Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stuck in Punctuation

By Julie Rahm

Written language does not come easily to me. Writing this column requires a lot of effort. I struggle with most sentences. I’m reluctant to learn how much time each of my words takes to move from my mind onto the paper (or computer monitor). It probably takes an inordinate amount of time per word. A subset of the struggle to compose a column is the punctuation. If writing is difficult, then the punctuation really requires effort. I still recollect my English teacher administering tests that required us to properly add the punctuation to sentences. For me, and most, the tests were nightmarish. I dislike punctuation. One week, while writing this column, I left out all the punctuation. I omitted all the periods, commas, question marks, exclamation marks and apostrophes. My thought was; it wouldn’t matter and I would be able to capture my thoughts without all the punctuation. I just slammed my thoughts into the computer with total disregard. Well, the column turned out a real mess. I could not decipher anything I wrote. I had to start all over from scratch making sure to include the punctuation. Then it occurred to me. Punctuation is a natural part of life. The universe and all things natural require punctuation. Even relationships require punctuation. The punctuation in your relationship helps organize the details.

As my own example, most times, when my husband John asks me “What to do?”, he is not asking a question. Before the words leave his mouth, he has thought about the possibilities and outcomes. He knows what he wants to do before the “What to do?” question comes my way. He has usually mentally discussed “What to do?” before he asks me. Therefore, in our relationship, the “What to do?” questions come my way without question marks. John’s “What to do?” questions come with periods instead. With these questions, I understand the punctuation in our relationship. Instead of “What to do?”, I have learned to hear; “I have thought about this and already know what I want to do. I just want a little discussion to ensure I have chosen correctly, offer you a small opportunity to voice an opinion and gain your concurrence with my choice.” This is what John exactly means when he asks me “What to do?”.

Another example of relationship punctuation is my use of exclamation marks. When speaking, I over use exclamation marks!!! Most sentences that leave my mouth have exclamation marks!!! I am passionate about everything!!! John has mastered the punctuation and mentally omits the extraneous exclamation marks. As a result, he doesn’t get excited about my excitement. It calms our dialogue and we have more productive conversations.

Mastery of punctuation in a relationship is an acquired skill that once learned provides great reward. So when listening to your significant other, consider the punctuation. Is the question really a question? Is an exclamation mark really required? Enjoy better conversations and a healthier mindset!

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