A few years ago, we threw a surprise birthday party for my mom. The plan was for her to stop by my cousin’s house (where the real party was) to pick something up on a way to a (fake) baby shower. She suspected nothing, and everything was going perfectly.
That is, until about an hour before the party when she called my cousin’s house and the 9 year-old answered the phone. “It’s Aunt Marilyn!” she mouthed. My heart froze. The fate of the surprise hung in the hands of an innocent, cannot-tell-a-lie, 9 year-old.
“Um well, we won’t be here…um well, I don’t think we can do that…oh, um, okay.” She hung up the phone, looked me straight in the eye and said, “we have a problem.”
Aunt Marilyn was coming 20 minutes early…5 minutes before the guests were to arrive by. So we sent my brother and his girlfriend back to the house to stall her. She’s too polite to tell them to leave, so she kindly visited with them while eyeing the clock. Once they had stalled her long enough, they let her go. She rushed across town and was completely surprised. The last minute plot twist made that moment even sweeter.
In Moment Maker by Carlos Whittaker, he describes moments as the exclamation point to the sentence, and explains that the exclamation point is useless without a sentence. The sentence is what gives the exclamation point its meaning.
As we scrambled to problem solve at my mom’s surprise party, we made the sentence a lot more interesting. Sure, the sentence would’ve been great without our panicked brainstorming session, but the exclamation point moment was that much more intense because of it.
I think we also have “Exclamation Point Periods” and “Sentence Periods” in life (grammar puns totally intended).
We need periods of our life that are sentences, periods where we plan and create and discover. And sometimes those sentences are long and windy. Sometimes they look more like paragraphs and are not “proper” by conventional standards. They break grammar rules because it’s really the best way to write this particular story. And usually, those sentences don’t make a lot of sense until you’re finished writing them.
But finish a sentence like that with an exclamation point? A huge moment where the build up was long and confusing and broke some rules? Where the ending was completely different than you planned at that first word? Those are the best kind of exclamation points.
As my (haven’t actually met him) good friend Carlos says in his book, “…as you look toward the moments that will serve as exclamation points in your lives, don’t forget to enjoy writing the sentence that goes before the exclamation point. For an exclamation point alone is nothing without the sentence that goes before it.”