A Writer Of A Certain Age

A woman my age should probably not be talking about her periods, but here I go: I can't stop following them with a double tap on the space bar. Most people of my generation don't even understand this lament. "Why would you want to stop?" they ask. "That's how it should be." But I write for non-profit organizations, and occasionally for magazines and businesses, and I've been reprimanded three times now by clients and editors who don't want to see copy with two spaces between sentences. I acknowledge their frustration. And yet, I cannot seem to oblige.

"Word processing programs kern automatically," said one of my clients, using the typesetting term that refers to the distance between characters on the printed page. He's a reformed double-spacer trying to appeal to my sense of logic.

"It makes you seem old," said a woman I work for, appealing to my vanity. That's how she finally broke the habit herself. Her last supervisor was 20 years her junior and he shamed her out of it.

A quick consult with the Modern Language Association, the AP Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style corroborates my clients' and editors' decree. When we all moved from typewriters, where each character takes up the same space on a line, to the proportional font styles of computers, it became unnecessary to add an extra space after the period. Your word processing program tucks that little sucker neatly up against the last letter in your sentence and a one-space break will do. The Chicago Manual of Style made the rule change as of its 15th edition in 2003 and was providing examples in its illustrations of manuscripts earlier than that.

Each of my period-spacing criticizers is older than I am and, dare I say, decidedly less flexible. Yet they've embraced this new one-space world more readily than I can. In an effort to regain hipness, I've given up mom jeans, taken up texting and created an Instagram account. But I'm afraid that is where I may have to draw the line.

The double-space-after-period feels like more than just a superfluous keystroke. For me, it offers a mini-moment, a pause between my ideas, to digest what I've just written and embark on my next thought. It reminds me of the days when I smoked cigarettes -- lighting up would not only signify the end of a meal, it would provide the littlest calming respite before my next activity.

Maybe I'm too high strung to give up that second space. Maybe the world has evolved into a culture of single-spacers precisely because people have been raised to attend quickly to one thing after another -- to too many things at once.

I learned to type in eleventh grade; a class I took at my mother's behest. At the time, I thought she had no faith in me and was trying to ensure I'd always have a fallback as someone's secretary. Little did I know I would, by choice, spend most of my work life in front of a keyboard.

"D-E-D space. D-E-D space." A recorded voice delivered that refrain through tinny tape deck speakers, droning through third period like a preconceived GPS system for our adolescent fingers. The actual typing teacher did nothing but stand at the door and kibitz with passing faculty and the occasional cheerleader. He would administer speed tests every three days. At my most coordinated, I was a 35-word-per-minute girl.

But that was on a typewriter, where you need finger strength and stamina. Now, on my floating keyboard, my fingers fly. And because I've been typing for more than 30 years, the flight plan always includes two taps on the space bar at the end of every sentence. It's as automatic as breathing.

Why would anyone care about my extra spaces? I imagine someone going into my copy and hand-removing the duplicates with exasperation, the way I comb the house collecting my kids' empty Vitamin Water bottles. I do it myself sometimes -- remove my extra spaces -- not with a global search and replace, but individually, as penance. To my eye, though, the resulting text looks cramped and crowded, like an overly popular yoga class with mats so close you can't even stretch out your arms to inhale.

I mentioned my problem to a colleague the other day and she had no idea that the double-space was a faux pas. "I can't wait to make this change," she said. "It seems like such an easy, low pressure way to become more modern."

I couldn't agree more. Except my thumb takes that second tap as if that's what it was put on my hand to do. I'm afraid it's going to take something like a nicotine patch or a 12-step program to lead me from temptation. Hypnosis? Shock treatments?

No one wants to be identified as a Writer Of A Certain Age. Will it ultimately be our periods that give us away?

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