All those ecstatic exclamation points!!!

Recently, I exchanged a series of texts about possible places to have a celebratory dinner. Because I was hurrying, I didn’t choose my words carefully and typed, “X café sounds O.K.” Without meaning to I conveyed an underwhelmed reaction, which then required clarifying texts. I actually agreed with the suggested restaurant, but my reply didn’t sound like it. Sigh.

Electronic communication lacks the cues that tone of voice offers in a phone call or body language expresses in person. Emojis help, but not enough. Often the exact tone I’m looking for doesn’t come in an emoji.

These days, when I receive an ordinary text like, “I’ll pick you up at 6:00,” or “I sent the package,” I’m likely to reply, “Great!” There’s nothing extraordinary, wonderful, or truly great about the moment. I feel completely neutral—no excitement, no elevated enthusiasm—I’m just trying to acknowledge the message in a pleasant way.

Used to be, exclamation points signaled excitement or surprise. The writing professors I had urged caution—use exclamation points sparingly. I took their advice and rarely used them. Now, I regularly disregard those guidelines when I’m texting and emailing.

“Great!” has become the equivalent of “O.K.”—what I would have said by phone, because my warm tone would make my reaction clear.

Now that innocuous word can be freighted with an unintentionally cranky or passive-aggressive tone (Typing These Two Letters Will Scare Your Young Co-Workers: Everything was O.K. until you wrote “O.K.”)

“O.K.,” can be construed as flat and potentially unhappy. It seems similar to the irritated “Fine.” You know— “Fine” said in the tone which means sonot fine. “Fine” as in I won’t argue now, but we’re not done. Fighting words.

I wish texts were only used for simple, neutral messages like schedules, grocery lists, or where to meet. But I’ve bowed to the reality that for many people, texts are their default communication, even when the subject matter is emotion-laden and would be better handled in person or in a phone call. There would be less chance of confusion or hurt feelings. So in the interest of good communication, I’m inflating my word choice and punctuation.

And that’s O.K., er, Great!!!

Being Heard

It wasn’t until I emailed a friend that I put the pieces together – I was afraid the doctor wouldn’t find anything wrong with my left knee.

I couldn’t stand for five minutes before I started feeling the burning pain. I contemplated going up or down the staircase before taking my first step. When my partner, Jody, asked me to walk our dogs with her, I groaned. Still, what if the doctor didn’t find any damage to my knee?

Finally, I had had it. I was in the back yard pulling weeds from our garden. My excruciating left knee pain had me sitting right back in the lawn chair. I can’t live like this, I thought. I grabbed my cell phone and sent a message to the doctor. I know an x-ray won’t show anything. Can’t we do an MRI? I am icing all the time. I can’t stand or walk without pain.

In April 2019, I had a full right knee replacement. That was going wonderfully. I had no pain. My flexion was back to normal, and I was soon to be released from physical therapy.

I’d had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee a few months prior to the right knee replacement. Next a cortisone shot in the same knee, but the pain remained. My left knee had always been more painful than my right knee, but it was the right knee that showed bone on bone.

What if the doctor didn’t find any injury to my left knee? Even to me, it seemed like with the medical care that I was receiving, I shouldn’t be experiencing this pain.

When I emailed my friend, my thoughts took me back to the sexual abuse I endured as a child. I was nine years old when I told my mother. She punished me. I’ll never tell you again, I said to myself. No matter how bad it gets. I didn’t say anything until I was eighteen and afraid for my younger sisters who were still at home. I went to the police knowing my parents wouldn’t or couldn’t protect my sisters.

The sexual abuse that I endured in my family and the results of that abuse were not validated by my parents or siblings. I wasn’t seen. I wasn’t heard.

I made an appointment to see the doctor. An MRI was ordered. Even though I knew there was pain, I found myself standing and walking to prove to myself that the pain was still there. The pain hadn’t disappeared. Still, I had doubts. What if I was the only one to know how painful my knee was? Prior x-rays showed nothing. I knew the pain wasn’t in my head. I knew the pain was real. What if I was the only one who would recognize the pain? The idea of not being believed haunted me the same as when I wasn’t believed as a child and the same as when my family shunned me for telling the truth when I was an adult.

Jody accompanied me to doctor appointments. I found it comforting to have her with me. Her caring touched me. Some people might think, of course your spouse would support you. I didn’t think like that. It was more normal for me to go it alone and authenticate my own truth. That was what I grew up with. It was in the waiting room that I told Jody that I made a connection between not being validated about the sexual abuse and my fear of the MRI not showing anything.

The doctor discussed the MRI results line by line. Postoperative changes of prior partial medial meniscectomy with increased tearing of the body. High-grade chondral loss. Increased bone marrow edema with a suspected new fracture. Moderate to large joint effusion.

In short, my left knee was a mess. A knee replacement was scheduled.

I had one final question for my doctor. “I don’t want to be a complainer,” I said. “How bad should it hurt before I call you?” Without hesitation she said to call her anytime.

A little piece of me healed. My knees will heal, cells will rejuvenate, same as my soul.

Jody and our son and daughter are traveling to Japan next summer. We will climb Mount Fuji. I imagine, even now, reaching out to the heavens in thanks for the blessings around me and within me.

The World of Holiday Greetings Has Changed

For the last several years, a friend and I have gotten together every December to address Christmas cards and catch up over tea. She still writes at least two dozen, while my output has dwindled to less than 10.

