He reads slowly, painfully slow to a speed reader like myself. But he savors every word, every nuance, and looks up with full grasp of what the black-and-white says. I so easily forget what the letters and spaces say I get so buried in the dialogue and context in my head.

He thinks for a few minutes, and I wait for it. He clearly has found something.

“I don’t think you want to say ‘I’ve lived my entire life among…’ because I don’t think I’m part of that. But that’s what that sentence means.”

I protest. “But the word ‘among’ isn’t all-inclusive. It just means some. If I meant everyone including you I would have said ‘I’ve been surrounded my entire life by….’”

tobasco sauce package“Joy, people will read that sentence to mean that you are immersed in that, and saying ‘entire life’ includes now. Now includes me. Do you really think I’m part of that group?”

I frown, irritated that he is unconvinced by my defense. “No, of course not,” I huff.

He waits as I stare at the screen, rolling through word options under my breath. How do I convey what I actually mean? What is the right word? I know he’s right, even though I’m loathe to admit it.

I like powerful words, evocative words, words that light fires and provoke reactions and maybe, hopefully, prompt action. But fiery words too often come off harsh, angry, or combative.

I’m not sure why I love fiery words. I think part of it is that as a woman, I think I need them to be heard at all, like all my fiery words are only so much whisper in the world so less extreme words would disappear completely. Part of it could also be a desire to make the most of every opportunity, go for the gusto, not beat around the bush. (I can be a little blunt in person and dislike word games. Just spit it out is my motto.)

Whatever the reason, my fiery words don’t truly convey my heart. While I’m passionate about life and justice and charity, I strive to work and speak out of love and compassion, not anger and vengeance. How do I convey passion without angst? Injustice without anger? Urgency without bombast? I don’t know.

My husband is a word lover like me. He knows me well enough to sense what I am trying to communicate. He also hears how the typed words I use will land on others, and cares to help me bridge the gap he sometimes finds between my meaning and the words themselves. He and I wrangle words, pinning them down and grasping for the just-right way to express an idea.

Ever so slowly, as I let him help me craft clearer messages (even though I usually think they are too nicey-nice, lacking sufficient oomph), I’m learning that using strong words too frequently is like pouring half the bottle of Tobasco sauce in the pot of homemade refried beans. It sends everyone running for milk or Pepto Bismol, eyes watering and mouths on fire, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I may like it strong, but I’m one of the few.

The painful truth seems to be that if I want to accurately communicate, I have to back off the Tobasco. My husband says I should try honey instead. Honestly, that doesn’t sound very appetizing. But if that’s what people prefer to read…

This is going to be a hard habit to break.


Written with Heather of the Extraordinary Ordinary and Jen and Sarah at Momalom for Five for Five.