Tag Archive | rhetorical grammar

Make Time for the Pause or You’ll Miss Its Intended Meaning

Photo found on Google Images

Photo found on Google Images

The road once travelled,

feet planted firm on solid

ground, interrupted


by roots thirsty for

the strength that you possess. They

demand your attention.


You decide: let them

overtake you, your lower

limbs petrifying


into suspended

thought and motion or pause

briefly, study its


intrusion, finding

its point of origin,

harvesting instead


its fruit so you can

move on, girded with wisdom

and understanding.

—by Alexandra Caselle

Trees are Mother Nature’s grapevine.  Not only do they anchor the ecosystem, but trees also communicate history through the rings of their trunks. Once a person enters a tree’s space, he or she feels nature’s vibe.

Place an ear against its bark. Listen to how it amplifies the scurrying of the squirrels and the knocking of the woodpecker’s beak. Tarry a little longer in its presence, and become connected to a network that extends farther than any Wi-Fi system.

A tree’s placement affects the overall landscape.  It can enhance the area, change its composition, or attract other wildlife. These positive changes unearth a hidden attribute of the landscape, something that broadens Mother Nature’s or the developers’ original design.

Trees can also block paths. Their roots disrupt the leveled planes of sidewalks and driveways.  People can either ignore them or choose to remove them.

The placement of a comma can affect a sentence’s overall composition.  A comma can add layers and depth to a sentence and extend its meaning.  It is that blinking caution light, alerting readers to slow down before they miss something that will be of great impact.

Those pesky little pronunciation marks account for a lot of writing errors. Teachers break down its plethora of rules to one basic concept: a comma means pause.  That one word, pause, leads writers off on a tangent.  They begin writing how they talk.

During the writing process, writers may reread the emerging piece, listening in their minds for places between words where a break would go.  The problem with expecting a pause is the misperception that writing should mirror the normal flow of conversation.

The pauses of everyday dialogue do not always indicate a need for a comma when translated into the written word. The comma does direct the reader to pause, but there is a reason for it.   It emphasizes or elaborates a point in the sentence.

The pauses that occur in life definitely direct people’s attention to a deeper meaning in their lives, and if they juxtapose their lives against some of the comma rules, people may see how their life’s hiccups extend their conceptions of themselves.

When Sentences & Life Make You Take a Time Out

A common use of the comma is to separate nonessential clauses and phrases from the main sentence.  These groups of words function as extra information, but when removed, do not alter the original meaning of the sentence.  Those supplemental syntactical elements function as the scantily clad cousin who saunters in the middle of the wedding vows: they interrupt the flow and steal the show.

These interrupters may be appositives that further describe the subject:

Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a medical professional who examined the liver and ate it, too, is one of the most frightening villains in horror films.

Now compare the above sentence to the one below:

Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one of the most frightening villains in horror films.

The addition of the nonessential element adds character and makes the reader notice.

For me, losing the ability to walk on my own for an extended length of time forced me to appreciate things taken for granted.  That pause was an incubation time for me.  It emphasized past hurts that I needed to release and it instilled gratitude.  There is nothing more humbling, than having a rotating round of nurses remove all ounces of dignity while assisting you with simple things like bathing or using the restroom.

Nothing strikes a blow like having your parents, who are in their 70s and 80s, see you struggle with a walker decked out in green tennis balls during your physical therapy session.  My legs were like blocks of concrete.  I willed them to move, wishing I had Magneto’s mind control.  I was more like a flimsy rag doll being held up by three medical puppeteers in white.

That pause broke my pride, a necessary interruption.

That elongated period of physical therapy and loss of independence led me to examine a series of actions and thoughts that did not belong in my emotional, spiritual, or psychological being. Yes, they were sequential events, happening successively, like a list of life events. But their timeframe was definite, not infinite.  They had an end date that occurred in the distant past, but I refused to evict them from my life.

They were like a serial comma, further reflection on them, just added problem, after problem, after problem in my present, nonessential items in a series.   In writing, teachers instruct us to place a comma or break after each item in a series until you come to the conjunction and.

But there has to come a time when we stop placing breaks into the composed lines of our lives and let the comma or past event actually fulfill its role.  If we were to look up the meaning of serial in the dictionary, we would see that it means “pertaining to the transmission or pressing of each part of a whole in sequence.”  (www.dictionary.com)

Commas and those life’s hiccups may force us to slow down but after we learn the meaning, then we must press forward.

