May 25, 2008

Musings on a Pico Iyer essay

I dunno what made me think of Pico Iyer tonight but I had always found his essays for TIME magazine a delightful and fascinating read. One particular essay struck me back in 1988; it was about the comma. There was pure romance in the way he wrote that essay. And so I think I fell in love with him after reading it.

It starts off like this:
The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said -- could it not? -- of the humble comma. Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it and the mind is deprived of a resting place. Yet still the comma gets no respect. It seems just a slip of a thing, a pedant's tick, a blip on the edge of our consciousness, a kind of printer's smudge almost. Small, we claim, is beautiful (especially in the age of the microchip). Yet what is so often used, and so rarely recalled, as the comma -- unless it be breath itself? (From In praise of the humble comma, TIME, June 13, 1988)

The essay may have struck a nerve with me, because if I recall correctly, I was at a crossroads in my budding career as a journalist then. I don't recall what I was doing tonight that make me think of Mr. Iyer and that essay again. I just know I had to google it and read it again. Maybe tonight, as it was then, my subconscious is telling me that at this point in my life, I need to pause and take a deep breath.

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