As it can sometimes happen, my name was misspelled in a byline recently. It’s an Italian name, the magazine is in English. It’s very understandable. I just pointed out this to the editor, for the sake of precision, not because of any attachment to how many Zs or Ts there are in my last name.
She wrote back apologizing and saying “I’d die a thousand deaths every time an error occurs post-print.”
Such vehemence prompted an answer evoking my relationship with similar mistakes, which I’ll share here with you:
“Please do not worry about spelling ‘Pizatti’ instead of ‘Pizzati’- these things do happen to the most meticulous among us. And sometimes for a purpose.
It has already happened to me and most likely will happen again.
The first time my byline was misspelled, it actually contributed to changing my life forever and making it better.
When I was 16 years old, I founded a high school magazine appropriately named “The Bray,” back in the days of typewriters. The principal’s secretary was in charge of transcribing our hand-written articles into a mimeograph. When I finally had the first copy of the issue in my hands I rushed to read my editorial, something about the restoration of the Milan Duomo being a constructive step in an era of destruction and decay, the late ’70s in Italy.
You may imagine how I felt when I read: “Carlo Piumati.” My first byline ever. Misspelled.
Actually, in Italian, that name sounds better than Pizzati. The former reminiscent of ‘feathers,’ piume, the latter reminiscent of…well, pizza, what else!
Plus ‘Piumati’ screamed out to be a better nome de plume than my real name. Nevertheless, I was not pleased.
Later that summer I wrote a postcard to my Ancient Greek language professor who had encouraged us to publish “The Bray. At the end of the note on the back I added, in innocent jest: ‘…and greetings to the cross-eyed secretary.’ I posted it to the only address I knew, that of my high-school.
The first day back in school, my last year in an Italian school, as it turned out later, I was summoned by the principal and locked into his office where I received a full dose of screaming indignation and reprimand to repay for my arrogance and defiance in insulting the secretary (yes, it turned out she was his lover, but I only discovered that many years later).
I was humiliated and scolded to the point that as I closed the door of that office behind me, the tears I had mastered to repress in front of the enraged principal finally squirted out, adding to my already swollen dissatisfaction and anger against Italy, its schools, its system, its hopelessness for young people. Not to speak of the fact that people read mail not intended for them, of course.
It was also because of that episode I finally decided, that year, to become and exchange student in the U.S. for one year. A year that turned into 11 years there first in college, graduate university and then into a career in writing and traveling. I never did move back to Italy for good.
A few years after my postcard episode, reading Milan Kundera’s ‘The Joke,’ about a self-incriminating postcard the main character sends to his girlfriend and how that changes irreversibly his life, I once again found solace in literature, and came to the conclusion I started this anecdote with – not always, but often, accidents along the road generate useful detours.”