TUESDAY: Just Do It ?!


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AN EXCLAMATORY statement that’s also a question has special punctuation — an interrobang. It looks like a ? on top of a !. Its curious expression of one punctuation mark superimposed over the other invites its own questions . . . which came first? Which is more important? Are interrobangs more emphatically expressed as a statement with emotion! or do they convey emotions with


are difficult for Jess. But my son masters the use of interrobangs.

He speaks with emotion and he speaks to negotiate his world. Because he only speaks when he wants something. Professionals call his garbled words apraxia of speech. Usually, only he and I know his inaccurate sounds are both a statement and a question. To others, it may sound like loud baby talk. I don’t know; I’ve never cared enough to ask. Muhmuh, muh ?! It’s a clamorous vocalization — a mumbled loud exhalation — with “muh” launching the following two syllables and the interrobang at the end. In public spaces, I am inured to the reactions of others. His effortful speech has been a periodic public spectacle for twenty years. Strangers’ reactions to the reverberations of his strident requests — never of interest to Jess — have stopped being of interest to me. Muhmuh, muh ?! accompanied by an outstretched arm is a question about something he can see, or a bodily need in that moment. He could want anything. But it’s also a demand to pay attention. Now! To me! Bus fuh huh = breakfast. Dez uh = dessert. Those one-word statement/questions mean “what’s for breakfast/dessert?” and “I want breakfast/dessert!”. He has difficulty conceptualizing questions, however he artfully employs his


were invented in the 1960s; marketing executives thought a singular punctuative mark would better convey advertising’s emotive rhetorical questions.

Twentieth-century advertising firms had similarities with present-day Internet search ads. Madison Avenue invented stuff that caught on. Like memes, they generated units of information that encouraged imitation . . . and targeted consumeristic behaviour. Goodby, Silverstein and Partners’ “Got milk?” moved one of the most boring products on earth into the vernacular. Or the cola wars of the 1980s that built on McCann’s strategy of Coke “teaching the world to sing” in the 70s, culminating with Michael Jackson and BBDO’s 1984 Pepsi Generation. Or Madison Avenue’s Weiden and Kennedy’s “Just Do


is spelled differently in our family. “Jess do it”.

Long-distance runners train for fall seasons of five-kilometre-long races. In high school, they train for competition in windy, wet, near-freezing temperatures while they learn the fundamentals of what it means to compete. They splash through training sessions over ungroomed, rocky forest and mountain trails, learning to ignore wet feet, soaked socks. Exposed skin on face and arms has the appearance of burns — from the cold. Coaches seek to cultivate their athletes’ endurance, not only for the distance but for the conditions. The requirement of mental and physical toughness pulls these runners through their paces. Called tapering and peaking, one of the key coaching strategies for building endurance so it will coincide with key race times involves leaning into hard workouts and levelling off at certain times. They’re coached to relax their upper bodies, channeling energy to their legs. From a distance, the runners look beautiful. Coaches have done their job. Symmetry flows from long-legged strides. It’s only up-close, in the laboured expressions of the students where spectators perceive the churning, gruelling


is constant in Jess’s life. He’s never known anything else.

Professionals characterize his ataxic gait, floppy muscle tone, and erratic uncontrolled body movements as chorea athetosis. He accommodates their vagaries without complaint. He practices every life task and muscle movement others take for granted over and over. Never giving up, never whining. No complaining. Only pleasure and pride if he masters doing up a button himself, or going up and down stairs unaided, uncoached. Perhaps because of this, he doesn’t care about his coaches’ strategies for endurance. Endurance is his conduit to kick at the boundaries of life’s limitations. His patience to try again, his superpower. He just does


amazed his coaches.

Jess’s endurance, combined with an unsymmetrical, swishing and choppy gait earned the respect of his high school peers and the admiration of race onlookers. They heard his laughter unfold over the field. Saw his smile through the mud, at each finish line. He never won one race. He didn’t care. He didn’t live in a win/lose, fast/slow world. He lived in a show up and do your best world. On a November mountainside racecourse, seasoned runners whimpered at the finish line. His endurance never wavered. He giggled along the race course; he giggled up the hills. He was delighted to use his body and his effervescence attracted cheers from students and parents from around the region for a kid who showed up for the love of the sport. He never gave


until the early 70s, the interrobang caught on, gaining meme status until it fell into relative oblivion with the introduction of home computers that featured interrobang-less qwerty keyboards (which is why we can’t reproduce the punctuation mark here).

Jess uses keyboards to talk when his verbal attempts evade comprehension. The keyboard of Jess’s voice output software has no interrobang, but he still communicates in these punctuative shortcuts. His interrobang is expressed in the speed of how smoothly and quickly he pushes the “speak” button in his phone’s voice output software, and how he pivots the screen so his conversation partner can also read. Simultaneously, his actions yell, do you understand me?! Understand me?! His interrobang inhabits how he represents the work of his life — his speech, his running — with delight! And pride? Questions may be difficult for him, but Jess’s intent is transparent to those who witness and hear the interrobang of his endurance and laughter.


Image of Carmen G. Farrell

A recent recipient of the SFU Writers Studio’s emerging writer scholarship, Carmen G. Farrell previously worked in school systems as a public relations specialist and advocate for diverse learners. Her creative nonfiction essays are published in the Globe and Mail and international literary journals, and her manuscript-in-progress explores underlying assumptions that “normal” ways to interact with the world exist. See https://carmengfarrell.com and https://www.instagram.com/carmengfarrell. North Vancouver is home.