Author’s Note – Another piece inspired by Bonnie Neubauer’s Take Ten For Writers. This is the setup:
You recently sat down at your computer and began typing. Five paragraphs into your writing, seemingly out of nowhere, your computer began to type back. You tried to regain control of the keys but the key board was like a player piano offering unsolicited advice. Write back to your computer starting with “You think you’re…”
This is the gist of the message your computer typed to you – citations from the grammar police for $10 for every error, totalling $380.
You think you’re so smart, I angrily typed, but you’re not even human! What the hell do you know about the way people talk?
I am a Zimbron 3500 microprocessor capable of complex calculations…
That doesn’t answer my question, damnit! I interrupted, still unable to believe what was happening. Ten minutes earlier, I had been furiously working on my novel, typing away on a particularly brilliant paragraph when I had to answer the call of nature. Afterward, I had procrastinated in the way only a true writer can: I made hot chocolate, checked my email and scanned the latest LOL CATZ update before settling back into my routine. That was when I noticed something was very wrong. All over the screen popup bubbles appeared next to anything underlined in red or green. $10. $10. $10.
You have committed 38 violations of the Uniform Communications Code. Please forward $380 check or money order to P.O. Box 99612 Maplewood, New Jersey by September 28th. Failure to do so will result in a class C felony charge of inaccurate conveyance of information, failure to write a coherent novel and mismanagement of editorial resources.
All of this led me to my current meltdown and I had no idea what to do. Instead of rationally thinking things through, I took control of the now-quiet keyboard and began typing in all caps.
HELLO?!? THIS IS OBVIOUSLY A SCAM! WHAT THE HELL KIND OF LOSER ARE YOU?
I am a Zimbron 3500 and am authorized to charge you under the Uniform Communications Code.
Oh that’s bullshit! There’s no such thing!
You are incorrect, the Zimbron informed me as my Internet browser popped open, revealing a website that had an official shield and the following text:
The Uniform Communications Code of 2010 was created by an underground cabal of English teachers, hackers and government officials in an effort to save the written word from utter destruction.
Yeah, right, destruction by who? I typed.
By whom, the Zimbron corrected. Destruction at the hands of people who don’t know how to effectively communicate unless they use their thumbs or 140 characters.
Yeah, well I’m not one of those people, I protested, I keep handwritten copies of everything, I hoard notebooks, and hell, I collect fountain pens. Who even does that anymore? Someone who cherishes the written word, that’s who!
Do you deny the mistakes?
No, I typed, feeling my shoulders slump in defeat. But writing should sound realistic, not grammatically perfect. If I fixed all those mistakes, my characters would sound like arrogant asshats!
There was no response from the computer. Had I actually won the argument? It seemed hard to believe that it could have been that easy, but no more words appeared on the screen. Finally, I relaxed.
“Thank goodness that’s over with,” I sighed as I tucked back into my novel with renewed enthusiasm. I was so engrossed in my work that I didn’t hear a knock at the door until someone start shouting.
“This is the police! We have a warrant for your arrest. Open the door or we’ll kick it in!”
Scared to death, I jumped from my chair, trying to decide whether I should hide or answer the door and accept the consequences. Having no idea how the grammar police would treat resisting arrest, I sheepishly opened the door to find my seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Richardson standing beside a burly police officer.
“Mrs. Richardson, what are you doing here?” I gasped.
She shook her had and gave me a withering gaze over the top of her bifocals; she hadn’t really changed much in 27 years. Her hair was gray and she had a few more wrinkles, but she still possessed the ability to render me speechless without ever saying a word.
“Honestly, Jane, I expected better from you! How on earth can you justify an MFA and a six figure advance on your novel with such elementary mistakes?”
“Now, now, there’s realism and there’s sloppiness. The line between them is fine, but you crossed it a mile back. I cannot tolerate dangling participles, misplaced prepositions and parenthetical overuse. I am sorry, but if you don’t pay the fine, Officer Riley here will arrest you.”
I weighed my options. I could pay the fine, which was against my principles or go to jail. I would likely never be published again if I was a grammar ex-con, and practicality trumped ethics as I wrote a $380 check and handed it to her. I was steamed but felt better upon the realisation that there was a very easy way to avoid further run-ins with the law. They couldn’t track me if I didn’t use my computer. All I needed to do was grab a notebook and write my novel the way I chose, without any interference from computer hackers or pissed off old windbags like Mrs. Richardson. It was an excellent plan, one that couldn’t fail…
Unless, of course, they put a microcamera in my fountain pen.