They were designed to detain us only for a little awhile.

Review the most common rules here:  http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp


WRITING WHILE FORTY: The Curious Case of the Connection of Dashes & Parentheses to Writing & Reinvention

turning 40 road sign

(Image originally found on Google Images)

Coming up at Mile 40: 

Writer Experiencing Gray Hairs, Growing Pains, Fluctuating Fat, & Inevitable Reinvention

in Herself and Her Writing

My back is against the wall.  Life wedges its foot deeper into my chest. The weight of it against my clavicle is an avalanche of bricks.  My breathing becomes labored and ragged. Guilt, fear, anxiety, regret, and abandoned dreams and goals, the harbingers of middle age, circle around me.

The Type-A personality in me wants to file each threat in a neat compartment and regain control.  My self-competitive streak tells me I have failed because I didn’t stay on that golden brick road of mobility and success.  I’m turning 40, and I am not where I wanted to be.

I am also not the writer that I wanted to be.

A high school writing award sits on my dresser.  It reminds me of my old writer self : the stories I wrote daily ever since I was a child, the creativity I weaved into literary analysis essays in AP English, the imagination that ran wild. It taunts me, as if to ask the question: What happened to you?

I guess the road bumps of life are situations designed to interrupt life, experiences tossed into the flow in order to pull us toward another direction, whether we are willing to go or not.  It’s funny how those setbacks—or in a positive light, those setups for change—can be compared to dashes.

In rhetorical grammar, dashes are used to interrupt the sentence with information.  They make the reader pause and reflect on the impact of the new idea being inserted.  Writers mainly employ them when they want to emphasize a point or detail.  I think of the dash as a diva because it demands attention and commands respect.

For example, look at the way the presence or absence of dashes alter meaning in sentences from Hawa Allen’s essay, “When Tyra Met Naomi:  Race, Fashion, and Rivalry” (published in Gerald Early and Debra Dickerson’s book, Best African American Essays:2009):

“One of the reasons I wanted to do this show is because sisterhood is so important to me.  I feel like women hate on each other—we’re jealous—and it has to stop.”

               “One of the reasons I wanted to do this show is because sisterhood is so important to me.  I feel like women hate on each other and it has to stop.”

The story had all the elements of talk-show-pathos—the tears, the accusations, the confessions of emotional agony—but, to her credit, Banks refused to make the story purely a personal one.

               The story had all the elements of talk-show-pathos but, to her credit, Banks refused to make the story purely a personal one. 

She could have easily made Campbell the sole villain—given the model’s history of petulance, anger-management issues and resulting lawsuits, most of the work was already done for her—but instead she chose to focus on both systemic racism in the modeling industry and internalized sexism among women.

              She could have easily made Campbell the sole villain but instead she chose to focus on both systemic racism in the modeling industry and internalized sexism among women.

Like the dashes, isn’t funny when we think if certain situations didn’t happen we would be better off but without them, they add a different layer of meaning in our lives and our growth?


(Image originally found on What You Can Do Facebook page)

I realize that my experiences have spun their own tale, a tapestry of wisdom, missteps, baggage releasing, and growth.  No, I am not the eighteen-year-old who could compose a story on her old typewriter in fifteen minutes about an old woman she saw on the city bus earlier that day. Yes, as a teenager, I could render a character, her setting, her plight into a reader’s imagination. Now I can add depth to the story, thanks to experience.

Here I am, swinging at the onset of middle age, but I cannot fight change.  It is inevitable.  Growing older is a part of life.  Instead of fighting it, I must embrace it.

I’m trying to run away from the woman, the writer I am destined to become.

I must weave the uncomfortable experiences seamlessly into the fabric of my life.  They emphasize areas within me that need to develop in order to become that middle-aged woman.  But I should not let them stop me and back me into a corner.  I must acknowledge them and keep living my life.

They are only parenthetical times in my journey.

