A couple of years ago, I stumbled across ‘Post Secret’ which is an ongoing community art project, created by Frank Warren. The project involves people posting their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard. Selected secrets are then posted on the PostSecret website, or used for PostSecret’s books or museum exhibits. One glance through the website or flicking through the pages of the books reveal people’s innermost secrets- some are tragic, some hilarious, some poignant and some quite uncomfortable to read.
Of course, having this momentary glimpse into somebody’s life forces you to imagine who sent the postcard, what made them send it and to fill the gaps in the story of the person who had chosen to divulge this secret. I showed my Year 10 English Language group a few of the examples and modelled how I might create a successful narrative by using the postcard as a stimulus.
One Year 10 student found this an interesting postcard and wanted to use her writing to reveal how challenging (and relentless) feelings of perfectionism can be an explored this by telling us about the challenges that one particular female detective faced.
‘I am having a hard time coming to terms with my own mediocrity’
Linda refuses to fail. She’d done enough of it this month, and couldn’t bear to stare at another face filled with raw disappointment. She’d do her job, she’d find the murderer, and she’d overcome this mental wall that had been shadowing her like a curse.
Okay. Facts, what did she know. What had happened? Why? When? How? Who? Think, think think. The time now is 9:36am, it’s Sunday and it’s the 11th of May, the murder happened in a bungalow, the victim was Mr Alan Williams, age fifty six. The victim’s body, the body was facing downwards, stab wounds on his back, stab wounds on the front, exit wounds perhaps? No, they were too big for that, which meant the victim had been stabbed in both the front and the back, and then died. But why the blood on the head then? The head wound was messy, and destructive, not the type that could be made with a knife, but rather a large, blunt object. Around the wound, the skull had been left in a horrific state, all scattered and shattered like debris, falling away from a shipwreck. The clothes of the man were unrecognisable, replaced by a bloody calamity, the crispness of his white shirt had been engulfed by dark maroon blood, the dark burgundy cardigan had become heavy with sticky blood. The blood. The was cold, it was dry, the clothes clinging to the body, as if hoping to preserve its last shreds of dignity.
In conclusion, the time of death must have been in the early hours of morning, but judging from the temperature at the moment, it could have taken a meer couple of hours for the blood to dry this much, to the times it could be between are 10:45 pm on the 10th of May (which is the last time the victim was seen alive) to 8:04 am on the 11th – when the body was found. The method of murder is unspecified, both the stabs and the head wound were plausible options ,the stabs were all relatively similar in size so they are all entry wounds. There was a more than a ten hour window for the time of death, two possible methods of murder,and no suspects (yet). Linda was lost. She’d solved so many murders, some even harder than this one, and now, even when faced with so many clues, she was at a loss for the first time. Her head spinning from the metallic stench of blood, eyes foggy from sleep, and her head heavy with unrelenting onslaught of demeaning thoughts.
Voices echoed in the back of her head. Maliciously enraged voices drilled holes into Linda’s skull, repetitive and intrusive, pictures flashed under her eyelids, pictures of failure, of the corpse, of the evidence, and again, failure. Like a broken record, looping in her mind, of defeat, and disappointment, cold and unforgiving. This was not going to last, she told herself, it’s just temporary, she reminded herself, she’d solve it; this had happened before, she’d always recovered, gotten over the mediocrity before solving case after case flawlessly. That would happen again she tried to chide herself, she’d be back to normal soon, she prayed.
“Hey, Miss Detective?” a short man sporting a particularly large bald patch and thick glasses holding an unblemished clipboard, walked up to her with brisk steps, “I have the autopsy report of one Mister Alan Williams for you.” he jerked his hand out, brandishing the clipboard as if daring be to take it. She took it.
“Thank you Doctor, hopefully this will clear up some of the questions around the death.” Linda’s words were accompanied by a pointed nod in the doctors direction,
“I hope you are able to solve the mystery.” he spoke in a quiet voice, his tone uncaring He then took that as a sign to turn and march away, heavy footsteps echoing down the hallway of the white washed building of the fronsensics center. I took the opportunity to look at the report, she’d finally be able to confirm the cause of death, and narrow down the investigation. The paper crinkled under her hasty hands, drawn taught in precarious ways, her eyes scanning the page for the words she so desperately wanted to see. Cause of death: blood loss from the head and torso wounds.
