Art, Movies, Lit, Theater

Aggressive Communication

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Unflinching in the face of death, hate, horror

At my feminist-dominated-Marxism-across-the-curriculum-Rules-for-Radicals-versus-Great-Books college, there spread an argument that women can use manipulative communication because we aren’t culturally conditioned to be physically aggressive when aggression is necessary (or because we can’t physically overpower men, depending on the extent of martial arts training of the woman you asked). I believe that.

I have heard aggression talked about as a neutral thing. It’s different from anger. It is force, and force is often called for. Without it we’d be mashed to the ground. As children, likely we were overpowered and treated unfairly, at least sometimes. We learned to be passively aggressive, to express our needs or feelings of mistreatment indirectly because to do so directly would endanger us. I believe that too.

People who say what they mean are brave. To say what you mean, what your gut utters spontaneously, and not retract it or cushion it in false soothing, takes being ready for a fight.

Writers who say what they mean without couching it in comfortable language or lightening it with laughs are brave. Telling a story unflinchingly, “straight” rather than “slant,” may sock the reader in the belly. The effect can be, in just the right way, arresting.

Sunsan Lindsay wrote this piece in response to the following prompt (adapted from an exercise created by writer and teacher Deena Metzger): Write a story in a way you don’t ordinarily tell it. Shed your shtick.

By Sunsan Lindsay

"Dead people in black and white. A young woman on a sidewalk surrounded by a black pool of blood, so many stab wounds! Her hair covers her face." — By Sunsan Lindsay

I can only remember his first name — Leonard. I am sitting across from him, a fifty-ish, florid-faced man looking at me over his half glasses. Me — just 21 years old, looking as earnest and capable as I can. I want this job, but I can tell that Leonard has his doubts. He doesn’t think I can handle it. I guess I can understand this. The only requirement is the ability to type 30 words per minute. Hell, I typed 70 on the Underwood manual in Mrs. Thompson’s ninth-grade typing class.

This is one of those jobs where the federal government actually pays employers to hire folks — a program back in the ’70s called CETA. I don’t know what that stands for anymore, but I think the “T” is for training.

This job that I want Leonard to give me is to train as a Crime Scene Technician with the Santa Monica Police Department. I’m here, now, in this cramped suite of offices known as the I.D. Division. Gray metal furniture and file cabinets fill the room. Fluorescent lights, some flickering, hang in rows on the ceiling.

Leonard reaches for a large, blue binder — a photo album really. He opens the book on his lap so that the photos face me. 8×10’s in shiny page protectors that reflect the lights from above.

Dead people in black and white. A young woman on a sidewalk surrounded by a black pool of blood, so many stab wounds! Her hair covers her face. Leonard turns the page, peering at me closely to see my reaction. Now a face, eyes open, skin so white, then so dark at the neck where a cord has been wound tight for the kill.

I want this job. I force myself to act fascinated but detached.

Page turns. Gray and grainy distended body partially covered with maggots — so much the same tone as the flesh that it takes me a moment to understand what I am seeing.

I want this job. I’ve been so goddamned bored in that tiny little office, typing numbers all day like a robot.
Page turns. It’s a girl just about my age, with blond hair, lying on a bed naked with her ankles and wrists bound together. Her eyes are open too — surprised by death.

Leonard closes the book. I can tell he has bought my act. I also know that he likes the idea of having a fresh young girl around the I.D. Division — his eyes dart from my breasts to my face during the entire interview.

Ten minutes after I get home, the phone rings. It’s Leonard. The job is mine if I want it. I do! I want this job!

That night I cry for a long time. That blond girl? She lived just three blocks away. I’m scared. I can’t be a witness to violent death and hate and horror. How could anyone? I got the job.

Writing Challenge

Write about a difficult choice you made that changed you.

*No portion of Susan Lindsay’s story may be used without the permission of the writer.

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