We all have them. Those heated exchanges (or ones that are on their way to becoming heated) when we bite our tongues rather than spew what we’d really like to say. Well, I must say I’ve gotten much, much better at speaking my mind over the last decade, so it’s hard to think of any recent times I’ve muzzled myself (quite unfortunate for my husband)…but still, there are times when we’ll do it for whatever reason: to be tactful, to spare feelings, or maybe just to save time until we can regroup and come back with a better debate strategy.
Page 24 of Room to Write asks us to think back to an argument when we’ve held back. Let it all out now, considering what you censored or reworded at the time. Develop it as a dialogue in which you likewise speculate how the other person may have responded.
I’m going to cheat on this one. I’ve been trying to dig up some great conflict from my youth, but it isn’t coming to me right now. The first hot topic that does come to mind, however, is one that I addressed three years ago by writing a letter that I knew I would never end up sending. The file name I’d saved it under was, “If I Ever Have the Nerve to Send it,” so I could at least have it at the ready if need be. The act of writing it out was in itself therapeutic and, as of this year, perhaps financially rewarding. I’m still waiting to hear the latest update, but as of March I signed a release to have the letter included in an anthology entitled Best of Unsent Letters (I’m doubting the intended recipients would discover it under my pen name). We’ll see. Maybe publication is delayed. Maybe they forgot about me. At any rate, until I know, I can’t share it here, but if it gets posted on their corresponding blog, I’ll retroactively add the link so you can see what spiteful things I have to say when someone crosses my family. “NOBODY puts Baby in the corner!”
To make up for lack of creativity this fine, lazy Sunday, I’ll throw this out there. When I do have a bone to pick but not the commensurate nerve to say it to the applicable person, I have a habit of carrying out the exchange in the mirror. Of course, this could mean that I’m senile. Regardless, I ended up incorporating this into one of my character’s list of quirks to rationalize why she (me) does it. Here is the draft excerpt of such a scene:
She really did spend inordinate amounts of time standing [at the bathroom mirror]. Not cleaning it, Heaven forbid, nor was it time reserved for inspecting pores or removing blackheads from her small, upturned nose; most of the time, she spoke in whispers. Whenever her brain felt the size of a walnut or, conversely, enlarged to the point of bursting with thought, she just vomited out the swirling words and conversations verbally, wishing she [could] deposit them in a physical, external reservoir where they could be left behind and visited when desired, rather than confronted involuntarily and often when unprepared.
Eyes locked on her own, the visual reminded that her identity did lie in something more than just her own awareness. Her presence meant something. Her absence meant something. She was here, in your face, and she mattered.
And so, she resumed—partially whispered, partially mouthed—the conversation she’d recently begun in her mind, a monologue finally telling John how she felt about their relationship and threatening him with how much her absence would absolutely matter to him.
“I’d feed you the ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ line, but it’s not not you, and it surely isn’t just me. It’s both of us and our mutual inability to ‘get’ each other.”
The figure opposite her served as an acting coach, giving Margaret feedback on her body language as she fine-tuned the script to perform later. Satisfied after thirty minutes that she’d thoroughly convinced her reflection with her eloquent articulation, she was too exhausted and bored with the effort to even consider repeating the words to John anytime soon. Such was the way with all the actual face-offs that never actually happened, especially because she’d lose her nerve without her reflected self as guide.
So…for whatever that was worth. I’ll try to get my mind back in gear next time to churn out something new. How about you? What have you left unsaid?