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Adams: Saying what I mean, mostly

Posted: July 23, 2016 - 11:00pm

Craft the message to the ear of the receiver. Good writers and orators heed this nugget of anonymous advice.

According to my husband, I fail to follow this rule of communication. He accuses me of composing with words outside of the standard American vocabulary. “Why say veranda when you mean porch?” he chides (also a word he takes issue with). “Don’t say conflagration. It sounds stupid. Say that there was a big dadgum fire.”

In other words, I should say what I mean.

The problem with ad­hering to his directive is that most of the time I think I’m saying what I mean. When I told my family I wanted an out­door shower in the back­yard, I didn’t know I was making a confusing state­ment. When I started collecting old pallets and pieces of driftwood and corrugated tin for my project, I thought my intentions couldn’t be clearer.

“What are you doing with all that stuff piled up next to the garage?” my youngest son interrogated me in an accusatory tone.

I explained again my idea for an outdoor shower. I spoke slowly and a little louder than normal.

Speaking even slower and more loudly than I, he replied, “That’s weird. Why would you want to take a bath out where everyone can see you?”

I’ve started constructing my shower. It has walls made of pallets, as I told my cynical son that it would. It affords enough privacy for washing off grime from gardening and grass from mowing and sweat from summer’s heat. It allows for an extra shower for the kids. It totally makes sense.

“I’m not showering in the yard,” he responded with no shortage of um­brage (one of those words my husband hates). “I don’t get it. I don’t get why you want an outdoor shower.”

He stared at me like I was a looney old lady. I looked at him like he was a terrible teenager. We were at an impasse … until I considered my audience.

I was conversing with my child who took two rolls of aluminum foil from the pantry and wadded them into a huge silver ball just to see how big of a ball two rolls of aluminum foil would make. I was reasoning with the boy who unraveled a ball of twine, zigzagging it across our lawn by tieing it to every tree, bush, stick and blade of grass. He hung an assortment of items from it, which to the untrained eye resembled an assemblage of voodoo tokens. I was trying to convince the child who tried to convince me to let him break into an arcade game to get the quarters out so he could play the game. “It’s okay Mama, because I’m going to put them right back,” he told me.

Building a backyard shower in which to refresh or to wash off a little dirt made no sense to the lad (my husband is standing over my shoulder saying, “If you mean young man, just say it”), so I reframed my argument.

“I’m building an outdoor shower because I want to create something, to bring something from my imagination into existence. Because I can and because I want to see what will happen when I do.”

At last I spoke in the language of my listener. “Wow,” he whispered. “That’s so awesome.”

Either he uttered sarcasm or my message finally fit the ears of my listener.

Lucy Adams is the author of If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny and other books. She lives in Thomson. Email her at Lucyadams.writer
@gmail.com.

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