I have been reading Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer. This book gives advice similar to all the books I have read on usage: “Go light on exclamation points. . . . Some writers recommend that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points per book; others insist that you should use no more than a dozen exclamation points in a lifetime.” Dreyer continues: “We won’t discuss the use of ?! or !? because you’d never do that.” And double exclamation points should be left for comic books.
Even so, readers of this blog (I assume all read carefully and have excellent standards) may have noticed the high rate of exclamation points and even an occasional use of those double punctuation marks. Almost all have been inserted by my editor—the spouse—who does have high English and copyediting standards but believes that if a punctuation method exists, it should be employed. (The exception may be the en dash. She claimed to know its proper use, but not necessarily how to create one in Word on a PC.) When I get back my draft from the editor and she has again inserted an exclamation mark, I almost always leave it in. It is my concession to our version of marital bliss. But that dozen-in-a-lifetime mark was passed long ago.
Our Brooklyn house has a backyard. This is not apparent from the street where all that is visible is a block-long stretch of rowhouses. The width of the lots varies slightly, from eighteen to twenty-five feet, but the lots are routinely one-hundred feet deep while the houses are usually about fifty feet in length. Thus, as in our case, a backyard of fifty by twenty-five feet.
Our yard may not be big, but I feel that I have spent an inordinate amount of time through the years working on it. A patio of bluestone was reconfigured, causing sore muscles. A stand of lilacs was divided and replanted, causing sore muscles. After many unsuccessful efforts to grow various things (we don’t get much sun and we don’t have bottomland soil), English ivy was planted and divided by a stone walkway lined by rocks imported from Pennsylvania, all causing sore muscles. Hedges lining the boundaries were planted, some by me, causing sore muscles and some by a nursery, causing a sore checkbook. The yard may not be Instagram material, but it is satisfactory.
It is not a high-maintenance place, but it still requires some tending. The ivy has to be cut back several times a year, causing sore muscles. Leaves from neighboring trees have the gall to fall into our yard and occasionally have to be dealt with. And the hedges periodically should be trimmed. Now, however, that I spend most of the summer in Pennsylvania, that maintenance is a real pain since I have fewer days to force myself to do it.
Last fall I realized that the aforementioned hedges were out of control. The original thought was to have them grow as high as the stockade fence behind them, part of which was installed by me, causing sore muscles, and part installed by a company, causing a sore checkbook. The hedges, which I had not dealt with for quite a while, were higher than the fence, straggly, and not what you’d call level. They had grown horizontally impeding the useful patio space. I decided a serious cutting was necessary, and it would give me a chance to use a seldom-used power tool, a battery-powered hedge clipper that replaced the manual ones I had used for decades, which had caused especially sore forearm muscles.
I charged up the clippers and hauled them and, because the hedges were so high, a step ladder out to the yard. I decided that now that I was undertaking this long-delayed project, I was going to be ruthless in hopes that I could ignore the bushes again for quite some time. I cut them way back. This did yield a lot of green boughs for Christmas, but the hedges now showed more brown, chopped-off branches than green ones. They did not look good. Ok, they looked as if I had killed them. I had undertaken severe pruning in the past, and the hedges had always come back. I was (reasonably) sure that would be the case again. However, looking out the back windows during the winter, it was not a pleasant sight, and the spouse and the NBP (nonbinary progeny) did not have my (reasonable) confidence in their health.
On the first days of spring, I went out to the hedges for a closer inspection. A lot of them looked–how shall I put it–dead, but a few weeks later, with a close, almost microscopic, inspection I could see the tiniest green needles on hacked-off branches. They are going to be fine, I said to myself with (reasonable) assurance, and that is how they still looked when I shifted my locale to Buck Hill Falls for the summer season. Only the true believer—I was the only one and my faith was not strong–could see that the hedges would again be a sight of Brooklyn beauty.
Although I spend most of the summer now in Pennsylvania, I return to New York every week or two to have dinner with the NBP. After we exchanged communications to find a convenient time to go to Black Iris, our usual neighborhood restaurant where we have not been since the pandemic began, I got an additional message. I told the spouse that although only ten words long, it contained three pieces of good news for her.
The first piece of good news for both her and me: The NBP wrote that “I just did the yard.” My now always-sore muscles eased a bit and gratefulness spilled out of my heart to the NBP for relieving me of a backyard maintenance day.
The second piece of good news: The NBP followed the introduction with three dots and then “you didn’t murder the bushes.” Marv Albert–like, I muttered a yes.
And the third piece of good news for the spouse: The NBP concluded the text with an exclamation mark.