Every Sentence Is a Promise

Last week’s issue of The Habit had a typo in the subject line. THE SUBJECT LINE! “A New Way to Grow as a Writers,” it read. A typo in a subject line is painful in any case, but given the fact that the whole purpose of the email was to announce Field Notes for Writers, my new subscription-based model for online writing courses—well, the phrase “dark night of the soul” comes to mind. Almost none of you have mocked me to my face, however, and for that I am grateful.

I’ve been telling myself what I would tell anybody in the same situation: typographical errors happen to us all; it's nothing to get too exercised about. Still, I’ve been thinking all week about why that phrase, “A New Way to Grow as a Writers” is so bothersome. It is bothersome in the way that the phrase 2+3=6 is bothersome.

We human beings crave symmetry and harmony and balance. We can tolerate discord, but only for so long: we want resolution. 

The equal sign in the middle of a math equation is a kind of promise. It says, Whatever the complexity that appears to the left of this sign, I can show you a simpler, more comprehensible equivalent to the right of this sign

The equal sign is also a commentary on the powers of the human mind. It says, The world is a complicated place with an impossible number of variations. But watch what happens when the human mind goes to work on it: Symmetry. Order. Harmony. 

When you see that an equal sign has not kept its promise, you feel the inequality as unresolved discord, just as surely as you feel it when a piece of music fails to resolve. That is to say, the trouble you feel when you see 2+3=6 is aesthetic trouble, not just cerebral trouble.

Like the equal sign, every sentence makes a number of promises. At every level, writing promises to bring order out of chaos.

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