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Speak Your mind

I became convinced that words were weighty, not to be used offhandedly, and almost frightening in their potential impact. Tell someone what you really feel? Might as well lob a rock. At work, at home, with friends, the silence grew—lots of chatter, mind you, and I certainly was nice. But a fluency in nice talk, even in the everyday world, meant it was often difficult to ask for what I wanted or protest if I was trodden on. I’d eat overdone meat in a restaurant; I’d let anyone have the movie armrest; I’d even, as I did once, apologize to the plumber for needing hot water when he stood me up for the second time. But the trouble with lugging around a sackful of unsaid words is it throws you off balance. You could easily lurch into rage, upend the calm. I worked for years for a bully, a famous woman known in the world outside for her lovely smile and in the office for towering rages and a vocabulary that—well, it was wide-ranging at least. I sat at my keyboard and typed, and gritted my teeth, and stood silent while she ripped strips off me, and I filled my evenings with what I should have said, what I would have said, had I the courage. A year went by, and another, until the day I blew, the kind of overreaction that blazes like heat lightning. I hadn’t put a paper on the right side of her desk, she said. I told her what she could do with the paper, the desk, the job, and that night savored each and every blow I thought I’d landed—as I filled out my unemployment form—and somehow what had felt like a victory lost its luster. With people I trusted, I’d unburden—in those beginning jobs, when we, assistants all, would go to a restaurant on payday and order towering burgers and glasses of cheap red wine and analyze who was who and what was what at work. Then I’d talk, about how Sue was just so pushy and how I was sure Jane had taken that idea of mine, and, really, did you see what Sandy had on last week?—all glorious girl talk, but lethal when some of my finer observations were conveyed to the Jane and Sue in question, and they passed me, frosty, in the hall. Not that I could do anything about it, like talk to them about my chagrin and regret—I lacked the words for confrontation.Read more: