Saturday, March 7, 2009

Please Do Not Abuse the Ellipses...

Something has been bugging me.....for've noticed an increase in....emails and postings......that look like this.......I know it must seem kind of natural--when you're typing.......and you pause to think about your next phrase....or sentence....--to rest your ring finger down on that period key.....while you come up with the next little bit. Especially in emails....which are after all, an informal method of communication.....It seems like it might be okay......

But it's not.

Reading an email written like sort of like watching someone.....who has clearly got a good sneeze.........coming on.......but they just can't quite.......get it.......out.

Have you ever been in that situation? Do you feel the tension? Don't you just wish they would sneeze already? And turn their attention back to the conversation? It might be useful to think of a period as being that sneeze. We are relieved when it finally comes. And the tension stops.

And we need the tension to stop.

We have enough tension as it is, what with the 401k statement due anyday now, and the sullen teenager in the next room who hasn't spoken a complete sentence in the last week, and then there's whatever bad news the TV newsfolk have delivered this evening, and we should probably think about eating something for dinner, and the laundry, and oh, crap, that gift needs to be wrapped....

We have our own we know how they work.....We pause when we're writing, too.....And think up the next little bit......But we really don't need you to share.....this part of the process....with us.

It it hurts us.....your readers, that is.....when you do this....because......we perceive a signal to insert our own thoughts.......a kind of drifting off, a fill-in-the-blank-your-way suggestion. But if you're just using get one from one phrase or thought to the next.....then our thoughts don't they?

We need direction from you. Please. In the same way that going back and reading the working papers of our favorite novelists can be a real downer, so can watching the process of concocting an email. We wouldn't be reading your communication if we didn't want to know what you think. And we want your best work. We need to know when you've finished one thought. And are on to the next.

That's one of the blessings of written communication, isn't it? If your brain is a little wonky, you can cover it up! Take advantage. Celebrate the fact. Nobody can see you compose the email. You can jot down as many random, incoherent thoughts as you want. Then you can use cut/paste, or delete, or the punctuation keys to make it appear that your prose falls effortlessly and perfectly formed straight from your our ears.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Time Travel: Then

I’m telling a secret about myself that will probably interest no one, but here goes: I spend a significant portion of my time (in my head) in time periods other than the one in which I find myself. I do not mean that I obsess over my personal past, or worry extravagantly about the future, mine or in general. I mean that I time travel. Actively, deliberately, for sport.

It may look to you like I am walking down the street thinking about my bills, or my work, or what's on TV tonight, or what I'm going to eat for dinner. But I'm probably not. It's much more likely that I'm trying to figure out what would be on the menu if I were eating dinner with Leonardo da Vinci or Catherine the Great or Jack the Ripper.

This avocation began in my preteen years, with Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie books. I fancied us kindred spirits, not only because she was feisty and smart--and tended to get in trouble, like me--but because I shared her fascination with Indians. In sixth grade, we spent a good portion of the year studying Ohio Indians. We learned the meanings of the Indian words attached to many of the place names around me. I became a little obsessed.

At some point, I figured out on my walks back and forth to school that although they didn't live here anymore, this was was still Indian country. These houses and the streets they sat on were fairly recent in origin, and I could pretend they weren’t there. I could try to see this place the way an Indian would have seen it, try to think the thoughts he might have been thinking as he walked in this same space. I could go down by the Maumee River and try to imagine what it looked like to him, long before those houses were sliding down into it.

I imagine this has something to do with why I eventually studied history.

I remember the first time I admitted this propensity to another person. I was in college, and I was taking a hike with my boyfriend through the Wisconsin woods. We’d spent the day before tubing on a river. Both of these were ideal situations to engage in my secret pursuit. But he would not shut up long enough for me to settle into it. I don’t know what he was talking about—sports, probably—or music, but it was just blah, blah, blah. All day long.

When he would stop talking for a few minutes, I'd finally begin to get into my zone, and then he'd bring me right back to the present with an inane comment like "I really have to pee." Grrr. So, on this second day, I finally lost it. I might have yelled. I'm pretty sure my exact words were: "Would you please STFU? I'm pretending to be an Indian."

There. I was out of the closet, and in a big way.

A few years later, when I was in Russia, I drove my summer-program friends crazy. Standing in front of the Winter Palace, I wondered aloud about precisely where the bodies were falling on November 7, 1917. On a walk through St. Petersburg, we came upon a 60-year-old sign that read: "Citizens! The shelling is worse on this side of the street. Cross over." That prompted a little disquisition from me on the Siege of Leningrad. I helpfully pointed out that if it were 1942, we wouldn’t be complaining about our cafeteria food. We’d be eating our shoes.

