I was a demon copy editor for years. I was the arbiter who had all the answers—usually the right ones but I bully-bluffed even if I wasn't sure. I used to say that copy editing was like grading papers except you didn't have to teach authors how they had gone wrong or even care whether they bothered to learn. You could just move that red pen along each line, reorganizing and correcting and generally feeling superior.
My freshman English professor was Dr. Pence, for whom we wrote an essay a week. In his grading, Dr. Pence would read until he came to an error (misspelling, typo, redundancy, whatever) at which point he would draw a fierce red line and write, "I stopped reading here!"--yes, including the exclamation point. It was up to the student to figure out the error, fix it, and proofread the rest of the essay with even greater care, because Dr. Pence would play this game for as long as it took. I tell you this so you can understand my training for editing copy.
There I was, all my life, sharp as a tack and alert to the slightest error. My husband, whose eye is equally sharp, and I would tear into our two newspapers every morning, gleefully finding egregious mistakes caused (usually) by the time pressures of the newspaper business.
Well, them days is gone forever. I've had hints that I was slipping, and I took every occurrence of slippage as a personal failure, a forecasting of the demise of my brain. Mind. Head.
But it was only when working on the manuscript of my own book that I realized the extent of the changes. In the last ten years I have worked hard on letting go. Isn't that what is required of all of us control-freak types? Does it not behoove us to let go? To stop clutching the security of complete control and just to let go. To be. To relax into what is. Into the moment. You know all these phrases as well as I do.
But an unexpected consequence of letting go is that by definition we are not in control of how the relaxation will occur. We might find ourselves no longer caring about something in which we once took great pride. Such as grammar and spelling.
It is not just that I no longer know whether nest egg is one word, two words, or hyphenated. The annoying thing is that it no longer matters to me. Oh, I haven't let go completely. I still am aware of apostrophes and spellings and the need to rewrite my repetitive sentence structures. And I can't imagine ever being relaxed about the difference between lie and lay. But compound words? I just don't care. I have no doubt that this puts me at the top of a slippery slope. Whee-ee.