You’re breaking up with me question mark

Recently I read that using punctuation in a text might suggest that I am untrustworthy because it shows a lack of spontaneity and sincerity. Although being literate down to the last comma is etched into my DNA, I understand why literacy has become suspect. It appears that ever since electronic contact has all but replaced what was once considered genuine human contact, we have abandoned old-fashioned rules about written communication and have replaced them with new, and confusing, rules for writing intimacy.

Nothing brings home this point about the confusing transition to new relationship rules more poignantly than the Sprint commercial made popular a number of years ago, in which a young man and woman are sitting across from one another in a restaurant booth—both holding their cell phones—when the following takes place:

“I just got a text from you that you’re breaking up with me,” he says, looking up, incredulous, from his phone.

“Don’t worry about that, ” she tells him. “I switched to [the] Sprint $69.99 plan, so I wasn’t charged extra,” after which he receives an alert on his phone and again looks up, aghast, at his soon-to-be ex.

“Okay,” he tells her, “I just got your break-up email.”

“Emails are unlimited, too,” she says, this time with a big smile on her face. “And look,” she adds as she shows him her phone. “I just changed my Facebook status to ‘single.'”

Never mind that she is a sociopath incapable of feeling empathy. What we need to understand is that she is no less a victim, albeit a symbolic one, of our mass alienation from ourselves and from each other than are the more sensitive among us.

When I reflect on the faux intimacy of the twenty-first century relationship, I understand why the rules of written communication need to change. In the throes of a breakup, the rejected partner in the commercial is certainly not in any shape to consider whether he should use a series comma or should put a question mark at the end of his sentence. And taking the time to do so might send the message, figuratively and literally, that he feels less shocked and hurt than he has every right to feel.

Although until now I have resolutely followed the rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage whenever I have sent an email or a text to friends and companions, I feel an emerging, and surprising, discomfort about doing it because on a visceral level I have begun to understand that, in person, one would never scream, “Don’t be an a**hole exclamation point” at one’s partner or whisper, “I want you semicolon do you want me question mark” into an intimate’s ear.


2015 — and you

Netherlands New Year

Earlier, I sat down to write a poem for you about the new year, but an hour or so into the process I realized it wasn’t going to be very good. It felt stiff, contrived, and I knew I should scrap it. I’ve never been able to create on command, and I’m always surprised by where the mysterious act of creation takes me — whether I’m writing a poem from thin air or drawing an actual tree in front of me.

From the time I was very small, people have had all kinds of advice about what and how I should write. “Write about what you know,” some have said. “Write about what you don’t know,” a few others have suggested. Upon reading a novel I wrote years back, my brother asked, “Can’t you be a little more cheerful?”

Well, no, I can’t cajole myself into being upbeat. Whatever emerges almost always appears to have its own heart and mind, while I just seem to get taken along for the ride. But, if I could will myself to write something meaningful for you about 2015, it might have some of these sentiments in it: evolve; love yourself and others; live authentically and simply; be kind (or at least stop being unkind, as a friend of mine says); be honest; surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you. Leave suffering and unrequited longing behind you, if you can.


When love leaves her beloved

Waxing crescent moon

 Even love will catch her death

under a cold moon will become

a patch of brown grass buried

beneath an early frost will shiver

into a single dark vine winding

around a splintered trellis will crawl

panting across a desert floor will dry

up to a trickle of water down the

face of a stone mountain will run

frightened through a long hallway will slip

unseen out a side entrance will know

when it is time to turn and pull

the door closed behind her.