By now, we’ve all seen the grammar parable wherein a college English class is asked to punctuate the following: a woman without her man is nothing. The options vary, but men tend to come up with this result: A woman with her man is nothing. While women come up with: A woman–without her, man is nothing.
Punctuation is intricately tied up with meaning. I was reminded of this when last I Zoomed with my two sisters, one of whom is a few months away from retiring. Darling Sister has worked at the same medical institution for the past fourteen years, and she is absolutely ready to pass the baton to others. I asked how she planned to celebrate, and she… didn’t. Her big celebration would be to get up, not get in the car, and not drive to the office. Wheee!
Darling Other Sister and I both insisted there be more to remark the occasion than that. When I left the law office, there was no lunch with the bar association buddies, no farewell speech from the bench. I just passed over my files after 25 years and that was that.
BUT I did go to New Zealand shortly thereafter and I came home by way of Australia. The wonderful thing about crossing the equator is that not only did I move through a lot of time zones, but I also changed seasons. I went from summer to winter in a day. I changed cultures, I changed accents. I attended back-to-back romance writers’ conferences, put hugs with faces, made new connections, and talked book-shop on and off for three weeks. I got a surprising amount of writing done, and by the time I came home…
Law office? What law office? Oh, that. Well, I did the law office thing then. NOW I’m down to one full-time job–writing–and life is much lovelier. Traveling, attending annual conferences, making new associations, shifting my focus to my writer job, changing seasons and scenery, ALL helped me punctuate the inflection point between a not so pleasant professional then, and a better, more enjoyable professional now.
And this stupid pandemic has stolen so many of our means of punctuating our lives. Family reunions, annual conferences, vacations as opposed to stay-cations, retirement dinners, graduations–these are not simply rituals, they are a means of boxing up and making sense of our days and years. Of lightening the load of “now” by commending some parts of our experience to “then.”
When I consider how long it has been since I’ve attended a writers’ get-together of any kind, it’s no wonder I’m feeling some days that life has become a treadmill. No wonder some families are simply desperate to put school children on the bus. I may not agree with them in that particular, but I am very sympathetic to the need to punctuate life so now can progress into then, and someday soon can become now.
What major punctuation mark have you missed or been able to reinstate? To one commenter, I will send a $50 Amazon gift card, because until we can schedule those vacations and reunions and moves, we still have books!