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Sunday, September 19, 2004

I only seem to post in this blog when I'm procrastinating. At the moment, I'm putting off a visual basic assignment which I just don't feel like doing, and packing for the move to Harrisburg, which I have a legitimate excuse for (I'm apparently allergic to it - must be the residual flea powder).

Our new flat in Harrisburg is the bottom story of one side of a duplex on uptown Second Street, a block from Italian Lake and the Susquehanna River (we're a block from the Susquehanna here in Columbia, but thirty miles downstream). It's a one-bedroom apartment, but there is a dining room and a huge front living area as well as a basement. We're surrounded by synagogs and Masonic temples/lodges. Everyone who knows Harrisburg well knows exactly which house we live in when I mention the Virgin Mary statue. Our neighbours in the other half of the duplex are collectors of fine painted statuary. In their front yard is a wonderful collection of bears, panthers, angels, deer, Indians, and a life-size Virgin Mary in a blessing posture surrounded by a white arch. All the statues are lit up at night, year-round. It really is delightful. I am being extremely sarcastic. But at least nobody will ever have difficulty finding our house.

I am compelled to resign my crown as queen of punctuation because I have discovered that I am horrifically flawed. For the last 24 years, I have not known all the rules of the humble comma. Now I have been humbled. My ignorance stems from coordinating and subordinate conjunctions. There are seven coordinating conjunctions - and, but, or, nor, for, yet, and so (note well the Oxford comma in this list - it is the standard for formal writing at HACC, so I must learn to use it). These are quite arbitrarily assigned, and if one is used in a compound sentence, a comma is required. Subordinate conjunctions which perform exactly the same role in a complex sentence do not require a comma.

For example:

I thought I had mastered the comma, for I was a cocky fool.
I thought I had mastered the comma because I was a cocky fool.

You see that the former sentence requires a comma, but the latter does not. I would never have thought to put a comma in the former sentence. This has existentionally rocked me to my grammatical core. I am now the most insecure user of commas in existence. Every time I have an urge to use one, I check the usage rules I have jotted in my college folder three or four times. It has slowed the writing process down considerably.

A couple of days ago I spilled boiling water from a bowl of noodles all over my left wrist as I was lifting the bowl from the microwave. The next day it blistered spectacularly. Now I have an ugly red scar that looks for all the world like a suicide attempt. I blame the comma!

Even Eats, Shoots and Leaves didn't mention this rule (or use the Oxford comma, though that's not a problem for me). Brain ... unravelling ... heart ... breaking ...
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