Say What You Mean

This is going to be another bike riding story.

A couple of weeks ago Andrew and I and a bunch of our friends participated in Ride Cincinnati, a 63 mile bike ride to raise money for breast cancer research.  This was the first year that I attempted the full 63 miles and I was nervous.

I hadn’t trained enough.

It was blisteringly hot.

And I knew the last several miles before the 31.5 mile turnaround were brutal hills.  I knew this because we drove the course a few weeks before.  I like to prepare mentally, and I don’t like surprises.

So there we are, 25 miles in and facing the Big Hill.

Andrew is faster than I am, but at that point we were still riding together.  I’m chugging up this mile-long hill in my lowest granny gear, keeping my eyes on my front tire.  Pedal.  Just pedal. From the top of the hill I hear Andrew shouting to me.

He says, “Come on, baby!”

What he meant was, “Come on, you can do it, you’re doing great!”

But what I heard was, “Come on, hurry up, you’re going too slow!”

Not the message I needed in that moment.

Here’s the thing.  It doesn’t matter what he meant.  It only matters what I heard.  And what I heard was, “You’re not doing well enough!”

In the interest of staying married, I talked to him about this at the turnaround (where they give you water and Gatorade and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are the best peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the whole stinking world because you’re hot and famished and you smell like Satan’s armpit, but PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH!!!).  I told him that what he was saying to encourage me just wasn’t working for me, and could he please say something else.

In the interest of staying married, he agreed.

Herein lies the point of this blog post.

I know what I mean when I write.  I can picture the scene, and I know the motivation, and I can hear each word the characters are saying.

But you only know what I tell you.

And you can interpret it however you want.

So I might write a bit of dialog where a character tells a joke.  I might think it’s really funny.  You might not.  You might find it offensive or stupid or snarky and that might color your opinion of that character in a way I never intended.

I can’t control that.

All I can do is try my hardest to make sure that the words I write come out exactly the way I want them to.

After that, they’re yours.

I shout them down to you from the top of the hill, and hope you hear them the way I meant them.

So come on, baby, let’s get up this hill together.

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