“To work together, words need help.  They need connecting words, and they need punctuation.  All methods of punctuation point the way for the reader, gathering, linking, separating, and emphasizing what truly matters.  These marks are more than squiggles on a page.  They are the ligaments of meaning and purpose.”  –Roy Peter Clark, The Glamour of Grammar, 2010.

At one English conference I attended, long into my teaching career, I listened to a speaker lecture about grammar, and teaching punctuation.  I heard him say clearly that the semicolon was such a sophisticated piece of punctuation that it should not be used until students were in 12th grade!  Sophistication, and more.

semicolons

It differs from everything else–the comma, colon, period–yet incorporates each with a semblance of “uniqueness”: slow…explain…stop.  All at the same time.  But it’s a slow-stopper, not a full-stopper.  A breather.  (“Take a breath,” it says.)  It is just so useful, so delightful, so important, and so special.  Not to be easily misused.  Roy Peter Clark describes it as an object that connects and separates at the same time, like a swinging gate, even: “a barrier that forces separation but invites you to pass through to the other side” (Glamour of Grammar).  It is so special.

But it wasn’t always so special then as it is to me now.  Memories of a time: My latest high school composition returned to me.  The paper had red-pen bleedings…D31…here and there, with some comments written in the margins, from my teacher Father William Flaherty.  william-flaherty-ma-stl

These bloody droppings, references to items in our writing handbook [which I still keep under pain of excommunication!], these codes, symbols, cryptic messages…D31…we would have to consult, we would try to learn well enough before the next theme or essay was due.  It did not always work that way so easily.  Repeatedly I would make those same mistakes/errors…D31…until…the semester ended. 

writing-handbook HANDBOOK USED 1956-1960

New semester: same rules about that pesky semicolon.  But more “sophisticated” examples for us to follow.  For the next year.  And the next.  Then the end of 12th grade.  Done with all the gobbledygook about punctuation and grammar rules.  “All done.  I’m putting that handbook away!”  Then: College.  More writing books, like The Elements of Style.  Never did I expect D31 to follow me, to become such a part of my writing life.  I was impressed with D31, impressed upon by D31:

“Use a semicolon rather than a comma before and, or, nor, but, and for in a compound sentence if–A Either clause is long–say, three or four lines.  B Either clause contains a comma, colon, dash, or parentheses.”    

That’s how I learned it; that’s how I used it; that’s how I taught it.  So here I am, so many years later, out of the classroom, yet still concerned with punctuation and with the special semicolon.

How special?  When I first read not long ago the words “Project Semicolon” in a blog posting, I thought it was another grammar site, part of the Common Core, intending to teach today’s students in elementary and high school grades the sophistication and beauty of using the semicolon.  I became excited that there existed devotion still to punctuation, and especially to my favorite special mark.  What a surprise when I clicked on the link:  http://www.projectsemicolon.org/

PROJECT SEMICOLON is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction, and self-injury.  PROJECT SEMICOLON exists to encourage, love, and inspire.  How fitting a sign the “organization” has chosen to symbolize the purpose of the group: “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.  You are the author and the sentence is your life.  Your story is not over.”  The mark is most often seen or displayed as a tattoo, placed behind an ear or on an arm or wrist.  It often represents the wearer’s past (the before), the present (the now), and what will or can be or should be (the future): a “slow-stopper,” not a “full-stopper,” indicating that there is more to come, more to the story. 

So why would someone ever have a tattoo of a punctuation mark, for everyone to see?  Is this like “wearing a heart upon a sleeve”?  I believe so.  To be very open about one’s emotions, not ashamed of the past, being honest; being loyal and truthful in the present, with no secrets; and perhaps never to forget the adventure of life to come, the future.  Openness and honesty is risky business.  It takes courage to admit, to “come out,” as it were.  And the tattoo is symbolic of this.  I like it, endorse it, support it, and support the organization.

semicolon-arm-tattoo

There it is: I am a marked man.  An impressed man.  My tat indicates a story to be told; or it promises, better, that something lies beneath the embedded ink and the skin–perhaps some “in-depth” meaning.  And that explanation is saved, remains, for another day.

©  James F. O’Neil  2017

 

 

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In Search of Lost Time/À la recherche du temps perdupreviously also translated as Remembrance of Things Pastis that novel in seven volumes, written by Marcel Proust (1871–1922), often heard about, often to-be-read, often-never-read (finished).  It is considered his most prominent work, known both for its length and for its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine” which occurs early in the first volume.  The novel recounts the experiences of the narrator (who is never definitively named) while he is growing up, learning about art, participating in society, and falling in love.  The novel has been pronounced as “the most respected novel of the twentieth century” or “the major novel of the twentieth century.”

Involuntary memory, also known as involuntary explicit memory, involuntary conscious memory, involuntary aware memory, and most commonly, involuntary autobiographical memory, is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort.  (Voluntary memory is characterized by a deliberate effort to recall the past.)

Precious fragments are those parts of involuntary memories that arise in everyday mental functioning, comprising the most common occurrences, characterized by their element of surprise, as they appear to come into conscious awareness spontaneously.  They are the products of common everyday experiences such as eating a piece of apple pie, or the smell of Crayolas, or the sound of a fire engine or freight train, bringing to mind a past experience.  (Not-so-precious fragments are some involuntary memories arising from traumatic experiences, repetitive memories of traumatic events, like those parts of PTSD).

Proustian memory: Marcel Proust was the first person to coin the term involuntary memory.  He viewed involuntary memory as containing the “essence of the past,” describing an incident where he was eating tea soaked cake; then a childhood memory of eating tea soaked cake with his aunt was “revealed” to him.  From this memory, he proceeded to be reminded of the childhood home he was in, and even the town itself.  This becomes a theme throughout In Search of Lost Time, with sensations reminding the author-narrator of previous experiences.  He dubbed these “involuntary memories.”  [Wikipedia information]

For further interest and current research on why you might be reminded of…when you see…, look at Chaining, Priming, Reminiscence bump, Trauma-related Intrusions, PTSD.

(Stressful and traumatic events, which may manifest as involuntary memories called flashbacks, may trigger a wide range of anxiety-based and psychotic disorders.  Social phobia, bipolar disorder, depression, and agoraphobia are a few examples of disorders that have influences from flashbacks.)

“The role of memory is central to Proust’s novel, introduced with the famous madeleine episode in the first section of the novel; and in the last volume, Time Regained, a flashback similar to that caused by the madeleine is the beginning of the resolution of the story.  Throughout the work, many similar instances of involuntary memory, triggered by sensory experiences such as sights, sounds, and smells conjure important memories for the narrator and sometimes return attention to an earlier episode of the novel.  Although Proust wrote contemporaneously with Sigmund Freud, with there being many points of similarity between their thought on the structures and mechanisms of the human mind, neither author read the other.”  [Wikipedia notes]

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Don Juan DeMarco is a 1995 American romantic comedy-drama film starring Johnny Depp as John Arnold DeMarco, a man who believes himself to be Don Juan, the greatest lover in the world.  Clad in a cape and domino mask, DeMarco undergoes psychiatric treatment with Marlon Brando’s character, Dr. Jack Mickler, to cure him of his apparent delusion.  But the psychiatric sessions have an unexpected effect on the psychiatric staff, some of whom find themselves inspired by DeMarco’s delusion; the most profoundly affected is Dr. Mickler himself, who rekindles the romance in his complacent marriage. [Wikipedia]  (Depp received the London Film Critics Circle Award for Actor of the Year.)

There are only four [great human] questions of value in life:

What is sacred?

Of what is the spirit made?

What is worth living for?

What is worth dying for?

The answer to each is the same: love

 “But the greatest of these is love.”  1 Cor. 13.13 (NIV)

 “…when all is said and done, none of us will be measured on how much we accomplish but on how well we love.”  –Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith (2007)

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BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is a Christmas song recorded in 1943 by Bing Crosby, who scored a top ten hit with the song.  Originally written to honor soldiers overseas who longed to be home at Christmastime, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” has since gone on to become a Christmas standard.  It has a beautiful message of being at home with family during the most wonderful time of the year.  The song has been recorded by Perry Como (1946), Frank Sinatra (1957), Josh Groban (2001), Kelly Clarkson (2011), Pentatonix (2016), and by many other artists.

* * *

“Home Is Where the Heart Is.”

“A House Is Not a Home.”

“Home, Home on the Range”

“A Man’s Home Is His Castle.”

“Home Is Where Your Story Begins.”

“There’s No Place Like Home.”

