I paced in circles around the High Rise laundry room for 45 minutes last night. I wasn’t doing laundry (though I should have been), but I was thinking about punctuation.
Obviously there’s something strange about pacing through lost socks and cigarette butts and discarded dryer sheets without any definable purpose. It’s even stranger that my reflective mood took me to punctuation, something I could have thought about from the comfort of my own home, which has a couch and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the place of rattling dryers and bewildered looks from passersby.
Admittedly, I was trying to think of a good article idea for the end of the semester, and home was providing lackluster inspiration. In my cycles around the laundry, however, I stopped on the memory of a conversation I recently had about whether we are constantly becoming new people as experiences change us, or just “more” of the person that we were before. My beliefs fall into the latter category, but maybe too much so. All my life I’ve nursed a healthy sense of adventure, but my baggage on the adventures has included an aversion to and skepticism of change.
My distaste for change comes not from novel experiences themselves but rather from the costs that must naturally be incurred from moving from one situation to another. If you go to a new school, you must leave another. If you throw yourself into one activity, another must be dropped. When I find myself in these situations, I embrace the newness but link arms with the past, broadening the scope of what defines “me” rather than altering it. I try to both hold on and move forward. In other words, I use a comma rather than a period.
There’s something amazing about commas. You can add, add, and add, and build on a thought until it is crafted and nuanced to perfection. Commas are important. But so are periods. New sentences are the realm of exploration. They let you add a new thought and separate ideas or events in a way that is digestible.
In recognizing the need for periods, however, I’m sometimes afraid I’m actually inserting a page break. There’s something important about clean slates, but often they’re lazy. It’s easy to forget people once they are relegated to the previous page, and easy to forget lessons learned when you are focused only on moving forward. If each thought were on a new page, you would have a long but very hollow novel.
Too often we let people and experiences slide, usually by accident. There is no need for real communication with old friends because sound-bite friendship is enabled via Snapchat and emojis. That is the relationship it is so easy to fall into with high school friends, summer friends, and, I worry for the future, college friends. You can say without needing to actually say. You can remain present while giving a cursory but unsatisfactory nod to the past.
Heading into senior year, and with graduation around the corner from that, there are certainly new paragraphs up ahead that will be rich with punctuation. I don’t have the balance yet between stability and change, but there’s still time to learn.
To thrive, we all need more periods; we need to move forward. We also need fewer new pages. Themes and characters should flow with coherent logic, and the good shouldn’t be culled simply because its sentence is over. We need breaks to avoid run-on sentences, but each sentence relies on the last.
Zalph is a member of the class of 2016.