When I was a teenager, there were two activities I hated beyond all others: squeezing blackheads and pulling weeds in the lawn. Neither was particularly painful or difficult, granted, and both seemed quite necessary, as the blackheads, if left in the skin of my face, would invariably become whiteheads, a.k.a. zits, that would show up at the exact inopportune moment to ruin a nice romantic encounter...or what passed for them at that age...you know, like when Sally McCordle (name changed to protect the blissfully unaware) smiled, yes, actually smiled, at me...or would have if not for the huge alien life form growing on my cheek...and thus crush my hopes and dreams of a normal life for the remainder of my time on the planet. Whew, I kinda hope that last sentence was at least close to grammatically correct. In any event, the other was important because, well, my stepdad said so, and he was bigger and meaner than me.
Many Saturday afternoons, then, were spent in the front yard with a funky little tool he'd bought. It looked like a screwdriver that had had its business end smushed. The goal, then, was to push the thinner blade of the tool down beside an offending weed--in California, it was usually a dandelion--and give it a little twist and a flick. Yes, that description sounds kind of like what the students at Hogwarts were taught to do with their wands, but it was absolutely nothing like that in reality. There, the swish and flick made feathers float and turned rats into cups, but in my yard it just made it so I could then grasp the weed and pull most of it out with some small amount of effort and a big clod of topsoil. One is magical, the other is dirty.
The interaction with dirt wasn't really what I hated about it, though. It was that I was never really done, it seemed. I'd start at one corner of the lawn and sweep up and down, moving across the expanse in a deliberate pattern. After reaching the other side and obtaining a glowing feeling akin to having won the homecoming game or actually gotten a "hello" from Sally, I'd do this little celebratory dance that, from a distance, must have looked a lot like standing up, and walk back toward the house. Only I'd never make it. I'd get some distance toward the door: sometimes a quarter of the way, sometimes halfway, sometimes close enough that I could see the spiderwebs embedded in those funky bushes we all had at our entryways in the late 70's and early 80's, and I'd nearly trip over another dandelion. How I'd missed it in my sweep, I never ever had any idea. But I'd always miss one, and its discovery would lead to another, and that to another. It was the task that never ended, because some strange invisible person was going along behind me planting dandelions as rapidly as I was taking them out. Or so it seemed. Same thing with...well, the other activity, but I'm done talking about bathroom practices of teenagers. For this post, anyway.
What brings this to mind now is that having a manuscript that's ALMOST ready to go out is roughly the same. I'll lovingly open it and flip to a page and start reading the prose that I wrote five and six months ago and have since gone through...TWICE!...and revised, and sure enough, there's a grammatical blackh...er, dandelion. How did I miss that unneeded adverb? I'll ask myself reproachfully. Grrrr. Is it EVER going to be done? I can imagine myself standing up and doing a little celebratory dance that from a distance looks like a guy taking a 200+ page document off of a printer, opening it one last time to make sure the ink didn't run out in the middle, and wham! Tripped! Right over a bad sentence construction.
I guess that's what editing is for, but that feels a little to me like my stepdad coming out to inspect the lawn. He'd always find another dandelion that I hadn't tripped over, and that was more embarrassing than my own late discoveries.
Ah, well...back to examining the manuscript. Have a great and happy Fourth of July weekend!