The curse may start at any time. A friend may ask you to check his or her résumé for typographical errors. Or you may work as an English teacher and get paid for finding mistakes. Or, worse yet, you may actually work as a professional proofreader. In any case, once you start, you’re hooked. Your life will never be the same again.
Proofreading — the art of finding and correcting errors in written communication — is a curse, an addiction. You can’t simply punch in and out like most workers; you’re on call 24 hours a day.
Other professions don’t have this problem. My father, for example, worked as a plumber. Yes, he installed or fixed water pipes all week long in his regular job and, sometimes, at home. And, yes, he often got calls from relatives and neighbors asking him to fix their plumbing as well. But he could also avoid his work by hopping in the car to go for a ride or by playing golf.
My mother was a telephone operator. All day long at work, she answered the phone. When she got home, however, she often took the phone off the hook or simply refused to answer. Even in retirement, on certain days, she just wouldn’t answer. If I absolutely needed to get through to her, I had to use our signal: call, let it ring once, hang up, and call again. Otherwise, she’d let it ring.
The curse of proofreading is another story. Even after working in the writing center at a community college all day, I can’t simply go home and read the paper. I’m addicted after all. Misspelled words jump out at me. Misplaced commas try to dance by. Dangling modifiers dangle. Who else do you know who reads the paper with a red pen nearby?
If I go out to eat, it’s worse. I notice spacing problems in the menu. I find type styles that are inconsistent or inappropriate. And when I look at the prices, I assume that they must be incorrect. Unfortunately, my red pen does me no good in a restaurant.
Reading the mail should be an escape, but it isn’t. Many of my friends use contractions incorrectly. My sister has a problem with subject-verb agreement. And my bank statements and insurance policies need to be completely overhauled.
Even moving away from written communication doesn’t help. I watch television and wonder why everyone feels “badly” about the problems of the world. I call a friend, and he suggests that “you and me” go bowling. Even when I go shopping alone, I ask myself, “Shouldn’t it be ‘Toys ‘R We’?”
What can I do about this curse? Nothing, except learn to live with it. As long as people make mistakes — and I make as many as the next person — we will be needed. We may not be loved or appreciated , but we will be needed.