Interlude: For the Love of Punctuation

On Thursday I rose early for a 7 AM conference call, dialing sleepily as I sat on the back porch and watched the animals roam the back yard in search of the best blades to nibble. After about ten minutes of listening to the world's most excellent hold music, I concluded that no one else was joining the call and sent out a "What's up?" e-mail. Someone kindly replied with the news that it was actually Wednesday.

Ahhh, summer.

My other favorite thing about the summer, besides the ability to forget what day it is with relatively few consequences is that I can read without guilt. I took advantage of an unbelievable deal ($5 for 3 months of the New York Times on all our Apple devices) and have enjoyed a number of articles over the last few weeks, articles I haven't been able to share with you because of this pesky resolution to write about France.

So I'm going to take a weeklong break before returning to the second half of my Top Ten Paris list. First up is a fun piece about punctuation from a writer who learned, over time, to disregard the mighty Kurt Vonnegut's advice:

Vonnegut’s dismissal of semicolons therefore struck me as more than a mere matter of style. This was, like his refusal to describe his war experience in heroic terms, a demonstration of virtue. To abjure semicolons was to declare oneself pure of heart, steely-eyed, sadly disillusioned. I pictured Vonnegut and Hemingway sitting together on a porch, squinting grimly out at the road, shaking their heads at what the literary world had come to. I wanted nothing more in life than to climb onto one of the empty rockers beside them.

Maybe this is only funny if you've seen Midnight in Paris (and if you haven't, what are you waiting for?!) But then he goes on to strike at the heart of what I love and hate about the Internet and modern life, and wraps it all up in a beautifully articulated lesson about syntax:

Many times a week I’d been experiencing a mental event like this: I’d be reading an article about a flood in Mexico, which would lead me to thinking about a wedding I once went to in Cancún, which would lead me to thinking about marriage, which would lead to gay marriage, which would lead to the presidential election, which would lead to swing states, which would lead to a fascinatingly terrible country song called “Swing” — and I’d be three songs into a Trace Adkins YouTube marathon before I’d glance back down at the newspaper on the table.

It’s in honoring this movement of mind, this tendency of thoughts to proliferate like yeast, that I find semicolons so useful. Their textbook function — to separate parts of a sentence “that need a more distinct break than a comma can signal, but that are too closely connected to be made into separate sentences” — has come to seem like a dryly beautiful little piece of psychological insight. No other piece of punctuation so compactly captures the way in which our thoughts are both liquid and solid, wave and particle.

Go read the rest and have a good laugh at yourself, and at writers in general.  It's good for all of us.