research * the future * culture

STC 2: I am Garcia Marquez

Instructions

Write a paragraph to a page (150-350 words) of narrative with no punctuation (and no paragraphs or other breaking devices).

The result

he has only a few kinds of dreams now strange how they have emerged bubbling and simmering up into the murmuring dark between him and Singer when they never made trouble before when his nights were full of birds and twigs and her breathing oh how she could sleep so deep and so even so untroubled and how he had envied her that had envied her the long silent hours when he could only watch and wait and wish for respite but now he has Singers groans and the water in the pipes and the cavern of concrete that traps all his new bad dreams there are the ones about his hands and his feet the ones where he looks down and sees raw nerves and bones and wonders how he to walk how to fight how to leave and the open road is a punishment a joke he has other dreams of things torn from him the things he needs his organs trailing out bouncing behind like empty tin cans tied on by bored children at a wedding reception and he has one good dream or something like it and she is there and full thank God full and he barely notices the pain for her slurping and her hmming and her other pleased sounds the food sounds the ones he savoured and he only shouts himself awake when she turns to him and smiles with bloody teeth and he sees where shes cut him wide open and started eating

Analysis

This was really tough. Punctuation is a compulsion. It hurts not to use it. Those little dots and dashes impose order on the universe. (Even now, I am relishing the curvature of the parenthesis.)

I do not know punctuation the way that I should. I have not read my Strunk & White, though I have been exhorted to do so numerous times from numerous sources. I once thought seriously about picking up Eats Shoots and Leaves, but then I had a realistic talk with myself and realized I wasn’t likely to read it. (I may have purchased a Palahniuk novel instead.) I have friends who are far better at grammar and punctuation than I because they have been paid to be good at it, but sometimes they still reinforce my ideas about punctuation — how to use a semicolon, for example.

Issues of grammatical correctness only remain in my mind if there is some narrative attached, some public shame or other anecdote with which I can tag the rule. For example, I remember that “nauseated” is the proper way to refer to stomach upset because I had a professor who corrected me about it while we were descending a spiral staircase. It may be the way that the concepts of motion sickness and the motion of descending a spiral staircase fit together in my brain, but I have always remembered that little rule. (“Nauseous” is actually an adjective, for those who are curious. It describes the quality of nauseating others, though by now it’s more efficient to say “he has a nauseating demeanor” or somesuch and let it go.) I suspect that many people are like this: they only recall the rules which they broke and were punished for in a classroom or other social setting. (Naturally this extends beyond the realm of grammar.) This may explain why non-native speakers of any language sometimes speak very formally — not only were they instructed in “polite form,” but there are any number of embarrassing memories of failure attached. One of my Japanese instructors told me that his use of the language had only improved because for eight years, his every mistake was corrected by native speakers. He has distinct memories of being wrong and being corrected.

I should also add that my familiarity with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ punctuational idiosyncrasies is rather nil. I’ve read Of Love and Other Demons and Memories of My Melancholy Whores, but the punctuation (or lack thereof) doesn’t stick out in my memory. I reserve that distinction for Jose Saramago, whose The History of the Siege of Lisbon I tried ever so hard to read, on the advice of both Ben and Mr. Ashby. But it was all for naught, because Senor Saramago does not use quotation marks, and their absence drove me up the wall. I’m so rarely put off by fiction books. Even if I’m bored I’ll tough it out. And I really wanted to enjoy this one, because it seemed like it was going in very fun, postmodern directions having to do with history and wikiality and truth and randy editors. But no. I missed the quotation marks too much. I could not condone their genocide. I had to stop reading.

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  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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