Bad breath

Two-frame cartoon. Frame 1 shows bespectacled editor and curly-haired editor sitting at a table with their laptops open. Bespectacled editor says, “What’s your approach to ‘breathe’ commas?” Curly-haired editor says, “If I see them, I’ll abide.” Frame 2: Bespectacled editor says, “Oh, really?” Curly-haired editor says, “I mean, sighing is a KIND of breathing.”

Frances Peck said it best in Peck’s English Pointers:

A sentence should contain no unnecessary commas for the same reason that a symphony should have no unnecessary pauses. True, commas add rhythm, and more importantly clarity, to our writing. But, if we use too many, of them, our writing becomes difficult, for people, to read, and our ideas end up fragmented, instead of connected.

For years participants in my grammar and writing workshops have magnanimously imparted their golden rule for commas: use a comma whenever you would take a breath. And for years I have regretfully but pointedly burst their bubble. That simple rule, which so many have clung to since their tender years, works occasionally (even often, if you’re a speechwriter or playwright), but it also gives rise to the superfluous commas that pollute our prose, bobbing up disconcertingly like plastic bottles in the ocean.

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Publish and perish

This post is part rumination and part self-indulgent whining, but it’s just enough about publishing that I can barely justify putting it on this blog.

When I started my PhD, I never intended to pursue an academic position. What I’d hoped for was some dedicated time to learn more about plain language and knowledge translation so that when I returned to my editing and communication consultancy after graduating, I’d be equipped with research evidence and, frankly, the credential to be taken seriously by the academics I was hoping to work with to make their findings more accessible.

I still don’t want an academic position. But my transition back to freelancing has been much bumpier and more tortuous than I’d expected—in fact, I still haven’t completely gotten there. I was naive to have believed that I’d simply submit my dissertation to the library and dust off my hands, neatly closing that chapter of my life. As it turns out, I still care a great deal about my research topic and the people who could be affected by it, and in trying to make my own findings more accessible, I’ve spent the past two years in a kind of para-academic purgatory I haven’t managed to escape.

So here’s the convoluted story of my attempts to get my research published. Whether you learn from my mistakes, laugh at my misfortunes, find a cause to advocate for, or simply feel less alone, I hope you get something out of this brain vomit of a blog post. (For readers who aren’t in the academic world, I’ll be explaining some concepts that many academic publishing folks will already be familiar with.)

I’m deliberately avoiding naming specific people, publications, and institutions, but if you recognize yourself and want to be explicitly credited, please let me know. 

WARNING: Writing this post was necessary and therapeutic for me, but reading it will probably be incredibly boring for you. If the topic doesn’t interest you, I dunno, click on one of my cartoons or something.

TL;DR: The academic publishing system is bollocks, especially for unaffiliated para-academics. Continue reading “Publish and perish”

Introducing Midlife

Photo of a book with a green cover and gold foiling of a maze in the shape of the letter M. Next to the book is the text "Midlife: Available now as an ebook and limited edition hardcover"

Look, a rare written post!

I wanted to tell you about the launch of Midlife, a collection of personal essays by a group of friends who met twenty years ago at the University of Alberta’s student newspaper, The Gateway. 

Editor-publishers Sarah Chan and Jhenifer Pabillano brought the old crew together in January, and over the past four months 27 of us contributed to what turned out to be a warm, thoughtful, poignant, funny anthology in a beautiful package. The project was a wonderful way to reconnect when so many of us were feeling disconnected, and I feel privileged to have been a part of it.

We wrote this book as a gift to one another, but we thought other people might like to read it, too. I’m painfully averse to self-promotion, but I encourage you to get to know my brilliant friends through their writing!

You can order the book as a limited-edition hardcover or ebook at (We sold out of our first print run in a day! You can order books from our second—and final—print run right now. You’ll get the physical book in early June and can read the ebook, included in the price, in the meantime.)

For every book sold, $1 goes to the Edmonton Community Foundation. The book will also be available through the Edmonton Public Library, and the publishers are working on getting it into other libraries as well.

Keep up with the project through social media (@midlifebook on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) or by signing up for our newsletter at If you love the maze illustration on the cover as much as I do, you can learn more about how the idea for it came about from illustrator Raymond Biesinger in the first issue of the Midlife newsletter. 

Upcoming events

  • Thursday, April 22, 5:30 to 7:00 PM Eastern Time—You can win an ebook copy of the book as a door prize at the Freelancers Happy Hour.
  • Thursday, April 22, 8:00 to 9:00 PM Mountain Time (10:00 to 11:00 PM Eastern Time)The Midlife public launch will be a livestream on YouTube featuring publishers Sarah and Jhen interviewing Midlife contributors Leanne Brown (NYT bestselling cookbook author), Jag Dhadli (consummate Oilers fan), and Don Iveson (mayor of Edmonton). Ask a question for a chance to win a copy of the hardcover!
  • Saturday, April 24, all day—I’ll be doing a Twitter takeover of the @midlifebook account. Look out for other contributors’ Twitter takeovers over the next month, too.