Monthly Archives: February 2009

Notes On Punctuation

       There are no precise rules about punctuation (Fowler lays out some general advice (as best he can under the complex circumstances of English prose (he points out, for example, that we possess only four stops (the comma, the semicolon, the colon and the period (the question mark and exclamation point are not, strictly speaking, stops; they are indicators of tone (oddly enough, the Greeks employed the semicolon for their question mark (it produces a strange sensation to read a Greek sentence which is a straightforward question: Why weepest thou; (instead of Why weepest thou? (and, of course, there are parentheses (which are surely a kind of punctuation making this whole matter much more complicated by having to count up the left-handed parentheses in order to be sure of closing with the right number (but if the parentheses were left out, with nothing to work with but the stops we would have considerably more flexibility in the deploying of layers of meaning than if we tried to separate all the clauses by physical barriers (and in the latter case, while we might have more precision and exactitude for our meaning, we would lose the essential flavor of language, which is its wonderful ambiguity )))))))))))).

       The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows in all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

       I have grown fond of semicolons in recent years. The semicolon tells you that there is still some question about the preceding full sentence; something needs to be added; it reminds you sometimes of the Greek usage. It is almost always a greater pleasure to come across a semicolon than a period. The period tells you that that is that; if you didn’t get all the meaning you wanted or expected, anyway you got all the writer intended to parcel out and now you have to move along. But with a semicolon there you get a pleasant little feeling of expectancy; there is more to come; to read on; it will get clearer.

       Colons are a lot less attractive for several reasons: firstly, they give you the feeling of being rather ordered around, or at least having your nose pointed in a direction you might not be inclined to take if left to yourself, and, secondly, you suspect you’re in for one of those sentences that will be labeling the points to be made: firstly, secondly and so forth, with the implication that you haven’t sense enough to keep track of a sequence of notions without having them numbered. Also, many writers use this system loosely and incompletely, starting out with number one and number two as though counting off on their fingers but then going on and on without the succession of labels you’ve been led to expect, leaving you floundering about searching for the ninethly or seventeenthly that ought to be there but isn’t.

       Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else’s small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!

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The Best Conversation I’ve Had With A Public Schooler.

Ben: “That is the best thing about life: One day ends, another begins.”

Me: “And, perhaps, that is also the worst.”

“How do you see that?”

“That a good or great day has to end at all. If you’re a pessimist, then you know that, eventually, any good day leads to an awful one.”

“Any good day leads to a bad one because you see it as worse than the day before. But in the view of your life, it is nothing but a short time.”

“Then, maybe, we should realize hat each day is a completely other thing from another and, therefore, shouldn’t be compared.”

“Then in that respect, there is no such thing as a good or bad day because there is nothing to compare to.”

“Except that you derive more pleasure or happiness from the experience that one day brings than from that of another.”

“But does that make it bad? Does it mean it’s bad when you feel unhappy? Because you might regret a choice you made, making it ‘bad,’ when in reality, it was the best choice for you.”

“Ah. In the present, you may only know for sure that you are unhappy with a day until you get a chance to review it in hindsight, however far in the future that may be. You may realize that you really grew from an experience or choice, or learn to recognize similar situations. But that is no guarantee that you will ever be happy with any day.”

“Which only furthers my point.”

“Of course it does. We were both moving to towards the same point, we only presented different questions on the way there.”

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Homework? Blech.

So on Friday, I had an AP History test and that was it for that class.  The reading assignment was on the board, for the textbook.  But my friend Alex asked me about the other assignment and I was like crrraaaaappp. What??  Well, nothing was said to me by either of my teachers for that class about additional homework. Apparently, there was an extra packet we were supposed to pick up after the test thatIwasnevertoldabout. Pah. 

Anyway, so Alex was helping me out and he emailed me the packet and the question you have to respond to and blahblahblah.  However, I was rather amused by his consideration to provide me with such details:

It is 5 pages and a lot of words long. The response is suppose to be a paragraph to a page long. That page is supposed to be on lined paper, but it could also be on print paper, notebook paper, in a notebook, on semi-lined paper, and many forms of paper. And possibly wood. I do not think cutting it into your arm or other body parts will work, but you can ask.

That just might have made doing the assignment worth it.

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Forget it all. F5.

Maybe the reason it seems that almost everybody wants some one else’s hair, or wardrobe, or singing voice, or body, etc. is because we’re bored.  

I wonder what would happen if we could forget about what we look like, about what clothes we have in our closets, forget how our voices sound.  What if we woke up tomorrow, seeing ourselves and what we have in new eyes? Instead of getting up and looking in the mirror and thinking, well, I look the same as I always do, what if we could rediscover how we look?

I don’t think I mean anything like a spritual, existential, find-myself-journey. I mean literally.  I want to forget about myself and see it fresh.  Would we be bored with ourselves, or expecting that we’ll look the same way every day, or take ourselves for granted?

I do not want to forget my life. Not my life, my friends, my past. Just myself. I wonder what would happen if we just forgot all the things we’re not happy with and all the things we notice because we’ve lived with ourselves for all our lives. Erase all that from our memories.

Maybe we wouldn’t even notice a lot of them the second time around.

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