When we were working on 13th-GEN, one of the biggest arguments I got into with Neil and Bill was my use of swear words in the book. Both of them absolutely loathed my use of them, but I was convinced that any book that purported to explain the habits of my generation without using profanity was like writing the history of the Inuit and leaving out snow.
I was so adamant that I took my case to the head of our division at Random House and demanded to see him in person. I can’t imagine having those balls now, but I was 24 and since the whole thing had come so easily, I thought book deals were like low-hanging fruit. I don’t know how I did it, but I convinced him to let me have 1 F-word, 2 s-words, and I think 3 “god damns.” Neil and Bill were very gracious about it, although if it had been me, I would have ridden my 24-year-old ass out of town on a rail for being such a twerp.
Profanity is something that is untranslatable to most people over 50. It physically pains them to hear most swear words, especially the “f” one, even as we (the relatively young in America) bandy it about with the ease of a moist preposition. My friends and I went to great schools, some of us have written for this nation’s finest papers, and still, when we get together, we say “fuck” or “fuckin'” about 15 times a minute without even knowing it.
I bring this up because my stepmom and my dad have said that they’d love to show this blog to several of their friends – some of them, let’s just say, having attained various high levels in certain fields that I find interesting – and they can’t bring themselves to do it because of all the swearing.
I responded a variety of ways, all of them mostly true:
1) anyone who is offended by my blog is probably a bad relationship waiting to happen
2) a blog by definition is a stream-of-consciousness art form that allows for offhanded profanity
3) if somebody likes my writing in here, they can probably deduce that it is possible to write without swearing
4) I write these in first drafts only, and if I have to go through the effort of bowdlerizing, it will be too much effort and I’ll just stop doing it altogether
Of all of these, the last is probably the most relevant, as I have continued to come to this space, even back when my only readers were Tessa and my mom, because I can vent. If I didn’t have this little breakfast nook in cyberspace after the 2002 elections, the 2004 elections, the Iraq war, various indie film horrorshows and kidney stones, then I’d be forced into temporary autism, writing on the wall backwards with crayons. I know profanity is often the easy way out, but it’s SO SATISFYING.
Unfortunately, written profanity – like FUCK – have much more power to the human brain than an offhanded comment. I’d say the severity of profanity written versus utttered is about tenfold, which means you have to use it a tenth as less. I haven’t read I Am Charlotte Simmons, but apparently Tom Wolfe tries to use “fuck” as much as college kids do, and it’s quite off-putting.
I never meant this blog to be a career helper, but it did spawn a couple of Salon articles, an editorial in the New York Times, and a few book proposals. Is my casual use of profanity keeping me down? I put it to you, brave comrades and commenters: when I swear, does it bum you out? I mean, unduly?