When nothing I could say is right (and we
both know it); when silence may go as wrong
as the wrong words; when the need to speak grows
so huge it locks both tongue and heart inside
a mouth gone mute for all that matters; then
what can I do, except ask her for help? What
does she tell me? Oh, all the usual
sensible things, that I already knew.
1. Go slow.
Slow as the dreams where you never arrive.
Slow as a watched pot just about to boil.
Slow as a surprising garden slug’s trail
showing where it crossed the path overnight
but now has disappeared. Slow and steady
as the gentle touch that defuses bombs,
or light twist releasing a carousel
to drop one slide into a slot that fits.
Slow as a roller derby jammer coasting
behind the pack of blockers, looking
for an opening. Slow as eyes before
the mind decides, watching, and watching more.
How slow is slow enough? How slow, too slow?
2. Know your audience.
Lively as laughter, berry-bright, easy-
going as trust and old friends. That is one
kind of audience, the ones we hope for,
the ones who get it, what we’re aiming for,
the jokes we practiced and polished, the sleight
of hand intended to delight. There are
others — impatient, critical, sluggish.
But I don’t know. I don’t know how to know.
If I knew my audience, I wouldn’t be
here, asking for divine intervention
to unlock my bold inner Cyrano.
3. Leave space for words.
… say, this is what I want.
… ask, what would you like?
… fill the page with words.
… listen. And listen. Closely.
… ask, did I understand? Is this right?
… say, this is what I want, but I also want you to be happy.
… ask, what would you like?
… be quiet, pay attention.
4. Make your subject obvious.
Maybe this is a birthday you’d rather
forget, but me, I went and got you this
card anyway, because I’m a doofus
sometimes. I don’t know what I was thinking.
These things they call “acts of God”? Well, maybe
they aren’t, not always. Maybe sometimes life
is just a raw deal, unfair and painful.
I want to ask you out. I mean, I try
to ask you on a date, but I don’t know
how. And I don’t know if that’s what you want.
And if that isn’t what you want, I hope
that my asking doesn’t make things too weird.
5. Consider vertical or horizontal layouts.
6. Create multiple versions.
a) I’d love to go to a movie, what about you?
b) Would you like to have coffee sometime? Do you drink coffee? Tea is okay. Or something.
c) Do you like the symphony? Opera? Roller derby? Bowling? Dancing? It’s too soon for dancing. A walk?
d) Umm, there’s a play coming up that’s really cool. All smart and funny. My kid’s in it. Oops.
e) Heck, when is payday? Anything, let’s do anything, as long as it’s right after payday.
f) Is this mic on? I can’t hear myself. Oh. Oh, sorry.
7. Be sensitive when illustrating people.
Don’t: distinguishing features. Just don’t.
Don’t: your eyes/hair/lips are like [blank]
Don’t: use a template
Do: tell the truth.
Do: be kind.
Do: find the truth that is kind.
Do: say the kind truth, and mean what you say.
8. Avoid gender-specific designs.
Dancing the funky-monkey pronoun swing;
tripping the light fantastic, or tripping
over your own feet, and tongue. Just tripping.
There’s that great gender-bender blender pro,
the ones that pretty much always go wrong:
“Your eyes are too pretty to be a girl’s” /
“Your hair is too thick/long to be a boy’s.”
Whatever they said, it’s just so much noise.
Here’s a novel idea to try on —
what if we all just used names? Like, what if
we all talked about people like people?
9. Keep things light.
Light and dark as jabberwocky, sweet as
the jitterbug, bright as jive alive, and
happy as the Lindy hop. Let’s keep it
there, for now, bouncing the beat with our feet,
swinging from tango to the Charleston
to foxtrot, and if we’re lucky, mix it
up with the Viennese waltz, and later
a wild merengue. This is no secret
code, just a recipe for slow delight,
the kind that shines itself into the dark
corners, sketching a map of what consent
could look like, maybe, someday, if ‘yes’ comes.
10. Ask for feedback.
Let me think about it.