A semicolon is a purposeful pause


The idea probably started with the sort of hypothetical discussion that populated my college years: If you were to get a tattoo, what would it be? My answer was tongue in cheek: A semicolon, because it’s my favorite punctuation mark.

That’s true, by the way. The semicolon is a thing of beauty when used correctly. It links two related ideas that could otherwise stand independently. But it’s often misused, and as an editor such abuse makes me mad. I once quit reading a book by an author I liked because he abused my dear semicolon over and over again. Years later, when the book was reissued (and re-edited) as “Through Painted Deserts,” I avoided it for fear that rogue semicolons would still run rampant. (I eventually picked it up and was relieved to see an editor pulled Donald Miller’s punctuation into line. It became my favorite of his books.)

My sister created a triptych of semicolons for me to embody this obsession. That was a fair alternative to inking punctuation on my skin.

But the idea didn’t fade. One morning I awoke from a stress dream; I’d gone to a tattoo parlor but couldn’t decide where I wanted to be marked. Shortly thereafter, I moved in with a roommate who had a white tattoo on her inner wrist.


The semicolon took on additional meaning with time. I gave up living alone and relocated with that roommate. My work life had changed in the months prior, and 60-hour weeks became common. I’d retreat to my apartment, exhausted and feeling sorry for myself. My many friend groups would (reasonably) assume I was with someone else. I adore alone time, but you can have too much of a good thing. I needed a roommate.

And a reminder: Slow down. Breathe. Pause.

If I were to move forward with this tattoo, it must be in a spot visible to me, a signpost to trigger self care.

For years, the idea remained just that, locked away in my mind (and released for occasional conversation). But it never faded. As Project Semicolon gained traction, friends were quick to share it with me. I was momentarily disappointed that the tattoo I daydreamed about had become a trend. But then, it’s to benefit an issue I feel strongly about: suicide awareness and prevention. Although I don’t lean toward suicidal ideation, I’ve long dealt with depression. I have a number of friends who have been directly affected by suicide. And while talking about it isn’t a miracle cure, it’s a big step. That’s why I’m quick to discuss depression and treatment. So yes, this was a mark I could proudly bear.

If I could just deal with my needle phobia.

Last year for Christmas my sister sent me a T-shirt and sweatpants from To Write Love On Her Arms. The shirt read “music is a safe place,” and the pants hit even closer to home: “love is the movement.” I told her they made me long for a semicolon tattoo.

Six months later, I realized I was out of reasons not to go through with it. I declared getting inked a 35th birthday present to myself. If I didn’t go through with it, I would drop the idea forever.

I proceeded through the necessary steps: Select an artist. Interrogate him about ink colors. (We settled on pink instead of white for a variety of reasons.) Book his next available appointment, nearly two months out. Exhale with relief: I would have six weeks to decide if I would go through with it.

The next day he emailed. He had a cancellation the following afternoon. Did I want it?

I said yes, but I wasn’t sure I meant it. Anxiety seemed to course through my veins that day, tempered only slightly when I popped a Xanax about an hour before my appointment.

Should I do something so permanent when I feel like I’m in such transition, I texted my friend Melissa, who would accompany me. Recent years had been filled with change, including the end of a significant relationship, many changes at work and my decision to look for a job elsewhere. Melissa may have been the perfect companion for this errand; in addition to being my yoga teacher, she is a therapist by training.

I think it’s perfect, she replied. You’re living in a semicolon.

I took a deep breath and extended my arm. I got inked.

The next part of my sentence is about to begin. Today I leave a state I’ve called home for the past 14 years. It’s the state where I was born, and where I’ve spent most of my adult life. It’s the state where I’ve chased dreams and built my career.

The next part of my sentence begins in Colorado.

I’ll relocate my career, my books and my two orange cats to Glenwood Springs. There, the cats will adapt to gazing at snow and aspens instead of drought and pine trees. I’ll pursue my own adventures, as the outdoors and entertainment editor of the paper and as a 35-year-old Southerner making her way in a different land.

As I do, I’ll carry on my body a quiet reminder: Slow down. Breathe. Take care of yourself and others. 2016 reminded me, even when it’s uncomfortable, there’s beauty in a semicolon.

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