Pandemic Punctuation

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!

And PS–In case you missed it, Miss Delightful is on sale on the web store and in print!



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34 comments on “Pandemic Punctuation

  1. I guess I’m just different, but I don’t need any major, or minor, punctuations marks. Like your sister, not hearing the alarm, not getting up, and not getting in the car, were sufficient celebrations for me. I sometimes wonder if my Air Force upbringing, which had me making major changes of location, school, acquaintances, etc., every 2-3 years made me able to just let go. I didn’t attend my college graduation and I kind of regretted attending my graduation for my Master’s degree. It was okay but I really enjoyed the nice lunch I had with my partner and a couple of friends afterwards a lot more. I don’t mind missing weddings or other parties either. Just not into peopling much. But I am hopeful that we will be able to get this virus more controllable so that those of you who do need/want more in-person interactions will be able to have them soon!

    • I’m about a warp nine introvert myself–dodged all my graduations, tiny wedding, did not really want a retirement lunch–but I do need ways of saying that I’ve turned a page, come around a corner, and put some things behind me.
      I just hadn’t realized how certain givens in my life–travel, conferences, writing retreats–allowed me to feel a sense of forward momentum. I need to cut loose some ballast, but it’s not as easy in the current situation.
      Maybe soon…

  2. Hi Grace,

    During the last 17 months or so, not being able to sing together with my choir was difficult. We had a choir retreat the end of July. Being together and SINGING together felt like the missing part of me was back in place. We will have weekly rehearsals every week until our concert,we hope, but we all decided we WILL sing together IN-PERSON if at all possible.

    I am a big one for milestones–graduations and retirements are important ones, I think. Going from fully employed to nothing would be hard, without SOMETHING, and if that’s to take a long-anticipated trip, so be it. I like parties and like to host them, but it’s not for everyone. I insisted my kids have junior high and high school graduation parties, and for their undergrad graduations as well. When Son#2 graduated with a MSL from Northwestern Law School with HONORS, you BET we had a party.:) Son #3(we HOPE) will be going into a doctoral program next year, and we’ll probably have a party for him after he graduates.

    I think of all those people who could NOT celebrate milestones and I wonder what they’ll do after we can be more *normal*. Will those who were not *Party People* now have parties? Will those who were *Party People* throw a Blow Out, or do something quiet instead? Attitudes and values and what is important to folks has changed for many during the Pandemic, just another thing that is different because of it.

    • I’m not much of a party girl, but I appreciate how parties function now in a way I did not previously. They are a way to say, “That’s done, over with, hang it on the wall, and admire it… then get back to work.” I suspect my mother used cleaning in the same fashion.
      When a kid moved out, you CLEANED their room, boxed up their junks, and re-arranged the furniture. She was forever rearranging furniture, and for her, that functioned as punctuation.

  3. Return to work has not been decided. So, that’s up in the air.
    I’d like a solid return date but am happy to stay home.

    I took Laci to an indoor dog show last weekend. Everyone wore masks and it was a show and go event. Outdoor shows have been running the same way. It’s nice to see people. Am not sure if I attend any indoor shows this winter. The benefit to staying home is that last year I did not get sick- no cough, cold or bronchitis.

    I am going to see how it all plays out. I am open to returning to work and seeing my friends….maybe part time?

    • I think I will be OK as long as we can do the outdoor stuff, but then what? Autumn around here is cold and rainy, winter is miserable… I think of our parents, enduring ten years of Depression followed by WWII. I am a pansy, I know, but I’m a pansy who is ready to close this chapter.

  4. I was hoping to sell my house and move close to family this year – doesn’t look like that will happen til next year (sigh). Going thru things in a house my family has been in for 60 years is a lot! Plus the grandparents lived within an hour so many things from their households had migrated. I’ve got to thin things out and it’s hard to let so much go. I wish there were letters left from my great-grandparents, but those were disposed of a long time ago – so I decided to keep what little I found from my parents. Lots of tchotchkes (pretty little items, but not really useful) and most not wanted by the next generation (sign again). Best wishes to your sister and I understand her plan to just enjoy that first day, but I think you are right that the change should be marked with a bit more.

    • The housing situation has grown quite strange. My little farmhouse, which is “quaint” on a good day, has suddenly appreciated 30 percent in value, when for the past ten years, it hasn’t kept up with inflation. That’s fine for people with spare houses to sell, but I still won’t realize enough appreciation to be able to afford what’s out there now.
      All very odd.
      I hope you can enjoy the sorting and organizing. It’s a great feeling to get a task like that out of the way.

  5. On May 6th, our beautiful daughter, Beth, died of a pulmonary embolism at age 32. That same day, I was in a hospital two hours away having my eighth back surgery. My darling husband and my very dear sister needed to plan some sort of service. Because of COVID, there were obvious limitations. The day after my discharge, we were able to hold a very small service with only the closest of family and the very dearest of friends. I grieve for her but also for myself as I was able to have minimal input into planning our farewell to our only child.