I used to love Christmas cards. I tended to indulge in the expensive ones printed on high quality paper, the ones with artistic designs or humorous sentiments. Sometimes I bogged down with signing them and getting them to the Post Office, but I always got them out before New Year’s.

While doing business as Ellen Shriner Communications, I began handcrafting holiday cards to send to ad agency and marketing clients. Instead of dropping off clever client gifts or food treats (a common practice in the communications world), I made a charitable donation in my clients’ honor and hoped the cards would remind clients about my creative work. I also sent the cards to close family and friends.

Every year, I wandered the aisles of the now-defunct Paper Depot and let the stamps, vellums, fine cotton card stock, and gorgeous imported papers inspire me. For a month, I holed up in my office planning, writing, printing, cutting, gluing, and assembling 50-60 cards. Many years, I made several versions because I was attracted to multiple ideas, and it was fun to experiment.

The card with red ribbon involved dried flowers from my garden. For the one on the far right, I drew ornaments in watercolor. For the one in the center, I hand cut starbursts with an Exacto knife so the gold vellum would show through.

By the end of 2010, I was winding down my business and had accepted a hospital marketing job. I could have continued making the cards for family and friends, but handcrafting cards no longer gave me as much pleasure, and the world of holiday greetings had changed.

For many people, sending Christmas cards had become just one more thing on a long To Do list. Friends and family were relieved to let go of the tradition. Often the cards I received seemed to be guilt-induced (Dang! She sent me one. Now I need to reciprocate), and I didn’t want to cause that discomfort.

For me, Christmas cards had been a way to stay connected with out-of-town family or friends I rarely saw. Often the cards summed up how the year had gone, and that ritual reflection felt worthwhile.

Now a yearly missive is less important. Calling is so cheap and immediate that the most important people in my life already know what’s going on. As a writer, I’m at the keyboard most days and can dash off a quick email to friends. Social media has made it easy to stay in touch with an extended group of people.

Maybe one day I’ll rediscover the creative fun of playing with fine papers, glue, and an Exacto knife. But this year, I’ll sign a few store-bought cards and write a handful of personal notes. Of course, nothing replaces visiting in person, especially over a cup of tea!

To all of our blog readers: the WordSisters send lots of affection and appreciation for our connection. Happy Holidays!

Company of Strangers

Bell ringers, crowded parking lots, a too-warm coat in a too-warm store waiting in line to pay, missing a gift box, losing a gift receipt. Bright lights and glittering messages of sales and making others happy. A barrage of noise and pressure camouflage what was once Christmas. Thanksgiving’s turkey barely forgotten and three weeks of hurry up to run.

Away from the malls, eight school choir members dressed in the winter jacket and hat uniform of kids their age line Fish Creek’s historic Alexander Noble House’s porch while dozens of friends, family, strangers, holiday lovers gather on the walkways. Young boys kick apart snow chunks along sides of the gathering. Flashing Christmas lights hang around the necks of middle-age women. Babies watch from cocoons of blankets and scarves. Couples relax within each other’s arms or stand side-by-side exchanging private looks of contentment.

Candle flames flicker in a playful breeze, burning holes in plastic cup that offer minimal wind protection. Most stay lit for the community Christmas caroling led by a choir director’s strong tenor. Everyone beyond the age of teenage angst sings. Confidence is found in the company of strangers on a mild December evening waiting for lighting of a tree maybe twelve feet tall. Choir members stand absolutely still, sway on booted feet, move from one foot to another as the crowd owns old songs, contemporary songs, religious songs. The night could go on longer as people unconsciously edge closer to each other.

The temporary community chorale doesn’t need a soaring Rockefeller Center tree to proclaim Christmas. When the switch flips and hundreds of white lights sparkle, the moment becomes special. People clap. Some call out Merry Christmas. The tree festivities end without a pitch for funds or a speech by the someone with a title, just the exchanging of holiday wishes as blown out candles return to a box.

Happy holidays to all of you. May you find times of comfort and peace in the coming weeks and all of 2020.

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One Hundred Reasons to Be Thankful

For weeks I have noodled around the idea of posting a simple list of the people, places, abilities, things, conditions, blessings to bring meaning to this year’s Thanksgiving day.  An introvert with a history of over thinking added complexity to the simple list. Capturing one hundred reasons to be thankful posed a bountiful problem: Do I capture family as one listing or name everyone? The same thought rumbled around for friends, for neighbors, and friends who play multiple roles. Should individual writers be called out or tumble them together. And what about music? Does the list become trivial with additions like homemade caramels and fresh popcorn? What about specific brand call outs?

My expectations for this Thanksgiving were not very high. It is a holiday that traditionally is celebrated by all of us in the U.S. The slow slog toward a nation divided topped by the trauma of impeachment hearings had me dragging my feet while approaching the common table. Friends do their daily grateful lists, but that habit didn’t stick any better than water exercise or keeping a drawer of perfectly rolled underwear ala Marie Kondo.

The nerdy spreadsheet used to record one hundred reasons to be thankful could be filled with the names of people, pets, foods, books, music and such to flesh out section and become quite a document. My self-editor is constrained by assuming you would want to be amused or impressed if those columns were offered. Many of us have a richness of reasons to be thankful—love, family, friends, a place to call home, jobs, talents, faith, a beloved nation. And responsibility to extend another’s list. Needs extend 365 days a year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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