Why I Love Commas: Finding Meaning in the Pauses

profile Who doesn't love coffee? And who doesn't love commas? Crazy people, that's who whom! I'm excited to have Brandon from Caneland Coffee stop by today to talk about commas and pauses. Keep up with him and the beautiful coffee world here.


Sitting in a high school English class, a friend turns toward me and says, “A teacher once told me, ‘You should use a comma in a sentence where you would normally take a breath.’

So I ask her, 'What if you’re asthmatic? Would you end up using commas more often?'

My teacher just looked at me like I’m crazy. I mean, it makes sense to me.”

I think about that story nearly every time I sit down to write anything. For whatever reason, I can’t seem to forget it. Of all the things from high school I tried to remember, that one stuck. Maybe it is because I like commas. More accurately, I enjoy punctuation that makes the reader pause mid-sentence. As a result, I also tend to use commas excessively. I should get myself checked for asthma.

While I’m still a fan of a well-chosen word, I find myself attracted to the pauses that give those words gravity (it is also what makes Christopher Walken so peculiar).

I don’t consider myself to be the grammar police. I’m closer to being a grammar vigilante: I mean well, but I play a little too fast and loose sometimes and cause more harm than good in the end. I am not overly critical when I am reading, although I tend to notice the ones that stand out, even if for the wrong reasons. The recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles subject-verb-direct-object-ed its dialogue down the toilet with a hefty kerploosh. The script made zero attempts to capture the viewer’s imagination. Instead, it spelled out every tiny detail even if it was insignificant. On the flip side, you have the climactic scene in the first book of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. I am there, at the Sept of Baelor, with Arya. Every comma is a heartbeat; I feel each one pounding in my chest. The pages pulse and move with life, yet the words are fairly innocuous. The commas, the pauses, give the words life.

In those pauses, gasps happen, knuckles whiten, and scenes come alive. The same is true amidst everyday life. Days can become mundane run-on sentences. It’s when I pause, however briefly, that I find meaning. Some moments, I manufacture. For example, I manually brew my coffee every morning. I boil water, grind beans, and pour it every morning. It takes time in the midst of a hectic morning routine, but for five minutes, I find focus. Other times, it is just a matter of looking around me. Driving down the road, my eye is caught by a perfect series of clouds. While I am in the middle of scurrying around town, beauty gently floats above my head.

Sometimes, the pauses can be overwhelming. The silence on the phone line when I know I’ve just lost a loved one even though it has yet to be spoken. The eternity that passed from the moment I opened a little box until I gulped and asked my girlfriend to marry me. The moment when my children were born, but just before they let out their first screams. All of them were fleeting, yet heavy with meaning.

Whether you are writing or simply trying to make it through your day, find those pauses, those moments, and capture them. Make the most of them, and you will find your meaning there.


Brandon Spencer is a husband and dad from Lexington, KY. When he’s not chasing his kids, he is chasing life, finding ways to be more awesome. He is also the Owner and Chief Troublemaker at Caneland Coffee where he roasts magical coffee to fuel those who dare to do.

You can learn more and buy coffee at www.canelandcoffee.com and find him across the interwebs. Except for MySpace. Definitely not there.