On Commas


I've recently discovered that I have a love for commas. Before working with a copy editor, I couldn't exactly articulate why. I'd never really stopped to think about it. The commas were always just there, populated with great fervor, highlighting interludes as much as rocket launches.

For whatever reason, I've always been fond of the curvature of the comma. It's ever so slight and promising. They just hang there. You're not exactly sure what will come next. Will there be a pause, and then a continuation? Or, will a new trajectory be put into motion? Where will it lead? There's great pleasure to be found in the moments a comma affords. 

It has come to my attention that I often get carried away with using commas. When I read my own writing, which I rarely do, commas always seem to be present. Sometimes they're inserted like carefully placed railroad spikes holding down the tracks. While, at other times, I can sense they're about to derail the train, and the trains to come.

From Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein Writes:

"Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analysed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again." 

After reading this passage from Gertrude Stein, I'm led to believe that without developing an appreciation for commas, it's very difficult to read her work in more than a cursory sense. Which is to say that she employs commas in such magnificent, unexpected ways. She leaves you completely puzzled, but also full of just enough oxygen to try to figure out the riddle.  

It's such a profound experience when you encounter a comma in Gertrude Stein. It's like greeting a comet with a wave, as it sparks across the effervescent sky. From red to green, to red again. She cajoles us along! Gertrude Stein is such a masterful writer. Of course, some people find her difficult to read. 

Writing doesn't come easy for me. It's a very arduous, cumbersome process. As so many others have expressed: sometimes writing just flows, while at other times, it's like banging your head against the wall. As Deleuze inspires, sometimes you just gotta keep banging.

After some reflection, I've come to realize that I employ commas, not out of any grammatical forethought, but that they help me to pace my thought. I figure things out as I write. Not before I write. Clearly, this gets me into some troubled waters. Good thing commas help us breath.

* I strongly recommend that you listen to Gordon Bearn's presentation on Comma, Living.

Bobby George