    Beth had been very active in the community and seemed to know everyone. It was heartbreaking that we could not open the service up to everyone who wanted to come. Those major punctuations have been nearly as difficult as her death.

    We will have a Celebration on Life for her as soon as this country gets COVID under control (please get vaccinated if you haven’t yet!). That, I believe will be a positive punctuation, and one I badly need.

    • Mary, I am so sorry for your loss. It’s a violation of the natural order for a child to pre-decease a parent, and 32 is TOO YOUNG. I hope you can have that celebration of life on your terms, and that all of creation can attend. Hugs.

  6. One large punctuation mark which I missed was my college graduation. When graduation day arrived for my class, I was short a few credits. I know that today some schools will allow students to “walk” on graduation day, but this was in the “way back” days. So the graduation I would have been allowed to attend was a year later and by that time I was working and school was a distant memory. While it does make me a bit sad to have missed that milestone, so many later milestones have been celebrated that missing graduation all those years ago has somewhat dimmed. OTOH, when my family recently threw me a surprise 70th birthday party, I was overwhelmed and a little embarrassed by the attention. Guess there’s just no pleasing me! LOL! Stay safe! Stay well everyone!

    • You still recall being denied that walk, so I suspect it mattered at the time. I could not be bothered, but then, my parents were not the sort to make a big deal out of public rituals. They barely allowed us to acknowledge their anniversary, (“That’s private.”) even when they hit the 70-years-married milestone.
      Different strokes, I suppose, but I’m glad you got that birthday party!

  7. We were finally able to get together as a family and spread my dad’s ashes, one year after he died of Covid. It was great to finally hold a service too. First time seeing the family in over a year, so although it was a somber reason, the mood was largely happy. Although the travel for this was dicey given the resurgence of covid, sigh.

    Grace, what a gracious way to think about parents wanting to “put children back on the bus”! I will try reframing my thoughts that way and see if it helps

    • I cannot imagine what parents are facing these days. One of my friends whose wife teaches third grade and who has a son starting high school said, “Well, I guess they had a ten-year-old die in the next county over, but no kids in our county… so far.”
      What madness is this?
      Don’t answer that.

      • If I had a child in elementary school, I doubt I’d send him or her to school right now. Older, yes, if they were vaccinated. Of course, I am not a single working mother so that is easy for me to say. It’s almost as if the nation is tired of quarantine and no matter the danger, there is this attitude of let’s get back to normal!

  8. Everything is relative. I’ve had such bad news this year that the little stuff really doesn’t matter anymore. I missed seeing my mother the last year because of covid and she passed but at 98. I saw her in the hospital though. Not seeing people took a toll on her. I lost three of my cats which is also devastating to me. My youngest daughter did get married but with 13 people attending and a small dinner afterwards. I have missed other weddings in the family but did get to go to an outside baby shower. But now I just found out that my husband has stage 4 cancer. This has been one horrid year and there’s still more to come. Day by day is all I can do.

  9. I’m missing being able to have my neighbor come in my house without us worrying about contamination (she works international flights). I’m missing regular social events & religious services. I miss my retired military group that used to brunch together monthly at a cheap buffet. I miss my bestie – we used to meet at a food joint between us & do catch up for an afternoon whenever life got too crazy for regular drives between her house & mine.

    I’m missing being able to video call & talk business freely during the day without suddenly having to worry about a husband walking through the background in his undies because he’s home & forgets his wife’s calls are HER job. Or someone’s autistic adult son interrupting a live workshop because his programs all closed down for the duration & he’s too self-absorbed in his brain’s struggle to ever remember not to shriek, “Mom, mom, MA!” when she’s wearing her headphones because that means she’s working & can’t respond immediately. I feel so helpless that we can’t go in person & give her a break.

    I’m so tired of struggling to schedule my medical procedures around transportation because all the offices are overloaded with outpatient procedures that used to be inpatient & new staff, so it’s a constant shift across multiple counties to find an open appointment instead of the convenience we grew used to of offices closest to us or at least in the same county.

    I’d like to go shopping in a store that wasn’t having supply chain issues & be able to try on clothes & buy my size instead of having to order online, wait two weeks for the item to wander across the country (assuming I don’t receive an email my size is no longer available), then be able to return things at a store that hasn’t closed or has reduced hours & staffing to the point of being completely dysfunctional instead of reversing the process, watching the tracking hang for eternity, then waiting another 7-10 days for the refund to hit my account because of antiquated banking laws & federal reserve systems set up long before the internet & modern life.

