I Buy a Semicolon for $300

In Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott quotes a colleague of the Dalai Lama about Things That Go Wrong.

….they believe when a lot of things start going wrong all at once, it is to protect something big and lovely that is trying to get itself born–and that this something needs for you to be distracted so that it can be born as perfectly as possible. I believe this is true. And I especially believe it when other people’s things are breaking down. When it’s my stuff, I believe the direct cause is my bad character.

Toward the end of April I started on Something Big (whether it’s lovely remains to be seen). Things went fairly well until the week it was due, when two Small and Not Lovely Somethings happened.

In one afternoon.

1. Ants  invaded the screened porch where I do much of my work in summer. True, the ants were benign and polite Upper Midwest ants, not the evil and venomous ants of the South, but still, if you give an ant a foothold on the porch, pretty soon it wants a cookie. I put Something Big on hold and made an unscheduled trip to the hardware store for ant-discourager, which meant sweeping the ant-discourager into the cracks in the brick floor and wetting down the floor to activate the discourager.

Wetting down the floor meant moving the porch furniture and wiping down the floor with our reusable terrycloth Swiffer®-like mop covers, which in turn meant that I had to run the mop covers through the washer a couple of times to remove the residue of the ant-discourager along with the dirt that accumulates on a porch floor.

It was worth it, though, because the ant-discourager WORKED. (And yes, I know the Dalai Lama would have found a way to co-exist with the ants but…I am not there yet.)

2. Three hours later, I finally was able to resume work on Something Big. And behold, a different kind of insect (tiny, longish) appeared on the Home row of my keyboard. Fearing that it would slip down between the keys and get squished and short out whatever sends a signal from a pressed key to the etaoin shrdlu program, I did what I had to do and kept typing.

Half a sentence on, I noticed that my preemptive strike, which took place on the K key, had resulted in bug residue, which my fingertips had deposited on a couple of other keys. I dampened a soft cloth per cleaning instructions and wiped away the evidence, but the cloth may have been a wee too damp because it soon became apparent that the bug had accomplished in death what I did not give it a chance to accomplish in life.

The semicolon no longer worked, nor did its upper-case cousin, the colon.

I searched online and learned how to pop a key, which I did, and carefully cleaned the contact, removing a fair amount of lint in the process. I reassembled the key (which is quite a trick; boys and girls, do not try this at home). The key did not work. It was time to concede defeat and seek professional help. I made an appointment at the Apple store. The nice young man at the Genius Bar tried a several approaches but in the end, the fix I needed was a new keyboard. The good news was that the part was still available. The bad news was that my laptop was too old for the store to work on. I left the mall with a list of Authorized Resellers in the area and the skinny on which one was likely to charge the least. Naturally, it was the firm that was a 50-mile round trip away.

I went with the Authorized Reseller who was 2 miles from the Apple store. A new keyboard was ordered, and one more round-trip later, I had a working semicolon again, for only $300 and change.

In the interim, I still had work to do on Something Big. Try as I might to simplify my writing, I still needed the occasional : and ;.

I managed to find a : easy enough and copied it to a Stickie on my desktop so I could paste it into my text when necessary, but there’s never a semicolon around when you need one. I resorted to asking The Much Honoured The Lady of Reay to email me one. And she did…and not just one, but several!

After losing the better part of two working days, I finished Something Big and sent it on its way around 11:30 PM on the day I’d said I’d send it. While there’s more work to be done before it can be “born as perfectly as possible,” I’m hoping when I see it again, the bugs will have been worked out of the system.

© 2012 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

This entry was posted in Tech Tips, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to I Buy a Semicolon for $300

  1. Mike Starr says:

    Don’t know about Mac laptops but my Windows laptops allow me to plug in an external USB keyboard… generic version about $6.99.


  2. See? Had you listened to Kurt Vonnegut you’d know not to use semicolons. Ever. I, on the other hand, am fond of them so can feel your pain.


  3. Mirka Breen says:

    This could have been one of those challenges a la ‘how to write a whole story without the letter E.’ I know a writing friend who did it for the sheer bragging right of having achieved this tech-task. (Submission-Editors were less enthralled. One wrote to him, “What was the point?”)
    Only your challenge was squooshy and, ultimately, costly$.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      Believe me, Mirka, I did think about training myself out of the semicolon habit, and if I hadn’t been on deadline, I would have gone archie-and-mehitabel and done it. The colon was a bigger problem; one of my clients needs times, and pasting in a colon several times an hour would have been the very definition of tedious.

      Didn’t somebody French write a novel sans e sometime in the late 19th/ early 20th century?


  4. Ann Herrick says:

    I rarely use semicolons, but dashes, hyphens and ellipses are another story ….


  5. Tracy Holczer says:

    Thanks so much for this, Anne. So perfect for me this week 🙂


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