Saturday, September 29, 2012

Ode to the Ellipses

In honor of National Punctuation Day, which was earlier this week, The News-Review is re-publishing this column from 2009.

Going cold turkey on National Punctuation Day

I know it’s wrong to use it in such a way, and I know that it’s become a crutch, but I must admit that I’ve been having an illegitimate love affair with the ellipsis for years now. Surely, I thought, I could find a support group among the many writers who have been similarly led down this particular primrose path of pauses, but alas … none existed.

Not to be dissuaded, I set out and started my own support group called “Ellipsis … Anonymous.” I invited everyone to my house at 2000 W. Maple … a place, I must confess, I bought for the address alone … and I served M&Ms in batches of three.

However the people who showed up tended to trail off midway through their stories, or stopped abruptly before staring off into space, which seemed appropriate but really stymied the healing process. It was … daunting.

I found myself wandering the streets that night, talking to myself, binging on one story after another without end, drinking deep from the nectar of incomplete thoughts until … I hit rock bottom.

It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t pause for breath in my prose without automatically hitting dot-dot-dot. I was ravenous … a wild animal on the prowl for a pregnant pause, a thoughtful moment or a half-baked idea so I could swoop in and get my fix. I was putting ellipses where commas would suffice … ellipses when em dashes would do the trick … ellipses when a yadayadayada would convey the same idea. It was all too much and I collapsed under the pressure.
I woke up the next morning in the gutter outside of a Barnes and Nobles, gripping my beat-up copy of “Love is…” poems and staring in the face of one harsh reality … I needed help.
I got up out of the gutter, flipped open my laptop and started writing … hair of the dog and all that jazz. What I was after was a mantra to get me through the tough spots, those times where it’s just so … tempting to use that one, single punctuation, albeit incorrectly. I needed a higher power to see me through, and … amazingly … this little beauty fell out of the sky like a penny … or coin … from Heaven:

God grant me the serenity
To accept the proper uses for the ellipsis;
Courage to use it when I should and deny myself when I shouldn’t;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Doesn’t it seem appropriate, then, that today, National Punctuation Day, would be my quit day? I have decided to go cold turkey. No more ellipses for me. I’m clean and sober starting now of course that means I can’t use any punctuation for fear that the pause in and of itself would throw me headlong into a full blown relapse from which I might never recover until I could once again use my beloved and reliable ellipsis just saying the word makes this all the more harder until I simply … break … down.

They say that admitting the problem is half the battle, and I’m counting on that to be true. But right now, I have an inexplicable desire to learn Morse code and eat M&Ms. And besides, as my friend Scarlett once said … “Tomorrow is another day.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

Here's hoping cottontails are allergic to bananas

Our 10-year-old daughter Lily is volunteering at the Saving Grace Animal Shelter. Which is good and bad: Good because it’s giving her an important lesson in volunteerism; bad because she comes home each week wanting to adopt another dog.

Clearly she doesn’t remember our last foray into dog ownership: Puddy, the border collie/beagle mix. We adopted Puddy about six years ago. We named him after David Puddy, the Seinfeld character who played the witless boyfriend of Elaine – a man who was equal parts lovable and stupid. What could go wrong, right?

Within days we realized just how ill-equipped we were to own a dog.

The signs were many. It started out that when I found him on top of the kitchen table, covered in blue ink, munching on a magic marker of the same color. And to add to my infuriation he simply looked at me, head cocked, as if to say, “What’s up?”

Another time I found Lily’s Ken doll (from the storied Barbie/Ken romance) splayed across the rug in Lily’s room with both hands gnawed off well past the wrists.

And it wasn’t just toys and art supplies that drew Puddy like bees to honey. One night I made some homemade banana bread for the next day’s breakfast. I left it to cool overnight on the counter, out of Puddy’s reach.

The next morning I found it on the floor, covered in dog hair, gnawed around the edges. At first I thought my husband Craig had gotten his hands on it, but then I remembered that his hair was different than Puddy’s (thankfully). When I finally spotted Puddy he was curled up in a tight ball, trying desperately to avoid all eye contact. Oh, yeah, he was as guilty as sin.

We tried every trick in the book with Puddy but could not tame the beast. In the end, a friend of ours adopted him from us and then proceeded to move to Cape Cod. We try hard not to read into the fact that Puddy moved as far away as doggedly possible without leaving the country.

Still Lily is a lover of all animals, especially dogs. The day we gave Puddy away, we drove out to Saving Grace Animal Shelter and adopted a kitten named Sabrina. We’ve had her for three years and adore her. Except when she’s spitting and hissing; this is mostly directed at Lily.

We’ve tried to explain to Lily: “When you try to: (1) dress a cat in doll clothes, (2) try to paint a cat’s nails, or (3) braid a cat’s hair … well, let’s just say she’s not going to purr.”

Then Lily reminds me (as she’s shoving Sabrina’s leg through the arm hole of a doll party dress) that I once tried to bathe the cat, resulting in a ripped shirt and claw marks up and down my arm. Touché, Lily. Touché.

So since Sabrina is not willing to act like a dog, Lily persists in asking for a dog. Of course we want to give in, but we are reminded of the debacle that was pet ownership with Puddy. As a result, we’ve encouraged Lily to look toward adopting other, gentler animals to satisfy her desire. And I think we settled on one: a bunny.

Thanks to all of the bunnies at the Douglas County Fair this summer, Lily now has a bunny fund on her dresser, quickly filling with any spare change and allowance money she can earn.

I’m hopeful, but realistic. I’ve read enough Peter Rabbit to realize that our neighbors’ gardens may be in for a treat.

I hope they like bunnies in Cape Cod.

Eileen Burmeister lives in Winchester, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com or you can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister.