A Kiss is Like a Comma

In high school, we were required to read an essay by Pico Iyer titled “In Praise of the Humble Comma.” I am in grad school now, and yet I still can’t forget the name. Iyer stated, “The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said—could it not?—of the humble comma.” I am no punctuation buff, but I think punctuation, for writers, can be an attempt at risk. A chance to stab a sentence with a comma and pray the essay does not come out bloody—it can be invigorating. A rush.

Punctuation lacks attention in a text-driven society. We punctuate with emoticons. What could once have been said with a semicolon is now said with a smiley. No “I love you, darlings”; simply a wink or a small yellow face with accentuated lips and batted eyelashes (If a picture is worth a thousand words, what the hell happened to the words?). Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the advent of social media networks like Twitter and Facebook; I believe these platforms have opened up new methods for conversation, and are instilling a new genre of writers for an evolving generation. What I don’t understand is why punctuation has devolved so drastically. There is a whole other conversation about the loss of proper grammar, spelling, language. In some of my publishing classes, students argue that as long as the message gets across, as long as people are writing, then short-form media is a wonderful tool. But for me, the problem begins in the loss of punctuation to save space.

In undergrad, I studied creative writing and worked at the writing center and copy edited for a mom’s magazine. What I learned: college students and mothers still don’t know how to use punctuation, if they use it at all. I have my share of mistakes, especially with humble commas, but I know the basics and the errors (I still don’t really know how to use a comma in every situation; even the Chicago Manual of Style is confused about the process). Comma splices would make my copy editing professor cringe.  And periods? Some students didn’t use them. Workshop after workshop. Dependent clauses. That and which. Missing commas. And this is just for English. Spanish pronunciation is defined by its accent mark.

For reading or performing Shakespeare, punctuation is vital for emotion. In my senior year of high school, my teacher asked us to memorize part of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy—with the punctuation. So this: “To be or not to be—that is the question:/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And, by opposing, end them.” would read as this: “To be or not to be dash that is the question colon/Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune comma/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles/And comma by opposing comma end then period“. Speaking the punctuation made us notice the intentional pauses, the lengths of breaths, the dash, pregnant with the thought of existence.

So my advice for staying properly punctuated? Listen to Iyer. The humble comma gives breath and takes it away. Read aloud. If you stop, the sentence stops; you’ll notice the distinction.

Words of the day:
elision: in pronunciation, the omission of a vowel, consonant, or syllable
mellifluous: melodious, musical, sweet-sounding


Note: Today is the the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. A pause, a dash, a moment of silence.

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A Kiss of Inspiration or Things to Do When You’re Hungry

So my friend Amanda and I have started attending these inspirational lunches. When I say attend, what I mean is that we bring our lunches out to the Common and read to each other. We bring old poetry and new. I sing to her. Another friend tells us the story of an aggressive duck through interpretive dance. We laugh. I smile. We come up with “assignments.”

Ideas for inspirational lunch members or lunchers, as I will call them for now:

  • Make up a line of poetry for a luncher; they then have to use it as the first line in their poem
  • Write a response poem or song to an original piece from a fellow luncher.
  • Pick a form or type of poetry and bring in a new piece the following week in that form.
  • Make a list of subjects you’ve never written about, but wanted to; then write a poem using the top three topics.
  • Pick a favorite poem (original or famous) and rewrite it.
  • Pick a poem from childhood and rewrite it.
  • Write a poem about a dream.
  • Pick a color and try to express that color in a poem without using the color itself.
  • Write a slam poem.
  • Write a haiku, then create a longer poem from that same haiku.
  • Use a photograph for inspiration.
  • Open a dictionary and flip through it, choosing ten words at random. Use those ten words in a poem.
  • Give a luncher a controversial topic to write about.
  • Pick a news story and write a poem inspired by the headline (or use the headline as a first line).

There are hundreds, nay, thousands of ideas out there. Probably infinite, though in calculus I usually ended up approaching zero (no matter how  hard I tried for the alternative). But the ideas for ideas are not really the point of these lunches. These lunches are meant to keep us writing, to snap us out of the creative funk we’re facing in the wake of finals and futures. If Amanda is anything like me, she needs to write to stay grounded. I outsource my stresses to my song lyrics. They keep me sane. And when the lyrics stop flowing, when the creative well has dried up, all that’s left is a publishing student with an empty journal and an empty heart. Just recently, I was able to transfer files from an old laptop onto my new one. What I realized in this transfer is that I was a firecracker with words when I was 11, but now? I lack opinion. I lack stance. These inspirational lunches are my way back to finding my voice, to finding me

Write on.