With parentheses, the author taps the reader gently on the shoulder and guides him or her to the emphasized point.  I think of the parenthesis as the mediator who is trying to achieve harmony between the sentence and the information it is presenting or like a friend who is whispering his or her commentary while the reader is reading.  Here is another example from Allan’s essay:

Though the Tyra episode ended with the requisite apology from Campbell (“However I’ve affected you or you’ve felt that I’ve affected you, I take my responsibility.  I must say I’m proud of you.  You’ve been a powerful black woman. . . Please continue) and tears from Banks, its real strength was that Banks framed her enmity with Campbell as a result of the larger institutional and social forces that pitted the two models against each other in the first place.

        Though the Tyra episode ended with the requisite apology from Campbell and tears from Banks, its real strength was that Banks framed her enmity with Campbell as a result of the larger institutional and social forces that pitted the two models against each other in the first place.

I guess Tyra didn’t let those larger institutional and social forces serve as setbacks or interruptions in her career.  She gleaned what she could learn from that situation and pushed forward.

Now it is the time for my reflection.

40pic-every gray hair tells a story(Image originally found on Google Images)

J. Victoria Saunders tweeted a link to her Tumblr page recently that addressed 35 nuggets of wisdom she has learned at the age of 35. (http://jvictoriasanders.com/post/41215634293/thirty-five-in-honor-of-35-the-mid-thirties-sounds.)  She inspired me to come up with my own 40 for 40.  It is a work-in-progress.

Things I Have Learned About Life & Writing While Approaching 40

  1. Revenge is a dish best served by karma, not by me.
  2. Stay in my lane.
  3. Listen to my intuition.
  4. Every adversity deepens character and perseverance breeds strength.
  5. There is a reason why I can’t change my past:  Everything was supposed to happen.
  6. Learn to deal with being outside of my comfort zone.
  7. My mind is my Achilles heel.
  8. Stop being my worst inner critic.
  9. If I feel like crap on the inside, people will treat me like crap. That crap will also color my perspective.
  10. I define what normal is.
  11. Beauty truly does come from within.
  12. Don’t  internalize the actions of others into your stream of consciousness.
  13. Cherish the ones you love while they are still here.
  14. If it is true love, it will always come back to you.
  15. There is a time and place to burn bridges.
  16. When opportunity knocks at the door, always answer it.  It may never present itself again.
  17. Everyone has a purpose. Be prepared for it to change during different times in life.
  18. My thoughts and actions sometimes create my circumstances.
  19. Always look  at a situation from someone else’s perspective.
  20. Forgiveness frees you from unresolved anger growing into outward manifestations of illness and unhappiness.
  21. Unforgiveness changes you, and usually that change is not a positive one.
  22. The path that helped you run away from your problems will always lead you back to them.
  23. To have peace, I must relinquish control.
  24. Being sensitive is not a sign of weakness.
  25. Making it real and being realistic in my writing are related.  Strive for sentiment instead of sensationalism.
  26. Don’t imprint on my characters and writing too much. There is a difference between writing for self and writing for      others.
  27. Writing is an ongoing, lifetime journey of learning and discovery.
  28. Let the muse reign.
  29. Do not pimp out your muse.  Stay true to your style of writing.
  30. Every masterpiece, written or human, has its own imperfections. They add to the composition’s beauty.
  31. Ground my  reader into the concrete instead of the abstract.  Let my nouns and verbs, not my adverbs and adjectives, carry the narrative.
  32. My writing  is not my personal cache of words I know.  Use clear word choice to convey understanding to my reader, not the long, sultry affair with Webster.
  33. If a  character is the narrator of the story, he or she cannot die at the end of the story.  If the character begins the story, he or she must end it.
  34. The creative and the critical can exist in the same written discourse.
  35. Honor the process of writing in truth in order to be of service to my readers.
  36. Reading and writing are symbiotic processes.  You must read extensively and study professional models of writing in order to hone your writing.
  37. Back story  should be woven seamlessly into the narrative.
  38. Write and order each sentence with care. Each sentence should be able to link the reader to the larger narrative just like a piece of yarn remains connected to its skein.
  39. The  placement of a punctuation mark can modify the meaning of a sentence.
  40. Do not be  afraid to reinvent myself even if it means rebuilding my life.

Being a writer, at any age, involves reinvention and letting go.  Our experiences drive our creative process. We must transition throughout our lifetimes even though the process seems more amplified.

Additional information about punctuation as rhetorical grammar can be found in Noah Lukeman’s A Dash of Style:  The Art and Mastery of Punctuation.

What lessons have you learned about writing and/or life?