You Can’t Go Home Again

“Where is your home?”  More than once, I have had to list “former addresses.”  Most of the time for a job application: “for the past ten years.”  Or once when I applied to the Governor a few years ago for a position on a local board: “all previous addresses.”  “Where do you live?”  Most of us have had to do this applying for credit, for some license, or for a gun purchase.  Certainly, those of us who have gone past second grade are so familiar with “Name-Address-Phone Number.”  And we learn quickly, so we’re not lost, or for identification purposes: “Do you know your address?”  Sometimes a post office box–P.O. Box 357–or rural route, R.R. #6, is the only way correspondence can be addressed to a person.  Even some addresses are the name of the place where a person lives:

christmas-biltmore-candlelightBiltmore Mansion at Christmas  Asheville, North Carolina

Recently, my wife and I had an interesting breakfast conversation that began with our considering “downsizing” again, disposing of more of our “stuff.”  We laughed that our present home was 860 sq. ft. downsized from our 1800 sq. ft. home we left six years ago.  Our talking led to a short list of some homes we’ve had in our married life: size and characteristics.  For the next few days, we thought up some questions about our residences.  By later in the week, we had compiled a list of something about each.  We realized each possessed a unique quality.  A house has its physical dimensions, furniture, character and style, and “story” to be told, if but one.  We had more than enough for talking about.

So where to begin?  How to begin?  We found ourselves conversing about kids, and jobs and illnesses, and once or twice humming “Our house is a very, very fine house with two cats in the yard…”  (Even though we once had four cats that never went out.  So many memories of times.)  One question we settled on first, though, was “How did we get there?”  Nothing to do with a U-Haul or moving van.  Was it climate-related?  Job-related?  Did it have to do with our health? The size of the family?  (Our one-bedroom wedding apartment, then into a new apartment a year later, “with a room for the new baby” in our garden apartment in Palatine, Illinois.)

Or was it a move to some place just because we “liked” something bigger, better, newer?  (Our move from a 7th-floor condominium apartment, with its garbage chute and elevators and condo restrictions, but which overlooked the beautiful Caloosahatchee River in Fort Myers, Florida, to a house with a yard and trees and lawn to cut.

moorings-point-fort-myers-1987

The Moorings Point  North Fort Myers, Florida

We tired of high-rise condo living after three years.)  We concluded our exercise with an “Oh,-the-places-you’ll-go” moment

oh-the-places-youll-go novelreaction.com

with an inventory of questions, including a “best overall,” a “worst,” a “best financial decision” to “lousy deal.”  We had answers, and a major event for each separate place, to include “Why did we leave?”  Then came more inquiring, for example, what changes made a place more comfortable or perfectly matched to our lifestyle (the one house we had built)?

mcmahon-construction-1981

     McMahon Avenue Home Construction  Port Charlotte, Florida

In our fifty-plus years together, we have undertaken two MAJOR migratory events, moving from Chicago to Minnesota (in 1966, for 14 years), and moving from The Land of 10,000 Lakes to the Sunshine State of Florida (in 1980).  In any event, all our house-home-stories begin with our apartment hunting in summer 1963, before our October wedding.  And so it goes from there.

A favorite and important story-within-a-story we relate often is about my driving with a teacher-colleague to his job interview in Minnesota.  He needed a reliable vehicle: our 1964 VW was chosen for the February weekend trip, the back of the car loaded with bags of sand and salt and shovels.  We were prepared for weather events or highway problems.  (There were neither.)

While Lennie was being interviewed on that cold Saturday morning, I was passing time in the Dean’s waiting room, paging through magazines.  A young man entered, then inquired what I was doing.  He heard, then told me to spend some time with him.  He was a departmental chairperson.  I ended up in conversation, just chatting; he presented a program description–and offered me a job.

My friend and I did pros-and-cons for the 300-mile trip home.  I took the job; we moved in July 1966.  He declined his offer; he could not afford the move with his family.  And that was the beginning of that story.

Some persons never move, never leave.  Ever.  (Some of my former students still live in their original bedrooms in their first and only house.)  Others have made annual moves, for whatever reasons.  (“Join the Navy.  See the world!” came out of World War II–and stayed as a popular slogan, and reality.)

join-the-navyHowever, Americans, says the Census Bureau, are staying in the same house longer between moves: from 5 years, on average, in the 1950s and 1960s, to about 8.6 years in 2013.  The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American moves 12 times during his or her lifetime.  Since our wedding-apartment in 1963, we have had eighteen (18) addresses and moves.  Surely, we deliberated many times over with questions like those asked during our recent activity.  For each dwelling, we know why we chose it instead of another. 