    I’d like to simply waltz into a grocery store without having to slap a mask on like a mini-burka, and find what I want on the shelves first time instead of having to go on an Arthurian quest for loo rolls or butter or the random items on my shopping list inevitably out of stock without notice.

    I want to attend weddings & baptisms & graduations & funerals in person. I want to hug my friends & kiss good looking men who are willing. I want to handle the produce & sniff things & cuddle babies & take casseroles to new neighbors. In short, I miss people & being part of humanity.

    I might be an introvert, but even I miss being able to interact & travel.

  10. My son’s college graduation was postponed and then it was going to be different from the traditional one they would normally have had. I talked to someone at the college to let them know he wasn’t coming, and they had very few graduates who planned to attend.

    I am retiring shortly but am not a celebration person. I’m planning on walking out the door. Like your sister, my big reward will be never having to go back to that place. Forty-plus years is enough.

  11. We have missed a few things, but we were able to have a homeschool graduation for my son. It was small, but the key people were able to attend. It was special, and I was grateful for it.

  12. Like others, my family’s funeral plans for my father got delayed. But, we did finally get to do the full military rites… The flag folding was amazing and the (relatively) young honor guard who presented the flag to my Mother were amazing.
    This and the celebration of life afterward were very much needed and I’m glad we finally got to do it.
    The whole funeral punctuation mark has been SO impacted by the number of people dying because of COVID… delays at hospitals, mortuaries, funeral homes… just crazy.

    My heart goes out to all of you who have lost loved ones!!

  13. With a high school senior last year and now a new college student, we have had to rethink some celebrations. Just immediate (vaccinated) family for small graduation, bday etc. get togethers outside. My father died last November and we haven’t even discussed what we will eventually do. It seems like a small family event to inter the ashes would not suit, so I think it will be quite a while until a larger gathering is safe, but worth the wait since many people want to attend. For myself, I like to mark achievements with travel. Something that changes you, and preferably largely alone. I hate parties and find formulaic ceremonies unmoving, but an exploration into the world in a way I haven’t yet done, is perfect.

  14. Many years pre-Covid, I made the decision to miss my college graduation. I didn’t want to spend the money for all the necessary items plus I had a deadline at work. I don’t regret missing it at all. Just a few years ago both of my kids earned university degrees on the same day in different states. Our daughter was receiving a double major bachelors degree while our son was receiving his Masters. Because he planned on going to receive a doctorate and we had attended his first graduation, we decided to attend her event. He has since decided to leave academia, so we will not see him walk the stage again. I am much more disappointed over missing that than I ever would be about not attending my graduation.

    During Covid, I have missed getting together with friends and family. We are blessed with a large back yard and decent weather most of the year – aside from the heat in summer – so we were able to host a number of events and get togethers in a modified version from normal – especially after the vaccines became available. We’ve been able to travel within the US, but the trip we were planning in 2020 to Scotland didn’t happen. The 30th anniversary trip my husband was hoping for us to take next year to Italy is also totally up in the air. Time will tell.

  15. I’m retiring in about six months and I’m really looking forward to it. So much I’m counting months, weeks and days. I’m ready. You are right, the pandemic has robbed us of punctuation marks. The last year and a half are a blur. Even if I don’t change any habits once this is over, I will enjoy the ability to change a habit. To me stress is not having good options. By the way, Miss Delightful was an incredible delight. Up there with Captive as a brilliant read.

  16. Oh my goodness ! Punctuation ! Missing everywhere. Edit errands in new books I buy. My brain freezes and focuses on errors. Ack! Just love your books. Thank you

  17. I feel like I have reached a punctuation mark – a period. There does not seem to be a next sentence. I moved to full retirement and my husband moved to partial retirement during the past 18 months but we have not been able to take the next steps-deciding where to retire, buying a new house and taking an extended European vacation. I feel stuck between two life phases.I do think the next phase is going to be vastly different than what I imagined. The pandemic is keeping me from moving forward now but the possible loss of democracy and global warming will also be impacting what comes next.

  18. I worked extra hours during quarantine providing home care for seniors. As I got to know more of their life stories, I gained a new appreciation for what other generations have experienced and how much I take for granted. I can’t imagine leaving my home country and family with the expectation that I will never see them again–or the gratitude for the financial stability and international flights that made reunions possible, even decades later. I also spent some time cleaning out old papers and realized how much a personal message written in a card or even a casual letter from a college mate during summer break brings back sweet memories and renewed affection for the writer. I am determined to punctuate more life events in writing–even a computer-written printout or detailed email to spare others having to decipher my handwriting.

  19. Throughout this crazy pandemic I have noticed that grammar seems to be a thing of the past. Educated people have either fried their brains with too much screen time, or just plain gotten lazy.

    Family members are also guilty of this offense. But I cannot really tell them they are wrong or lazy! Oh well, I am happy to be able to complain here.