My time at Comma-Con: A student perspective on ACES 2015

March 30, 2015 By Katie Antonsson Conferences

I did not know what to expect when I signed up to volunteer at the ACES conference.

It seemed like a few things: a completely new experience, a good networking opportunity, an excuse to come to Pittsburgh again, and two nice long train rides from and to Philadelphia.

It was all of those things, but also so much more. I had the time of my life over the three days, meeting such fascinating and ferociously smart people and learning from the best in the business.

Some of the copy editors who attended ACES 2015, including author Katie Antonsson, second from right, enjoyed a night of karaoke after the word fun was done Saturday night.

I had countless conversations where the phrase “I’m with my people” was dropped, and that’s exactly it. We’re a specific brand of people, word-obsessed and detail-oriented, and that introduces a kinship that can’t quite be found elsewhere. The only other person I’ve known who also shares my love of words is my father — we once held a six-year argument about the exact definition of the word “booth” — so to enter this sea of more than 500 kind-hearted, open-minded, and talented copy editors was a dream.

I’ve worked in the world of editing for over a year now, and it’s tricky work. It’s thankless work, but that introduces a humility that many other professions don’t have. It’s perhaps one of the most delightful parts of meeting other editors: they bring all of the skills and none of the ego. No matter how big or small the publication, we’ve all had similar experiences and do similar work.

It’s a universal language we speak, albeit ever-changing. Nowhere else could a room full of people burst out laughing at the phrase “laughing hyphenas” or stand up and cheer when singular “they” is supported. An experience that by rights should have been intimidating became the most cerebral and exciting party — from drinks with freelancers to lunches with managing editors. Everyone was approachable because we’re all on a level playing field here. And no matter what was going on, Twitter was exploding about it.

I always wanted to write, ever since I was about 5 years old and wrote my first poem. I still do, but I find myself growing more and more drawn to the world of editing. ACES has solidified that love of nitpickery and debunkage (thank you Ben Zimmer for such delicious words) that comes to define editing. And while I’ve now spent four years studying literature and literary theory, editing has become an ardent love of mine. It’s necessary work, that can’t be denied, and not because editors attempt to preserve the English language but because effective, smooth, elegant communication is crucial in all facets of life, especially in publications.

Without editors, we’d all be reading the slightly-less-polished versions of things, and words wouldn’t shine nearly as bright or carry a fraction of the power they do.

The point is this: In 50 days, I’m going to don the cap and gown I angrily threw into the deepest corner of my closet and graduate from college. That should scare me, but it doesn’t anymore. Not after meeting so many like-minded grammar geeks and word nerds who have turned their passion into highly successful and highly rewarding careers. Entering college with the intense desire to study words for four years is inevitably met with the usual jokes — generally from self-effacing English majors themselves about their impending unemployment — that are easy to laugh off but also vaguely panic-inducing.

My whole life I was told to do what I love, to pursue what excites me, and words have always been an endless landscape of discovery for me. I never gave up on them, despite the ever-present fear of failure, and after meeting all of you over the weekend, I know that was the exact right thing to do with my life.

So I thank you all for a truly eye-opening and mind-bending weekend. It has reaffirmed my faith in words and language that simply needed a little shove toward confidence. I have learned invaluable lessons and met some of the brightest, kindest, and humblest people the world has ever known.

I sincerely hope to see you all again next year, because it was an unforgettable three days.

Katie Antonsson is a student at the University of Pennsylvania.

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