History of the home (structure moved into town from a farm, original Homestead building site).  How we lived in it. 

sanborn-farm-home-1976

SANBORN FARM HOME   SANBORN, MINNESOTA

How we loved it.  How we made a family.  How the family grew, then decreased (graduations and marriages).  How we responded to forces around the home (weather, landscape).  How the house-home became part of us. 

This analytical time for houses, homes, and addresses has been fulfilling–even despite some hurtful memoriesofatime past or pain that might have arisen.  Overall, though, looking back at our downsizing exercise, we find we are now in a good place and time to look back at ourselves and our lives together–and how “nomadic” we thought we were.  However, “if we had it to do all over again . . .”

* * *

“We can’t separate who we are from where we are.  People are rooted in time and place, so our psychic space is generously seasoned with memories of physical territories.  …  The geography of our past is part of memory.  …  Every human emotion is seeded in the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of specific environments.”  — Sam Keen, Your Mythic Journey: Finding Meaning in Your Life through Writing and Storytelling (1973, 1989).

 * * *

“Country roads, take me home…” (John Denver); and then “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

©  James F. O’Neil  2016

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THE MELBY HOUSE OUR FAVORITE-IST OF THEM ALL  MABEL, MINNESOTA

 

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful…  All that I know now is partial and incomplete…  Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love…–Paul 1 Cor. 13.

“Where no hope is left, is left no fear.”  –John Milton, Paradise Regained, 3:206.

“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of Man.”  –Friedrich Nietzsche

“It is hope that maintains most of mankind.”  –Sophocles

“There can be no hope without fear, and no fear without hope.”  –Spinoza

“Hope is the only God common to all men; those who have nothing more, possess hope still.”  –Thales

from Sam Keen, Apology for Wonder (1969): “There is no hope that we can eradicate evil and tragedy–only that we can find ways of keeping the spirit alive.”

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end…  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire….”— Prayer by Thomas Merton

“…mental illness results directly from hopelessness and lack of a sense of the possible.  Wishing, willing, and hoping are essential to sanity.”  –Sam Keen

“Agnosticism and hope are not incompatible.”  — Sam Keen

“The only hope you have is to hope for the best, but don’t you get your hopes up nor hope against hope.”

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“. . . the freedom to choose or reject ideas, to read books of one’s choice, and to publish freely is the very bedrock of our free society.  . . .  No book placed in a public library should be forcibly removed.  No textbook should be burned.”  –Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 

 

  1. I Am the Cheese: Robert Cormier, 1977.
  2. Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury, 1971.
  3. Anthem: Ayn Rand, 1975.
  4. 1984: George Orwell, 1975.
  5. Native Son: Richard Wright, 1940.
  6. The Catcher in the Rye: J. D. Salinger, 1951.
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1969.
  8. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee, 1960.
  9. Forever: Judy Blume, 1975.
  10. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain, 1884.

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“Rather than dictating information as absolutes, teachers should try to inspire their students to think for themselves.  We cannot focus on the teaching of facts alone, but rather, on the teaching of content as a means to the process of critical thought.”  –Joan F. Kaywell, U of South Florida, 1987. 

“All students have the right to be happy and productive citizens.

“The primary purpose of English is to provide each student with the reading, writing, listening, speaking, and viewing skills necessary for effective communication.

“Learning experiences must deal with current concerns of the students, bear some relationship to life outside the school…

“The study of literature provides vicarious experiences where direct experiences are impossible or undesirable.  Students may be prepared for various experiences through their reading…: teen relationships, death, injustice, prejudice, war, drugs and alcohol, crime, suicide.  It doesn’t matter how many facts our students know if the final choice is drug addiction, imprisonment, or the taking of their own lives.

“…it is far more important that students know HOW to find, use, and apply content to their lives rather than be able to ‘bubble-in’ WHAT they learn on any given day.

“An English teacher has the capability of offering students the skills necessary to learn anything (assuming there is motivation and confidence).

“No other subject can compete with English in the integration of school with everyday life.

“If a person cannot read, write, and communicate effectively, many doors to a successful future are closed for that person.

“There is no way we can teach all the facts in 17 years; there is no way we will ever agree on what facts must be learned….  But there are ways to teach students to think critically and creatively about the world in which they live.”

“The teacher’s task is not simply to implant facts but to place the material to be learned in front of the learner and through sympathy, emotion, imagination, and patience to awaken in the learner the restless drive for answers and insights which enlarges the individual’s life and gives it meaning.”

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Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

 

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