50 Shades of Blue Revisited

Over five years ago, I wrote a post about swearing on my blog. I was a proponent for the judicious use of swear words that served as a point of emphasis or humor. These days, when politicians and pundits regularly use profanity, when prime time television is littered with it, the adolescent novelty has worn off. It is no longer serving much purpose, nor does it give me the joy it once did. People eventually ruin everything. I, too, am people, and have definitely ruined swearing for myself.

canstockphoto8636729Perhaps it is that I hear myself in the car or muttering anywhere public and I have begun to sound as trashy as our current politicians. It is a reminder that neither money nor power nor platform is evidence of human decency or compassionate intelligence. Profanity is the least of it, but perhaps a sign post that bad logic, mundane evil, mendacious lies, and atrocious grammar is sure to follow. I’ve begun to conflate them and question if I need to make a change.

To say that I can be a contrarian would be an understatement. This is why, for the first time in my adult life, I’m considering giving up swearing altogether. I’m not all that confident that I would be able to do it, but if public, political, and entertainment conversation is trending in that direction, I feel the compulsion to go the other. It has gotten so much worse since that election three years ago – the need to express frustrations and fears in the form of cursing. I find that I do it most when I feel powerless or anxious. Sometimes it feels like the only thing that carries any venom.

We’re in the age of words, drowning in opinions and reviews and pundits, flooding our brains with unfiltered information, much of it false or hyperbolic. The language itself is mutating through the lens of liars until words are rendered meaningless. Profanities have been baked into the mix, no longer raw or shocking, only slightly jarring.

canstockphoto11556664Language is a beautiful system of communication and the English language, with 171k+ active words, provides us with so many options. The individual alone knows approximately 20-35K words. I’ve begun to think about the words I haven’t used instead of curse words. Like rapscallion instead of douchebag. Or stinkard instead of shithead. Even the North Korean dictator introduced us to a good word – dotard. As a writer, it would behoove me to expand my vocabulary, instead of using old standbys that made me snicker as an adolescent.

While I was down and out with a cold, I re-watched a goofy science fiction series called Farscape. All the cursing was comprised of made up words (frell, yotz, dren, drelk). And it worked. I realized that it was all tone and context that gave the words their meaning, not the choice of the words themselves.

Profanity itself is not an intelligence marker, nor does it seem any longer to be indicative of my working class roots or my stint in the military. There is not a moral argument to be made. Words designated as profane have always been a cultural construct, but it is their suppression that makes them useful for emphasis or humor. Being common renders them essentially ineffective.

canstockphoto14200558.jpgIt’s time to choose differently. I tend to be judicious in my writing and I prefer no limits, but I definitely need to clean up my conversational skills. My first step will be practicing at home. My cat might finally learn his real name. Then I can level up in public with friends, and the final mastery of the game, driving in metro traffic. I need to look up some better words.

What’s your favorite non-profanity?

Bullies, Bystanders, or Bravehearts?: Questions of Civic Participation

There is an argument I consistently have with myself regarding civil discourse. In theory, I believe in civility. I believe in thoughtful discussion. Whatever vulgarity or cuss words I’ve used here, have always been of my own volition, albeit I have taken more opportunities of late to use them. I am an angry person. I believe in justice and I loathe deliberate ignorance.

canstockphoto11106690For all the understanding and tolerance we are supposed to extend to people who tell us liberalism is a mental disease and that they’re giddy about these current circumstances, we get very little in return. The message is that we are to fall in line and adore their great leader or else what? They’ll call us names? Vote in spite? Threaten us with violence?

Reading comments from people who seem to adore the president and his mafia, I am completely baffled by the appeal. But I’ve never understood celebrity worship or the idea that being unfiltered is somehow preferable to being thoughtful. I’ve never invested my sense of self in strangers on TV or politicians bloviating over donuts. I don’t get my news from Facebook or Twitter. I know that reality TV is curated bullshit. I’m not going to wear clothes with people’s names on it, whether it be Tommy Hilfiger or Trump. I am no one’s standard bearer or billboard.