Later, we took the overnight train to Moscow, and were awakened by the hissing, heaving stop of the train in the middle of the night. We jolted up out of our bunks and peeked out the window shade. It was pitch black except for one lamp on a post, which provided just enough illumination to show that it was foggy. Creepily foggy. And also that--although we were apparently in the middle of nowhere--there were two guys in some kind of uniforms smoking cigarettes under the lamp post.

Then, we heard the sound of multiple pairs of booted feet running down the passageway. We began whispering to each other about what could possibly be going on. We were in Russia, after all. As safe as we felt most of the time, we were well aware that a little blue passport didn't make us bulletproof, and we harbored a tiny seed of doubt about its power to actually get us back through the looking-glass when we needed it to.

A moment later, while taking another peek out the window shade, it occurred (aloud) to me that if it were 1943, those guys out under the lamp post would be NKVD-types, and we’d be soldiers on our way to the frontline. The train would probably have stopped because the Germans were strafing troop trains ahead of us on the track. And those NKVD-types out there would have weapons trained on us, although they probably wouldn’t be needed, because we’d also be padlocked in this train car so that we couldn’t desert when the train stopped.

My friends said they were going to throw me out of the cabin if I didn’t STFU.

So I went back in the closet.

But I'm out again today, so that I can say what comes in the next post.

Time Travel: Now (Facebook Style)

So, the above post was really just to lay the groundwork for this one, because the following is what has been going on recently. It seemed important to explain that I have always been up for time travel. I like to be taken out of the present, and go as deeply into the past as possible.

Or I thought I did. And then my high school boyfriend—my first love—ambushed me on Facebook last week. And suddenly, I've found myself zapped into time travel, a little bit against my will. And I've found that when it's not an intellectual game, it's also a different story.

I haven’t seen or spoken to him in 25 years. And recently, when I've been chatting with him, or digging out pictures of us and our high school friends to send him, I sometimes lose track of exactly where I am in time. Minutes pass, and I find I've been 15 years old during them. Yesterday, walking down my Arlington, Virginia street, my mind was walking down a street in Maumee, Ohio in 1980.

In the end, I think this will be a useful exercise, for the writing in particular. I’m working on a memoir, and all this digging around in my memory banks is turning up interesting stuff.

I find myself remembering things with a physical clarity I didn’t think possible: Landmarks along the roughly four blocks that separated my house from his, the October chill in the air at Friday-night football games, where I hung along the fence with Kathy and Amy and Kim and tried to catch glimpses of him in his purple-and-gold uniform. (And the way I tried so hard to pay attention to the game, so that I would know what the hell he was talking about later, at McDonald’s.)

And the green army jacket he wore, the sound of his voice on the telephone, the butterflies in my stomach, the Old Spice scent of him, and the spidery crawl of his handwriting in the notes he wrote me.

And, before all of that, perhaps the most glorious making-lemons-into-lemonade day of my life: I was playing football with him and some friends at a park, on a late summer day, just before freshman year began. There was another girl playing, my best friend, Kathy. It had been decided that each team would take one girl, and that only the girls could tackle each other. We wouldn’t get hurt this way, it was thought.

Eventually I got the ball, and I was making for the end zone at a pretty good clip. Kathy was running toward me, but she didn’t have the right angle or speed or something for making the tackle, so she did the only thing she could think of: She reached out with her arm and hooked it around my throat. Uh, foul. I was lying on the ground, suddenly unable to breathe. I remember looking up at the faces gathering around me, and Mikey Fleck began waving everybody back: "Give her room. Give her room. She’s just got the wind knocked out of her. She’ll be okay."

He then knelt down beside me and advised me to breathe. Mikey was a year ahead of me, all ready a year of high school under his belt, and I was relieved that he had a diagnosis, and that he apparently thought I’d survive this. And I’d always thought he was cute, so I was a little flattered that he was looking down into my face with such concern. He was gorgeously tanned, and he had a little gold chain around his neck. I was starting to forget that I couldn't breathe.

After a minute or two, fearing that the boys would never let us play with them again if I was a baby about it, I got up and tried to shake it off. I participated in another play or two, but I wasn't feeling so hot, and I was getting over the idea of football pretty quickly. Kathy must have noticed, because she announced that she didn’t really feel like playing anymore, which meant that I couldn’t either.

So she and I walked over to the shelter in the park to sit down, and as soon as I was out of sight of the boys, the tears began. I was still wiping them away when this boy who had been on my team, a boy I knew only as one of the neighborhood pack—I’m not sure I’d even spoken directly to him before—came over to the shelter. He'd suffered his own injury earlier in the game (groin hit), but was apparently only now feeling the effects of it. So he sat down, and the three of us talked. Eventually, Kathy had somewhere else to be. But he and I didn't, so we kept talking. And by the time I left the park that day, I had forgotten that Mikey Fleck existed.