With the Internet down on a Saturday morning and the rest of the house asleep, I poured myself a cup of coffee and flipped through the pages of my newly published ebook. I had just gotten a message of praise about it on my phone and was drawn into looking it over again while imagining my friend’s fresh pair of eyes. I felt a sly, proud smile form as I let my phrases float by, remembering each story I had told.
Ten pleasant minutes of this, and then I got punched in the gut.
I stared in disbelief at one of my sentences, a sentence I had proofread many times before between publishing it on my blog and in my ebook, but somehow it now popped out at me: “They imagined their harvest goddess, Demeter, in the depths of despair at her innocent daughter Penelope taken away by the god of the underworld.”
I have taught The Odyssey many times, so I know that Penelope is not Demeter’s daughter, but is Odysseus’s faithful and clever wife. Demeter’s unlucky daughter is Persephone.
My pride crumbled into embarrassment. Regular typos are bad enough, but at least with those, people would give me the benefit of the doubt. This factual error that they now believed I believe? I drew shallow breaths as I imagined friends and strangers judging my ignorance.
I spent the next three anxious hours not waking up my husband to moan about my mortification and, more importantly, get him to reset the Internet so that I could correct my mistake and stop misinforming the world.
Did my husband appreciate my self-restraint? He did not. He said instead that he has shown me how to reset the Internet several times before. He didn’t even think the error was a big deal, so why did it matter so much to me?
Once as a new teacher I misinformed my high school freshmen that Northern Ireland was north of England. The next day a sweet girl shyly but firmly raised her hand and said that she had double-checked with her mother to be sure and that, no, Northern Ireland was not north of England. That was a self-contained humiliation. I could apologize and correct the error to everyone who had been sullied by it.
With this, though, even after I corrected my mistake, the feeling of humiliation remained. The error was out there. Long-gone readers who will not revisit my blog or manage their Kindles will live the rest of their lives thinking that I think Demeter’s daughter is Penelope. Despite all of my obsessive checking, this error got by as proof of my incompetence.
I fight the tide of my inadequacy day by day, each new wave crashing against me. Some days my confidence is strong; other days the undertow drags me out to sea. I want to stand on the shore, resolute, like Penelope waiting for the day her Odysseus would return.
And, for the record, she’s not Demeter’s daughter.