I like words. Words that travel from my brain to the pencil or the keyboard are kind to me. They’re usually my friends. Sure, sometimes in the heat of the moment something exceptionally snarky or mean-spirited will slip through that I later regret, but for the most part the whole brain-to-hands-to-media filter works out nicely.
The brain-to-mouth filter, however, isn’t nearly as effective. This is why I’d much rather email or instant message than talk on the phone, and why I spend so much time blogging instead of, you know, interacting with others. (Sidenote: If you talk to yourself via the computer, is that less crazy than talking yourself out loud?) Never was the treacherous tendency of the spoken word clearer than at the start of my high school running career.
During my eighth grade year, I was the third out of three distance runners on my junior high team. I wasn’t a bad runner, and my times steadily improved all year, but I certainly wasn’t a standout performer. When I entered high school, my parents prepared me for the very realistic goal of fighting to make the varsity squad. After all, if I was the third fastest eighth grader, what were the odds of me being one of the seven fastest on the high school squad?
When I won the first race of the year, nobody was more shocked than me. When I won a second (and much bigger) race the next week, people started paying a little attention. After that second victory, I began to be occasionally approached by sports writers for local newspapers (likely the lowest person on that totem pole…do you suppose anyone volunteers for the high school cross country beat?) for post-race quotes.
Boy, do I stink at post-race quotes. I’d like to blame oxygen debt—typically, reporters try to snag you for a quote the minute you get out of the finishing chute. That way, they don’t have to hunt you down after you’ve started the whole cooldown process…and probably so they can leave sooner. So here I am, hardly a minute after throwing myself into oxygen debt, trying to answer questions about “how did it feel to finish/win/lose the race?” or “what was your plan going into the race?” or some such without throwing up on my interviewer. The questions are always they same, and there are several canned answers you can go with:
“I really tried my best today. You can’t control how things are going to end up, but today was just my day (or) I’m really proud of my effort. So-and-so is a great competitor.”
“I always try to run an even race and push the pace hard in the middle. I don’t have much of a kick, and a solid, even pace is my best chance to win.”
Canned answers are safest for people like me, because if left unattended my oxygen-starved brain will come up with gems such as, “I like hills. Hills are good.” That’s actually what I said (the question was probably something like “Don’t you find this course challenging?”), and it was printed in all its incoherent glory. Yikes. Embarrass yourself like that a few times and you’ll start pre-writing interview responses, too!
But then, there are also times when others do the embarrassing for you. My brother once told a reporter that I was “dumb as a rock and twice as ugly.” I’m sure most people, in reading the story, took it as the joke it was meant to be. In context, it was pretty funny. I’m also sure that the maximum number of people who read the story is 500, and most of those had known Lil’ Brudder and I since we were toddlers, and know that he would never call me dumb or ugly and mean it.
Regardless, just so you know…”you’d better watch out” doesn’t just mean Santa Claus. 🙂