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I smile whenever I use a semi-colon. It brings to mind my brother’s friend—whom I was madly in love with as a teenager—saying that you can always recognize a true writer by her use of the semi-colon. Of course, I began to use semi-colons left and right, though my love interest never learned of my punctuating skill. Later, in high school, I would write parodies of the poems we had studied in our lit class and tack them up on the classroom board. It was only to see the boy I liked laughing at something I did. He was one of those types who always sat at the back of the room and he ignored me entirely except when my funny little verses brought me into his field of vision, albeit for a short while. Soon after, I was charmed by a Tolkien fan. As a result, an army of gnomes, fairies and plagiarized elves invaded my journals; journals which I later had the good sense to wipe off the face of the (Middle and Actual) Earth. My first real boyfriend read Nietzsche and, in response, I wrote hermetically obscure verses about symbolic tarantulas that I am now unable to understand (looking back, I don’t think I got them back then, either). The next paramour was a poet who considered semi-colons as unsightly and raffish as an electric bill, colons a vulgar resource reserved for cookbooks, and parentheses a trap which enclosed a writer’s incapacity for expression. So I did away with semi-colons, colons and parentheses for a few years’ worth of writing, and it took some strenuous effort to reincorporate them. Some of the men that I liked weren’t reading types so my texts grew simpler; others were intellectuals and my writing became more academic, reinforced with quotes by Heidegger and Schopenhauer that I borrowed from my quotes calendar. Once I was besotted by a man who adored short phrases and sentences bared of all adjectives; a short time later, I was swept away by another who preferred Baroque literature and lavish descriptions: I went from Carver to Carpentier in a hop, skip and a jump. Another of my suitors was a Rimbaud and Baudelaire fanatic and my writing turned aggressive and negative. Then there was the one who rallied against adjective abuse (“mouthwatering lemony day-boat scallops”). Ergo, I became a relentless adjective hunter, fishing them out and doing away with them. My next lover had it out for adverbs. He said they were merely a crutch for weak verbs, so I eliminated them altogether and began using only verbs that could stand on their own. Another of my beaus abhorred the word “like.” The moon is cheese, not like cheese. The word “like” sullies the metaphor, he often said, transforming it into an insipid comparison. So I used find and replace to look up all the “likes” in my files and do away with them. And after getting married, my then-husband confessed to being a great admirer of Kundera, praising metaphors which are “cast like a spotlight onto a stage.” For years, then, I tried to imitate Kundera’s illuminating ray of light.
In spite of my efforts, none of these men ever found out the effect they had on my relationship with words. For as long as I can remember, my writing has been the least effective, most imperceptible and worst aimed of my attempts to win a man’s love.