A Primer for the Punctuation of A Rarely Silent Person

A photo I know I took when Casey* and I were in Central Park in February 2007. At press time, this was as related a photo as I could muster.

On Saturday, my best friend, Casey*, arrived in New York from Canada for a nearly three-week visit, en route to Switzerland. Casey and I were roommates in 2006, during a brief collegiate pitstop that lasted all of six weeks (both our being roommates and my enrollment at the college). We have remained close ever since, whether it’s sitting together for hours inside of an animal hospital, or subsisting on calling-card assisted weekly chats across transnational borders. Before Saturday, I hadn’t seen her in over a year and a half!

Although we have spoken on the phone at length quite frequently, more so lately than ever in the two and a half years since she graduated and moved back home, I was still surprised by just how long two people can really carry on talking. The conversation was more equally contributed to over the weekend than it has been in the past, as I’m used to taking the credit for–shocker, I know–doing more than my fair share of arranging sounds together that form words in the mutually-understood language that is spoken by the most people in the United States of America.

She left me yesterday evening to the quietly noisy, relaxed intensity (Edward Albee’s words) of my own company. Not wanting to go another week without posting something on my infant blog save for a Friday, I started looking through my writing folder again to see if there was anything appropriate to post. I happened upon a short piece that I wrote for a creative writing class in 2008 (during which my friend Yana and I met). It was a variation on a theme of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease,” originally published in the New Yorker on June 10, 2002.

Foer’s piece is wonderful and deep, while mine doesn’t do it justice and isn’t very good, but I have been struggling in the past few weeks to write about some important thoughts of my own. Contributing to the difficulty is my ability and propensity to talk instead of write, because the more I talk, the more I come to understand. The more I understand, the less I need to write in order to understand, and the more I need to re-write in order to write well enough to share.

Given all of that, here is “A Primer for the Punctuation of A Rarely Silent Person,” written in October 2008 (and to be transparent, edited today). Looking back at my writing, I’ve noticed that during college, I had a tendency towards writing cop out-ish, inconclusively abrupt endings, and this one is no exception. However, I think that of all, the last sentence is the most honest and funny, with my finding the elderly’s projected shared wonderment at new media utterly repulsive still being so true to this day.

The “silence mark” signifies an absence of language. It’s extremely common in my life. Whenever I’m home alone, this mark is always there. Note the use of the silent mark in the following conversation with myself.

The “singing mark” can be used in place of the “silence mark,” usually when the “silence mark” is too boring or impossible to maintain. The “singing mark” is often used when walking home from the park or while sitting in the bathroom. It signifies a moment when I have a song stuck in my head, and I sing the same couple of lines over and over. The song could be anything from Britney Spears’s “Womanizer” to Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” This mark is most often used when no one else is around, which also means temporarily converting the “singing mark” into the “silence mark” when passing people on the street, even though no one else can hear me.

The “waiting mark” is used when trying to be patient. It can be used while waiting for my turn to speak in class, or while waiting politely to hear someone’s response in a conversation.

The “distracted silence mark” is most commonly attributed to my boyfriend. This silence occurs when he isn’t paying attention to me, because he is distracted by the internet, his Kindle, or nearly anything else that isn’t my face.

“So, what do you want to do for dinner tonight?”

“I said, what do you want to do for dinner tonight? I’m hungry. What do you want?

“If you don’t respond, I’m just going to make something for myself, and you’ll be hungry.”
“Huh? Oh. Whatever’s fine.

The “frustrated mark” is similar to the “waiting mark,” except it implies impatience while waiting. For example, when my hand is raised in class, but I am not called on, and I want to blurt out an answer or a question (a recurring action that partly defined my childhood).

The “bored mark” appears whenever I force a silence because I am tired of a conversation, and am signaling for a subject-change or it’s swift conclusion by another participant. It is usually punctuated by a sigh and lack of eye contact.

The “ignore mark” is used whenever I don’t want to talk to someone, like a disheveled man on the street who is asking too many questions about my dog, or an older woman who starts talking to me in the middle of a lecture, and then again after the lecture, when I’m packing up my stuff, trying to get the heck out of there. If a conversation includes the “ignore mark” anywhere within it, verbal responses will be short, complete with blank stares or looking down, if continued participation is forced. Here is how the conversation went with the older woman. I’d never seen nor spoken to her before she sat behind me in linguistics one day. She caught me unwilling and unaware as she suddenly began chatting away after class, as I was fixing to rush to my next class with less than 10 minutes to spare.

“Are you a linguistics major?”
“No, I’m a media major.”
“Oh! I took this class, Understanding New Media, last semester, have you taken that?”

“No, I don’t really need that.

*Casey is not her real name. She has asked that I call her something different on my blog.


2 thoughts on “A Primer for the Punctuation of A Rarely Silent Person

  1. Yana

    Ahhh I wish I could remember what I wrote for this. Well, it might be derivative (because it’s an assignment) but I think it’s great. To make it more of a story rather than a writing assignment, I think just add some narrative, or whatever the right word here is. Like a mini-version of a story arc.


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