Updated: Jul 24
My name is Annie. I’m a writer. And I can’t spell worth a damn.
To the great horror of proofreaders who suffer through my edits, I am a first class idiot -- barfing up word funk across emails and innocent word docs. I’m not talking the basic “your” and “you’re” or “there” and “their.” I’m talking straight up face palms like “crucifiction” instead of “crucifixion” (Sorry, Jesus!) and even greater goofs like that time I wrote a moving essay about embracing life by “ceasing the day.” Dear God. I’m looking for a rock to hide under right now just remembering the reply my proofreader sent, which went something like, “Great piece, but I’ve got to say that I’m pretty awed by your inner power that can literally bring an end to all the days as we know them.”
Yep, friends. That’s me: terrible speller, queen of grammar gaffes, and comma happy to boot. I favor commas like they’re handing out Gucci and will plop an unnecessary comma into any sentence willy nilly, like right here! The commas I blame on a background in speech writing. Commas denote pauses for a speech giver. So whenever I write anything, I naturally hear it being spoken aloud, which equates to commas galore even when they aren’t necessary. But the rest of it is just accident-prone Annie -- one who reads incessantly, writes professionally, but would come in last place in a spelling bee. In Dogpatch USA. Probably to a fourth grader. These hands shamelessly type “joviant” instead of jovial” or “compliment” rather than “complement” and send them off to my abused proofreaders, who clean up the brainchild of a nut job who loves to write more than anything else in the world, but can’t spell her way out of a paper bag. Folks, I’m a certified disaster.
And for the longest time I’ve explained away my disasters. “Oh, wow. Thanks for catching that. I must have sent you my first edit by mistake.” Lies! “Of course I know that a ship can’t flounder. Flounder is a fish. To founder is to sink.” (That’s a true anecdote, y’all! I legit floundered a central character. It was ugly. And smelly.) And this imperfection of mine can have such an effect on my ego that I’ll literally stall a work in progress or just not even see it to completion if I don’t have a proofreader, for fear that my word salad prone fingers might end up shutting more doors than opening avenues. That is, until I realized my disaster anxiety was catching.
The Girl was about to start a new dance class. She’s a skilled ballerina-in-training with long term aspirations to dance the dual roles of Odette and Odile in Swan Lake at Lincoln Center, but this new class was a hip hop class. The Girl loves hip hop, and in the privacy of her bedroom will throw on some Lizzo and werk it! (That was intentionally spelled wrong. “Werk it” is drag for doing something with such confidence you don’t care who’s watching. You basically own the room and should, in fact, demand admission.) But there in that definition lay my girl’s dilly of a pickle. She loves hip hop, but lacked the experience and a history of smooth landings in that dance genre to feel confident -- at least outside of the sanctity of her bedroom. What if she fell flat on her face? What if she fell on her ass? What if her instructor took one look at her hip hop and thought, “She calls herself a dancer?! Puh-lease!” And I realized, as my girl angsted all over the place and drummed up disasters that hadn’t even happened yet, that if I were in her position, I probably wouldn’t even take the class at all. So frightened would I be of a poor assessment that I would rather miss a fun, exhilarating experience than risk anyone questioning my right to be there. I wouldn’t werk it. I don’t werk it. And in that moment I felt lame. Unfabulous. Meek. I needed to dredge up my inner drag queen and emulate RuPaul for my baby: “It’s okay to fall down. Get up, look sickening, and make them eat it!”
Can I say “eat it” to my child? Probably not. So I told it to her straight with a little drag.
“Listen, Kid,” I held onto The Girl’s shoulders with fervor. “You’re gonna take this class come what may. If you don’t, you may never dance the Black Swan.” Then I paused for effect and added, “Girl, you better werk!”
She wrinkled her nose. “Why are you being weird?”
“Because,” I said to me more than to her. “Making a mistake is better than making nothing at all.”
I tried a different route. I looked deep into her chestnut eyes, which looked back with the same nervous energy that mine do every time I hit the send button to an editor. “You won’t be perfect because even ballet dancers aren’t perfect. But sometimes what makes us imperfect is the same thing that will make us stronger and get us to our goals quicker.”
It was a touching, after school special, Hallmark type of moment to which The Girl responded, “So basically what you’re saying is that if I look like an asshat, I’ll be so mad that I looked like an asshat that I’ll try that much harder to not look like an asshat again? And that’ll make me a better dancer?”
“If that makes you take this class, then yes. That’s exactly what I meant.”
Nailed it again, Annie!
As the Girl began her hip hop journey, I sat in front of my laptop lost in deep thoughts and self-loathing. How many times have I skipped a hip hop class kind of opportunity for fear of my own asshattery? Is asshattery even a word? And also, did my daughter just use asshat three times in a sentence? Ugh. I’m a disaster! But I also thought what if I’ve rubbed off more than the word, asshat, onto my daughter? What if she inherits my weakness to fear imperfections? To hide them from even herself? How can I help her appreciate all the sickles that will lead up to her Black Swan moment if I can’t appreciate that at one time I used to chronically type the word porn when what I really meant was prone?
The next day I sent off an editorial for a feature article in a regional magazine. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t perfect. It may even have included a misspelled word or grammar gaffe that made the editor chuckle at my expense. But I know enough to know that the bulk of my work was damn beautiful. And I’m proud of it. And if you’re on my subscribe list, I can’t wait to share it with you when it comes out. Because that’s what happens when we stop pretending mistakes don’t happen or that there isn’t an opportunity to rise above them with grace and growth. Eventually we see how little mistakes actually define our work, and that they’re just a fraction of our story, only significant if we don’t get up, look sickening, and tell them to eat it. It’s then that our heart steals focus from failure. Those cringe worthy moments just sort of fade into the background -- necessary to the story’s turning point, but incomparable to the happy ending.
And in the meantime, as I await the next chapter of my story, I’ve come up with an entertaining way to avoid most of my horrifying grammar gaffes and spelling snafus. Drawing from my speech writing days, I read my work aloud, but in the thickest, hickest, slowest farmer drawl, this side of the hen house. I sound like a cartoon character, a hokey old soul who also might be on crack. But in that stupid, corny accent, I catch all the mistakes I can and I also laugh...at myself. It’s utterly ridiculous, but now I look forward to my proofread instead of dreading my guilty hand’s work. And I think that’s pretty fabulous.
I’m Annie D. Stutley. I’m a writer, who can’t spell worth a damn. I’m not a disaster. I’m disaster fabulous. Eat it.
Author’s Note: Per messages in my inbox asking what my farmer-on-crack proofreading voice sounds like, I posted a snippet of it on my Instagram page: @anniedstutley. My kids are officially humiliated and want a new mother.
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