Blood loss. From both wounds. Meaning they happened simultaneously. One person can’t stab a man to death while bludgeoning him in the head at the same time, so the murder had to be committed by at least two people. Or both actions were done one after the other by a single person. Linda was at a loss. How was she supposed to find two potential murderers when she was struggling to find one? And how did they get in and out? Neighbours had confirmed that not a soul had entered or exited the property after Mr Williams. She’d missed some vital clues somewhere, she knew it, how could she ever hope of finding the murderer relying solely on half baked theories and insubstantial evidence. She needed to find something but how? No weapons at the crime scene, no DNA left as evidence, it was a futile task, like trekking uphill through an unrelenting blizzard. Linda had finally accepted that she was nothing more than average, void of anything spectacular, or magnificent. No one was right all the time. She’d been fighting the idea for so long, restraining it, keeping it at bay, the feeling akin to hiding a monster.
Linda felt the thoughts consuming her, feasting on her from the inside. The avalanche of thoughts flowed through her mind, her own mediocrity, her inability to do her own job. Pathetic. She told herself. Utterly pathetic. If she couldn’t even do her job properly what did she have? Nothing, she’d lose her pride, and what more do fickle humans have that pride? She couldn’t afford to fail, she couldn’t be mediocre, her pride would not allow it. So she’d solve the murder. She had to, she wanted to.
Think, think, think. How was the murder done? Williams was beaten and stabbed to death. Where? in his living room, no blood trails so that can be confirmed. What was he doing? Watching television, it was on when the body was found. Who did it? Now this is a problematic question. Williams was a likable gentle man, no one he knew seemed to have any qualms with him, and no one was seen entering or exiting the house. No DNA matches at the crime scene except the mother of the victim who was seen leaving the residence two hours prior to Williams arrival. So who killed Adam Williams? These are the thoughts that rushed through Linda’s head as she surveyed the bungalow. She, again, rumaged through drawer after drawer, trying to find even the smallest inkling of a murder within its contents. And one again, Linda came out empty handed.This murderer had been careful to cover their tracks, they’d managed it perfectly; this could only mean they were experienced with the trade, and how to get away with it, how to execute it perfectly. This was no instinct driven criminal, but, in fact, a cunning, calculating person well versed in the methods of murder. Small feeling of elation bubbled in Linda’s stomach as she narrowed down her suspicions. Finally.
The next area that was surveyed by Linda was the property’s perimeter. Even though it had already been confirmed that the walls of the premises had not been breached in any way, her gut whispered to verify this again. A miniature garden was attached to the rear of the bungalow, overgrown and ugly, invasive plants crawled forward, as if to invade the house. Within the chaos, lone flowers emerged, heads bowed, melancholy with decay. Towards the end of the garden, a singularly neat patch of soil lay, leaves of every variety growing healthy and strong, not invasive like the rest, but beautifully alive nonetheless. Herbs, for health, favour, nutrition, medicine, aroma; stems brandish bright foliage, proud and abundant, inconsistent with the nature of the rest of the garden. Beyond the herb patch, lay the fence, brown slats of sombre wood, rigid, and constricting. No holes, no gaps, no escape. The fence was unmarked. Just prior to Linda’s resolve melting, and her pride escaping her, she noticed a small irregularity in the soil in the otherwise spotless herb patch: most of the soil was a dark, inky colour. But mixed within the murk, were speckles of umber, held together in hard clumps, as well as a mixture of rocks and fragments of decomposing plants. The mud was in the wrong place. Linda again scanned the entirety of the garden searching desperately for patches of identical looking mud.
A patch of mud near the edge of the garden revealed itself, the ground looked uneven, the surface mud was cold to touch, the bed had been recently unearthed. This was potentially the biggest lead in Linda’s case, a patch of disturbed mud. Eager hands clawed at the ground, after a while, a small hole had been erected, but still, nothing had been revealed. Fervent hands threw soil in all directions, uncaring for the surrounding plants. Soon enough Linda was rewarded. Her hand falling through the ground, the sudden lack of soil shocked her, there was a chamber underground, curving towards the other side of the fence.
Rappidly, Linda clamoured up and rushed to the other side of the fence, suddenly obsessed with finding the other side of this mysterious chamber. Again, she ardently pursued the task of digging, uncaring for her clothes, which were already unrecognisable with russet mud adorning its surface, her face also smeared with the dirt. After the arduous task of digging, she finally found the chamber, the tunnel, entrance and exit routes. The answers were close now, possible solutions running rampant around her head, the evidence, the clues, it all made sense now, now that her mental block had been destroyed.
Linda had solved the murder.
Post Secret offers a really useful stimulus for writing, teachers could spend longer looking at the images on the postcards, exploring their significance to the person who wrote and designed it.
You can access the website here: https://postsecret.com or follow @PostSecret on Twitter.