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A Kiss to Keep Me Motivated

Summer creeps near; I can feel laziness breathing down my neck. Huff, huff, huff. A siren’s call, promises of trips to the Cape, dips in pools of blue, blue water, and the clop of sandles on the pavement. The promises quell worries of fall semester, of graduation and job hunts, 8-hour days and entry-level payment. Summer in Florida consisted of Disney and movies; Boston speaks of road trips and site-seeing. Such a difference. So much history here. But when summer ends, and the plastic umbrellas shrivel in your drinks, it is important to remember to shed the laziness like a sweater.
Staying motivated is not easy; I know this well. So here are a few techniques I’ve acquired to keeping up with the workload.
  • Choose a competitor. Pick a person in your class whose quality of work surpasses your own and then consistently try to outshine him. It can be a friend or an enemy; this doesn’t matter. It just makes you competitive, and keeps you attentive. 
  • Create a rewards system. For example, if I get straight A’s this semester I can buy myself the new phone I want.
  • Set aside homework time. If you are watching a television show, use the commercials to do part of your assignment. 
  • Mix homework with chores. If you’re already doing the dirty work, just balance it out. While you’re waiting for a load to finish, do the homework. Folding clothes ends up being a pretty amazing break from studying.
  • Invent time goals. Give yourself a time to finish your assignment by, sort of like a due date, but on your terms. If you don’t finish it when you said you would, you don’t go do the next thing on your list (like going to a movie). 
  • Write your goal on a mirror. If you have a dry erase marker, they work just as well on bathroom mirrors. Put your to-do list or goals on the side of it. Basically, every time you go to brush your teeth or fix your hair you’ll be reminded of what you have to do to succeed. 
  • Study with a friend who is motivated. Find a person you know can focus, and follow their lead.  
These idea, dorky as they may seem, have worked for me. I hope they work for you. 
Ta ta, for now.
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Kiss Me Goodnight or…I am Woman, hear me snore

“The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sleepless in Boston
I turn the heat on; vents hum to life. I wrap my legs around my covers, thrust my head into my pillow. I toss, turn; lie on my back, then my side. I glance at the clock: 6 a.m. Shit, not again. Tears. Lyrics. Sunshine peers through the slits of the blinds. I close my eyes, rest my head back to the pillow and finally, my eyelids stumble, drunk from lack of sleep.

Saturday morning, April 10: I could not sleep the night before. Bad news at bedtime; stress before sleep. Nothing new, nothing unexpected. I wrote part of a song. Inspired by a friend’s poem, inspired by life. I walk to the station. A windy day, wind so cold it makes my face hurt.

Sunday morning: It is 2 or 3 a.m. and something is happening somewhere else that breaks my heart. It is 4 or 5 a.m. A phone call. Another night I cannot sleep.

Sunday night: I think about my weekend, the good parts: the French, a clumsy Wolverine, a night with friends and artists, secret codes in Chinatown, rum cake, earrings, signatures, costumes, kind words, pictures, Montreal and beer. I smile. I fall asleep before midnight.

On the subject of dreams…
Having been unintentionally sleep deprived this weekend, I realize that I didn’t dream. So in honor of the cheesy romance associated with dreaming, I am including lyrics below that I had written in my last year of undergraduate. Quick warning: I was feeling romantic when I wrote this. The bed in this song is associated with my dorm beds; I used to jump from the top because they were lifted about four feet off the ground to create storage space.

Dream Girl

lyrics by Alexa L., 2008

She sits upon the bed and stares straight down at you
She stares straight down and through you, babe
and cries her eyes out while she tries to speak
And teary-eyed, she blinks a bit of sympathy
but don’t be fooled, you know that she
was trying hard to say:

“Help me be the girl of your dreams
I’m making it easy, so please be good to me
I know, perfection’s in theory
But I’m making it easy, just tell me what you need.”

You stop her for a moment and gaze up at her
You gaze right up and into her
You tell her that she’s beautiful even when she sits there cryin’
You watch her as she rises from her bed,
should be within your arms instead
But she listens as you tell her, tell her, tell her

“Sweet love, you’re the girl of my dreams
You’re not making it easy
to ever let you leave
I know, perfection is hard for me
but you make it look easy
You’re everything I need”

So they moved a little closer and he stretched his hand to her
He stretched his hand to help her down
like Rapunzel and her hair
And she knew that he’d always stretch his hand to her
Be everything and all to her
He wasn’t going anywhere.

Sweet love, I’m the girl of your dreams
You’re not making it easy
to ever want to leave
I know, perfection’s in theory
but I love you completely
You’re everything I need.


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Kissing in the Rain

I feel a little lost, a little little, like a plastic army man or a bee. I whisper “shit” under my breath, grip my umbrella like a life preserver and dive, head first, into wet. It is then my umbrella snaps backward, shifting violently with the wind. I just want to catch the damn bus; I think this while I snatch the edge of my umbrella with my open hand and tug. The wind whips at my cheeks. Cars honk. I cross. The bus zooms into nowhere. For a moment, just a moment, I am absolutely pissed at the world. Ten minutes pass. I find sanctuary in a bus seat caked with gum.

