Pauses and Punctuation

yin-yangAs I was doing yoga a few years ago, I started contemplating the importance of pauses—in editing, and in life.

Commas clarify and slow us down before we reach the end of a sentence. Ellipses invite us to consider a jump in time or speech. Em dashes swoop in to rescue the reader when commas just won’t do. And then there’s the good ol’ semicolon, waiting eagerly like a happy dog, wagging its tail mid-sentence. I just love pauses …

… Really, they’re everywhere. In a good movie, exposition gives us a break from the intensity of action sequences and dramatic turns of events. In novels, flashbacks and descriptive passages fill our minds with images and possibilities. In paintings, negative space saves our eyes and souls from sensory overload. In music, cadence governs the flow of sound.

Finding balance in chaos

Pauses serve a vital purpose. They provide balance in the chaos that is life. If we didn’t have pauses, everything would happen simultaneously, and it would be impossible to enjoy the in-betweens. When I was a dancer, I would often wait for the shift in cadence. It was my invitation to explore the notes further. Just like a good musician provides his or her own interpretation to own a piece, we as writers, editors, parents, friends, artists, and spouses (i.e., soulessencescrammedinsidehumanbodies) provide our own unique interpretations to our lives.

You didn’t think I was going to forget parentheses, did you? The granddaddy of pauses. The sure thing in any technical proposal replete with innumerable acronyms and examples. Like good parentheses, we need to cocoon ourselves with pauses—be they short or long. It doesn’t matter what kind of pause it is or how long it lasts. The important thing is that we embrace the pause, allow it to envelop us like a sleepy summer day.

Softening the sharp edges of life

In doing so, we find the edges of our lives soften. Deadlines seem less daunting. Pain is given an escape route. Sentences that appear to be written by ESL students on acid suddenly become comprehensible, reparable.

This post is an invitation to all of you to embrace the pause, to take some time to become curious if your edges have sharpened, to explore any given moment, and to allow your breath, your next comma, your next eager semicolon to soften and escort you into the next moment.

Note from Dragonfly president Samantha Enslen: Skeptical about the connection between punctuation and peace? Check out the yin/yang symbol shown above. If that’s not two commas entwined in an eternal dance, I don’t know what is.



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