Mary's Going with Guts!

Track my progress as I train for my next Team Challenge half marathon for the CCFA

My Semicolon Story: It’s not what you think!

Posted by msdon9 on July 15, 2015

My purple semicolon tattoo done at SoulSkin Studios in Reno, Nevada.

My purple semicolon tattoo done at SoulSkin Studios in Reno, Nevada.

Grammatically speaking, a semicolon is a punctuation mark meant to separate two independent clauses in a sentence. Theoretically you could just end a sentence with a period, but the use of a semicolon indicates that you’ve decided to continue it into your next thought.

Here are three examples of compound sentences. The last two use semicolons.

  • I liked English class, but my grammar sucks.
  • I liked English class; my grammar sucks.
  • I liked English class; however, my grammar sucks.

Semicolons are typically unpopular. Most people don’t know how to use them well. In giving advice to student writers, Kurt Vonnegut said, “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

But semicolons are actually making news these days, and not because anyone cares about English class. I’ll explain later…

But first, my backstory:

Two summers ago, I spent two weeks in Reno participating in a unique professional development experience: The Reynolds High School Journalism Institute. While there, one of my talented colleagues decided to report on tattoo culture. He tasked himself with finding the most talented tattoo parlor in Reno. When he found it, he decided to go get inked to include the experience in his article. Coincidentally, I was itching to get another tattoo myself, so I joined him. I asked the artist to draw a tiny purple semicolon on my wrist.

“What’s this about” the artist asked, quizzically.  I explained that I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at 11 years old. After years of battling intense symptoms of fatigue, seemingly endless stomach aches, food sensitivities, and nasty side effects from drugs that were (ironically) designed to combat my symptoms… my gastroenterologist felt it best for me to have a surgery called a subtotal colectomy. A father-son team of surgeons from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City eventually removed 19 inches of “dead” colon from my body. This left me with…you guessed it…a semi-colon. Miraculously, this occurred mostly laparoscopically, and the only physical indication that I actually HAD the surgery is a wiggly 4 inch scar that bisects my belly button.

Early December, 2012. Two days post-surgery.

The recovery was a slow, painful process. I had to take about a month of medical leave from work and slowly reintroduce solid foods into my system. It took me weeks to walk like a normal person, sleep like a normal person. But, on the whole, the surgery was a major success! I have a much better quality of life now. I am not exhausted all the time. I am not plagued with abdominal pain that keeps me homebound. I can lead a normal, active life without having to worry about where I can use a public restroom without embarrassing myself. I can eat a meal at a restaurant and not worry about getting sick. Between the surgery and a drug called Remicade, I feel like a normal person again.

So when I glance down at the tiny purple semicolon on my wrist, I’m reminded of the struggle that got me here. It’s symbolic to me for that reason.

Flash forward a year or so later… I’m conducting a writing conference with a twelfth grader in an alternative school program. He walked me through a troubling narrative where he detailed his personal battles with depression, addiction and suicidal tendencies. He saw the tiny purple semicolon on my wrist and asked me about it. I told him my story, and he was surprised.

It was originally from him that I learned about The Semicolon Project. Honestly, I think it’s a great thing… people have various reasons for wanting to get tattoos, and the best ones are personally symbolic; they are not random doodles that $50 here or there can buy to dot the sketchbook that is our skin.

Nothing bugs me more than someone who has a bunch of random tiny tattoos all over the place.

Actually, that’s hyperbole. That’s your second English lesson today. 

Its meaning is different for me, though. And now that more and more awareness about The Semicolon Project has brought its backstory out of the darkness, I’m fielding more and more inquiries from friends and loved ones. I feel the need to explain myself. I don’t know why… I just do.

So if you see a person with a semicolon tattooed on his or her body, it does not necessarily mean that they are battling depression. It does not necessarily mean that they contemplated suicide. And this is not something I came up with all on my own. Need proof? Check this out. And this (hi, Julie!!) To me, life is way too wonderful to contemplate an early exit. Perhaps I’m lucky to feel this way, and I’m mindful and sensitive to those who struggle. To borrow a line from Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein, “Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” If tattooing a tiny semicolon on one’s body is a reminder to keep hanging on, then…hey! God Bless!

And to my friends who have reached out to see what’s going on with me. Thank you. You are the embodiment of what true friendship is all about.


I snapped this sweaty selfie after running my first 10k post-surgery.


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