Rainy days in Boston are unusually gloomy. Here, if it’s raining, it’s probably cold. And if it’s not cold, well, it’s definitely not sunny. Today, it is cold and it is raining. And if you look out your window and see gray, my advice: check the weather forecast. Boston weather is fickle. Gray skies may imply a chill, but it is not always so; it can be gray and it can be hot.

No rain boots today. The wind is bearable. I walk out the door in jeans, a tee, a sweater, and my temperamental black umbrella that I fixed a few days prior. I pray the rain and wind stay light.

On rainy days like this, I feel 12. The world is a scary place, unpredictable and often sad. I recollect the books I read when I was young, the poetry that weathered hurricanes, family deaths, and a move that spanned almost 1500 miles. The poem below is one my grandmother, Elayne, often read to me before bed.

My Shadow
by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

From A Children’s Garden of Verses (1913)*

* I own a newer version of this book; I still have it on my bookshelf after about ten years (I’m 22).

Words of the Week (to be attempted at least once today in conversation)

apiary: a bee house
quotidian: usual, customary
clandestine: done in secret

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Kiss Me, I’m Scottish or a List of Accents to Try While Drunk

Here’s the rub: I have this accent. Granted, I’m not Scottish, nor does it really sound like a Scottish accent, really. But I have it, and it’s mine, and it has been evolving since its first use about ten years ago at Universal Studios. Basically, I spent an entire day with my mom as her Irish daughter and got away with it. Then in the last few years, I noticed the accent crossed countries and molded into this Scottish thing.

So with my new-found Scottish appeal, I joined my mother and her friend at SeaWorld about a year ago and she asked me to put on the voice for the day. After several awkward phone calls, a whale, a fake Scottish father, and 50,376 fish; my mother’s friend, let’s call her Maureen, believed the whole ridiculous story.

This potential believability is why I still enjoy having days where I can pretend to be from somewhere else besides Florida. Problem is, some people think it’s awfully strange; I just think it’s a little risky, a wee bit fun, and a way to live another life if just a moment.

And for those of you who are willing to attempt this feat in a more acceptable setting…

Accents (or voices) to use while intoxicated:
New York*
Jewish grandmother*
Bahstan (Boston)**
British (and Cockney)*
California surfer-speak (it’s rad, dude)**
Southern belle*
Ghetto fabulous
Mickey Mouse
Whale (“You know, I speak whale”)*
Donald Duck
Jamaican (also known as the Ms. Cleo)*

*attempted, slightly successfully
**tried, but failed

This, of course, is a limited list. Please feel free to share your own.

Warning/prayer: please avoid being offensive. Imitate with taste.

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A Kiss to Send Us Off

I moved to Boston from Miami. Long trip. Hours spent staring at fingernails, shoes, ceilings. I meet some people, I dine with the deaf, I gaze out windows at starless nights and trees that look like wooden witches, elongated branches that stretch toward wherever. And then I get there, to Boston. Movers delay delivery, so I sleep on an air mattress; it deflates, so then I sleep on the floor. A few days later, I unpack books, elephant figurines, sandals, and hooded sweaters. I check off my list of things I’ll need for cold and wet weather:

Boot-cut jeans
Tall boots
Cardigan (2)
Gloves (fingerless, leather and snow)
Patterned rain boots
Poofy (or down) jacket
Rain coat with a hood
Warm socks (both short and long)
Scarf, preferably wool
Snow boots
Snow hat
Sweater (hooded and zip-front)
Thermal tees
Thermies (or warm underwear)
Trench coat
Wind-resistant umbrella (added later, after two broken mini umbrellas)
Uggs (completely necessary, though unattractive)

I kept adding to the list with my black ink pen poised, a knife ready to carve into Boston one item at a time.

Weeks after moving in, a ladybug lands on my headboard. I look upon rust-colored leaves, then branches, then icicles that cling. The weather fluctuates. The rain tumbles from the sky. Then sunshine creeps over the Green Monster and onto the Common, where I lie and bathe in the 70-degree heat and smile; the world feels better somehow and I know it.

That is the best summary I can give for my first school year in Boston. I moved to Beantown in August of 2009 and have just been working, loving, procrastinating, worrying, delaying, thinking, laughing, writing, trusting, mistrusting, hating, reading, and living. Life up here has been easy and it has not been easy. Life has been complicated and strangely simple. I look forward to each new day with hesitance and delight, because every day is part of a broader effort to grow up, gain independence, and create a life; because, trust me, I’ve barely been living. I take little risk and am not proud of it.

This blog will not be my life, but will give glimpses and advice (warning: I’m not an expert) on life changes, moving from hot to cold, and just dealing with the everyday struggle of being in a new place. I will attempt to take risks, visit places I’ve never been to, converse with people I may never have wanted to know. I will share my passions, my lyrics, my poems, and favorite quotes. I realize blogs evolve, they change. But for now, I hope to give a little insight into a life of someone who, well, does not live on the edge but wants to give it the old college try.

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