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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

Word Power
by Peggy Duffy

Growing up, I was one of those kids who was the target of much teasing. Even my name invited parody. I often voiced that old childhood saw, passed down from parent to child and from one tormented child to another, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me."

I always thought of the perfect "comeback" afterward. My inability to be quick-thinking has followed me into adulthood. I mull things over, turning up an apt response hours later. This is one of the reasons I write, one of the reasons I tell my Freshman Composition students to take advantage of the written word. No one has to know how long it took to get those words down. In writing you can always, eventually, get it right.

It wasn't until recently, during a protracted dispute with an insurance company, that I appreciated the true power of words. A little background first. Last summer, while pulling out of a parking space, my daughter scraped the front bumper of the adjacent parked car. Since the car was unoccupied, she left a note offering to pay for the damages which I, as the owner of the car she was driving, am legally responsible for.

For some reason, the insurance company felt I should pay not only for the scraped bumper, but for every scratch on the car. Since I objected to this, they referred the claim to a collection agency. While attempting to explain the problem over the phone to an uncomprehending representative of the collection agency, I blurted out, "I'm a freelance writer. I'll just write this up and send it off to The Washington Post," and hung up.

After I calmed down, I called the collection agency back to see how we might resolve this problem. The representative retrieved my records.

"You're not recording this conversation, are you?" he asked, a note of suspicion creeping into his voice.


"Because I don't consent to being recorded." There was no doubt. I heard worry in his distrustful ramblings.

"Why would I be recording this?" I asked.

"Because you write for The Washington Post."

Like in the midst of a muddled story draft, suddenly meaning became clear. I saw the deep potential and power of ability to use words, to render thoughts and express arguments in a public forum, gave to the writer.

I did clarify his misconception. I also wrote that essay, 1500 words on honesty fueled by passion and frustration. By the time it had been transformed from the rough draft I'd scribbled while waiting in the car for my son's drum lesson to be over, to its revised and tightly edited form, it was a clear and exact rendering of my thoughts.

These days, we recognize that words do indeed harm, but they also provide enormous satisfaction. The Washington Post accepted my essay and ran it a few weeks later. Publication is the ultimate comeback.

Peggy Duffy's short stories and essays have appeared and are forthcoming in The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, Brevity, Octavo, Drexel Online Journal, Whole Terrain, So To Speak, Able Muse, Flashquake and elsewhere. She maintains a Web site at http://www.authorsden.com/visit/peggyduffy









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