also your experience of travel, gardening, shipping, singing, plumbing, Catholicism, Midwesternism, mozzarella, the A train, New Jersey. And in turn it feeds you more experience.”
Mary Norris’ essay for The New Yorker is a meditation on the investigative life, on careful study, on the difference between intuitive and curated response and the relative value of both in any given moment. Because we are human we can continue to sculpt and whittle and chisel the comma for centuries only to find one of our highest arbiters of usage reflexively resistant to stolid terms. This is progress, and it demands a liberal education. Whether that progress is maddening or thrilling likely depends upon some cocktail of one’s academic background, brain chemistry, familial birth order, and generational identity, but there is undeniable value in holistic (a word we’ve lately drained the life from) living.
Where a comma lives matters, whether or not we can articulate why. Dots and lines drive invention, build relationships — and dash both — every day. When we bring to all of our communication with others the full experience of pumping gas, reading literature, wading in lakes, and watching reruns, we can more carefully and potently connect. When we walk around in the mud boots we remain alive to the subtlety, and we become better equipped to tend with due care our exchanges with one another.