And that’s what I find so baffling. I grew up in a poor working class family. I learned several skills or beliefs in this environment: 1) That nobody is going to fix my life 2) How to spot a bullshitter a mile away 3) Television is fake and politicians lie. I met people all along the way with the same beliefs. Those are the people who progressed, got out of poverty, worked hard to get an education and most, if not all, are solidly middle class now.

Whcanstockphoto3529451en I saw the chanting crowds in Minnesota yesterday during another feed-his-ego rally, it made me feel ill. There were so many people at the church of Trump. So many people slavishly cheering and grinning and repeating tired mantras. So many people worshiping at his feet. It must have been very gratifying for him, that he could say or do anything with impunity and people would still hold him up as a false idol, clap and cheer and act like glorifying him would somehow raise them up. It was grotesque.

Does it make a difference that there were protesters, yelling, carrying signs? Not to the Trump supporters. Those protesters are for people like me – letting me know that I am not alone in my disgust with this administration, encouraging me to wage protest in my own way. Protesters are important to those of us who eschew crowds, but feel isolated in the face of authoritarianism. It’s a public message – we’re not laying down for the jackboots to march all over us.

But it does bring us back to the issue of public discourse. I’ve been having a come to Jesus moment with myself (which is a really funny thing for an atheist to say). I keep thinking of that Martin Luther King quote:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Letter from the Birmingham Jail, 1963

canstockphoto32473828The idea of negative peace and being devoted more to order than justice is something that plagues moderate middle class white people. We’re not all inherently cruel or uncaring, but we mistake the lack of violence or strong language or raised voices to mean that things are quietly being worked through and that if something really bad is going to happen, the government will prevent it. We were raised to believe in Big Daddy and that there would be things that wouldn’t happen in our beloved America.

But that is not the case. Most people of color, women, chronically ill, vulnerable children and the elderly know that the system turns a blind eye to systematic abuse, gaps in care, and cries for help. That power and wealth corrupts absolutely and disconnects people from their humanity. That leaders, those who can truly maintain a balance between personal ambition and that amorphous concept, the common good, are far and few between.

What we don’t get is that we are the stopgap, the brakes, the safety net, the protection against authoritarianism. We have to choose not to be bystanders, not snapping selfies in front of tent cities on U.S. soil, chatting up the ICE agent while fearing the bogeyman foreigner. What does our country need from us now?

canstockphoto6397204Many of the words I read from Trump supporters are no longer part of any rationale. They’re mainly spewing cutesy insulting names, parroting lies with no underlying facts, sending links to un-sourced, biased news stories, using the polemics of either-or for every single argument. Gun control = no guns. Pro-choice = drive-through abortions. Civil liberties for all = war on religion. Free speech = no consequences for said speech. Political correctness = silence, not civility. They’re digging in, not listening, not thinking.

Does it make a difference if I call the president a bastard? Have I, too, come to mistake strong words for strength? Have I adopted a bully’s approach to discourse? Or will I be the moderate white person – choosing peace over justice, order over resistance? And am I succumbing to the unthinking, blind rhetoric of both sides, falling prey to the false equivalencies equating those who fight for justice and those who just fight?

These are tough questions that have been unraveling in my brain over the last week, because I am trying to find a better way forward. Not for peace, but for integrity and progress and so that someday, I can look back, and know that I didn’t just let it happen.

What do you think of the public discourse?

Is fighting fire with fire necessary or is there a better way?

What truly makes a difference?

50 Shades of Blue: The Use of Profanity at The Green Study

canstockphoto8636729A friend of a friend was directed to my blog. Her first comment, after reading one of my posts, was, “she uses a lot of foul language”.  All that writing, all that effort and her takeaway was the occasional swear word?

I’ve wrestled for years with my propensity towards the profane. As a parent, I managed to go the first 7 or 8 years of my daughter’s life without swearing in front of her. Lately, that’s been slipping, as I’ve struggled with health issues and exhaustion – just too tired of trying to do everything “right”. So a damn or shit or hell slips out. Then she and I have a discussion about language and I do penance by wondering how much her therapy bill will be in the future.

