Red Ink, Manhood Exposed, Going Solo

Katie Young
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Wednesday - May 25, 2005

The Red Pen Syndrome.

People don’t like to write me notes. Be it via e-mail or handwritten, whether it’s from a friend or just a MidWeek reader, it seems people cower in fear about putting words on a page when it’s addressed to a professional writer.

It’s not because they’re worried about my reaction to what they have to say; it’s because they’re afraid I’ll scrutinize their grammar. It’s something I like to call the Red Pen Syndrome, and it’s inbred in us from our school days.

Do you remember what it felt like every time you were proud to turn in a paper at school, only to get it back the following week with red marks covering half the page? It can be traumatic.

Red pen begins to mean “You’re wrong!” “Try again!” and “How on earth could you think that made sense?!”

So I suppose people are left with that indelible mark on their psyches. And though you grow into a productive adult who speaks intelligently, writing a note to someone whose career is all about mastery of the English language, rekindles a little fear of red pen school days.

People will write me a note and attach an addendum: “Please overlook any spelling or grammatical errors I may have made (add in smiley face here.)”

I’ve even had friends call me on the phone to say they were going to e-mail me but were afraid I’d think their writing skills were poor and they were stupid.

I completely understand the Red Pen Syndrome because, for me, it even extended beyond classroom walls. My mother, a journalism and English professor, is a master of the red pen. She’s an expert at knowing just where to put that confusing semi-colon.

I’ll admit, I was more defiant of the red pen than I was fearful of it growing up. What if I wanted to put the comma there? Many journalists I know (and professors of English) have their own personal pet peeves when it comes to grammar.

MidWeek’s editor Don Chapman prefers we use the word “however” in the middle, not the beginning of a sentence, surrounded on both sides by commas. If you write “On one hand,” it has to be followed by “on the other.”

MidWeek’s regional editor Carol Chang gets miffed when the wrong “its” (could also be “it’s”) is used.

I’ve even seen her use her finger to fix the grammatically incorrect daily specials on a restaurant chalkboard.

My mother’s greatest irritation is the misuse of “good” and “well.” When someone asks you “How are you doing?” You don’t reply “I’m doing good,” she always tells me, “unless you’re doing charitable good works.” You’re supposed to say, “I’m doing well.”

It’s a curse of sorts for lovers of the English language.

And even though I apply a critical eye when correcting MidWeek’s pages before they go to press, I’d never scrutinize a note written to me from a friend or reader — even if the commas are in the wrong place.

Flying free. There’s nothing like the feeling of the wind in your hair as you take flight over the crystal blue sea. Or, at least, I imagine it must feel real nice. While I’m sitting at my desk all day pounding on a keyboard, Sebastian heads to Kailua when the winds are prime to kiteboard.

It’s his newest hobby, and I get to hear of the day’s exploits over dinner and live vicariously through his outdoor adventures.

Sebastian is just learning the sport — in which he utilizes a giant kite, measuring 16 meters across, and a board strapped to his feet that propels him on top of the water at treacherous speeds.

The first thing he learned was “body dragging.” That’s where you figure out how to launch your kite from the beach and, without the board, master maneuvering the kite itself as your body drags through the ocean water.

On his second day out at the beach, Sebastian and a friend were taking turns helping each other launch their kites from the sand.

On one run, Sebastian took off and flew his kite with such skill that he sailed about 100 yards down the shore. He got out and walked his kite all the way back up the beach to his original starting point, excited to launch again.

On the next run, Sebastian couldn’t contain his enthusiasm. “Wooo-hoooo!” he yelled as he dipped his kite up and down to increase his speed. “Yeah! Wooo-hooo!”

After a few seconds traveling at the speed of light, Sebastian noticed things felt a little breezier than normal. He looked down and realized that not everything was in its right place.

The Velcro on his surf shorts had ripped open as he was being propelled through the water, and his … ahem … manhood, was flying free for all to see.

Needing both hands to control the kite, it was a full minute before Sebastian could stop to put the mouse back in its house.

I laughed my head off, as Sebastian recounted his tale of, well, freedom.

“But wait,” he said, “there’s more. As I was packing up the kite to leave, a couple of beachgoers walked past me and smiled.”

It was at that point Sebastian began to seriously wonder if he “flew free” on only that last run. Or had he walked all the way up the beach on the previous run, exposing himself to the tanning tourists?

There was comfort in only one thing: If he was in fact “out” the whole time, at least everyone he passed was smiling.

All alone. I read in a book that said women are four times more likely than men to spend a good portion of their lives alone. Twothirds of women over the age of 65 are widows.

This is a good reason to make sure you always have a life beyond your romantic one. And in my mind, also a good reason to have a pet in your home.

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