When writing a first draft, I use commas the way some people mumble ‘uh’ when speaking. I type a comma every time I come to the end of a thought. This may or may not signal the beginning/end of a dependent clause as Strunk and White prescribe, but rather the skittering way I work through ideas with a keyboard. My first drafts look like comma farms.
They are also rife with half-words like ‘very’ and ‘often.’ Kirk, a designer I work with, always points out when I’ve used either of those words, which don’t mean much and take up precious room for pictures. These are the tics of my writing, the things I do unconsciously, and I am grateful that writing is an iterative process, so that I can get to something approaching readable before I put it in front of you.
On the bike, I cross chain a lot. It doesn’t seem to matter what cassette I’m running, whether a standard or compact crank. I look down and find I’m running big-to-big. Sometimes I am self-conscious about this, like if I’m riding in a group. Then I’ll down shift one and push the bigger gear so no one judges me. When I’m alone mostly I crank along, my chain fluttering past the derailleur cage like a stuttering comma.
In that same way, I have this mental tic that leads me to repeat words or phrases over and over in my head. The latest one is ‘event horizon.’ I am riding along on my bike, event horizon, event horizon, event horizon. I am making coffee in the morning, event horizon, event horizon, event horizon. It will plague me for two or three days and then disappear. Mostly.
Once my dentist said to me, “The tongue is a surprisingly effective dentifrice,” and that sentence cycled between my ears for three weeks. My fascination with words has a dark side, an obsessive cruelty, a force that sometimes oppresses as much as it frees.
I fail to drop my heel when pedaling. I shift front and rear simultaneously and throw the chain. I forget to down shift into a stop. I stand two pedal strokes too long. I lose my nerve in the curve, pull the brake. All the reflexive mental errors.
So, I edit. I close the gap to the wheel in front of me. I fight the war against cliche. I drop two and stand into the pedals, power past the next telephone pole, let the chain slide back up the cassette and sit again, regain my rhythm.
I can do it better. I can ride it cleaner, write it truer, strip away the tics and get clear, off the front, in my mind. Maybe. Sometimes.
These are the corrections. This is why I get out of bed, to reach that event horizon, event horizon, event horizon, that point of no return, where riding is just riding and writing is just words.