It’s not as if I don’t understand some people’s reactions. As a teenager, I was prim and proper and pious. I did everything I could to seem different from the Dukes of Haphazard with whom I lived. I didn’t swear, I didn’t go all the way and I believed that there was one way to be right – and a hundred ways to be wrong.

But I’m a grownup now and I see the hypocrisy of sounding perfect while behaving like a complete shitbag. It rankles me that some people get hung up on a word or 10, but are selfish, arrogant and unkind in all other nonverbal ways. I’ll be the first to admit that constant streams of profanity are tiresome, but they are tiresome in the way that overused words, phrases and acronyms are – grow the economy, stay on message, zombie apocalypse, LOL, OMG and most recently, twerking.

I love language. I love its nuances – the rhythm, the power, the melody. Sometimes the staccato of the profane livens things up, makes a point in a way that all niceties fail to accomplish. As a child, using naughty words was a way of rebelling against authority and there are still vestiges of that kid in me today. Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t find calling my friends bitches (as in “Hey bitches, how ’bout we meet at Applebee’s?”) particularly empowering or rebellious.

And there are limitations to meanings when swear words get overused. If what I read and hear is any indication, the world is peopled by assholes. Every other person is such an asshole. My first thought is “In what way? Can we be a little more specific?” Media, both entertainment and social, has made profanity run-of-the-mill, overused and unrecognizable in the steady stream of swear words that flows from every avenue.

On vacation, where I was overrun by fellow tourists, blue language startled me. It wasn’t the words, it was the context. In a public space, with children and grandparents, people were letting loose left and right, with little regard to the audience around them. I wondered at my prudish reaction. Why was I appalled – a person who could put sailors and truckers to shame (those stereotyped doyens of profanity)? Like spouting off about religion in a mixed crowd, a captive audience – there’s an issue of respect for the beliefs and sensibilities of others.

Context is important, but also subjective. There are no hard and fast rules. What is cringe-worthy for one person is everyday chitchat for another. I believe in boundaries, but it takes diligence and awareness to know time and place. The oft-repeated idea that the use of profanity shows a lack of education or is merely laziness, bothers me. I’m an irreverent person, so profanity, when used sparsely and concisely, amuses me. When used in everyday conversation, with no real point or emphasis, it seems a waste. And swearing at someone is inherently different than swearing about someone or something.

As to anyone taking offense to this blog, I am reminded of a quote by one of my favorite writers, Kurt Vonnegut: “profanity and obscenity entitle people who don’t want unpleasant information to close their ears and eyes to you.” It reminds me to always listen for the message under the method of communication. Is what is being said more important than how it is being said? As a writer, this is a constant battle I have with myself when reading others’ work. Do I let myself get hung up on typos or grammar or cursing or are they saying something worth paying attention to?

The brilliance of blogging is that if you offend, you only have to do it once and the reader is gone. Your audience is one of choice. My takeaway is that if you only get to offend once, best to go balls to the wall, whether it be with words or ideas. And so, The Green Study will continue with its usual tinge of blue. I hear the writer is a complete asshole.


Some Blogs to Be Offended By:

The Outlier Collective   I absolutely love this relatively new collaborative blog (and wrote for it).  I disagree frequently with the opinions expressed, but these bloggers are passionate and fearless when it comes to taking on the issues. And I always come away with so much to think about – the comments are just a bonus. Stellar idea, well-executed.

Melanie Lynn Griffin   She’s a writer, an activist and has strong spiritual beliefs. She, too, is a passionate person and involved. I don’t always agree, but I do admire her willingness to participate in the political process, to express her opinions loudly and to be optimistic for our future in this world.

Forming the Thread   This has been a longtime favorite eclectic blog of mine – strong opinions, travel, fiction. Talented writers, easily digestible posts. I love reading blogs that make me scrutinize my own beliefs.

Views from the Couch   This irreverent blogger makes me laugh out loud. If language offends, this won’t be your cup of tea. And no topic seems to be off-limits.