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Powerful Words Are Like Tabasco Sauce ~ Just Write

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.

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  1. As I read this, I’m thinking that perhaps you should just be yourself and not what you think others prefer. But maybe you already knew that. I struggle with this in a different way. Admiring the way others write and comparing myself, instead of owning my own words. It’s a fine line isn’t it? Really nice to meet you through Just Write.

    • It IS a fine line, and I am really struggling to find the right balance between my way of writing and my desire for the words I use to actually convey what I MEAN. If it isn’t getting through, then I’m doing something wrong, you know? But you’re right — it still needs to be my voice, even if I try to rein in the fire a bit. Such a tough thing to master.

  2. A pinch of Tabasco every once in a while, though, makes a bland dish absolutely scrumptious.

  3. I’m with you – when I write with gusto, I feel like I’ll be heard more. Except that isn’t often the case because sometimes what people see is offense and they put up their wall when they see things they don’t want to see. And my words just hit a blank space. So the gentler approach works. No gusto, but no walls either.

    It’s awesome that your husband provides such great insight. Good for you!

    • I wish I could identify what it is, deep down, that objects so strongly to taking the gusto out. It’s almost visceral. I really can’t explain it. Yet, I do want the message to get across.

      • I can so identify with these feelings and wanting to write something with impact and ending up with something too strong. I also have a husband who is willing to go through my writings and help me to tone things down.

  4. Dishes with both honey AND tabasco are absolutely delicious! ; )

  5. As I read your post I thought of this quote by Kurt Vonnegut: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”
    i often ask my husband for insight about my photography but i learned to trust my gut and in the end you are the artist ;o)

    • Hahahah. That’s an excellent quotation. In fact, I think I may share it on the Facebook page. Thank you! 🙂

  6. Oh…I really do NOT want to hear these words…but they resonate as true. I also prefer using the whole bottle of hot-sauce, with different accent flavors at times. But honey? I don’t know…

    And yet, at times I get frustrated that others sometimes write me off without really reading what I’m saying. Maybe I’ll need to try mixing some of that honey WITH the hotsauce as I write.

    Chinese food anyone?!

    • Chinese! Yes — maybe that’s it. Many more people enjoy Chinese food than enjoy flaming-hot hot wings, right? 😀

  7. I think it’s great that you have a built-in sounding board. It sounds like you walk a fine line and seem to be managing it well enough. Nice to meet you – visiting from momalom.com.

  8. I think that God has gifted us as individuals with a unique voice. The things you feel most passionate about {those words that are spicy} are part of that gift. Using honey when God is prompting you to use Tabasco is not going to change the message but it may lack feel as though it’s lacking somehow.

    Perhaps you should focus on the passion you feel. That passion is a gift from God. That passion is your calling. If you speak out of love for the topic, out of desire to see change and God in the world as well as just plain need to do it I think you’ll find your words don’t come across as angry but instead as true.

    Another important thing to remember is that Jesus got angry and threw a fit in the temple. Sometimes anger has it’s place. I love your words. They challenge and inspire. The prophets were always hard on people and it was necessary. Maybe you’re fulfilling your destiny…

    • It should say:

      “Using honey when God is prompting you to use Tabasco is not going to change the message but it may lack feel as though it’s lacking somehow.”

      I really wish there were an edit feature on comments!

    • Funny you would say this. Much of yesterday and even this morning I have been thinking that instead of trying to quench the fire, I need to find the right avenue in which to use it, and work on how to express loving passion instead of angry passion. I also wonder if being misunderstood is just a part of life and I need to learn to accept a certain amount of it. The prophets weren’t very popular, were they?

      P.S. I’m able to edit comments, so I fixed it for you. (I agree – it sure would be nice to edit them ourselves!)

  9. I think there is definitely a time for Tabasco and a time for honey.

  10. Holy shmoley. Are you me? Tabasco vs honey. Wanting immense words, but to live with and show compassion. Subscribing to the SPIT IT OUT mentality. I swear to you I could have written most of this post. Well, it sounded exactly like the me from a year ago or more. The me now has learned how to break bad habits in many situations. And how to live with a bit more grace and ease.

    Thanks for joining us!

    • 🙂 I don’t like beating around the bush and playing politics and making nice. There’s a time and place for that, though, and I need to learn when and where. So tough!

  11. Oh how I love this tug and pull of what we want to say, and how we will be heard.

    (I’m more of a Tabasco girl, too.)

    • I have a love/hate relationship with that tug and pull. I can’t tell you how many times I give up writing in despair of ever expressing something right, only to discover that it’s too much a part of who I am to give it up.

  12. Sometimes “prettying things up” covers up the raw honesty that can speak for itself…if you just find the right word. Which you obviously strive to do, and do it well!

  13. Write what you want to say, not what others want to hear. Know when YOUR words needs honey or tobasco, not when others tell you. Share what you know God puts on YOUR heart.

  14. I love the way that you use Tabasco sauce here. Very clever and it makes a good point. I have the opposite problem that you do. My writing is too bland! It doesn’t really make a point, but it is helpful. I think I need to sacrifice some honey, and add some spice. I could take a few lessons from you.