Fun with punctuation

And now for something entirely different.

My editor sent me this entertaining post from mentalfloss.com, dealing with the secret emotional lives of punctuation marks, this morning, and it got my imagination working.

Perhaps there's an entire land of punctuation. Let's call it Punction Junction, where exclamation points, commas and colons try their best to live in harmony—inasmuch as humans with no real idea of their individual purposes or idiosyncrasies will let them.

I imagine Punction Junction is a pretty place, with clear streams and rolling hills and a wide variety of trees, though the weather is probably quite volatile. In my head, it looks a little like the Hundred Acre Wood crossed with Smurf Village. 

Exclamation Point lives in the first house a traveler approaches—a large, Tudor cottage with a lush lawn sprinkled with artistically arranged pink and white azaleas. The hinges on the cottage's front door, painted a cheery yellow, are a bit rusty, as EP is forever popping out to greet visitors: “Hi! Great you see you! Beautiful day!” EP moves rapidly and gives the impression that, had he a face, it would be fixed with a perma-smile.

But behind the yellow door, a darker truth is rarely seen. While the entryway and the part of the living room any callers could crane their necks to see are immaculate, the sunlight flooding through streak-free windows fades further back. Magazines clutter unvacuumed floors and spiderwebs cluster in the corners. It gets exhausting always having to be so upbeat. EP is, at heart, an optimist, but adding emotion to oftentimes undeserving sentences takes a lot of energy. He fears that people tire of him, through no fault of his own, and begin to resent his presence at Christmas parties and christenings. But EP's occasional bouts of self-doubt are nothing a quick chai and a hit of chocolate can't fix, and soon he's back out in the yard, trimming the already perfect hedges and waving enthusiastically at passers-by.

It's a slightly different story down the road at Comma's place. Comma, a slightly stooped lady of indeterminate age, lives in a bungalow by the edge of Lake Loquacious. She, like EP, has a well-maintained yard, full of sunflowers and marigolds. (Until a few years ago, Comma grew a third flower—daisies—but the endless debate among townsfolk about whether she had sunflowers, marigolds, and daisies or sunflowers, marigolds and daisies wearied Comma, who has vowed to never, ever visit Oxford.)

This, in a nutshell, is Comma's problem. While she's very well-educated and an asset to any dinner conversation, Comma rarely gets invited to gatherings anymore, as no one is quite sure where she's supposed to sit. The last time she went out, dressed in her sparkly best, to Asterisk's Fourth of July bash, Dependent Clause and his brother Indie (from nearby Parts of Speechville) nearly came to blows. It was terribly embarrassing and led her to drink rather too much red wine, so these days, Comma gardens and reads, curled up in her favorite comfy chair. She's content in her own company but wouldn't mind a little more social activity. She's heard rumors that Semicolon is planning a birthday party at the end of the month, and since they are related, she's confident she'll be invited. She's already gotten Semicolon a present: a membership in the Cheese of the Month club.

Semicolon and first cousin Colon don't go out all that much, either. When they do, it tends to go badly. Semicolon is quiet and unassuming, always lurking on the sidelines, hoping to be asked to dance but quickly realizing, once she is, that her partner doesn't know the steps. Colon is loud and brash, demanding attention but often complaining about the company, especially that of the twins, Upper and Lower Case. (Upper was born six minutes earlier and is always trying to butt in on Lower's conversations.)  Semicolon and Colon share a condo near the new shopping mall and are often spotted at Starbuck's, reading The New York Times and working the crossword puzzle in ink.

Period lives in the center of town, in a sprawling Victorian mansion with columns and a captain's walk. A founding father of Punction Junction, Period is well-respected and universally admired, but has gotten somewhat curmudgeonly in his old age. Often feeling dissed by status updates and emails that don't bother with him, Period is prone to plopping heavily in his overstuffed armchair, beer in hand, grumbling at college football on TV and refusing to answer the doorbell.

Period's nearest neighbor, Question Mark, lives two blocks down in a rambling ranch house with too many additions. Mr. Q. Mark is a fixture in Punction Junction, serving on the town council and school board, but many residents find him to be a little bit whiny. He sometimes pops into meetings uninvited, full of opinions and injecting doubt where there was certainty, and is a bit of a diva. Exclamation Mark still remembers, but rarely talks about, that Saturday in August when the two had agreed to go antiquing together. Mr. Q. Mark uninvited EM at the last-minute, saying he preferred to not have other opinions cluttering his.

Question Mark, of course, is not to be confused with Quotation Mark. Quotation Mark has something of an attitude, stemming from decades of being dragged out of bed for no good reason by Emphasis (who visits Punction Junction more often than some residents would like). He has been known to affect a British accent on spring Sundays when the air is crisp and is always pointedly overdressed for an occasion, though many folk believe he has a soft heart underneath his bluster. (They point out how kind and patient his is with his spinster sister, Single Quote.)

Around the corner from Quotation Mark lives Ellipsis, but she's usually resting. Chronic overuse, especially by a certain genre of romance novelists, has left her with a nervous condition. She keeps her shades drawn and has a little in-box on her front porch where villagers can submit appearance requests.

Aforementioned Asterisk lives on the outskirts of town in a lavishly appointed double-wide. He has two big, scruffy Rottweilers running loose, but if you can get past them, there's usually a party going on, whether Asterisk is home or not. His fridge is always stocked, a guest room is usually available for the overserved, and when he does enter a room, he does it with fanfare, commanding all eyes and sparking much furious whispering.

 An assortment of other punctuation marks lives in the same neighborhood, including Hyphen, a happy-go-lucky hippy type given to flowing skirts and too much Patchouli but always willing to lend a helping hand; and Parentheses, conjoined twins who retired to Punction Junction to live a quiet life after years spent touring with the circus.

Punction Junction is a generally happy place, with its residents finding ways to get along even when they disagree about things. There is, however, one very sad exception.

Apostrophe has a tiny, two-room shack on the other side of the railroad tracks. He hasn't been seen in public in years. Town scuttlebutt is that he is clinically depressed and severely agoraphobic. Last time he ventured outside, on a day trip to Proper Noun Place (a swank development on the other side of the river with a Nordstrom outlet and a 16-screen movie theater), he had a breakdown upon seeing an ornately lettered sign proclaiming a shiny new split-level property of the Phillip's. Comma said she saw Apostrophe in October 2009 at Publix, but he abandoned his cart in the middle of the aisle and ran from the store when he saw frequent Junction visitor Plural heading toward him.

It's hoped Apostrophe will come out next week, for the annual cross-town bash with the residents from Parts of Speechville. Asterisk is banned from bringing anything, but Comma is definitely invited.