Busted!

Finger and hand position on USA keyboard, normal
Image via Wikipedia

Oh, the shame.

Turns out, with almost every sentence I have written for this blog, I have revealed my age and generation. One, simple, habitual action — despite all my pursuits of the Fountain of Youth via fitness, nutrition, my practice of the Feldenkrais Method, positive attitudes, hanging out with younger people, good cosmetics, having lots of fun, and a great relationship with my hairdresser — one habit, difficult to break, discloses my origins from the pre-computer age.

<Gasp!>  I know it’s hard to imagine. The vast majority of photos of me that are posted on Facebook show me staring at some kind of digital screen. While at a social gathering. That’s probably another topic. But yes, it’s true. The habit I have is that I habitually put two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence, instead of one. Why does this divulge my age and generation? Because it shows that when I learned to type, it was on a typewriter, and not on a computer.

I remember taking typing, or “touch typing” as a freshman in high school.  Most of the students were girls, no doubt career-minded to head to a secretarial pool somewhere. Typing was a skill that prepared you for the world of work.  I’m glad I took it. All these years later,  I still can type rapidly without hunting and pecking, and sometimes I am also very accurate. The teachers (a man and a woman team-taught the class of 60 or more) would play slow, rhythmic music that even back then sounded hilariously dorky and antiquated.  We would type to the beat of the music, played from scratchy vinyl discs. F-F-F space, F-F-F space. F-F-J-J, F-D-J-K, all rote pattern repetition on the QWERTY keyboard, until all the fingers and all the keys were included.  I never did master the numbers by touch.  But I digress.

It was a rule that you made two spaces after a period. You got your paper marked in red, and points taken off, if you didn’t have two spaces. This was powerful learning. The habit persists to this day.

For some reason this topic came up the other night as we were talking with some of our geeky friends about computers, e-readers of various brands, and writing. I confessed that I have always been a two-space girl. And to my horror, I found out that about twenty years ago, while I was busy raising children and not having to type for a living, that the rules had changed. “Oh, no! That changed back in the ’80’s!” “ONE SPACE is now CORRECT.” I realized that I am an antique, a relic of a past era – I missed the memo completely. I am outed as a geezer at the end of every sentence I type! However, I found comfort in this post by The Grammar Girl (yes, you can find EVERYTHING online) that apparently I am not the last person on the planet to hear about this change. Others continue to walk in darkness.

And I get it. On typewriters, all of the letters are the same width, so adding two spaces after a period made the text more readable. With computer word-precessing, the letters are different widths. Web pages are optimized so that most of the spaces after periods self-correct to one space. Now that I am aware of this “update” in style, I notice how deeply ingrained is my habit to space twice after a period. Luckily there is some leeway. It is a matter of style, after all, and some editors or readers will be sticklers, while others will not.

Reading the comments on The Grammar Girl‘s post was also very revealing, as people defended “their way” as being right, or insisting that they won’t be able to change, along with some name-calling and flaming across the generational and digital divide.  We are inclined to hang onto our habits, and disinclined to change, even when it comes to contemporary jots and tittles.  One person’s minutiae is another’s bread and butter.

In Feldenkrais lessons, we help people to become aware of habitual patterns in action that are unconscious.  Patterns of unnecessary muscle contraction and pain, sore necks and backs, the glaze of eyes on a computer screen, posture, gait, are all patterns that, once learned, have become our “default setting.”  We continually do what we do, unaware that we are doing it, and unable to change. The good news is, we are built for change.

Awareness is a powerful thing, and learning is our mechanism for adaptation.  So whatever the habit is — whether your shoulders live up around your ears, or you respond to traffic snarls with near-homicidal fury, or you put two spaces after a period — learning and awareness make change possible, easy, and elegant.

If the inconsistencies in spacing on this post are driving you crazy, have compassion. It’s the graphic representation of my learning process to change a habit of over forty years duration. In the grand scheme of things, probably none of it really matters. However, this has now become a personal challenge, and a mini-Feldenkrais lesson in awareness and adaptation.  I’ve learned to do other things that are much harder.

How is learning for you?  One space or two?  Changing, or sticking?  It all depends. . .

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